Archive for the Wildlife Category


Posted in Cooking, Cornwall, French canals and rivers, Music, Photographs, Sailing, Surfing, the Atlantic Ocean, the Azores, the Canary Islands, the Madeira archipelago, Walking, Wildlife with tags , , on August 19, 2016 by maidofmettle

5 years ago yesterday night (yesternight?) I sailed between the Wolf Rock and Gwennap Head / Tol Pedn to the accompaniment of fireworks exploding somewhere over Land’s End (yep, I’m claiming they were for me ūüėČ ).

And 5 years ago today I dropped anchor in Mullion Cove after leaving the Azores on the 3rd of August.

2011-08-19 #09 Mullion Cove (Custom).JPG

That was the beginning of the end of two years of living on Maid of Mettle, just over a year and over two thousand miles with Chris and Caroline and another 10 months or so and a couple of thousand miles on my own. It seems a while ago now..

So, what don’t I miss?

  • handling wet and very cold ropes on the canals, not to mention stamping my feet to keep the circulation going while motoring in a wet and chilly France. This may have had a permanent effect – warmth is definitely one of the things I do miss!

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  • rough seas, when you know things may well get worse before they get better and there is no escape till they calm down – while they were only a small part of the trip, and on the whole a price well worth paying, they do leave some lasting impressions. I seem to have blanked nearly the entire trip from Madeira to Tenerife from my memory after a few days when I didn’t feel well, despite the fact that looking over some photos and videos there were clearly some nice parts to the journey as well. Some passages you just want to end.

2010-10-25 #06 Madeira to Tenerife (Custom).JPG

And what were the best things?

  • the freedom – the time to properly enjoy cooking, to go walking and get to know places, to meet people, to take up new hobbies such as surfing and playing harmonica, or simply spend at least an hour in the surf to end up with one half-decent picture of a breaking wave – this is special, more so than exotic places.

2010-10-18 #07 Boaventura (Custom)

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Thanks Jon for that photo

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and thanks Quiksilver for that one

2010-08-02 #04 Praia da Culatra (Custom)

Though that said:

  • discovering beautiful places, and experiencing things I never knew existed. I could name something in any region we went, but the following stand out particularly:
    • the peaceful waters of the Guadiana,

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  • the levada canals winding among the peaks, valleys and terraces of Madeira,

2011-06-15 #40 Boca da Corrida to Barreiras (Custom)

  • the hill country of northern Gran Canaria

2011-02-13 #11 Cruz de Tejeda to Artenara (Custom)

  • and the hot springs of the Azores

2011-07-12 #37 Sao Miguel - Poco da Dona Beija (Custom)

  • ¬†the people – while getting to spend time with my family and friends in this country again is fantastic, for meeting and getting to know new people it’s much easier while sailing (though the same effect can be true coastal sailing in this country, especially in the west country).

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  • Also in the first part of the trip having so much (okay – yes, sometimes too much at times!) time with two of my best friends

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  • the sailing on passage – there is a real satisfaction in taking plenty of time and patience to the boat set up to travel as safely, quickly and comfortably as you can, and a peaceful night sail miles from anything is a delight. There are similar pleasures in coastal cruising but it’s a different mindset as you usually have to change things much quicker!

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  • the accomplishment of offshore passage-making – it’s a rare opportunity,¬† definitely a special feeling, and one that lasts whereas so often in other fields there is always the next deadline lurking.

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  • the stars at sea – an incredible spectacle. You could reach out and touch them, but you could never count them (they’re not easy to photograph from a small boat either)
  • dolphins – very hard to predict when they’ll turn up, and there is something utterly magical about their presence, bringing an instant and lasting smile (that got crossed off after seeing dolphins several days in a row sailing west down the Cornish coast, culminating in them playing round the boat for ages sailing into Portscatho in the evening sun)

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  • the food – the Madeira market is the greatest for spectacle, but my favourites are those in Alcoutim (tiny but welcoming, frequently including a massive bunch of coriander as a gift) and Las Palmas (enormous and well worth browsing all round), the challenge of provisioning and cooking on a boat in general and especially on passage, and the many regional delicacies. Except the barbecued dried squid, which I’m not convinced was actually edible

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You’ll notice many of those overlap – a symptom, I think, of a fundamentally different lifestyle. Though that said, there are many things I have taken (or try to) from the time away:

  • the willingness and confidence to try new things – without some of the experiences while away I’m not sure I’d ever have ended up playing for my football team, or sung at my local folk club (to be fair that’s pretty rare even now)

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  • friendships with people I/we met while away. While I hear from others further afield, it was a special pleasure to be present when Si and Cat launched Kensa, the fishing boat they’d built since returning from their extensive travels in the Mediterranean

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  • and more than that, I think I’ve managed to stay in better contact with at least some friends since being away and having that bit more time and impetus to keep in touch via email etc when not meeting face to face (if you’ve read this with some surprise, disappointment and/or offence, please drop me a line and we can start putting things right! ūüôā )
  • enjoying a continuing connection to offshore sailing through various friends; the members of the Ocean Cruising Club – I am still amazed and humbled that they awarded me their Rose Medal for 2011, just being part of a club containing so many people who have achieved extraordinary things is an honour; and the general collective of sailors coming and going from and enjoying the south-west

