Yacht Fathom - Setting off from England in May 2016 on a single-handed voyage somewhere a bit warmer

Archive for the “Portugal” Category


I decided to leave the anchorage at Cascais on Tuesday and head 50 nautical miles south to Sines to finish the preparations for the trip to Madeira. Jean on ‘Chartist Lady’ also made the trip with the same intention. Unfortunately the wind was lighter than forecast and the motor was required for most of the trip. On the plus side I witnessed the best display from a pod of dolphins I have ever seen. On the approach to Sines four or five of them put on a great show and somehow I managed to capture one of those moments on camera just as four of them were jumping side by side. It was almost as if they were showing me the way to the anchorage.


Today I am working though a list of jobs and boat admin – fill up with diesel, replace empty gas bottle, top up the water tanks, stock up on fresh food etc. Also some attention is being given to the stowage of food and spares onboard as many are loose and need to be secured and put away properly before heading out to sea. The marina here at Sines is fairly quiet but with a friendly mix of German, Dutch and Norwegian boats. It has been really great hanging out with Jean for the last few days. Over the years, and in preparation for my trip, I have read many many sailing books including accounts of circumnavigations and epic solo voyages. But to be able to spend time and chat with someone like Jean, who circumnavigated in ‘Chartist Lady’ using just a sextant and with no money has been even more interesting and inspiring. Unfortunately Jean has a problem with the gearbox on his engine so is staying here an extra week to try and get it sorted.

I am aiming to depart at first light tomorrow for Porto Santo which is 470 miles away and anticipate arriving within 5 days all being well. There is a weather front coming south in a few days time which I may encounter close to Madeira but next week the weather doesn’t look great up this way so I am keen to get going.

My little boat has now taken me over 1000 nautical miles since leaving Yarmouth at the beginning of May. The ground track is showing 1,436 nautical miles travelled and the log (through the water and I know it under reads) 1,156 nautical miles. Time to add a few more!

Posted on 08 Sep in: Portugal

Seixal & preparations for Madeira

It has been an eventful start to September. I arrived back at the anchorage in Cascais on Monday in tandem with Claude on his boat ‘Oui Oui’. We got talking to Pete & Sharon on s/y Meridian who were anchored nearby and they invited us for some drinks on Wednesday evening. After picking Claude up from his boat in the dinghy we went aboard Meridian and tie up. It was cool and the wind was blowing hard with gusts around 25 -30 knots so we were sat down in the cabin. Several hours later I went back on deck to pull the dinghy in but there was no dinghy… The wind was howling and I realised that the dinghy with outboard (and my favourite hat) must have drifted well out to sea and be long gone. The end of the breakwater and the marina were off dead downwind from the boat so I had little hope it had drifted there. Pete lent me his dinghy and I motored down to the marina to see if the dinghy had miraculously clipped the end of the breakwater and been pinned to the rocks. No sign. Claude offered to help look for it so we went back to Fathom, hoisted the anchor and motored out into the darkness and still howling wind. At this point it is about 1am. The next two hours are spent motoring downwind for a mile or two and then sweeping back while I am on the bow with a search light. No sign of the dinghy. At 03.30 I drop Claude back on his boat and put the anchor down again resigned to the dinghy being lost and the cost and inconvenience of finding replacements.

The next morning I take Fathom into the marina at Cascais in order I can get ashore and and speak to the local chandlers about replacements etc (insurance won’t replace). In the marina office I ask the girl behind the desk if a dinghy has been spotted in the harbour. She replies ‘actually yes follow me’.  And there right at the back of the marina is the dinghy!! No idea how, with that wind direction, it had found its way into the marina but what a bit of luck that was. Yesterday I was the happiest person in Portugal! From now on I will always tie up my own dinghy :).

Last week was spent anchored in Seixal and it was nice working on jobs on the boat and enjoying the very peaceful atmosphere there. Amazing how often I bump into familiar boats and in Seixal it was Pete on s/y Frantic who gave me some spreader boots that didn’t fit his boat but fitted Fathom perfectly. Seixal itself appears at first to be a very poor and run down town. The main street is currently being relaid so there is dust everywhere, many of the buildings are tired and some empty and boarded up. But looking past all that it has a very nice atmosphere and the local people are very friendly. It is more like the real Portugal as opposed to the artificial and touristy Cascais. While I was in Seixal there were only 5 other visiting yachts there and I didn’t run in to any other tourists ashore. Very refreshing.

