Sister's Journal

Date: 1.October.1999
Location: Lagos, Portugal
Position: 37 degrees 6.6 minutes North, 08 degrees 40.5 minutes West
The Coast of Portugal

We've been working our way down the coast of Portugal for 4 weeks now. For the most part the weather has been gorgeous. Except for a few days "bad" weather has been limited to warm showers which are actually pretty refreshing. The downside of such weather is that there has been very little wind and we, as well as virtually all the boats we've met, have motored pretty much the entire way.

Sister, Lynn spent 3 of those weeks with us, joining us, September 5 in Bayonna, Spain and departing September 24 in Cascais, Portugal (near Lisboa).

We've "voyaged" from the north down to Lisbon one-day at a time. It is incredibly, incredibly GOOD to be in a warm climate. I haven't worn long pants or shoes since August. The missing wind has started to reappear but we are far enough south now that it is a good thing. It is refreshing and, from radio reports, more and more boats are sailing rather than motoring. Many say they've finally found the famous Portuguese trade winds.

Along the way we had a few, too few, encounters with dolphins. Everyone knows about dolphins; how smart they are, how playful they are, how much fun they seem to have and how cool it is too watch them but actually watching them for a while is hard to describe. You sail or motor along at 6 knots constantly scanning the sea for things that might get in your way. Your eye is repeatedly distracted by movements of various sorts. The distraction might be a bird, a whitecap, waves coming together but once in a while it is the first sign of dolphins. You may only catch a glimpse out of the corner of your eye but there's no question about what it is. You focus on the spot where the splash was then, since you know the dolphin won't come up again in the same spot, you kind of zoom out so as to increase your field of view. Usually she's up again within a minute or two and usually she's got company. Before long dolphins surround the boat. They swim along side the boat, they chase it from the stern and they, of course, lead us along our way. They swim upright, on their sides and occasionally upside down for a bit and of course they're smiling the whole time and, frequently, whistling as well. That's right, they whistle occasionally. They whistle in short chirps ... a sound that could be made by a human. It's not eerie or weird in any since, it's just unexpected.

The dolphins appear to like two activities more than any other. First, they love to lead the boat along through the water. During a "visitation" there are constantly 4 to 6 dolphins swimming, slowly in the case of a sailboat, just ahead of the bow. This is their favorite and they are constantly vying for this position. As you watch them ... laying on your belly on the foredeck is the preferred position ... they will lead you for a while then one or two will do kind of a Blue Angel move where they peel away from the others and dart off to one side or the other. Virtually instantly two more are there to take their place.

Second they love to charge the boat from the side and shoot under her keel at the last moment. It is a little unnerving. They look like torpedoes streaking through the water at your midships ... imminent disaster. Even after deciding that the boat is in no danger it seems that the dolphins are. It is easy to imagine them misjudging the depth of your keel and giving themselves a major headache or dorsal finectomy, or worse, but it never happens. Time after time it looks like they're on a suicide run and, they're going to swim right through the boat but, as always, at the last possible second down and under the boat they go ... they love it ... we love it.

Finally, inevitably, they leave. Departure is, if anything, more sudden than arrival. Almost as if on key the ones leading the boat take sudden 90 degree turns, right, left or straight down, and they and the others are gone. I don't know what makes them decide to leave. Whatever it is they're all tuned into it 'cause they all leave within seconds. Then, it's back to watching for obstacles. It occurs to me that if there were ever an obstacle in our path during a time when we're watching dolphins then we'd just hit it cause our total concentration is on the dolphins.

For those that don't know, we're participating in a sort of a group crossing of the Atlantic. The event is called the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, the ARC. There are competitive divisions but most of the 250 boats participating are not interested in racing so they enter the less aggressive cruising divisions. Participants, most of whom are European, only six from the US, will meet in Las Palmas de la Gran Canaria in November for "pre-event festivities" then, on the morning of Nov 21 we all head south and west for the Caribbean. The first day will be chaos as 250 boats vie to cross the "starting line" simultaneously, the second day we probably will see some other participants, but by the third day it will be as if we were on our own. It is a big ocean, after all.

Currently boats are headed for Las Palmas, virtually all of them moving at a very leisurely pace, from all over Europe. For a week or so now every morning boats on their way to Las Palmas have been "meeting" electronically. To do this boats tune their high frequency radios to a specific frequency at a specific time and trade reports regarding position, weather, sailing conditions and more important stuff like marina costs and good restaurants along the way. The process is called networking and this particular net is called, amazingly enough, the ARC net.

This morning boats called from northern and southern Portugal, Gibraltar, Madeira and the Canaries. The information exchanged is indeed useful but the social interaction, albeit remote, is even more important. By the time we get to Las Palmas we will "know" several boats and crew and it will be good to put some faces with the names.

Currently we're sitting in the marina in Lagos on the south coast of Portugal. The Portuguese call this region the Algarve. It is warm and sunny pretty much year round. The marina is first class with facilities beyond the normal showers, laundry etc. Here there are restaurants, a newsstand, other shops, internet access and a couple of bars. The cool little town and excellent restaurants are just a few hundred yards away. If I were forced to stay somewhere in Portugal for the winter then I think this would be it.

But we're not going to be forced to stay in Portugal so tomorrow, or the next day, it's off to Madeira and/or it's neighbor, Porto Santo. Madeira is 479 nautical miles from here. When I plan a leg of the trip I assume that we'll average a minimum of 5 knots and a maximum of 7 knots. Believe it or not there is an incredible difference between going 5 knots and going 7 knots. For example, at 5 knots the trip to Madeira would take us 96 hours, 4 days. At 7 knots the trip would take us 68 hours, less than three days. More than a days difference in travel time thanks to a little 2 knot difference in speed. For planning purposes I'll assume that the trip will take us 80 hours. I'll let you know how it turns out.


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