Newsletter # 2- Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal-  October 2000

Dear Friends:
We are tied up in the magnificent marina that forms part of the impressive Expo 98 site in Lisbon. It is quite definitely the end of a phase in the cruise. We have spent nearly three months since leaving Norway mostly day sailing: tied up or anchored each night in Scotland, Ireland and Portugal. This is reflected in the mileage logged: only 2,207 nm since leaving Norway. But the next leg will bring the average up; Madeira then St Martin in the Caribbean by Christmas. Before that I will fly to New York for a couple of weeks.
When we left Norway we saw the Northern Lights for the first time in the cruise; further north it was too light but the apple green curtain appeared in the northern sky after sunset as we ploughed our way to the Shetland Islands. We also sailed through the North Sea oil field; one evening we had twenty rigs in sight at the same time. As we approached the islands the wind piped up on the nose and we gave up the idea of making Lerwick by nightfall, instead we tacked into a wide bay on the southeast side of Fetlar Island, with gale force 7 forecast we gratefully dropped the hook before dark and contemplated the barren landscape: almost treeless with a few isolated farms. The next day was an easy sail to the capital, Lerwick. This old town of sturdy, stone buildings was a great introduction to what would be a dominant motif of this part of the cruise; European history. Lerwick is so picturesque, with twisting quaint streets that scarcely run twenty yards before disappearing round a corner, that it could form a set for ‘Brigadoon’. Doug was delighted to be re-acquainted with the typical highland pub. An overnight sail brought us to Kirkwall, the principle town of the Orkneys. We tied up next to several rather dirty and smelly fishing boats. We toured the island by bus and stopped off in Stromness, just in time to visit the beer festival held at a Victorian edifice called the Stromness Hotel. We also visited the Stromness museum, which had a section devoted to the Hudson’s Bay Company. Many of their factors (supervisors of the trading post) came from the Orkneys. It was in Stromness that half-Indian children were sent to school; the offspring of the Orkney men and their (temporary) Indian wives. I suspect it was very cold at those HBC trading posts in winter. There was also an exhibit about one of my favorite Arctic explorers; John Rae. In Kirkwall itself there are the wonderful ruins of Patrick Stewart’s Palace, a magnificent 16th-century building next to the cathedral. South of Kirkwall lies Scapa Flow, the deep-water harbor used by the British Royal Navy north sea fleet for many years. In 1918 the German fleet surrendered here at the conclusion of WWI, nearly seventy ships. A year later the commanding admiral, Von Reuter, convinced the Versailles peace talks were going badly for Germany, ordered all the ships scuttled. On receiving the secret prearranged signal the skeleton crews on every ship simultaneously sank them. At the time a party of school children was touring the impressive sight in a launch. Goodness knows what they thought as each mighty battleship began to sink and turn turtle. “It wasn’t my fault, miss, honestly, I didn’t touch anything!” Salvaging the wrecks provided work in the Orkneys for years. There is some suspicion that the Brits colored the reports of the treaty negotiations received by the German admiral, as they did not really want a competitive battle fleet left in Europe in the post-war years.

