Wednesday-Friday, August 7-9, 2019
It all began when the three of us–Robbie, Max and I–took the bus to Santiago de Compostela.
Max and I would tour this famous pilgrim destination with Robbie before he had to catch his train to Madrid. We’d then spend the night and pick up a rental car the next day. The reason for the car was to boost our chances of securing a winter berth in Lisbon.
Based on recommendations from other cruisers we had called Lisbon’s Marina Parque das Naçōes earlier this summer asking about reserving space from October 1 to March 31. They told us they may have a place for us but couldn’t guarantee one. Portuguese boaters returning in the fall, coupled with the lack of good harbors along Portugal’s west coast meant marinas were a valuable commodity. And, Lisbon’s Parque das Naçōes with easy access to the city’s historic old town made it a popular choice both for residents and visitors.
Thinking a face-to-face meeting could help secure a berth, we thought why not do a quick road trip? The timing seemed optimal with JUANONA safe from swells and forecasted winds in Muros’ marina, the chance to see Santiago with Robbie, and a convenient place to pick up/return a rental car.
Plus, on the way back up to Muros, we could scout out any others in the event a berth in Parque de Naçōes seemed unlikely.
After seeing Robbie off Tuesday afternoon we wandered back to Santiago’s old town. Spotting a museum covering the pilgrimages’ history we decided to pay the entrance fee.
No photos allowed so I can’t document our visit (for some, that’s a blessing) but the displays provided the seed of what sprouted all of these walks, namely St. James’ tomb.
History identifies St. James as an apostle,
finally, a knight.
The latter justified the Crusades, while the pilgrim character lent itself beautifully to creating a reason for all those caminos or walks to Santiago de Compostela.
St. James’ tomb draws thousands of pilgrims in various stages of soul-searching to this city. And, this revenue-producing stream of folk has caught the financial interest of other towns to ensure they, too, lie on a camino route. Which makes sense considering all the money gained from serving up Saints’ bones, Jesus artifacts, and other sacred items.
But, I digress (again). However, the museum enriches any visitor’s stop in Santiago, one we highly recommend, pilgrim or not.
That was Tuesday afternoon. Wednesday morning our marina hunt began.
In 2.5 days we covered nine marinas. It may not sound like a lot but, but trust me, the rapid pace with which we scouted out the five in Portugal and the four in Spain caused memory blurs. We now have to use prompts, such as ‘no, that was the rat-infested one’, when trying to envision which marina we meant.
After a five-hour drive we found our way through city traffic to our marina of choice: Marina Parque das Naçōes on the Rio Tejo in Lisbon.
We introduced ourselves to the two friendly women managing the desk. They explained the situation regarding ‘no guarantee’ but did provide us with quite a bit of assurance that we most likely could obtain a berth there. Yet, oddly, one told us we could just pay month-by-month in the event we wanted to move.
That caught us up short a bit. Move? During the winter? Well, yes, because the marina couldn’t predict what the tide and currents could do to the silting of the harbor. The pilot guide had mentioned this issue, a problem the marina has been trying to solve. Eleven years ago they built a lock which reduced, but didn’t eliminate, silting. By 2018 the marina had lost the use of 150 of their 400 berths thanks to this phenomenom. In 2019 they planned to dredge, an operation most likely occurring annually.
Furthermore, after walking the pontoons, talking with some cruisers (a German told us, ’yes, I sit in some mud but it’s soft and not hard to get out of’), and seeing some of the pontoons stranded on brown mounds three to four feet above the water, we clearly understood why the caution about silting. Hmmm….
Adding to our second thoughts was the overall appearance of the facilities (seemed a bit tired) while noticing the pontoons themselves needed repairs (missing planks as well as caved-in spots). Our opinion of this marina went down several notches.
All was not lost, though. We drove a few miles to another Lisbon marina, Doca de Alcântara.
In the parking lot I noticed someone who looked like he was heading towards a boat. In asking about this marina he told us don’t even bother; berths will most likely all be taken by locals.
We mentioned Parque Naçōes. He said the city built that marina really quickly for Lisbon’s World Exposition in 1998. Too quickly, resulting in poor planning and quality of construction. Hence, the pontoons we saw sitting out of the water.
