Archive for kayaking

Kernow a’gas Dynnergh

Posted in Fun, Music, Photographs, Sailing, the English Channel, Walking with tags , , on September 26, 2011 by maidofmettle

Or welcome to Cornwall. Just when I thought I’d run out of tricky foreign languages to try and learn..

I did say I’d try and catch up on what I’ve been up to since I got back as well as carrying on with the story through the Azores and back to here. You can use the tags and categories to get things to appear in a more sensible order if it gets too confusing.

So, my first stop in England, sorry, Cornwall – many would say there’s definitely a difference – was Mullion Cove. It’s a little bay to the west of the Lizard, looking back across Mount’s Bay to Penzance and Mousehole, provided with a very little shelter by Mullion Island just offshore.

It was idyllic in the afternoon – I paddled ashore to the beach visible just astern of Maid..

and also said hello to some locals out for a days fishing, who very kindly provided me with a very fresh fish for dinner.

Unfortunately it didn’t stay this idyllic – the wind got up rather more than forecast and when the tide was going the opposite way to it the shelter of the island wasn’t really enough to make it all that uncomfortable. I’d been just about to enjoy a celebratory drink of honey rum & lemon juice but decided I’d better leave it for the next day in case I had to make a hasty exit.

The next morning was much less pleasant – grey and wet, and the sea still quite lumpy. I left straight after the early morning forecast with the aim of tacking around the Lizard while the tide was still favourable.

At this point, the wind promptly dropped away to nothing, so I ended up motor-sailing for an hour or so into a rather lumpy sea, in the rain..

Happily, that only lasted an hour or so – then the wind returned, I was able to turn eastwards and ride the waves rather than plunging into them, and the tide was helping to rush Maid eastwards around the point rather than trying to take her northwards into the bay.

Time for the sushi I’d made with some of the fish yesterday…

The sun even came out later, providing a lovely sail around to the Helford River on the opposite side of the peninsula, just south of Falmouth. The wind got lighter again, but with some additional sail and flat water it wasn’t a problem this time.

In fact the opposite was the case when the wind suddenly increased again just as I was approaching a lot of moored boats – cue a rapid removal as all sail as I didn’t fancy storming through them at that speed since I’d only visited the river by land before..

I did at least have verbal instructions, as there was a good anchorage just upstream from Mike & Carolyn’s Phantom Lady – I’d been planning on on stopping here since saying goodbye to them several months before in Las Palmas on Gran Canaria.

This is the view looking downstream from there. It’s certainly a beautiful and sheltered spot, and it was great to see them both again over the next few days.

I ended up staying a bit longer than I’d planned to see the Helford regatta, and did quite a bit of exploring round the local area in the portabote, the kayak and on foot.

The banks of the Helford are home to some lovely woodland

– and some very nice little villages.

and have inspired at least one novel – Daphne du Maurier’s Frenchmans Creek, the bottom of which you can see below.

A lot of people seem to have been grumbling about the summer weather this year, but it was mostly pretty nice there, though some mornings were rather misty, almost like those French canals…

Definitely porridge weather..

Fortunately the evening before the regatta was beautiful, as the village stores in Helford was hosting a paella night. Didn’t I leave Spain a while ago? I think about 300 people were there, and very well catered for – below you can see just one of the three dishes…

I think this is pretty much the final fling of the village social calendar before all the second-home owners disappear for the winter – it was certainly a good party

and an excellent adventure finding my way back out of the village and through the woods to the dinghy afterwards, with a long line of us winding our way down muddy paths having forgotten to take torches..

The regatta day itself looked like it might turn out rather wet, but fortunately it cleared again by the time the tide had risen enough to allow all the races to be held in the creek in front of the pub. The one-oar paddling race and backwards rowing competitions were definite highlights.

The most gruelling event was probably a two-man effort – rowing to one place, dropping off a runner who had to go up a steep hill and back through Helford to get to another landing spot in the other direction before being rowed back to the finish.

Afterwards most people moved up to a cafe near the sailing club for refreshments and music before the fireworks display.

Mike had said the fireworks would probably be very good, and he was definitely right. It might not have been quite on the scale of some of the Portuguese displays, but for a spectacular 8 or 9 minutes it was pretty close.

