Baleeira (Portugal) and Morocco

Eventually, several anchorages later, the Lista Light charabanc arrived in Baleeira. There was nothing particularly picturesque about Baleeira, it was a working fishing port with a fairly non-descript set of buildings radiating from the port selling tourist tat or very little on the shelves at all. The Chinese stall was the exception with every kind of gadget, gizmo, statue, plastic flower, glue gun, Samurai sword and oven glove that you could ever desire.

Nick and Dave by fishing boat

But we stayed. And as the days ticked passed Baleeira’s lack of pretension and rawness became part of its attraction. There were very few tourists and as we meandered the streets for daily needs we gradually gained a hint of life in a small fishing town in Portugal. Wooden boats were mended in the port yards and large fishing boats landed hauls of seafood each day. Workers mended the colourful mounds of nets, polystyrene floats and cages of bait that straddled the ground.

Yellow legged gull

One day hunting for water, marooned in our English speaking world, Dave and I watched a young guy in head-to-toe wet suit saunter off the edge of the dock. When he finally surfaced we caught his attention. He told us of his daily business, spear fishing for perhaps 15 euro per eel. He had to snorkel as it was against EU legislation to fish with a tank.

The pier

We had not luck with the water, so headed off for the next mission to procure some putty. Dave was adamant that the boat yard would have some, so ensued half an hour’s spluttered negotiations, with the ship builder trying to work out what on the earth David was after. The small, handlebar moustached man was very suspicious of my input, so I observed the shenanigans from afar, with Dave wildly gesticulating or drawing dodgy sketches on a scrap of paper. After much sniffing of the small pot of putty that Dave had brought along and excursions out of the workshop to point and nod at Lista Light the two old sea dogs appeared happy with negotiations. David brandished two small bags of dust that were apparently to be mixed with linseed and red lead and the boat builder was promised cervezzas. As we meandered back to Lista, the vision of the workshop, bristling its old solid implements, bore lustfully into Cap’n’s mind.

Sandwich tern

Our image of Baleeira was actually pretty myopic as it stretched much further inland and was framed by a honeycomb of Atlantic sea cliffs. Early one morning we picked our way along the cliffs armed with binoculars and telescope. A fecund world of birds and insects greeted us. Dragonflies flicked in a mist above the sparse vegetation, apparently having just emerged, being so prolific. A kestrel hovered hunting for small mammals in a patch of rank vegetation and crag martins dived bombed along the cliff tops plucking flies from the air at break neck speed. Crag martins are in the Hirundine class, being cousins of our familiar summer visitors the swallows and house martins. They are found throughout Spain and Portugal, much of Southern Europe and also parts of North Africa. They breed in rock cavities and caves in cliff faces.

Cliff tops

Meadow pipits and skylarks trilled above the cliff tops, as did the unfamiliar crested lark. Crowds of black redstarts were also chortling and bustling up and down the cliffs. A male gaped wide and yellow as he drummed out a rasping song, reminiscent of tracing paper being crumpled. Another launched an attack and they descended over the cliff in a ball of rage down to the turnstones who scuttled about on the rocky shoreline far below.

Amidst the birds and flitting dragonflies, fishermen perched precariously on cliff top edges. Armed with umbrellas and bait they sent metres of line down to the sea below. The importance of fishing was enormous: for the fishermen employed to man the boats far out at sea; to the men employed to sort the fish and equipment; to the buyers and the unemployed guys who could earn some money each day by a carefully dangled line.

A day of maintenance shattered the peace, as winchers were cast around the deck and their components oiled and lubed. Holly proved a natural at greasing the shafts. David plunged under the dark skirts of Lista with a tank borrowed from our neighbours (Lynne and Rick of MoonFleet, hailing from Topsham), the putty mixture and a tingle and Dan tended the throttle.

DL descending into the deep

By the evening Nick, Dave and Dan had the mainsail sweetly hung in place. The final phase was applying the extra beef and pork dripping lovingly to the mast to ease Lista’s weary hoops along it. Again Dan, Dave and Nick administered admirably, it was almost as if they had had prior experience of greasing shafts..

Dave and Nick perform admirably

Then the day of Clare’s departure beckoned. Clare Lee had been a member of the Lista team since just about its inception- we collected her near Falmouth in July. She had proved to be as tough as an old boot and as loyal as a pooch. She cooked the meanest omelettes and introduced garlic mayonnaise to the proceedings. She chuffed fags and sank coffee and tea like a top-weight boxer, yet she was of a mere Kylie Minogue stature. While the rest of the crew languished in nausea, Clare churned out meals or sat at the helm. She was happiest by the side of a purring engine, yet by the end of her voyage she was talking about switching sides and joining the sailing morons. She was also the most prodigious arguer, with a weighty opinion on most maters, thus together Dan and Clare stuck their fractious and tremendous relationship.

Halloween dawned and after a hearty stew and ginger chocolate concoction the dressing up began. Dave bagged a rather jaunty white potato net, which rendered his face amorphous and mean. Nick plunged into the paint bag and came back with blood spouting from his gaping neck wound. Hols turned Ninja in an all black number. Dan grabbed his old faithful (the dungarees that have been his companions since teenage years) and spattered blood all over then and him. I chose the witch’s moggy and hung a bell around my neck and stuck a rope to my ass. Lynne and Rick, who had joined us for the evening, soon had dark eyes and ghostly faces.

Dave, Lynne and Rick

Thus, the ghouls headed for poor Baleeira. It was an extraordinary sensation, a pile of fettered beings apparently planning over the sea in our dinghy with Lynne and Rick paddling in their dinghy by our sides. It felt as if we were in some afterlife, on the River Styx rowing for the great waiting room of life; the sort of place where ‘Beatle Juice’ would hang out.

