Cascais to Gibraltar
Sines Lagoa Gibraltar Click on chart to view at full resolution
The first leg of my 2006 cruise was to get from Cascais, PT to the Med.  This meant sailing from Portugal to Gibraltar starting in mid-April.   I had originally planned to spend a month or more cruising through the Algarve of Portugal and the SW coast of Spain.  My friends Chris and Martin volunteered to sail with me directly from Cascais to Gibraltar.  Given the choice of sailing single-handed through the Algarve and having an experienced crew for the transit of the Straits of Gibraltar, I elected to go with the later option.  This turned out to be a very prudent choice.
Cascais Departure
On this leg of the 2006 cruise I was fortunate to have two experienced crewmates in Martin (center) and Chris (right).  These are two experienced sailors.  Chris has made two Atlantic crossing on his Bavaria 43 and Martin single hands his S&S 32 and he is a former harbor pilot.  Martin has also been into Gibraltar more than once.



Click on picture to view at full resolution
Photo by Dora Nordby

I wanted to have crew when transiting the Straits of Gibraltar as I expected the combination of current, weather and heavy shipping would make single handing less than fun.  As it turned out the straits did not present any great difficulty on this occasion, but the rest of the trip would have been extremely difficult without them.

While making final preparations for departure the first of a number of little things began to happen that should have suggested this was not going to be a simple cruise.  While changing the oil and filters on the Northern Lights Generator I dropped the end cap for the oil evacuation port and of course it fell into the lazarette and rolled under the fuel tank - to be lost until I have to replace that tank.  Martin helped me look for a possible replacement or temporary seal, but we could find nothing that would fit the threads of the port nor would be secure enough to allow operation of the generator.  When the generator starts and the oil is pressurized I expect oil would spray out of this port just as if I forgot to replace the oil dipstick.  So until I can get a replacement part or a satisfactory seal on the port, the generator would not be an option for the trip.  That turned out not to be a major factor as we used the engine for 4/5 of the trip, but it was only the first of a series of failures and breakages like I've never seen on this boat.

About two weeks before departure the Brookhouse NMEA Multiplexer began to lock up and stop transmitting.  At first it was an intermittent condition, but within a few days of our departure it stopped working all together.  I tested a few things suggested by Brookhouse with no success.  The Multiplexer is not essential for the electronic instruments and navigation on Sarah, but it is the main tool by which I can quickly implement a series of re-configurations should I have one or more of the electronic components on Sarah fail.  So I wired the multiplexer out of the system for this trip.

On Sunday, April 16 we took Sarah out for a test sail to familiarize Chris and Martin with the boat and to insure the boat was ready for the trip.

We sailed Sarah for about 4 hours in the mouth of the Rio Tejo in about 15 kts of wind.  The boat performed well and all systems worked perfectly except the magnetic heading reported by the autopilot.  That heading was about 150 degrees off, but it did not effect the autopilot operation, just the display on the chart plotter.  We sailed under autopilot control most of the time and did not use the Monitor wind vane.

Once back inside the Cascais harbor we swung Sarah in a slow circle to allow the autopilot to calculate the compass deviation and correct the heading value.  At the end of this operation the heading value again agreed with the steering compass and we returned Sarah to her berth.

At this point, in spite of the NMEA multiplexer failure and the generator not being operational, I could not be more confident for out departure the following Wednesday.

Click on picture to view at full resolution
Photo by Dora Nordby
Click on picture to view at full resolution
Photo by Dora Nordby
Cascais to Sines, April 19, 2006
We had planned to depart at 7:00 AM on Wednesday, April 19 and sail 50nm to Sines, PT, where Martin keeps his boat.  Martin needed to pick up clothes and his passport for the trip.

Click on picture to view at full resolutionAt 6:30 I had the engine started and was checking all of the electronics.  When I plugged in the Raymarine autopilot remote control it reported a SeaTalk failure.  With it connected no traffic passed on the SeaTalk network, which interconnects all of my Raymarine electronics, including the GPS and Chart Plotter.

