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.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Our Dinghy Has Set Us Free

2011 09 10

Ferragudo, Portugal

Here we sit at anchor in Ferragudo.  Five days ago we left the marina at Portimao just across  the river four or five days ago determined to make east to Seville.  It hasn't happened.  Cruisers' disease has set in and we are enjoying being at anchor so much we are just going to stay here a bit and continue to enjoy.

Life at anchor is radically different from life tied up at a marina and we are in no hurry to return to the marina life.  Since dropping our hook we have been to town only once and that was really just an excuse to fine tune the new dinghy with our old outboard.

The dinghy flies. Europeans are inclined to small dinghies, little more than waterwings actually and even smaller outboards.  Being typical North American motorheads we (I, the BC let me) got for the biggest outboard we could carry.  We (I) like big outboards and fast dinghies.

Our new YAM(aha) softbottom inflatable which ended up costing about $1,400 CDN after the horrific 23% VAT was paid is a joy.  It absolutely flies down the river with our trusty  9.8 Tohatsu driving it at half power once it is up on plane.  We have never travelled so fast in any marine carriage owned by us.

Gasoline today was €1.69 a litre make it $2.50 Canadian a litre or $9.50 a US gallon depending on how good a deal you get on exchange.  $50 for a 5 US gallon can of gas.  Nightmarish.

Having a more powerful outboard we can get up on plane.  This not only increases speed but reduces fuel use and I think we actually use less fuel point to point than the slow puttering  waterploughs we see making for town from neighbouring boats.

Of course going fast is so much fun and having a dinghy is still so novel that we burn a lot of fuel taking unnecessary trips to anywhere we can think to go.

If buying a dinghy in Europe you need to know that despite the profusion of brands most dinghies are fabricated by two companies: Zodiac at the high end and Plastimo at the Chevy end.  We are chevy drivers.  Although our dinghy is labelled YAM(aha) it was made by Plastimo and the only distinction between the 3.1 metre YAM and the 3.1 metre Plastimo is that our dinghy has a piece of blue fabric on the nose and the Plastimo has gray.  Every other detail, piece of hardware, oarlock, D ring is identical.

So just buy the cheapest dinghy in your length.  It is no different from the dearer dinghy with the nicer label.

But bring your outboard from home and get used to arriving first.

Friday, September 9, 2011

You Want to Watch that Racial Profiling

2011 09 09

Ferragudo, Portugal

KRUPS, KRUPS? You Gotta be Kidding
I fear I suffer a bit of anti European sentiment.

Couple of days ago at the local appliance store I noticed that most of the stuff on the shelves was made by KRUPS.  It stopped me cold in my tracks.  

KRUPS was a big german munitions company, ie they made bombs, bullets and guns used to kill Canadian soldiers in WWII.  And now the people those Canadians died to help were buying consumer crap from the company that killed their liberators?  Man was I pissed.

Luckily I have learned to wait on these things.  Confirmation is needed before nuclear attack can be invoked.  Investigating I found, pending further investigation, that the bombs and bullets company was KRUPP not KRUPS.  So never mind.   

But I was a bit too ready to believe the worst.

Any Port in a Storm

If you visit Lisbon we recommend you find the Institute of Port where you can sit in beautiful old leather chairs and select your favourite tipple from a port cart.  Prices are unbelievably low and you can likely buy a port put down in the year you were born. That must have been a good year right?

Here are a couple of selections from a local liquor store - that 1924 vintage at 1400 euros a bottle will never touch my lips.

But the 1927 is a real bargain at only 1,325 Euros

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Alternating Currents - Alternator Woes

2011 09 08
Ferragudo, Portugal (across the river from Portimao)

View At  Anchorage in Ferragudo on the River Arcade
(across from Portimao)
We made about 300 meters distance made good yesterday.  Our dinghy arrived on time (if 12 days on a 10 day promise can be considered on time.  Our broker very strongly suggests that he delivered on his promise "ahead of schedule - Portuguese time". Clearly he had no intention of delivering the dinghy in 10 days or even 12 had it not been for the eruption of Mount Curmudgeon.  It only took 7 days to make heaven and earth - six if you don't count the day off at the end.  Proof that God was not Portuguese.