We zigzagged to shore and headed for ‘Dromedary’ the one humped camel bar that we had been frequenting for Internet access. The temptation on offer was ‘The Price’ for the best fancy dress. Oh yes, we were sure we were well up in the stakes for that. Slight doubts were voiced as to whether anyone else might actually be in the pub. Undeterred, we burst through the door.

Our concerns were well founded, we were in a minority, with only the bar lady dressed in unnervingly orange overalls, the bar man in coils of loo roll and a few scattered Goths lurking in the side lines. Needless to say we had a laugh fueled by rum, vodka jellies and a jaunty disk jockey. Then to top it all, we seriously out-foxed the doubters in the room by winning, ‘The Price’. We were showered with prices- from particularly fine goggles, to a radio, natty bag, lighters and all manner of fine orange merchandise.

Next day Clare left and a void was left by Dan’s side.

The days chugged by with more mending, writing and provisioning. Then finally, we tried to leave. The idea was to quickly fill up with water and scarper. Unfortunately, finding it was not easy. The water man disappeared and the only place it could be found was in the fishermen’s loos. Thus Dan spent over two hours nestled amongst the urinals, ney holes in the floor, holding onto the hosepipe, with a giant turd sitting by his side. For this, all crewmembers are indebted.

Meanwhile a swarm of wings appeared in the sky. No less than griffon vultures! I counted seventy-three circling in the thermals, but then more joined them and amongst the crowd a lone stalk. We couldn’t believe our eyes; they hanged in the sky above Lista for over an hour and then funneled off in the direction of Africa. Griffon vultures Gyps fulvus are rare birds of prey, mainly resident in the Mediterranean mountains. Like many vultures they are declining in number, but there are still about ten thousand pairs within the region.

Asian vultures, however, are fairing far worse. Prior to 1997 they were the most abundant and widespread large raptors on the planet, with tens of millions cruising the Asian sky. They were the mighty, flying undertakers, performing a critical role of removing fallen livestock and animal debris: preventing disease, decay, smell, feral dogs, rabies, rats, polluted water courses…. They also formed a critical function in the Parsi /Zoroastrian communities by removing their dead from the ‘Towers of Silence’; traditionally these communities placed their departed on towers for vultures to carry to the next life.

Today these vultures are virtually extinct, hanging on by a meager thread reduced by over 99% since 1997. The cause, diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory drug used to cure cattle of rheumatic pains. When the vultures swoop down to consume offal and dead carcasses, the diclofenac kills them through secondary poisoning causing visceral gout and kidney failure, yet other scavengers appear not to have been affected. Now, without the vultures and without money to dispose of the carcasses, death hangs in the countryside. A cornerstone of the ecosystem has been removed.

This is a truly melancholy story. Man is once again altering ecosystems and suffering the consequences. Luckily, charities like the RSPB and Bird Life International have raised awareness of the plight of the vultures and have set up centres to rehabilitate the remaining vultures and breed new recruits. None of this will be successful, however, until the drug is removed from the food chain. Three countries have banned the drug from veterinary use, but many herdsmen will still have the valuable product in their clutches. Another battle to fight to maintain our rich natural world for its own sake and also for ours- we ignore our inextricable link to the environment at our peril.

Sandwich tern

With the griffon vultures long disappeared we headed for open water and finally, after over two months, watched Europe recede into the distance. We settled into the usual rhythm of watches, feeding and book reading with bouts of nausea. Pretty basic. Then on November 5th wildlife arrived!

An incredible species this member of the Cephalopods, being equipped like all in the class with heightened senses of taste, touch, vision and smell, moving up and down the water column with the plankton. They are pursued by all manner of hunters, representing a key element of the food chain for tuna, dolphins, whales and man. Indeed they are a commercially important crop, being harvested for centuries, that we have found in markets throughout Spain, Portugal and soon Morocco.

The next interloper was Stan the starling. He appeared from nowhere, picked watery oat cake from my fingers and variously perched around the boat. At one point he even conducted a wee ditty. He was in his winter vestiary of spots and iridescence. Starlings are the cockneys of the bird world, nesting nicely in townhouse holes, sitting on overhead wires, mimicking the world going on under their beaks in a series of twangs, chirrups and buzzes. They also live happily in the countryside probing for leatherjackets in pastures and settling to nest in hollow tree trunks.

The unlikely news, however, is that starlings are declining. Ugh, you gasp, not another gloomy tale (I promise there are success stories) but starlings are like many traditionally farmland birds joining the ranks with those not fairing so well. During the winter you might think this is unfounded, as our British starlings are joined by hundreds of migrants escaping from the icy lands of Scandinavia. By the summer, however, the teams of jaunty starlings in our towns and countryside are much depleted. Another unlikely candidate is the house sparrow, once so plentiful they were classed as vermin and exterminated from the grain mills where they wreaked havoc. Today, the familiar chatterer has plummeted in many areas of the country. Causes are not yet agreed, but fingers are pointed at a number of culprits including: unleaded petrol fumes, tidiness and D.I.Y plaguing the nation and filling the nesting holes of many birds, lack of food- no spills of grain due to bureaucracy and over efficient machinery etc.

Stan kept us company for some time. That is until a better offer turned up and into her speckled wings he leapt and together they flew into the distance.

The other onboard wildlife

Next arrived a chiffchaff, such a tiny darting bird, desperately trying to find food aboard Lista before bustling off. She was followed by a skylark, which sang a note or two but could not quite land. Then, Nick spotted a turtle! Unfortunately, it was too far away to get a proper look at. I thought it could potentially be a leatherback turtle, the world’s largest turtle. They wonder for miles in the open sea with a record distance for a tagged individual of 4200 miles! They are unusual among reptiles in being able to maintain a body temperature warmer than their surroundings due partly to a thick layer of insulating fat beneath their skin. This has allowed them to wonder as far north as Iceland and would be a definite contender for sighting off the British Isles.