We powered overnight to Inverness across a calm sea full of coastal traffic. At Inverness John signed off and we were joined by Colin, a serious Englishman who was studying for his Royal Yachting Association (RYA) skipper’s ticket, I had known him many years ago when he spent a sabbatical leave at my laboratory on Long Island. In addition my old friend Derek and his wife, Hilary, joined us briefly for the passage through the Caledonian Canal to the Atlantic Ocean. The passage is real fun, there are lunchtime and evening tie-ups, often near castle ruins or charming Scottish pubs. The highlight is a traversal of Loch Ness, of Monster fame. The highland scenery is magnificent the whole way. There are a couple of dozen locks and FIONA was raised to over a hundred feet above sea level. When Derek and Hilary left us at Fort William we sailed to Tobermory on the island of Mull. We took a bus ride to Craignur, where a gimmicky narrow gauge steam railway transport tourists to a restored family castle and garden called Torosay. By sheer chance the late owner, David James, was in the Royal Navy in 1944 when he helped build the base at Port Lockroy in Antarctica, the southerly destination of FIONA’S 1998-99 cruise. Before that he had served on MTB’s in the channel, got captured, busted out of the POW camp and was subsequently posted to the Antarctic to keep him out of more trouble. From Tobermory our destination was Coll, a remote island on the western fringes of Scotland with a population of 140 hardy souls. The forecast was not good, gales, gales, and our anchorage was open to the south. The next day we left with the hope of sailing to Ireland, but wind and seas were against us, the forecast was force 8, perhaps 9, so with rare prudence we altered course for a cove on the SW corner of Mull. We sailed past Staffa on the way with Fingal’s Cave on the south side. On entering the cove the engine refused to start and we anchored under sail. The problem lay with the starter motor, after a couple of greasy hours in the engine room. I changed the starter for the spare which FIONA had carried on all her previous voyages without ever being needed. The SW gales persisted but never mind; we were only four miles from Iona, so a bus ride and a trip on the ferry landed us there for a tour of the famous abbey. By the 6th century AD monks were discovering the western islands and establishing themselves there, goodness knows why. The living must have been terribly hard. Later the Vikings made life even tougher. The abbey has been restored and is used today as a religious retreat. The museum contains some great 12th and 13th century effigies of dead knights displaying the Norse influence. The nunnery, established in the 12th century, lies in ruins. A westerly wind gave us hard sail past Bloody Foreland, the NW corner of Ireland and in view of the time lost at Mull we sailed right past the mouth of Donegal Bay without stopping and anchored at Clifden, in County Galway, two days out from Mull.

