Playing hide and seek with the wind

The wind has been toying with us ever since we left Lisbon. Blowing, dying, gusting, veering, backing. It has been dancing a merry jig, skipping in circles around us and making a mockery of our attempts to sail.

It seems very keen to offer up a strong breeze when we don’t want it to but turns tail and dies on us whenever we get the sails out and turn off the engine.

Why so coy, oh fair wind? Our intentions are entirely honourable. We only want to let our sails dance alongside you.

We left Seixal last Wednesday, 18th April, with more warnings of a big swell and shivering slightly at the memories of those choppy seas at the entrance to the Rio Tejo channel. The swell was there, albeit in a less imposing form than we had feared, but the wind was not.

The westerlies we had been promised, which would have made for a joyous beam reach north up the coast, coughed, spluttered, giggled at us and departed.

Engine on. Sails in.

Our ship’s log from Lisbon northwards makes for depressing reading.

“1443 Just passing Cascais and turned engine on. Very little wind.

“1600 Turned engine off again now wind picked up a bit from the west.

“1700 Engine back on as so little wind.

“1800 Wind veered to NE/SE, will try putting genoa out again

“1900 Engine on. Swell coming down. Nearly ran over a turtle!”

After being treated to a sunset which saw the whole silky ocean transformed into liquid gold, we gave in and motored through the rest of the night.


With one exception, on Pete’s watch:

“0011 Tried sailing, still not enough wind.”

At about 9am, we were cheered from sleep deprivation by finally being able to sail but the wind had decided to stick resolutely in the north. At first relatively gently. We tacked up the coast with optimistic intentions to push on for another day and night to Galicia, Spain.

As the morning progressed, the wind became more enthusiastic about its northerly position. The updated forecast promised no more than 15 knots though, so we thought, that’s fine!

But the wind was enjoying itself now.

We watched as the wind gage moved up to 20 knots, then 25, then 30, and with it the seas growing in unison, every wave punching our bow with renewed vigour.

Poor N’Tiana endured several rounds that day in a fight she never wanted to enter. Her nose being alternately swamped with angry seawater then sent heaving skyward, only to dive down again.

With reefed sails we continued to bash our way into the choppy swell.

At about 2pm we put a second reef in the genoa tacked out and allowed ourselves to be attacked from a new direction.


At 3pm, feeling like very hungry and pissed off sailors, having endured four hours of being thrown around wherever the careless waves felt like sending us, we put the engine on – mainly so I could make some attempt at assembling sandwiches down below without sending bread and ham flying all over the galley.

The wind continued to roar, the waves continued their assault.

At about 6pm, motoring in order to make some sort of headway, we were faced with a decision of a second sleepless night making little progress through horrible seas or navigating our way in the dark into the Porto de Leixões just north of Porto, to sleep then set off again early the next morning. It was an easy decision.

We headed towards the twinkling lights that signalled land.

Three hours later, knackered and hungry, we finally approached our port of refuge.

Displaying masterly pilotage and a lot of strained concentration, Pete steered us safely past the tankers and container ships, through the flurry of fishing boats heading out on their night time missives.

Overlooked by giant cranes and dwarfed by the ships alongside them, we dropped anchor and breathed a giant sign of relief to be in calm, protected waters.

After demolishing a vegetable broth, we collapsed in bed for seven hours of blissful, loose limbed sleep.


Alarms at 6am and off by 6.30am but this time, we were refreshed and ready to take on whatever the Atlantic had to offer. Which, it turned out, was nothing at all.

No wind, no waves. We motored through most of the day, moving past the invisible line that separates Portugal and Spain. The coast growing more rocky, mountainous and dramatic as we moved north towards Galicia.

A suggestion of wind as we neared our intended destination of Bayona was enough for us to optimistically turn the engine off and get the sails out. The wind immediately dropped from force 4 to 1. Our sails flapped and sagged. Nope, engine back on.

But nothing was going to dampen our elation because we had arrived. We were in Spain. In Bayona, the same town where Columbus’s ship La Pinta first made landfall after discovering the Americas.

Well, we hadn’t done anything quite that heroic. But we felt pretty heroic all the same as we tied up in our berth overlooked by the giant medieval walls of the Castelo Monte Real.

Another leg of the journey completed. And of course, at about that moment, a healthy breeze came in from the west.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Helen and Andy says:

    We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.


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