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2011-08-30 #11 St Mawes - Wylo II (Custom).JPG

  • speaking of which, discovering south Cornwall as a cruising ground – it is a very special area

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It seems a good time to repeat this sentiment from 2010, for adventures near or far ūüôā


“A toast to onward voyages on land and sea”

(that last picture and inspiration for the style of post come from Caroline’s last entry 400 days to get there 400 minutes to get back)

Bolo do Caco Recipe and some fish

Posted in Cooking, Fun, Photographs, Wildlife with tags , on November 14, 2010 by maidofmettle

Also, I promised to publish the long awaited bolo do caco bread recipe which after some honing is finally here…

Bolo do Caco (basic recipe  without potato)

Boat Bolo and a proud cook

250g flour

7g yeast

1/2 tsp salt

1tsp sugar

Add all of above together.

Gradually add up to 150ml water until you get a good dough consistency.

Knead for 10 minutes (yes, actually 10 minutes…this is the workout bit for you so don’t cheat)

Flour a frying pan then flatten dough into it.

Add a little flour to top of dough.

Leave to rise for 1 hour in a warm place.

Heat on a low heat for around 10 minutes each side until it looks golden.

Remove from pan and leave to cool or eat straight away with garlic butter for that authentic Madeiran taste…
In other news

Tenerife has lots of lovely fish swimming about near the beaches.  Below is a video Chris took whilst we went snorkelling a little while back.

Let them eat…us? Madeira

Posted in Fun, Photographs, Walking, Wildlife with tags , , on September 25, 2010 by maidofmettle

Quinta da Lorde marina is in the middle of nowhere so we have been working our way up to exploring the rest of Madeira though it takes some organisation if you want to leave the town. So far we have done a bit of snorkelling at the beach closest to us and hosted another driftwood BBQ with some other people from boats here and a random dog who turned up half-way through. James and Lesley from the boat next door and an all female crew from the boat ‘Triple D’ ( , both of whom are doing the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) across the Atlantic this year.

From Left: James, Pete, Trycha, Alice, Jillian, Caroline, Chris and Lesley

There are some impressive fish to be seen in the waters around here. The nicest being what we think are multi-coloured parrot fish and some dark fish with bright blue bits on their fins. There are also some pretty big butterflies that fly around occasionally, though not in the water obviously.

We got literally covered in lizards on a walk a bus-ride away at Pico Facho. We had innocently sat down to eat our sandwiches when along they came. Some of them were pretty big and they were literally crawling all over us and into our tupperware container. They are impressive at jumping and can leap quite a way with no trouble at all. They were cute until one crawled on Pete’s face and bit his lip, though Pete maintains that he think it fell and tried to grab him on the way down.

“Can we keep them? Can we?”

Covered in lizard

As well as being full of lizards the walk took us through some terraced farm land and past quite a few goats. There are quite a few trees so the countryside looks fairly green in places but is interspersed with dried grassy areas. We think other parts of the island will be even greener especially now we are heading towards the rainy season on Madeira.

Walkies through the countryside
We have got to know the girls on ‘Triple D’pretty well over the last week, having met up a few times and been beaten at the games Jungle Speed and Bananagrams. We saw them off yesterday, me having decided I was going to become their fourth crew member. Their boat is much bigger than ours and I wouldn’t mind a room of my own. It has been quite rare to find female sailors in the marinas we have visited so it was nice for me to get to know Trycha, Alice and Jillian a bit so we could talk about fluffy bunnies and kittens instead of other more blokey things for a change ;-). We sent them off with some of Chris’ legendary caramel shortbread however, they didn’t manage to leave afterall yesterday due to problems with a repair they’d had done. Well, not so much the repair but the bill afterwards that they were not expecting. Anyway, we hope that that all gets sorted soon so they can head towards the Canaries.

“I’m coming with you…” The fourth crew member

We took the bus to Funchal (answers on a postcard if you know how to pronounce it). The buses have incredibly narrow seats and the roads are quite bendy resulting in an interesting ride. It was fine really, you just need to hold on a bit if you have the aisle seat.
Funchal was a little wet but quite nice. The buildings are really interesting and they have some really nice gardens to look round. We had lunch in a small and exceedingly cheap cafe and Chris was delighted to see the same bolo de Caco stall as we had found on Porto Santo. I think the man behind the stall was as surprised to see us again as we were to see him.

The bank in Funchal

Giant plants

You’ll also be pleased to hear that we have found and sampled cake. They specialise in honey and molasses cake here which is nice, if very expensive. I am a bit confused though. I remember Madeira cake from home as a yellow sponge cake and this one is brown like the colour of Jamaica Ginger cake. I think we will have to try the cake made from rice that fits this description next.

Porto Santo

Posted in Fun, Photographs, Walking, Wildlife with tags , on September 17, 2010 by maidofmettle

Porto Santo town

Beach – As I’d imagine the Caribbean, the water is so clear here.

