Tuesday, October 31, 2017

1985 (1) – Road Trip

One of the many interesting shops in Gibraltar.

To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

Our weeks in Gibraltar turned into months.  On February 5, 1985, the border between Gibraltar and Spain reopened after sixteen years.  That was a Tuesday.  On Friday, Julie (a friend from another boat), and I walked across into Spain.  The town on the other side of the border is La Linea de la Concepcion.  We wandered around looking in shop windows, and stopped for an ice cream cone.  It turned out to be Julie’s treat because I hadn’t thought to change any money into pesetas!  We walked for three hours, and were pretty tired when we got back to the marina.

I watched many movies at this theater.  The cost was one dollar.
The movie changed at least once a week.  They never knew
what movie they would be showing until the film arrived in the mail!

One day in early March, we were surprised to be hailed from the dock with a loud call, "Can't believe you're still here in Gibraltar."  It was Tony and Marjorie, a couple who had been friends while we were in Portugal, and who had stayed in Vilamoura for the winter.  Their boat, Marjorie II, was still in Vilamoura, but they had driven to Gibraltar in a rental car.  Their intention was to check out the marinas along the southern Spanish coast, and select a nice one to moor in when friends, who were expected in mid-April, came to visit.  They had decided to stop in Gibraltar to see if we were still around. 

The Rock of Gibraltar, rising behind buildings at the marina.

We were really pleased to see them, and talked them into staying overnight.  That evening we took them for curry at our favorite Indian restaurant, the Maharaja.  I was fairly new to curries, and always ordered my lamb with "very mild" flavor, done in a delicious cream and coconut sauce.  Ed that night braved "medium," but Marjorie and Tony, old hands at curry, went straight to "very hot."  The waiter asked them if they meant VERY hot and they said, yes, very, VERY hot.  Without even seeming to sweat, they thoroughly enjoyed a meal that would have sent me straight to the hospital. 

Gibraltar street scene

Tony and Marjorie invited us to go for a ride with them the next day to see the marinas along the first section of the southern coast of Spain.  We visited four marinas by lunchtime.  The marinas were fine, but everything was very tourist-oriented, with high-rise apartment buildings.  There was lots of new construction, all part of Spain's tourist industry.  Tony and Marjorie selected Duquesa because it was clean and quiet and far from any town.  We decided to give that one a miss - for the same reason - because it was far from any town.  

Internet Photo.  The 18th century bridge at Ronda.

The four of us had a pleasant lunch in Marbella at an outdoor cafe alongside the marina.  After lunch, Tony got out the map and suggested we return to Gibraltar by a different route, taking a drive through the nearby mountains.  Making what turned out to be a good choice, we decided to pass through the city of Ronda.  The only information Marjorie's Michelin guide had on Ronda was that it contained the oldest bullring in Spain.  After a couple hours of climbing over 3000 feet on a new, winding, well-built road, we reached Ronda.  In the center of a mountain range that bears its name, Ronda is set on a plateau on the edge of a gorge, overlooking a plunging ravine.  Peering straight down 650 feet from the 18th century bridge that spans the ravine was enough to give anyone a case of the dizzies.

While we didn't have much time to spend in Ronda, we particularly didn't want to miss Spain's oldest bullring.  We bought tickets to go inside.  A guide led us through the bullring and told us some of its history.  Built in 1784, it was still in use, with bullfights held at the time of the local fiestas.  King Juan Carlos attended the September bullfights.  Our guide pointed out the royal box to us, as well as the area where the band sat to perform.  We squeezed ourselves behind the boards where the matadors go to escape the bull's horns, and then our guide took us to the center of the ring.  There he clapped his hands, and the sound reverberated around the walls of the bullring.  Marjorie and I tried some foot stomping and a few "Oles!" while Tony and Ed pretended not to know us, and the guide smiled indulgently. 

Postcard I purchased.  Not the bullring we visited.  We were up in the
mountains.  This bullring was in Malaga, down by the sea.

The guide then pointed us on to the museum, and told us that we would see "toro" inside.  The museum was an experience - there were several bulls' heads attached to the walls, a pictorial history of bullfighting at Ronda, and cases containing retired-matadors' hand-embroidered costumes (called a "suit of lights"), several of which had dark stains which our new guide explained to us were "bwud" from the bulls.  (It took us awhile to catch on to his highly accented English.)  Bullfighting was often a family tradition.  Portraits of successive generations of bullfighters, grouped by family, also adorned the walls.  There was even an old photograph of Ernest Hemingway attending a Ronda bullfight.  In Ronda's long history, only one matador had ever been killed in its bullring -- illustrated in another graphic pictorial display.   

