Portugal & Spain

We’re glad we decided to finish our Atlantic crossing in Portugal instead of Gibraltar. This gave us a chance to see another country and its famous beach area, the Algarve, as well as Atlantic Spain. We found it very strange not to see another American boat for the first ten days, and it wasn’t until we got to Spain that we found the kind of friendly cruisers we’re used to, from a variety of countries. Even so, as of this update, we’ve only seen two other American boats! 

Discovers 1

One of the neatest sights was the Discoverers’ Monunement in Lisbon, pictured above. It looks impressive enough in that photo, until you see how big it REALLY is... (Yes, that’s Tiny Ty on the right! --->)

Meanwhile, we attended a concert in a castle, walked along narrow, cobblestoned streets, ran past fortresses, and enjoyed lots of local food and drink.

discovers 2
up mast 1

Feeling dwarfed by the monument, Ty went back to the boat and climbed the mast for a more commanding view of the greater Lisbon area... ok, he’s really fixing the anchor light, which had shorted out on the crossing!

reception pier02

Reception Pier & Marina Office in Lagos, Portugal

There were very few places to anchor in Atlantic Portugal and Spain. Most nights we had no choice but to stay in marinas. Being the high season, marinas in Portugal cost about $65 a night... less than a lot of American marinas, but still not cheap when you’re on a cruisers’ budget!

One big difference we’ve noticed in marinas in Portugal and Spain is the common practice of having a “reception pier” next to a very large office building. In case you’re not a sailor, we’ll explain that when you sail to a new marina in the States, you call them on the VHF and ask for your slip assignment. The marina staff will give you detailed instructions how to find your slip, then you rig your lines and fenders depending on which side they tell you your finger pier will be on. Well, every marina we went to in the Azores, Portugal, and Spain required boats to tie up to a reception pier before they would assign a slip. The good thing was that the reception pier is a

floating dock and is very open and easy to pull up to. Once there, you go through all the paperwork and they assign you a slip. Unfortunately, more than half the time our assigned slip required switching lines and fenders to the other side. Go figure! It was nice to have a chance to see the slip we were going to beforehand, but tying up twice was a bit different. Every single marina also had swipe cards for security gates. The cards usually had a $30 deposit each. To return them, yes, that’s right, we had to tie up to the reception pier on the way out! The paperwork at the marinas in Portugal took about 20 minutes each time. We had to check in with customs and immigration at every single port. They claim this is to cut down on drug smuggling. To us it was just Big Brother watching. When we arrived at our first port in Spain, we asked where to check in with customs. The response was a blank stare followed by, “Customs?” Quite a difference!


Sines, Portugal

Here’s a run-down of the ports we visited in Portugal:

- Cascais (W. Coast): Beautiful suburb of Lisbon. Great sidewalk cafes and scenic beach area.
- Sesimbra (W. Coast): Small fishing town with crowded, touristy beach. Not much to write home about.
- Sines (W. Coast): Neat old town with castle and good anchorage. Birthplace of the explorer Vasco de Gama.
- Lagos (Algarve): Great town, great marina. Excellent stop!
- Vilamoura (Algarve): Overcrowded tourist-trap/resort. Zero “charm.”
- Tavira (Algarve): Totally charming town with narrow streets, plazas,and an old Roman bridge! Well worth the anchorage full of mosquitos.

We were amazed at the differences between Spain and Portugal. As much as we enjoyed Portugal, in Spain the people seemed happier and friendlier, the music was livelier and more passionate, and the food was more varied. Our first stop in Atlantic Spain was Rota. While it had beautiful beaches, there were no hordes of foreign tourists. This was an excellent port for us to visit because we were able to use the post office and our bank, the Navy Federal Credit Union, on the U.S. Naval base in Rota! It’s amazing how much easier it is to take care of business in familiar surroundings!


