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  • Writer's picturePeter

Last Days in Europe

Our stay in Vilamoura, Portugal was decided about 6 months ago as we wanted to have a confirmed berth for the busy month of August. We thought that August being the main holiday month, we would be more comfortable knowing we had a confirmed, reserved location, rather than risking a busy anchorage or “sorry we have no space” in a marina if the weather turned bad.

This was also our last month on the European mainland before our onward voyage to Madeira and The Canary Islands. The importance of this, for us, was that it was a “final” opportunity to purchase and to have delivered our last major equipment supplies. It is hard enough getting an on-time delivery to a location on mainland Europe, never mind getting a delivery to an island in the Atlantic Ocean – even if it is still a part of Europe.

  • Sirocco Fans from the USA, kindly bought and dispatched by Jeff in July

  • 2 boxes of many spares as well as new fire extinguishers from Germany

  • A new drinks fridge from Spain

  • A new Offshore certified Life Raft from France (to replace our Coastal Life raft)

  • A replacement part for the Genoa furler from Spain (the original was “lost at sea” while doing maintenance work)

  • A new style inflatable Dan Buoy from the Netherlands

  • The repaired FFR from Italy

When I made the above list, you can already imagine the complications of this arriving on time in Vilamoura, but we were, as ever, optimistic in our approach and trust of companies doing what they promise and postal/courier services being able to deliver in the holiday month of August.

In the end is was almost a complete success, except for the Sirocco Fans that would not clear customs until the beginning of September and then take another 5-10 days for delivery to Vilamoura – which was about 2 weeks after our planned departure.

For the rest we had many issues and surprises:

  • The 2 boxes from Germany were split and the first one arrived within a few days. The other one was loaded onto a truck for delivery at least 4 times and then seemed to magically re-appear in the Lisbon warehouse. After many hours on the phone by Ingrid to Germany, this was the last package to arrive. Unfortunately, of the 3 fire extinguishers ordered, only one had a manufacturing date of 2022, the others were 2021 and 2020. These old ones had to be returned and replaced, for which SVB (the supplier) happily deducted the cost of the news ones from our account and sent the extinguishers to Vilamoura, where we had departed a week previously. These are now re-routed to our next port of call where they will be waiting for us; surely ? We can claim our money back once we return the old ones to them. It is nice to be trusted by a company where we spend many thousands of Euros on supplies.

  • The package from The Netherlands could not be delivered as the original address we gave had a sticker over it with nothing but the boat name and the Pontoon number we were at. After many days of calls and confirmations the delivery company still had no idea how to deliver it to the Marina Office (did they not have Google Maps ?). Ingrid eventually met them on a street corner near to the marina where the handover was made.

  • The rest of the deliveries were also making us nervous as the updated shipping information was almost never updated after dispatch but, surprisingly, they arrived in good time – we should not have worried.

For repairs, there were several jobs that needed to be done, for which there was ample time at the beginning of the month. As the month progressed, the list of jobs seemed to increase and there was a need to prioritise the list of what was most important. By the end of the month, it was a question of what was essential to do in Vilamoura and what could wait until later as time was just running out !

The 2 biggest jobs were the replacement and re-installation of the drinks fridge, which went almost perfectly, but the thermostat on the new fridge did not work. The supplier tried to order a new one, but the manufacturer sent the wrong one. We are therefore still waiting for a replacement to be sent to our next location. The downside is that everything in the fridge is really cold, to the point where it hurts to drink the water from the bottle. We can live with this, but my electricity consumption is higher than I would like and it is upsetting my concept of how much additional power I need to sail without turning on the engine to re-charge the batteries.

Probably my biggest problem was the smell of sulphur (H2S) in my hot water. I had treated the complete system to an anti-bacterial flush, but the smell returned a few days after the work was done. I knew there was no option but to open my hot water tank – located, of course, in an “inaccessible” location on the boat. I only needed to remove the sofa, my stash of spares, pipe and consumables, then to remove the floorboards, below which the tank is located.

