What to Expect along the Atlantic Coast of Portugal?

What to Expect along the Atlantic Coast of Portugal?

21. March 2017 Off By Søren

I must admit, that I am in suspense as to which challenges sailing out into the Atlantic Ocean along the coast of Portugal will bring. Yes, June and I actually sailed first part from Lagos to Lisbon during mid-term break last fall, but this was with no wind or swell, meaning calm sailing mostly by motor.

Sailing north in the summer months are more difficult due to the “Portuguese Norder”, a Portuguese northerly trade wind which mainly exists in the summer months (April to September). The wind will build up around noon, and will not calm down until sunset. As we are heading north, we will have to negotiate the Portuguese Norder, and probably tack our way up the coast in 15 m/s or more. On a top 5 list of things that needs to be ready is being able to reef the main sail.

Cruising guides recommend north going sailors to head out early in the morning and be in next port around noon. However, this makes it difficult to sail the distance we have planned this year. In addition, if you are out on the ocean and it starts being windy, some of the ports are difficult to enter, and even closes down if there is swell as well (see below).

I have followed a discussion on Facebook regarding this, and some of the advices was to take sail out to the Azores, then from the Azores up to the English Channel. Quite a detour and as a minimum double up on the miles, as you might see in the diagram, but more comfortable. As we are increasingly looking forward to bring the boat home and start the real maintenance work, and already has decided to take the detour through Irish Sea and Caledonian Canal, we cannot extend the trip further. We would probably need another year to get her home if sailing out to the Azores.

Another important factor to consider on the Atlantic Ocean is swell. This is waves that emerge from heavy weather far out on the ocean, and which travels many miles, where they can have significantly impact. Locally the wind can be nice and calm, but due to swell, the sea state can be very rough, especially close to the coast, where the waves can rise to 4-meter high and breaking waves. Therefore, we will have to consider swell as well as it can prevent us from entering a port.

Wind, swell and routes

Going north from Lisbon
1: The long but more comfortable route via the Azores
2: Upwind with long legs and few tacs
3: From port to port, few hours per day

The plan right now is to sail some more long legs (no. 2 in the diagram), also because the port are not that close, especially not those that can be entered in any kind of weather. We will have to try to have a plan B, C and maybe D ready and adjust as we go aling. I am studying the pilot books to know exactly which ports can be used in different conditions. Moreover, the weather and swell forecasts must be studied thoroughly before sailing off.

Of cause, it is also possible, that we get the most fantastic cruising weather, can make stops on the way for swimming, and reach La Coruña in good time for finding a good weather window for the Bay of Biscay – the next challenge.