The next day I went ashore to pick a few more blackberries and then set sail about an hour before low water. That meant I had the tide with me to get down to the bottom of the Helford River, and slack water and then tide with me to take me up Carrick Roads and the Truro River to an Ocean Cruising Club gathering.

I did make a bit of a spectacle of myself on arrival with a couple of aborted approaches to the pontoon before deciding I definitely needed to approach from the other direction, at which point Maid pretty much berthed herself while I moved the fenders around.

I was also decidedly late, so it was a dramatic entrance all round! It had been a very nice sail though, and all the people I knew (Liz, Mark & Chloe on Lone Rival, the boat ahead of Maid) or knew by association and occasional correspondence about pilot book revisions (Anne on Wrestler, moored outside Lone Rival) were planning on staying overnight.

Although they’d pretty much finished lunch this did have it’s advantages, as the food and drinks tables were moved down alongside Maid a few minutes after tying up.

Everyone staying for the night met up again later on for dinner with some additional guests helping themselves to Chloe’s very tasty punch.

Mum made all of these three at various times, and they’ve done a fair bit of sailing between them – Scubus (left) racing across the Atlantic with Liz and Anne, and lots more cruising since, Cornelius going all round Africa in Lone Rival, and Josh having accompanied me down to the Canaries and back.

The next day I rather remarkably managed to establish mobile contact with Si & Cat who we’d met last year in France, and sailed back down the Fal and went past St Mawes to a beautifully peaceful and sheltered anchorage at Percuil

before joining them for a trip to the famous ‘Plume of Feathers’ in Portscatho. It was quite strange to see them again on land, with both our boats having their masts up and everything, but another very good evening.

The next day I dropped down to St Mawes in the evening to catch up with Nick on Wylo II, who I’d last seen in the Canaries (and before that in Penryn not long after we’d bought the boat), and marvel at his photos of classic boats racing in Antigua this summer. He designed the boat himself, and has since sailed her around the world three or four times at least. Falmouth harbour is another crossroads similar to Horta – I’d seen one of the boats in the last photo there as well though I’d never spoken to the owners.

St Mawes itself is a very picturesque little town, still with a couple of working fishing boats though it is largely a rather genteel seaside resort now.

From the other side of the Percuil it’s a short and very scenic walk around the coast

to St Antony’s Head, which eighties kids’ TV aficionados may be excited to learn was the home of the Fraggles.

The water is beautifully clear, if a little chilly. In fact the first time I went swimming it felt like I’d imagine rolling in broken glass would be, but much nicer once you stopped, though after that it’s seemed much more pleasant.


The cliffs are also a great place for watching boats racing in the harbour, especially the traditional working boats which set a huge area of sail.

I sailed across and anchored off Falmouth for a few days (Maid is on the left). It was quite strange approaching Custom House Quay from the sea when I could really only remember it from the land – it is tucked right round the corner near the docks, almost in the shadow of the warhips. I suspect anchoring there would have been banned by now if it wasn’t such a long-standing tradition.

From there I got a rather early bus to Helston to see the Cornish Gorsedh, or ‘Gathering of the Bards’ – hence my use of Cornish in the title. This is the equivalent of the Welsh Eisteddfod, and was attended by guests from Wales and Brittany as well as the surprisingly numerous Cornish bards.

The weather was unfortunately living up to Celtic tradition, with some additions to the ceremonies required – well done for your poem in Cornish, efforts in schools or promoting Cornish culture, we’ll just tip the rainwater out of your cup; sit down here, I’ll just tip the water off it..

The music and singing was unsurprisingly very good, though it did come as something of a relief to enjoy it indoors out of the drizzle after the main ceremony had ended.

Thankfully the weather didn’t stay like that… This is Gyllngvase beach on the southern side of Falmouth after a walk around the castle.

It’s not all that cheap to stay off Falmouth even anchoring, but it was handy to have hot showers and things, and I did a lot of washing and a little shopping before sailing back to Percuil to check it would be a good place to leave the boat for a few days. It was certainly a good test of it, with near gale force winds roaring up the river. It was certainly noisy, but not really rough, and none of the four of us anchored there shifted.

