Alex Hewitt and Clive Austin. 7 Sep to 11 Sep 2015
Porto to Lisbon
The story of two fish out of water (unless Clive fell in!)
by Alex Hewitt
Our journey began with an early, but uneventful, trip to the airport with Clive’s comment of “Last early start for a few days then” to be re-visited later. Clive’s amazement with having received the boarding pass on his iPhone continued as we went through security, although he managed to chuckle as I set off the scanner. Forgot the watch, doh! The obligatory stop at the duty free uncovered a cracking deal on The Glenlivet Master Distiller’s Reserve, 2 for £70. As Clive mentioned that he was unsure whether The Captain drank whisky, I responded, “But we do!” He saw the validity of my argument and The Captain’s boarding present was duly purchased.
Our arrival in Porto and subsequent journey to the marina had been discussed in the days leading up to the adventure, with Chris having told us that a taxi from the airport would be in the region of €20-25. Now to put this in perspective you should know that I am Scottish, and Clive could teach me a thing or two about saving money! I had found that the local ‘tube’ would take us to within about a mile or so of the marina for but a few euros. No contest really, plus we both saw it as part of the fun of the journey, what could possibly go wrong? It has to be said that it didn’t get off to the best start on the platform, as Clive managed to knock over his case, into my case, which in turn knocked over the case of the bloke next to us. Clive being clumsy, who’d have thought it?
Our fortunes appeared to change as we passed over the Dom Luis I Bridge, built by a partner of Gustave Eiffel (Yes, he of the Blackpool Tower lookalike in Paris). We realised that we had arrived in the heart of the Port district, many well known producers names visible on warehouses.
We also found a cable car that ran from the station to the many bars visible below us, with the added bonus of a free sample of port included in the ticket. It seemed rude not to immerse ourselves in the local culture, so we did, deciding that the holiday couldn’t start properly without the first beer!
It was at this point we received our first ship to shore communiqué from The Captain in the form of a text message, “You here yet?” The dilemma of what to say lasted all of a nano-second, with the decision to fudge the truth and say we’re making good progress towards you but don’t put the kettle on yet!
When we eventually found our way to the marina we found The Captain looking somewhat stressed by the rigours of retirement, boat ownership and moving from one exotic port to the next! This photo served a dual purpose, in response to a request for his presence in relation to his old employment, the tag line being GFY!
Beer and food consumed, it was time to be properly introduced to Windependent and be welcomed aboard. It was quite an impressive sight as we approached along the pontoon and Chris was rightly proud of it.
Not even 5 minutes aboard The Captain’s pride and joy found Clive polishing out a dent in the cabin wall, having bashed his suitcase against it going below deck. Told you he was clumsy! I was more surprised that Chris hadn’t thrown him overboard immediately. Perhaps he figured that Clive would naturally step up to the mark on that one, it would only be a matter of time.
The very pleasant first day was tarnished somewhat at the end of the evening when Chris informed us of his planned departure time, 6am, or in 24hr clock – O my god that’s early!
Come the morning (middle of the night really) we set off with weird looks from the seagulls and fishermen alike, but looking forward to the open seas. Unfortunately the weather didn’t play ball with regards to the wind but the big ball of fire in the sky made an appearance and we even got to steer the boat. Not until we were really far away from anything solid and the radar was clear for miles around, the memory of Clive’s suitcase still fresh in The Captain’s mind!
A bit of tuition in knots had us both fascinated at how useful a skill this could be and much practice ensued. It has to be said that Chris displayed a degree of patience hitherto unknown to anyone who had worked with him previously! Don’t argue Chris, you know it’s true.
The first docking procedure went well, particularly when compared with a boat that was displaying a blue ensign (retired naval officer) and was making it all look a bit farcical. Even the Harbour Master had a look of despair about him! The evening was capped of with an excellent meal of local fish at a bargain price.
The following day didn’t start so early as it was a much shorter journey to Sao Martinho do Porto. We were both looking forward to this stop as it entailed being anchored and using the tender, Windy, to get ashore. I was particularly excited about this, if Clive was going to fall in then it was happening here!
The wind wasn’t co-operating again and the temperature had dropped in comparison to the previous day so it was more engine time unfortunately. It was easy to see Chris’s disappointment at being denied what he really wanted to do – proper sailing. It was still a great experience, and the water was so calm that it was difficult to acknowledge that this was the Atlantic Ocean. Chris amazed us with his culinary skills at sea, even the presentation impressed. Some things never change on land or sea however. Chris thought his biscuits were safe in the highest, most inaccessible cupboard, at the back, behind the tins, under the pasta, wrapped in a tea towel, but no!