Then Morocco loomed closer. A small fishing boat appeared by Lista’s flanks making smoking gestures, but soon disheartedly retreated. Our first sniff of Africa filled our nostrils. Holly and I were getting baked spuds, Nick and Dave were getting a far more pungent human poo cocktail. Who knows what Jilly Goulden would have been registering, wafting summer washing over a smoking sweet potato fire? The mind boggles

The green and red or red and white wooden fishing boats grew more numerous. They had extremely high bows giving them the look of turtles, with their noses in the air as they moved through the water. A larger broad-bellied fishing boat appeared at our stern with a screaming gaggle of gulls and we chased it to the port in the hope that it might lead us a safe course.

A skyline of minarets and soft, white buildings greeted us in the form of El Jadida. The high rise flats of Spain and Portugal were conspicuously absent. We putted into the harbour and were beckoned to the wall where a very official, gold buttoned and polished man guided us as to how exactly our lines should be tethered. He later instructed us that coffee and chocolate would be acceptable for his efforts.

We had not since Dingle really found a proper resting place for Lista, where she could feel at home amongst similar wide-hipped ladies. Here in El Jadida we had it. Little egrets perched on lines of wooden fishing boats and the larger, Lista sized boats, slumped under a cargo of boxes, nets, hanging washing, fish and a crew of around about twenty strong. Crowds flocked to the quayside as fish were landed, yelling for particular catches. The boats regularly departed and returned during the day, producing diverse catches of: shark, swordfish, sardines, conger eels and tens of varieties to which I had no idea of name. The copious amounts hauled in seemed incredible. How long have the Moroccans fished on such a scale? How long can the waters along their coastline sustain such bounty? These are all questions that need to be researched and kept popping up as we meandered around the city through the smoke from charcoaled fish or passed the wagons of sardines, the heaps of sprats on the pavement side and the stalls chocker with every conceivable variety of sea food.

We tasted sardines on the first night in a school canteen type building. Banish any thoughts of tomato sauce and cans, these were incredible, crispy salty manifestations. I informed Mum of the dish and she baulked with childhood memories of the nasty meal. She did, however, also recall that during the 1970s along the Durban coastline of South Africa there were incredible sardine runs, where the water filled with writhing masses of the fish and women filled their bloomers with the bounty. Similar bonanzas were reported at the same time in Cornwall, indeed the Cornish fishing industry was founded on the small sprat.

So, we had arrived in Aaaafrica, David’s and my first footfall in North Africa and it’s marvellous! We are all in agreement. Dan had never been to Africa and has been soaking up the scene, perusing the souks and supping glasses of coffee as his beloved DMs are shone. Amid the racks of lamb hanging on butcher’s hooks, the lines of goats’ heads and seated chickens he found a stool to perch upon and therein was preened and plucked as the barber removed his pirate’s beard. The barber was keen to deliver a full sweep and leave Dan shining and baby faced. Dan was not. He had worked long and hard to push out a fine handle bar moustache (plus wee goatee twizzle) and was not losing it. Indeed he has higher goals, to join the elite moustachio club that meet and consider the bristly hair below one’s nose.

Before the shave and shine

Hols and Nick have been to Morocco, but arriving by boat into this riot of colours, perfumes and sights had also knocked them for six. Hols began nosing out the history of El Jadida and soon had armfuls of facts as well as finding the crypt, the ancient walled Portuguese port city and the hammams. We were informed that Morocco’s main exports were almonds, wax, wool and phosphates. Indeed, Jorf-Lasfar to the South of El Jadida is Africa’s largest port.

Nick went on a quest for a barber and unlike Dan went for the ‘baby-faced’ look, with cutthroat razor being applied twice and a complimentary head massage to knock. Next step was to ransack the many cloth stalls in search of slinky boxer shorts. Mission accomplished he returned to Lista Light with a clutch of nifty ‘Man’ pants, ranging from orange to green. The plan was to drape himself in various gin palace poses around the boat portraying the various appeal of each pair, before bundling them off to his brothers for Christmas presents.

Market

The nugget of this particular little gem was no doubt indebted to the Frenchies we were greeted by in Cascais, Portugal. As we slipped into the anchorage, the said French men popped up from below decks like a pair of hunting weasels. With Hols and I safely sighted they began their courtship display. Strutting their stuff like two peacocks, they pushed up, pressed down and generally rippled their lean muscles in their wee red Y-fronts. I had not been ‘treated’ to such a display since entering La Caruna. There, a boat of five mature Finish men in tight little black thongs generally squared up in matcho poses around the deck as they motored pass, ‘I am single, are you married, will you come with us..’. they boomed. I squawked back various taunts, before the Old Sea Dog appeared from the engine room with an axe, ‘My property’!

Scary?!

Ehem, back to Morocco and back to those ‘hammams’ that Holly and Nick had uncovered. They were baths and images of full Turkish splendor filled our heads. We had not seen soap for a while and generally contributed to the heady smell wafting the streets. So eventually we succumbed to cleanliness. Nick and Hol plunged first into the unknown after a run down the beach. Hol experience the mandatory confusion and gentle diddling that appears to surround most of our interactions. She was shown how to use the facilities and then pretty rapidly frog-marched out. Nick’s experience was similarly rapid, with the added piquancy of the buano definitely giving him the feeling that he wanted him OUT.

