Follow MV Northern Exposure on  Follow MV Northern Exposure on Twitter or  Instagram @NorthrnExpo

We'll post whenever the website changes.

Sunday, June 26, 2011, in Chipiona, Spain

Hi everyone. We’re back in Spain now, still on the Atlantic coast. Last week, we had just arrived in Portimão, Portugal.

It didn’t have to take a long time to get to Portimão, but we were having an unhurried Sunday. At times, our speed was about one knot. Sometimes it went a little higher. Eventually, we arrived at the entrance to Portimão’s harbor, sheltered behind two large breakwaters, one on the Portimão side and the other at Ferragudo, once a sleepy fishing village and now a bedroom community for sprawling Portimão. Beaches on both sides of the channel were busy with weekend visitors. The beachgoers on the Ferragudo side had no doubt already become accustomed to the striking rock formations behind them and the two rock pillars that each took up about thirty sunbathers’ worth of sand, but I hadn’t. I found them stunning. Whether Art was looking at them or looking at bikinis, he didn’t let on. But this is one beautiful vista.

Fresh from the sting of paying our week's bill at Lagos (and the high season rates had just kicked in), we opted to anchor out instead of using the marina’s facilities. Our first dinghy ride to shore took us to a new marina surrounded by holiday housing and a strip mall of shops and restaurants. Though bereft of history or much architectural interest, the residences were brightly painted, the shops were welcoming, and the marina facilities were well-tended. We walked along the beachfront on a small boardwalk that looked like a long, landlocked dock. Then we checked out the marina rates and decided to stay out on our anchor.

At high tide, we took the dinghy to the main part of Ferragudo, and succumbed to plates of sardines, grilled by the dock and served covered in sea salt and piping hot. We took a walk through the town that would no doubt be quiet even if it weren’t Sunday, and got back to the dinghy in time to pull away from the dock before we’d be grounded by the tide.

One thing that might have convinced us to take a day in the marina was this pestering leak in the watermaker. To recap, there was a break in an end fitting that created a leak, which we knew about since we arrived in Spain. We arranged to have the fitting and some O rings that seal the fitting sent to Vigo, where we met Henrik and he arranged the work. Henrik’s mechanic changed the part, but the O ring we’d received was the wrong size. We arranged for proper O rings to be sent to Lagos. Art dissuaded the watermaker rep from sending these rings in overnight mail; we had more than a week to get there. They were sent from Italy using regular post.

They didn’t arrive before we did. In fact, after the week we stayed there, they still hadn’t arrived, although an emergency overnight package did get us the part we needed. The O ring was replaced, but the leak was still there. Now we’d been in two places for watermaker repair, and it still wasn’t right. Now, instead of replacing an end fitting, the solution was to replace an entire pump.

Art really doesn���t like for things to be broken aboard. The leak in the watermaker was by now fairly manageable, and we could wait most of the season to fix it, for example, in Barcelona, where we’ll probably sit in a marina whether there’s work to do or not. But Art is always willing to stay in a marina only to arrange for repairs, if they can be arranged.

They really couldn’t. We’d have to stay in Portimão for the better part of a week, anchored or docked, awaiting the pump. In the end, we decided to find another place to have the work done.

This didn’t keep us from spending two days in Portimão. It’s a big-enough town that a cruise ship was docked there when we arrived, and a substantial-looking ferry arrived while we were visiting. The city itself has a sizable shopping district, open public spaces, and what appears to be a good museum, although we were never near the museum during its business hours.

The day we left Portimão, we sailed to an anchorage near Faro. Faro is a good-sized city with things to do. The one thing it didn’t offer us was a convenient place to dock and visit. So the next morning, we picked up our anchor one more time, and sailed to Chipiona.

Chipiona wasn’t on a list of must-visit places. It’s not in the thousand-page Spain guidebook, even as a place to maybe-visit. Or a place to drive through. But strong winds from the wrong direction were coming, and we needed a hiding place for a few days. Chipiona assured us that there’s a dock big enough for a 40-meter boat (we’re 17 meters, so that was plenty) and we were on our way.

The wind picked up in the morning, and I settled into a berth to fend off seasickness for most of the day. In time, the seas calmed, and the sail for the final few hours was pleasant, even for me. We docked at the reception pontoon and made arrangements to move to the berth, which was conveniently located about twenty feet behind the reception pontoon. It wasn’t actually a berth; it was another pontoon, forty meters long, with another American-flagged boat already tethered. A gap between the two pontoons meant that we couldn’t simply undo the lines and gently walk the boat to its new spot. In time, we were docked and settled, with electric and other amenities we hadn’t seen in a few days.

If you’re going to boast that you have facilities for a forty-meter vessel, I had a few suggestions for the marina. It isn’t enough to have a forty-meter-long dock. The cleats meant to hold us – or a 40-meter vessel – in the coming bad weather were smaller than the cleats we have on the bow of Second Wind. The electric 10-amp connection wouldn’t let us run two systems at once; when I ran the microwave while the battery charger was in operation, we popped the breaker. So I decided that the 40-meter vessel they had in mind when they built this pontoon was the Niña, Pinta or Santa Maria. Surely they didn’t have a microwave to worry about. (For those who are sticklers for historical accuracy, the ships, in that order, were most likely 15, 17, and 18 meters, or about our size.)

We took a walk up the docks, to visit the main office. The docks closer to the seawall were fitted with sturdy, good-sized cleats…their long horns holding twenty-foot powerboats.

The web pages that did describe Chipiona to us said that the town is undiscovered by tourists. While that’s always a welcoming trait, it’s also code for “nobody speaks English.” That was okay, too; we’d been getting by in Spanish (unlike Portuguese) in Galicia, where English is around, but it isn’t common.

In Chipiona, in the evening when we arrived, and in the morning when we getting set to visit the town, neither of the desk managers spoke English any better than I speak Spanish (which is not well at all.) Yet a security guard who came by in the evening spoke English like a native, violating our aforementioned bus driver rule of thumb. All of this mattered more than it usually does, because we would be digging in for days at this place.

It’s said that "Chipiona es el pueblo de tiempo” (Chipiona is the place of time). This, too, is code. It means that you have the time to do anything you want in Chipiona. In other words, there’s nothing to do there. Chipiona is home to the tallest lighthouse in Spain, 365 steps high, the third largest lighthouse in Europe. When the Romans put it there in the first place, the tower was called “Turris Caepionis”.

But our first walk into town surprised me. It’s a real town, and quite a decent-sized one. There’s a pedestrianized shopping street, where people huddle against the shady side as they walk. Of course, that’s only during business hours. During the siesta, from about 1:30 or 2:00 until 5:30 or 6:30, the place is still.

In our search for a hardware store, we found a shop devoted to selling the local wine, Muscatel. It’s made from a white grape, and the oak-aged result is quite sweet. It was originally called “the bastard wine” because its process uses alcohol to prevent fermentation. There are about 150 wine producers in Chipiona today.

The shop was small, and about a third of the floor space and much of the air space was covered with large black barrels sitting on their sides. Each has a spout. You bring in an empty water bottle, or a multi-liter olive oil bottle, and she’ll pour from your favorite vintage the amount you desire. She offered us a taste, which we insisted we’d share. Even so, it was in such a generous proportion it was probably more than we’d drink if we’d be pouring out an after-dinner treat for ourselves (admittedly an infrequent event.)

That’s the news for now. We’ll be working our way towards Gibraltar next week, and then we arrive in the Mediterranean. Let us know what you guys have been up to.

Love, Karen (and Art)