Friday, November 4, 2011

Breakfast of Tomatoes

2011 11 04

This morning I woke before my wife.  Nothing unusual in that.  It was black, raining and blowing 25 knots.

Working from primitive sense memory I put the kettle on for coffee and sat down to the Spanish lesson.  You know, my everyday routine.

Fatigue was gangling my synapses and the computer did not seem to want to boot up.  So there I sat, no brain and no mechanical assist.  Usually I can cover up an hour or two of retardation by randomly hitting keys on the computer and complaining about the "slow internet" in Spain.

Meanwhile the water was not yet hot enough for coffee.  What was wrong with that Kettle?

The residue of yesterday's exercise of driving, to Murcia, around Murcia, through Murcia and back again was confirming what I had thought of Murcia through most of yesterday.

Unhappy I was, not only with Murcia but also with the unpleasant taste in my mouth.  Unable  to undertake emergency site restoration due to the refusal of my stubbornly recalcitrant kettle to heat my coffee water I hit the fridge in desperation, looking for anything  that might cut through the patina of early morning and age and gross stuff that was clogging my olfactory canals and most of my sensory inputs.

Hah.  A glistening bottle of L'Ambrusco.  Red this one was, but I think that is strictly a function of coloured additives.  "What colour are we making today, Jose?" Cold as ice the bottle was already frosting with ambient humidity.  Merely the sight of the bottle drew forth memories in my hot dry throat: that delightful effervescing light strawberry sensation.

Deftly pulling the cork, with L'Ambrusco a task requiring more skill at keeping the cork in the bottle than pulling it out, I looked about for a glass.  Any glass would do, even one of last night's beer glasses.

Oh who was I kidding.  I put bottle to lip and in one multi swallow draft I rejuvenated my entire cranial cavity.  Oh.  Oh!!  It burns so nice.  Icy and hot all at the same time.

Clarity came, carried on the backs of tiny alcohol tinctured bubbles.  My life began.

The kettle boiled.

I turned off the stove and sat before my now humming computer with my bottle of L'Ambrusco at hand and a hummus sandwich.  Hmmm.  "Must have found some hummus while searching the fridge" I said to myself as I settled in to Rosetta Stone.

How Lucky For Me.

ps.  "Tomato" is the derogatory term used by the local expat Brits to describe local Spanish citizenry.  As their economy contracts the only work available to many Spanish here is tending plants in the local greenhouses.  Greenhouses which feed all of Europe all year long.

Most of our friends are local Spanish.  And no, they do not start many mornings with a bottle of L'Ambrusco.  Only the good ones.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Retiring in Spain

2011 11 02

No Photos - the BC dropped our waterproof camera in the Mediterranean.  It's being waterproof explains why we find ourselves high and dry without any images.

As a retirement home Almerimar is more than adequate. We engage in a lot of rest home activities: drives in the countryside and reading, morning exercises and language classes.

So far we have avoided guided bus tours.

Thankfully we have avoided descent into the nightmare of expat British society: drinking at the British bar, watching British soccer leagues, meeting at the "British" chandlery each morning to complain about the inferior races that surround us. 

Even with the aid of  frequent resort to good cheap alcohol, there are times I miss living somewhere relevant.

Being in "The Med" has captivated the Budget Committee.  My wife likes old broken useless things so Europe is win win for the two of us. 

Everything worthwhile in Spain seems to have been designed by the Moors, built by the Romans and paid for by the Germans.  There is not much Spanish in Spain but we do enjoy stabbing away at the language.   

There are days when we downright eviscerate it.  With relish.

We look forward to doing the same thing to Greece.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The Three Out of Four Mornings Exercise Troop

The Three Mornings Out of Four Women's Exercise Troop
save for Maggie who has the camera
Seven a.m.

Connie climbs out of the V berth and quietly dresses in the salon.  In the icy cool of the pitch black morning she makes her way to the bow of our 38 foot sailboat and climbs down to the ground using the cross piece on the anchor for a foothold.

From my redoubt in the bow, under warm soft sheets and down comforter, I hear the troop of women marching in synchronized determination as they exercise their way to the front  of our boat.  As the troop passes Connie falls into her assigned spot usually beside Fumi, the Japanese grandmother from Foxglove, and quickly picking up the rhythm of the her troopmates  she moves off in lockstep with the Three Mornings Out of Four Women's Exercise Group.  Not a word has been spoken.

Two hours later she returns, face showing the physical strain of her morning's exertions.  Quietly she sits, picks up her kindle and without a further word, reads the morning's Toronto Star.  She rarely moves for the ensuing two hours.

Led by Maggie from Waterhobo a group of eight boating wives subject themselves to rigorous physical workout for three mornings in a row.  One day is allowed off and then they do three more days.  It is a little paramilitary group.

Paqui Cooks Her Own Sausage with Excessive Delight
While Mary Belle Uses the Flame for Something Less Symbolic
After hours, which means any time the group is not exercising, they go to the market, get together on one or another boats for drinks and dinners and generally live live to the full.

Fumi, Mary Jesus, Maggie and Terry at Market
Last Wednesday the group went to a local market returning with olives, fruit and fresh everything.  Copious amounts of liquor were consumed that left most of them next morning  burdened with  substantial hangovers.  Not that any hangover would be permitted to interfere with a workout.

Membership in the group is not limited to women, at least not by any stated rule.  One man attended one morning session but never made the second morning.  "It's like childbirth" my wife explains "It Hurts.  Men Aren't Interested".  

For once we agree.

The group is bound by no discernable common thread.  One is English only, another near so, one is near Japanese only, three are Spanish speaking only.  Not all have children.  

As you can see despite the near military degree of organization and commitment at work in the group they enjoy a full measure of fun.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Serendipitous Money Making. Cheap Car Rentals and VPNs.

2011 10 20
Almerimar Artificial Urbanity, 20 km outside Almeria, Spain

Serendipity: The ability to make accidental and beneficial discoveries while searching for something unrelated.

For the first time since leaving North America we are enjoying respectable internet service, courtesy of Sonimar Telecom, a local ISP.

Naturally as soon as you have internet you have issues that need working around.  This time I found a few North American websites would not let me log on because I was in Europe.  Sites like (and I will not identify the sites I was visiting) Hulu only provide service to US Americans.  Europeans and Canadians are not permitted to use the service.

When you log onto the WWW you are assigned a unique address called an IP address.  This address contains enough information that people who know how can trace you back to the country, city, street and building you are sitting in.  By now they can probably figure out what table at Starbucks you are sitting while you sip latte and catch up your emails.

It is possible to mislead these WWW snoopers using a service called a VPN.  If you do not already know what that stands for you don't worry, you don't need to know.  (VIrtual Private Network)

Using a VPN service provider you trick people into thinking you are in a different place than you really are.  When you access the WWW through a VPN service the VPN makes the other users on the WWW think you are in the country where the VPN service provider is.  This is way cool.

Here is how it made me money:

The BC and I want to rent a car to tour Spain from our post in Almerimar.  The best deal we could find on the internet was a two week rental for €320 plus insurance and VAT plus €3 a day if we wanted a second driver plus all sorts of other financial ugliness.  Speaking of ugly you should have seen the car that was on offer.

This was a bit pricey and we were disappointed.

However it turns out that the price was only that high because the car rental company thought we were in Spain.  Friends on Waterhobo, another Toronto boat, had friends who got a much better price with the same company when they booked their car in Canada.

Enter the VPN.  I was already using a VPN to make the WWW think I was in Canada so I could access certain sites backhome.  I logged onto the WWW through my VPN service provider and arranged an address that made everyone on the WWW think I was physically in the USA, land of competition.  Oh My God.

When it was bidding for my business believing me to be in the USA the same car rental that wanted to rent me the tiny ugly but super  car for €350 plus plus plus now would rent me a car for $150 (note dollars not euros) with all insurance included and second driver free.  This was a 60 per cent discount.

Now that my friends was serendipitous.

VPN: give it a good hard look.  It is an easy service to use.  Try out a few service providers before you commit.  I am using OpenVPN and recommend it.  I am not receiving payment from OpenVPN it just works for me.

If I were Spanish I might be less than sanguine about the fact my local car rental company charges me double what it charges an American.

