Baiona to Lisbon, Christmas & NYE

So much has happened, I've actually been avoiding this post, simply because I couldn't work out how to encompass everything without writing a novella...! While in Baiona, I had the very good fortune of meeting a pair of Australians aboard an enormous catamaran, who turned out to be fellow Melbournians, taking time out to explore Europe by boat. It was really nice to hear accents from home, and I don't know why, but it's situations like these, far away from home, that complete strangers from similar regions emit a sense of homely calm, and you instantly feel at ease. Later in the week I met Geoff and Sassie, liveaboards on their own respective boats, quite amazingly, both 26ft and built in 1972 - The same length and DOB as Constellation! I spent dinner with the Australians one night, and another with my 26ft friends watching DVD's and being treated to another lovely homecooked meal. Special thanks to Geoff for the bivvy, which is keeping my sleeping bag much drier! (I suffer from condensation problems as a result of sleeping with half my body in the enclosed quarter berth).

I was eager to leave Baiona, because as I've said previously, I can only work in short steps with Lisbon being my next goal, one I have been eager to reach for a long time. A friend in Holland told me I would not be a real sailor until I reached Lisbon. Am I a real sailor now? I don't know what that is, but I'm here, so there you have it. The coast down to Lisbon from the Spanish Rias was quite barren, and one could say it is more suited to surfers than sailors. As always, I had intended to sail much faster... Baiona to Lisbon, non-stop: No worries! Well, at least a week later, maybe two (probably closer to two) I arrived. I stopped off at some hazardous ports, to which I won't bore you with details... Let's just say, Constellation learnt to surf. In a race for Christmas, after being generously invited by Pedro to spend the 'festive season' Portuguese style, I was attempting to sail to Nazare as quickly as possible, the closest port to be picked up from. Unfortunately I was delayed, and ended up in Figuiera Da Foz instead, a port I don't really recommend anyone to enter, except possibly on slack high water, maybe in Summer, with nothing less than glassy water... Pedro and his brother Andre, drove a long distance to pick me up and bring me back to their home, where I spent Christmas, Portuguese style.

The Portuguese Christmas I encountered, is a tradition I will definitely be bringing back to Melbourne. First I was shuttled to Pedro's fathers house for the most amazing dinner of 2007, an official nomination which I have recently created, and goes without a doubt to this particular meal. Pedro insisted I should store food like a Camel, which I really did try to do, but one always encounters certain physical boundaries in such sports. There was Cod casserole, steamed Cod with potatoes, amazingly tasty Turkey, and so many desserts I couldn't actually try them all. I was a complete stranger in this household, but I didn't feel like one, and it was because of everyones fine efforts and generosity, to which words fail me. After taking on food stores, I was shuttled back to Pedro's mothers house for a continuation on the theme of generosity and Portuguese flair. More drinking, desserts, an enormous family which I think may constitute a small village, and warm friends around the fire until six in the morning. I believe Christmas day was actually spent primarily in bed, which was probably a good thing, because as the tradition goes, there was another party to attend which also ran into the wee hours of the morning. Again I was a stranger in a foreign land, in a foreign house, surrounded by foreign people, yet I had forgotten all this, and had another wonderful evening deep inside Portugal, a rare place for 'tourists' such as myself.

After all this eating and drinking, and being part of such an amazing family for several days, I came back to the boat and suffered a full day and night of severe 'sailors blues'. That might sound silly to you, or maybe my fine audience thinks my life is a constant dazzlement of the senses, but on occasion, things coming crashing down, and life takes a serious dive. I was trapped due to tides and a difficult exit, and I lulled into a deep depression, touching the very core of what it is I'm doing, and why. I am convinced my stoic solitude was confused by this outpouring of kindness and family, in the sense that it begged to ask many questions on what is really important in life. I'm not going to bring the joviality of this post down by exploring 'sailors blues' in this post, but I will in another if anyone is interested, because it's an interesting topic to consider.

Eventually I left Figueira Da Foz, stopping briefly in Peniche, and then direct to Cascais, in Lisbon. The trip from Peniche was not without its difficulties. For some peculiar reason, I was absolutely beset with boredom. I could not entertain myself in any form, and I became incredibly agitated. I saw a bunch of small crabs seemingly floating just under the surface, and to curb my boredom, I did circles to try and catch one with the boat hook. I thought maybe I could catch a crab, and we could hang out on deck, smoking cigarettes, drinking gin and playing poker for awhile... Possibly talk about Miss Mermaid 2007 for a bit, and then I'd pop him back in the sea... Unfortunately catching a crab with a boat hook in four metres of swell, is like trying to eat a single noodle out of Port Phillip Bay with a chopstick, and so I resumed my slow going to Lisbon, alone, still immensely bored.

My boredom was soon transferred to stress and annoyance, with severe engine problems rounding the first cape into Cascais, Lisbon. I came in engineless under full sail, for four hours after an irritable day with diminishing wind. I docked French style (under sail) on the visiting pontoon and battled Portuguese bureaucracy for a little while. They were not exactly convinced my expired insurance policy was as valid as I was attempting to argue... It expired on the 16th, and my course of debate was that I paid half yearly, and simply didn't have the paperwork on me... Eventually it was accepted (it was all a farce, I never renewed), and I was able to sleep off my stressful engine fiasco. A seriously big bravo to all engineless cruisers, you guys are mad. Although I might be joining you rather soon if I can't fix 'August the mighty Yanmar'...

In Cascais I met up with S/V Aquamarijn again, having an opportunity to share stories of sea-sickness and surfing down the Iberian coast, which appeared to be a common thread. I was quickly attacked by the Hooligans, who made a special point of climbing all over my boat like monkeys, to which I could neither argue nor complain, because I like climbing around my boat like a crazy monkey too.

New Years Eve appeared from nowhere, and again I caught up with Pedro in Lisbon, for a stunning prawn curry cooked by the hyper-smart Ana, coupled with a walk through Lisbon city. I finally managed to meet Fernando Pessoa, sitting in a cafe, almost oblivious to his surroundings. Fernando and I chatted for awhile on the topic of banality and the soul, after which I carried on with celebrating another year closer to an all-eventual end.

Where to now? I think America is calling. I hear the stripes of their flag, and the warmth of their southern latitudes through my conch shell; it is the end of my time in continental Europe, my departure point for gaining some serious mileage in a westerly direction, towards home. I feel a little sad leaving so soon, it's crazy that the end of my 'European vacation' will not climax with a burst of avgas down a runway, but rather via a bouncy ride to some small Atlantic islands in the middle of nowhere, before setting a course to the Caribbean. I had so much more to see here, I guess that means I'll have to come back. Right now I am trying to get my liferaft serviced, diving under the boat and cleaning cooling inlets, epoxying deck joins and re-drilling chainplates. I hope to leave in a week and a half. It looks as though 2008 is going to be a serious mileage builder.

So, to sum up Portugal, is to say 'muitíssimo obrigado' an infinite number of times to Pedro, Ana and their wonderful family and friends, for helping me have such an special entrance into the country of Portugal. Really, truly, amazing.

Happy New Year, and thank you again to everyone who spends time reading, contributing, and supporting my grand expedition across big oceans.