The drive home to Gibraltar was breathtaking.  An older road, full of impossible curves and switchbacks, meandered through orange groves of colorful fruit, passed shepherds tending their sheep, and zipped through small hamlets of whitewashed, red-roofed homes, suspended precariously on the slopes of the mountains.  It was the time of the full moon.  We watched it rise like a pale, colorless orange from the mountains to the east.  As we descended from the heights, we would get the occasional glimpse of "the Rock" far below us, with the Atlas Mountains of Morocco ranged behind it like protective parents, across the narrow Strait of Gibraltar.  

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

1984 (14) – Touring the Rock

Postcard.  Cable Car to the top of the Rock.

To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

We waited for a sunny day to tour the Rock of Gibraltar.  On that day, we walked across town to the cable car that takes visitors up the mountain (and back down, if you're not so foolish as to decide to walk it).  The cable car made a stop halfway up the mountain where we got out to visit the Apes Den.  There was a troop of about twenty apes living on that part of the mountain.  They were free to roam about at will.  Called Barbary Apes, their ancestors were originally from Africa.  No one knows how they came to be in Gibraltar, but it was assumed the original apes were brought over as pets when the Moors occupied the Iberian Peninsula. 

Postcard.  Posing for his portrait.

The apes were under the protection of the British Army.  One of our pamphlets explained that the apes specialize in "monkey business."  We saw a good example when one lady, holding her baby, put down her purse.  In a flash, one of the apes had grabbed it, and taken out the food she'd been carrying. 
Ed, at the top of Gibraltar.

After our visit with the apes, we caught the next cable car going up, and went to the top of the mountain.  We had beautiful views in all directions - Spain nearby, Africa and the Atlas Mountains to the south, and the Mediterranean Sea stretching off to the east.  From there we walked downhill for about ten minutes to St. Michael's Cave.  A natural cave, 1000 feet above sea level, it had a beautiful display of stalagmites and stalactites.  One exhibit explained that the caves were inhabited as long as 30,000 years ago in Neanderthal times.  

A view inside the caves.

On leaving the caves, we had a choice of walking back uphill to get the cable car at the top of the mountain, or following the road downward, and catching the cable car at the Apes Den.  What with the pull of gravity having its usual effect, we headed downhill.  After visiting with the monkeys again, we decided to walk the rest of the way down the mountain.  The paved road zigzagged across the face of the mountain - and eventually took off back up the hill. 

We found what looked like a disused road, and continued downward.  It was a long walk, but we eventually got to the bottom - only to find ourselves stopped by a ten-foot high, rusty metal gate, topped with spikes.  On the far side we could see the casino and a road that would take us to town.  There was no way around the gate, which was padlocked.  We got the distinct feeling we were where we shouldn't be.  We decided we were going to have to climb over the gate.  Ed pointed out diagonal metal bars, and explained that by using the bars, I could climb up one side of the gate, go over the top, and climb down the other side.  I get over without much trouble.  When Ed came across, I had him stand by the gate while I took a picture. 

Yes, we climbed over that gate.

We didn't carry any insurance on the boat, or any medical insurance on ourselves, and just took our chances.  But - having been brought up on Prudential commercials - I was sure that all we really needed in insurance was to "get a piece of the Rock."  I had it in mind to pick up a rock on one of our hikes, but before I got around to it, I came upon a store in town with a window sign saying:  "Take Home a Piece of the Rock."  I succumbed and went inside. 

My shot of the cable car.

Gibraltar was formed of limestone.  This store owner had access to stalagmites and stalactites that were removed from St. Michael's Cave during the Second World War, when the cave was used as a hospital.  He sold polished hunks of rock, as well as some lovely jewelry.  The polished stone was translucent, and the color of butterscotch.  Since a rock off the hill would have ended up as more ballast on the boat, I could see the practicality of buying my piece of the Rock at this store.  I mentioned insurance to the proprietor.  He replied that Prudential should write to him if they needed any more pieces of the Rock. 

Postcard.  Sunrise across the Bay of Gibraltar.

Many boats passed through the marina during the fall, on their way out of the Mediterranean.  The cruising sailors were headed for the Canary Islands off Africa, then on across the Atlantic Ocean to the Caribbean.  The racers were sailing to Casablanca for the start of a trans-Atlantic race to the island of Guadeloupe.  You could almost imagine the boats were birds, migrating together in a flock.  That was the time of year when the winter trade winds made for favorable passages from Europe to the Caribbean.  In a few years, we would probably be among them.  I was glad we were going east, heading in to the Mediterranean, and not back across the Atlantic.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

1984 (13) – Exploring the Town


To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

I had imagined that everyone in Gibraltar would be British, but the people were actually descendants of Spanish settlers, and settlers from Genoa in Italy, with a dash of Moor thrown in.  The Gibraltarians spoke English to the outsider, but among themselves they used a language evolved from Spanish and Genoese that is spoken nowhere else in the world.  About 25% of the population was Moroccan (Morocco is just twelve miles across the Straits from Gibraltar).  The Moroccans made up most of the low-paid labor force doing manual labor like cleaning and construction work.  

