We are in Lagos, Portugal, in the far southwest of Portugal. Africa sits directly below us. About six hundred miles down, just off Africa’s coast, lie the Canary Islands. Today we will depart for there, the first of two long legs that will take us from Europe to the Americas, and just about across the finish line of our circumnavigation.
We’ve spent the last several days here in Lagos researching the trip south, exploring landfall options in the Canaries, readying the boat, and otherwise fixing things. We had a Jabsco macerator pump stop working. They are not made very sturdily. This is typical of many of the mass-produced products that we purchase, at a premium, for the “marine environment.” We repair this pump, on average, once every four months. This time, we found that one of two long machine screws, or “studs” that hold the pump housing together, had corroded away. The stud is about three-inches long, about as thick as a knitting needle, and threaded on both ends. It would cost 25 cents in a hardware store. But it has an odd shape (Jabsco could, of course, have made their pumps using stock parts, but where’s the fun — and extra profit — in that?). So one must turn to Jabsco, and Jabsco only, if you want another one of these small, relatively insignificant, made-in-China-of-junk-metal, screws. OK — so how much? Well, sorry, we don’t sell that stud separately. You have to purchase the full “service kit.” But take heart! The service kit comes with all kinds of other completely unnecessary,never-to-be-used, equally odd-shaped, and similarly low-quality parts, such as washers, a bearing, and a new plastic housing! And just for you, will can get this screw, er, kit, for $85. Plus shipping costs to whatever far outpost you happen to be visiting. Plus tax. And a customs charge. It will take about two weeks.
It really is unbelievable. Fortunately, I was able to remove the remnant of the fractured stud that was still stuck in the housing with a tap (itself a three-hour job, and now my wrist hurts from cranking on a screwdriver so tightly and Sima is mad at me because I grabbed as a rag Alexander’s newly-cut sleeveless t-shirt, and not, what I thought I had, the recently-discarded sleeves). Then I fabricated a reasonable facsimile of the broken, imperial-threaded stud by cutting down a metric-threaded bolt that was close in size. I got the pump back together again, only to find that it still didn’t work. This time it was my fault, as I’d put it back together again incorrectly. Now, it’s finally working, and my wrist is starting to calm down. &%#$&*% Jabsco.
Now, where were we? Oh yes! Sailing to the Americas! Everything else has been lovely. The climate here is summer-like. Sima is happy to have a galley sink once again. But maybe not the kids. They enjoyed pretending to wash dishes on the dock while they actually sprayed each other silly with the water hose and squirreled away cups and bowls, filled them with sea water, and set them about as mini-aquariums for their toy menagerie. No doubt Jabsco won’t disappoint them.
We’re at the same latitude as Richmond, Virginia, but it feels more like southern Georgia or Florida, with palm trees along the water front and shorts, t-shirts, and sandals the uniform-of-the-day.
We had last written about a month ago after arriving in Baiona, just short of the Portuguese border. We’ll pick up the thread of our trip south from there
We had the good fortune to be in Baiona for Spain’s “National Day,” somewhat the equivalent of our Fourth of July. It’s been interesting to see the way in which different countries celebrate their national identity. In the U.S., we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence in the U.S. In Turkey, the country makes not of its militarily-obtained independence. The Swedes, on the other hand, have just invented their National Day, and are a bit at a loss s to what it is supposed to mean.
Historically, Spain Day commemorated Columbus’ arrival in the Americas, matching our “Columbus Day” in the U.S., and was a tip of the hat to Spain’s colonial past and close ties to the Americas. But the country changed both the name of the day and its meaning several years ago, and now it is just called “National Day.” Like the Americas, Spain is struggling with what Columbus’ “discoveries” mean to its national identity.
Baiona was a particularly interesting place to be on this day. The Pinta was the first of Columbus’ ships to return to the “Old World.” Because the crew hailed from Galicia, they chose Baiona as the landfall where they announced the “discovery” of the New World. There is a replica of the Pinta in the harbor, and other reminders of the voyages about town.
The sculpture in the picture above is a graphic manifestation of Spain’s changing self-image concerning its colonial past. Not called “Columbus’ Discovery of the New World,” it is instead titled “Encounter Between Two Worlds,” and depicts a supposedly symbiotic relationship among the various peoples on both sides of the Atlantic influenced by the age of discovery. Food for thought.