Dinghy on board we departed the marina in Portimao intending on dropping hook in the convenient nearby anchorage in the River Arcade to prep for departure today on our way to Sevilla, Espanha.  Immediately we noticed the alternator was not alternating.  NO electrons were being generated.  No power created to feed our voracious batteries.

No one expects their alternator to fail.  Like the Spanish Inquisition surprise is trouble's first weapon.  That and a near fanatical devotion to the pope I suppose but that is less relevant here.(m. python rules)

Along with all the other important devices on our boats the alternator is much abused, much neglected and generally ignored.  Until of course it up and quits.

Without an alternator you will be forced to sail, not motor, and to hand steer.  Your battery bank cannot support you and your insatiable appetite for electrical energy for more than a day or two usually much much less.

Your fridge is drawing 3 amps average and without that your beer will get warm.  When you run it the diesel eats from 2 to 5 amps powering the fuel pump and the instrument panel and such.  Your autopilot is good for at least 5 amps and a lot more if conditions are rough.

So there you are: sailing not motoring, hand steering with only warm beer.  Sounds like a Corsican slave galley.  No thank you.  You gotta get that thing working.

Here are some things you can try that should breath some life back into the poor dear thing.  Unless you have totally fried the alternator, a very unlikely event, one of these procedures should get you on your way.

The Big Three 

THe natural response of all of us faced with the overwhelming depression of a failed alternator is to throw open the engine compartment and stare blankly at the engine.  Just what compels us to join in this act of bovine placidity I cannot answer. It never works and no broken part has ever started to work after a good hard look at it has been effected.  Not on my boat anyway.  But I keep trying.

In seventy five percent of the cases of alternator failure one of these three procedures will get you on your way:

1. Take off all the connections from the alternator to the battery.  Everything.  Every peid of wire even the ground wire.  Clean the ends of the wire thoroughly and then clean the contact points on the alternator to which these wires connect.

2. If your alternator is externally regulated , and I assume for this blog that your alternator is externally regulated, remove the harness connecting the alternator to the regulator and clean all the contacts - including any stray wires that do not look important.  There will be at least one sense wire from the regulator to a switched negative post.  Check and clean both connections on this sense wire.

3. Check your fanbelt to make sure you have good tension and then check the fanbelt surface where it contacts the pulleys to make sure the belt has not glazed over.  Glazing can make the belt slippery. When it comes to fan belts slippery is useless.

With only a small amount of work and just a bit of luck you should now be on your way.


First Try THis - but only if you have an externally regulated P type alternator.

1. With the engine off place a steel screwdriver blade or steel wrench near the nut on the pulley of the alternator.  There should be no evidence of magnetism, ie. there should be no pull on the wrench or screwdriver trying to pull it towards the pulley nut.

2. Start the diesel.  Wait about five minutes.  Now CAREFULLY place the screwdriver blade or wrench near the pulley nut on the alternator.  YOu should find a strong magnetic force pulling the blade or wrench towards the pulley nut.

THis is a bit dangerous cause the diesel is on and you are close to moving parts that can maul you quite seriously and even kill you.  For the sake of my lawyer I must now tell you not to do what I have just suggested.  It is dangerous and no one, even a professional mechanic working in a protected environment wearing half inch kevlar protective clothing would never try to do what I have just suggested.  It was a joke and I did not mean it.

If you are squeamish about losing an arm or watching your entire alimentary tract wind itself up on the crankshaft of your diesel remember that you do not have to start the diesel.  You can be safe.

Just turn the key to "run", wait five minutes and then test with the wrench or screwdriver blade.  However - that annoying oil pressure beeper will be sounding non stop and if you have an oil pressure cutout switch on the diesel you will have to short circuit it.