Old Town, Near the Hammam

Buoyed and pre-warned by Hols and Nick the rest of us trotted off to our respective hammams, Dave and Dan to the men’s, me to the women’s. Large, multiple garmented women greeted me and I was directed to leave my bag in a particular slot and given a large bucket and bowl. I stripped down to my bikini but was swiftly instructed to remove my top. Thus, I trotted off to the next tiled room and found a sea of buckets and women squatting on the floor in their pants, applying water. I seized a bucket, but was instantly rebuked by the main woman. I smiled and tried to appease her. There was some kind of system and I had flouted it. After some time my bucket was filled and I was motioned to sit and so I did on the floor with my warm water and scrubbed and rubbed.

What a sight. Billowing boobs, tummies and bottoms draped the place. The washing ritual continued for an eternity, with woman preening and scrubbing one another like a bunch of chimpanzees. The Queen Pin sat on a tiny plastic stool, commanding the buckets and prize scoop and occasionally sloshed some water over her ample rolls. Then satisfied that all were settled she began the drawn out task of combing and washing her waste long black locks.

Cattle egrets amid building works

Fore-warned, I had full wash kit and pumice stone and began the unfamiliar task of a lengthy hose down. Two girls clocked me, started chatting and offered to scrub my back. They ignored my protestations to rub theirs and so I joined the chimpanzee clan and it was lovely. Unfortunately, during the muddle of my trying to muster my fading French (now that I am trying to learn Spanish any vestiges of French have collapsed under a ricochet of ‘aquis and verdads….’)to tell them about home and such like, the girl scrubbed far too hard, successfully sanding layers of skin off the stupid old goat.

Thus, apart from the dermis eradication, my experience of the hammam was pretty good, if not quite up to the Turkish bath ideal I had conjured. Unfortunately, Dave and Dan’s version was wholly bad. They arrived in the baths and the same King Ape that had made Nick’s Western presence unwelcome became annoyed. It started with a dispute over the price. They thought they had agreed a sum and headed for a soak. On finishing, the price had changed and things started to unravel as the hostility rose. Money was hurled, the man accused Dan and Dave of stealing and then locked them in the baths. The other gentlemen bathers generally appeared to be on Dave and Dan’s side, but the dispute could not be resolved, until Dave became impatient (seems odd?) and prized open the door and in the fracas left with a door handle in his hand and much screaming! Once again the difference between cultures, but most of all the uselessness of not understanding another people’s language was apparent. Dave and Dan were sure they were innocent and he was sure that he was. It left a nasty feeling in the mouth for all, but Dave not being exactly the best contender for merging into a dark, squat, mustachioed Moroccan crowd has had to give the hammam area a wide birth for fear of being accosted by a wild old man!

Is it him??

The other significant difference in Morocco, not witnessed by any of the crew in other developing countries, nor particularly Muslim countries, were the wizards lurking in doorways, sitting on carts, supping mint teas in bars and wondering down the streets amid honking cars and boys dressed in jeans. It was altogether unnerving, as if we had stepped into the pages of ‘Harry Potter’. The garment in question was the ‘Jalaba’ worn by both men and women. Coming in various colours from terracotta, to pajama stripped and azure it allows the wearer to retreat from the sun or attention (if desired) and provides super rapid dressing. Perfect! Dan paved the way and soon snapped up a jade number. Dave and I rapidly followed pursuit and now will merge seamlessly into the Moroccan crowd? Hmm!

Hmmmm..

Wondering down the alleyways, stumbling across front rooms full of seamstresses and boys playing football, the coolness of the narrow, high streets soon became clear and the design prowess of past civilization was displayed. Faded pastel coloured buildings and huge old wooden doors enticed the eye. Every turn had something more to intrigue. Pigeons were absent, replaced by the jaunty cattle egrets rummaging through rubbish or the yellow-footed little egrets roosting in an olive tree.

The souks were the most intriguing of all, rammed full of every conceivable enterprise: from bike shops, to plumbers, to carpenters and wood turners, super stone knife sharpeners were powered by a bicycle wheel, tree stumps were amassed, mattresses and stuffing burst our of stalls, doughnuts piled high sizzling and piles of pungent herbs and spices towered amid dates and figs. Donkeys and ponies stood under weighty cargos, old men sat in self-propelled wagons and cars whizzed passed. Humanity in every form weaved its way through the streets. The engine definitely did not rule, barter, chat, fights and screams did. We felt miraculously safe and unaccosted (women wondered the streets late into the night) in this cinematic extravaganza- simultaneously watching and being watched.

On the fateful night of November 10 2008, when Dave’s working life has finally passed into a dusty archive, we cajoled one another to head into the streets for a run. On reaching the sea we fell into a trot and soon had a group of children screaming along at our side. We quickened our steps and flew through the orange gloom into a seedy part of town. Eyes watched us around every corner, pavements descended into bogs, motorbikes dived out of side alleys and figures emerged from the loom. We sprinted through the haze, two characters in a computer game, dodging lorries, hurdling pavements and pot holes, a prickling feeling that we had stumbled into one of the less salubrious districts of town.

We rounded to the old town and stretched by a donkey munching on straw with his old wagon at his side. Every now and then as one walks the streets you are struck by a wall of human ammonia, blasting acrid fumes into your nostrils. This might be followed by the melliferous fragrance of a camel or pony’s dung, but then the sulphureous retching smell of rotten fish and human faeces knocks all other olfactory cocktails aside.

The pumpit and homemade tagine

We have found a sumptuous ‘snacket’ from the street vendors. Christened the ‘pumpit’ this oversized crumpet-crossed with a pancake is a revelation doused in Nutella. The other favourite from the past was a bag of biscuits pulled out of the bilge from Espana. These are the finger shaped biscuits your granny uses in trifles, but on the Spanish packet go by the rather racy name of ‘boudoir fingers’, a perfect soak.

