Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Mad Dogs & Englishmen

I have previously mentioned how many stray dogs there are in this part of Portugal, which I first discovered while out on a run.  Since that troubling experience, whenever I'm on foot, I am keeping a keen eye out so I can spot the dogs in time to avoid them.  Occasionally, one slips through the net and I stray far enough into his territory to pique his interest.  The dog will then inevitably run up to me, barking.  Never having owned a dog, the problem I have is that I don't understand their behaviour, so I can't tell if a dog is approaching in a friendly manner, expecting to play games and have his tummy rubbed, or whether he's looking to sink his teeth into my flesh and maul me to death.  It seems sensible to always assume the worst of these two scenarios and, consequently, every time a dog approaches, I'm scared stiff.

Free oranges picked from a tree growing by a road we walked along

More often than not, the dogs do little more than spend some time barking and don't kill me.  I have to pretend to not be scared, though, because people always say that dogs can sense fear.  I don't know if you have ever tried not being scared while actually feeling terrified, but it's no mean feat and as I saunter down the street, whistling nonchalantly as I go, I usually end up feeling even more scared.  This is because, on top of being worried about getting attacked, I'm now also concerned that I'm either not doing a sufficiently good job of acting casual, or that I'm overdoing it and the dog will know that I could never possibly be this relaxed anywhere other than while being pampered in a five star spa and he will spot the ruse.  Thoughts about why a dog would attack me if I'm scared also cross my mind, for example, if it is so important to be unafraid of a creature, lest it immediately jump at your throat and end your days prematurely, surely this beast is the perfect candidate for a healthy dose of fear?

More free citrus fruit: A tangerine tree at a local train station

In any case, above is a description of my usual canine interactions.  However, on two occasions now, something most odd and unexpected has occurred.  While out walking, Kate and I have been come across dogs that have wholeheartedly adopted us without the slightest input on our parts.  In fact, I'm usually fully engaged in the 'no look, no touch, no eye contact' technique and offer absolutely no reason for these dogs to attach themselves to us.  The only thing I can think of that would prompt this behaviour is that my act of serene fearlessness is convincing enough that they pick up on my unearthly relaxed vibe and feel so completely uncompelled to attack me that they conclude that I must be their master.

Kate has already mentioned, in an earlier post, the first dog that adopted us.  She was a little cutie who simply joined us on our walk, running ahead to check the way, sniffing here and there and then reporting back to us.  After this had continued long enough for me to convinced myself that she wasn't a threat, I plucked up the courage to stroke her, albeit in tentative manner such as you might stroke an unexploded landmine, and the friendship blossomed.

Me rowing back to Firebird.  Notice the wreck moored against the pontoon (left)

The most recent adoption occurrence happened while walking back from a nearby town, Portimão, where we had gone to source spare parts for the boat.  We had stopped to check our map when this rather scrawny looking dog sniffed around our feet.  That was all it took.  From that point on, he obediently stuck by our side.  I didn't graduate to the stroking phase with this little guy because I never felt that safe around him.  He looked on edge, as though he was a drug addict itching for his next fix, always on a knife edge between managing to remain composed and freaking out.  The weird thing was that he seemed to think that we were at threat from passing cars.  It was nighttime and traffic was light.  Whenever he heard a car approaching, he would position himself between us and the car and crouch down into a defensive posture.  As the car drew near enough for it to 'threaten' us, he would attack in the most fearless manner.  It was lucky that traffic was light, because many of the car drivers got a right shock and swerved off course.

The conveniently-positioned wreck, as seen from the water.  If you moor your dinghy there at high water, you will have a surprise on your hands when you return at low water and find it impaled on the sunken fishing boat

We were scared that, while in his attack-mode-frenzy, he might accidentally turn on us.  I was in fits of uncontrollable laughter, partly out of nervousness and partly because what was happening was so bizarrely funny.  The height of my amusement came when our protector went for a cyclist.  The cyclist didn't see him coming at all, so the dog just suddenly materialised out of the shadows at the cyclist's feet in a tumult of barking and growling.  The cyclist jumped right out of his skin while I, and the cyclist's mate, further up the road who saw the whole thing unravel, clutched at our stomachs and tried not to collapse from laughing so hard.

