Moonlight Adventure

The story of our travels on board Moonlight, our Vancouver 36.


Saturday 17th October 2009

Posted by yachtmoonlight on October 18, 2009 at 12:18 PM

Monday 5th October was a wet and windy day, and we started to feel like Autumn was catching us up!

It rained for most of the day and we got drenched walking back from the supermarket as the small brolly we had taken with us would only provide shelter for a particularly small field mouse and John’s idea of sharing an umbrella is to hold it over himself and occasionally poke me in the eye with it.

A very nice chap called Keith who is skippering his friend’s Moody 36 with his partner down to the Canaries (where his friend is joining them to cross the Atlantic) came round to say hello and in the evening, Keith, his partner Wellie, her friend Sarah and Ron from Zahara all joined us for drinks on Moonlight.


(Sunset over Cascais marina)


The next day was still looking cloudy and rainy, so we caught the train to Lisbon with Ron and headed for the Maritime Museum, which we had heard mixed reports about.

On entering the museum, there is a huge, beautifully painted map of the world, showing the routes taken by the early sea explorers, which was stunning.


(The painted map in the maritime museum)


Unfortunately the majority of the museum displays consisted of models of boats. They were all wonderfully crafted and they showed the progression of military, recreational and fishing vessels throughout the years extremely well, but to be honest, after the first 20 or 30 models it became really rather dull. It was more of an exhibition than a museum.

There were some sailing artefacts on display, but when we saw something that looked quite interesting, reading the description below (which was helpfully in English as well as Portuguese), would mostly reveal that the item was in fact a replica of something interesting and not an original item, or that the item was quiet modern, like the “20th Century sextant”.

John and Ron were mildly more interested in the models than me, so I left them to wander around talking about boaty things while I perused the displays of military uniforms throughout the ages and tried to work out which ones John would look best in.

The final hall was enormous and full of real boats, including some traditional fishing boats and royal barges, the largest and grandest of which was last used when Queen Elizabeth II visited Portugal in the 1950’s and was stunning.


(The royal barge)


The maritime museum is housed in a wing of the Jeronimos Monastery, and on the way back towards the railway station, we had a look around the beautiful church, which contains the tomb of Vasco da Gama (who it appears looked spookily like Ron).


(Ron Vasco da Gama)


There is a six Euro charge to visit the cloisters of the monastery, and John declined to go in on principle of the cost, so Ron and I went in and made a pledge that even if it was rubbish inside we would tell John that it was the most amazing thing we had ever seen.

The cloisters turned out to be quite lovely, except for a rather naff plastic fountain in the pond in the middle of the gardens which looked like it cost about £9.99 from B&Q.


(The cloisters with the B&Q fountainin the middle!)


We explored the rooms that led off from the cloisters and climbed up to a balcony at the back of the church which offered stunning views across the pews to the ornate altar at the far end.


(The view of the church from the balcony)


We met up with John again, who was waiting for us in the church, told him it was the best six Euros we had ever spent and raved about the stunningly ornate centrepiece fountain before heading to the railway station.

Back in the marina in Cascais, we spotted the Dutch chap who had been swimming around the harbour trying to hitch a lift to Suriname and found that he had found a Finnish family who had agreed to take him to the Canary Islands in exchange for teaching their daughter how to play the guitar. I assume he can play the guitar….


Thunderstorms and very heavy rain kept us awake during the night and the next morning, John thought it would be a good plan to check all the lockers to make sure no water had leaked into the boat. Although this sounded like tremendous fun, I remembered I had some very important shopping to do (another birthday present!) and headed into town. It was extremely difficult to buy a birthday present in Cascais, as all the shops seemed to be either ridiculously expensive (t-shirts for 100 Euros anyone?) or contained cheap touristy tat, with not much in the middle, but I did my best and posted some small gifts to Lorraine, hoping that she will still speak to me when she receives them and then headed back after stopping at one of the tat shops to buy some very cheesy Christmas decorations, including a woolly stocking for each of us.