The next event in our daily Moroccon boat life was the arrival of the diesel fuel lorry. Our batteries are ‘mysteriously’ losing power. (Captain will not thank me for the usage of the term,‘mysterious’, as there is apparently no place for mystique in machines, they are logical, functional, follow set routines, spit out numbers, brrrrr. Fills me with terror. I have explained that Mum brought us Land girls up on pure logic; the TV should receive a hearty whack when it is not functioning properly and the computer has a complex mind of its own). Any road the up shop of the malfunctioning batteries, is that the blighters are losing power and the lack of wind and solar input is hampering our energy supplies so we have needed to generate with diesel. Cue, the Moroccon fuel to use as our safety backstop for our long voyage across the ocean.

Hole in the wall

With purchases from the market to cook tagines and salads, the discovery of a bakery with a hole in the ground spitting out steaming hot bread from its fiery stomach, we had stumbled across heaven in El Jadida.

We soon grew tired of ‘heaven’… Well, city life to be exacting. So Dave and I found our trusty mules (the bikes) under the tubes and jury rigging in the engine room and set off for the mountains. Our bikes were hurled ontop of the bus (for a small price of course) and we were bundled onto the jolting block (seats had expired) at the back. The bus hurtled off, hooting for further occupants. They arrived in crowds along with vendors selling us nuggart, 3-whole-egg sandwiches and wailing godly folk trying to mark our unworthy foreheads or sell us the latest copy of a psalm or other. Eventually we arrived into Marrakech. It was stunning, with a huge medina enclosed by ancient sandstone walls and views to the mountains. That night we had a close encounter with a goat….

Two backsides, not dissimilar

By the next day we were out of there and off on our wheels for the mountains! We passed camels (lined up for the tourists) but more importantly BIRDS! Everywehre! Including my old friend ‘Cyril’ or cirl bunting Emberiza cirlus pecking for food amid a flock of chaffinches and house sparrows. Cyril was back, but rather than in an orchard, or in a wee barley field as he is accustomed to frequent in Devon, he was down the local olive grove. Other cirl buntings were rattling calls out in the eucalyptus trees, but there was no spotting them and at this painfully slow bird watching rate we weren’t going to reach the mountains…so off we peddaled…

Eventually, after one tagine later and multiple great grey shrikes later, the loom of the Atlas mountains grew close.

Our valley resting place.

That night we slept (shivered) on a patchwork of terrace under apple trees and piffled some tiny red apples for supper. Blackbirds, wrens and great tits called. It had the feeling of home, but in addition to apple trees, there were almonds and walnut trees.

Not this view, but we liked it....

In the morning, starving, we clambered up the valley sides with our bikes on our backs. Villagers peered at the unusual vision appearing over the precipice. We wove through a maze of cob buildings (earth, straw and stones hewn from the lense of rock from where they sprang) followed by a pack of giggling children. Chickens pecked in the earth, eyes watched from doorways, marigolds flowered from roof tops and girls returned from the hills with bundles of juniper and water. There was no sign of a shop so we asked if we could have some ‘pan’. Before we new it we were whisked into a cool, red earthy house and gazing over the valley with bowls of olive oil, honey, butter and bread, washed down with mint tea. We chatted about birds- brandishing the bird book at the smiling faces, then finally departed.

Following stoney tracks, passed grinning one-toothed shepherds, we wound our way into the mountains and found the snow. Below us were ‘red’ hills and plains as far as the eye could see.. and the odd stripey ground squirrel for could measure…

With a bit of luxury on November 17 (our half year wedding anniversary!) we returned to Lista and boat life……although somewhat altered. We have some new crew members. I’m not sure whether they have their sea legs, or sure at all about their sailing abilities..

New arrival

But we shall soon find out. All that is sure, is that they stank and were covered in shit….. so soon a hair dressing stint was need

Hairdressing begins....

So with Anne and Derk or is it Moitessier and Knox Johnson or nugget and drumstick (whatever) we sailed into the sun set…….sun rise… Well sometime tomorrow we finally will GO! (with this unusual view to remember North Africa by…)

Atlantic Portugal

If pictures and text weren’t enough (too much I hear you say??) we have also created a wee video of each leg to give a flavour of our travails. Its not that wee actually, infact its rather big at 8MB but in this broadband world that should be possible for some – so set 4 minutes aside and play it with the sound on, at least then you’ll get a nice bit of music to accompany you on the way . . . .

 

11th October

Our arrival into Portugal was marked, I’m afraid, by a Superbouy tethered to the sewerage outfall by Leixios! It’s amazing how smell free the sea becomes, and how in comparison the stench of humanity harasses the nostril on approach to land.

We hadn’t really anticipated coming to Porto (Leixios is the port serving the ancient town of Porto) but after a night sail we always look forward to harbours, especially ones with free showers! Because oh of course, the humanity on board can stench a little too…..

For a bit of stuff on Lista Lights (nee Glimt) former life go to the history section on the menubar but one thing that was clear from the start in our selection of craft was that maintenance would be part of our daily lives with her to keep the old girl afloat. I say selection, it was fairly impulsive, Lista Light is the ONLY boat we actually looked at which saved us rather a few trips to old boatyards. Anyway, at 73years old a bit of botox and a nip and tuck would never go amiss, and this would be our chosen spot. For a boat like Lista I don’t really think of us ever owning her, she is too regal for that, but we are her current custodians and we must keep her right. Working on her raw frame and every plank is how we will get to understand her, respect her and hopefully earn her good favour to return us with a fair passage. And Dan needed a good night’s sleep so we decided to sort the squeaking main mast and boom with a complete overhaul back to bare wood and a new covering in Varnol – a product made from mainly pine resins and gum turps rather than the usual Varnishes on the market.