I felt pretty happy things would be fine with the weather calming down as I left to go for a job interview and meet up with friends from my old office, before before meeting Mum in London and coming back down again. I did get a bit more tense on the way back to the boat, but she was still happily just where I’d left her when we got back.

It was another very misty morning the next day when we’d planned to sail to Falmouth…

We dropped the anchor off St Mawes first for lunch in the hope it would clear, but ended up going for a very slow and gentle sail with lots of practice on the foghorn (not sure it’ll help much with the harmonica though). It was quite strange as being able to see something would’ve been the only sense that really told you the boat was moving!

Still, we made it across to Falmouth, and tied up ahead of the boat I’d crossed paths with in mid-ocean on the way back from the Azores. Having chatted with Richard via VHF radio and satellite phone it was nice to finally see him at closer range than half a mile!

We had a lovely meal with Liz, Chloe and Anne, and a few days later welcomed Mark, Liz and Chloe onto Maid for an evening.

Mum and I also did some walking – both on the Roseland peninsula

along St Just creek

to the beautiful little waterside (well, at high tide anyway..) church

and around Pendennis Point at the entrance to the harbour

as well as having a look in the impressive National Maritime Museum.

When Mum went back home I went with her a few stops up the branch line to visit Penryn, where Chris & I had first bought Maid several years ago. It looked fairly similar

though most of the people who’d been there had moved on, though I did find one of our further neighbours, and further down the bank another acquaintance I’d made in the Canaries.

Back in Falmouth I met up with Si and Cat again, who’d sailed over in Planet for a quick stop

before we both sailed back over to St Mawes. Since this was the first time we’d actually seen each others’ boats under sail after meeting a couple of years ago we obviously took a few photos..

Here are Maid just leaving Falmouth…

and Planet setting out across Carrick Roads.

We met up again a few days later for lunch after I’d walked over to Portscatho – a slightly odd experience as it’s not that long after leaving the banks of the Percuil that you can see the sea on the other side of the high ground –

and then again for dinner on Maid the following day. I’d made a bit of an expedition of getting blackberries for dessert, walking up over the fields around the Percuil

to Place Creek

and along to St Anthony’s Head before taking the other path along the coast back to the dinghy via Towan Beach.

It’s not that convenient a place to keep the boat, which is something I’ve been spending a while considering, but it’s a very nice place to holiday.

Happy birthday to me

Posted in Fun, Photographs, Sailing, the Azores with tags , , on July 19, 2011 by maidofmettle

One of these statements is true, and one is false.

1. I’ve always wanted my own volcanic crater island with a lagoon for my birthday
2. This year I got one, for a few hours at least

It had made a very nice change to leave for Sao Miguel without the need for any big build-up, with no threatening weather or particular hurry. I was a little sad to leave at all – as well as some fellow sailors the local people are very friendly, but Monday looked the best opportunity for a while with the wind forecast to swing round to the north, more or less directly from the nearest island.

There was no urgency about getting away though – rushing would have probably led to arrival in the middle of the night, so it seemed much better, but it was better to leave later and arrive sometime the next day. Sailing in clear water is much less tiring than approaching land and then mooring up somewhere.

So I had time to do a quick painting on the harbour wall in Santa Maria – the tradition is most famous in Horta, but is also practised in the rest of the Azores as well as the Madeira archipelago, and many other places I’m sure. I’d not been going to do one till I got some more paint, but the temptation of adding one next to the work of Tim & Alli – a Canadian couple I met on Madeira last year – was too much in the end.

Having got going the sailing conditions were very nice – a perfect wind to carry full sail, and a fairly flat sea.

I had to make a couple of tacks to get around the western end of Santa Maria, but with that accomplished I could head north for Sao Miguel with no obstructions to worry about. The small village is where Columbus anchored returning from his first voyage across the Atlantic.

So the wind dropped right off to give me something else to consider. I was starting to think that I should have been in much more of a hurry to leave early that morning. A little while later I decided that at this rate it wasn’t going to matter when I’d left as I had no idea when I’d get there!

