Sailing Coastal Spain and Portugal

A sense of foreboding followed us down the Atlantic Coast after we passed the Coast of Death (Costa del Mort). It was still early May and the weather in the Atlantic Ocean is notoriously fickle and changes quickly throughout the day. To minimise getting caught out in really bad weather, we quickly sailed down the coast of Spain. The weather, coupled with the fact that my time in the EU (specifically the Schengen area) was limited due to my Australian passport and Schengen visa. So, we were keen to spend our limited time in the EU in the warmth of the Balearic Islands.




Sundown – Sagres anchorage

The Atlantic was true to form. it was cold with prevailing high afternoon winds and unsettled seas state which added to our determination to push on.

We determinedly travelled long days (covering 70 – 100+ nautical Miles), until we really needed some rest, reprovisioning or refuelling. We found few suitable, easy access anchorages and so sheltered in boat/fishing harbours where possible or stayed in the occasional marina. Many anchorages down this coast involved bar crossings into rivers. While we’re used to doing these in Australia, the weather and high tides, pushed us on. The one port, I’m sorry we missed was Porto, Portugal.

Late one evening after a long day of gusty winds, the port in Adra we had planned to anchor in was smaller than anticipated and badly affected by swell. We made the decision to attempt a sketchy entry into the nearby marina; in fact, we pretty much surfed in. We found a hammerhead pontoon and managed to dock the boat in the gusty conditions. As I jumped off onto the small, dodgy pontoon, I found it was unstable, dropped to my hands and knees and tied up the stern. As I crawled to the front, a Marinaro was yelling and waving as I completed the bow tie off. As he came to help and in the midst of the confusion of placing fenders and moving around the narrow pontoon, I half fell off the dock on to my ribs on a metal strut. Ouch. No serious damaged but I certainly was shellshocked for a couple of days.

On the same day, fellow Helia44 owners we met in La Rochelle, who were travelling close by, continued sailing that night and ended up with a wave in their saloon. I’m pleased we made the decision to take shelter.

You can see the route we travelled and where we stopped here.


Sines, Portugal, Vasco de Gama’s hometown. The morning after a midnight arrival.


Sines, Portugal. Many ports we sheltered in were mainly for fishing boats, were often small and subject to swell

It wasn’t until we reached Lisbon that we finally relaxed, stayed for a few days and enjoyed this vibrant city. More about that in a later post.


Wild Heart in Marina Parque das Nacoes, Lisbon. Behind the lock gate.

Let’s talk about plastic and sailing

Yes, this the latest “hot topic”. Everyone seems to be talking about single-use plastic; from plastic bags to plastic straws. Having spent several months in the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, I can tell you, the problem is real. And it’s not pretty.

Plastic debris littered the water, beaches and shores, to various degrees, in every place we visited. The more popular and populated the anchorage, the more rubbish there was. We often saw plastic bottles, the remains of plastic bags, balloons, styrofoam and inflatables. There was even a plastic coverall floating in the Atlantic Ocean (alarmingly looking very much like a floating body). In Sicily, I pulled pieces of a partially disintegrated plastic bag from one of the propellers. Bays that looked so idyllic from the water had shores scattered with plastic and other rubbish. It was often a shock when the environment looked pristine from the boat. For example, the stunning bay we were anchored in (Solta, Croatia) above, had litter on the pebbled shore below. These were just quick random snapshots as examples of the shoreline.

The seabed, sadly, also was often littered with rubbish and remnant parts from boats and marinas.

While it may not be too surprising that where there are people, there is litter. What is surprising is that on ocean passages, miles from nowhere, we would still see a stream of plastic waste floating by.

I’ve become hyper-aware of the amount of plastic that surrounds any food bought from supermarkets, especially the processed foods. Everything from cheese to prosciutto to UHT milk. In many places in Europe, fresh fruits and vegetables are often placed in plastic bags to be weighed, priced and labelled before checkout. My experience of trying to change that practice was interesting and unsuccessful. Then there are the other items such as  shampoo and liquid soap containers, dishwashing and cloth washing liquid containers.

When you store your garbage, it becomes obvious how much single-use plastic you buy and discard. On an optimistic note, many marinas have implemented recycling and waste separation stations. Other sailors in the Med are actively picking up trash in their anchorages on particular days eg “Trash Tuesdays”, and taking it ashore for proper disposal.

I’ll be honest, this season I wasn’t prepared. No excuses, but we had a lot on our plates commissioning our boat. However, the things I did were:

– shop with a trolley and reusable bags

– use beeswax wrappers instead of cling wrap (they keep food fresher anyway)

– use reusable storage containers

– buy supermarket items in glass rather than plastic if there’s a choice

– recycle cardboard and bottles where possible

– picked plastic out of the water

Some of these things actually made life on board simpler and easier.

Could I do more? Absolutely, much more. So next year, I’ll be working on researching and trying products that reduce waste (including plastics) and are kinder to the environment in general. Some of these include:

– trying shampoo and soap bars with minimal or compostable packaging

– using reusable bags for fruit and vegetables (weighing and costing etc)

– increasing beeswax wrapper on board

– trying calico bags for storage of fresh fruit and vegetables

– shop in bulk when possible (especially for dry goods), this includes buying from the deli instead or prepackaged meats and cheeses

– using bamboo toothbrushes

– researching an eco-friendly alternative to clothes washing liquid

– declining plastic straws when ordering drinks

– using washable, cotton cleaning cloths

I’m sure there are many, many more actions I could take. Let me know if there are things you’ve done on your boat to be kinder on the environment while sailing. I’d love to hear about it.