Internet Photo.  The Rock of Gibraltar. 
Notice the airport runway, and the marina right above it.

"Crowded" and "seedy" come to mind when I think of Gibraltar.  That 2-square-mile bit of rock housed 25,000 people.  From the streets of town, there were mazes of steps, paths and passageways making a warren of the hillside.  Many people lived on the steep slopes overlooking the city.  Lawns and gardens (aside from the public ones) were nonexistent.  And woven betwixt and between city streets and hillside housing were the remnants of battlements, forts, drawbridges, tunnels, and a castle, with every historic wall labeled in two-foot high block letters. 

The castle is up in the background, on the right.

We spoke with many people, mainly British, and the advice was virtually unanimous that we were crazy to stay in Gibraltar, when we were free to go on to Spain.  We listened to complaints on everything from the weather, the closed border, the size of the place, the local people, the lack of nightlife, the quality of service, and the expense of importing food and goods.  But, even though the novelty of the place quickly wore off, and despite all the advice we received, we still liked Gibraltar very much, and decided to stay on there for a couple months.  

The crowded marina.  I added an arrow, pointing to Tropic Moon.

Ever since the Azores I had been self-conscious about being so obviously an American.  It seemed that everyone could tell, even before I opened my mouth.  I fared better in Gibraltar.  One day we were watching the Changing of the Guard in front of the Governor's palace.  I had been chatting with an older British couple who were standing next to us, the man taking picture after picture of the guard and the marching band.  At one point he turned to me and said, "You don't look like an American.  You're not flashing away with a camera."  We hadn't bothered to bring the camera with us that day because it was overcast.  We figured if there was anything worth taking a picture of, we could come back again.  So I pointed to the sky and remarked that it was cloudy.  "I only take pictures when the sky is blue."  He nodded, looking like he thought I was pulling his leg (I wasn't), and went back to his picture taking.  

Internet Photo.  Mummies in a case at the Gibraltar Museum.

After the Changing of the Guard, we went to visit the Gibraltar Museum. It hadn't looked like much from the outside, but inside there were thousands of items, displayed in lovely rooms.  One room contained a 30-foot scale model of Gibraltar.  There was an Egyptian mummy that had been recovered from a ship that had sunk in the Straits, and the skull of a Neanderthal woman that was discovered on Gibraltar.  There were beautiful watercolors of local scenes painted by a British officer in the 1800's.  Rooms were filled with cases containing samples of indigenous rocks, birds, insects and underwater marine life.  The museum was built above what was originally a 14th Century Moorish Bathhouse.  It was fun to wander through the rooms and imagine its original use, though, as a woman, I probably wouldn't have been allowed in.  

Internet Photo.  One of the rooms in the Moorish bathhouse, below the Gibraltar Museum.

The Museum was something of a labyrinth, with many stairways and passages, and I eventually lost Ed somewhere between the wildlife exhibits and the room on military history.  I covered the area several times, and finally decided he must be waiting near the entrance (it turned out he was in a bathroom).  Back at the reception desk, I started talking with the woman working there.  She eventually said, "You don't look like an American."  It was, indeed, my day.  She then explained that she and her family had visited Disney World in Orlando, and that she hadn't been able to get over the number of fat American women.  I asked her what I did look like, and she said I looked like I came from Gibraltar. 

Friday, October 20, 2017

1984 (12) – Gibraltar

Ed, taking down the yellow quarantine flag, after clearing Customs.
The British flag is the courtesy flag that would fly from our spreaders.

To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

Our first day in Gibraltar was totally overwhelming.  For one thing, this was our first taste of a typical European marina.  Boats are tied either stern-to or bow-to to the dock, and lie right up against each other, with only fenders for separation.  As we approached the spot indicated by the man from the marina, he called out to ask our width.  I yelled back, 12 feet, 6 inches. He frowned a bit, and said we should fit in - the space was 12 feet wide!  It took us two tries to get in, which isn't unusual as the wind blows the boat around.  Ed was handling the wheel, I was using my hands to keep us going in straight between the other two boats, and we went in bow first.  I threw a line to the man on the dock and he passed up a thick rope.  I was glad Ed knew what to do with the rope, because I didn't.  The rope ran all the way back behind the boat to a mooring.  Ed fished the rope out of the water till he had it taut from the mooring, and then tied it off to a cleat on the stern of the boat.  That way we were tied both fore and aft, as well as being sandwiched between two other boats.  I still don't know where Ed picked up that useful bit of information.  I wasn't going to ask him either, because he would have told me it was obvious that there would have to be some sort of stern mooring. 

The Rock, as we approached Gibraltar, at the end of our passage from Portugal.