And I am not even American, the WWW just thinks I am.

ps  Using a VPN gives you a host of other special benefits - like greatly enhanced privacy.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Playing Solitaire 'Till Dawn...

2011 10 18
Almerimar, Almeria, Spain

Yesterday afternoon the quiet little german fellow in the boat beside us sat down in his cockpit, about 1:30 pm, and began to trim his toenails.

Last night, 7:00 pm., as we left our boat to go find someone to drink with, he was still at it, filing away.

Not until this morning did it occur to me that this might have been a bit odd.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Other People's Trying Times

Here was the perfect post from Canadian friends on a cat which gives a sense of how cruising changes your attitude towards sailing and type A behaviour.  This livewire couple are headed from Culahtra toSeville:

Hi Bob

Well, we aimed to leave out the east end of Culahtra first thing in the morning on an ebbing tide. We almost made it, but then decided to take a nice coffee break on a private little sandy island. Well, it became an island about half an hour after we beached on it. And then we were joined by a couple of tourist boats who also wanted a day trip to a deserted island.

So by the time we got going again it was a bit later in the day. We headed for Ayamonte. Then we read about the tides in the morning and decided that would be a pain if we were to get going early. So then we headed for Tavira, but came to the same conclusion about that. So then we did a trial anchor just outside Tavira and concluded it was fine. And the wind had picked up with a nice sea breeze, so we decided we would sail another three hours down the coast and anchor off the beach outside of the Guardiana river.

Then tomorrow we will head for Bonanza and see if we make it before dark....

Man do I love anyone, even in a cat, who would try to leave Culahtra via the eastern gap.  And on a falling tide!!!  Fantastic.

And look at all the friends you made.

What Do You Do About a Problem Like Almeria

2011 10 14
Almeriamar Marina just outside Almeria Spain

From our Anchorage Last Night
at Castell del Ferro

After three weeks the Levant winds out of the east have died down.  Finding a five day windless window we took off from Alcaidesa Marina in La Linea.  For reasons given below we do not recommend ever taking your boat to this marina.  Next time, if there is one, we will go to Gibraltar.

The south coast of Spain becomes quite mountainous and provides a fabulous daytime viewing opportunity and equally fabulous anchorages at night.  Leaving La Linea several hours late on the 12th we were hard pressed to make our planned destination in available daylight. Late in the day however we received an unexpected boost from some errant current and all lost time was made up and then some.  We continued past our planned anchorage and dropped hook off the beach at Fuengirola about ten minutes before sundown.

This anchorage was unprotected from all directions but the ocean was flat, winds were calm and the forecast called for more of the same.  It was a marvellous night.

When we get to Almeria we want to rent a car
and drive the road you just see here
Next day we were underway at sunrise,  eight o'clock en punta.  This was another great day with mountains for view and dead calm seas.  Only two hours produced wind worth motor sailing in but we motorsailed them both.  Since leaving the Bay of Cadiz we have travelled with only the fifty gallon tank of water, leaving the one hundred gallon forward tank empty.  Our fuel economy is way up as a result.

The Craggy Face of Our Protector from the Sea
Castell del Ferro as we enter the space
Intending on anchoring at Motril, just outside the marina last night we again were visited with a strange boost of speed as the sun settled low in the sky.  We happily passed by Motril which looked sort of grungy and then gave a pass to Cabo Sacratif, pictured above, and Calahonda which was occupied by another boat.  Just as sun was touching horizon we made it to Castell del Ferro and anchored in a charming cutout from the rocks with no other boats.  We slept like babies just 200 metres off the beach and 200 metres off the rock cliff.

Exploring Along the South Coast of Spain

Almerimar is where we tie up for our return to Canada for Christmas and reunion with family and friends.  There will not be a lot of posts until our return at the end of January.

From here we explore inland Spain with a list of places we want to see that we know we cannot fulfill.  Willing to die trying however.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Last Post

2011 10 10
La Linea, Spain

The Airport at Gibraltar - Note the Intersection
thanks to wikipaedia

Gibraltar is all that is left of the British Empire.  Visiting here has been a priority with Meredith.

Behind the Light is the Runway
The absolute best part of Gib, as the locals call it, is getting in.  From our in La Linea the border between Spain and Gib is a five minute walk.  To get from Spain to Gib walk across the border.  This takes twenty seconds and in that time you are vetted by Spanish Immigration and UK immigration.  Then you get to the fun bit.

I caught this jet taking off
traffic on the intersecting street (at the top) is stopped at a
traffic light
Leaving immigration control you encounter an intersection with traffic signals.  The cool bit is that the street with which you are intersecting is the runway for the international airport.  When a jet is taking off the lights stop all ground traffic from crossing the runway so the jet has a clear path.

These Little Fellows are Protected.  Rumour has it
when the Macaques Leave Gibraltar so will the British

After this things are a bit mundane. You go up the mountain, get the usual cursory introduction to the three year seige of Gib by the Spanish, look at some caves and tunnels, watch some macaques void their bowels on your tour bus and return to walk around the ubiquitous narrow winding streets full of overpriced shops.  Arriving back at the boat you are happy to have been to Gibraltar but are quizzical as to what happened to all your enthusiasm.

Shopping On a Gibraltar Street inside the Fort
The Fortification sheltering the Tourist Shops
from Attack - all real business is done downtown.
Prices here are crippling.  Thirty Seven Dollars for two burgers with a side of fries and a diet coke at a nondescript cafe.  We are not sure what was ground up to make the tasty patties but suspect it was horse.  For sure it did not come from any part of a cow. The electronics stores, reputedly source of great tax free bargains, were charging more in pounds than any American retailer would ever charge in dollars for the same item.

Walking through Morrisons, a big UK grocery chain, we found prices ranging from thirty to four hundred percent higher than their Spanish equivalent.  You wonder why the Gibbers don't just drive to Spain and buy their groceries and wine for half the price.

Which is what we are going to do today. We can't afford to buy British.

Sands of the Kara Korum - All Over My Boat

2011 10 10
Thanksgiving Day

La Linea, Spain 

One of our solar panels pictured at 8 am this morning
was cleaned yesterday at 8 am
and yes I know that the sand did not likely come from the Kara Korum but
it was a good book and I liked the title
Windy, dark and overcast, today is perfect weather for celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving.  Even though we are still wearing shorts we imagine ourselves back home walking in the fallen leaves, the slate sky pregnant with rain and the wind in your face.  A good day for a long walk along the railway right of way preferably with a good dog.  Even a bad dog would be welcome.

For near on three weeks Gibraltar/La Linea have been under the influence of a Levant,a steady strong wind out of the east carrying Mediterranean humidity and Saharan sand to be deposited on the suspecting but helpless citizens of Gib and outlying areas.  Each day begins with us washing from our solar panels the patina of sun blocking corrosive grit which each night knits itself into a continuous cover over each panel.

For the last two months I have grown highly appreciative of the air filter on our diesel for it is clear that every breath of this atmosphere is full of death for mechanical systems.

Maintenance is a critical function here in the Med: Washing out grit and relubricating blocks, winches, slides, anything that rubs on anything else in performing its duty for the boat.  Lots of work, lots of grease.  

It does no good to just add more lubricant to old lubricant which is contaminated with sand.  You have to remove the old and replace it with new.

A constant ritual of inspecting, cleaning, oiling, inspecting...

Friday, October 7, 2011

Africa Off the Starboard Beam

2011 10 07

Algecaidesa Marina, La Linea, Spain

So Hercules, Is That One of Your Pillars or
Are You Just Glad to See Me
The View from Our Cockpit, La Linea
The forecast proved accurate and we woke this morning to no wind.  Eager to get going we left a couple of hours before all the fearmongers told us we should.  Because we were going from West to East this was no big deal and we were not set too badly.  It is only fifteen miles from Tarifa to Gibraltar.

A huge body of old wives tales exists about how difficult it is to sail through Gibraltar and how and when transits should be undertaken.  Prior to departing we had been fully briefed in how bad the winds would be and how strong the currents were and of all the rules we needed to follow to have even a hope of making it through.