Welcome to Porto Santo. It is really lovely here. The guidebook claims it is ideal for cycling as it is “not very hilly” (or words to that effect). Whoever wrote the guidebook for the island has either never been here or is some kind of super fit mountain goat who finds the hills here extremely easy. Either way, you would (probably) not find me cycling around here.

Anyway we have all really enjoyed our time here. It has been perfect for some spectacular walks with amazing views to the sea on all sides! Below are the highlights of some of the best walks we have done here.

Walk around the SE corner of the island – Ponta da Gale

Some scrambling up through prickly pears and strange bendy plants – some with snails on them. Where the snails come from, who knows?

Walk up Pico de Ana Ferreira (SW corner of the island)

Caroline pointing to where we got to (Pico de Ana Ferreira)

Scary looking spiders…

Eeek – wouldn’t like to meet this in the dark.

We have discovered a brilliant bread delicacy that they make in and around Madeira. Bolo do Caco is a light bread made using the secret ingredient of sweet potato and then cooked on a hot plate. Here they have several stalls serving it with chorizo, bacon or hot-dogs and garlic butter with parsley and so on. Bolo do Caco has officially become Chris’ favourite bread – overtaking the bread we had in the river Guadiana for first place.

Every bolo do caco bread fanatic’s dream – an invitation to the
kitchen to see it made!

Chris and I had seen quads driving around the island for hire so we thought we’d give our legs a rest and have a go. Zooming around the island was really fun and plenty fast enough. Driving on the wrong side of the road didn’t turn out to be as difficult as I thought it might be either though I suppose not having driven all that much in the last year helped a lot. Porto Santo is perfect for quads given its hilly nature and the fact that some of the roads would be better described as dirt tracks. You definitely wouldn’t want to take a hire car out on some of them.

Chris driving on to a ‘road’

Even better is the fact that there isn’t very much traffic to be found anywhere so it is easy to get to some pretty inaccessible places fairly easily…once you get the hang of the quad that is! Going up-hill was much easier and more fun than down but we soon grew in confidence with it. The most frightening place we found was when we walked to see the view over the edge of the cliffs on the north of the island. I couldn’t believe the sight that met us…

Don’t look down. Chris demonstrating just how high this cliff edge is.

We also managed to get to the North East corner of the island and walked the 5km walk to Pico Branco and Terra Ch√£, which Pete had walked a few days earlier. It was a brilliant walk. Terra Ch√£ has a small and seemingly abandoned bunkhouse looking out to sea on it. The ground here is interesting too because it looks quite soft and crumbly in some places and rocky in others. The path was maintained really well…even though we saw noone else doing the walk. Tourism seems not to have overrun the island yet.

Our quad had a funny few hours during the evening (maybe because of the cold?) and took to stalling a lot. Fortunately, it didn’t stop us too much and we were still able to enjoy a lovely (and quite brave) meal in a village called Camacha. When I ordered a coke the waitress said “you can get coke everywhere…would you like to try some local fruit juice drink?”. I’ve forgotten what it was called but I think it was some sort of fizzy passion fruit juice made in Madeira. It was good, a bit like Lilt. Later when we ordered food we were recommended a pasta and ribs dish which when asked what flavour it was, the reply “the flavour comes from the fat and bones…it really is quite interesting”. Maybe they need to work on their recommendation selling. Then again, we did try it so it must have worked and it was good. A giant skewer of chicken arrived as well and was hung up on a hook above our table to go with the pasta and in typical Portuguese fashion, chips and healthy salad to cancel out the chips. Mmm the Portuguese do good food ūüôā

We used the quad as a way to get to some brilliant walking tracks and views, not to mention having wild camped between two peaks on the island. Thank you (yet again) £9.99 tent.

We walked up Pico de Castello the following day for breakfast. On the way back down the path we saw hundreds of small lizards skitting about so (having been told that they like it) tried to feed some of them some apple. After some time, they got used to us and Chris was able to take some photos of them feeding.

Oooh, apple…thank you very much”

As you got a full twenty four hours hire we were able to see a lot of the island in that time. On the second day we found our own Sahara dessert. Neither of us were feeling like taking the quad too far in there so we had a bit of a walk instead.

This is as far as I want to drive…now I’ve got to get back down

Much easier to walk…(no, the tracks are not ours)

Over the next few days the island is putting on a Columbus Festival. Apparently he spent some time here and married the governer of the island’s daughter so it’s a good excuse to have a bit party. Last night they opened the festival with acting out his arrival on the beach. There was also some dancing – notably a man in a dress which looked like it had about three pancakes on it when he spun around. They ended with a fabulous fire juggling show with some impressive music on the beach. Though we didn’t really understand the actors it was good to watch the entertainment.

Fire dancing

Fire Poids spinning

The Waiting Game

Posted in Fun, Photographs, Wildlife with tags , , , , on July 31, 2010 by maidofmettle

I like the moon…night-time view at anchor

We are having fun in and around Faro and Culatra at the moment because there is some funny weather going on out at sea.
Not wishing to repeat some of our previous sailing ‘adventures’ we are holding out for those promised perfect conditions to cross to Madeira and Porto Santo (a little island just before Madeira)

I am writing this from an anchorage near the island of Culatra where we arrived the day before yesterday. Highlights so far include some really big dogs, one of whom looked a bit familiar ūüėČ

What’s he doing here? A distant cousin perhaps?

