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Monday, June 6, 2011, in Cascais, Portugal

Hi everyone. After sailing overnight last night, we’ve arrived in Cascais, a resort and harbor town close to Lisbon, Portugal. Last week, we were in Vigo, Spain, settled in for a while.

At some point, you have to give a few days to the boat, and this was one of those times. We stayed in the marina near Vigo, got the freezer fixed, waited for parts to be delivered, and finished some errands that required a big city.

Among its real historical virtues, Vigo is believed to be the site of a large sunken treasure of silver and gold. Jules Verne set a chapter of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in Vigo, and included the sunken treasure in the plot.

Our day in Vigo was another sightseeing opportunity. We handled our errands first, and were faced with an empty calendar well before noon. We walked to the old part of the city, through the Rua Pescaderia, where each participant in an unending chain of restaurants on each side of the narrow street had set up long tables on the sidewalk and covered them with plates of shucked oysters. Eleven in the morning was still a little too early for me to endure an oyster slithering down my throat, but coffee sounded like a good idea, and we found our spot on the Praza da Constitucion. Then we set our sights on finding our favorite department store, El Corte Ingles, for no reason at all. Though we’d walked the length and breadth of the town by mid-afternoon, we decided to walk back to the boat in Punta Lagoa, down boulevards of shops nearly all cerrado for their siesta.

Back at the boat, I posted some updates to our web site and announced them on Twitter. Within a short time, I heard from the local television station: could they come over and interview us? This is actually something that seems to happen (usually a newspaper) about once every two seasons. But Vigo is a big city. We were surprised that they’d be interested in us, but we thought it was fine.

Some of the conditions weren’t ideal. The boat was torn apart in the middle of fixing several systems. We had finished lunch moments before the reporter and cameraman arrived, and the dishes were in the sink. Oh, and they didn’t speak any English and we don’t speak Spanish. So it was a pretty short interview, with some mime involved.

All during this week, Henrik had become our go-to guy in Vigo. He found mechanics and specialists to install the parts we’d ordered for the watermaker and to replenish the Freon in our limping freezer. He swapped our cooking gas bottle and visited often between his other engagements.

Finally, we were ready to move on, and one morning, we motored the short distance to Baiona, where we thought we’d anchor in the protected marina area for one night before heading to Portugal.

We picked up a mooring in the marina, and were immediately approached by the marina’s launch. The boat was too big for the mooring. Normally, we’d agree, but we knew that the forecast was for light winds in the protected ria. The marina man insisted that we give up the mooring, and offered us a berth for what we thought was a whole lot of money. The marina next door offered us overnight space for ��� surprise, surprise – the exact same rate. We moved to a side of the channel in the Baiona harbor that the marinas both agreed was permitted and anchored for the night.

Within moments, another launch came by and told us that it would be too rough to anchor in that spot. We didn’t agree, and might have stayed. Art called Henrik on an unrelated matter, but Henrik helped us out again. He gave us a better anchorage that was close by and would make the best use of the land protection for one night. We moved, we anchored, and we were settled.

The next morning, we motored southward into tepid winds and flat seas. Within a few hours, we put up the sails and plodded along in wait for the afternoon winds. Finally, we began to sail at a respectable, if not commendable, speed, and in the evening, we were able to anchor in Portugal, just inside the commercial harbor of Leixoes. We waited until morning to motor around the breakwater into the recreational marina.

It was our first day in a new country, and that meant we needed to buy phone service. Leixoes is the port city serving Porto, a city that got its name from the Romans. It’s also the city that gave Portugal its name, and while we’re on the subject, it’s the home of Port, the fortified wine. It’s the birthplace of Prince Henry the Navigator, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and a striking example of belle-époque architecture.

Art’s developed what might be called “the bus test” to see how prevalent English is in a country we’re visiting. Everywhere we go, the marina people speak English (at least the office staff and the harbor master.) The restaurants in the tourist areas, the old town shops – you expect that someone will speak English. The test is whether the bus driver does. For example, any German we meet while traveling – a person who owns a boat – that person will speak English. Not so much a bus driver in Neustadt or the waitress in a rural German luncheonette. So Art’s bus test is “does the bus driver in this place speak English?” If the answer is “yes”, then it will probably be easy to get by without learning any of the local language.

Art has a related theory that’s almost scientific. Those countries that subtitle rather than dub their imported English-language TV and movies are likely to speak English fluently. He tested the theory in Portugal by turning on the TV, and there was Family Guy, with Portuguese subtitles. I love Family Guy, but I guess if we can’t lead in intellectual achievement, the second-best choice is just to dumb down everybody else.