Claude is now on his way back north to the UK. Yesterday I met a very interesting solo Belgian sailor called Jean Heylbroeck on his yacht ‘Chartist Lady’. Jean is famous in Belgium and Holland for his sailing exploits over the last 40 years and books about his adventures including solo circumnavigation in the 1980’s pre GPS era. After chatting over a cup of coffee Jean and I may sail in tandem to Porto Santo, Madeira in a few days time. Jean is now in his 70’s and we both thought it a nice idea to have another boat in close proximity for the passage. The weather forecast is not favourable for departing before Thursday as there is an area of very light winds on the approach to Madeira and the northerly winds here in Portugal are faltering for a short time. So a few more days to prepare but not long now. Expecting to leave Thursday or Friday next week and I will be posting many more updates when I am on the move again.

Posted on 02 Sep in: Portugal

New friends and good times

Sorry for being slack at posting updates recently but the last month has absolutely flown by and Fathom and I have not ventured too far. The last few weeks have felt like a holiday within my voyage as a whole and it has been quite refreshing not to spend every moment thinking about boat jobs and the next destination. I have been lucky to meet some really amazing people and spend many happy days with new friends.

After temporarily leaving Cascais at the beginning of the month a couple of days were spent at Oeiras marina nearby where the water tanks were filled and the boat given a well needed wash.  Then back to the anchorage at Cascais where I ended up spending time with people both in and out of the sailing world. Natasha, Barbara and Nadja had hired a car for their three weeks of holiday in Portugal and it was great to hang out with them and visit some beaches up the coast by road which I wouldn’t have had the chance to see otherwise. We also made several trips into Lisbon both in the day and for nights out. Anyone wanting a good night out in Lisbon go to Pensão Amor!

Mid month I took the girls sailing south for a few days. We anchored off the beach at Sesimbra which is a nice town and then onto a brilliant anchorage off the beach at Arrabida where the water was so warm we swarm ashore. The wind then piped up for a couple of days and as I didn’t want to make the crew uncomfortable beating back north into 25 knot headwinds we pulled into Troia marina for a couple of nights. This marina is situated at the end of a peninsular which contains an amazing white sandy beach but is unfortunately also a tourist resort and not a place I would normally choose to spend time. At least having an Italian on board we had some great food. Once the wind had moderated we made our way back to the anchorage at Cascais.

This month I have visited several companies as a Shipbroking consultant on behalf of my previous employers which has worked well. I purposely brought one smart shirt with me which spends most of its life in a vacuum packed bag and only makes an appearance when I need to be extra smart. I had to reassure my ex colleagues back in the office that I had trimmed my beard and wasn’t looking too much like a salty old seadog.

Yesterday I arrived in Seixal across the river from Lisbon where I intend to spend about a week. It is a very quaint and interesting place and I will write about it and upload some photos in the next update. It was fun and games pulling up the anchor in Cascais when I left. The pilot book mentions much of the anchorage is foul and sure enough the windlass pulled up a lobster pot, huge bunch of fishing net and a large fishermans anchor all wrapped around my chain. Thanks to the Dutch guys from the boat next door for their assistance in getting it all free. Sadly there was no lobster in the pot.

It feels quiet now that my new friends have flown home and other boats I had been anchored next to for many days have moved on. I must adjust and revert back into the solo sailing mindset. The cruising community is small though and I will see familiar faces again further south. This week I intend to work through a list of boat jobs and get everything in order before departing on the 4 or 5 day sail to Porto Santo, Madeira. Claude is flying back here at the weekend to sail his boat back to the UK so I’ll have a beer with him before departing. Really looking forward to setting sail again and getting back out in the big ocean.