The first step which involved around 8 mandays divided by 4 loyal crew was to strip her back to see what the underlying wood was like, and then sand the hell out of it until a smooth sheen radiated from the wood….

This is hard work trust me. Not many folk would decide to tackle the spars in a rolly anchorage so what we needed was guts, determination, unfathomable reserves of perseverance, balls of steel (any man who has gripped the mast with his thighs aloft in the bosuns chair for 4 days whilst gently having his block and tackle rammed onto the spars will sympathise . . . women too, I fancy….) oh, and the odd sustenance break . . .

To get 4 people onto the mast at different heights to maximise productivity was a challenge, and eggs must be broken to make omelettes as they say…. We had a 20ft piece of driftwood lashed diagonally to the front, the gaff serves as perfectly manoeuvrable scaffolding, and then the bosun’s chair.

carnage

Our Totem pole was receiving some proper love! And Kath was exorcising the demons of vertigo, and I believe even came to love living up in the chair!! Or so I tell myself.

totem

For the first two days the work proceeded well into the night with Dan and Clare working beautifully like a well oiled tandem of sanders, varnol and the ever familiar chitterchatter of some on running squabble between themselves! These amiable falling outs have become our backdrop as Clare and Dan have spent more waking hours together than you could imagine . . . it’s part of the tapestry of our Atlantic Portugal trip, and is as familiar and natural as Lista’s creaks and groans itself. There is a wonderful friendship and old married couple in one, and now it is infused into every inch of the very mast which will sail us south….

nightshift

When it all became too much, and the inner thigh was in no state to climb the mast for the umpteenth time Kat and I grabbed the bikes and headed off into Porto via the coast. It was fantastic to be off the boat for a while and we were visiting a new place for both of us. On the ride in I spotted a heron, then another, and then another, by the time Kat and I had finished up counting there were over 50 herons sitting, waiting, fighting, squabbling, flapping and skulking about, an incredible sight to see our very own Grey Herons in such numbers here too. I half expected to look up and see a cheviot sheep nibbling the verge, or a Devon Red cow chewing her cud so familiar and “English” I see these creatures as being.

And then they appeared along the roof tops too, most un-English behaviour!

not quite right!

Porto itself is a city set apart by its contours, hammering the bikes around the folds, ceramic coated building, avenues, back alleys and promenades was great fun, but didn’t help us to blend in – there are not many bikes in this city! Internet and Sharon Fruit later we returned at full pace from the height of Porto clattering down the shiny cobbles to the river. Our very brief sojourn had taken us away about 5 miles, one city, a trillion cobbles and contours away, but further still for us in that we were allowed to forget the mast for a few glorious, groin relieving hours!

Oh, thought we should share this lovely sculpture, I think it’s a giant lobster pot but felt a bit like an alien landing. If we become rich I want one….

There can be no talk of Porto and Leixios without mentioning Hannes, Jonathon and of course Milo. Hannes was the captain of a small and low boat heading to wherever the winds would carry them. To call them water gypsies doesn’t do justice, nor translate well. But their craft carried murals, more decktop frippery than even us, more green tea/chai/etc etc than I have ever seen. And everything was for trade by Hannes! Some coconut for some black tea, some nutmeg for some varnish, I didn’t ask what we would get for Kath (eeek, sorry Carole)! But the highlight of their ship was the ships cat, Milo the dog…. This is Milo…

before

Before he was overcome by the relative stability of Lista, something deep in his neocortex snapped into action, and upon being on this “dry land” he succumbed to his urge to relieve his most basic canine compulsion to verily soil the deck with not only pooh but a good dash of urine as well. Oh and some vomit for good measure, though that was Clare’s fault for feeding him something nasty.
This is Milo looking happy after his work….

after

Anyway – back to the final job of more varnolling and a bit of fish spotting for aloft . . .

Clare caught a couple of the grey Mullet above, and spent several hours trying to kill the buggers – they have a skull reinforced with titanium, and scales to rival an armadillo. And the prize is a moderate amount of flesh fuelled almost entirely by human defecation. They were returned to the natural lifecycle the next day.

16th October

We departed Leixios with the main mast out of action and the forecast looking a little light, reduced sail and low wind not exactly being Lista Lights best suite! After sticking about 40 miles out to sea through an absolute pea soup fog we were then dropped altogether by the wind and left to spin around on the current and generally flop. Flop. Flop. Slop. Flop. The next three days were not noteworthy, making only 60 miles a day!

19th October

We arrived into Lisbon – straight into Doca Alcantara. Landfalls are inevitably marked by incident (or is it just that relatively it seems so . . ?!) and this was no different. It was a significant day for us as Nick and Holly, our pre-arranged crew whom we last saw as we set off from the Exe some months ago, joined with Holly’s mum and sister. It was a great lunch sharing stories and trying to start our new normality for the coming days, we were all full of excitement, and the sun beating down on us added to the feeling that this was a new chapter. To make things even better a really dear Portuguese colleague of mine from my previous work days with Accenture arrived with his wife, on his way to the airport for work on Monday morning.
Dan and Clare zipped off to de-grease in the showers and Portugal’s most violent and stroppy ferry company chose that moment to appear in a few hundred tonnes of aggressive steel requesting his berth that we had inadvertently stolen, back. Oh dear. After much broken English on Ch.16 it appears the Mexican standoff had only one loser, and that the Portuguese Navy (him) wasn’t it. Sadly, defeated, the British Navy (us) limped off to receive instruction from the Port authority that we must anchor stern-to in a match box. Without a bow line as it had rotten away. To non sailors let me please explain this is akin to parking a double decker bus in the bike stand of Paddington station, on Platform X, without spilling your coffee, or scratching the Claude Butler racing bike next to you. Oh, let’s add for authenticity that the bus driver has “P” plates and you are getting the picture. Anyway the resulting celebration involved a monumental pishup, vague memories of dancers and too much rum are being banished from my memory, as well as being chased out of the women’s showers at 3am by a cross Portuguese official. Very odd and inexplicable.