Entirely up to you what you do but if your arm gets ripped off don't blame me.  I'm broke anyway. (You wait the five minutes because most external regulators have a delay programmed into them and they do not start up right away to give your diesel a chance to get up to speed before they load the engine with the alternator.

3. If there is a strong magnetic field at the pulley nut on the alternator but the alternator is not producing any current then I am sorry.  You are screwed.  You are going to have to take the alternator off the boat and have it rebuilt. On the bright side you will not have to waste any more time working on the darn thing and you can devote the rest of your afternoon to drinking the beer before it gets too warm.


1. Turn the engine off and remove the key.  Disconnect the wires running from the regulator to the the alternator.  Usually this means pulling off a harness or plug. The wiring from the alternator to the regulator will likely have wires in the following colours: black, red, white, brown, blue.  We are only concerned with the blue wire and red wire.  THe blue wire may not be blue.  Blue is usually the colour used for the "field" wire; it carries current from the regulator to the rotor on your alternator.  If you do not have a blue wire read the manual for the regulator and find out what colour France or England or Germany use for their field wires.

2. Using a small piece of wire connect the blue (field) wire to the red wire.

3. Check for magnetism at the pulley nut on the alternator.

If there is magnetism on the pulley nut it looks like your alternator is ok, at least the rotor and brushes and the regulator harness is ok, ie. there are no shorts in the wiring harness.  This means that probably your regulator is the problem.  Hook up your spare regulator and you should be on your way.

If you do not have a spare regulator then shame on you.  You deserve to be stressed out because you are woefully unprepared.  All is not lost however and you can make a regulator out of parts normally found on most boats.  Read Nigel Calder's book on Electrical and Mechanical Maintenance for directions.

Simply wire together a n series a bunch of light fixtures or whatever you have that use power  until you have a circuit with enough "power consumers" to use  5 amps of current.  (a ten watt lightbulb uses about 1 amp so five of these wired in series would be good).  Then wire one end of the circuit you have made to the positive post and the other end to the blue (field) wire.  You might want to wire in a switch as well to turn the string of lights on and off.  Start the diesel and when it is running smoothly go below and turn on the string of lights.  This will run enough current through the rotor of the alternator to produce about 13 volts to 13.5 volts, enough to charge at an elementary level.  Use to your voltmeter and verify that the alternator is putting out no more than 13.8 to 14 volts.

4. If there is no magnetism at the pulley nut get out your voltmeter and check for voltage on the blue (field) wire.

If there is no voltage then likely the problem is a short in the wiring harness.  You can track that down with your voltmeter and clean or cut out the bad wiring or connection and rewire.

If there is voltage at the blue (field) wire and there is magnetism at the pulley nut once again you are screwed and are going to take that alternator into the shop for a rebuild.

No matter what result you obtain when you are done you have earned the right to a beer.  Hope it's cold.

Thoughts on Alternator Maintenance and Preparedness

1. Carry a spare regulator.  They are inexpensive.

2. If you are cruising carry a spare alternator.

3. Clean your alternator regularly.  Use your wife's vaccuum cleaner to suck out bits of crud from the alternator (tell her it is just dust).

4. Check belt tension on the fanbelt often, like every time you start the diesel.

5. Every two years remove your alternator and take it to a good starter shop for a rebuild.  They will clean and lube it, change out the bearings, replace the brushes and check all the other parts, like the diodes. Cost is usually about $150 in Canada.  Use your spare alternator while the rebuild is being done.

While you are at it you might take in the starting motor too.  It needs attention as much as the alternator.  While you are in there you might as well change the air filter and pull the bilge pump to clean the vanes and the pump switch, tighten the stuffing box, check the tranny fluid, remove the heat exchanger and flush the seaweed and mud out of it, remove and scope the exhaust, lube the through hulls and verify smooth handle action and check all the other electrical connections.