When I disconnected the remote everything seemed fine.  Since I use the remote as my main autopilot control in the cockpit, not having the a working remote meant we had to go into the cabin each time we wanted to engage or disengage the autopilot or change the boat's heading.  This would have been a problem for me if I were single-handing, but it appeared just an inconvenience with crew on board.  I checked the plug on the autopilot and deck receptacle and both showed no sign of corrosion and the wires were solidly secured.  It appeared the problem was in the remote, which had been serviced with new firmware a few months before I left Florida the previous year.

So we departed Cascais about an hour late.  I had nearly a half-tank of fuel (about 35 gallons), which was plenty to get us to Sines, where we planned to refuel.

Click on picture to view at full resolution

We motored across the mouth of the Rio Tejo, passed Cabo de Espichel and continued down the coast of Portugal.  Just below Espichel the wind picked and we set sails and turned off the engine.

Within an hour of starting to sail the autopilot suddenly dropped into Standby and the boat veered off course.  We corrected the course and re-engaged the autopilot.  The autopilot worked for another 1/2 hour, then dropped into Standby again.  I had never experienced this kind of autopilot failure before.  The autopilot did occasionally turn the wheel about 1/10 turn for a second or two then back to the originally position.  This didn't cause a course deviation, but I thought I fied that problem by relocating the SSB radio away from all electronics and signal wiring over the previous winter.

We checked wiring on the computer and the control unit and all appeared fine.  We experimented with turning off various other electronics, but the autopilot would not stay engaged for more than a 1/2 hour.

Finally we (actually just Chris) manually steered Sarah in a freshening breeze the rest of the way to Sines.

Click on picture to view at full resolutionDuring this time I went into the head and found the knob on the flush valve of the toilet laying on the floor.  Next to it was my toothbrush holder, which I had forgotten to store away before we departed.  The knob, which controls water flowing into the bow, had broken off on the stem of the valve.  The broken top of the stem is shown in the picture on the right.  There was no way to allow seawater to enter the toilet bowl and flush the contents.  Until this was fixed the only way to flush the toilet would with fresh water using the shower head.  The problems were beginning to add up:


  1. Lost generator end cap
  2. Broken autopilot remote control
  3. Malfunctioning autopilot
  4. Broken toilet flush valve
  5. NMEA Multiplexer not working
We arrived at the Marina in Sines around 4:00PM.  We tied Sarah to the fuel dock and processed our re-entry into Portugal.  Martin has been living in Sines for more than a year and has acquired a wide range of Portuguese and cruising sailor friends in this port.  Not the least of those friends are the two dogs belonging to the GNR Police station at the marina.

We requested fuel from the marina and where told the fuel dock operator would be there at 6:00PM.  6:00PM came and went and the fuel operator never showed. 

With the autopilot malfunctioning we decided that a straight shot from Sines to Gibraltar was not a good idea.  We decided to stop in Lagos, PT where there are extensive marine services.  Hopefully we could get the autopilot repaired quickly and resume the trip to Gib.

We still had more than 25 gallons of fuel in the tank, which was plenty to get us the 90 nm to Lagos.  So we forgot about re-fueling in Sines and departed right after dawn the next day.

Sines to Lagos, April 20, 2006
We left Sines in nearly calm conditions and began motoring down the coast of Portugal.  We tried several more times to use the autopilot and it continued to malfunction.  We gave up and hand steered the rest of the way to Lagos.

The wind never filled in as it did the previous day, so we continued to motor.

50 nm below Sines is the Cabo de Sao Vicente, one of the major capes of Atlantic Europe.

I am told the building that is part of the lighthouse at one time was a training facility for Portuguese harbor pilots. 

Click on picture to view at full resolution
Click on picture to view at full resolution
Click on picture to view at full resolutionAfter we turned the corner at the bottom of Portugal, it was another 30 nm to Lagos.