We woke up, weighed anchor and set off.  Our departure was completed at low tide, one of the conditions we were told never ever to try.  Sometimes you want to find out for yourself.  I hate being afraid of something I have not experienced first hand.

It was a nonevent.  With the wind absent yesterday's unpleasant choppy seas were gone.  Our transit was glorious and the adverse tidal flow set us about a knot.

It was impossible not to be aware that all firmament off our starboard side was  Africa and we are very energized at the opportunity we have to visit some of those exotic locations: Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Israel and Turkey.  This excites us.

Picking our way through the hordes of large freighters anchored in the protected waters off Gibraltar we could not help staring in delight at The Rock.  Meredith is  berthed at Alcaidesa Marina, a brand new facility where we are paying €8.50 per night for dock, electric and water.

Our dock is five minutes from the border between Spain and Gibraltar.  You have seen our backyard view above.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


2011 10 06

Tarifa, Cadiz, Spain
Right at the Straits of Gibraltar

The view from Meredith at anchor>
Tarifa in the Foreground
One of Hercules Pillars in the Back

We onboard Meredith are definitely buzzed.

Setting off from Cadiz early this morning we motored into a stiff breeze to Tarifa, about 50 nautical miles.  Tarifa is a tiny point of land just at the western boundary  of the Straits of Gibraltar.

Fifty miles into the wind makes for a long day so we quit when we got here and anchored off the beach just to the west of a breakwater at Tarifa.

To transit the Straits we want to run about three hours ahead of high tide.  Normal flow of water is from Atlantic into the Mediterranean which surprised us.

Tomorrow the forecast wind is nil.  That sounds like a good day to travel.  We are off at dawn's first light (0830 local time) which will see us suffer some set from tide but nothing unbearable.  Luck with us we will be in La Linea by noon ready for a day of sightseeing in Gibraltar.  If the wind is still up then we sit in Tarifa until conditions permit.

Totally in awe but still smug, we remain,

Curmudgeon and the BC

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Mistake in Cadiz; A Win in Puerto Sherry; Attending Church in Spain

2011 10 05
Puerto Sherry, Bay of Cadiz, Spain

Once again I find myself stripping the photos from the blog because the only available internet will not support the bandwidth necessary to upload.  This is endemic on the south coast of Europe and is getting to be a real pain.  We are in a marina which advertises internet.  Live every other marina we have been in since and including the Azores the marina at Puerto Sherry simply fails to deliver.  We spent time at the University of Sevilla while in that city and were disturbed to find no wifi on campus and worse no not one student carrying a laptop or using a smartphone or ipad or whatever.  Not one.  This is a society unplugged and thus underinformed.

Yesterday Meredith moved from Bonanza just inside the Rio Guadalquivir to the Bay of Cadiz.  Moved is the term, not sailed, for there was no wind to speak of and even the whispers were on the nose. Still it was uneventful and pleasant except for the incessant circling of our boat by Coast Guard and Aduana boats operating under the aegis of Spain.  A lot of Europe's trade with Morroco in illicit substances is conducted along this shore and authorities were flying the flag and creating huge wake as they did so.

Arriving in the Bay of Cadiz we were faced with multiple anchorages and marina choices: Rota, Puerto Sherry, Puerto de Santa Maria or Cadiz.  Having read bad reviews of anchoring possibilities in Cadiz and Rota we stroked them off the list deciding to visit Cadiz by ferry if at all.  Our fuel was low and no fuel had been available at Gelves or at the marinas we passed on the Guadiana.  Dipping the tank gave me a reading of ten gallons or so with five gallons more on deck.

Not every Spanish marina has fuel and many that do have only gasoline.  Puerto Sherry was reported to have diesel.

The reports were sound but had failed to mention the fuel was priced at €1.35 a litre which is a pretty decent price around here.  On the way into the fuel dock we scoped out the anchorage , a pocket of water lying between the beach and a breakwater.  It seemed decent enough an anchorage but it was open to the south west (the breakwater is intended to protect the river from waves from the southwest and we would be anchoring on the Southwest side of the barrier).  If the wind or sea changed direction there would be an unpleasant swell.

The marina at Puerto Sherry is bounded on its south limit with a seaside condo development which has been abandoned in midconstruction.  Completed units are quite striking and the dozens of skeletons of partially constructed multistory homes are not unattractive except for what they say about the economy.  This is the Spanish housing bust we have heard of.

Done with fueling we walked over to the marina office to check on rates for an overnight stay and found offseason rates kicked in on October 1.  It would costs €14 a night with water and electric.  We are here for three nights.  Cheap fuel,  cheap marina.  Big win for the Meredith.

From Puerto Sherry it is about a 3.5 kilometre walk to the ferry dock where we would catch the ferry to Cadiz.

If you wish to avoid the long walk then you can choose to run up to Puerto Santa Maria where there is a Club Nautico.  Like all things written in French when you see a Club Nautico you know it will be expensive, twice the cost of Puerto Sherry.  It is also closer to the city, has its own pool and snooty guard staff (they asked me to leave the buggers) and seems a good choice for marina if you have the dough.  Anchoring off Puerto de Santa Maria does not look inviting even if it is allowed. A large building with tall fences and razor wire runs along the river and that sort of says military or police.  If so anchoring will not be permitted.

Today we took the ferry to Cadiz.

After eight days in Seville Cadiz was a disappointment.  This really is the ugly sister.  Cadiz has crashed.  It was intent on becoming a seaport of significance but the attempt has failed.  The citizenry are without work.  Planners are desperately trying to create a tourist industry.  And that is the problem.  Planners.

Cadiz downtown is all nice and pretty (if you ignore the soaring container cranes and offshore oil rigs being constructed right there) and ridiculously expensive.  There are a few old buildings and every one has an admission fee.  If you have not seen the Cathedral of Seville you might think the Cathedral in Cadiz to be grand.  The "old city", that collection of narrow windy streets that European cities all strut about having, is so small in Cadiz as to be perambulated in less than a day.

Sevillanos would laugh derisively about Cadiz' claim to its old city without ever wondering if having a bigger collection of tiny disfunctional streets might not necessarily be a good thing.

So desperate is the city for tourist dollars that they have removed almost all the benches from the old city so the only place you can sit is at a cafe.  And there of course you pay.  Twice what we paid even in the most pretentious neighbourhoods of Seville.

Cadiz does have a lot of churches and some of the less ostentious are quite charming.  Since arriving in Spain I have spent more time in church than in my entire life before coming to Spain.  Pictures are not taken because I am a guest in church not a belonger and it would be impolite.  Except at the Cathedral of Spain where I did take photos but only because the church itself was so proud of its "wall of gold" and its "silver goblet thingy" that it would have been impolite not to point and click a few times.

Church in Spain is ever so much simpler and more enjoyable than in Canada.  For one thing they have eliminated the problem of how much to leave in the collection plate.  You  remember sitting in the pew towards the end of the service as little boys or socially awkward men were enlisted to pass around plates on which you were to place your "offering".  I never knew what to offer or what my offer was intended to purchase.  mOstly I was just looking for time off for good behaviour if nothing else from the boring service.  Here it is easy: you pay at the gate.  There is a price list and if you want to get churched you stump up the price asked.  Today for example the Cathedral of Cadiz wanted €15.  I did not need that much church so I just passed.

In Spanish churches you don't have to sit down.  You just walk around looking at things and when you get bored you leave unless the Budget Committee wants to look some more in which case you walk around trying to look interested.  There are no boring sermons and no standing up and sitting down (and you never know when some churches are going to insist that you stand up or sit down).  

If church was run like this back home I probably still wouldn't go but it would make weddings and christenings and other mandatory church appearances more bearable.  Especially the bit about leaving when I got bored.

Walking about Cadiz I occupied myself by taking photos of doors.  The BC likes doors and is forever stopping and pointing to some entranceway or other to comment "Nice door".  Here would have been a few of my shots but as I say there is no  bandwidth.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Baggies Full of Cell Phones

2011 10 02
Bonanza, Spain
 36 48.7N
006 20.8W

Only eight days ago saw us running upstream like spawning salmon.  Today sees us back at the mouth of the Quadalquivir anchored just west of Bonanza (dum diddy dum diddy dum ditty dum ditty dum dum).  Like our last visit here the wind is blowing one way and Meredith the other.

