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Living at Anchor

By mid-June and the weather was still playing games with us, strong westerly winds continued to blow and so we waited patiently for the jet stream to find its proper place and then the Azores high to re-establish itself. For many this meant delayed departures for far off distant ports and changed plans for those on a tight schedule. As for Bob and I it has made little affect as i had already decided to chill out this season and drift around the Algarve and Atlantic coast of Spain as far as Gibraltar. Departure from Lagos where we overwintered was delayed for a month as I had decided to have my 60th birthday bash with all my new found friends in the marina. We eventually left our winter home in late April and after paying our dues in the office we slowly made our way out of port. I say slowly as the poor boat was again fully laden with food and drink stocks to last the next few months. After last year’s unavoidable expenditures on marina fees along the Spanish Mediterranean coast this year was planned in contrast and free anchoring was going to be the norm. The Algarve has some spectacular scenery and impressive cliffs but also has long sandy beaches,  often backed by lagoons which are ideal for secure anchoring. Coupled with estuaries and rivers stretching far inland this is ideal cruising ground for my shallow draft twin keeler. First stop was Alvor only a few miles east and although the entrance and channel across the drying sand flats needed special care the reward was a lovely sheltered lagoon right next to a small fishing village. I dropped the hook close to a small landing jetty and we spent just under a week there. There was no need for the outboard and rowing was the order of the day.  Bob soon got into the routine of jumping into the dinghy for our many daily walks and excursions ashore. His favourite place is to stand right up on the front looking out like Lord Nelson. I have now lost count of how many tourists have taken a photo of him standing up there in sometimes rough conditions and it amazes me how he keeps his balance. As we were not pressed for time we stopped over in Portimao for two nights then on to Vilamoura twenty miles further along the coast for which was going to be our last marina berth for some time to come. Being our first visit here I was amazed to see the vast selection of restaurants and bars surrounding the marina. There were some huge expensive motor cruisers here and I felt a little outclassed in my humble 30 ft yacht. It was a Saturday and by evening everyone was out parading themselves and posing along the boardwalk in there glad rags. Bob & I found a nice restaurant and had steak, chips and salad washed down with a couple of cold beers. The next morning I filled up the water tank and all available spare water containers before our departure to the island of Culatra twenty miles south east. With a calm sea and a gentle force 4 running under full sail we arrived at our intended anchorage at lunchtime. The island of Culatra lies two miles offshore from the towns of Olhao and Faro. The island itself is just four miles long and approx half a mile wide and runs in a south west to north east direction. The tidal shallows encompassed between the two are extensively farmed by the islanders and in fact supply 80% of Portugal’s shellfish. The most popular anchorage lies just outside the small fishing harbour and can easily handle fifty to sixty boats. On arrival I was lucky to find a spot close to the harbour and anchored just 100 meters off the outer pontoons.  This close proximity suited us just fine as it was the shortest and quickest way ashore for the many trips in the dinghy with Bob for his walkies. An added bonus was that we are close enough to receive the free wi-fi service offered to the islanders broadcast from the harbour. But with all things there is always a down side and that is the continual coming and going of the local  fishing boats which pass very close and at alarming speeds. It seems our anchor has now taken root as we have now been here for 60 days. Finding paradise is different for many people but I feel that this is about as close as you will get around this part of the world. Stepping on the island is like going back fifty years in time, there are no cars and not even any roads and as the island is made up of 100% sand there only form of transport is a collection of very old farm tractors. Island life ticks by at a very slow pace which is just as well in this blistering heat. The small town which is made up of a selection of mainly single story, self-built dwellings  has two shops, a church and six bars which also double up as restaurant’s. Walking through the village you now find yourself on a pleasant purpose made board walk which is raised several feet above the sand dunes and creek beds until you reach the beach on the Atlantic coast. A wide sandy beach stretches out as far as the eye can see in either direction. During the day small numbers of tourists visit the island by ferry and make the pilgrimage to the beaches. But before they arrive Bob and I have the whole beach to ourselves to roam amongst the dunes and creek beds before retreating back to the coolness of the boat before the midday heat arrives. During the day you get the feeling that you are anchored in an aquarium as all around there are fish in great numbers, some of them very near the surface and nibbling around the hull of the boat at the algae, but catching my tea by rod & line has still eluded me so Bob and I stick to the local beach and collect cockles by the bucket load. Served fresh and steaming straight from the pot is best, although I have now started to pickle them and now have several jars filled for the larder. Mussels also grow abundantly here and frequently make it onto the boats menu. A favourite pastime for Bob is chasing crabs but he has now learnt to respect those big claws especially on the larger crabs which end up chasing him. For all my friends back home living in the luxury of their homes  please spare me a thought when you next run the tap to fill the bath or just standing under a shower or even watering your garden. That poor ole Les is having to collect all his water via the dinghy in containers & bottles. Water on the island is metered and consequently there are no taps or hoses in the small harbour for visiting yachts and even if you do see an outside tap on the side of a house then the owners remove the handle making it impossible to turn on. But where there is a will there is a way and I have discovered an unguarded tap in amongst the fisherman’s huts. The dilemma I now faced was if I asked for water from any of the fishermen and they refused then it would have been difficult to return to the forbidden tap so I have adopted a cat and mouse strategy and sneaked ashore by dinghy when the coast looks clear and fill as many containers as I can carry. And trust me,  carrying 40 litres of water across soft sand and trying to look inconspicuous is very hard. With my water issue now solved my next problem was my bulging laundry basket and after asking around the island I found a nice lady who after a little gentle persuading offered to wash and dry all my laundry. She makes a fantastic job of it and folds it all up nicely in large plastic bags for me. And all for the price of 7 ½  euros per load. My solar panels are now making the most of the long hot sunny days and electricity is in abundance so with free water, free electricity , free anchoring, free shellfish I can honestly say life is good to me. The ebb and flow of cruising yachts along the coastline use Culatra as a convenient stopover, either just for one night or even several weeks, and it’s good to catch up with friends made along the way. That fella Les and his little dog Bob are easily recognised in there prominent position anchored just outside the harbour or in there favourite bar overlooking the anchorage having sun downers each evening. So friends everywhere, I raise my glass to you until we meet again. Kind regards from Les & Bob the dog.

Date Published 28th Jul 2013