The embarrassing thing was that this dog really looked like our dog.  When he wasn't busy attacking passing vehicles, he would trot obediently to heel.  Thus, it looked like we were responsible for this four legged terrorist and were irresponsibly failing to control his madness as chaos broke out on the road next to us.

Our misty anchorage this morning

As we approached the built up outskirts of Alvor, the dog started to get very agitated and didn't seem to want us to proceed into the town.  I suspect that he has maybe had bad experiences with cars and while being in towns, and therefore thought that we needed to be protected from both.  We didn't know what to do because, if we proceeded into Alvor, he got worked up into such a state, but we couldn't very well stand at the town's perimeter all night.  In the end, we ducked into the first shop we came to, a small supermarket, and spent absolutely ages picking up a few essentials in the hopes that he would have got bored and wandered back off into the night, which is what happened.  I felt bad that we couldn't say goodbye to him, or thank him for so valiantly protecting us from all of his perceived dangers, but I was very relieved that the problem was solved.

With what spare mental capacity remained while the rest of my brain was consumed by fear, I created a short, badly shot video of the anxious dog as we approached Alvor.  Watch it on YouTube.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

The Rocky Road to Paradise

"Paradise? But how can that be?", I hear you ask. The last thing you heard, we were in Portugal waiting for the weather to take us on to the Canaries, and you've seen no AIS activity to tell you otherwise. And what on earth do rocky roads have to do with sailing? Well, let me get you up to speed. The truth is that we are still in Portugal and, whilst we had hoped to be sunning ourselves in Isla Graciosa by now, we have no complaints whatsoever about being stuck on the Algarve. Not now that we have discovered the delights of Alvor.

The view from Firebird, whilst anchored in Alvor

Two weeks ago, after saying goodbye to my parents, we were due to leave Lagos Marina on the Saturday afternoon. Staying longer would have cost us around 15 Euros per night; money that we would rather spend elsewhere. Ideally, we would have headed straight out of the marina and south to the Canary Islands, but the forecast was looking unsettled. We would have been blessed with two days of ideal conditions, followed by a day or two of being becalmed and, finally, been heading into some rather unsavoury south-easterlies. We would rather, we decided, wait for a good spell of northerlies, which would be bound to turn up soon. So, we packed up and headed out of the marina to anchor back in Lagos Bay, which we had enjoyed immensely prior to our shore leave.

Flamingos, which we spotted on our walk along the river from Alvor

However, we hadn't even reached the harbour entrance before Firebird started bouncing around on some rather large waves. As we looked ahead to the seas beyond the entrance, we realised that we would be in for a bumpy night in the bay. Oh, what an understatement! We managed to drop anchor amongst some really huge waves, as the light faded to the west of us. Poor Alex was at the bow being thrown up and down at least a couple of metres, deploying the anchor whilst I struggled to keep Firebird under control for him. How on earth he managed to return to put up the anchor ball and light I don't know, but thankfully he did. We hadn't really prepared below decks for such a rocky ride, and so there was some amount of tidying to be done, whilst struggling not to fall over. By now, we were both feeling seasick and had to lie down on the bed, hoping for it to subside. It didn't.

This little kitten seemed so cute...
but, boy, did he hiss when I attempted to stroke him!

For the best part of the next two days we were bedridden, as the swell refused to relent and we both felt too ill to face returning to the marina. I managed to leave the bed on two or three occasions to cook us some food, but it was a lengthy process. Prepare food, back to bed. Start cooking, back to bed. Remove from stove, back to bed. Dish up and bring back to bed. Eat food. Wait. Either sigh with relief at not feeling sick or regret ever eating the food, which is now in danger of reappearing. Aside from that, we brought my small laptop into bed with us and watched an episode of George Clark's Amazing Spaces every now and then. As we started to feel a little better, we joked about our 'bed-cation', which was actually quite fun, as far as seasickness goes! Usually, being seasick goes hand in hand with just three hours sleep alone, before being rudely awakened for a three hour watch in undoubtedly rough conditions. To be able to be ill together and not need to do anything apart from stay in bed was actually a real luxury!