Two down. The third, Marina de Cascais (located on the coast before the entrance to the Tejo River) we didn’t see. Although an excellent alternative to being in Lisbon, the expense of wintering there, along with possible shortage of berths, precluded it as an option.
Okay, time to start driving north to prepare for tomorrow’s continuation of our marina hunt.
Wednesday night just happened to land us in another religious spot called Sanctuary of our Lady of Fátima, aka, Apparitions of our Lady of the Rosary. We only ended up here due to good value of a room on Booking.com, so it came as a surprise to see some huge Catholic complex glowing like a lava lamp.
After dinner we trooped across to a enormous plaza (larger than the Vatican’s St. Peter’s) following some people carrying electronic torches as well as candles. They were heading towards a preaching priest standing outside of one of the buildings flanking the large, central tower. Although we couldn’t understand anything being said it seemed pretty obvious some felt quite devoted to the message.
Curious as to why this town became such a religious site, I later discovered the source of all this piety. Supposedly, three shepherd kids in 1917 witnessed the appearance of a ‘mysterious lady’ six times.
During those visits this vision in bright white (ID’ed by the church as none other than Virgin Mary) spoke of prophecies (WWII, rise of communism, papal assassination attempt) and instructions (ranging from ‘the world better repent’ to ‘build a chapel here’).
Of course, many doubted the children’s veracity. So, this mysterious lady told the three children she would give them a sign at noon on October 13 (the 7th visit) to silence nonbelievers. That day dawned rainy and cloudy, yet exactly when the sun reached its zenith, a strange light broke through and for 10 minutes the sun whirled in the sky. That day is known as ‘the day the sun danced’.
Two of the three children’s tombs are in this complex (they died from the Spanish flu in 1919 and 1920) while the third lived until 2005 as a nun.
It was just happenstance that we landed here. And, it was due to the inexpensive hotel room we found, and highway tolls.
Why highway tolls? Well, if anyone’s interesting in driving around Portugal, rent a car from within Portugal. We mistakenly assumed we could pay any tolls with cash or a card (credit/debit).
Hah! Joke’s on us. The Portuguese have instituted an electronic toll collection on some of its highways with no option to pay manually. Unless you enroll in their ‘Easytoll’ system or purchase a prepaid Toll Card or have a Portuguese rental car outfitted with one, you’re SOL if you manage to find yourself on one of the electronic-toll only roads (indicated in red below).
Which we did, and which meant we had to find a way to pay it before leaving Portugal to avoid reputed large fines. This resulted in, first, a visit to a local bank on our way out of Fátima. Mistakenly, we thought we could pay our toll and any penalty there as noted on one of numerous ‘how-to-pay-Portuguese- highway-tolls’ websites (judging by the vast array of sites outlining instructions, our predicament was a common occurrence). No, we had to drive to a special office operated by Brisa, the largest private road operator in Portugal.
Driving another thirty minutes while ensuring we dodged any more electronic-toll-only roads, we located the office closest to our route. We spent another thirty minutes waiting and then paying our 8 Euro toll only to have her write out a hand-slip because her computer system was down.
For a company touting itself as seeking “efficiency in all dimensions of its business” (www.brisa.pt) I sort of wonder how they define ‘efficiency’.
Armed with proof to (hopefully) avoid any toll fee and penalty charged by our car rental agency we continued onto our next round of marina views.
Back in the car (which after all this driving was feeling like our 2nd home) we drove to Porto. We stopped at the city’s new marina, Douro Marina.
The office was closed but we saw some French cruisers crossing the parking lot and accosted them (becoming quite a habit). Speaking with them they said the facilities were good and they liked the marina. However, we found it pretty sterile. Crossed that off our list.
A few miles further on we found Leixōes’ Porto Atlântico based in an industrial harbor.
Again, another friendly senhora (the majority of marina office staff in Portugal seem to be female) answered our questions and assured us no problem of wintering here.
In spite of the rather rough atmosphere, the marina felt more like a yachting home. Maybe due to the small size as well as several of the boats we saw appeared to be cruisers. Okay, we marked Leixōes as a possibility.
Our next destination was Póvoa de Varzin Marina a few more miles up the coast.
