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Sailing Portuguese waters

Or how to stay safe and happy

Heard too many tough stories and warnings about the Portuguese west-coast and getting a bit nervous about sailing along this coast? Don’t, but you’ve got to treat it with respect!
There’s a few simple rules that will help you to get it right, and once you understand the “why” it all becomes pretty clear and logical.
Alright, let’s give you the rules first:
1 – For each of your wx-forecasts have a decent look at the weather-systems on the whole North Atlantic Ocean. Yes, the whole North Atlantic Ocean, because that’s where your waves come from.
2 – Do your homework and have the tide-timetables ready to look at any time.
3 – Never attempt to approach any port in a southerly with more than 2.5 meters of swell, unless it’s Leixoes or Nazare.
4 – If it should pick up more than you expected once you’re out there, don’t even think about getting in somewhere unless you’re heading for Leixoes or Nazare! Head out to sea and, for comfort, also away from the continental shelf.
5 – If in doubt, or not 100 % certain, don’t hesitate to ask! There’s day- and night-signals of course, but it’s not a shame and everybody will be more than happy about a check on VHF channel 16.
Another point I shouldn’t need to mention: never ever try to be the Hero because your Crew feels tired or just wishes to spend a cozy night in port. This here is not the playground for niceties. Safety comes first!
Five Rules, and they’re not that difficult to remember.
Now, let me explain the “why”:
To start with, the low-pressure-systems travel across the North Atlantic Ocean from west to east. Whichever kind of waves they produce will hit the Iberian west-coast, and they can be pretty high. You might have a forecast with only 3 or so knots, lovely sunshine but, at the same time, 6 meters or something of swell. So it would be pretty clever to check the wave-height too to make sure the port you’re heading to can be approached.
Most ports are built inside a river exiting into the North Atlantic Ocean. It made building them so much easier and offers a lot of protection against the Atlantic swell once inside.
The predominant wind is the well known Portuguese Norder. To make it possible to enter whenever he’s up, they only had to build a breakwater on one side – the northern side.
Three things can cause a bit of a havoc with this setup: sandbars, currents and southerly winds.
Nearly every river has a sandbar in the entrance. Depending on wind- and sea-conditions there can be breaking waves over the bar, especially at low water.
The current in the rivers varies. After a lot of rainfall inland (like during the winter months in 2012, 2013 and 2014 for example) the current in the rivers can reach 7 knots or more, easily. Have this kind of water rushing out of the river against a southerly with a bit of swell and you’ll find standing waves (opposing waves combine) at the entrance, no joking! Needless to say but I’ll mention it just for completeness: around high water will always be the best time to enter, provided the conditions are alright.
Over the years I’ve noticed something that concerns rule 4 and the continental shelf, and you’ll probably notice as well when you prepare your passage as far as weather is concerned: sometimes you can adjust the amount of wind you want with moving a bit closer to the coast or a bit away from it. Even 1 single Mile to the west or east can make a big difference. Check it out, you’ll be surprised!
Beware of one more thing: from the beach you’ll always have a lovely time watching the breaking waves. Coming from the sea you can only see the back of the waves, but hardly ever the foam or the breaking top. And once you can see that, it’s normally too late. Trouble is, when you’re out there on the ocean for some hours you get used to the height of the waves and don’t really take notice of them any more. It might make you feel safe to enter. Be clever and ask on VHF channel 16 instead of trying to just do it!
While still in port, there is something that might help you to get a rough idea about the situation. The Portuguese Autoridade Maritima Nacional has a website informing about the state of the entrances for all Portuguese Ports. You can find it under this link: Estado das Barras
You’re right, it is in Portuguese which might not be one of your languages, but it’s not difficult. Red flag means the entrance is closed, yellow means the entrance is conditioned (move the cursor over the flag to get more infos) and with green it’s open. And yes, this changes constantly with the state of the sea, the tides and the weather. And yes, you can’t check it out at sea. But still, it can give you an indication. And, when a port you want to head to is already closed although in your opinion the bad weather is still to come, go for plan B!
If you keep this in mind, there shouldn’t be any problems for you to sail along this coast. And believe me: it’s worth it! I’m sure you’ll love to find out yourself!
Always fair winds and a safe passage!
Dody
Edit 01 oct 2018, a note on Pilot-Books:
While the Reeds Nautical Almanac might have been your No. 1 choice in British waters, it is not appropriate to be used as your single means of navigation elsewhere. One example: the extension of the breakwater in Figueira da Foz by 250 m seawards had still not found it’s way into the latest edition of the Reeds Nautical Almanac 4 years after its completion, although it got properly published at the time. Unfortunately this caused several near-accidents at night. This, although it is claimed the Reeds Nautical Almanac is updated every year.
There is good Pilot-Books on the market. One of the most popular certainly is “Atlantic Spain and Portugal”, published by RCC Pilotage Foundation, available via them directly, Imray, and many others. Every year in spring a new supplement is published with all the updates since the last edition, which have been sent in by sailors or got published elsewhere. The supplement can be downloaded for free. The book is available in English, French and a Spanish version.
I know these pilot-books come with a price. But if you only stay two nights in a nice and safe anchorage the money saved in Marina-fees pays for the book, and lots lots more!
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Oceansmiles

No matter how many years lie behind us since the day we were born, every single one of us who gets involved with the Ocean, knows that learning never stops.