Clifden is an interesting town, it is about as far west as you can get in the British Islands. For years Marconi maintained a radio transmitting station nearby in the early part of the century. When Alcock and Brown made the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic in 1922 they crash-landed at Clifden. The mayor at the time, bedeviled by the poverty of the area, envisaged a great airport because of the proximity to the American continent. We took a bus ride to Galway, the nearest city. As the bus trundled along the coast road I was struck by the harshness of the countryside; vast gray-green rocky outcropping interspersed with bogs. Here and there stood the gable ends of small, ruined cottages, probably abandoned in the Great Famine of the 1850’s. More on that subject later. From Clifden we beat past Slyne Head with a moderate wind and headed for the Aran Islands. We moored in Kilronan harbor, on the largest of the islands; Inishmore. Until very recently life was hard on those islands, located on the fringes of the Atlantic Ocean west of Galway. A famous documentary, “Man of Aran” made by Robert Flaherty in the 1930’s, is shown several times daily at the visitor center. In order to grow anything the islanders had to scrounge soil from cracks in the rocks and mix it with seaweed. Now they just go to the supermarket. There is a fantastic iron-age fort on the west side of Aran overlooking a 300 ft vertical cliff. In some ways it reminded me of the defensive Maori settlements I saw in New Zealand in 1996. Apparently in all primitive societies there were always people who found it easier to kill and steal rather than toil to produce food. Have we changed much? When we returned to the boat we found the wind was forecast to be NW for the night so we slipped the mooring for an overnight sail to Dingle. Any help in sailing round the prominent capes, which jut out to the SW, was welcome. This part of Ireland is full of pre-Viking monasteries, on a tour our guide claimed 440 AD for the founding of the earliest, which I felt was a little fishy as that would pre-date the arrival of Christianity in the British Isles. Still the ruins are obviously very ancient. One small building, possibly 8th century, known as the Gallarus Oratory, is still in perfect condition and quite watertight. It is constructed of dry stone, no mortar is used, even for the roof. The ruins of many churches in the area contain graves from the 12th century and again reflect the enormous Viking influence after about 1000 AD. It seemed to rain continuously during our stay in Dingle. From Dingle we sailed, again with a NW wind, to Sneem Harbor which is a very pleasant, wooded, anchorage. It is a two-mile walk to the village itself, a picture perfect Irish village with a rustic bridge over a gurgling river. As we were leaving to walk back to the boat a van in the small market area was displaying antiques for sale. There were several small oil paintings in heavy, old-fashioned, gift frames. The owner said he had got them from a nunnery which was being closed. One of small fishing boats clawing off a stormy coast caught my eye and I hesitantly asked the price. When he quoted forty pounds (about $50) I could not resist buying it. At that price Colin also bought one. It left us with the problem of getting them back on board via the dinghy and then protecting them until we could get them home. When Colin examined his painting more closely at home he fund our ‘paintings’ were actually varnished prints – but they look nice! We sailed from Sneem to Dursey Sound, a turbulent, tide-wracked strait, and then to an anchorage at Castletown, where we refueled at the fishing boat dock in the morning. We were now on the south coast of Ireland and were through with beating past rocky capes sticking out in the Atlantic. On the way to Kinsale we sailed past the imposing edifice of Fastnet Rock lighthouse. From Kinsale we had a relatively short sail in heavy weather to Crosshaven; we tied up at the Royal Cork Yacht Club, (RCYC) our final port in Ireland, where we planned to rest up for week before leaving for Portugal.
In fact there was not a lot of resting achieved: apart from a few repairs to the boat it had to be restocked for the next leg. In addition my Aunt May flew in from London with her sons and we had a couple of days in their rented car seeing the sights and chasing down a little family history in Cork. The attentive readers of these newsletters (there must be one or two) will recall I visited my great-grandmother’s grave on Barbados in 1999 on the return trip from Antarctica. When she died in 1880 her husband returned to Cork and married her sister. Their house is listed in a 1900 census. So, in the pouring rain, May, my cousins and myself tramped through some fairly mean streets looking for my great-grandfather’s old addresses. We did find one, (and perhaps two, streets have changed so much in a hundred years) it has been greatly gentrified and looks like it’s worth a million dollars. We also visited Cobh (pronounced ‘Cove’) which is perhaps better known as Queenstown, when it was the last European port for many transatlantic liners. In the old railway station, now no longer used for trains, there is an Irish Heritage center. Naturally there is much of the great emigration from Ireland in the 19th century, many left from Queenstown and probably arrived there at that very station. I was surprised at the different emphasis on the tragedy of the Great Famine and subsequent emigration by the Irish as opposed to the Irish-American view. In the latter the villains are the English who allegedly refused to provide aid and encouraged emigration to clear the land. The Irish view is more balanced, I thought: that the land was too poor to support so many peasants and well meaning people in Ireland and England tried to help. When the potato blight was added the problem was overwhelming. The same benefactors provided money for emigration because it was genuinely felt that the only chance for the poor peasants (who generally agreed) to lead better life was in the New World.

When we arrived at the RCYC I renewed my friendship with Barbara and Frank Fitzgibbon, who live nearby. We first met during the circumnavigation, 1995-97. Barbara and Frank have a lovely house overlooking the approach to Crosshaven. They invited myself and the crew to dinner and later sponsored a cruising evening at the yacht club when we showed the video of the Antarctic cruise (1998-99).
When we left Ireland we had a stiff NW gale behind us that gave us more than 180 nm made good in the first twenty four hours, but then the wind switched to SW and we sailed close-hauled, sometimes in gale strength. Near 44oN we sailed into a high that produced lighter wind which finally headed us before dying out and we motored the last eighty miles to Viana do Castelo in Portugal. The swell from the remains of Hurricane Isaac a few hundred miles to the NW caused impressive waves at the mole guarding the entrance to the harbor. It had taken us five days from Ireland.