Large dogs asside, Culatra is an interesting place not only because it is mostly a fishing village but also because it has no roads to speak of. In addition, both free water supplies and ATM money appeared to have run dry yesterday. Luckily we have a good bit of tank water left.

Fishermen at work

Culatra – roadless, waterless, ATMless town (at the moment at least)

Unfortunately the lack of ATM did land us in the embarrassing situation of going into a restaurant and not having enough money between us to pay for a meal from their menu! By the time I got back to the restaurant to tell the other two that the cashpoint was out of order they had already had the drinks and bits of bread and olives (that they seem to sneakily charge you for even if you didn’t ask for them) delivered to the table, leaving us a little short to actually order any kind of main meal. It turned out we had walked into quite a pricey restaurant. So it was left to Pete to try and explain that because the cash point was broken we could only afford to pay for drinks and the other bits and pieces they had brought out already. Embarrassing…I’m just glad we didn’t have to resort to offering to do the washing up.

The restaurant was actually very nice about it and offered to cook us some fish and salad for a small price, even bringing another drink out on the house! This was the second time we had eaten fish unexpectedly as only a few days before in Faro we had been enjoying a beach bbq when a Portugese family with a slightly insane German Shepherd puppy cooked us some on their bbq. It was probably the first time I ate fish that wasn’t tuna, cod or battered/breadcrummed and actually really liked it.

Unexpected bbq fish at Faro

Our efforts with tinned ‘lunch’. It makes good burgers

Our anchorage at Faro was quite a row away from the main town but looking round it was well worth it. The old town was especially impressive and downtown Faro was really good for photos.

Downtown Faro

Fountain near the edge of the old town in Faro

The area around Faro and Culatra is very good for kayaking. When the tide is low grassy banks appear with small pools to hide wildlife. These are good because out of the main channels the current is much weaker generally, though it is easy to see how you could get lost as the landscape changes with the tide.

View of Faro from kayak – grass previously covered by water

Rewards. Nice beach and food
(even if you did forget the tin opener and have to use a rock to open the tin!

Kayaking the faro channels

In the spirit of finding unusual animals on board we found another one the other day. Only trouble is we don’t know what it was. Charlie has since been re-homed on Culatra after a bit of a motor with us from Faro.

Big bug

On to Faro!

Posted in Fun, Photographs, Sailing, Wildlife with tags , , on July 23, 2010 by maidofmettle

So we actually left the river!¬† Some people there said it couldn’t be done.¬† A Dutch couple Pete met arrived intending only stay a while and they are still there 4 years later…

Anyway, we left the river and have done a couple of day sails.  The first took us to Tavira which is along the Portugese coast.  The sail was nice and flat and the coastline looked wonderful with its golden sandy beaches stretching for miles.

looking back

parasol- thanks to the Australians on "Gone Troppo"

We had an hour or so to practise man-overboard drills with a fender and a bucket.¬† Once again, I was surprised how difficult things can be in boats.¬† I’m sure with more practise we will get better at turning round and then sailing close to something as we all took a few attempts to get close enough to our target.¬† Still, it highlighted some important things about how we would deal with a man-overboard situation and showed us just how important it is not to fall in.¬† We are generally quite good at clipping on and intend to stay so.

Chris keeping an eye on our 'man overboard'

After a very quiet time in the river we have become unacustomed to busyness so it was a bit of a culture shock to find lots of motor boats and ferries full of people speeding about making big waves and getting angry with us for anchoring in their way despite what we thought were careful calculations to make sure we didn’t.

We tried some snorkelling there but there were no fish, it was murky and it was a bit too cold to try for long…

crazy little motor boats

We only stayed one night near Tavira before moving up the narrow channel at low water to Santa Luzia a couple of miles away.¬† It was much quieter there and the ferrymen didn’t seem bothered by us either so that was good.

Santa Luzia and some chairs

We lost a couple of things that day.¬† On the way up, my towel flew away from where it was hanging to dry.¬† It landed behind us whilst motoring up the channel.¬† After a swift turn-around we just saw it sinking before it disappeared completely.¬† Then, after anchoring, at some point whilst getting the portabote out to go ashore we realised we’d lost a bike lock wire and 2 padlocks overboard – well we assume that’s where they went.¬† We haven’t found them yet.¬† Pete and I tried to have a look underwater at low tide in about the area where we suspected but with no luck.¬† It was still a fairly long way down to the bottom.¬† We had to pull ourselves down a rope to get to the bottom which was quite muddy so you could barely see beyond about 30 cm.¬† Also by this time there wasn’t much time to look about because you were aware of the swim back up for air taking a while.

diving for locks

An added bonus to the quietness of Santa Luzia was that there was much more wildlife.  Pete was the first to spot flamingos


and there were loads of crabs on the beaches at low tide, though we needed to photograph them through binoculars.

waving crab

From our anchorage we were able to easily get to a beach for a bbq with a little bit of rowing and a short walk to a lovely sandy beach.

driftwood bbq

The next day sail took us to Faro.  This one was fairly smooth most of the time but involved sailing into the wind most of the time.  Still, our tacking has probably improved as a result but meant that we had to cover twice as many miles as we might have with the wind in a better direction.