In the evening, we went for a meal with Ron at an Indian restaurant, which was superb, saying goodbye to John and Linda on Vagabond on the way (who were heading off in the morning, continuing their trip to the Med).


The weather was much improved on Thursday and the sun came out again, so we caught a bus to Sintra, a small town nearby which is home to a 8th/9th Century Moorish castle, a 16th Century monastery, 16th and 19th Century palaces and the Quinta da Realeira estate, which is a World Heritage Site and where we were heading.


(The Moorish castle in Sintra)


We walked from the town through a park which is home to various large and very colourful animal statues and on up the hill to the Quinta da Regaleria estate. We had planned to visit this estate as we had heard glowing reports of it from fellow sailors who had recently visited Sintra, including Carol and Susie from Wild Bird of Fowey.

The estate consists of a beautiful house and large gardens created over 14 years between 1898 and 1912 and were designed to reflect the estate owner’s interest in mythology and alchemy.


(The house at Quinta da Regaleria)

 It was the gardens we had particularly come to see and we eagerly headed through the gate, map in hand and into quite possibly the most stunningly bonkers gardens I have ever seen. Similar to the gardens we visited in Betanzos, but on a much larger scale, the gardens contain statues, ponds, towers, caves, grottos, wells and a chapel, along with a series of tunnels, all in a beautiful woodland setting.


(One of the grottos)


We explored every part of the gardens, except some of the underground tunnels which were unlit (we tried to walk through one but it was pitch black and we just bumped into the walls and each other rather a lot before giving up and heading back out to daylight). The longest tunnels were lit with a plastic tube of small lights which extended the length of the tunnel.


(One of the lit tunnels)


One of these tunnels leads to the bottom of a 27 metre deep well, which was built to represent heaven and earth and a staircase around the edge of the well leads up to the top, with another tunnel halfway up which comes out behind a statue in one of the grottos!


(Looking up from the bottom of the 27 metre deep well!)


The are several towers throughout the gardens which offer stunning views, not only across the estate over Sintra, the Moorish castle, the palaces and out to sea.


(One of several towers in the gardens)


After exhausting the gardens (and ourselves) we explored the house, which has beautifully carved wooden ceilings and doors, and heavy brass lion’s head knockers on the internal doors.

(One of the door knockers on the internal doors in the house!)


There were displays and exhibitions in the house, showing copies of the architectural drawings of some of the features in the gardens and we found passageways and stairs which led up to roofs and terraces where we enjoyed more fabulous views and saw some of the restoration work that is currently being completed on the house.


(Restoration work being completed on the house - I will post more pictures of Sintra in the Phot Gallery)


Very tired after a thoroughly enjoyable day, we headed back towards the town to catch the bus back to Sintra.

At one point the path became quite busy with tourists and I suddenly became aware that John wasn’t walking next to me any more. I turned back to see him crouching down in the middle of the path trying to pick something up while tourists barged and stumbled past him. When he caught up with me, he showed me what he had been so keen to rescue – an enormous furry caterpillar with tufts of different coloured hairs sticking up in all directions! The caterpillar would have certainly been squashed underfoot of some unsuspecting tourist if John had not rescued it and put in some nearby bushes.


(The caterpillar John rescued)


In the evening, Carol and Susie invited us out for dinner and Carol admitted she quite fancied the Indian restaurant. Although we had eaten there the night before, the food was so good we were very happy to visit it again and enjoyed another great meal in good company.


We were planning to leave on Saturday, so on Friday we spent the day preparing for the trip, catching up on washing and stocking up on fresh produce for the trip, which we expected to take four or five days.

In the afternoon, we decided to hire a Segway each for half and hour to ride around the marina, just for the fun of it. We had seen other people whizzing around the marina and the town on these and thought they looked great fun, so although they were expensive to hire, we took the plunge and had a go.


(The segways!)


Ron came with us to take some photos and although we couldn’t persuade him to join us, he did have a quick go on one at the end when we returned them to the hire shop. They really are incredible and if you ever get the chance to try one, you really should as they are an absolute hoot. They work on balance, so when you are standing up straight they stay still. To move forwards, you just lean your shoulders forwards, the further forwards the faster it goes! To stop, you move your shoulders back and stand up straight, and leaning backwards slightly makes the Segway move backwards. Pulling the handles left or right allows you to turn. We had so much fun, I had to enquire how much they cost to buy and was shocked to find out they cost 7000 Euros each! Yikes!


