From the Islas Cíes in Spain we sail south to Porto, where we meet sailing cargo ship Tres Hombres. They have no engine, so we help them move upriver and moor next to them in central Porto. We also go on a port wine expedition in the Douro valley before heading further south via Aveiro and Nazaré to Cascais and Lisbon.

Islas Cíes (ESP) – Lisbon (PRT)

Impressive Speeds

Countless stars brighten a clear sky over the Islas Cíes. A steady easterly wind starts to blow, perfect to sail south to Portugal. It is bedtime, but since the wind is our main power source, we adapt to its rhythm and lift the anchor instead of going to sleep. We leave the protection of the islands and find ourselves on the Atlantic Ocean again. On a close reach course, we make good progress southward. We are pleased with our speed, which also attracts a large group of dolphins. Their tireless play with Luci is entertaining, their agile moves and speed fascinating.

When we reach the river Douro entrance in the early morning, the tide is still outgoing. We need to sail upriver to reach the city of Porto, but the strong current necessitates the use of our engine. Luckily there is a marina just around the corner of the breakwater, so we don’t have to fight the river for long before we can berth, check-in and head for the showers. We have officially arrived in our 10th country on this trip!

Fairtransport in Porto

Not long after our arrival, the sailing cargo ship “Tres Hombres” arrives in Porto. The “Fairtransport” shipping company uses sailboats to transport goods. We’ve been fans of these sustainable pioneers for years and are in luck. We’re allowed to moor alongside the 32m schooner and get a chance to meet the crew.

From captain and co-founder Andreas Lackner we learn more about the Fairtransport mission. He explains that shipping cargo overseas without soot, sulphur dioxide and CO2 emissions should be the rule, not the exception. Fairtransport does not even want to compete with the major motorized shipping companies. Instead, they are convinced that the majority of current shipping volumes are in fact superfluous because products should and could be made locally and consumed more sustainably. That is why they only transport “luxury” foods that are not available locally, such as cacao, coffee and rum. Our full story on Fairtransport is included in a sustainable solution on our website.

Sustainable Port Wine?

We spend a week in Porto, Portugal’s second largest city, moored next to “Tres Hombres” and a stone’s throw from the iconic bridge over the river Douro designed by Eiffel. Of course we can’t leave without finding out more about the wine that was named after this town. In fact only wine from the Douro river valley can be called “Port”. We cross the bridge to Vila Nova de Gaia, where all of the port wine warehouses are located. Do they have port wine made in a sustainable way?

At Graham’s, one of the leading Port brands, we learn how the wine is made. The key difference with normal wine is that a grape brandy is added during an early stage of the fermentation process, resulting in a sweeter and more alcoholic wine. This was initially done for conservation purposes, so it could be shipped to England. We taste their organic port wine, made from grapes that are grown without synthetic fertilizer or pesticides. Eager to buy this delicious wine, we ask for the price. “Sorry, we no longer sell it. Perhaps some stores in town still have some bottles left” What a disappointment! Apparently it wasn’t as successful as they hoped it would be.

We continue our search in Porto’s wine stores. Hopefully the “Do you have organic port wine?” question still resonates with a dozen of sales people and will trigger a wave of new demand. Then we find another brand – Fonseca – that also produces an organic port wine. To explore this first hand, we travel to their “Quinta” – or vineyard – in the Douro river valley. We take the train to Pinhão, a small town that is considered to be the heart of the port wine region. From the train we enjoy the view on the river and the vineyards. Astonishing to see so many grapevines in the area. During a tour of the Fonseca vineyard, we learn that for natural fertilizers and pest controls to be effective, fewer grapevines per m2 can be planted. Therefore, the short-term yield in an organic vineyard is somewhat lower, and the grapes are more expensive. Their “prima terra” port wine is delicious and still for sale. Although we believe this organic port wine is surely a step in the right direction, we hesitate to call it sustainable. We decide to continue our search for a sustainable wine producer during our world trip. One that makes good use of biodiversity, closes the natural nutrient loop, and uses an equitable business model.

Along the Coast

Our next stop along the Portuguese coast is the Rio de Aveiro. A day trip away from Porto, we decide to anchor near São Jacinto instead of sailing upriver all the way up to the town that named the river. São Jacinto turns out to be a quiet village near a wide, sandy beach and nature reserve. The dunes and pine trees make for a beautiful hike and remind us of Terschelling back home. To visit the town, we take a ferry and bus. Thanks to its two (!) canals and brightly coloured gondolas – old fishing vessels – the city is known as “the Venice of Portugal”. While we find that a bit of a stretch, Aveiro is certainly worth visiting, not least for the surrounding wetlands, where we spot a flock of flamingos.