I could see Sao Miguel very soon though. The fifteenth century Portuguese explorers who claimed the Azores must have been terribly unfortunate to spot no sign of either of these islands on their first voyage, despite coming within about 35nm of the 1104m high Pico da Vera on Sao Miguel and about 25nm of the 490m high Pico Alto on Santa Maria, having sailed 700nm west from Portugal.

Visibility must have been pretty bad, as they in fact only found the few patches of rock they christened the ‘ants’ (Ilheus das Formigas). In fact, it was quite a feat to find these without wrecking their ships on them – the highest are only 11m tall and the nearby Dollabarat shoal is barely covered at low water. Within 5 miles you can find depths of up to 2,000m, and the waves breaking on the shallows in bad weather must be terrifying.

I was actually glad that the wind increased at around dusk, and we were able to make good progress overnight.

The same problem of light winds and choppy seas recurred the next morning though. I was starting to wonder if light-wind sailing is the best option… Progress was decidedly varied for a while, briefly encountering the problem of finding that neither tack was taking me anywhere near where I wanted to go. Then again, it was looking distinctly rainy on Sao Miguel so I wasn’t in that much of a hurry to get ashore.

Finally in mid-afternoon a nice wind came up. I started off sailing towards Ponta Delgada, the capital and biggest port on the island, but decided I might well end up tacking and struggling to arrive before dark, whereas Vila Franca de Campo would be a much easier sail.

And I had been thinking about going there anyway, since my pilot book described a decent anchorage near the town, just inshore of a small islet which looked well worth visiting.

On arrival, it did seem quite exposed – nothing like anchoring in the sheltered River Guadiana or the estuaries of the Ria Formos, and as the first time I’d anchored on my own in more than a year I was quite nervous about picking a spot. The water was very clear but not clear enough to see whether the sea bed was sand (good) or rock (bad) But it seemed calm enough, and about the right depth to be able to anchor securely without having to fiddle around getting two length of chain out and shackling them together.

Getting ready to anchor was a bit of a step-by-step affair – motor around checking depths, untie anchor, get chain up on deck ready to lower away… Obviously this was always going to be the case since I only have one pair of hands, but mentally it was more significant as a way of working up to it slowly.

With everything ready and having taken a tour along the west coast of the island while the last tour boat left I gave it a go roughly where the pilot book suggested and the anchor seemed to dig in very well. With no other boats nearby it was nice to have the luxury of letting out lots of chain, and though I set an anchor drag alarm on the GPS

I now felt very relaxed and happy with the spot.

Time to get the kayak out ready for going ashore tomorrow – and as it turned out also to go and say hello to the couple on the Dutch boat which turned up a while later and anchored behind me.

It was a beautiful evening at anchor, and the roar of the Cory’s shearwaters returning to their nests on the cliffs at dusk was quite something to hear. This is basically the only time they ever come ashore – so presumably once the young have left they may not set foot on land again for 7 years or so – quite a thought! There was a nice moon to silhouette the cliffs as well, though a boat at anchor is not the best foundation for taking pictures in dim light..

The inflatable kayak is basically a one-person version of Caroline’s one. Having got rather stuck in Las Palmas I’d barely used it since buying it early in my time there, but this is exactly the kind of occasion I’d bought it for – neither needing a dinghy for long nor needing lots of stuff. Time to go and land on my present…

So, here are the two boats at anchor with Sao Miguel about half a mile away in the background.

and here is the interior of the crater and it’s lagoon. It gets quite busy in the middle of the day as boats bring people out from Vila Franca de Campo, but for now it was deserted.

Here I am going for a swim in it – or rather launching myself backwards off the steps as the timer on the camera was about to run out! It wasn’t nearly as chilly as I’d been expecting having sailed some way north – in fact the water temperature here is apparently quite similar to that in Madeira, and not too far off that in the Canaries. I still wouldn’t have wanted to stay in for long, but it was fine for swimming across the lagoon and back, and even early in the morning it was nice and warm when I got out.

This was a wonderful start to my time on Sao Miguel, but I was keen to explore the mainland too. While there is was a marina very nearby at Vila Franca de Campo itself, it’s quite expensive, and I didn’t think it would be as good a base as the capital. It would have been nice to spend a day or two there,but the forecast suggested today would be the last good day for sailing west for a while, so I decided to head for Ponta Delgada.