The sea is different every single day, as are all the other elements. Our boats have their moods as we have too. Every new shore we arrive at has it’s own challenge, and I’m not even talking of what happens when we set foot on land again.

Still, we do love it out there and we keep going back, even after the worst disasters. There is something inside us that’s getting stronger and stronger till we can’t resist any more.

I’ve got no idea why, and I actually don’t want to know because it might destroy the magic of trillions of beautiful, tough or very special moments of my life. Like the sunrise promising relief after 2 extremely hard days and nights at the helm without sleep or food fighting for survival, or like the 96 year-old Indonesian Fisherman I was sailing with in his outrigger-canoe with lateen-sails on the North-Coast of Lombok/Indonesia in the 80’s who got tears of joy in his wrinkled black eyes when the dolphins came to play in our bow-wave, and I happily joined in.

You know, as children we are allowed to do this!

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Voyagers, Visitors, Friends …

Any idea who will come to our Festival?

 

Guess you’ve asked yourself this question already. To be honest, we don’t know for certain yet and we are curious as well! With Sailingships the all deciding factor is the weather.

We have invited sailors from all over the world, ships from many different countries, and those we couldn’t invite ourselves Friends will be telling Friends, will be telling Friends, will be telling Friends …

There might be a tiny 6.50 m ship on her voyage north after having circumnavigated the world. There might be other ships, big or small, coming back from an Atlantic circuit after they have spent some time in the Caribbean. There will certainly be ships on their way south, heading for their first, second or 3rd circumnavigation or just for a happy time in the Mediterranean or around the corner somewhere.

Nazaré, as one of the only 2 harbours on this stretch of coast safe to enter under any conditions, has become the crossroads for bluewater-sailors since it’s being opened in 1983. Or, as the Maori-people from New Zealand might say: the place where the four winds meet.

Now this year is a very special one. Have you ever heard about the Tallshipsraces? Old as well as more recently built ships, following the old traditions and keeping them alive, half of the crew between 15 and 25 years of age, have a race that goes on for many weeks. There is a lot of information about it to get, I guess the most official one would be this: The Tallshipsraces 2016

However, a big part of the fleet of these magnificent ships will leave Cadiz in Spain the last weekend in July to sail leisurely north as a “Cruise in Company” to La Coruna in Galicia/Spain where they will be expected the second weekend in August. Our Festival lies right between these 2 weekends, and Nazaré is roughly halfway between Cadiz and La Coruna. Not all of them will be coming to Nazaré of course. Other towns along this coast have Festivals for the summer at the same time too, so we will share the ships.

But guess what? We are in contact with several of the ships. As it looks like now at least 3 very special ships might come to Nazaré for our Festival!

Let’s get started with the ATYLA:

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We are delighted to tell you that there is no “if” with the ATYLA. No matter what the wind and the seas might be out there, the ATYLA is convinced she will be here on time for the Festival. That’s a promise between Friends!

The ATYLA, you’ll love her as much as Rodrigo, her 27-year-old captain and owner. They’ve both got the heart at the right place! The ATYLA is fairly young also. Rodrigo’s uncle had a dream and nothing could stop him to make this dream come true. He built her with his own hands far inland to the south of Bilbao in Spain. Even the trees he felled himself, in the forests belonging to his family and friends. She got launched in 1984. It’s a long, amazing and heartbreaking story with a happy continuation. If you’re interested you can follow this link to find out more about ATYLA’s history

In 2013 Rodrigo took her over from the hands of his uncle, and made her to what she was supposed to be nearly from the start: an International Sail Training Ship. In 2014, taking part in the SCF Black Sea Tall Ships Regatta, ATYLA’s crew received the International friendship trophy for understanding amongst the crews.

The MORGENSTER

 

Launched in 1919 she was built and used as a deep-sea Fishingboat, the first 9 years under sail only and in 1928 they installed an engine. From 1980 onwards she found a new purpose as a home for a Radiostation. Harry Muter must have seen her potential, probably fell in love, and bought her in 1993. By this time the ship was neglected and needed heaps of work done. A Monster-Task! It is one thing to build a new boat. But Re-building a boat is something many people give up on because it’s just getting too much. Not so for Harry! Harry, and certainly his wife Marian, rolled up their sleeves to make it happen and spent years in first stripping her, welding new sheets in and then building her up again.