Anyway – we too were cross about the previous day’s miscommunication and buoyed and brave with the remnants of last night’s rum we decided we had better face up to the situation and to do the honourable thing. So we ran away without paying. The following days were all slightly blurry, but we picked up our valuable cargo of Nick and Holly, visited Lisboa in the howling rain on our pedlos, and generally waited for some very stiff winds to blow through.

Lisbon is beautiful with her intricate cobbled streets and traditional architecture mounted aside the 25 Abril bridge, and inside of a large bordering park, I think it’s my favourite city.

And we found a new chart!!! Our previous tea towel for the UK, and globe for the Atlantic was supplement by this pavement to conduct our more detailed pilotage. I’m sure the insurance people will be happy with that.

On our arrival to Cascais we were greeted by 6 Cornish Crabbers, like the herons above noted this was a scene much more reminiscent of home and our suspicions were confirmed when a couple of plucky brits skipped past the steel and plastic neighbours to give us a “tally-ho”! God knows how these folk got here but they pulled tentatively on the home heart strings, half expecting a Devon Cream Tea to arrive.

Provisioning in Cascais was hilarious and involved about 90kg of provisions being loaded onto two bikes and the trusty trailer, topped with a bucket on my head much to the amusement of the locals.

23 October

We left Cascais on an early morning, weaving our way through the other vessels that had sought refuge from the stiff winds and spent a few days with us worrying about their anchors too. It’s what sailor’s do it seems. This square rigger was one of the collection

Nick and Holly have taken naturally to the sailing and it was perfect weather to pop up all the sails we could, without the main mast in full commission yet, so we left under two headsails, the mizzen and the newly named GOLLYWOBBLER!!! This sits between the masts and is strictly a quadrilateral sail flown high in light airs but we can embellish the definition somewhat for our sailing pleasure!!

Having Holly and Nick on board gave me a chance to dust down the induction process generally starting with Kat’s recycling regime (hail, hail!!), a whistle stop tour of the heads (bogs to non-sailors), and an introduction to what I most reverently term the

5 Pillars of Classic boat sailing.

1. Tom Cunliffe “Hand Reef and Steer” For those of us with limited to zero experience of things non Bermudan this is a must, frank and forgiving…. And he is also responsible for our introduction to the term Gollywobbler!
2. Hervey Garrett Smith-The Marlinspike Sailor. Old school rope work with no hold barred->
‘…”By his ropes ye shall know the measure of the seaman” Frayed ropes ends are a curse and an abomination, but no more so than improperly made whippings for they indicate either ignorance or indifference. Ignorance is excusable and oft temporary, but indifference generally becomes a bad habit!’
3. Brion Toss “The Rigging Handbook” for full tutorage on rigging materials and methods which will keep us propelled in the right direction hour after hour, and of course a bit more….
“What with years-long voyages that used to b the rule in the olden days, sailors would find themselves with a lot of time on their hands, and lines in them”. He introduces us to the art of what he terms “semi-useful frippery”!!
4. Jimmy Cornell “World Cruising Guide” tells one where the snakes and ladders of world routes are. Generally ignore all comment on social aspects of lands discovered but pay attention to which routes work best when. If, that is, we haven’t buggered it up with climate change altering salinity, currents, and associated seasonal airstreams……
5. ‘Bud’McKintosh “How to Build a Wooden Boat” On rare occasions it is best left to authors to speak of themselves . . . . . “I am opinionated, lazy, plodding, timid about trying anything new, and I have built about 500 deadweight tonnes of sailing yachts – largely with my own hands”. What a man. Former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown was famously reputed to be able to kill a man with his bare hands (could Gordon?), but build 500 tonnes of boat? Only bud can do that.

With this primer we rounded cape espechal and Clare celebrated in the time honoured way . . .

Now, if you are a parent of Clare or relative or friend or have had any run ins with this gem before then please look away now, or have your worst fears about her slightly insane nature fully compounded. Clare and I had had some long running ‘climbing the masts’ challenges (without security lines of course) for the last few weeks. I thought I had pulled the top trump with a mizzen gaff walk on the approach to Lisbon. I didn’t reckon on Clare. The picture of waves pounding the blow hole rounding cape Espechal give the reader an understanding of the sea state, not the worst but nor was it flat. Undeterred Clare picked her moment for a mast walk. She rounded up to the hounds (good 25ft) in no time at all but soon the motion of the boat had her swinging, laughing might I add, round and round like a rag doll. On the third revolution all our hearts sunk as she slipped and picked up pace rapidly obeying gravity at a hell of a rate – raced passed the spear like boat hook resting in the ratlines, and landed at deck level in the last ratline. Fear and sickness gripped us all as we rushed to her. Clare said “I’m alright, I’m alright” as she would. And then we stuck her on the deck to assess the damage. Our on board nurse, Dan, is an incredible facility. All vital signs looked good but one truly painfully bruised leg remained. Only her low weight and some good fortune saved us, well her. Competition closed for now – Clare wins.

We rested that night near a magical little nature reserve near Forte de arrabitta, with its 5 crypts, beautiful waters, and nunnery. I mean convent. The next day was spent pulling up pots to see their slightly unimpressed inhabitants, running up the hills to see the totally impressive but unimpressed convent (we were sent away despite being parched, not very Godly. Nick and Hol fared no better) and snorkelling in the clear waters. Dan looks like a pro – we idolised him as our new sea god, monster from the deep…..