Transiting the Strait of Gibraltar was quite exciting -- not just because of the 28 knot tailwind that had us surfing and the steady stream of ship traffic in and out of the Med. It was quite a thrill to have Europe on one side, especially passing Cape Trafalgar, where the famous sea battle in which Lord Nelson was killed took place, and AFRICA on the other side, less than 6 miles away! The Atlas Mountains of Morocco were quite impressive.

rafted in Gibraltar

Rafted up at Marina Bay in Gibraltar

We got a berth along the wall at Marina Bay in Gibraltar. Our stop here was for the sole purpose of picking up our new transformer, which had been shipped from the UK. (See “Cruising Europe/Boat Modifications” for more about the transformer.) It was fun to experience the British flavor, including double-decker buses, fish and chips, and the English language!

We had a rather disconcerting moment while there, however. We were sound asleep at 0430 when we awoke to hear footsteps on the deck above our heads. Someone was walking on our boat! It turned out to be an Italian boat that came in from sea and couldn’t find a slip. So they tied up to us! It seems this is a common practice in Europe, so we said, “Buon giorno!” and went back to bed. Our ferocious watchdog never made a sound. That a boy, Rudy!

We also hoped to find some mail waiting for us in Gibraltar, but no luck. They tell us mail takes two to three weeks from the US! Isn’t this 2005? We thought the Pony Express went out a long time ago. We have yet to receive one piece of mail that’s been sent to us since we left the US over two months ago! Hopefully, it will all catch up with us somewhere, but this has been a major point of frustration and a big expense -- for nothing!

Wind, Wind, and More Wind!

If you read our Atlantic Crossing Statistics, you saw that the highest winds we encountered all the way across were 23 knots. Well, since we arrived in Europe, we’ve encountered wind strengths of 28-31 knots more times than in our previous two years of cruising! We’re not really into big wind, so we hope this isn’t a harbinger of things to come. A British couple told us that in the Med there’s usually no wind or too much wind. Not exactly what we wanted to hear...

It is great, though, to finally be in the Mediterranean. Our first stop along Spain’s Costa del Sol was the very ritzy town of Jose Banus. We’d been there by car ten years earlier and marvelled at the fancy boutiques, five-star cafes and mega yachts in the harbor. If anything, it’s only gotten fancier since then. It was quite fun to tie up amongst the jet setters in Liberty, knowing that we’d sailed all the way there on our own. There was a steady stream of tourists parading past, and we were very proud of that red, white, and blue flag flying from our backstay.

After a few more hops along the coast, we made an overnight passage to the island of Formentera, the southernmost of Spain’s Balearic Islands. The water here is a beautiful turquoise and the islands’ coastline is craggy and impressive.

Jose Banus02

Liberty lies with the jet set in Puerto Jose Banus along Spain’s Costa del Sol


After a beautiful sail from Formentara to Ibiza, we anchored off to the side of Ibiza’s very busy harbor. Riding ashore in the dinghy was a challenge with tour boats, huge passenger ferries, and mega yachts zipping in and out, completely ignoring the 3 knot speed limit. Once ashore, however, the old part of Ibiza was a real treat, especially inside the walled city. We both agreed that Ibiza was the neatest place we’ve seen so far in Europe. The old cathedral, narrow streets, spectacular views and overall feel made this a very special place.

The people watching here is incredible. The Europeans dress far differently than Americans (far skimpier, that’s for sure!). They even look and walk differently! It’s lots of fun to sit at a sidewalk cafe and check everyone out.

Ibiza Harbor

There was plenty to watch in the anchorage, too. On the right was what happened when two boats tangled anchor lines. Yikes! We were awakened the next morning at 0600 by the blast of two 100’ sailboats that had dragged into each other.

After a rolly night we moved farther into the anchorage, away from most of the commotion. The view is still the same though -- the same one you see in this photo with the walled city and cathedral. Not a bad backdrop.

We still have to pinch ourselves. We look around us and say, “We’re in Spain... in the Mediterranean... and we sailed here!”

With family meeting us in Italy in less than a month, we’re going to be making tracks quickly. From the Balearics it’s on to Sardinia, then across to Portofino. Stay tuned for more updates!.

Boat tangle

Nice background, scary foreground!

Click here for more on Cruising Europe...