I mean you are in there anyway.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

D Day for Meredith

2011 09 07

Dinghy arrives today.

If not we leave the dock today anyway.  One day at anchor in Portimao and then we are off to the island of Culahtra or somewhere around there.

It is nice to be active again.  Next major stop is Seville but we hope to spend some time on the Guardiana river which separates Spain and Portugal and is a very scenic cruise.

Cleanup In Aisle Four - Practical Bilingualism

2011 09 07
Last day in Portimao

My assigned task yesterday, in fact my only task for the whole day other than blogging, was to locate a bag of the small square melba toasts we so adore on Meredith.  These things are incredible - highly stressed packages of arid little toast crumbs that, when bitten, explode into a billion points of water absorbing brilliance.  They suck your mouth dry in a split second.  Cool.  They also go well with the local young cheese.

Luck was not with me that day and I had traversed the endless aisles of the Jumbo grocery store finding nothing that resembled a melba toast.

Finally I was reduced to asking for directions from staff.  Staff are rare things in a Portuguese store and a cause for celebration when one is present.  Obviously my luck was changing for there immediately before me was a person adorned with the tiny jacket worn by all Jumbo staff.

She was mopping up a red mess in Aisle Four - Salty Snacks.  Actually she was more attacking the mess than mopping it and her mop handle was nearly a blur it was moving so fast.

Hesitantly I interrupted the work flow.  A quick tap on the shoulder accompanied with a gentle "excuse me...".  This woman came equipped with air brakes.  She stopped so fast she gave off a compression wave as atmosphere bounced off her instantly stationary frame.

She looked at me hesitantly.  I proceeded.   "Tiny toasts?" I muttered hopefully.

I knew I had blown it as a cloud crossed my unwilling guide's umarked brow.  Quizzical she just looked at me.  It came to me in a flash.  "tiny tostas" I said more hopefully.

A lightbulb clicked into brilliance.  Her visage cleared and she visibly gained in stature.

"YES" she almost shouted.  "GO ONE" and she pointed down the row to the next aisle with her right arm.  Then her right hand shot out at ninety degrees and she motioned me to proceed to the right.  "THEN GO LEFT".

I thanked her profusely and followed her instructions right to the tostas.

And somedays life is just that cute.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

European Cruising Resources

2011 09 06
Aqua Mall Portimao Portugal

The battery is almost dead so there will not be much more of this.

If you wish to cruise Europe there are some quick guides you should know about.

Best Travel Blog:

Second Best:

Best Internet Information Site:

Best Paper Guides:  The Cruising Almanac and the Mediterranean Cruising Almanac both by Imray Iolaire.  Dear but worth it.  Do not be tricked into buying the Mediterranean Cruising Handbook or the Mediterranean Cruising Guide also by Imray but totally useless.  (thanks to Branco and Maggie on H2OBO for this)

Portuguese Business Practices and Dead Donkies

2011 09 06
Portimao, Portugal

"You deceitful little slug".  Thus began my rebuttal to the greasy little Hanse dealer in the Portimao marina office.  He had just tried to blame onto me for his failure to deliver our new dinghy on schedule. This did not play well.

"Listen up.  I could have tied that dinghy to a donkey in Northern Scotland, pushed the donkey off a cliff and its dead carcass, with my dinghy attached would have washed up on the Portimao beach by now.  You clowns can't move a dinghy from Lisbon to Portimao in ten days.  Hell I was in Lisbon on Saturday and could have picked the damn thing up myself.  Jackass".

This was a rare departure from the polite and compassionate man that usually resides in my skin.

I guess I was being an ugly Canadian but gosh I hate being lied to.  It's not so much the lie as the assumption I am so rock hard stupid or cowardly that I will accept the lie.

The dealer drew himself up and informed me that he did not have to be treated like a dog.  My reply that if he was a dog I would kick him did not seem to calm the waters.  A lot more was said including a full discussion of contractual responsibilities on both sides and we ended up with him promising delivery in two days.