Leaving Gelves an hour before high tide in Seville allowed us to ride the tide for near the entire length of the Guadalquivir but it put us in Bonanza just an hour before the end of low tide.  This meant we had strong wind on the nose out of the south and gentle current out of the north.  Meredith is dancing.

On Meredith we find 1 knot of current  is equal to about 30 knots of wind, ie it takes wind of 30 knots to equal the push power of 1 knot of water current.   In our circumstances  the two forces, wind at 20 and current at just under a knot were near in balance.  This is not a problem long term as the tide will soon be rampaging up the Guadalquivir and the wind will soon be overcome.  Until then we are just sitting about waiting for the boat to settle down so we can set the anchor properly.

While we sit I will get in a quick blog.

The quick post on cell phones drew a lot of replies.  Most people feel similarly aggrieved by cell phone companies although the jury is hung on the issue of which side of the Atlantic the ripping off began.

Regardless it seems most of us have adopted the same solution: a host of baggies, each filled with a cell phone and labelled with the country where that cell phone works: Canada, USA, Bahamas, Portugal, Spain, Ireland (yes even in the midst of a potatoe famine the cell phone companies must eat).

For the benefit of the wonderful young lady who seemed just a bit offended that I did not find European cell phone companies to be vastly more wonderful than those in North American I will confirm that tonight we will call our family and save a bundle.

We will call and say to each child: "Call us back".

You see incoming calls on cell phones are free over here.  So now our kids have to pay for the call and it is free on our end.   Now that is an innovation I am growing used to.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Your Postcards will be Delayed

2011 10 01

Seville, Espana

Our plans are to head back down the Guadalquivir tomorrow and make for Cadiz.

Yesterday we got around to filling out another round of postcards to go to various people we either like or want to impress with the fact we actually made it to Spain.  We ran into a hitch.

The main post office in Seville, the big multistoried downtown head office, has no stamps.    Perhaps "manana" the lineup of a dozen citizens was informed.  The clerk informing us of this most regrettable situation wore the ubiquitous face of the Woman of Constant Sorrow that Spanish women, like their Portuguese counterparts, have so perfected.

You knew from her comportment that there would be no stamps tomorrow.

The crowd, largely English tourist in makeup, was vocal in its outrage and mockery.  Clearly they were newcomers to the Mediterranean lifestyle.  Stepping forward I approached the postal worker and confirmed in a loud voice "Sello acqui manana?"

"SI, yes" was the greatful reply.  "Gracious" I rejoined.  "Muchos Gracious" I ended with a big smile of appreciation.

The woman's face brightened, not a complete piercing of the mask of sorrow but recognition that she had saved Spanish dignity and had met the performance demands of Spanish institutionalism.

You see, in the Mediterranean it is not about actually accomplishing something.  It is more about really really wanting to accomplish something.

Our postal clerk had gone to exceptional lengths to convince us that her post office would actually be selling stamps in short order.  Around here that is just as good as actually selling stamps.

In Canada we do not have good or efficient postal service.  Nor do they here in Spain.

In Spain at least the postal workers wish they did.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Letter from Seville

Noel and Ceu:

Sailing from Portimao to Seville is an easy four day venture: Portimao to Culahtra, Culahtra to Ayamonte on the Guadiana, Ayamonte to Bonanza on the Guadalquivir, Bonanza to Gelves just outside of Seville.
We did find a repeatable pattern of wind along the south coast of Portugal and Spain - strong offshore breeze every morning which would slowly peter out as the sun warmed the land.  By noon near calm and we motoring.  As the heating continued the wind built from offshore and quickly made it to 17 knots where it held for the afternoon.  This was our experience for each of the three days we took out of Portimao.  

The first evening we slipped into the Guadiana River to anchor on the Spanish side of the river just north of Ayamonte in mud with good holding.  The usual strong current runs as with all the river anchorages along this coast.    A long entry into the river ate up an hour of daylight.  The Guadiana did not look interesting enough to bother sailing up but we have heard good things.

Entry into the Guadalquivir is easy.  A wide deep marked channel leads you in.  Likely you will be coming in in the afternoon and so will have a following wind and waves.  Not a problem for us and the wind had been blowing 15 to 20 all afternoon.  Travel upstream until you are just off the small town of Bonanza.  You will see a line of vessels anchored on the west bank of the river.  Proceed upstream until you are just past the last of the vessels.  Anchor on the west side in 15 feet of water in mud.   Good holding. 

We left for Seville at slack before low tide but you could profitably wait half and hour or so after low tide and might get a bit more push.  Still the trip upriver took less than 8 hours.  

When you get to Seville, which you can tell because you come upon a big concrete and steel structure on the East side of the river.  You cannot miss it.  

Now you must decide:

Go to Seville.  Not recommended.  Turn right at the lock and try to get locked up.  When you are locked up you will have to anchor because you need to wait for a bascule bridge to open.  So far as we can tell the bridge only operates at 2200 on Monday and Wednesday and then only if the Club Nautico calls ahead to tell the operator you are coming. Then you pay huge for a slip at the marina which despite reports does not look all that appealing.  It seemed to us that city buses do not come within half a mile of the marina.

Go to Gelves.  Recommended.  In Spades.  Just take the left branch past the diversion to the Canal de Alfonso XIII and carry on upstream for another two miles or so.  You will come on a dilapidated tiny marina on your port side and a few small sailboats anchored in the river.  Just past the anchored sailboats is a bridge that you cannot pass.  

This stretch of river past the sailboats is a fabulous anchorage.  Mud with good holding in about 30 feet.  Strong current running I would say up to 4 knots so set the hook well.  Dinghy to the marina which is actually part of the Puerto de Gelves.  There is very little traffic past this anchorage so wake is minimum - nothing like the continuous wake of Portimao.  

For €2 a day you can land your dinghy, use their modest but welcome showers and laundry facilities, fill with water and all that stuff.  Staff are very friendly.

Once ashore you have two resto bars and a minimercado which is adequately stocked.  You are close by several good groceries only a short walk or a bus stop or two away.

The bus stop is just outside the marina on the major road.  We recommend the charcoal grilling at the Taverna del Puerto, a family run resto bar.  The bartender, Fernando, is a cocky 18 year old who wants to take marine biology at university.  His brother is even cockier but both of them in a delightful way.  We have persuaded Fernando to come to Canada to check out universities in St Johns and Halifax.  We are delighted that he has accepted, tentatively of course.  No contracto.  The father is a master on the grill and will prepare a true feast for you if you want.  Mom is a Spanish delight.

Say hello from us.  It will give the family a tickle.

Now, for buses and this gets a bit complicated:

1. There are three separate transportation systems: Metro, Tussam and Consorcio de Transport or Intercity Bus.  They do not cooperate much.

2.  From the marina you take the No. 140 Intercity bus to Seville.  It runs every 20 minutes or so and takes you to a stop right in old Seville.  You cannot miss  the stop.   Once over the bridge the bus turns right and runs a short distance down the river.  It stops beside the river at a city bus stop.  Cash fare is €1.35 each and the driver will make change.

3.  Once in the City you want to get to a Metro station.  There is one close to the downtown Intercity bus stop.  The signs are green and you go underground - NOT THE ABOVE GROUND TRAM.  In the Metro are machines that will sell you paper cards with magnetic reader devices.   You pay €1.50 for the card and put some money on it, I think the minimum is €8 or so but don't worry you will use it.  

With this card your bus only costs you €0.88 per trip.  It is also good on the Metro which is really handy.  There are no transfers between intercity bus and Metro even though you use the same card.  However you get a reduced fare if you transfer.  Your card keeps track of where you have been and when you climb on the bus from the Metro or vice versa it automatically reduces your fare by almost half.  Not quite so good as a transfer but pretty decent none the less.  

4.  If you want to take a municipal bus, the TUSSAM bus system you have a problem.  Just pay the cash fare of €1.35 per person is our recommendation.  We looked for a frustrating 3 days to try to find a vendor of the Bonobus card used by the Tussam buses.  With the card the cost of bus fare is reduced to €0.88 but they are hard to find.  They are supposedly sold by every tobacconist.  Most tobacconists are never open or closed their businesses down years ago.  We finally found a vendor at the Gran Plaza Metro stop.  Just walk around the plaze in a circle until you come on a kiosk in the street.  The guy there sells the cards.  If you are at Gran Plaza anyway take the B4 bus.  It is a long meander through "real" Seville - apartment blocks, shopping centres and the local big box stores.  Takes over an hour for a circuit but you are likely tired anyway.