The weather forecast looked good on Saturday morning, so we set sail at 10am, after a fantastic breakfast of bacon and egg butties which Ron made for us and brought over to our boat, which was very kind of him and extremely welcome!

As we headed out towards our destination, Porto Santo (the small island next to Madeira) we were joined for a short time by some dolphins and a little later on a couple of whales, quite near the boat, which we think were pilot whales.

The wind gradually built up throughout the day and by nightfall, we recorded winds of 35 knots which had not been forecast (I blame Ron – bloody weather men). The strong winds were whipping up the sea, making the boat roll around in the waves and water crash over the side of the boat, across the bow and into the cockpit. Overnight, we reduced the sails to slow down as much as we could and put the washboards in to stop water pouring down below, opening them only to try and keep a watch for other ships, but this was hard as mostly all we could see were the rolling waves and walls of water.

Thankfully, the winds calmed down and by the morning, we were able to spend our time back out in the cockpit and enjoy a much smoother sail.

Over the next few days, we enjoyed the sunshine during the day, watched for dolphins and even spotted a turtle, which raised it head to look in our direction before swimming past.

The nights were spent taking it in turns to complete three hour watches while the other slept. With no light pollution, the night sky was absolutely stunning, with thousands of stars, twinkling different colours and the Milky Way stretching majestically across the sky. I spent hours just looking up at the sky, spotting the occasional shooting star or a satellite on its orbit around the Earth. It was magical.

The other amazing sight at night is the phosphorescence (which I called ‘Fizzy Water’) caused by the boat disturbing patches of plankton, which creates a luminous carpet at each side of the boat and two trails behind us like a glowing railway track.

I was careful on the trip to take sea sickness pills at regular intervals and not to try and do too much in the first couple of days, and although I felt quite ill on the first day and night (not helped by the rough weather!) I started to feel a little better each day and after three days I was able to spend time below and read on deck without feeling sick, which made the last day hugely more enjoyable than the previous three!


(Reading on deck)


Just as the sun was going down on our last night at sea, John noticed that a pigeon had landed on the side deck and had tucked itself between the cockpit and the dodgers. It looked exhausted and was struggling to keep its eyes open. Although nervous of us, it didn’t seem to have the energy to move away from us and we were very worried that it wasn’t going to make the night and we would have to perform a burial at sea in the morning.

We put a small of water and some small pieces of bread next to Pidgy the Pigeon and kept away from him so we didn’t scare him and left him for the night.




In the morning, thankfully Pidgy was still with us, but he still looked rather sleepy. He eventually perked up a little as we approached Porto Santo, and took a slow walk up the side of the boat to the bow, where we waited until we were at the closest point to Madeira before taking off and flying away in that direction.


We arrived in Porto Santo at 9.30am on Wednesday morning after four days at sea and immediately felt we had caught up with summer and arrived in a different climate.


(Arriving at Porto Santo)


We picked up a mooring buoy in the harbour and then headed ashore to check in firstly with Customs and then with the Marina office before heading straight for the showers, which were decidedly iffy, but welcome nevertheless. The ladies showers seemed to have an ant problem and the men’s seemed to have a lizard problem (much to the delight of a young boy from one of the boats in the marina who was catching them in a jar) and the first shower I found that I wouldn’t have to share with a couple of thousand creepy-crawly friends had to be operated with a spanner.

After we had settled down, John went over to see Rob (a single-handing chap who we met in Cascais) and helped him while he went up the mast to fix his navigation lights. He used an old traditional Bosuns Chair to get up the mast (a wooden seat with two ropes attached – unlike the modern harnessed equivalent we use) and hauled himself up while John stood by in case he needed any help. When Rob had hauled himself as far as he could go, he found he couldn’t reach the navigation lights above his head, so he climbed out of the Bosuns chair and stood on the seat while he worked at the top of the mast. I’m not sure if he is brave, bonkers or both, but he managed to fix his lights and climb back down without incident (other than dropping his pliers on John, which at least stopped them falling in the sea).