Lagos is a very popular tourist and sailing destination.  It has excellent beaches and hotels, a well run marina and a very professional boatyard.

Lagos also has a set of very unusual rock formation along the coast, which are difficult to see in the picture on the left as the sun had set by the time we entered the harbor.

The harbor at Lagos is largely man-made.  We entered through well lit breakwaters and traveled about 3/4 nm  on a canal to the reception dock for the marina.  By the time we arrived the marina office was closed so we spent the night tied to the reception dock.

Click on picture to view at full resolution

The next day, when the office opened, we had to re-process into Portugal.  This time the immigration official noticed that I had overstayed my 90 tourist Visa by about 1 week  (see Staying Legal in Portugal for details).  I was told I had to apply for a Visa extension in Portimoa, about 20 km from Lagos.  I described my attempts to secure an extension while in Cascais.  The official was sympathetic, but maintained I still had to get an extension to legally stay in Lagos.  Finally he gave me the phone number of the SEF office in Portimoa and told me it would be just as difficult to get through to this office as the one in Cascais.  I took that to mean he didn't care if I really got the extension so long as I made a bona fide attempt and I left Portugal very soon.  This was Friday and the office would be closed on Saturday and Sunday so I made three attempts to call the office with no answer.  We planned to leave before Monday, so we moved Sarah to a berth in the marina.

One thing was clear, this would have to be my last port of call in Portugal this summer.

The Marina de Lagos is very large, clean and well run.  It is a very popular destination for British tourists and sailors.  In fact English is the more commonly spoken language in the shops and pubs in the marina than Portuguese.  Many British sailors live here year-round on their boats.

Click on picture to view at full resolution

On the left Martin is enjoying a pint in one of the British pubs in the marina, watching Rugby on the TV.

While at the marina I went thoroughly over the autopilot installation.  I also got access to the Internet, searched the Raymarine website for answers to our problems and sent a technical support request.  The website and the response to the request both pointed to a problem in the drive unit.  The remote control appeared to be a separate and unrelated problem. 

There is an independent tradesman in the marina who services electrical and electronic equipment on boats and he came aboard to help us with the problem.  He agreed the problem could be the drive unit, with which he could not help us.  However he helped me go over the electrical wiring of the course computer to see if the problem could be there.  He could find nothing of substance, but did recommend that I increase the wire size of the negative battery connection to the computer.  Neither of us really expected this to solve the problem as the autopilot had been running for 5 years on that battery lead, but I agreed it was worth doing.

At least Martin was able to epoxy a machine screw into the valve stem to replace the broken knob and create a temporary fix for the toilet flush valve.  Now we could turn the valve and flush the bowl with seawater.  The question is how long this fix would hold up.  While in Lagos I used the WIFI Internet connection or order replacement parts from Raritan and have them shipped to my mail forwarder in Florida.

In retrospect I believe most of the electronics failures we encountered were the result of the poor placement of the SSB radio at the navigation station.  The transmitter and the antenna cable were too close to the autopilot computer and the Brookhouse mux and the strong RF impulses generated by the radio started the other devices on the road to failure.  I had hoped my relocation of the SSB radio the previous winter would avoid these kind of failures, but I guess it was too little too late.  As a consequence I spent most of the Med cruise attempting to fix or replace the failing devices.  The autopilot remote failure is the only electronics issue that I do not believe was caused by the original SSB radio installation.

Lagos to Gibraltar, April 23 - 24, 2006
Click on picture to view at full resolution

On Sunday, April 23 after taking on fuel, we left Lagos and I left Portugal for the final time enroute to Gibraltar.

As expected the autopilot failed within 1/2 hour.  We again experimented with turning off other electronics with no success and we hand steered Sarah the 180nm to Gib.  That night we ran into a large mass of fairly intense thunderstorms.  The storms produced lots of lightning, heavy rain and winds and steep seas.  It was a very uncomfortable 2 - 3 hours, but as the storms passed we had a fair wind behind us and were able to resume sailing for the first time since we arrived in Sines.