Wild Heart waiting: La Rochelle and all things yachts


A small part of Port des Minimes, the largest marina in France for pleasure boats. It’s also where a number of brands launch their yachts not only Fountaine Pajot but Amel yachts and Nautitech catamarans


Boats and masts as far as you can see


The entrance to the old port, where boats constantly leave and enter


The historic architecture and rich history of the town sits side by side with the pleasure craft yachting lifestyle


There are regattas and sailing schools a plenty.


Wild Heart in the evening shortly before we left the marina


When we arrived in La Rochelle, a few short months ago, we had no idea what to expect from many things; the town, our new catamaran “Wild Heart” and sailing in France.

We quickly discovered that La Rochelle was a joy, rich in history and lifestyle; commisioning a new boat was an intense and exciting experience; sailing in a new country was an adventure. In fact, it continues to be an adventure of exploring, discovering and learning.

Photograph credit: Scott Johnston

Where we stayed: Hotel St Nicolas La Rochelle

Low key hotel, in a convenient location in the old town and about 30 minutes walk to Port des Minimes

Where we ate:

We enjoyed all the local boulangeries and pâtisseries around the hotel. And any gelato shop, of course

As restaurants go, Prao Restaurant was one of our favourites for the fresh food, atmosphere and wine selection.

Shopping for the boat: Get our download here of all the places we shopped to “outfit” the boat.

Wild Heart’s maiden voyage: The Bay of Biscay and the Coast of Death

The maiden voyage of Wild Heart and her crew meant leaving the safety, familiarity and comfort of a marina in pretty La Rochelle and crossing the notorious Bay of Biscay; a large open stretch of water with a reputation for being very unfriendly. It was not a trip I was looking forward to in a brand new, big and shiny, unfamiliar catamaran; especially when it involved 2 overnight passages.

The Bay is a gulf in the northeast side of the Atlantic which has a fearsome reputation for storms especially winter and and you can read and see many horror stories on it’s weather. Here’s one filmed from a cruise ship. So lets, just say, my anxiety level was high and I was obsessively reviewing the weather forecasts for a suitable window for the passage.

It was definitely time to leave La Rochelle as the boat handover was complete; we had fitted Wild Heart out and were excited to get started. We would head directly across the Bay to La Coruña in Spain, a distance of approximately 350 nautical miles. There’s nowhere to stop and its just a long 2 night haul. The Bay is subject to all the winds, swells, weather and other vagaries of the Atlantic Ocean and can change very quickly. Surprisingly it was also quite cold. We bought out the Spinlock safety harnesses and tethers and Musto wet weather great for the nights.

We choose a particularly “good” weather window to leave. By “good” I mean, light winds and swells. We set the sails including our light wind gennaker and had high the expectations of some great sailing. However the winds were not in our favour for the required course so we had to resort to motoring to get the crossing done and to get out of harms way on the open water.

While the winds were light, the Bay wasn’t letting us off completely. On my moonless night watch, fog rolled in and stayed in for the next 6 hours. I could barely see our navigation lights on the bow of Wild Heart. We slowed the boat speed down, turned the radar on and kept each other company on watch. We were kept relatively comfortable in the helm enclosure now affectionately known as the “Pope Mobile”. However it was difficult to know who else was out there on the water nearby. Not that it gave us any comfort really but we occasionally heard communications to other boats from “American Warship XXXX” on channel 16. Of course they don’t show up on your AIS screen as they “run dark”.

So for all it’s reputation, we has a comparative anticlimax on that trip but it was a relief to get it under our belts. In La Coruña we rested, refuelled, regrouped and serviced engines for warranty purposes. Beer and gelato helped the regrouping process along!

Our next leg had us facing the Costa del Morta (Coast of Death). Dramatic, I know. It’s a stretch of coastline from Cabo Ortegas and Cabo Finisterre that La Coruña lies in between. The coastline is high, rugged and known for it’s onshore winds and swell from the Atlantic, given giving it its name. The Pilot guide for this area warns to keep an extended safe distance from this shore; so time to take another deep breath to get past this one and onwards down the Atlantic coast of Spain and Portugal.

A new catamaran and a different life.

There are times you make decisions that you know will change the path of your life.

Our catamaran purchase is one of these big, scary decisions.

Why big and scary? We have made a big commitment to a particular way of life. A life of 6 months sailing and 6 months at home in Austrlia. I know it will have its challenges. We are taking a leap into the big unknown and having to let go of things in our life now to make it possible; the comfortable, safe familiar things.

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Going to the darkside: From monohull to multihull

We’re old school sailors. Well, correction, we were old school sailors. A little less than a year ago we wouldn’t have stepped foot on a catamaran, let alone consider buying one. My, how things changed. I’m not even sure whether I could pinpoint how, or when, our thinking changed. Was it when our friends bought a catamaran and took us for a fabulously relaxed day sail? Or that our favourite You Tubers moving from monohull to a multihull? Either way, when we decided we wanted to upgrade our yacht, the option of catamaran was thrown into the mix and months of research began. We went from zero to 100 in our knowledge of cats, researching different brands and their pros and cons.

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