(Rob working precariously at the top of the mast)


John heard from his daughter Becky, who had just returned from a charity trek in Peru with her mother, Gwen. They had a fantastic time but it was very hard work, getting up at 4.45am every day for an 11 hour walk for six days in a row to reach Machu Picchu. It was a fantastic achievement and John is very proud of them both. (They are still trying to raise money to reach their target of £6500, if you would like to make a donation to help them out, please CLICK HERE!)

We had a swim in the afternoon and found (much to my immense delight) that the water is much warmer here than in Cascais. We put on our snorkelling gear and snorkelled around the harbour, but there wasn’t much to see, just a few small fish here and there, but we enjoyed the swim anyway and felt quite refreshed afterwards.

In the evening, we lit some candles we bought in Cascais and the oil lamps and enjoyed a lovely candlelit dinner, followed by a Brandy nightcap sitting on deck looking up at the stars.


The sounds of gunshots greeted us when we awoke on Thursday morning after a very long and much-needed sleep. We looked out (very carefully, with saucepans on our heads) and found that there were hunters on the hills next to the harbour shooting rabbits, which have historically been a problem since being introduced in the early days of the island being populated.

We went ashore to fill up our water containers and to catch up on washing and got chatting to some Australian people we had seen in Nazare and a very friendly Dutch family who were moored next to them in the marina. Both families were painting a picture with the name of their boat and the date on the harbour wall, which has been a tradition since the harbour was built the 1980’s. Hundreds of these paintings can be found all along the wall, with varying degrees of artistic ability (some really are works of art!) and in different degrees of fading with time and the weather.

We walked into the nearby town, which is about a mile down a path with a road on one side and a beautiful sandy beach on the other and explored the shops and the town centre before heading to the beach.

A pier stretches out into the sea and is lined with local men fishing, who were all extremely friendly, even when John trod on one of their fish.


(John on the pier in Porto Santo)


The sun was beating down, the sea was a beautiful deep blue and we both felt extremely happy to be here.

Walking back to the main road, we walked through an avenue of palm trees with flowers to one side, butterflies flying around us and lizards scattering on the ground to avoid our steps and came across a statue of Christopher Columbus, who was thought to have lived on the island for a time before discovering the New World.


(The Christopher Columbus statue)


We relaxed in the boat in the afternoon, still tired from the lack of sleep on the crossing and enjoyed a very pleasant evening with Jim and Ann from Impressionist, a boat we have seen many times along the way but not managed to meet up with until now.


The beautiful hot weather continued yesterday and so we headed into town to catch the open-top tourist bus that tours around the island. I got the impression the bus didn’t start its life as open-topped and suspect that someone made the modification with a can opener at some point, or it tried to go under a particularly low bridge.


(The tourist bus)


 It was very cool sitting in the open while the bus whizzed around the island, stopping about five times for 10 or 15 minutes at each stop so we could enjoy a beautiful beach, stunning views and see some old traditional windmills. It was a lovely trip and we got to see a lot of the island in between the stops as well.


(Windmills on Porto Santo)


Back in the town, we headed to the small Porto Santo museum, which is in a house that Christopher Columbus is thought to have lived in (I say ‘thought to’ as no-one is quite sure, but apparently he would have probably lived in a house like it if not that exact one, and if not he certainly would have seen houses like it…..).

It was a very tiny and sparse museum. According to the English guide leaflet, the first room was apparently “dedicated to the Portuguese Expansion with the presentation of the strategic position of the island of Porto Santo and of the archipelago of Madeira in the context of Portuguese maritime expansion”. It consisted of some information boards (in Portuguese) around the room and display cases which held a 15th century bronze cross and a 17th Century Japanese missal stand (which was missing).