Our zig zagging route to Faro

A combination of sailing into the wind and our time away from the sea meant that Chris and I weren’t too keen on the bumpy couple of hours experience at the end of that sail.¬† We managed a bit of time in the cabin with our trusty Biodramina but I think we noticed the effects of the sea a little more than we had before.¬† We’ll hopefully get a bit more used to it again though.

After one night spent a little way away from the main town of  Faro sleeping off the effects of Biodramina and our day of sailing, we have motored nearer now though there are a lot of boats and some interesting underwater sand spits to worry about on the way up.  We will just have to see whether this anchorage looks ok to stay in.  Despite it looking like a big expanse of water, there are lots of shallow patches so lots of boats in a small space.

That's us that is...the little red blob

Small Bucket’s Big Adventure

Posted in Fun, Photographs, Sailing, Walking, Wildlife with tags , , , on June 24, 2010 by maidofmettle

The sun has come out and it’s pretty hot here.¬† We’ve had a few swims in various places and seen some slightly scary wildlife on our travels up and down the river.

About a week ago we all went to a festival in Alcoutim.¬† They had 2 days of music and traditional crafts on show.¬† The traditional American-style marching band was a bit of a puzzle with its jazz clarinet, cornet and sousaphone (big brass bass instrument that the player literally wears) and it sounded surprisingly good when combined with a medieval pipe and drum ensemble.¬†¬† The food was equally interesting…Not exactly knowing a great deal of Portugese (might have to learn a few more words) we decided to go for a surprise tapas selection which comprised of some salads, dried salted fish and some kind of yellow gloop, otherwise known as papas de mihlo, which it turned out was something like corn semolina when we found it somewhere else.

I’d been looking around at a stall where they had made various instruments out of bamboo.¬† I wasn’t too sure how to play one of them so didn’t buy one.¬† When I later saw one of the festival’s organisers playing one I went over and asked how it worked.¬† Turned out to be a castanet made out of a big piece of bamboo that you have to strike with 2 bits of your hand.¬† I went back to where we were all sat and thought nothing more of it until about 20 minutes later someone walked over and said in Portugese English “here this is for you”.¬† He then proceeded to give me a lesson on my newly aquired bamboo castanet!¬† I am going to need a bit more practise before being able to play it I think.

Learning to play the bamboo castanet

Alcoutim random tapas

Can you guess who it is yet?

Since I last wrote we travelled up to a small village called Puerto de la Laja, about an hour or so up from Alcoutim and stopped there for a day or so.¬† Chris and I took the inflatable kayak out to the Rio Vascao for a mini expedition.¬† We took a tent, cooker and some food and camped out a couple of kilometres up the river. We tried to take some photos of the turtles/terrapins (we’re still not sure but a few people tell us they’re terrapins) with the camera Chris aquired from home that he is specifically aiming to use for catching animal footage.

teenage non-mutant probably non-ninja hero terrapins?

The kayak was perfect for sneaking up on them as you could be almost completely silent.¬† The terrapins are really quite easily disturbed and jump into the water at even the smallest sound.¬† One even kamikazeed into the water from about a metre high up the bank.¬† In fact we hadn’t even seen it before it threw itself in the water making a rather horrible clonking sound on its way down.

The day was lovely and warm and there were plenty of chances to have a swim in the river.¬† We decided to try and find where the river started properly and were sucessful twice in fact…The first time we thought we’d found the end of the tidal bit, went up the bank a little way to look at the view and then found that there was more river and the tide was still coming in and filling the originally completely dry river bed!


The 'end' of the river

After a further paddle along the now much clearer water of the river we got to another dead end; a narrow stream that was clearly running into the tidal river.¬† Ah haa we thought, this is as far as we can go.¬† This again turned out to be not the end of it as a little walk along some stones revealed yet more river.¬† This time the carrying (portage) would have been too far and it was getting a little late so we took the obligatory ‘end of the river’ picture and then turned back and made our way back to the camp site with swimming pool.

Indiana Chris

We had to do a fair bit of carrying on the way up the river because the tide was fairly low.  It was on one of these portages that I think we picked up an unwelcome visitor.

Portage up the Rio Vascao

Quite often you could just get out and drag the boat when it got a bit shallow but a few times we needed to unload all our things, carry them over to the next bit of water, empty the boat of water (it has water ballast underneath the bottom section) and then carry the boat to the next bit of paddleable water.¬† On one of these portages, I thought I saw a wasp had got in underneath one of the bags…Now, I really hate wasps.¬† They’re horrible things despite the fact people tell me they’re useful in some way…especially when they decide to creep up on you and sting you.¬† It’s almost as if they think ‘oh well, you know, I might have been creeping around and crawling on you…but you moved so I thought I’d sting you because I was scaaared’.¬† Anyway, I thought I’d be brave about this time, especially as I thought the chances were that it had been squashed by the falling bag behind my seat, so once the bags were all back in I got back in my seat and we paddled on.