As we leave the Rio de Aveiro, we make use of the strong outgoing tide that reaches around 5 knots. But we underestimate the effect of the outgoing water mass on the westerly ocean swell. The steep, breaking waves make us feels like being inside a washing machine. We have to hold on tight while Luci is tossed around. After a few miles we reach calmer waters and check the state of the main cabin. Luckily we had stowed away almost everything before we left, there is only some fruit and firewood scattered around the floor. A good lesson for the next time we enter or exit a river! (Scroll down to the video to see the footage)

A sunny daytrip later we reach Nazaré, quite a picturesque town with a sizeable fishing harbour. The harbour can be accessed easily and offers good shelter for the stormy showers that are expected. So we read at least. In the evening we are in our warm cabin while the rain pours and the wind howls. Suddenly we hear knocking on our deck, it’s our Finnish neighbour. He’s quite excited and points out that the entire pontoon is dangerously moving. Being a winter guest, he recognizes the problem from an earlier occasion: the chain that holds the pontoon in place broke loose. With Luci at the end of the pontoon, we are clearly no longer safe. But manoeuvring in this type of weather isn’t really safe either. When the rain and wind abate, we decide to go. We quickly move the boat to the next pontoon. Not long thereafter, the next heavy shower passes. Happy to have avoided any damage to our and other boats, we thank our neighbour for his timely advice!

The next day the sun is out again and Ivar’s parents visit us. It’s heart-warming to see them again after half a year. And what a great service – they took spare parts and other goods with them in their car. Unpacking the chocolate letters, syrup waffles, cheese and other goodies feels a bit like a late Sinterklaas!

From Nazaré it’s another daytrip to Cascais, where we anchor just outside the marina. It’s the 19th of December, but we’re not getting into Christmas mood yet. Perhaps because of the continued sun, blue skies and almost summer-like temperatures? Making our “Sailors for Sustainability” Christmas card helps only a bit. We treat ourselves to a delicious vegetarian lunch at a colourful restaurant named “House of Wonders”. Strolling alongside the beautiful boulevard and beaches, we find the first organic supermarket since we’re in Portugal: a store called “Brio” in Estoril.

That evening the swell increases and Luci slowly starts to roll from left to right and back. The offshore wind is very light so clearly not causing this. The waves are coming from some far away place. We hope that the high tide is causing the breakwater to be less effective in providing shelter to our anchorage, and expect the rolling will decrease again with low tide. But during the night this proves to be wishful thinking. It’s hard to sleep with such uncomfortable moves. At 03:00 am we hear a loud crash and are both immediately awake. When Ivar checks the cabin, he finds a coffee mug in pieces on the floor. While cleaning up the shards and doing the dishes in the middle of the night, he promises himself to never again leave dishes for the next morning while being anchored.

The next day we kayak to the Cascais shore to reconvene with Ivar’s parents. They take us to the impressively high “Cabo da Roca”, the cape that marks the most westerly point of mainland Europe which we passed earlier with Luci. Our luxury road trip continues as our personal drivers also take us to the historical town of Sintra. This charming place gets us further into the seasonal mood when we see a bus full of Portuguese kids in Santa outfits, ready to visit the local Christmas market.


Lisboa, the Portuguese name for the country’s capital city Lisbon, is only 10 miles away from Cascais. When we leave at dawn to make use of the incoming tide up the Tejo river, it’s our first time to experience a foul anchor ground. Floris quickly takes a knife and cuts abandoned fishing gear from the anchor chain. We take it all on deck, including a starfish that is attached to it. What a mess! One garbage bag only just fits all the ropes and plastic containers. At least we get some comfort from the idea that we did our part in cleaning up the place. And hopefully the starfish that we put back in the sea wasn’t homeless for too long.

As we approach Lisboa, the rising sun shines it light on the city and starts to warm the air. Both monumental and modern buildings show themselves between the mostly white colored houses and flats. We pass a Golden Gate look-alike bridge and moor up in Alcantara dock. Fellow sailors recommended this marina to us, and despite the proximity of a container terminal the facilities are fine and the location quite central. We take time to do some boat maintenance. After countless hours of manual knotting, we install our “schurftplatting” in the rigging. Stay tuned to learn more about this phenomenon. We also prepare Luci for the arrival of Ivar’s parents. They stay with us for a few days to celebrate Christmas together.

The little Christmas tree onboard, a glass of organic port wine and the various presents surely help to get us fully into Christmas mood. Via a mutual friend we get an invitation from Henk and Marjolein. They are sailing around the world for the second time, and it’s great to meet them on their boat “Jori”. We can even join them for a traditional Fado dinner on Christmas day.

For three days we enjoy being tourists in the city, generously treated by Ivar’s parents to nice restaurants, the oceanic aquarium and other highlights. Our first Christmas abroad is certainly one we’ll never forget!

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