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West Portugal is a coast of passage, just over 300nm long, rather than a cruising ground, though it does have two superb cities of great character to visit en route; Porto (10/10) and Lisboa (8/10). There are other inland places worth visiting, and enough safe ports along the low sandy coastline to allow day sailing when travelling south with the prevailing winds. Day sailing in a northward direction is possible, but will need patience when the Portuguese trade winds are blowing - much of the summer.
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:
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!
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.
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 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. But entry to the Douro river can be limited by swell or strong winds. If so, visit from the harbours above. There's a marina half a mile inside the river Douro entrance on the south side which is suitable for wintering ashore or afloat. It's also possible to moor alongside on the town quay. Porto is perched on the north side of the river Douro, almost a gorge, and tumbles picturesquely down to the riverside, which is a world heritage site. Go to a free tasting at one of the port lodges on the south side of the river - in Gaia. Taylor's is our favourite, very informative, though a bit of a hike up the hillside away from the slurping masses. If you fall in love with the stuff, go spend an afternoon at the Solar do Vinho do Porto - which offers hundreds of port wines of many types, bought by the glass, in very civilised surroundings. On the Porto side, they're just west of the 'Crystal Palace'. Recover among the bars and restaurants above the old quayside. Consider an excursion trip up the river; 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 Povoa.
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 can be entered 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. Sadly, Obidos is rather dense with tourists like us in the daytime. Nice little anchorage in the lee of Berlinga, the island off Peniche. Incredible surfing locations nearby so don't miss the harbour entrances!
Lisboa. (8/10) Lisbon has more to offer then Porto. But being a bigger city, it takes much 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. There are four visitor marina choices and a good wintering yard. Choices:
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 little spare room, and as boats leave there's often an undignified scramble to enter from the outer harbour anchorage.
Updated Apr 2017