It’s a lovely feeling to leave an anchorage under sail, so that’s what I did. There was a strong wind as Horace steered us close under the cliffs (with at least 10m of water under the keel!) leaving the island.

It then went quite light for a while as we got into the wind shadow of the Serra da Agua de Pau and associated peaks, but with the tide going with me I was happy to go slowly until we got beyond it, and then looking at the water ahead quickly reefed the mainsail to a smaller size. It was superb sailing – a strong wind but well sheltered from any waves by the island a few miles to windward, and I got to Ponta Delgada in the early afternoon.

I did a little wandering in the city, and met Michel who I knew from Santa Maria, and also the Uruguayan Roberto from the boat opposite mine. We had a birthday drink and enjoyed lots of chopping and changing between languages while still managing to talk about lots of things, from our voyages to here to the origins of the names of the week in different languages.

Roberto very kindly insisted I come for a barbecue on his boat later, which was a delicious end to a very nice birthday.

Fuerteventura Road Trips

Posted in Fun, Photographs with tags , on December 16, 2010 by maidofmettle

Road Trip…

We have been enjoying our time on Fuerteventura before Chris and I fly back in about a week. We have the freedom of a car so have been making the most of fast and fabulous transport…well as fast as a ford ka can go anyway.

Amongst the places we have visited are Betancuria and the surrounding area. We were surprised to see some chipmunks…yes, actual chipmunks at one of the viewing points in the mountains.

Is that Alvin, Simon or Theodore?

The bodyboards had another trip out, this time to La Pared. A lovely meal followed this trip out where Pete had a giant fish for dinner. It was a local canarian Fula Rojo. In hindsight, we hadn’t really needed the starters. We were stuffed by the end of the meal.

La Pared

Pete and his giant fish

As has become traditional, we celebrated the official boat Christmas Day with a pie and some Christmas cake – not to mention various other nice food as a practice for December 25th.

Christmas Tree

This isn’t just a Christmas cake…this is a farm assured, brandy soaked
Maid of Mettle Christmas Cake


Even though no-one could claim that it is an essential need, one of the challenges of boat life is finding internet access. We use the internet quite regularly and when it is not available at the marina or at an anchorage we need to take the laptop for a walk. Puerto del Rosario was an example of one of those places we have walked (and driven) around for quite a while looking for wifi signal. Unfortunately the laptop’s battery only lasts about forty minutes so it can be a race against time to find the internet and then have enough battery-life to do everything we need to. I can see why people might be tempted by a six hour battery life netbook but at least our way, you can focus on exactly what you want to do and then hope you have time to finish it, whilst keeping your heart healthy! I think we should call our new high adrenalin sport Extreme Wifi and market it in time for the new year as a way to get fit after Christmas.

Extreme Wifi’s Pioneer…Chris

Yesterday Chris and I almost entirely filled the hire car with sand after we took a small kayaking trip from Correlejo to the Isla de Lobos, about three and a half kilometres both ways. The kayak did well even with the sea swell and going more or less into the wind. The sea was an amazing aqua marine colour and the island was well worth the paddle to. The way back was much quicker and involved some fun surfing along the swell closer in to shore.

Chris on the Isla de Lobos

View from the island looking back towards Fuerteventura

I shall miss the kayaking trips, as I’m sure there won’t be as many for a few months at least in England. Unless of course we decide to break through ice first.
The epic packing has begun and, fingers crossed, it looks like it might not be that bad. However, as with essays, I suspect I may start well then relax thinking that I’ve nearly finished only to leave finishing it until the last minute. It will be weird leaving I think but also exciting to start new things too.

On the front line…

Posted in Fun, Photographs with tags , , on August 20, 2010 by maidofmettle

Yes Clare, we have been here for quite a long time, though not forever as you might think 😉 In fact we’ve been hanging around Faro, Culatra and Olhao (all in the same estuary) for nearly a month…unbelievable!

Don’t worry, we’ve not been short of things to do…not only have we been able to look at the weather forecast and go “euw, what’s that all about?!”, but also things have been breaking again so we have been chasing up various companies to try and sort things out.