I really did not want to do this job as I was concerned for the tank re-assembly with the heating element and rubber seal; incorrectly re-assembled would mean a water leak in a difficult to fix location.

Once I started really cleaning, I found a lot of green algae in the pipes and the tank itself was quite disgusting on the inside. Slowly with numerous flushes the tank was fully cleaned and also, all scale removed. I was actually surprised how little scale there was, considering how hard the water was in Marina di Ragusa. Now, about 3 weeks later, the water still seems to be smelling good, though I do see a need to replace the internal water pipes at some time in the not too distant future.

While I was fixing and repairing there was the inevitable series of breakdowns at the same time. Our portable and foldable solar panel for the outboard motor had a loose connection and needed to be returned to the supplier in The Netherlands. Unfortunately, the loose connection was behind the cloth backing and for me to repair it would mean a lot of damage to the appearance of the panel. So back it went and we hope it will be returned to us in either Madeira or The Canaries.

Our electric bike also broke down as the electric

part no longer wanted to work. Bought in Decathlon Italy the big question was: Would decathlon Portugal fix it ? Surprisingly the answer was yes, but no chance of fixing it before we departed from Portugal and no they would not send it to Spain (The Canaries) for us.

Hence, we hope that it can get fixed in The Canaries when we get there whilst it is still under warranty.

With all this going on, I had to go fishing to relax a little.

During my activity with these items, Ingrid was again busy with specialist sowing jobs for the boat. This included a bag for the bike, webbing straps to attach the deflated dinghy to the front of the boat and a pair of nice yellow scatter cushions for our cockpit. Ingrid also had plans for the helm seats, but time wiped that idea out until later.

Besides working on our to-do-list, we also had some visits from friends; Apollo from The Netherlands, Christina from Abu Dhabi, Barbara from Oman (now in the Netherlands) and Michel, Vi and Blake from Portugal. This of course included the obligatory life jacket fitting for the safety of our guests, steering the boat who had an interest to do so and a leisurely lunch at sea.

We spend a day sailing with each and had a great day out on the water with light winds and good conditions. The marina was a great place for Ingrid to practice every day with the dinghy and outboard as we travelled between our jetty and the marina office and the showers, she is now quite proficient and at ease.

The most difficult parts were passing below a low bridge that linked 2 re-fuelling jetties that were close together and avoiding the 250 little Lazers from the regatta that always seemed to be getting in the way as they went in and out of the marina at the same time as us.

As this was our last stop on the “mainland”, we also thought to start stocking up on foodstuffs that would be potentially more expensive on the islands. We therefore bought many kilos of oats, rice and pasta, cans and tubes of tomatoes and tuna, jars of jam, mustard, mayonnaise and pesto, packets of biscuits and nuts, not to mention a few cases of beer and many litres of water and wine.

Fortunately, Michel kindly lent us his car and it was not so difficult to buy and bring the items to the boat for a well-trained packhorse.

The picture here on the left shows a large number of Conimex goodies, that was personally delivered by Barbara and included some "ontbijtkoek", "gevulde koeken" en"kano's" as wel.

Now, finding a place to store them and remember what we bought and where it is stored is another story that is based on Ingrid’s organised mind, excel spreadsheets and a bar code system.

In other words, you have to be careful if you want to open a new jar of jam or eat more biscuits than your ration will allow as my pet dragon is the guardian of the list and the location code.

Surprisingly everything did fit and all we have to buy is fresh produce for our crossing whilst the rest should keep us going for a good few months. I am not sure where we will put the fresh food, but that is another problem for another day. We just have to make sure that our concept of a ration is the same as everyone else’s.

As a part of our purchases, we also bought a bread maker to help with our bread needs for our long voyages as there are few bakeries on the way to the Caribbean to buy our daily loaf. It was funny that we could hardly find the time to make our first loaf with our visitors and other “urgent” jobs. In the end we made an excellent wholemeal loaf that looked like one and tasted good. We have 3 possible sizes of loaf, so we should be ok for everyone’s bread needs, we just need to make sure that we bring sufficient flour and yeast.