We walked into town to exchange some money, and then stopped at a restaurant for a quick lunch.  We looked over our new money.  It was the first time we'd had occasion to use British Sterling - the pounds and pence system.  After lunch, we checked in at the marina office and were asked to pay one week's dockage in advance.  I had changed $100 in traveler’s checks.  After paying for lunch, a week's dockage, a week of electricity, a daily levy for the government, and a deposit for an electrical plug so that we could use our expensive power, I had 20 pence left in my pocket.  Our money had gone a lot further in Portugal.  

Tropic Moon, at the Customs Dock

To add to the culture shock, the noise was almost alarming.  We had arrived in the middle of the NATO autumn training exercise.  The airport runway is right alongside the marina; fighter jets were continually landing and taking off.  We figured that one week of Gibraltar was going to be more than enough.  

Internet Photo.  You can see the airport runway, right next to the marina.

It was another ten days before the jets went away, but it only took a couple days for me to fall in love with Gibraltar.  I guess it was the town that did it.  Streets full of stores, Indian bazaars, Moroccan shops, and lots of restaurants, with people everywhere, and a cheerful, busy atmosphere.  That, combined with the beauty of the 1500-foot "Rock" towering above us, with so many places to hike and so many sights to see, had me enthralled.  Gibraltar is only two square miles in area, and was an enclosed little world which you could only reach by plane or boat.  At that time, the frontier between Spain and Gibraltar had been closed for many years.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

1984 (11) – Where Are We??

Vilamoura to Gibraltar (lower left, on the map)

To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

I was saying goodbye to someone at Vilamoura, when she wished me a safe trip.  I replied, "No big deal!  It’s only 150 miles to Gibraltar.  We'll leave at 6 o'clock tomorrow morning, and reach Gibraltar sometime the following day."  With those foolhardy, remarkably overconfident words, we began what was to be one of our stranger passages.  We did get off at 6:30 a.m. after a stop to clear Customs to leave Portugal.  From the chart, we could see that the Portuguese and Spanish coasts curved inward, so we decided on the shortcut of going "offshore" and crossing the open water in a direct line to the Strait of Gibraltar. 

There was no wind to speak of; we motored all day and into the night.  We had decided on three-hour watches for the night.  I came on at 10:00 p.m. to stand watch until 1:00 a.m.  We had been motoring southeast, but now we turned more eastward.  Ed told me I should pick up the lighthouse at Trafalgar on my watch.  About an hour later I felt I was in a bit of trouble, with a lighthouse on my left, and a ship bearing down on me from the right.  I called Ed, as I tended to panic when a ship was coming at me.  Together we took evasive action to avoid being hit by what turned out to be a large fishing boat heading north along the coast.

I told Ed, "Well, I found the lighthouse."  We looked over the chart to see what would be coming along next.  Ed said I'd be seeing lights along the coast (houses), and to just keep on picking up the lighthouses, and to keep all land on my left.  Then he went back to bed.  Shore lights gradually appeared.  It seemed that I was veering off more to the south than I had expected.  The depth sounder was on, so I knew I was still in deep water.  I passed another lighthouse, then picked up yet another off to my right.  Looking ahead, I could see shore lights connecting out to this new lighthouse.  And, not only was I getting readings on the depth sounder, but I was down to only 45 feet.  I veered way to the right to put this new lighthouse on my left.  I looked at the compass and saw that I was heading due south, instead of southeast.

When Ed came on watch at 1:00 a.m., I told him we were going due south, and pointed out the lighthouse.  He responded with, "That must be the light on Tangiers (in Africa, guys!), and those white lights are fishing boats."  I was distressed, and swung the wheel hard over to put us heading north.  Then Ed got out the radio to pick up the signal from the radio beacon on the lighthouse at Tarifa.  He found it was indeed in the direction in which I'd been heading.  So I swung the wheel again back to due south.  Then Ed decided that since Tarifa was "just ahead," and Gibraltar only 15 miles past that, we'd arrive too early (before daylight).  We would anchor in the bay, and wait till morning to finish the trip.  Tropic Moon must have started wondering about us as I swung the wheel yet again, and we headed north toward the shore lights in the bay.  When the depth decreased to 35 feet, Ed dropped the anchor.

Without radar, it's hard (read impossible), to judge how far away a light is at night.  The next morning we found the lighthouse to be far off in the distance.  Up came the anchor.  We motored along the shore for three hours before we reached the light at what we believed to be Tarifa, the western entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar.  The wind had started to increase.  When it’s blowing hard from the east, you don't have a prayer of getting through the Straits.  We put our nose around the point, but came back and anchored.  The wind continued to increase - up to about 50 miles per hour - and we had a full-scale levanter on our hands that blew for three days.  At that point, with the wind howling, and the boat rolling from side to side, there was nothing to do but set a second anchor, and pick out a new paperback from the bookshelf. 