And Portuguese is a tough one. It’s not only the words, which aren’t always that similar to other Romance languages; it’s the pronunciation. Our first stop is Leixoes, pronounced Lay-shoinsh. How? The second stop: Cascais, or Kush-kaish. They sound like the names of characters in The Mikado. So it’s official: I’m not learning any Portuguese while I’m visiting. Except maybe pastéis de nata, the yummy custard tart that’s everywhere.

So we stopped two people en route to the bus stop, and both of them confirmed that we would get the bus we wanted at the place we thought we’d wait. And we got on the bus. This guy didn’t look like Ralph Kramden, but he still didn’t look like he’d pass the bus test. But he did. His English was nearly as good as the taxi drivers in Fort Lauderdale.

At the end of the bus line, we were in Porto, and we headed to the shopping district. It was easy to find the mobile phone office we wanted, and we had no problems interacting with the sales rep. Generally, fewer than half of the phone shops pass the bus test, but this woman was fluent, and our transaction went quickly.

There were street performers singing fado. Fado is a must-see in Portugal. It’s a type of traditional music, haunting melodies and lyrics lamenting the fates (fado means fate). It’s associated with the concept of saudade, which doesn’t have a direct translation to an English word, but it’s laden with components of nostalgia, wistfulness, and a bittersweet frustration about a situation that cannot be changed.

The group we watched in Porto included three musicians and two singers, all men, and all dressed as if for a funeral, in dark suits, and swathed in black capes that looked almost monk-like. There were one classical guitar and two Portuguese guitars, in the shape of a mandolin with spindly tuning keys that splay out like a fright wig. The music was mellow and in minor chords. I’m hoping that we’ll see a lot more fado as we continue through Portugal.

We visit a good number of cathedrals, but Porto’s Igreja de Sao Francisco is so over the top that the interior almost began to hurt my eyes. There are hundreds of carved cherubs and notables of the clergy and Bible characters, all festooned with about 100 kg (220 pounds) of gold leaf (millions of dollars in value, and that’s just the gold coloring of all of this carving.) I have to confess that I saw that complicated interior and thought about the decked-out Bette Midler at the Oscars, when she said something like, “I’ll bet you didn’t think it was possible to overdress for this.” Well, San Francisco, you’ve overdressed. It was a Saturday, and a wedding was going on, but they apparently don’t let something like a wedding take place inside the gilded palace. We inspected the cathedral in our own time, and left at about the moment the bride and groom were leaving their ceremony to exit the premises in a 1930s-era silver Jaguar. I wondered if there was a mechanic or just a spare silver Jaguar on call between the church and the next venue.

Sunday is a good day for a long sail, because there’s nothing to do on shore anyway. That wasn’t the reason that we left Porto on Sunday, and it wasn’t even the best reason, which also wasn’t the reason. The best reason is that most of the fishermen don’t work on Sundays. You’re advised not to buy fish on Mondays, but for us, this left the sea fairly empty of unpredictable vessels, which makes for a less-stressful sail. Fishing boats often don’t have AIS (that system that tells us where they are and where they’re going), and they often spin around in circles, or go one direction and then the other, and worst of all, much of the space they take up isn’t even visible when you’re near them, because their nets go every which way. I love to eat seafood, and I appreciate their very hard work, but Sundays are better for me as well as for them.

So we ventured back out into the mighty Atlantic for an overnight voyage, with a good forecast. The wind was so light in the morning that we motored for the first few hours, but then, as always, it kicked up from the north, and we were blown downwind towards Lisbon.

The swell was pretty uncomfortable, and though I was able to prepare meals and stand my usual limited number of watches, it wasn’t a great trip for me. Art loved it; we were making good speed, the weather was nice, and the seas were reasonable, for an ocean. On the plus side, it was only one night, and we were in Cascais before the marina opened at nine in the morning. Somehow Art again neglected to mention to me that the cape next to the entrance to the harbor is called Boca do Inferno, the Mouth of Hell. Perhaps he knew that this is the same thing he’d be hearing if he’d let me know about it beforehand.

A dove accompanied us for the last part of the voyage (we’re not really sure how much of it, because it was dark.) Apparently, the bird was blown (or rode on a boat) beyond its capability to fly back to land. It sat patiently on our boom (with a brief thrill ride when Art had to bring in the jib to avoid a collision with the one fishing boat that was out on a Sunday night.) It sat and watched the land go by for hours, and then took off and headed directly to shore.

We’ll put off going into Lisbon until at least tomorrow. Today, we’ll stay by the boat and the lovely town of Cascais, and sleep well tonight.

Hope you’re having fun. We miss you all.

Love, Karen (and Art)