The wind was short-lived and the engine came back on.  If we had wind we could have used the monitor to steer Sarah, but under power we had to steer.  All that night and most of the next day it was cloudy and rainy, but still no wind.  During the night Martin & Chris wakened me  from my off-watch to say all of the instruments and the chart plotter had suddenly gone dark.  I checked the House battery voltage, and it was fully discharged.  How could that be when we were running the engine?  I checked the voltage on the Starter battery and it was over 14 volts, clearly the alternator was working.  Then I checked the battery combiner I installed last year in Florida.  The LED on the combiner was not on.  With the Start batter fully charged the combiner should have connected both batteries and allow the alternator maintain charge on the House battery.  For some reason the combiner had failed.  This was not a major problem as I just turned on the Both battery switch, which manually performed the same function as the combiner.  I just have to remember to turn off this switch when I stop the motor to insure I maintain the Start battery at full charge while I use the House battery.  Then I have to remember to turn the switch on when I start the engine so that the House battery can be re-charged.

One more item added to the problem list:

  1. Lost generator end cap
  2. Broken autopilot remote control
  3. Malfunctioning autopilot
  4. Broken toilet flush valve (temporarily fixed)
  5. Broken battery combiner
  6. NMEA Multiplexer not working

This is really getting old.


Click on screen capture to view at full resolution

We entered the straits of Gibraltar around 4:00PM.

The shipping traffic in this narrow passage is truly amazing.  I had equipped Sarah with an AIS receiver and interfaced it to my PC-based chart plotting software (SOB).  The screen capture on the left shows the ship traffic in the straits as we neared Gibraltar.

For more information on AIS in general, and the installation on Sarah in particular, go to the web page I set up to cover AIS.

As we entered the straits we picked up a boost from the current running into the Med.  The current stayed with us all the way to Algeciras Bay.  As we neared Gibraltar the clouds and haze cleared somewhat and we had a great view of the Europa Point and the "Rock".


Gibraltar is a very busy port and a popular destination for cruising sailors.  In the past there had been three marinas in Gib and although space was always tight one could always expect to find a berth.  Two years ago one of the marinas, Sheppard's, was sold for a resort development and that left only two marinas in Gib with less than 350 berths between them.  Most of these berths are permanently occupied by local boats.

I had tried without success to get a reservation at one of the marinas several weeks before we departed.  I even delayed my original departure plans by about a week (and over-stayed my visa) in the hopes things would loosen up a bit.

When we left Lagos for Gib we did so with no assurance there would be a berth for Sarah when we arrived. 

The first marina encountered when entering Gibraltar is Queensway Quay in the heart of the town.  We approached the reception dock for the marina and called them on channel 71 to request a berth.  After a few minutes they came back and said they could not accommodate us.

We continued on to what used to be the customs dock in Gibraltar.  When we tied to the dock we discovered that the customs office has been permanently closed and all processing of yachts and crew is now done at either of the two marinas.  The second marina, Marina Bay, was just across the channel and we called them on the radio to request space.  After nearly 1/2 hour they came back that they could accommodate us for the evening on their seawall, but they may not have space after one night.  I took the berth and we tied Sarah to the seawall.

The next day a German boat left and we were able to move Sarah into a proper berth with the expectation I could stay for at least a week.

Click on picture to view at full resolution
Click on picture to view at full resolution
Click on picture to view at full resolutionAfter Sarah was in her berth, my crewmates departed to return to Portugal. 

I was very fortunate to have them along.  Without them I would have had to stay in Portugal and get the autopilot fixed.  More importantly their experience and knowledge made the trip more efficient and safe.  I owe them both a lot.

