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West Portugal

West Portugal is a 300nm long coast of passage, rather than a cruising ground. It has two cities of great character to visit, both suitable for wintering ashore or afloat; Porto (10/10) and Lisboa (8/10). There are enough safe ports along the low sandy coastline to allow day sailing when running south with the prevailing summer winds - the Portuguese trades.  With time and ingenuity, day sails northwards from port to port against the trades are possible.

West Portugal Weather and Sea State

Climate is noticeably warmer than in Biscay. In winter, occasional depressions create some vicious weather, but these are rare from April to October. Atlantic swell at any time of year can prevent access to ports with exposed sand bars - see wave height & forecast - and select your local beach/port on the right. Fog is moderately frequent in summer, some 4% of the time. Persistent summer winds blow from the north for days at a time from April through to October (the Portuguese trade winds) lighter in the mornings, reaching up to F5 or F6 in the afternoons. Strategies for going north while the trade winds blow are:

  1. Depart very early in the morning, aiming to arrive at your next port by mid day.
  2. In strong weather (if the wind persists overnight), wait for a weather window! 
  3. Go in spring or autumn, when northerly winds are far less persistent.
  4. If you have strong crew and boat,  consider a three-day tack out to sea and back. But that's voyaging. Not to my taste anymore. Age.

West Portugal Tides and Currents

Tidal range is less than 3m throughout and needs to be considered when entering some estuaries, most of which have sand bars at the entrance. Tidal streams are only significant in the Tagus river (for Lisboa), running at up to 3kts. A light wind-driven south-going current runs along the coast in the summer.

Time Zone. Portugal runs on GMT for winter, GMT + 1 for summer, the same as England. Spain runs one hour later. Catches many people out!

Click here for Portuguese Boat Regulations

W Portugal Harbours, Ports and Marinas - north to south

For detail about cruising in Portugal, see David Lumby's site. It's not up to date on marinas and shipyards but is good on anchorages. The following are a selection of destinations from north to south. Ports and harbours of West Portugal

Viana do Castelo. (7/10) This pretty town is worth a stop. If so, take the funicular or taxi (cheap) to the temple overlooking the town, go to the platform above the dome,  walk to the Pousada behind the temple past the ruins of the Celtic round houses. Have a beer on the veranda (outstanding views).

Povoa de Varzim. Povoa has a good value little marina, a shore hard suitable for wintering, and connects to Porto with a light railway.

Leixoes is a busy harbour and can be entered in any conditions. The marina run by local yacht clubs is often rather oily, but there are excellent seafood restaurants nearby, and it is only a short ride on one of the frequent buses into Porto.

Porto. (10/10) Porto is a "must visit", especially if you'd like to learn about port - the drinkable sort. Entry to the Douro river can be limited by swell or strong winds. Marina Douro, suitable for wintering ashore or afloat, is a mile up the river on the south bank. It's also possible to moor temporarily alongside the town quay on the north bank, with the town of Porto (a world heritage site) tumbling picturesquely down to the riverside. Convenient airport, good for crew changes. "Must See" includes:

  • Port lodges in Gaia, over the bridge on the south side of the river, offer tours and tastings. Taylor's is our favourite, very informative, though a bit of a hike up the hillside away from the slurping masses.
  • Solar do Vinho do Porto offers hundreds of port wines of many types, bought by the glass, in very civilised surroundings on the Porto side, just west of the 'Crystal Palace'.
  • Recover among the cafés and restaurants above the old quayside.
  • Consider an up-river excursion. Part gorge, it's beautiful. If your air draft is less that 6.5m, do it yourself. Taller than that, if you're really keen, you can pull your mast at Marina Douro

Figueiro de Foz.  Figueiro does not have an all-weather entrance, but it's a stop to see the old university town of Coimbra (7/10) and visit some of the lovely old university buildings. Take the train, which follows the river with many rice paddy fields en route.

Nazare and Peniche.  Both harbours have marinas or visitor pontoons, and are safe to enter in almost any conditions.  From either port, if you can tear yourself away from the seafood restaurants, consider a bus ride to the to the old walled city of Obidos (7/10), little changed since the fourteenth century, except it's dense with tourists like us in the daytime. Nice little anchorage in the lee of Berlinga, the island 6nm off Peniche. Incredible surfing location just N of Peniche.

Lisboa.  (8/10) Lisbon has more to offer then Porto. But being a bigger city, it takes longer to learn and explore. Bone up on it with the 'Rough Guide to Portugal, Lisboa' and plan a stay of at least three nights - preferably a week - it's a fun place. Or winter there. Convenient airport, good for a crew change. There are four visitor marina choices and a good wintering yard. Choices:

  • Cascais Marina is in an attractive suburb of Lisboa, outside the river Tagus entrance, convenient for passing traffic, but pricey. Trains into Lisboa. 
  • Porto de Recreio de Oeiras, just north of the light at the river Tagus entrance, sometimes has space.
  • Doca de Alcantara, cheaper, convenient for the city centre, is just beyond the traffic bridge. It's noisy with traffic and nightlife. Book ahead.
  • Seixal is a free anchorage, opposite Alcantara. Frequent ferries to Lisboa.
  • Tagus Yacht Centre is close to Seixal. It's a very well equipped yard, cheap, suitable for layup ashore, allows work on your own boat.
  • Marina de Parque das Nações is about 6nm further up river on the north bank. It's good value, plenty of room, good for layup afloat, good shops and restaurants within 1km, bus or metro to town centre, close to the airport.

Setubal. Just opposite Setubal, on the headland of the south bank, is Troia marina, moderately expensive, part of a smart holiday development. Park Natural da Arrabida, incredible beaches and wildlife, is nearby. Ferries to Setubal.

Sines.  Sines is a convenient stop to break your journey from Lisboa to Cap St Vincent. The marina is tiny, with a little spare room, and as boats leave there's often an undignified scramble to enter from the outer harbour anchorage.

Summary

  • Attractions. Wonderful old cities and towns; warm climate; seafood to die for; port and Douro valley wines. Up river cruises.
  • Snags. That Atlantic swell, breaking in the harbour mouth. Summer northerlies, when you're going north. A degree of poverty; keep things secure.
  • Ports of Entry.  Not needed coming from Spain. Plenty; see the red spots on the map. You may be boarded and reminded to pay harbour dues at your next stop.
  • Layup or Wintering. Povoa de Varzim ashore, several options ashore or afloat in Lisbon, marina in Porto.
  • Transport. Lisbon and Porto airports year round.
  • Boat Charter. None

 

Updated May 2017

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Cruise Region: 
Country's Boating Regulations and Data: 

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