Another long passage down the coast of Portugal took us to Figuria da Foz, or Fig Foz as it says on all the boats registered there. This time we stayed closer in and the coast seemed to be one long beach with low land behind. The pilot book did not make Foz sound an enticing prospect. It spoke of vicious cross currents and the need to avoid the ebb tide, to preferably arrive at slack water. This is because Foz is in the mouth of a river and at the ebb the tide adds to the river current, which is a strong one. The only alternative to Foz would have meant travelling nearly a hundred miles, leaving at dawn and going on till dusk. That was as the crow flies and made no allowance for sailing to the wind. So Foz it was and we had a slightly later start, as we wanted to arrive at around six in the evening.
Finally we had blue skies and a blue ocean and after a few hours we had some wind. The skipper went forward to wind out the mainsail, leaving the crew to winch. A large pod of dolphin came to investigate, big ones, small ones swirling and circling, rolling on to their backs, showing their gleaming white tummies. I think they were trying to watch what we were doing. The skipper had to have stern words with the crew, who was not really paying proper attention and kept letting the rope slip off the winch. Once the sail was up the dolphins stayed alongside us for ages. Unfortunately in my excitement I managed to press something on the camera, which gave the shots I took an even bluer cast, like the dodgy bits from South Pacific.
I also took some inadvertent video, but have no idea how too play it back. That day we had lots of long dolphin encounters, I think they like the shade cast by the sails. At one point we were raced by some little, fat dolphin, which leapt right out of the water with their bodies stiff, like cartoon characters and then went to play in the bow wave. John also saw an eel, which slithered snakelike across the surface, not so enchanting. Sailing along in the light wind with the music playing made the long day seem rather decadent.
Our arrival at Foz was spot on six and we coped well with the cross current on entering the harbour. We had heard no response to our radio request for a berth, but an official with an immaculate white short sleeved shirt was waiting outside the reception. He took our lines, but did not look very comfortable about handling them and was much more concerned that John should go with him to complete the paperwork before we went to a proper berth. This seemed a daft arrangement with everyone trying to enter at slack water, we knew at least two other yachts were coming in behind us and their masts were clearly visible behind the harbour wall. John went inside with him and it was not a quick process, despite John filling out the forms at such speed, he had nearly completed the Portuguese bits before the official could stop him. Meanwhile a two masted schooner was on its way towards me. Finally John and the official emerged and he more or less told us to pick our own spot, he would be unable to assist. We shuffled off as the schooner pulled in. I stood poised on the beam, the pontoon was short and would prove to be wobbly, the current was manning up. I was saved from having to launch myself by a small child. He stood bare chested and careful, waiting for our ropes. When he caught them he received a lot of earache in French from his dad, about what to do and when to do it. I thought he did a marvelous job and tried to say so and to thank him.
Not much later we set off into Foz. There was a long walk across the pontoons to the restaurant and bar. As we walked by fish swarmed like piranha slightly ahead of us. The bar was humming and the restaurant full of Reserved labels. We headed off into town, well actually just across the wide road, and ate at a small restaurant with a barbecue outside. A thin, mournful looking chef manned the grill, alternately shuffling coals and ashes and fanning wildly. Food was cooked without a word being exchanged with him. He collected metal plates of raw food from inside, he cooked what was on them, shuffled the plated a bit and then put the cooked food back onto them and took it back into the kitchen, from where it emerged arranged on pot plates accompanied by potatoes. Occasionally someone he knew came in and he broke into a wide smile and nodded. Out in the public car parking space in front a couple of youths were operating a “Look after your car Mister” routine. Next day there was a street market in which shiny hub caps and wheels were on sale.
We wandered around admiring the cauldrons and old sewing machines, record players and wine flasks. Scythes and other lethal looking antique tools were ranked along with plaster saints and china teacups. Women clustered round the jewelry tables and old men sat in the shade chatting and eating what looked like baked shellfish from a steaming black mound. We followed the crowds and found a wonderful market full of fresh vegetables and fish. It was a pity we did not need more, but we bought bread, cucumber and tiny tomatoes.
At intervals as we walked came a blaring burst of trumpets and a loudspeaker announcement from a touring car. At first we assumed a politician was canvassing for votes, but then we realised they were promoting a bull fight taking place later that day. The evangelical nature of the advertising made us wonder if such events were so popular. The visiting circus just made do with posters. We walked up through the smart part of town towards the sea, where Foz became quite a seaside town, the territory for bucket and spade holidays. Our next stop, Peniche was even more so. We only stayed a night, so only explored the main street, but it’s atmosphere reminded me so much of Mabelthorpe, though the magnificent seafood platter we ate in Peniche was a far cry from our own seaside fish and chips. The journey to Peniche was another long day, mainly motoring, with dolphins as light relief.
The corner of the coast before Peniche has a huge rock, shaped like a rubber duck. As we rounded it we could see a number of small pleasure cruisers full of tourists and gave way to a couple. The approach to the harbour was littered with lobster pots, through which John picked our way carefully. As we neared the entrance we were overtaken on the inside by a large green fishing boat, going hell for leather, trailing a canopy of gulls. Lyra road the first half of the wake and then we slipstreamed in behind them, coasting in along the milky, green passage they had cut through the slalom course of pot markers. Once inside there was room to go along the outside of the long visitors pontoon, which actually acts as a barrage to shelter the permanent berths. All night long we swayed in the slap of fishing boats plying to and fro. One night was enough. Fortunately our next leg was a shorter one, so we set out again next morning. As we rounded the harbour wall we were faced with a veritable minefield of small flags. The revenge of the seafood platter. John threaded our way through and them we had a go at sailing.
It took us a while to pick up as much speed as the force three wind promised and our progress under sail threatened to turn a shorter day into a longer one, so we gave up and put the engine on.