Tarifa, at the southern tip of Spain, is at the entrance of the Strait of Gibraltar.
The Strait of Gibraltar connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Mediterranean Sea.

On the fifth morning of our “overnight" trip, the wind had abated considerably.  We decided to cover the last 15 miles to Gibraltar.  We picked out a tower on the shore, and matched it with a tower on the chart.  We peered ahead into the haze, hoping each point of land would mean the start of the large Bay of Gibraltar.  The wind (dead ahead) increased throughout the morning.  We found ourselves motoring into steep seas.  Our bow would hit a wave, and the speed on the knot meter would drop to zero, then slowly climb to three knots before we'd get knocked to a standstill again.  Every wave we hit with our bow sent water flying back over the whole length of the boat, to land on my head where I was standing at the wheel.  I was quite angry about our progress, but when Ed said conditions were getting too difficult, I said I wasn't turning back.  We had been motoring for four hours, and would have had to retrace all our morning's effort to reach an anchorage.  Ed named me "old-press-on-regardless."  I started weaving the boat back and forth across the waves, rather than directly into them, and we were able to make better progress.

At long last, we had a bay on our left, and through the haze up ahead we could make out some buildings.  I was ecstatic!  Finally, Gibraltar!  As we crossed the bay, Ed got out the binoculars.  He said the place didn't look like Gibraltar.  "Why not?  Here's the bay.  There's a hill, a city, and a lighthouse on the point!  What more do you want?"  Ed got out our book on lighthouses and read that the Gibraltar light was supposed to be white with a red stripe - and this light didn't have a red stripe. 

I was having none of his pessimism.  "So maybe they're painting it?  There's absolutely nothing else on this part of the chart that could possibly be what we're looking at!"  Some doubts were creeping in though, and we decided to get close enough to the point to look things over better.  I was still saying that it had to be Gibraltar, when we approached some beautiful beaches that were sadly lacking in the breakwaters that distinguish Gibraltar.  And though there was a fortification on the point, it was most definitely not "The Rock."

Confused, we decided to motor around the lighthouse point to see if we'd find the Bay of Gibraltar on the far side.  I was still at the wheel, and as we rounded the point, something clicked in the back of my brain.  Something had just happened that I'd been subconsciously waiting for the whole trip.  For the first time, Tropic Moon was pointing northeast (the lay of the Straits) rather than southeast.  Also, it was like coming out of a back-country lane and finding ourselves at the highway.  Several freighters and tankers were crossing in the hazy distance ahead of us.  I realized we had only just reached the entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar. 

Being a bit overwrought by this time, I started yelling, "Do you know where we are? Do you know where we are?"  No, Ed didn't know where we were, and he didn't for one minute believe I had a clue either. 

"This is Tarifa!  This is where we thought we were when we sat through that levanter for the last three days."  Ed doubted my conclusion, but one thing we did agree on was that we would retreat back around the point, and anchor in the protection of the land.

We studied the chart.  Ed checked out the radio beacon.  He took two sun sights with his sextant.  Though the first sight, thanks to the hazy horizon, placed us eight miles south on the continent of Africa (yes, on land…), we did determine that we were anchored at Tarifa, on the Spanish coast, at the entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar. 

We settled down for a post mortem.  I asked Ed if it hadn't bothered him that we had never gone northeast.  He said "no," and mentioned our compass deviation, which was up to 20 degrees at some points.  Once, when a lighthouse hadn't shown up where we had expected it, we dismissed it as "not working."  When we couldn't pick up a radio signal from Gibraltar, I had come up with the bright idea that since Spain was trying to get Gibraltar back from the British (at that time the frontier between Spain and Gibraltar had been closed for 17 years), they were probably jamming the Gibraltar radio frequencies. 

I was appalled by our performance, but Ed just put it down to overconfidence, because he knew all we had to do was follow the coast, and we would eventually reach Gibraltar.  In case you wonder where we originally went wrong:  When we left Vilamoura to cross the open bay, we were out of sight of land for twelve hours.  When we closed with the Spanish coast that first night, the lighthouse I saw wasn't Trafalgar, but further north at the city of Cadiz.  We’d probably been pushed north by a current.  From there on, we just counted and judged everything incorrectly. 

The following morning, in very light westerly winds, we motored the last, and final, 15 miles to Gibraltar.  I said, as I had the day before, "Wow, here we are in the Strait of Gibraltar!"  We saw a tower on the shore, and matched it with a tower on the chart.  We waited for the Bay of Gibraltar to open up on our left.  I spoke of a sense of deja vu, like we'd done it all before.  Like maybe even yesterday.... (Ed was having none of my humor.)  At noon, October 17th, on the sixth day out from Vilamoura, we finally arrived at the majestic Rock of Gibraltar.