After you find a Tobacconist suddenly they are everywhere.  Seems like they hide until you do not need them. 

You will get the standard tourist map at any of several tourist booths downtown and then you are on your own.  You could spend a week just walking around the old downtown. 

Yours truly

Curmudgeon and the Budget Committee

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Universality of Cell Phone Company Perfidy

2011 09 28

Seville well Gelves actually), Spain

Patio at the Cathedral of Seville
taken from the top of the Giralda

New Country, New Phone Number. 

Friends who cruised Greece a few years ago insisted it was easy peasy to change phone SIMs in Europe.  Whenever you entered a new country you just bought a new SIM card and plugged it into your phone.  SIMs were inexpensive and the process was near seamless.  So they said.

We actually believed them.  Arriving in Portugal we purchased a phone and Portuguese SIM from Vodafone.  Vodafone run a multinational cell phone network through much of Europe and we reasoned this would make changeovers even easier.  But we are dealing with cell phone companies here, masters of government sanctioned thievery.

Once  the hook was down just outside of Seville, which is in Spain I hasten to add, we trotted down to the Vodafone booth to get a new SIM.  As promised it was inexpensive.

However it would not work in our phone. No you see our cell phone was locked by Vodafone and would not accept other SIMs.  But, we asserted, this is a Vodafone phone.  It even had Vodafone engraved in its cover.  Surely a Vodafone could not be locked out of a Vodafone network.

Yes it can is the quick answer.  You cannot use a Vodafone Portugal cell phone with a Vodafone Spain SIM.  

So everytime you change countries you must buy a new phone.  Back home, where all things are done right and proper, this would be like having to buy a new phone everytime you went over a provincial boundary or state line.  Ludicrous.

Of course Europe can teach us in North America nothing about being screwed by cell phone companies.  We invented it.

Like the language it is different here.  You still get screwed but they do it differently. :)

Since Reading Pillars of the Earth
I Always Look Up when in Church

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Getting Lost in a River

2011 09 27

Gelves, Spain

From the Cockpit at anchor:
A View of the Bridge Under Which We Could Not Pass

How hard can it be to pilot a boat up a river?  This river, the Rio Guadalquivir, is like many other rivers.  It has an east bank and a west bank and a bunch of wet stuff in between.  All you have to do to navigate the river is keep the hull in the wet stuff.  Wherever the river goes that is where you are going to get.  It's not like you can get off.

This particular Saturday we even had the chartplotter on as we made our way up the fast moving road to Seville.  How is it possible we got lost?

Well, let me tell you.

Fifty five miles have to be traveled upstream from the mouth of the Rio Guadalquivir to get to Seville a city of 700,000 souls and capital of Andalucia region of Spain. Seville is a massive city built built all around the river To enter Seville you sail up the Rio Guadalquivir to a big new lock.  Before you can enter Seville you must go through a lock built on the river to protect the city from the violent tides experienced by the river.

To me the big new lock looks suspiciously like a sewage treatment plant.  The Budget Committee, my reference point of choice, agreed that the massive concrete and steel edifice we came upon looked exactly like a sewage treatment plant.  In fact I think the Sevillanos have built a sewage treatment plant right at the locksite so the effluent can be released directly downstream without building up in the city while waiting for the next locking.

That last bit is mere conjecture on my part.

There was no way we were sailing our boat into the discharge ditch of a sewage treatment plant.  So we didn't.  We should have.

For another couple of miles we continued upstream blissfully unaware we were headed the wrong way.  The extent of our navigational blunder disclosed itself when our river, no longer the Guadalquivir, began to narrow.  Then it began to have trees on its banks.  Then it began to have fallen trees across half its width.

When you sail along a river half blocked with fallen trees your confidence ebbs a bit.  YOu begin to suspect something is amiss.  In the beginning you tell yourself the fallen tree trunks are just debris from a recent storm, so recent no cleanup has been effected.  YOu try to ignore the evidence: the trunks of the trees are devoid of green leafery and trail significant booms constructed of flotsam caught in their dry brittle branches.  Flotsam you have to admit has been building up for months or years or even decades.

Still you do not accept that you missed Seville.  Seven Hundred thousand people live there.  You cannot just miss that while you motor up a river.  You earnestly believe that Seville, which is only a mile up the sewage treatment lagoon you just passed, is really just around the next bend.

Then you round the next bend and see the bridge.  A low bridge. A low bridge with no lift mechanism.

So what do you do?  Yeah, yeah.  You stop the boat.  But after that what?

YOu don't know where you are.  Your chartwork is so pathetic you cannot find a city of near a million souls on a river bank.  Your chart plotter has figured out it is in Spain and is taking its afternoon siesta.  All you wish is that you had brought your $5 Walmart road atlas of Europe.

What we did was to drop our anchor.

Our passage blocked by the bridge we took a good look around.  It was miraculous.  We had found a deserted stretch of treed river.  No boats, no traffic, no people.  No noise.  It was heaven.

Exploring our surroundings by dinghy we discovered that what had appeared to be an abandoned and seemingly derelict marina a mile downstream was not closed at all, just sort of closed for Saturday and Sunday.  Arrangements were made to land the dinghy and use showers for €2 a day.  The marina is right on a bus line with ten minute service to downtown Seville, has two bars and two restaurants and the best minimercado we have been in.

That night we introduced ourselves to the local inhabitants of the marina which turned out to be the Port of Gelves.

Dining late at the Taberna del Puerto the owner who, learning we wanted to find out about local cuisine treated us to a grilled tour of the gastronomic delights of Andalucia.  A five course meal with lamb, Iberico pork, steak.  As we sat at table in the driveway to the Puerto, along with all the locals, dogs and all, this man would interrupt us every fifteen or twenty minutes with his latest grilled delight, ending with the best steak we have ever enjoyed. As he tended grill his wife and son who manned the bar constructed their own own tour of locally produced wines and liquor.  We ended the night with icy shots of a locally produced liquor Miuro, or "the Bull": bloodred, icecold and strongly liquorice and cherry.

It has been since the Azores that we have enjoyed a dinner this much.  We might just stay lost.

Travelblog: Culahtra to the Guadalquivir

After a few days idling in Culahtra we said farewell to Life Part 2, a boat with which whom we shared company very informally for a few weeks and continued to the Rio Guadiana.  This river forms the border between Portugal and Spain.

It might be nice we thought to motor up the river and see some countryside.  

Next day was a long day sailing. There are fishing nets everywhere along the south coast of Portugal and Spain extending five or ten miles out from shore.  "Everywhere" means literally everywhere.  Not a hundred feet between nets which extend for hundreds of metres in any direction.

It was a long haul against tide to get to Ayamonte
We arrived late and sailed into the river fighting a building current against us.  Anchoring in a river bend just north of the Spanish town of Ayamonte we slept well.  That's not true actually.  I slept well.  The Budget Committee did not like the very strong current, strongest we had found ourselves in till that point.  She was up and down all night checking our anchoring against fixed landmarks.

The shabby condition of the towns on both Portuguese and Spanish sides of the border persuaded us not to sail up the Guadiana any further to just hightail it to the Guadalquivir.

Next morning we found ourselves tired but game to move.  With the off shore breezing howling with renewed ferocity  we were away just after sunup.  Fifty miles we had to make to avoid coming into the Guadalquivir after dark.

As is the custom the land breeze held for about three hours and we were motoring.  When the sea breeze filled in it  chose an awkward angle and we found ourselves motoring into headwinds which built over the afternoon to the usual 15 to 20 knots.  Very unpleasant.

Our eye was keenly on the time and we knew we were running things close to the wire.  We carefully made our way into the Guadalquivir led by a very nice Spanish coast guard cutter dragging a dinghy almost as long as our sailboat.