Baiona was otherwise a nice place to spend a few days, a typical old Galician port, with tight streets crowded around a functioning harbor.
We left Baiona on 14 October and did an overnight sail to Oeiras, at the mouth of river Tagus, on the outskirts of Lisbon. We had a perfect wind for much of the trip — 15 knots just aft of the beam, and arrived without event.
We had been pressing to get down to Portugal before the weather turned, and, having achieved that, we slowed up a bit at Oeiras, staying for three weeks. The first part of the stay was compulsory, as one of the strongest storms we’ve seen in a long time howled down the coast. It knocked down trees in the hills closer to the Atlantic coast. It reminded us of the importance of picking good weather windows.
Good weather returned quickly. We begin to realize that we’d come a long way from our start in Sweden, where it was often only 18-20 on a good day. Now we’re regularly getting 22-24.
We really liked Oeiras. There was a smooth running and rollerblading path along the water, and an outdoor swimming pool nearby that, with the warmish weather, we were able to use. The marina was top-notch. Bread rolls were delivered to the boat each morning, there was free transport to the train station and the supermarket, and the staff was otherwise super-friendly.
We went in to see Lisbon on several occasions, including a trip to the U.S. Consulate to get Alexander a new passport. (He’s soon to be FIVE?! Already?! That went by fast for his parents, but his birthday can’t come quickly enough for him, as we help him count down the days to November 30 with growing impatience on his part).
On the advice of friends, we also traveled to Sintra, nearer the coast. (It was there that we saw the downed trees and other damage done by the storm.) The town is nestled among a series of hills, and walking and driving among them provided dramatic views. The town itself was pretty, centered around a main square with dozens of shops nearby. We enjoyed lunch in the sun in the square and watched the passers-by.
We had heard that there were several castles located in the hills around the Sintra that were must-sees, and so we saw. One of them, the Castle of the Moors, dates, unsurprisingly, from the period of Moorish rule, and is a hulking stone-like fortress not unlike many other structures we’ve seen across Europe. A second, the Palacio de Pena, is a 19th-century construction built atop an abbey, which, in turn, dated from the 16th century.
Pena was just too much. It was built by and for Portugal’s then-ruling royal family, at a time when they apparently had entirely too much money at their disposal. It is Disney-like in structure, color, and appearance, and felt, to us, as equally artificial and unnecessarily opulent. It served no defensive function, but was just meant to be big. Very big. There can’t be a greater concentration of cement anywhere in the country. A half-century after completion, the King and his son were shot dead by assassins, and a following coup d’etat effectively ended Portugal’s monarchy. The events leading to the coup were complex, but this outward show of opulence could not have helped the royalists’ cause. “Apres moi, le deluge.”
There was another reason why we found the Oeiras area such a comfortable place to stay. After a chance meeting at the playground, we got to know Susana and Marcus and their children Daniel and Lilian. Susana helped us take advantage of the local scene and find our way around the area, and Marcus is a computer wiz. He came to the boat on several occasions and helped us quickly resolve several problems relating to our various devices and their connectivity that had been vexing us for a very long time. We’ve put him on speed dial on the SAT phone.
We left Oeiras on 5 November, and did another overnight passage, this time traveling to Lagos, at the southwest corner of Portugal. It was really rough the first night, as a moderate headwind pushed against an adverse current, which in turn mixed with a sizeable ocean swell. All this left Leander with a motion that made none of us feeling very good at all. We left late in the day, so we put up some sail, got some food down, and laid down as Leander fought through the seas. It was a difficult start to the trip. Luckily both Aylin and Alexander fell asleep before seasickness could claim them victims, so all that we had to do was hang on for ourselves.
But as the night wore on, the wind calmed, as predicted, and the sea did the same. The next day was pleasant and easy, and all were up and about.
And now we’re busy making last-minute preparations to sail, including posting this note. We’ll head out for the Canary Islands in a few hours, and will be at sea for 4-5 days. The forecast calls for fair winds from behind, and so we hope for a pleasant passage. 2073 Miles from our start in Sweden, 3,500 to go to the Caribbean.