And then there is our trip to Porto Santo, a small island just north of Madeira that together with Madeira forms its own Autonomous Region within Portugal. This part of our voyage was to “test” our system of water making, power generation and the overall comfort and ability to cope with an ocean crossing. This section was only 482 nm (a little over 800 km) and it took us 3 nights and 4 days.

A part of our preparation process was also to find places to store the dinghy as we did not want it hanging from the davits at the back of the boat on a longer crossing. This was also the reason for Ingrid's creation of the dinghy and bike bags. We managed to find a place on our deck, close to the front of the boat which was secure, did not obscure any views and did not obstruct any ropes for the sails or rigging.

Giuseppe joined us for this part of our journey as it was the first time we would be sailing in the Atlantic Ocean and quite far from any land. We knew that we could do it on our own, but we wanted the comfort of some additional help and experience. A good sail would be a great confidence builder for us both. Knowing Giuseppe's sailing experience from our previous Bay of Biscay crossing and his skills in the kitchen, we thought he was a great fit to our little team for this short journey.

We found that our first day was a little rough and uncomfortable, but as the days moved on, we had some excellent sailing (finally!) and we started to find time to do “normal” things like read books, prepare messages and even relax a little.

Our recently returned FFR sail was well used in the light winds towards the end of our sail where we managed to keep around 5-6 knots of boat speed in 5-6 knots of wind speed.

On one of the nights, while Giuseppe was on watch, he said that he heard a thud, which sounded like someone throwing a large stone at the boat. It was actually a misguided flying fish that landed in our cockpit, missing Giuseppe by inches. Over a week from this incident, I am still finding fish scales on odd corners of the boat.

Flying fish is not very tasty and I was trying ever so hard to catch something more palatable, but with no great success until the 3rd evening when my reel went zipping away with a fish on the end.

The smallish Skipjack Tuna was landed and on the

evening menu within the hour of being caught. A delicious dinner with an exceptionally big smile on my face.

Night watches were much easier to organise with 3 people, rather than two, so the load was better spread between us. Ingrid still preferring daylight hours whilst night times were good for Giuseppe and I.

We saw very few boats on our voyage, only when we passed the traffic separation scheme at the point of Portugal and a seaway towards The Canaries from Europe. We only had to call 1 large tanker on the VHF to make sure he was going to sail behind us. We seemed to slip between the other ships with more than a nautical mile to spare – which for us is a comfortable safe distance.

The very last day had to be done on motor only as the wind had died completely. It was actually lovely to motor through oily flat seas where we were greeted by flying fish and more than a dozen turtles. The outline of Porto Santo slowly grew as we got closer and we finally moored in a beautiful, wide bay with turquoise coloured water, just beside the marina.

In conclusion to our “Trial” passage, all was good except that our fridge and freezer used more electricity than expected, to the point where the engine needed to be used to re-charge the batteries.

The dinghy needed to be returned to the water after the voyage for general use in the bay and getting into the marina. It was therefore an interesting exercise to find out the best location to reflate it and how to get it into the water without causing any muscle strain; the halyards worked a treat as Ingrid supervised the activity with her camera.

The hydrogenator stopped working as a result (I have just discovered) from marine growth that caused the propeller to jam. This is now cleaned and hopefully will be working well on the next leg of our journey.

The island of Porto Santo gave us a lovely time to relax in the bay at anchor for 5 days. The 9km sandy beach along the south of the island gave a beautiful colour to the sea that allowed us to swim and relax.

We visited the main points of the island – it did not take long and we probably would have stayed a week longer if the weather was not in the process of changing. The bay we were in gave excellent protection for wind and swell to the north, east and west, but as luck would have it a south-westerly was expected with 1-2 meter waves. Not the place to be at anchor, so we headed to out next port of call in Madeira – Quinta do Lordo.

On the way with a large swell, our sail was excellent with the FFR and light winds again – almost like being back in the Mediterranean Sea. Though the swell was in excess of 2 meters, it was quite comfortable as the wave period was 9 seconds, so we gently rose and dipped as the waves came by and the wind blew us onwards to Madeira.

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