As soon as we got to Portugal there was a noticeable improvement in the weather and Doug was moved to put on shorts for the first time this cruise. However he enjoyed only a day in Viana before leaving for the U.S. His place was taken by Bill Steenberg who was actually waiting on the dock at the marina as we pulled in. Bill sailed on FIONA last year on the Cape Town to New York leg and has signed up for the transatlantic run to St Martin. Viana do Castelo is a charming town with pleasant plazas, restaurants and pastelarias (my favorite: a variety of cakes and tarts with coffee). There is an imposing church on a hill overlooking the town which is reached by means of the elevador, or funicular. We took a bus to Porto when we tied up in Leixoes, which gave us a chance to see the countryside. The Portuguese are a lovely people, but they do love their dogs, so when walking in town it pays to do so penitently, with head bowed. Many of the harbors on the coast are about thirty-five miles apart. Sailing from one to the other is quite feasible during a daylight run. This set the pattern of our Portuguese cruise – a day sail followed by one or two days in port to allow exploration of early attractions.

Porto is not recommended for yachts due to heavy seas that frequently break on the bar of the River Douro. It is a fascinating town, almost vertical in places with red-roofed houses crammed into the slopes. On the south bank are the famous port wine cellars, from which all port is shipped after aging. A tour of the Sandeman cellars revealed why I am quite partial to port: it is 20% brandy, added to ‘fortify’ it. From Leixoes we sailed to Aveiro, just an overnight anchorage on the river, then we headed for Figueira da Foz, a nice seaside resort. We took a bus to Leiria to inspect the old castle and the next day a train ride to Coimbra. There is an amazing miniature village, which predates Disney World by about fifty years. But the main point of interest is the site of the country estate where Inez de Castro was murdered in the 14th century. Now it is a very up-market hotel but they have preserved a small building called the ‘Font d’Amores’. The story of Inez is fascinating so here it is:

Prince Pedro, the son of King Afonso IV of Portugal was forced into an arranged marriage with a noble lady. Although they had three children the marriage was loveless, typical of the political maneuvering of the period. Pedro fell in love with a lady-in-waiting called Inez and moved her onto an estate at Coimbra. Inez was Spanish and the King was very concerned that Portugal would become embroiled in the feuding between Aragon and Castile. When Pedro’s wife died during the birth of her third child the king decided Inez was too much of a threat and sent three knights to kill her. They tracked her down to Coimbra and stabbed the defenseless lady to death – so much for chivalry. It was at the Font d’Amores, close to the scene of her death, that Pedro and Inez first made love, according to the legend and the tourist bureau. A year later Afonso died and Pedro assumed the throne. He had been distraught over the death of his beloved Inez and now he had revenge of sorts. He caught two of the three knights, who died rather cruelly. He then had Inez disinterred from the Monastery of St Clara and the body moved to Alcobaca. Before reburial Inez was cleaned up and sat on a throne wearing the crown of Portugal. Pedro made his nobles kneel before her and swear allegiance while kissing her boney hand. Pretty macabre. When we were tied up at Nazare we took a bus to Alcobaca, where Pedro and Inez still lie near each other under elaborate effigies in the vast Monastery.

From Nazare we sailed to Cascais near Estoril and then arranged to spend a month at the Expo 98 marina in Lisbon. The Expo is still going strong with crowds on the weekends. The aquarium is fantastic, it is one of the largest in the world. The buildings are most imaginative and interesting. Bill has left for a couple of weeks with friends in Zimbabwe and soon I will fly to New York. Colin has gone home having accumulated enough sea miles to get his RYA skippers license and having learned how to plot running fixes from sun sights. Total mileage for the trip so far is 7,701 nm.

Photos from the Cruise to the Arctic, Scotland, and Portugal

The forbidding coastline of the Lofoten Is.
Steering the Viking Longship- Lofoten Is.
Fiona tied up at Nusfjord, Lofoten Is.
Entrance to the Caledonian Canal, Scotland
Ben Nevis is reflected in the still waters of the Caledonian Canal.
The closest we got to the Monster, Loch Ness
Playing with the trains, Isle of Mull
The 12th century nunnery, Iona Island
The western cliffs of Irishmore, Aran Islands, Ireland
The Gallarus Oratory, 8th century chapel, Galway, Ireland
Traditional Sailboats frame the waterfront of Porto, Portugal
Font d’Amores, where Pedro first kissed Inez, Coimbra, Portugal
The tomb of Inez de Castro, Alcobaca Monastery
The walled town of Obidos, Portugal