Paddling up to our intended camp site we stopped at the pebbly beach.¬† With the rising tide there were loads of little spiders crawling away from us and the water and strange small scorpion-like insects which were a bit scary to be honest.¬† Once out of the boat we began unpacking all the bags and tent etc.¬† The wasp that was behind my seat turned out to be a big brown spider with thick legs.¬† Unfortunately it was still alive and didn’t seem to want to leave the boat.¬† Chris managed to convince it to go onto the beach, possibly by throwing it (I can’t remember) out but after that I started looking out for them.¬† It was only then that I noticed the even larger (about 2 inches with its legs), more stripey and more menacing looking one right by my foot.¬† Yes Dad, it was what would be described as a Girl Eater.¬† We were not impressed.

The spider thing was made worse by the fact that we knew that there are some poisonous ones around here but we hadn’t really had any idea what they look like…therefore, every spider had become a potential girl eater.¬† Since then we have done our research and have a bit more of an idea what to look out for. So we pitched our tent, heated up the chicken casserole and watched the evening’s entertainment…jumping fish.¬† There were quite a few fish literally leaping out of the water attempting to catch flies.

Chateau £9.99 (that's how much the tent cost)

It had been warm all day and we didn’t think it would get that cold at night.¬† Unfortunately we were wrong.¬† Mental note: always take a sleeping bag.¬† We had an IKEA blanket which wasn’t quite enough. Next day we took a slow trip back on the high tide.¬† This meant we practically didn’t have to carry the boat at all and then had a bit of a walk and lunch (chicken casserole again) on the bank of the main river (Guadiana). Once back at the main boat (that really sounds far posher than it should) we made our way back to Alcoutim as Pete was visiting another Pete (who was on a band tour of Portugal) the next day.

The next few days were spent back up the river (in the main boat darling) just below a small mining village called Pomerao.¬† There we had a couple of walks, both of which involved a fair bit of scrambling through the scrub (armed with various snake sticks to fend off any nasties. Especially good since we’ve seen our first swimming snake). ¬† One of these was along the old railway line that used to run all the way to the mines, the other to a large reservoir behind the town.¬† Both really good short walks.

Pomerao dam

not sure what these are

Spikey things in feet, ouch

Dinner at the local social club bar was really good.¬† You have to order one day in advance with someone called Maria.¬† We went along to the bar the day before and were not disappointed…our sign language and very broken Portugese managed to get us a fabulous pork casserole, salad and homemade chips…mmm

Dinner, thanks Maria

I was a bit annoyed at myself when I managed to let go of our bucket and watched it float away with the river one evening.¬† Chris and Pete were quite fond of it having originally found it in the Rio Vascao, hanging from a tree.¬† They had adopted it as one of the family.¬†¬† Bye bye bucket, I thought. However on our way back from Pomerao what did I see but our good friend bucket…It had obviously gone up the river over night and turned back and sailed straight past us

Where's the bucket...?

There it is

Bill is…

Posted in Wildlife on May 23, 2010 by maidofmettle

The Bae office did their research and decided that Bill must be a…

Fire Salamander.¬† Thanks for the information, though I must admit I worry about the amount of work that¬†gets done in¬†your office ūüėČ !

 A quick google search revealed a similar looking Bill-type creature. 

One of Bill's cousins...probably

As for where he came from, it could have been anywhere.  For those of you who are interested in exciting Wikipedia-type information the following is a short snippet (with some additions) about the Fire Salamander

“Fire Salamanders live in forests in the hilly parts of southern and central Europe. They prefer deciduous forests, as they like to hide in the fallen leaves, but also at mossy tree trunks….Whether on land or in water, fire salamanders are inconspicuous.¬†(m.o.m: yes we obviously didn’t spot him for quite a while)¬†They spend much of their time hidden beneath stones, wood or other objects. (m.o.m: Obviously Bill preferred the luxurious life of the sail)

Fire Salamanders are active in the evening and the night, but on rainy days they are active in daytime as well. Their diet consists of various insects, spiders, earthworms and slugs, but they also occasionally eat small vertebrates like newts and young frogs. (m.o.m: Goodness knows what he ate on the boat…the only edible things in the cockpit were us…) Small prey will be caught within the range of the vomerine teeth or by the posterior half of the tongue, which adheres the prey….”

It is possible that the name of the species derives from old tales of these amphibians: the salamanders hide within holes and crevasses in damp wood and tree trunks. When humans cut down wood to use for heating, the salamanders often remained hidden within. When a fire was lit, the heat forced the animals to leave the wood and crawl to safety, because of this they appear as though they were “crawling from within the flames”. Wikipedia 2010

At least we never had one living in the paraffin cooker.  It might be badly behaved sometimes but despite the big flame that sometimes comes out, there has not been a creature accompanying it so far. 