Though overconfidence and carelessness had been a major part of our poor navigation, another contributing factor of considerable importance was that we had made the mistake of leaving Vilamoura on a Friday.  An old sailor's superstition states that one never begins a voyage on a Friday - dire consequences are almost sure to follow.  Up until that time, we had made a point of never starting a trip on a Friday, but I'd been anxious to get going, since we'd been having trouble getting ourselves on the move again.  I'd pointed out to Ed that we weren't really leaving on a voyage, since you could hardly count an overnight sail as a voyage.  Needless to say, we never started another trip on a Friday.

Monday, October 16, 2017

1984 (10) – Lisbon, Portugal

View of Lisbon, and the Tagus River

To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

It sometimes seemed a pity to see nothing more than the coasts of the islands and countries we visited.  So while we were at Vilamoura we decided to sign up for a bus tour to Lisbon, the capital of Portugal.  We always felt like we were cutting the umbilical cord when we left Tropic Moon.  This trip suited us very well as it was only two days in length.  We were picked up at 7:40 a.m. on a Sunday morning.  The modern, air-conditioned bus traveled westward along the coast, collecting customers.  It was 9:00 a.m. by the time we had a full busload of about 50 passengers. 

Me, at the monastery in Lisbon

The tour guide, Jorge, introduced himself, and also our driver, Neto.  About half the passengers were British, half German, one French couple, and us.  When I had asked at the travel agency if our guide would speak English, I had been told that he would speak all languages that were necessary.  She hadn't been joking, because Jorge gave every spiel in English, then German, and then, for the benefit of the lone French pair, would repeat everything a third time.  When I later spoke with Jorge, I learned that he was also fluent in Portuguese, Spanish and Italian.

Monument of the Discoveries

Neto, though he seemed to speak only Portuguese, was something of a wonder in his own right; the ride north to Lisbon was at times quite exciting.  We had heard that, when driving, the Portuguese only pass cars on curves, but that wasn't true - we occasionally passed cars on the straightaways as well.  There were several times when the car we were passing was most of the way off onto the right shoulder of the road, and the car approaching, off on the left shoulder, while - with horn tooting gently - Neto would drive through the center, down the middle white line.

Hotel Avenida Palace
We reached Lisbon just after noon, and checked into our five-star hotel, the Avenida Palace.  It was quite plush, and very comfortable.  We had time for a quick lunch, and then it was back on the bus for an afternoon of sightseeing.  Lisbon was a beautiful, clean city and we managed to see a fair portion of it that afternoon.  We toured monuments, churches, and a "carriage museum" with a collection of gilded and brocaded coaches from the days of royalty.  We saw the tomb of Vasco da Gama.  Jorge, knowing that Ed and I were from the marina at Vilamoura, pointed out da Gama to us as a "fellow sailor." 
Lisbon rooftops

Neto drove the bus up through the narrowest of streets to the Castle of St. George.  From there we had a beautiful view overlooking the red rooftops of the city, and the Tagus River, leading out to the Atlantic.  And all through the afternoon, as we looked at what to us was rather ancient history, Jorge continually stressed what a "new" city Lisbon was.  The older Lisbon had been destroyed in an earthquake in the 1750's and the city had been rebuilt since that time, making it young by European standards.

Belem Tower

We arrived back at the hotel at 6:30 p.m.  An optional "typical" dinner with fado and folklore was available that evening, bus departing at 9:00 p.m., for an additional 2000 escudos.  We decided we'd had enough of the group, didn't want to go to dinner that late, and didn't want to spend the 2000 escudos.  Instead, we went to the movies!  The theater was really sumptuous - gold curtain over the screen, balconies, ushers to tip, and cushy seats to sink into.  We saw an American movie, "Romancing the Stone," with Michael Douglas (in English, with Portuguese subtitles). 

Restaurant window, with live shellfish

After the movie ended at 9:00 p.m., we wandered the crowded streets and picked out a restaurant for dinner.  Many of the restaurant windows had fascinating displays of the foods available within.  Picturesque tableaus were formed with hanging crabs, lobsters, and pineapples, with platters of prawns and other delicacies arranged below.  I was admiring the display, when Ed's sharp eye caught the fact that the string-hung crabs and lobsters were still alive.  Then the whole thing seemed rather macabre to me.  I made a point of not ordering seafood that night. As it turned out, we didn't eat dinner till after 9:00 p.m., and didn't get back to the hotel till after 11:00 p.m.  Between the movie and dinner, we spent the 2000 escudos ($13.30) anyway, but we had done what we wanted with our evening and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Mountain Village