25 October

We hauled anchor in the afternoon for a night sail with the intention of making Cabe Sao Vicente the next day. Twas be the day where one tat created by the salt water in Arrabitta was a tat too many. Bloody things. I cannot imagine how women deal with this on a daily basis but quite frankly it’s ridiculous. And painful. But then they are built to have babies and I am not (thought the cold water was trying to prove otherwise (mangina pic not included). So we had a little clipping session…

BEFORE

DURING

AFTER

I should like to draw attention to the “dutch ratter” I managed to keep. But only for about 20 minutes before it appeared I may have to get divorced over the matter. Nevermind. Another year of growth lies ahead.

The evening was a slow one but certainly pleasant. We stared long at the sun dropping over the skyline in search of the green flash pirate’s talk of . . . .

We played on the deck and in the galley. Cooking in large quantities has presented us with, well, large meals obviously. And also large amounts of leftovers. The creativity involved in fabricating a meal at sea is far outweighed by that required to make sensible use of these leftovers, quick to perish once out of their cans. I had to take this chance to share the secret of Dan’s special sauce…… an absolute stunner, especially if ones brother has kindly filled the bilge with 2kg cans of Tomato Puree!!

Dan’s Special Red Sauce

300g Tomato Puree
Lots of Oil
Dessertspoon dark brown sugar
Dessertspoon Worchester sauce
3 Dessertspoons whole grain mustard
Shot of Dark Soy Sauce
Good crack of pepper
Salt

Some other stuff is wholly permissible and encouraged. Try adding warms spices such nutmeg or cinnamon. Serve with cous cous, warm bread (we are beholden to kath’s wizardry for this), salad or as a pesto style sauce. Dan hasn’t divulged the rest so it remains an Antell family secret to get it as good as we did on the high seas off Portugal . . .

After a slow day we had to make a beeline for Arrifana, a surf break in the cliffs 15 miles to the north of our intended headland. We were tired and needed refuge. What we were delivered was a cove wrapped in devils’ teeth rocks, and despite decent cover from the North the Westerly swell rolled in and a slip in most directions would have been a very bad thing. Kath and I agreed an anchor watch was called for so people were scheduled through the night. Dan fished (looks a bit like Leaving Las Vegas . . ?), Clare recovered, drank coffee and smoked, and laughed, Nic and Holly read and chatted, Kat did squats and press-ups on the foredeck. I felt tired but easy. It was just another day on the lovely Lista Light. Lista swung merrily on her hook but didn’t slip too much

A new day and a new challenge. We had pictorial evidence of the spinnaker named Brutus, in action under the guidance of the previous owners. We had not roused him ourselves until today. So we sought about thinking through how to fly the big man but on a boat with a bowsprit. Slightly confuddled we managed to bang him up and a few chafed lines later we worked out that both the topmast forestay and bowsprit halyard needed shifted if we weren’t going to macerate more lines.

On big confession at this stage. Now Brutus did a good job but can you see his colourings? Something nostalgic about him? Brutus looks too akin to a 80’s hip weaving ski suite to have such a heroic title. We have renamed him Bruno, I hope folk don’t mind. Sorry.

We hoiked the old fella down before rounding the cape – the sea and wind both picking up predictably around the headland. This was a significant day in any yachts trip south – it said so in our pilot book so it must be true. Admittedly though it was a relief to make this point, our last stop before a new continent. It felt significant.

Holly took the pleasure of guiding us round as we made the hurried sail changes

The anchorage behind the Cape was truly stunning, and with an increasing Northerly wind we reckoned on tucking in under the fort on the cliff top, slightly hoping it wouldn’t topple.

So we got really close, too close.

We rested in the anchorage “Enseada de Belixe” and got on with daily life. With the new crew members new systems were devised for sharing the more mundane elements of running the ship. Two new concepts:

The first, MUM Day, means that each person is given a day to be Mum, buys all the food, makes all the food, wash up all the foody plates and generally tidy up, and look after sick crew. Mum is never sick herself you see. No complaining, just incredible energy and fortitude required, a la Ms Beeton. The rest of the days are totally free – good eh?! It’s worked well and everyone has really got into being mum.

The second concept is Misery Monday. Generally the calendar conspires to make mumday misery Monday too. Misery Monday involves nominated crew member seeing to the heads in a fundamental way, restowing stores, and scrubbing the decks.

Nick combines the two beautifully here in a Misery Mumday double header..

He rested well that night. Unfortunately the wind really picked up and by about 1am the night watch (Dan Clare) mildly intoxicated reported that we were swinging violently in the squalls and with only a very jagged cliff for company. I chose to not believe them. For about one minute- until my wishful thinking was banished by a cracking tug from the bow, then donned full wet weather gear with the others to deal with our predicament.

We had snagged both the stern anchor and bow anchor. Ug. We managed to power over both repeatedly but in the strict confines of our tight cove it didn’t seem to work. Just at the point of giving up first the stern line freed up, and then a few more thrusts forward towards the cliff it was followed by the bow as she reared forwards. We about turned into a filthy wind with spray being lifted from the totally protected water right over our heads – must have been gusting 45kts as we ran at 4.5kts then 5.0kts on bare poles alone! Kat plugged in the waypoints, the others kept a rapidly sobering eye out for ships rounding Cape Sao Vicente, and I plunged her into another souper as the water filled my willies to the ankles in minutes! The report from the chart table came up that we should not be within 2 miles of the cliffs. I looked not across to them, but sort of more up … oh well, we managed to get some good coverage from them into the bay so I think the pilotage notes may need amended for this bit. We dropped the hook into sand and got a solid tug as she halted the drift backwards. And we slept another halfsleep.

(Log Change, Kath back at the helm . . . . )