The waves crashing on to Alvor beach created this sand cliff all the way along!

We had been told about the anchorage at Alvor, which was meant to be very sheltered and a lovely little town, so we decided to head there early Wednesday morning. We were a little wary of entering the anchorage as there is around two miles of shallow channel that must be navigated, and our depth sounder hasn't worked for the past few months now. We entered cautiously on a rising tide, following a chart, our GPS position on Google maps and the pilot manual. Thankfully we made it to the anchorage without hitting any of the sand banks and we anchored in perfectly calm conditions, at the start of what was looking like a lovely sunny day. After tidying up Firebird, we had a look around the area and the yacht next to us seemed familiar. A Dutch registered vessel called Lily. Suddenly, I remembered that we had been anchored next to her at Cascais!

Lily leaving the anchorage, heading to Morocco

Lily's crew emerged on deck and we began chatting, before being invited over there for coffee. We introduced ourselves to Siv and Henry, and also to a British chap named Tim who had popped past in his nice yellow tender. We spent a good few hours aboard Lily, getting to know Siv and Henry, before all being invited over to Tim and his wife Fran's impressive wooden boat, Springtide, which Tim rebuilt himself over nine years after buying her as a complete shipwreck. What a wonderful start to our stay in Alvor, which has turned out to be a very sociable place.

A waterfront view of the moorings in Alvor, as the sun fades

Aside from the social aspects of being anchored here, we have discovered a good many benefits of this peaceful little haven. Firstly, it is incredibly sheltered and calm, meaning that for the first time we can row Trinity ashore rather than needing to use our outboard. Additionally, there are a couple of pontoons which we can tie up to when going ashore, meaning that we don't need to worry about landing on a beack and getting wet feet, at best, or completely soaked. Another benefit of the calm is that we have been able to get plenty of jobs done on the boat, which can often be difficult when in a rocky anchorage.

Alex looking rather pleased with himself for spotting this stranded jellyfish.
Neither of us were brave enough to carry him back to the water...

We have found ourselves with plenty of time to explore, and have enjoyed lengthy walks in the sunshine along the river heading inland and along the glorious beach. Alex found a little friend on one of our walks; an adorable dog who decided to accompany us for the entire walk, as if she belonged to us! She seemed to just enjoy being with us, especially when we stroked her and gave her lots of attention. She did not, however, seem too impressed with Alex's attempt to play fetch with her. I don't think anyone had ever taught her that it was fun to chase after a stick and bring it back to the thrower, so she just looked at Alex as if he had gone a little loopy when he tried.

Alex with his furry friend

The town of Alvor is, in itself, delightful, with music from an accordion emanating from the town square every lunchtime. There is a lovely farmer's market on the weekend from which we bought a load of fresh produce which was very cheap, and the locals are all very friendly and happy to help. We have met a number of individuals from boats moored here permanently, who have all been very interesting and keen to give us directions, advice... and even a tow to the pontoon to save Alex from rowing! We have found a number of great places to go for coffee or food, including a little bar called Panda which does a 'Prato do Dia' for only 7 Euros each! This included bread, olives, a drink, a main meal, a dessert and a coffee - incredible value and delicious food. Finally, we were told that the local sports centre was a good spot for a shower, and we made full use of the pool too by both swimming for well over an hour, which felt great.

We had fun creating a little pool by building a dam on the beach

So, as we look forward to next week and see the forecast is still abysmal, we aren't sighing too hard at the prospect of being "stuck" here a while longer. Sure, we are keen to get to the warmth of the Canaries, especially as we hope to see our friends on their yacht Moonshine in Isla Graciosa before they move on, but we aren't going to be taking any risks in order to get there. We are quite content in our little safe haven, listening to the crashing waves on the beach beyond the sand banks, feeling rather smug that we have found this little piece of paradise and have the time to just enjoy it.

One of many glorious sunsets, watched from the waterfront in Alvor