Luckily just inside the river mouth is the Spanish city of Bonanza (try not humming the theme song , just try) with a decent anchorage at a bend in the river.  LSundown was 1933 that night and we dropped hook at 1945.  Around here when the sun goes down it is like a switch is turned off.  Light ends.  None of that lingering dusk as we used to count on back in North America.

It had been a tiring few days getting to the Quadalquivir but we had to be up early early early to catch the flood tide up the Rio Quadalquivir to Seville.

If a sailboat can catch the flood tide early it can sail the entire 55 miles of River with the tide helping it along.  Trying to motor upstream against an ebb tide is just too painful and at European prices for fuel too expensive.

At 0700 we were up and by 0715 so was the anchor.

We rode the tide all the way to Seville.  And as it turned out, well beyond.

Travelogue Portimao to Culahtra

 It was a short trip from Portimao to Culahtra, no more than 25 miles.  After a month off,
sitting in Portimao, it was tiring enough.  The daily landbreeze, blowing every night from
land to sea at 20 knots give or take 3 knots, held until about noon after which we motored
until the seabreeze picked up to similar velocity from the opposite direction.

The south coast of Portugal and Spain exhibits strong land breeze every night and strong
seabreeze every day.  Of course there is a two or three hour gap around noon while the sun heats the land enough to stop the flow of air from land to sea and then recommence the flow in reverse: from sea to land.  Each day begins with 20 knots off the land which subsides as the day progresses.  Each afternoon sees development of wind from sea to land which strengthens, usually to the 20 knot range, as the day progresses.

This can be an issue if, late in the day, you are coming into a river at ebb tide.  The wind will be a good 20 knots blowing against the tide giving very unpleasant chop.  Worse if you are unlucky.  Most of the rivers on the south of Portugal have shallow narrow entrances so attention to tide and time of day is important.

OUr first plan was to stop for the night at Albufeira only 15 miles from Portimao.  There was no protected anchorage and by the time we had arrived the seabreeze was kicking up a strong rolly sea, too rolly to risk anchoring off the beach which is commonly done.

A quick check of the tides showed we would have flood tide entering the waterway between the island of Culahtra and the mainland.  We changed destination.

Culahtra is really just a big sand dune separated from the mainland by a two mile wide waterway.  Two large rivers flow into this waterway so there is considerable tide.  The mouth of the entrance can exhibit tides of 6 knots or even higher.

Once inside there are three anchorages from which to choose.  One, just at the mouth of a
river leading to Faro, a major city is wide open to wind and waves and tide and was just
ugly.  The second anchorage was so unobtrusive we sailed right by without being able to
discern anything obout it which showed promise.

The third anchorage, located just off the city of Olhao at the North east end of the
island, is decent enough.  Still open to tide and of course current from the river leading
to Olhao the anchorage is protected from waves on the Atlantic and is close to the island
of Culahtra itself.  Our hook was dropped and considering the currents in which we would
find ourselves we dug for China with our anchor.

In the Lagoon of Reduced Circumstances

2011 09 21
Off the Isle of Culahtra (Culatra), Olhao, Portugal
 37  00     N
007 50.60 W
Constantly We are Surrounded by Friends and Well Wishers
Wish We had a Net 

The second day after we anchored behind the island of Culahtra we received this email from a friend who had visited this much ballyhooed location a few weeks before us:

Lots of current from the river, unattractive scenery (this is my opinion - except perhaps those German on second thought, ugh) and not very nice people - either driving boats or serving in the restaurants. 
Perhaps for the Europeans who have never gone to the Carib, this place is a little different and somehow appealing . How lovely, no ancient forts, nor Moorish castles or centuries old cultures; boring after you have lived it for so long. Just give them a change of scenery within their world, beige sand beaches, ramshackle concrete building (with doors so small only children and tiny hobbits can enter) and some fish restaurants with high prices/rude waiters and voila they are in a new world - or at least a different place then what they are used to. 

A Hobbit Hut?

The author can be forgiven some of her harsh criticism when you realize while at Culahtra a boat near hers dragged in the currents.  The very next day she witnessed a powerboater drive over a swimmer turning him to hamburger.

Admittedly after our arrival we wondered what stimulated all the buzz amongst the Euro cruisers about Culahtra.  Other than the exotically odd spelling of course.

If you want good sand dunes go to Ipperwash or Port Franks in Ontario.   If you want service or friendly service do not come  to anywhere in Portugal, especially Culahtra.  So why visit Culahtra at all?  Two reasons and one of them is not because you haven't been warned off yet.

 Culahtra has a kick ass beach on its Atlantic side with great surf and good shelling.  You get here by walking a mile long catwalk installed to protect the fragile sand dune ecology.  

Part of the beach is a nude beach. Not knowing this we were interested indeed in one German couple who were not only forthcoming in their nakedness but quite libidinous in the presentation of their respective attributes. 

The beach is but thin offering beside the real gem of the island of Culahtra: the Lagoon of Reduced Circumstances (regards to Alexander McCall Smith).   At the far north east of the island there is a drying lagoon.  You can walk across the lagoon at low tide if you don't mind finding yourself kneedeep in stinking oozing critter filled mud.

This guy is keel deep in mud - picture taken at half tide.
Look at the ladder.
Here, kneedeep in the stinking oozing critter filled mud of the lagoon you find a community of down on their luck Germans and Brits living on boats that have clearly not moved for months or years, or in the case of the more interesting specimans not since the Deluge.   

It is a boating trailer park.

Every one of these boats, (I don"t know what else to call them.) is lived on full time.  These guys live in the mud.  At low tide you can walk to every one of them.  In the black stinking oozing slithery critter filled mud.  I am not sure how they get water on board but from the looks of them many of them don't need or use much.  

This mess is lived in by guys who just
drove their boats up onto the sand
John Steinbeck would love them.

Another expat community  living on the cheap and waiting to die in an obscure and uninteresting destination. 

And we used to make sport of Vero Beach cruisers.  At least they have colour TV.  And showers.  

Tomorrow we leave for the Guardiana River, border between Portugal and Spain and after that we are off to the Guadalquivir and Seville. Our sailing will take us to Gibraltar and we end up in Almeria where we leave the boat for a Christmas return to Canada.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Portimao for Sailors

2011 09 17

last days in Ferragudo

Everything You Need to Get Started in Portimao
If you Click it It Grows
No one aboard Meredith wishes to tarnish the opportunity available to every sailor reaching a new destination to head off and try and figure things out: how do the buses work, where is the best grocery, how do I make things work.  So for goodness' if you do not want the mystery of Portimao to be blunted in any way just don't read on.

Here is a sort of minimalist guide to getting around Portimao if you arrive by sailboat.

The Anchorage - East Side of the River Just Inside the Breakwater

Entry to the River is easy.  If you are anchoring look to the east side of the river just as you enter the breakwater.  There is a large anchoring field offering good protection from wind and waves.  The bottom is mud and we have sat out 30 knot winds comfortably.

There are a few moron locals who love to make a big wake but this is a minor inconvenience.


If you wish to take the marina rates are high by Portuguese standards: €35 a night for our boat in high season reducing to €33 for September and then €15 for the winter.  Many catamaran owners stay in Portimao marina over the winter as the marina does not charge a surcharge for cats.


Laundry is available in a small building beside the marina office.  The laundry is not run by the marina so the marina allows all cruisers use it.  It is expensive - €5 for a wash, drying is €1 for ten minutes but the drying is slow.  Most cruisers, even in the marina, were using the washers and hanging the laundry to dry on their boats.

With the constant wind and sun here laundry dries in no time.

Bus System

The bus system is difficult at first.  Even finding the bus stop was a nightmare - no one knew.  Or would tell.  As it turns out the stop is a short walk from the marina.  Tie up your dinghy on the south pier and walk over.

This shows the Marina Bus Stop and Laundry
When a bus comes to the stop it will be either a number 2 bus or a number 6 bus.  Take either.  The number 6 is an express and the number 2 will give you a tour.  Your first trip will cost €1.50 per person paid in cash.  The driver makes change.  A machine prints a bus receipt which YOU MUST KEEP.

Take the bus to the Largo Do Dique Bus Hub.  It is a small hub but you should not miss it.  The bus will go all the way around a small plaza and then stop at the hub just in front of a SPAR grocery store.  Get off the bus keeping your receipt.  