On the same day I was able to get a technician onboard to look at the autopilot.  He verified that the drive motor was the problem and scheduled himself to install a new motor in a few days.  I purchased a replacement remote control from the Chandlery at Sheppard's, which was delivered duty-free to the boat the next day.  Finally I also purchased an aluminum Passarelle as I am now in the world of Med-style moorings.  Finger piers and pontoons that I was used to in the States and Portugal will become more uncommon as I cruise further into the Med.

With the autopilot repair underway and a replacement for the remote purchased,  I could now relax a bit and enjoy my brief stay in Gibraltar.

I also ordered a replacement battery combiner and had it sent to my brother, Jeff, who would be joining me on June 1.

Gibraltar, April 24 - 30, 2006  
For the first four days in Gib I had little time for anything but fixing things, getting people to fix things, buying replacement parts, and running general errands.  My sightseeing was limited to looking around as I hiked from one store to another.  One thing about Gib that is different from Cascais is that you can actually buy useful things at the local chandlery.  In Cascais the the chandlery stocked sailing paraphernalia instead of hardware.  Anything I needed usually had to be ordered and took a minimum of one week to arrive (if it arrived at all).   At Sheppard's Chandlery in Gib they could supply everything I asked for except Racor filters, which were due in the next week.  Unfortunately I was in the need of a lot of useful things which Sheppard's could supply and my bank account took a big hit.

Click on picture to view at full resolutionOn the right is Main Street, Gibraltar.  Most of this street is pedestrian only and is the main shopping district.  Gib has a large duty free enterprise and most of the stores cater to transients - sailors such as myself, cruise ship passengers, and hotel tourists.  One thing that mitigated a bit the cost of purchases in Gib was that Sheppard's delivered the items duty and VAT free to my boat.

While on an errand to the industrial park at New Harbor I passed the Queensway Quay Marina and stopped in the look around.  In the picture on the right is one of the pontoons at Queensway.  I believe most of the boats on this pontoon are permanently berthed here.  The picture below is of what I believe to be the primary transient pontoon at Queensway.  As you can see there are several open berths.  I don't know what the pontoons looked like the night we arrived, but clearly they have room for a few transients on this day.

I noticed a similar situation at Marina Bay where Sarah is berthed.  The marina appeared full the night we arrived, but since then there have been as many 6 open berths.  There is also some area on the docks that do not appear to be used for berths, but could be.  It is possible these open berths have been reserved and paid for.  I never inquired at the office.  If that were the case it appears the marinas have a limited incentive to squeeze people in as there would be no net increase in revenue to put a boat in a paid for transient berth that is unoccupied.

I do realize it is difficult to keep a marina like this filled when the transients must come significant distances and their arrival is often delayed by weather or changes in plans.

Click on picture to view at full resolution
Click on picture to view at full resolution
Click on picture to view at full resolutionIt is clear that Gibraltar is trying to increase the number of yacht berths in this port.  At Queensway they are actively expanding the marina and reclaiming land in a previously unused portion of the harbor.
Click on picture to view at full resolutionWhile on my errand to New Harbor I needed to mail some items and climbed Scud Hill to get to the Post Office.  Although this is a British administered territory, it is in the Latin portion of Europe.  The Post Office was closed from 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM.  My mail items would have to wait until I got to Spain to be posted.

From Scud Hill I took this picture of the Gibraltar harbor through a narrow walkway.  There is a huge cruise ship (biggest I've ever seen) docked in Gibraltar.  I forgot to turn on my AIS receiver when I returned to the boat to get the name of the ship.  From the emblem I believe it is one of the Princess Line ships.

Before I sailed to Europe I had the common impression that English food belongs in the same oxymoron category as airplane food - not good.  While in London for the Boat Show I was pleasantly surprised that every restaurant meal was excellent.  Even the British bar food (e.g., fish & chips) was good, given it didn't pretend to be anything other than bar food.  I wondered where all the bad English food had gone.  Then I arrived in Gibraltar and dined out twice.  Bad English food is alive and well in Gib.  It is also very expensive.