Posted on 23 Aug in: Portugal


The day after I arrived in Cascais, Sunday before last, Claude turned up on his boat ‘Oui Oui’ having departed Madeira a few days earlier. After completing the Jester Challenge to the Azores he had then sailed to the Canaries and was on his way back north. Apparently the Jesters that reached the Azores, including several who had done the trip and solo transatlantic’s before, all agreed “Never Again!” A few (quite a few) beers were drunk and a couple of days later I left Fathom at anchor and sailed with Claude on his boat to Seixal. This is a very nice local place a few miles down river opposite Lisbon, where he will leave the boat for a month. I will likely take Fathom there for a few days soon. Must be careful with the pronunciation and spelling of this town for obvious reasons.

While Claude was still about Chris and Cath on ‘Harlekin,’ arrived in the anchorage. I was surprised to find out they all knew each other as it turned out Claude had purchased his boat from Island Harbour and spent some time there. So there we were, three boats from Island Harbour on the Isle of Wight all at anchor together in Portugal. Chris and Cath had some problems installing a replacement compass for their autohelm but four heads are better than two and we managed to get it working for them just in time to see the Tall Ships departing Lisbon.

One day I received a message from a friend of mine Charlie from uni who was on holiday just up the road. Charlie is a top Figaro sailor and aiming for the Vendee in 2020. Great to have an unexpected catch up with him a couple of days short of the 10th anniversary since graduation. Where has the decade gone.

The anchorage at Cascais has had a real cruising community feel about it. In addition to bumping into several boats I had met previously further north, last week I had a very nice evening and dinner with Norwegian couple Erik and Britt onboard their boat ‘Harry Z’. It has been particularly satisfying anchoring for free off the marina which is ridiculously expensive and has unhelpful staff and a general bad attitude. I know of other cruisers who were quoted 10 euros a day for permission to tie their dinghy in the marina while going ashore from the anchorage. I thankfully discovered the Naval Club on the edge of the marina which is very friendly and allowed me to tie up the dinghy for free and have free showers. Not only that they have a TV in the club which showed the Formula 1 and the Americas Cup series racing which was a bonus. The wind has really been blowing at times particularly in the early evenings though the anchorage is well protected from swell. Several days the wind has been in excess of 25 knots with gusts up to 35. I have a lot of faith in my Rocna anchor and touch wood have never dragged. Last night the wind was so strong the dinghy, which was tied astern, tried to do a back flip several times.

This area really has been a great place to spend time and nice to meet people from outside the sailing world too. New friends from places including Sweden, Norway, Germany and Italy. Days spent up the coast on the beach and nights out in Lisbon. Fun times.

This morning I eventually pulled up the hook and left the anchorage. Fathom has not travelled far, just five miles or so down the coast towards Lisbon, in a nice and friendly marina called Oeiras. I need to fill up the water tanks, do the laundry, exchange gas bottles etc. Some friends are still in Cascais so I will stay around this area a week or so longer. I want to explore Lisbon properly too. I am in no rush and current plan is to arrive in Porto Santo, Madeira, in early September. On entering the marina here at Oeiras earlier I was hailed by John and Jenny who I had met a few weeks back in Baiona. Within five minutes of tying up I had been invited aboard their boat for home made burgers and some red wine. How will I ever be able to return to the real world?!

Posted on 03 Aug in: Logs 2016, Portugal

Figueira da Foz – Peniche – Cascais

I was aiming to arrive in the anchorage at Cascais last weekend to meet up with Claude who after completing the Jester Azores challenge was passing through on his way north from Canaries and Madeira. I had the option to do the trip from Leixoes direct over a couple of days or stop a couple of times on the way. Non stop would mean heading offshore at least 20 miles before heading south in order to avoid the fishing markers and other unlit coastal hazards at night but I decided to do day trips.

First stop on the 21st was Figueira da Foz. The wind for the 60 mile passage was again very light and after departing Leixoes at 06.00 managed a few hours of sailing in about 9 knots breeze from astern. As I was sitting eating breakfast in the cockpit there was a splash alongside and a dolphin came to say hello. Somehow I managed to get a photo just as they jumped out of the water alongside. Only later when I was looking through some photos on the laptop, did I notice that exactly one year ago to the day, I was sitting in the cockpit eating breakfast a few miles south of Jersey when a Dolphin did exactly the same thing – the two photos are almost identical. In the afternoon I’m pleased to report Manuel’s magic lure worked and the first fish was caught – a decent sized Mackerel or similar. Hopefully on a roll now… The entrance to Foz is renowned for being dangerous when a swell is running and water can break in the entrance but all was calm on arrival. Unfortunately there is nowhere to anchor at Foz and I was disappointed that the marina charged 23 euros for the night so only stayed one night. Didn’t get a chance to explore the town but enjoyed eating the fish for dinner finished off with a glass of Port from a few miles north.

