Rio Guadiana to Faro via Ayamonte: June 2021
The Rio Guadiana is affectionately nicknamed Glue River. It earned the name for its ability to ensnare sailors and travelers who were on their way to somewhere else but fell for the charms of river life and never left. We had spent the winter enjoying its delights, becoming comfortable in our anchor spot, but now we had an appointment to go to the boatyard. It was time to make our escape from Glue River.
Our appointment was for 15:00 Friday 11th June, and having consulted the tide times, we planned a leisurely 10-day journey. We would take a late morning falling tide to travel down the river, then treat ourselves to a night in Ayamonte marina. The plan had time built in to wait if needs be for decent weather to then move on to Culatra where we’d have a few days of pre-boat-work R&R. With a departure date set, we could enjoy a few leaving parties.
The first hiccup came when we checked the prices for the marina. We were now in summertime and the daily rate had doubled. So instead, we took a few nights on the Spanish pontoon and Emerald got her long overdue spring clean. Our departure was delayed by a day or so.
Squeezing in Our Covid Vaccinations
On Wednesday, we were enjoying a final countryside stroll when Colin received a call offering him his first Covid jab. It would mean delaying departure until Saturday. However, the tides still worked in our favour and the opportunity for the jab was too good to turn down.
Now there was time for another leaving party!
I had been trying to register for a health number but had hit up against the Brexit wall. Perseverance got results as a second attempt rewarded me with registration for the Covid jab. They would call me with a date. However, that afternoon as I kept Colin company whilst he was vaccinated, I was offered an appointment for next week. Yippee!
The down side: it was for Thursday morning, the day before our lift out. I said yes, then checked the tides. It was doable: we could head downriver late Thursday afternoon, and make an early departure to Faro the next morning. We just needed the weather to stay onside.
So, a few more more leaving parties were thrown in. We had more farewells than there were Status Quo Farewell tours.
As the week went on, we kept a close eye on the wind forecast. It looked good, and the elements of the plan fell into place. On Thursday I had my jab, we prepped for departure, and sat back to wait for the tide to turn.
By 6pm the engine was running, the anchor up and Emerald’s bow was pointing south. The tide picked up as we motored down river, but a southerly breeze created a wind over tide chop. Despite this, we were making good time.
The sun followed our progress as it slowly sank to the west, creating beautiful colours in the sky. Just after it disappeared, the anchor was down off of Ayamonte, south of the marina entrance.
What is That Noise
We don’t like early starts, but tides wait for no man. With the alarm set for 5:15 am, we tried to get an early night.
Unfortunately, the combination of a hot day and 3 hours of engine time had created a furnace in the aft cabin. There was also a strange noise that sounded like someone was grinding for a few seconds, pausing, then repeating. We hunted around the boat, thinking it was us, but, we couldn’t find a source. It was louder inside than out leading us to determine that the noise was traveling from elsewhere through the water. Maybe a pump? It certainly sounded mechanical.
Not the Best Night’s Sleep
Heat and the noise combined to frustrate my attempts to drop off. After some time tossing and turning, I headed for the cockpit to try and sleep there, thinking I would at least escape the noise. It had worked upriver, where the nightingales had serenaded my journey to the land of nod. A gentle breeze cooled me off and initially the conditions seemed conducive to sleep.
A New Type of Noise
Just after midnight, the fishing boats started work. The thrum of their powerful engines created a new annoying noise and their swell set Emerald rolling side to side. The gap between boats was just enough to lull me to almost sleep, then another would go by. My grumpometer was reaching the red zone.
Next, the wind increased. What had been a gentle, cooling breeze strengthened to chilly with added howling in the rigging. With a humpf, I tried my luck back inside.
A Dawn Departure
Having finally got to sleep, the alarm was a rude and unwelcome awakening. We dragged ourselves up, put the kettle on, and completed our final preparations as the sky turned pink.
The tide had already turned, so we simply had to pick up the anchor. However, it wasn’t that simple. A few weeks ago when we’d moved on to the pontoon, we’d discovered the windlass battery was sick. It was no longer holding charge. As a quick fix, by revving the engine we could get enough power into it for long enough to raise the anchor.
We hoped the fix would work this morning, otherwise, Colin would be getting an early workout by raising the anchor by hand. I revved the engine with it out of gear for a few minutes, and Colin tried the anchor up button. Nothing happened. A little longer revving and we tried again. This time, enough energy had trickled into the battery for the windlass to turn. It kept on running, the anchor came free, and soon the wind and falling tide were sweeping us towards the river mouth.