Located in a beachy resort, we parked our car in a sandy lot and walked to the marina office. There, the nice senhora told us our 12m size (just over 40‘) precluded any chance of wintering there unless we were on the hard (out of the water). Good to know.
But, the likelihood of our actually choosing to berth there if they did accept our length was close to a big fat zero: we had read about rats populating the pontoons and boarding boats…
Cointinuing further north we followed a long line of traffic as we inched into the town of Viana do Castelo on the Rio Lima. We lucked out in finding a space to park on the street as rain began to fall. Exiting the car we began walking towards the town marina. As we neared it we looked at one another and said, “Do we really think we’d want to stay here? Because it looks pretty depressing from this vantage point…” Question asked and answered with “let’s get out of here.”
Our day ended in Ponte de Lima, again driven by an inexpensive hotel room (of which there are many in Portugal). By luck we found ourselves in one of the country’s oldest towns, and a beautiful one at that, which we explored the next morning before continuing our marina hunt.
Our hotel bordered the river with a tree-lined promenade lining one side of the Lima river.
Wandering down the street, the early morning hour kept us from accessing the Torre de Cadeia Velha. This tower is one of the two remaining from the nine that were part of the 14th century wall. The tower became the district’s prison in 1511 following repairs and reinforcement by King D. Manuel (1469-1521). Now, it serves as the Tourist Information Office.
Although the hours clearly posted indicated it wouldn’t open until later, it didn’t stop Max from trying the door,
and, when that failed, peering in.
But, what really draws one’s eye is the magnificent bridge spanning the Lima river, a reminder of Rome’s occupation of the Iberian Peninsula.
Estimated to having been constructed during Emperor Augustus’ time (63 B.C.E. – 14 C.E.), the bridge is part of the military Roman route “Conventus Bracaraugustanus”, aka, Via XIX. It was renovated during the Middle Ages to support the town’s fortifications: first by King D. Pedro (1320-67) around 1370, followed by King D. Manuel mentioned above.
A collage of statues representing the region’s agricultural economy stands next to the bridge (the area is known for its Vinho Verde or Green Wines)…
while on the other side
we saw signs of yet another camino, this time from Porto to Santiago de Campostela.
Returning to the old town we walked back a different way passing more reminders of the town’s medieval history, such as the fountain,
paid for by a tax on salt and olive oil and kept clean by charging fines for ‘dirtying’ it as per this inscription:
Back in the car and on the road again we crossed over to Spain where we checked out four marinas:
Marina Punta Lagoa (in Vigo) – We received a friendly welcome, and we knew this marina offered good protection from the Atlantic swells, but the container toilets and showers left a lot to be desired….;
Moaña Marina (in Moaña) – We liked the ‘feel’ of this small marina as well as Alex, the manager. The facilities appeared adequate and clean, and the location had that ‘curb-appeal’ of a pretty river town. This definitely was one we’d consider for the winter;
Rodeira Yacht Club (in Cangas) – The marina staff was friendly but the facilities were dirty and the town didn’t seem as nice as Moaña’s. Next…:
and, Combarro Marina (in Combarro) – Another marina staffer named Alex gave us some information and said he’d put us in touch with the manager when she came back later that day. We liked the facilities (great looking toilets and showers, as well as clean) and the location right off the historic old town gave this small marina a lovely feel. Finally! We’ve found one suitable for JUANONA’s wintering with us on her :)
After 60 hours on a road trip to Lisbon and back we decided Spain would be our winter berth with Marina Combarro getting the most votes for security, facilities, friendly marina staff, and pleasant curb-appeal.
However, this all got tossed after a chance encounter with our friends Pam and Mark whom we chanced to meet upon our return to JUANONA and Muros.
Upon their suggestion we sailed across the ria adding a tenth marina (not counting Muros) into our pool of ‘where to winter.’
Jackpot! Real Club Náutico Portosín exuded an aura of professionalism and efficiency all presented by a warm and helpful staff.
Further checking on facilities, pontoons, and pricing we put in our application for a berth.
And, to think we had to drive to Lisbon and back only to discover what we were looking for was practically right under JUANONA’s bow. I guess there really is no place like ‘home’ :)