Monday morning we ate our continental breakfast in the plush hotel dining room, beneath crystal chandeliers.  We admired the brocaded, silk-covered walls, while waiters served us sweet rolls, toast, jams, tea and juice.  The rest of the morning was free time for shopping.  At 11:30 a.m., we were once again loaded into the bus, and heading southward.  The bus traveled by a different route, climbing steep, winding roads through verdant hills, with precipitous views down to Portugal’s western coastline.  We returned to sea level for lunch at the seaside resort of Sesimbra, then made our weary way back to Vilamoura.  The bus ride, sightseeing tour of Lisbon, including museum tickets, an overnight stay in our 5-star hotel, and continental breakfast had come to $80 for the two of us.  When we had toured Colonial Williamsburg for a day before we left the States, it had cost us $40 just to rent a car!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

1984 (9) – Vilamoura, Portugal

The marina at Vilamoura, Portugal

To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

We were anchored in Sagres for three days while a levanter coated our boat with gritty red sand from the beach.  A levanter is strong Mediterranean winds, with wind speeds of 40-50 knots.  A levanter generally comes up with little warning, rapidly increases in strength, and usually blows from the east for three days.  Unless you were heading west, you just sit tight and wait it out.

The Algarve - the southern Portuguese coast

There was an additional 40 miles of coastline to travel along to reach our destination of Vilamoura, on the southern coast of Portugal.  We saw countryside new to us - sandy beaches, backed by steep red sandstone cliffs, and white houses with red tile roofs.  Desolate stretches of rustic beauty would suddenly give way to areas of high-rise condominiums and hotels - very "Miami Beach" in appearance.


We reached Vilamoura on August 29th.  Vilamoura had a large marina with over 1000 berths.  There was a shopping center with bars, restaurants, boutiques, and more practical businesses like a supermarket, laundry, bank and pharmacy.  The whole package was surrounded by high-rise condominiums and hotels, complete with beaches, tennis clubs, pool clubs, golf courses, horseback riding, a cinema and a casino. 

Entrance to the harbor in the background. 
Portuguese fishing boats moored to the shore.

We had a comfortable berth at the marina - no trouble getting on or off the boat, because the docks floated.  They rose and fell with the tide, along with the boat.  Water and electricity came with the berth.  We'd use our hose for fresh-water showers on the dock.  Those showers were especially welcome after walking back, salty and sandy, from a swim at the nearby beach.

The beach at Vilamoura

Early one evening, Ed announced he was going for a walk.  I decided to tag along, and we headed for the beach.  It was the night of the full moon.  When we reached the water, we looked eastward and saw the biggest, fattest, yellowest moon rising among the condominiums of Vilamoura.  In the other direction, the beach stretched away for miles of sand, red cliffs, and no buildings, so we turned our backs on the moon and headed west. 

Red, sandstone cliffs

The sun was just setting; the sky was a brilliant orange, contrasting with the gunmetal gray of the sea, but coloring the wave-washed sands a burning orange to match the sky.  The crowds of the day were gone; only a few couples strolled the beach.  We walked westward, the orange always glimmering ahead of us, but disappearing behind us with each step we took, as if we were erasing the color from the surf with our progress. 

Beach at Vilamoura.  A lighthouse at the harbor entrance
is visible in the background.

I had thought to save the moon for the return trip, but it was impossible not to occasionally glance over our shoulders as the moon rose higher in the sky, shrinking a bit in size with its ascent.  We passed the popular beach area, and continued along the red sandstone cliffs, which stood tall, like dark sentinels.  Still the sky and the wet sand held their color, darkening slowly from orange to red. 

A beach that went on forever.

I'm usually the one who says we've walked far enough, but I felt I could walk on forever in that beauty.  It was Ed who finally remarked he was hungry for supper, and we turned back.  On the return walk, the moon was so bright that the thought of sunglasses (moonglasses?) crossed our minds.  As we walked, we were trailed by our long-legged shadows, stretching out on the beach behind us.  Up ahead were the winking red and green beacons of the two lighthouses on the breakwaters, marking the entrance to the harbor.  On our right out to sea were the scattered white lights of the many small Portuguese fishing boats plying their trade.

Another view of the marina at Vilamoura.

Friday, October 13, 2017

1984 (8) – Leaving the Azores

Coeur de Lion, Krystal's home.  Getting ready to participate in the regatta.

To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

We loved the Azores, and had considered wintering there, but learned from other boat people that the Azores had a long, damp, dreary winter, with the possibility of severe storms.  Toward the end of the season, as the excitement of the summer came to an end, Othon would have liked to see us stay on, and have me continue as his student.  Since Ed wasn’t interested in scrimshaw, Othon had come up with something for Ed to do - building dinghies for Othon and a few other people.  But the thought of the long winter, in an unsafe harbor, discouraged us from staying.