14 years later, in 2008, finally, the Mega-task was done! The MORGENSTER was the safe oceangoing vessel again she was always meant to be, adapted to modern safety-standards and fitted out with a lovely rigg. A wonderful job they did and I draw my hat in admiration for what they have achieved.

Since 2008 she is operating as a Sail Training Ship.

The LORD NELSON (http://www.jst.org.uk/our-tall-ships/lord-nelson)

 

Lord Nelson undersail[1]

Now this ship is also something very special and exceptional and I hope we will have the pleasure to welcome her here for the Festival! She was purposely build and launched in 1985 as a Sail Training Ship for people with disabilities.

Let me explain: the Idea behind it is, that a ship this size you can’t sail on your own, and different jobs on board need different abilities. When you sail with a crew there is no need for everyone to have the same strong points, to the contrary! Add all the different very best strongpoints of the crew together and you’ve got a strong crew that is able to weather all the seas till the end of the world.

Everything on this ship is wheelchair-accessible and they even have a talking compass installed. This means that people with impaired vision can steer the boat, and I’m pretty sure they will sail a straighter course and adapt better to the movements of the waves than anyone else. It is exactly like in the old days, when the duty of the helmsman was to steer the boat according to the compass-course given, and there were lookouts on the forecastle and/or in the masts to look ahead and around for dangers.

The concept was so successful that they built a sister-ship of the Lord Nelson called Tenacious. Tenacious is now somewhere in the Pacific Ocean on her way to circumnavigate the globe.

The CHRISTIAN RADICH (http://www.radich.no/en)

"How near to perfect did the big square-rigged ship become? That is a question. So long as men remained who could man her and the tradition of her sailing was unbroken, in my opinion -for what it may be worth- I think at her best she did approach perfection" -A. V.
“How near to perfect did the big square-rigged ship become? That is a question. So long as men remained who could man her and the tradition of her sailing was unbroken, in my opinion -for what it may be worth- I think at her best she did approach perfection” -A. V.

 

In 1937, when the real ships were still roaming the seven seas under sail, transporting cargo let’s say around Cape Horn from Australia to Europe, a ship was built. Her purpose was to train and educate seamen, a Sail Training Ship. And her name? CHRISTIAN RADICH.

The students did not “only” learn to sail the ship and maintain the sails and the rigging on the CHRISTIAN RADICH. She was equipped with a machine-shop to train engineers, they had carpentry-training and also a large kitchen to learn cooking. Remember: the voyages usually took several months and they kept maintaining their ships while they were sailing. The success of each voyage depended on them being fully self-reliant. Carpenters sailed on the ships to make a new mast if one broke, a plank might have sprung a leak, she might need caulking somewhere. Engineers were needed to keep all the metal-work in working order or to make a new piece for something. If they should be of value on board a ship later, they needed to learn these trades on board of a ship, together with the knowledge of steering and sailing the ship. And exactly this is, what the CHRISTIAN RADICH was built for.

And today? Of course, she still is a Sail Training Ship! Only the machine-shop made space for a galley!

All these ships, all these people have a story to tell.

On the Sail Training Ships that will be here for the Festival we will be allowed to have guided Tours of the ships. Which might be complicated with ships anchored in the bay, but easy with the ones docked in port. And the MORGENSTER has even offered to spoil us with little sailing-trips of maybe 2 hours, so we can experience how this feels like to set sail on such a ship and glide over the sparkling sea.

All of them would be happy to accommodate Trainees sailing with them from Cadiz to La Coruna, and some of the ships can be booked for an evening by a company, a group of friends, or a whole family. I’ll write more about this later.

So far it looks as if it’s getting pretty exciting.

Everything depends on the weather of course, and we hope that July and August this year will be very favorable for all our seafarers from close and faraway shores. It would be lovely if you could help us wishing them all fair winds and a safe passage!

Fair winds & sunny greetings!

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Patience …

Languages, we’re working on it!

We apologize for any inconveniences for the coming days: we’ve finally started with making this website multilingual, and it turned out to be much more difficult than we thought.

Fortunately between sailors, you help each other. Out there on the ocean we are all the same. The winds and the seas don’t care who you are. We all have to deal with it in our own way.

Lucky us, a sailor came through Nazare who is specialized in web-developing and loved the idea of the boatfestival. He wanted to help us. He sailed on but didn’t forget. Today, from the Island of La Palma in the Canary Islands (Spain), he managed to sort it all out and prepared the path for us to fill this website with multilingual life.

The sailor was Christoph of Digitale Nomaden zur See.

Thank you Christoph, that was help big time!

Fair winds