Walk to the bus ticket agent.  It is marked on the following photo but can be hard to find the first time.  It is a tiny hole in the wall office just beside the  Cafe des Inglese.

Buy a bus card for €3 and buy ten one zone passes for €7.50.  You can buy the two zone passes which only cost €8.50 but you will likely not need a two zone pass for a couple of days.

Here are the buses you will need right away:

No. 2 bus: takes you from Marina to Largo do Dique.  Until you are ready for a long tour do not take the No. 2 bus back to the marina.  

No. 6 bus.  This is the express bus from the marina to Largo do Dique and back again.  It also gives you a nice tour of the Praia de Roches beach area.  Hard bodies and lots of expensive eateries.

No. 5 bus.  This is your bus to the mall which has a Jumbo grocery store and a McDonalds in the food court (in case you are jonesing for a Big Mac).  Right beside the Aqua Mall is the Retail Centre with a nice grocery (with whole wheat flour), a Worten consumer electronics store and across the street from that is the MaxMat, a building supply and hardware store.

No. 4 bus.  This does all of the above and also carries on to the Retail Park which has a Continente Grocery and some other big box stores as well as a Staples business machines and office supplies outlet.

What about your ticket?  Keep it for two reasons:

  • it is good for one hour from the time it is issued.  When you change buses you show the driver of the new bus your ticket and as long as it is less than one hour old you can board the bus.
  • the Portimao bus service runs and audit program.  Randomly a bus official will board the bus and demand to see the tickets from everyone on the bus.  Once, after reading my ticket, the guy demanded to see my magnetic stripe card to prove I had not picked the ticket up off the ground or shared another's card.  I don't know what happens if you are cheating.

The best grocery bet is the Pingo Doce store located just blocks from the Museo do Portimao.  There is what seems to be a public dock at the Museum and you can walk to the Pingo Doce.  This is a large store with almost everything you could ask for.

Gateway to the Pingo Doce

The nice thing about Pingo Doce is the attached cafeteria where you can buy well prepared full meals at very low cost.  There is usually a long line.

Other than that we found the SPAR store at Largo do Dique to be basic but we used it often, eg for beer and heavy items.  The Jumbo is good and the Continente store is its usual competent enterprise.


There are two chandlers, both located in the shipyard in Ferragudo across the river from Portimao.  These are the Sopramar store and the Onda store.  Both are decent in their own way but the Onda store seemed to be closed arbitrarily on several visits.

Sopramar is a chain store and in Portimao is staffed by two great guys.  The has a good basic inventory but never seems to have just exactly what you need.  The two guys will make a good show of ordering for you but ordering in Portugal is a Fairy Tale and usually after long delay you get something other than what you ordered.  This is not the fault of the two guys in the store.  It seems to be company policy.

It is a long walk to Ferragudo from Largo do Dique bus hub.  No bus joins the two towns that we ever found.  Best by far to dinghy to the stores as you can see:


Buy your diesel at the marina and your gasoline at the Repsol which has a dock shown on the photo of Largo do Dique.  Repsol also change butane containers.

That will get you started.  With this you can get started on a marvellous exploration of the area.  Bem Vindo.

Bilge Work: The Underside of Making for Sevilla

2011 09 17

last days in Portimao

The Punishment Room - Behave Or You Have to Work in the Bilge

Before heading off to Seville we decided we should replace an ailing bilge pump switch.  Our existing bilge pump switch had failed.  We knew this because the Budget Committee, being Dutch trained, is an inveterate worrier and checked the bilge several times during our interesting voyage from Azores to Portugal.  On one of her multiple checks she found the bilge full of water; the bilge filling continually with water draining along the entire length of the boat as Meredith was pounded with green water for days on end.

Fortunately it was only the switch that failed and the manual override worked to energize the pump and clear the accumulated salt water.

That the automatic switch had failed was not a total shock.  On Meredith this is a common problem and we seem to have to replace the bilge pump switch every year or two.  Since the switch may one day save our lives we are inclined to keep it well maintained.  Of course they still fail and never at a good time.

The switch is a simple device: usually a float that closes an electrical contact when the water (loose term) rises and causes the float to rise to  a predetermined level.  Lately newer solid state switches with no moving parts have come onto the market.  Our experience with these is that they are superb devices that have a working life of no more than six to eight months.  Then they fail.  We have tried two, both failed.  The last was the one in Meredith when we left Azores.  Now we just use float switches.

Some boats have wonderfully clean bilges; compartments that could be used by Mr. Clean, or Comet as a testament to the wonders of their respective cleaning products.  Not so Meredith.

Even though I never spill a drop when changing engine oil there is a ubiquitous film of black hydrocarbon covering the pool of liquid (for I dare not call it "water") filling my bilge.  Even though no tissue paper of any kind goes anywhere on Meredith save into the garbage bag in the sink (save only for the toilet paper which goes down the head on Meredith) there is always a floating mass of indescribably foul cellulose obstructing my bilge pump pump intakes.  Where does this stuff come from?

Today I found the top off a jar of peanut butter floating in the bilge.  We have never thrown out a topless peanut butter container.  How is it possible for an orphaned peanut butter lid to be floating in my bilge?

It was.  Six feet down which made recovering it just so special.

Bilge pump switches are installed in the lowest point in the boat where they spend their lives half covered with a noxious mixture of oil, fuel, dirt and filth; all the unwanted material from every other level on the boat runs to the bilge.  If you ever wonder how the term "low point" came to have such negative connotation spend only a few minutes in the bilge. Clarity will find you; hopefully before you succumb.

Anyway, bilge pump switches need to be checked often and replaced when they are suspect.  About all you can do to service a switch is clear it of accumulated muck, grease and animal skeletons and check for cracks in its plastic housing.  Fail to replace the switch at the earliest sign of a problem and you may wake up one night to find your sleeping berth has the declined in elevation to water level.

Worse, if you have only small amounts of water coming into your boat a sticky switch will fail to clear the material and then you can enjoy the incredible heady odour that consumes the entire boat when a small body of water sits stagnant for a month in a dark warm space.

Usually it is corrosion that gets our switches and that most often in the wiring.  It seems a constant bath of hydrocarbons leaves a switch well lubricated and, save for the inevitable black film, very clean.  The hydrocarbon bath does have a deleterious effect on the life of coating on wiring and the plastic switch body however.

Both of our "electronic" switches failed due to cracks in the external wiring.

There are a couple of adaptations we have made to our bilge pump circuit that you might consider:

No "Automatic" Setting

We have the normal bilge pump switch with two settings: automatic, which turns on the bilge pump switch and manual which energizes the pump when you move the switch to that setting.

We eliminated the "automatic" setting on the bilge pump switch and wired the bilge pump switch directly to the batteries.  Why would you ever want to turn off the bilge pump switch?

One year we left the boat in the water in Green Cove Springs while we returned to Canada for Christmas.  Somehow we bumped the bilge pump switch and turned off the automatic feature so the bilge pump switch did not run.  This will never happen again.

Piezo Electric Buzzer

we installed an inexpensive ($4 at Radio Shack) piezo electric buzzer into the bilge pump circuit.  When the bilge pump runs everyone on board hears it.  That way we can keep track if there is a leak problem.

The wiring is very simple.  At the back of the bilge pump switch find the terminal that connects to the "manual" switch, ie. that tests positive when the "manual" switch is activated.  Connect the positive (red) wire on the buzzer to that terminal.  Wire the black wire on the buzzer to the negative bus.    Every time your bilge pump runs, even on automatic, the buzzer will sound.

Unless the bilge pump switch has failed.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Converting Your Boat's Propane Cooking Gas to Butane Simply and Cheaply

rocking gently on the current in Ferragudo, Portugal

2011 09 15

Early Evening In Ferragudo

Today while the Budget Committee took care of the laundry I determined to solve our cooking fuel shortage.  Our twenty pound propane tank ran dry.  Our twelve pound reserve tank would only last six or eight weeks longer.