Pete has the luxury of having the whole boat to himself for a few weeks and has decided to travel back up the river for a bit before heading back down to Vila Real for a painting event in the main square at the weekend.¬† Otherwise his plan is to do¬†“occasional
sailing, walking, lazing around and odd jobs” though in what proportions it is not clear…


Posted in Photographs, Walking, Wildlife with tags on May 14, 2010 by maidofmettle

I can’t exactly remember when we wrapped up a mouldy sail in bin-liners and left it outside because we were scared of it.¬† In fact we were a bit concerned¬†about even brushing it with our nice clothes and making them mouldy as sea water has a habit of staying damp even when it’s dry, if that makes any sense.¬† This lack of drying makes¬†the perfect conditions for¬†mould and makes it virtually impossible to¬†irradicate totally.¬†¬†¬†

Chris reckons it was probably way back in Port-de Bouc and none of us have got round to cleaning it¬†in the infamous and long-standing ‘War Against Mould’, so it has sat outside on the boat tied down since I left it there.¬† Thankfully with the warmth the war has become a little easier of late.¬†

Anyway, it seems that despite the fact that we didn’t want to touch it, someone decided to make a home in-between the bin liners and sail.¬† Bill, (a black and orange lizard) was recently found in there!¬†¬†


Bill was released into the¬†Guadiana after some debate as to where he should be put.¬† The decision was made¬†difficult due to his lack of webbed feet so the obvious question was¬†“how did he get there?”¬† In the end it was decided that he probably couldn’t swim and must have stowed away at some point from a marina pontoon so he should be re-homed¬†somewhere¬†on land but close enough to the water that he could go there if he could swim.

The boat has been almost as far up the river as is possible before depth navigation gets too tricky and Chris and Pete have been lucky enough to see turtles (or terrapins) in the upper stretch.  


another turtle

The boys will make their way back towards Ayamonte before Chris flies back to visit England briefly ūüôā¬† Fingers crossed the ash that has been threatening Portugese air space will be well behaved and he will be able to fly from Faro on Wednesday.¬†


Meanwhile, I wonder if anyone has any comments about boat interior and exterior¬†upgrades I’ve been researching…

ooh lovely fluff!

excessive exterior decoration anyone?

Into the Atlantic!

Posted in Photographs, Sailing, the Atlantic Ocean, Wildlife with tags , , , , on April 16, 2010 by maidofmettle

Maid of Mettle left Gibraltar!

We had a good forecast for plenty of wind going in the right direction and having spoken to a few people in the marina¬† decided to go for it or risk staying there forever…

Our route

Getting up far too early to even consider it being morning, we disassembled the gang-plank and finished our last preparations  to leave just as it got light again.  We motored out into calm seas at about 8am and travelled towards Tarifa where we  planned to anchor for a few hours and await the promised wind to blow us right out of the straits.

our short anchorage in Tarifa

Tarifa was nice, if a bit scary when there were big ferries coming in and out of the main harbour.¬† I had my first successful¬† anchoring experience, tentatively exploring the depth so we didn’t run too close to the bottom.¬† After a certain encounter¬† with a rock in Cruas, that we’d all like to forget, these things are important to get right. The water was very clear with loads of fish, so clear in fact that you could see the anchor chain running down to the anchor¬† at the sandy floor.¬† We were joined by another boat that was being sailed by some New Zealanders (Joe and Trudy) we met at¬† the marina in Gibraltar so we left Tarifa in convoy which was nice.

So leaving Tarifa in the early evening we motored for several hours and awaited the promised wind…We were finally in the Atlantic.

I did shift 1 until about midnight.¬† Being only my second proper night shift alone I was a little bit nervous but I knew that¬† I could ask the other two for help if I needed it.¬† For the most part I didn’t need to ask anything until I suddenly heard a¬† message on the radio from a Spanish person speaking English saying “the vessel going from west to east, there is such and¬† such somewhere or other please alter course and follow the other boat…”

It was quite a hard message to understand late at night and no one was answering them either which made me panicky.¬† Given¬† that there’s a big shipping lane coming out of the straits of Gibraltar I hoped someone would answer.¬† The message was¬† repeated so many times (each time sounding more panicky than the last) that I began to wonder whether it was a message for¬† me!¬† Then,in my slightly tired, 1st night shift alone-type state I couldn’t remember whether I was going from West to east or¬† east to west! ‘Ahhhgh’I thought.¬† ‘ok so there’s nothing in front of me that I can see and as far as I can work out this¬† can’t be for me, but I think I should ask someone given the panicky person giving the message’.¬† Eventually I woke Pete up and asked his opinion on the matter.¬† We decided to carry on given that we weren’t in the shipping lane and there was nothing¬† obvious.¬† A similar message occured later in the night this time with “There is a fishing boat in front of you…” I double¬† checked with our big flood light just in case, almost blinding myself with the reflection of it on the boat, but saw no fishing boat…phew.