Our First Sail of the Year
The sun was rising over the horizon as we crossed safely across the sandbar at the river entrance. We turned to the west and realised the wind that had disturbed my sleep last night could be useful to us now. A force 4 just forward of the beam would be ideal for sailing.
Up went the main. We prepared ourselves to be showered by bits of grass, maybe even a whole nest. Despite evicting Mr. Sparrow from our boom before he’d had to chance to complete his nest, he kept returning. This made us suspicious that he’d found a new location in our mainsail. But, there was nothing. Hopefully he’d gone and set up home in a more suitable place.
The foresail unfurled easily and with the engine off, Emerald was sailing for the first time in 2021. We were making good time too, 5.6kts even with a dirty hull.
The wind in Emerald’s sails triggered my dormant wanderlust. Perhaps it was thought of the impending boatyard work too, but I could have easily carried on to a new summer sailing adventure.
Short But Sweet
Unfortunately, after half an hour, the wind disappeared, leaving just the remnants of a swell to remind us of what had been. With barely anything to push Emerald into it, our speed dropped significantly. If we didn’t have an appointment to make, we’d have bobbed along a little longer. However, our predicted arrival time was way later than the yard’s closing time. Reluctantly, we turned the engine back on.
Now, we were creating our own apparent wind, which when added to the remains of the wind allowed us to motor sail onwards at close to 6kts.
Time to Wait
Emerald entered the entrance at Culatra at midday, the tide now sweeping us inwards. We were much earlier than anticipated and the path to our chosen waiting spot was still too shallow. So, we picked another spot close by and dropped the anchor.
All we had to do before lifting was to take the outboard off the dinghy and store both onboard. We have a hoist for raising the engine and a wooden block to fasten it to on the stern rail. We’d normally store the dinghy on the davits, but this wouldn’t work for the yard. Instead, using the spinnaker halyard, we were able to winch it up alongside the foredeck, up enough to get it over the guardrails, before lowering it to the deck.
To The Boatyard
Our lift appointment at Bruce’s Yard was pushed back an hour to 16:00 to allow 4 boats to be launched. High water was at 16:10 and we were nervous that if we touched the bottom, we wouldn’t have any tide to lift us off.
Why the worry about running aground? Much of the seabed off of Faro dries, leaving a few shallow channels. When the tide comes in, the channels fill enough that we can navigate them. With Emerald’s 2m draft, we are limited to these narrow paths. Friends had advised us of the difficult sections and suggested it is easier when you can see the channel edges. But, by high water, the sea is also covering much of the surrounding shallows. This makes navigation trickier.
Looking at the charts, the area we would traverse shows as dry, even at high water. However, the yard have dredged a channel and come out in a dinghy to guide boats in.
I Can’t See!
Forty minutes before our appointment, we set off to motor up to the meeting point. We only had 1.5nm to go but wanted time to deal with the awkward windlass battery.
It was my first time in the cockpit since we’d put the dinghy on deck. As I took up my position at the helm, I discovered the dinghy had taken up a large chunk of my forward view. But we had no time to do anything about it. Our hastily thought up solution was for Colin to act as co-pilot, standing on the side deck and directing me as needed. It would have to do.
Don’t Stray Off the Path
We passed the newly launched boats on their way out and were at the meeting point a little early, but no matter there was the guide boat. And it had a jaunty yellow flag on a pole, fastened to the stern. I could clearly see it, fluttering just above Emerald’s bow rail.
As we followed, I barely registered what we were passing: boats on moorings, mooring buoys, and yachts going in the opposite direction. Colin kept me alerted to hazards that I couldn’t see. My focus was on that little yellow flag. We were motoring faster than we would normally do in these confined spaces, but I didn’t slow down.
We made a right turn, into a channel marked by sticks. This was the dredged channel, but water spread to each side, and its edges were covered. Suddenly, the guide boat stopped. I dropped the engine revs and threw it into reverse to slow us down, worried now that we’d run into the dinghy. But he quickly got the outboard going again and we were back on our way.
In no time, we were in a wide pool at the channel’s head and turned towards the waiting pontoon. Colin threw our lines and the boatyard staff efficiently pulled us in and around into the lifting slip.
As with many things, the anticipation had been much worse than the actual, but it was still a relief to have safely arrived with minimal drama.
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Thank you from Nichola & Colin