Early the next morning departed on another 60 mile trip south this time to Peniche. During the morning the wind hovered around 10 knots and as I was out of bread decided to bake a loaf. Nothing quite like the smell of baking bread when at sea. By lunch the northerly wind had piped up to a good 20 knots and Fathom flew south at 6 to 7 knots over the ground, really fantastic sailing. A large sea was running as we rounded Cabo Carvoeiro but the anchorage off the breakwater at Peniche was nicely protected and a good place for the night. Very few other yachts spotted at sea except a 50 footer ‘Christine’ who for the 2nd day running had blasted past Fathom at 9 knots with help from their huge Parasailor spinnaker. I never like being overtaken by another boat even if they are nearly twice the size!

The trip from Peniche to Cascais was shorter than the previous days but the conditions were far livelier. While trying to hoist the main I realised that it had flipped itself around the radar reflector at the top of the mast which would have required a trip aloft to free it. Could have used the topping lift to hoist the main but just the headsail poled out was sufficient. Very exhilarating sailing and for the last couple of hours into Cascais the wind topped 30 knots with decent sized waves. On rounding Cabo da Roca and heading east towards Cascais the coolish air which had been blowing down the coast over the sea was replaced with wind that had been blowing south over the land. It was suddenly like a hair dryer had been turned on but unfortunately at that very instant a huge swarm of flies appeared out of nowhere and covered the boat both inside and out. Luckily after anchoring they disappeared as quickly as they had arrived. Being a Saturday the anchorage at Cascais was rammed with locals as well as cruisers. Claude was due in the next day and the town looked liked it would be a fun place to spend a bit of time.

Posted on 28 Jul in: Logs 2016, Portugal

Leixóes & Porto

The 35 mile passage from Viana do Castela to Leixóes was not the most relaxing. Monday dawned beautiful with a light westerly breeze and sunshine but soon died and the engine was on again. Manuel from the chandlers in Cangas had sold me some new fishing lures which he assured me would guarantee success along the coast. I gave one of these its first outing and after pulling it in to check an hour later found something had bitten the lure in half and just missed the hook.. Lucky fish! I’m getting closer though…

A couple of hours later a thick blanket of fog descended and never again lifted. The huge numbers of fishing markers and flags which are a nuisance in perfect visibility become a right pain in the fog because they are only seen when a few metres away. On the approach to the busy commercial port of Leixóes I put my trust in the AIS and radar with our course passing several large container ships at anchor outside the port. The visibility was so poor that I never saw any of the anchored ships we passed less than 100m away. The eerie sound of the fog horn on the end of the breakwater and those of the ships entering and leaving the port added to the atmosphere. After holding position for a few minutes the AIS showed the the entrance to the port was clear and no ships were leaving or close to entering so Fathom made her way in slowly and only when within a few metres of the marina could I make out any features of the shore. Certainly the worst visibility I have ever witnessed and a sigh of relief once all tied up.

The reason for visiting Leixóes was that it is the nearest and cheapest place to moor up in order to travel to Porto. Yesterday I took the bus for a 40 minute ride into the city. It really is a fantastic place and I went on a three hour walking tour to take in the main sites. One of the highlights was strolling out along the top of Dom Luis Bridge and looking down on the city. Before catching the bus back in the evening I enjoyed a Francesinha, which is a Portuguese sandwich originally from Porto, made with bread, wet-cured ham, linguiça, fresh sausage like chipolata, steak or roast meat and covered with melted cheese and a hot thick tomato and beer sauce served with french fries. Damn good. Couldn’t resist taking a bottle of Port back to the boat too. When in Porto…

Posted on 20 Jul in: Logs 2016, Portugal

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