By the end of my shift I was shattered from the exciting radio messages and running around on deck putting some sails up when it looked like it might be getting windy and taking them back down when they were being annoying.¬† By the time Chris took over I hadn’t had time to look much at the chart and the quick and roughly packed sails (much harder on your own) were a bit messy but we were sailing all the same!¬†¬† We will have to look at the misbehaving main sail that seems not to want to go up every time any more.

Chris napped a bit on the floor during his shift and did a few whilst Pete and I tried to sleep.  It was quite noisy and starting to get a bit rolly so that was a bit difficult.  I think the excess adrenalin might not have helped either.  He also did some clever stuff with poles and the jib sail (at the front) to stop it making a racket.

Getting back out of bed and outside at about 6.30am I saw the sun rise behind the clouds (a bit like that time in Derbyshire when we waited and waited to watch the sun rise and then it just got light ūüėČ ) Anyway, the morning proved to be much more exciting after that.¬† At about 7am, just after Chris had gone to bed I was helming and not a lot was happening.¬† The waves had got slightly bigger but not too big.¬† I heard a bit of a splash and saw a dolphin really close to the boat – much clearer than the one I saw on the way to Ibiza.¬† It went on to swim with the boat at the bow and knowing how much Chris had always wanted to see one swimming at the bow I rushed to wake him and Pete up to see it.¬† On getting back out to the cockpit one dolphin had turned into about 10!¬† They were amazing.¬† I couldn’t believe how fast they could swim or how close they got.¬† They seemed to be enjoying following us and some were clearly loving jumping out from the waves back towards us at times.

Our escorts

The wind got gradually stronger and the sea rougher as the day went on and we realised that we were travelling too fast to arrive at our planned destination of the Guadiana river in Portugal to get the tides right.¬† This meant slowing down for a bit.¬† We decided to try to ‘heave to’, which means setting the sails and tiller turning more into the oncoming waves and drifting slowly sideways with the wind.¬† This succeeded in making us almost side on to the waves and slightly nauseous (Pete having been struggling with sea-sickness even before this), so not completely successful.¬† However it did slow us down which was the main thing.¬† During this time we quickly realised that the idea of sitting like that for another 8 or so hours to wait for our chance to get into the river in the light would not be good.¬† After an uncomfortable hour and a bit of food we made the decision to aim for a different port, facing the fact that we would probably have to go into somewhere in the dark.¬† The options for that were quite limited especially since all but one or two places in the pilot book warned against entrance at night “unless familiar with the area”.¬† So the Guiadiana was out on two counts: because it was too risky to enter in both the waves and the dark.¬† Mazagon in Spain was really our only option as it had quite a lot of depth and reasonable night entrance.¬† We hoped to get there in the early hours of the following morning.

Pete helming

The afternoon and early evening is a bit of a blur.¬† Chris and I took turns to helm and rest whilst Pete tried to recover from the dreaded sea-sickness inside.¬† It really was much nicer outside until it started to rain heavily.¬† That in itself was impressive as it created a sort of mist over the water and seemed to dampen the waves a bit.¬† It looked a bit like a computer generated sea at that point if that makes any sense.¬† I needn’t have worried about getting a bit wet from the rain.

We had to change our course to go toward Mazagon which meant having the waves more on our side.¬† As they were beginning to get larger and splashy this was not an appealing thought.¬† The waves were the biggest we’d seen yet, possibly up to about 4 metres and some of them were pretty steep.¬† The hardest thing to work out is whether they will be annoying or not.¬† Some of them looked big when you first saw them but then turned out just to be gentle rollers, others that looked small decided to whack into the boat and send a lot of water crashing over your head and over the boat.¬† Though we were clipped in all the time this was quite disconcerting, very wet and made quite a loud bang when you were inside the boat.¬† I woke up with a start quite a few times whilst in the cabin.¬† It was worrying really to see the walls of water coming towards you whilst helming and not being too sure what they might do.¬† In fact, when they were at their largest I was so concerned I turned away from them so they were behind us so we could think about what to do.¬† I really didn’t want to turn back towards them.¬† We had no option really but to find a way of dealing with them.¬† The best way was to turn with them on our side when they looked harmless and then keep an eye out for the bigger more potentially nasty ones and then steer away from them and surf!¬† That was quite fun but fairly tiring and occasionally damp!¬† Our life-jackets got so wet that two of the automatic lights got activated causing them to flash on and off…not good.¬† That will be a phone-call to Baltic for advice or a new set of lights…boo!

The entrance to Mazagon was tricky.  Chris skillfully sailed us in with the waves being a bit of a pain, though by then they were smaller.  Seeing the lights to get in the correct way through the channel required 3 sets of eyes and even then was quite difficult.  We arrived at about 2.30am and were soon pounced upon by the Spanish Gardia who made a much better effort of searching the boat than the ones in Barcelona Рeven asking to see under the floor and amusingly shining a torch through a hole in the cupboard without opening it.  They even had the cheek to say the boat was a bit messy.  How rude!

Spanish police complete with utility belt...Chris was impressed!

The important things...Chocolate stash (in pink bag) and our faithful biodramina

Our new cupboard fixings, step securing bolts, sealing of the main hatch and cup holders had passed the test at sea.  The crew were left feeling worn out from all the excitement.