The end of Horta's tourist season was celebrated with an annual festival called "Sea Week."  The climax of the week was a regatta.  All yachts were not only invited, but also encouraged, to participate.  If a yacht completed the course of twenty miles in five hours, the crew received a free case of Pico wine.  Despite that dubious incentive, Tropic Moon (with her lazy crew), sat at her mooring, while over 30 yachts - 80-90% of those there - were out earning their wine, and maybe a trophy or two.

The island of Pico, in the background.  Source of really cheap wine.

Sea Week in Horta ended with a bang - a beautiful display of fireworks over the harbor.  Our preparations for departure began in earnest.  We sailed out of Horta on August 16th.  On August 25th we made our landfall at Cape St. Vincent, Portugal (the southwesternmost tip of Europe).  Rounding the point, we dropped the anchor in the bay at Sagres.  A few days later I was trying to write home about the passage, and I couldn't think of a thing to say. 

Turning to Ed, I asked, "What happened on the trip here from the Azores?"

Ed:  "Nothing."

Me:  "That's what I thought."

An uneventful passage, favorable winds, gently rolling seas, sailing all the way, but with the engine running a couple hours each night to keep the batteries charged.  As a result of the miserable trip from Bermuda to the Azores, feeling a certain amount of tension waiting for the feathers to hit the fan, but they never did.  Nine days and 944 miles.  No dolphins, but three turtles seen on different days, dog-paddling westward across the ocean. Seeing them made me feel like we were doing it the easy way!  Crossing the north-south shipping lane off the western coast of Europe, just where the chart said it would be; tracking the lights of several tankers and freighters during our night watches.  And, once in Portugal, a sense of accomplishment, as well as a huge feeling of relief that the Atlantic was finally behind us.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

1984 (7) - Scrimshaw

Scrimshaw by Othon Silveira.  Internet photo.

To go to the beginning of this book, Tropic Moon: Memories, click HERE.

When I look back on our time in the Azores, what I'll remember most are the days I spent at Othon Silveira's shop.  Many yachties - American, French, British, and German - ended up making the trip along the bay road.  Othon's very small basement shop was generally jammed with people.  Othon spoke Portuguese, French and English fluently, and knew some Spanish and German.  His scrimshaw work - whaling scenes, square-rigged sailing ships, dolphins, and the like, were really beautiful.

Detail from one tooth.  See Othon's name?  Between the whale's tail
and the ship.  Internet Photo.

While in Antigua, about four years before, we had met a British couple, Jill and David, aboard their 28-foot sailboat, Different Drummer.  Jill was helping support them by selling her scrimshaw work - carvings on whale's teeth.  I bought a pendant from Jill.  In conversation, Jill had mentioned she and David had met a man in the Azores, who had taught her the art of scrimshaw.

My pendant, carved by Jill White.

I asked Othon if he knew Jill White. 

"Jill? She is like a sister to me, and David is like a brother!  Do you know them?" 

So I told him my story; the next time I visited I wore Jill's pendant to show him.  I brought Ed with me to place our order.  Another time I brought Krystal, a friend from the yacht Coeur de Lion.  Each visit Othon said to me, as he did to everyone, "Come back anytime, no need to buy.  Just visit.  Why don't you try scrimshaw?"  The fact that I couldn't draw didn't seem to faze him.  Krystal and I soon became students, at no cost for either lessons or materials.  We learned to cut and polish the whale's teeth, as well as do the etchings. 

The bird I carved - with a fair bit of help from Othon!
My other carved pendant.

Lunch on the patio with Othon and his wife, Zita - and whatever other folk were in the shop - became a daily ritual.  Krystal and I contributed home-baked breads, salads, and desserts to go with Zita's meals of fresh tuna, fresh fried sardines, local sausage, omelets, cheese, tomato salads, and the local wine from Pico, the neighboring island.

I bought two pendants, and one tooth, from Othon. 
I loved this beautiful sailing ship!

As the summer season drew to a close, and most of the boats continued on to Europe, Othon began to relax after the pressures of a very busy few months.  Krystal and I continued as students.  Krystal's husband often came along with us, to cut and polish the teeth, as well as help Othon consume copious amounts of the Pico wine.  One time Othon decided to demonstrate the alcoholic content of the wine, and poured a large puddle of it on the basement floor.  He lit it with a match.  We had quite a fire burning in a basement cluttered with benches, cupboards, and stacks of newspapers and magazines!  Luckily, we didn't burn down the house.

Dolphin, carved by Othon.

Another day, Othon decided to go through his inventory of old whale's teeth.  We pulled out boxes and boxes of teeth from under the benches, and dragged them to the patio that opened off the basement.  Someone - probably Othon - got the crazy idea of burying him with the teeth, like one might bury someone in the sand at the beach.  When we had finished the job, Othon - tucked into a corner wall of the patio - was buried under a mound of whale's teeth up to his neck, with only his head still showing.
The tooth Othon carved for us.  He added Tropic Moon's name.
A second view of the tooth.