The next room was “dedicated to the increase in Spanish powering the world expansion and its position as the financier of the expedition by Christopher Columbus in 1492”. As well as the Portuguese information boards, this room had display cases holding a silver tray and a bottle from Peru. The guide claimed there was an oil painting portrait of Columbus on the wall and indeed there was. Well, there was a printed canvas copy of an oil painting. Sigh. And so the museum continued in this vein. The only really interesting room contained a large showcase with some goods recovered from a Dutch ship which was shipwrecked off the island in 1724, although the information told us that most of the goods were covered in 1974 as a commercial venture, a small proportion of which had been donated to the island, and it quite obvious it wasn’t the best items that had been donated! Other than a small canon, some silver ingots and a few silver coins, the rest of the booty consisted of bent spoons, fishing hooks, broken crockery and a battered tobacco tin.

After ‘exploring’ the different rooms, we headed into the tiny but beautiful garden and sat down on a bench to enjoy the shade. It was lovely and overall we felt that the Portuguese just aren’t that good at museums but for one and a half Euros each to get in we didn’t really mind.


(Christopher Columbus' garden......possibly.....)


We stopped in a couple of shops to buy some pegs (as we have had rather a lot of peg overboard incidents) and some paint and brushes so we could paint a picture on the harbour wall and headed back to the marina, stopping at the small bar in the harbour for a drink, where we bumped into Keith and Wellie who we met in Cascais. We enjoyed catching up with them and they introduced us to Bob from a boat called Seaya, which was also in the marina.

As we were enjoying our drinks, we spotted a couple walking along the harbour walled and in the twilight we were taken by the similarity to “The Couple” sculpture in Newbiggin-by-the-Sea (where my dad is from).


(The Porto Santo 'Couple')


(The Newbiggin-by-the-Sea 'Couple' - OK so they're not that similar, but they did look like it after a couple of beers!)


This morning, we headed round to the beach with our snorkelling gear as we had seem some rocks that are covered at High Water which we thought would be interesting to snorkel over.


(The beach in Porto Santo)


I have never snorkelled from a beach before and found it quite difficult to either wade out with flippers on (I tried forwards, backwards and sideways) or, as John suggested, to carry my flippers out with me and put them on once I was in a reasonable depth, as the sea kept surging in and pushing up and down in the water. Once I eventually got flippered-up, we swam over to the rocks and were stunned by the fish we saw there. We spotted about a dozen different kinds of fish, some of which were bright colours and included Rainbow Wrasse and Parrotfish.

The water was a little cloudy, but as the rocks were not very deep, we could see quite well and although it was not good in comparison to the snorkelling in the Caribbean, it was still more than we’d hoped to see here and we had a great time.

After lunch on the boat, we headed back ashore to the harbour wall so we could paint our picture and leave our mark on Porto Santo. I did the painting and John did the tin-shaking, stirring and passing things which I assured him were all incredibly important jobs, and somehow John managed to get more covered in paint than I did.

Several people stopped to chat as we were painting and at the end, although it is certainly no masterpiece, I was quite pleased with what we created from limited artistic skills!


(Our harbour wall painting)


As we sat on the boat in the early evening, we spotted a boat sailing by towards Madeira with its spinnaker flying and John thought it might be Ron who was planning to leave Cascais last Monday. John called up Zahara on the VHF and Ron answered! It WAS him we could see and we planned to meet up with him when we move on to Madeira on Monday.

Categories: October 2009, Portugal

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Reply Mum
5:57 PM on October 18, 2009 
Another great read. Love the Park...... and your artistic work.
Reply jean annette
5:10 AM on October 19, 2009 
tx for your lovely pics i hope youre in touch with natiional geographic or some good publisher this needs to become a book
Reply Lorraine (as mentioned in blog)
5:59 AM on October 22, 2009 
hi guys, many thanks for the lovely random presents. I got them well ahead of time and opened them on Sunday in The Lake District! Haven't spotted the cat without the partner yet on the notebook cover, but looking forward to using my penguin purse....he will definitely be coming travelling with us in future! Glad you're having such fun. Sorry we couldn't speak on the crappy skype/Lakes link! We'll have to remedy that soon. Love Lorraine xx