First things first. Apparently Chris’ uncle suggested it might be an el nino year weather-wise, which would explain a bit why we don’t seem to have found our ‘perfect conditions’ to cross to Madeira yet. Of course it might be that we have been unlucky for the last few weeks but that doesn’t make us feel any better when we look at the weather and wave forecasts that show confusion, confusion, confusion.

Our lovely and un-ideal weather forecast (thanks Zygrib)

The main problem is that when waves travelling in different directions meet they can pyramid and become larger – sometimes becoming as high as the total of their heights. Unfortunately it appears that’s wave forecast does not take this into account. What it does show though is lots of confused waves colliding in and around the area we would want to be in for our passage to Madeira.

Same time and place waves forecast – doesn’t look good.

The weather continues to be a psychological struggle with a constant unknown factor – ‘will we leave next week or won’t we?’. Getting psyched up to leave, not to mention the practicalities of filling up with water and food (when you’re not in a marina and you don’t have running water less than a row away), tidying etc then …’oh! Forecast says no’. The worst bit (and I suppose the best) is that the actual weather (i.e. is it warm, sunny, raining or whatever) is still really nice so when you see a forecast that puts you off leaving it seems a bit frustrating. Equally frustrating is deciding not to go then seeing a couple of days later that it didn’t turn out to be as bad as the initial forecast suggested it would be. Then you’re thinking ‘we could have gone after-all!’ Maybe life before forecasts was a bit simpler in a way…

The list of broken things has grown along with Chris’ list of companies he dislikes. The poor customer service list now includes Plastimo who have fallen down in our estimation, after a good performance replacing our broken water tanks back in Reims. Our Plastimo outboard bracket has a nasty crack in the plastic of the mounting pad which they are unwilling to do anything about without us returning it to England. Given that the outboard is our only engine we are powerless if we were to take the outboard bracket off and send it away. It looks like we may have to repair it ourselves instead.

Other broken things include the pendants that come with our man overboard Lifetag system – all three have started to crack. We are in the process of getting these sorted out so will let you know how that goes.

Our Adventures around Faro, Culatra and Olhao

Unless you’ve seen it, geography is a bit confusing round here so here’s a map…

Despite our troubles with broken things and annoying weather forecasts it’s not all doom and gloom. In our travels around the estuary we have explored lots of places, met up with some people for lovely food (thanks Gail and Steve for your hospitality, books and BBQ tongs)

Nice BBQ at Culatra beach with Gail and Steve from “Gone Troppo”

Also, I have been teaching Chris to dive. We now have two diving platforms made out of our fender boards from the canals. One low down at the side of the boat, the other higher at the back of one side boat. The second diving plank would also be useful should we have a mutiny.

The mandolin, guitar (and occasionally the Guinness themed harmonica when Pete joins us) ensemble is going from strength to strength. We are getting a good number of songs together in our repertoire and learning chords quickly. Oasis’ Wonderwall can often be heard across the water.

The kayak has had several outings, most interestingly taking the chance to see a channel at Culatra that is only navigable with an exceedingly high tide and a bit of squeezing under a boardwalk.

Kayak up the channel at Culatra at high tide
– this was dried out for the majority of our time there

We briefly visited Olhao to stock up with water (via lots of trips in the dinghy to collect water from a tap on shore) and food from the local market. The market was impressive for its fresh fruit and veg, honey and more fish than is imaginable. These people really like sea food, so much so in fact they have a big party to celebrate fishing. We saw them carrying a statue of Mary in procession through Olhao town (accompanied by a marching band) to the port and then onto fishing boats which went across the water to Culatra in a convoy of flags and noise. They seemed to be enjoying the organised chaos…We decided leaving Olhao at that point to go back to Culatra would have been unwise.

Unusual vegetables in Olhao market

Woo fish! The parade from Olhao to Culatra

Yesterday we all went for a meal in Faro. On the way back Chris and I hired a couple of Segways to try for 10 mins. They are brilliant and surprisingly quick to get the hang of. I felt like someone in the Jetsons (children’s cartoon show set in the future) I would have to sell my car to buy one though!

Chris and Caroline “Jetsons eat your heart out. We love Segways!”

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 😉

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

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