I thought dropping an anchor was just that. Splash, sinks to the bottom, job done. How wrong I was. It’s quite the process with far more cable (chain) than you would imagine, as it is the weight of the cable which actually arrests the boat’s drift. Anorak moment I know, but it was this sort of stuff which interested both of us enough to make the trip in the first place (so sad). The weather took a turn for the worse and we had to break out the waterproof gear. Definitely not in the original plan.
Windy was unleashed and my Kodak moment had arrived. Surely Clive wouldn’t let me down now, having been so reliable and timely with his clumsiness so far. It had to happen as I’d told everyone about this moment, and it’s expected outcome. Once the outboard motor had been attached to Windy and Chris had all his paperwork aboard for the Capitania, I readied my phone for the eagerly anticipated trip, slip and splash moment. Nothing, nada, nichts, niente, rien. So disappointed, as he showed his contempt while motoring off towards shore.
We dined aboard that evening with another fine effort from Chris in the galley. The breakers coming into the bay made for a slightly rocky night’s sleep with more fun to come from them in the morning.
The conditions we awoke to were quite spectacular, particularly with the thought that we had to cross those breakers to get out and continue on towards Lisbon. Chris explained to us why the sea was doing what it was doing, using the impressive instrumentation as a show and tell. There was basically an iPad at the helm which could display a multitude of different instrument readings, very modern.
Chris told us we had to wait for the tide to rise a bit so Windependent wouldn’t suffer the risk of hitting the seabed. He watched the sequence of breakers for some time before he decided the time was right to head out. The pressure was on The Captain to get out of this bay, not least because The Admiral had expressed displeasure at the unexpected change to the timetable! We motored out to meet Mother Nature head on in what was reminiscent of a scene from The Perfect Storm (at least that’s what happened in my head!). The slightly disconcerting moment came when I nudged Clive and pointed out the crowd of locals gathered quayside with their phones trained on us. “Do you think they know something we don’t?” I said to him as the first wave rushed to greet us. “I have faith in The Captain’s abilities”, said Clive. I guess there really is a first time for everything! Needless to say, we made it through and into the open waters, although it was a proper roller coaster ride to get there. Standing by the helm it felt like we were almost vertical heading down the back of the waves, which I’m sure was exaggerated by our inexperience.
We managed to do a bit under sail before we made our final approach towards Lisbon, which was nice. Clive’s head had taken a bit of punishment over the past few days with the many corners and ‘sticky out’ bits to be found on board. It appeared that his cap cried ‘enough’ as it decided to end it’s suffering by jumping into the river. Clive swore blind it was the wind that caught it, but it looked happier floating off on the tide towards a less traumatic life! I took the wheel as we navigated the Tejo River, with Chris asking me to give the navigational buoys a slightly wider berth than I did for the first. Duly noted, as he is obviously far better at the navigation lark than me, or so you’d think.
Chris advised of our heading and pointed out a landmark to aim for. I suggested aiming for the bridge support as it would give us a clear run because nobody else would be daft enough to aim for it. The familiar ‘Why me’ look appeared on his face and I was suitably rebuked. No more than 5 minutes later I pointed out a boat under sail coming across our path and was aware that, as we were under power, we had the obligation to avoid it. I confirmed the course of action with The Captain and adjusted our course starboard, straight for the bridge support that I wanted to aim for anyway! Did I have a seriously smug look on my face that said ‘Who needs years of Merchant Navy experience’, absolutely! Cue the ‘Why me’ look across his face again. HA!
The Admiral was welcomed aboard and both crew and vessel passed inspection. We had another outstanding meal that evening in a recommended restaurant off the beaten path, more fish.
The following day we both took a stroll around the centre of Lisbon, with suitable refreshment stops included.
It was a cracking experience for the pair of us and we thoroughly enjoyed the entire trip. We learned some new skills and the knots could prove extremely useful with some of the more irritating people at work (You know who you are, Neil). A big thank you to Chris for taking the risk on a pair of half-wits (the polite version) like us with an expensive toy like Windependent. It was a blast and I would say to anyone who has the chance to experience it, JUST DO IT! (Hope I don’t have to pay a copyright fee for that)