Among the changes when you take your propane stove into Europe:

  • you have to start using butane
  • none of your North America  fittings or connectors work
  • it seems there are no standards for anything on the entire continent 

When your Canadian propane tank empties in  Bahamas you just take it to the propane depot, or line up with the rest of the cruisers on Wednesday in the parking lot and wait for the propane truck to come.  Either way: Voila.  A full propane tank.  Everywhere in North America and much of the Caribbean use the same standard bottles and connectors for using propane.  No matter who is selling the gas the bottles and connectors are the same.

Not so in Europe.  Much of Europe uses Butane for a cooking fuel instead of propane.  There is a patchwork solution to size and shape of gas bottles, connectors and regulators.  You may encounter several as you cruise from country to country.

What to do?

Some people buy expensive fittings that will adapt their propane tanks so they can be filled with propane.

  • the adapter fitting is very expensive
  • as in North America it is increasingly difficult to find a station to refill a gas bottle.  Mostly Europe uses bottle exchange where you take your empty bottle to the supplier from whom you bought it and exchange it for a full one.  
  • if you find a refill station it will be a long way out of town and you will have to take a taxi.  No one would take a propane tank on a bus.  Would you?  If caught the best you can hope for is to be thrown  off the bus.  
Another solution some people recommend is to buy a different adapter that lets you fill your propane tank from a local butane tank.  You connect the bottles and then hold the butane tank upside down while the butane runs slowly down the connecting fitting into the propane tank. What is wrong with this picture  (do you really need a list?):
  • the adapter is expensive
  • you have to buy a butane bottle to use this system.  Why not use that bottle and skip the refill procedure?
  • Can you see yourself standing in the cockpit draining one gas bottle into another gas bottle?  
These were maybe good solutions in the old days.  Things have improved.

Here is Meredith's quick, easy and inexpensive way to convert from propane to local butane.  It cost €31.50 for all the materials and took two hours including going to town to buy the hose and get the new tank (done by dinghy, the Repsol gas station in Portimao has a small dock)


1. A European Gas Bottle

This Good Looking Plastic Coated Gas Bottle
Came from the Local Repsol Gas Station
You can choose from several different gas bottle types and gas providers.  The exact one really does not matter.  We went with a Repsol 6 kg bottle that can be exchanged at Repsol gas stations all through Portugal and Spain.  It fits nicely in a propane locker designed for ten pound propane tanks.

Repsol gas stations are everywhere in Portugal and Spain so exchanging empty bottles for full ones is simple and easy.  The fittings on the tank are the same as on the BP gas bottles.

Cost of the tank: €30.  Cost of the fuel in the tank: €14.50

Many sites recommend you use Camping Gaz but for reasons elucidated later we chucked that recommendation in the wastebasket.

2. A Regulator for your Butane Tank

Standard Butane Regulator purchased from BP
can be used with Repsol and Other Brand Tanks
Repsol GIve a Regulator Free when you Buy a Tank
You cannot use your propane regulator with butane.  Butane is supplied at a lower pressure than propane and you can do harm if you fail to change the regulator.  On the plus side when you buy a gas bottle the supplier gives you a regulator.  Cool. More so because the regulator is easy to plumb.

If you want an extra you can buy one, as I did, at BP for €7.50.

The regulator has a barb on it designed to fit 8 mm butane rated hose.  This makes the whole job very easy.

3. A length of Butane rated hose.  

This is just hose so there is no photo.   You must buy butane rated hose because Butane, like Propane, corrodes ordinary rubber compounds.  You can get the hose at most heating dealers in any town.  I got mine at the BP depot and it cost €1.50 for a metre.

The standard home use butane hose is 8 mm which is sort of useful.  A North American 5/16 barb fits an 8 mm hose very snugly.  In gas connections snug is good. 

3. A 5/16 brass barb from North America.

5/16 inch barb and a Fitting to Connect to the Gas Shutoff
In addition to the barb you will also need a fitting to connect the barb to your gas shutoff valve.  You should source these in North America because your gas shutoff will take imperial threaded fittings: American Standard Tapered Pipe  or American Standard Straight Pipe.

You have to start with a 5/16 barb and end up with a pipe to fit into your gas shutoff valve.  My gas shutoff takes 1/4 inch pipe with American Tapered so the actual pipe is .540 inch in diameter The guy at the Rona store or Home Depot or Lowes will help you.  Check the gas shutoff before you go to the hardware.

If you do not bring a barb and fitting with you relax.  What you do in that case is buy a new gas shutoff valve in Europe.  It will take metric fittings and you install the metric shutoff in place of the imperial shutoff and use metric fittings.  Not a problem.  The gas shutoff will be expensive just like home but honestly, your gas shutoff is probably twenty plus years old and needs replacing anyway.

4. Two Hose Clamps

Usually already in stores but you can buy two for under €1.

5. Soapy Water


This hardly needs to be written:

Hose Connected to Regulator
1.  Connect one end of the hose to the regulator barb.  Use a hose clamp to snug the connection up.

2. Connect the other end of the hose to the 5/16 inch barb. Use the other hose clamp to snug the hose to the barb.

Barb Connected to Gas Shutoff

3.  Connect the fitting that will accept the 5/16" barb onto your gas shutoff valve.  Use some teflon tape on the threads

4.  Connect the end of the hose with the 5/16 barb to the fitting on the gas shutoff valve. Use more teflon tape.

5. Connect the regulator to the gas bottle.

6. Turn the regulator on which pressurizes the system and use the soapy water to look for leaks at your connection points.  Do not squirt and run.  Put some soapy water on the connecting point and sit and watch it for a few minutes.  If bubbles show up you must snug things up a bit more.

You can now cook dinner.

That is all there is to it.

Connie likes butane as a fuel better than propane.  It has more heat energy volume for volume, catches flame quicker and allows for some fine tuning on the heat levels on the stove, a difficult task on a propane stove.

The connection system used by BP and Repsol is simple and fast.  Just click and remove or click and insert the regulator on the tank.  Because propane is stored at higher pressures it is likely this simple connection system cannot be used back home.  Too bad.

Butane cannot be used in Canada because it will not flow very well as temperatures descend to zero degrees Celsius.  It just won't work much below that.

What Happens When I get to a Country that Won't Exchange My Repsol Bottle?

I will buy the local exchange bottle and a regulator and change the hose over.

Likely the next country will use the same regulator and if not likely the regulator will be free with your new bottle purchase.  Just remove the hose from the old regulator and put it on the new one.

Many southern European countries have adopted the Italian butane gas connection system while the UK and Netherlands use the "Dutch Standard".  If we get to Netherlands as we hope to then we will be faced with buying a new regulator as well as a gas bottle.

A Trident adapter to allow me to fill my propane tank with butane costs on the order of $135 at discount.  Paying only €30 for a new refillable butane bottle I can buy four new exchange bottles for the price of one Trident adapter fitting designed to let me use my old propane tank.  And the exchange bottles are just so easy to replace when fuel runs low.

Why Not Camping Gaz?

Camping Gaz is a French company that provided one of the first standard butane distributions in a fractured European system.  Most often used by motor homes (or caravans in the UK) camping gaz is available all over Europe.  It has the advantage of being available in a single format across most of Europe.  However:

1. The containers are dear.  A 2.7 kg gas bottle cost €47 in Portimao.

2. The regulators are sold separately but the local MaxMat building supply store, the only Camping Gaz distributor on a bus route, did not have any in stock and in typical Portuguese tradition could have cared less.  Not even an offer to order one was proferred just a perfunctory "we have none right now".

3. Being for motorized caravans the larger gas containers are available on motor routes usually miles out of town.

4.  As expensive as they were the Camping Gaz containers were cheap painted steel, easily damaged and open to corrosion in a sailing environment.  If your container is damaged or rusty it will not be accepted for exchange and you must buy another.

Why Not Autogas?

Autogas is an intriguing possibility for the future.  Increasingly in Europe gas stations are installing self serve LPG filling stations for gas powered vehicles.  One or more companies in the UK are selling refillable portable containers that can be filled at autogas stations.


I have only found autogas containers in the UK which means shipping which means delay.  It also means you have to order all the stuff you need at one go, like regulators and filling fittings and so on.

The local Repsol station told me you have to go out of town to find a Repsol station with an autogas filling station.


In a few years Autogas looks like a winner.  Just not yet at least for boaters.