Portugal’s southern coast is subject to the tidal stream so passages need planning with this in mind. We wanted to visit the lagoon formed by the Rio Formosa and planned to be off the entrance just before high water in order to transit the bar with maximum depth and least tidal turbulence. Sometimes, nature takes no notice of the weather forecast and we had paid it too much attention … we were late off the entrance to the lagoon and the tide was turning. All the water that had entered the river during the previous hours was now hell-bent on leaving but it wasn’t running too fast just yet … what to do! We watched the seas for a few minutes; there was a big swell but the water was deep in the centre. We considered turning back to sail with the current westwards; we debated continuing eastwards punching against the running water. It was already late afternoon and either direction meant a further 7 hours to an alternative anchorage. There wasn’t much wind and we would be motor-sailing in the dark with the pitfall of fishing buoys, mostly invisible at night. A few hundred metres away was perfect shelter.
We agreed to give it a go, knowing that once committed there could be no turning back – shallow water lurked either side of the channel. Our bows were pointed between the red and green light towers, engine throttled up to maximum speed and racing like our hearts. Waves raised by the shallow sands crashed on the rocks and sent great plumes of spray arching over the starboard lighthouse. We hit the turbulence: it was like a washing machine tumble cycle and our boat was thrown on her beam-ends. We clung on, plunged down into a chasm and the propeller roared as the stern was raised above the sea. It was over in a minute; it felt like an hour. We entered the flat water of the lagoon and followed the channel buoys to our anchorage.