Tag Archives: Portugal

Cascais, Portugal – visit if you can

On Portugal’s western Atlantic coast, near the Tagus river estuary, is the town of Cascais. From ancient and humble beginnings as a fishing village, in the late 19th century it became the cool hang-out for European royalty after Portugal’s King Luis  turned the citadel into his summer residence. The town’s popularity with the rich and noble continued on through the next century, thereby blessing it with an architectural heritage of magnificent mansions.

From our place at anchor in the bay we spied, through the binoculars, a large poster advertising a Goya exhibition. And lucky that was too, as a walk around the town and a visit to tourist information gave no clue that such an exhibition was on locally. Unless one had actually walked up to the Cultural Centre hosting the exhibition (and on whose wall the poster was affixed) which is situated on a rise outside of the central town area, one would never have known about the exhibition. That’s probably why we had the place to ourselves and we were able to enjoy a’ private viewing’ of Francisco de Goya’s lithos and etchings including his famous Disasters of War. Congratulations to the Cascais Cultural Centre for hosting and presenting such an excellent exhibition (with free entry) but if you want to draw people away from the beaches, the pavement eateries and the tourist shopping you need some promotion!

Here’s a sketch of Cascais from a boater’s point of view:

Cascais, Portugal

Cascais, Portugal


Rio Formosa, Algarve, Portugal

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. Entrance-CulatraWaves 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.


Watercolour sketch

In the days before GPS and electronic charts it was essential to have navigation skills. We learned our position lines, fixes, transits and dead reckoning at evening classes where our teacher, Jim, fondly laced his lessons with memorable descriptives and mnemonics. Who could ever forget ‘Can Dead Men Vote Twice’ and ‘True Virgins Make Dull Companions’ to ensure the correct order in converting compass to true or the other way around? One cold and rainy November evening Jim said, “Being at sea on a night like tonight will mean zero visibility … you might as well stick your head up a cow’s backside!” He went on to teach us about lighthouses and their characteristics … no wonder we have such a fondness for these structures.


Cabo de Roca is the furthest point west of Portugal and of the European continent. Steep, rocky cliffs, 168m high form the perfect base for the lighthouse that warns and comforts mariners navigating the Iberian coast. We sailed by that lighthouse, high-tailing it before a storm to our north, rounded Cape Raso in heavy seas and headed for the protection of Cascais bay where we anchored in the lee of Cascais, relieved and grateful to sit out the Atlantic depression in safety and comfort.