Betting on the dock is even odds we will not have a dinghy aboard Meredith before Canadian Thanksgiving.

Still I feel remarkably good about being guilty of such inconsiderate behaviour.

Cruising Along At Sixty

2011 09 06

Agua Mall, Portimao, Portugal

Meredith moored beside Paloma de la Paz
The Only Two Cabo Ricos in Europe and we are Side by Side

Sitting in the Aqua Mall in Portimao in front of the McDonalds, Big Mac in hand, we have finally found some internet.  Internet is a precious commodity in Portugal; few marinas offer it and those that do most often fail to deliver or deliver such unreliable service it is unusable.  This is one reason I post few pictures - no bandwidth.  Portimao marina has 650 slips and no wifi.  It offers two hard wired connections to serve 650 boats.  The municipal library has no wifi and very limited internet on its own computers.  No one in Portugal seems to use internet.

This is not a travelblog.  The only good travel blog I have come across is written by Poll and Kyra Vanderwouwe and I recommend it without hesitation.  Here is the URL

 Use Google Chrome however as the site is well written in Dutch and Chrome will automatically translate for you. 

With that exception travelblogs give me gas: insipid comments about mediocre destinations desperately dropping names of "friends" met and made along the way.  Intended to prove what I always wonder: that you took your boat somewhere or that you actually found someone who liked you.  Sad and pathetic.  Not to be found here.  We do sad and pathetic our own way.

In our sixteen days in Portimao we spent the first week recovering from the rough passage and repairing and replacing stuff lost or damaged.  Much of the real repair will have to wait for our return to North America - we can order parts from a French manufacturer through a North American supplier and get them faster and cheaper than from France.  (Yup, Europe is totally screwed economically.)

Lisbon Spreads Out Beneath One of Its Fabulous Parks
Portimao was not our choice for port, we  hoped to make Lisbon and spend some time in that capital city.  Perhaps our fortune was greater than we knew for Portimao is a great centre from which we can travel inexpensively almost everywhere in this country, eg. €35 return from Portimao to Lisbon a trip of 300 km each way.

LIsbon's Restauradore Section
Our visit to Lisbon last week by bus showed that city to be a largish city in a smallish country.  Except for the age of its buildings and its interesting Restauradore Area Lisbon is nice but not worth a week or two of exploration.

At that we travelled "off restauradore" in search of an authentic Portuguese restaurant.  None of the patio tables had a single Portuguese face to be found.  The search was very successful and we understood not a single word spoken at any surrounding table that day.  Lovely, tasty and inexpensive.

Lisbon resembled Toronto very much.  Toronto is worth a weekend at most.  I mean its claim to fame is that it is "clean".  Imagine the advertising possibilities "Visit Us.  We're Clean".

Lisbon has old buildings, clean streets and a few galleries and museums (including a fair one floor Museum of Modern Art and a great gallery of French Impressionists) but I mean this is Europe.  In Europe good old stuff is everywhere.  Lisbon is no Bilbao and we are slotting many days for a visit there by bus or train.

Lisbon is  all about parks and it does this in spades.  Its subway is clean, safe and easy to navigate. It would be a great place to live and was a decent city to visit.  Briefly.

Another side trip was made (with our very good friends, oh to hell with it) to Lagos (pronounced Lagosh) reputed to be a fab marina and old fishing village.  The old village streets were filled with thousands (thousands and thousands and thousands) of tourists.  Except for the bricks in the building facades there was no old world charm in evidence here.  Our meal was lacklustre and overpriced and all the cafe tables were filled with foreigners.

Soon, as soon as our dinghy arrives, we leave for Faro hoping to anchor off some islands around Culathra, a nice park reserve.  We will travel up the Guardiana River, border between Spain and Portugal as we understand (from our very good friends....) and finally we go up the river to Seville where we hope to engage in a week or two of fruitful investigation.

Along the way we hope to make many more new friends.  All of whom shall remain nameless.