Illuminated Dolphins Light the Way to Portugal (Oct. 16 – Nov. 4, 2018)

I’m a bit behind with my blog. It was important to spend all of last week catching up on my real work for clients. With some technology challenges, this wasn’t an easy task. But here are some highlights from the past three weeks that include an underwater light show from Spain to Portugal and a week of the reality of combining real work with our epic adventure.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018 – Departure from Vigo, Spain 13:12

After a week at port (without Maik) in Vigo, we were ready to get back to sea.  I think even Cap’n Jack and Scout got excited when they saw us preparing Seefalke for departure. But first, after seeing me struggle to row the dinghy to shore with the pups while we were anchorage hopping the week before, Maik found a small outboard motor for Nela, and I was ecstatic!  Midmorning, we loaded the new motor onboard and secured her on Seefalke.

Then, we set sail for Porto, which was calculated to be about a 20-hour voyage. We wanted to arrive during high water the next morning. It was a beautiful, sunny, warm afternoon, so on our way, we decided to take a little detour and check out Playa de Rodas, which is considered to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It did not disappoint.

Playa de Rodas is a slightly curved beach about 700 meters long on the Spanish Cies Islands, which is now a national park. The British newspaper, The Guardian, chose it as the most beautiful beach in the world in 2007.

We anchored about 50 meters from the shore and captured some amazing Drone footage. The beaches were sugary white, which reminded me of home on Alabama’s Gulf Coast. The water was crystal clear with a brilliant turquoise hue. It was spectacular. We didn’t have the time to get out the dinghy and test the new motor. I think the pups were disappointed because they could see the beach, and I’m certain they would have enjoyed running and playing on it. And we certainly would have enjoyed exploring it.

But unfortunately, we had a deadline because Maik was scheduled to board a plane to the U.S. from Lisbon on Sunday (Oct. 21), just five days later. He needed to be in Alabama for a project installation. And we were hoping to spend a little time in Porto.

This is the problem with sailing on a schedule. It often limits some of the places you would really like to see and explore. But this is our reality sometimes, and it’s ok. After about an hour of enjoying the incredible beach scenery and serenity, we pulled in the hook and got back on course toward Porto.

I took the 18:00 – 22:00 shift that evening and was almost immediately greeted by a large school of common dolphins. I still get a kick out of seeing them. This time, there were so many I could barely see them all. I kept hopping from port to starboard to watch them play and jump and frolic alongside Seefalke.  At one point, they actually woke up Maik from a deep sleep. He said he could hear them squealing and making all kinds of sounds underwater that were echoing from Seefalke’s steel hull. This was so cool! The pups also enjoyed this as they were running from side to side of the cockpit with me to watch them play and show off their incredible athleticism.

As the sun began to set, we enjoyed the most brilliant colors. To the starboard side, there was a brilliant blood red on the horizon that faded into an orange as bright as Seefalke. The colors were kissing the bright blue water as the dolphins continued to swim alongside us. To the port side I noticed that the sky above the mountains on the coastline was pink with baby blue highlights, and the water was silvery grey.  It was fantastic. But I was a little sad that Maik was asleep and not there to share it with me. I took some photos for him, but the photos just never do justice to the beauty that we see through our own eyes.

This is the part of overnight passages that I really don’t like. It would be nice to share these moments with Maik. But on overnight passages we sail and sleep on opposite shifts.

As the night faded to black, there was an amazingly bright crescent-shaped moon lighting our way. The lights danced off the water. The dolphins continued to join us as we skimmed along in the peaceful night.

Maik took over his shift, and I slept. This is how it goes. We become two ships that pass in the night. 

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

When I awakened for my 02:00 shift and joined Maik in the cockpit, I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Humorist James Thurber once wrote: “There are two kinds of light—the glow that illuminates and the glare that obscures.”

I thought of this as I looked into the water and discovered something I have heard about and read about but never seen with my own eyes—the quiet glow of bioluminescence. Bioluminescent tides exist in many locations throughout the world—generally caused by algae that is suspended in the water. The algae, or plankton, emits a glow whenever jostled. This jostling can be caused by tides rolling in, the breaking of waves, the motion of a boat, or fish moving through the water.

In this case, it was the water skimming alongside Seefalke’s hull and our unbelievably playful dolphin friends who were set on keeping us company throughout this entire passage.

In daylight, we can see the dolphins swimming in the clear Atlantic water. But something magical was happening on this evening. With the bioluminescence in action, it looked as if we were in a 1970s discotheque with a black light shining directly on the dolphins. We could see them take deep dives and magnificent jumps and rolls through the water. It was like watching underwater shooting stars bursting through the sea. 

I hung over the side of Seefalke and watched them for at least two solid hours. I completely lost time as I was mesmerized by the underwater fireworks show. The two hours felt like about 10 minutes.  Soon, the sun began to rise, and the flashes of bursting neon light faded away. Maik awakened and joined me in the cockpit. We were approaching our port in Porto.

It was a dull, foggy morning and as we approached Leixoes marina, a small fisherman’s port, there were literally swarms of birds hovering over every fishing boat.  It was eerie. It looked like something from an Alfred Hitchcock movie. We slowly motored into the marina, but there were no spots available. I could feel the ghosts of fishermen past all around me and was a little disappointed that there was no room for us there.

We sailed another 7 or so nautical miles to the next port, Douro Marina, where we easily found a spot and settled in. This was a nice marina and the staff there showed us all kinds of fun things to do in Porto. But we were on a deadline. Maik kept checking and re-checking the weather. If we stayed, it’s possible we would not have been able to make it to Lisbon in time for Maik’s flight.  This could be ok, but he would then need to take a 3-hour train to get to the airport. We began to think about skipping Porto and heading on toward Lisbon the next morning.

Thursday-Friday, 18-19 October 2018

I awoke on Thursday morning with a bad headache. Because I didn’t feel well, and the weather was sketchy, Maik kept changing his mind about whether we would set sail for Lisbon that day as planned. I took a long nap to hopefully sleep off the headache while Maik prepared Seefalke, just in case.

We made a decision to leave around 15:00, but we were getting heavy winds in the marina that would make our departure maneuver tricky. A couple of salty Danish sailors sensed our dilemma and came over and offered to help us back out of our slip. They also told us that the harbor master might be able to give us a tow.

We decided to accept this option so that we could make our way toward Lisbon, which we knew would take about two days and two nights from Porto. The harbor master showed up in a souped-up dinghy with a powerful motor and pulled us out of our narrow mooring slip, then slung us into the open water.

The sailing was good on Thursday—heavy wind behind us and large swelling waves pushing us. It was a bit uneventful except for accidentally dumping the mizzen stay sail into the sea when the halyard popped loose. We were able to pull in the sail, but we couldn’t use it anymore until we could get back to port and re-rig the halyard. Even without the mizzen stay sail, Seefalke has many sails, and we had strong wind with huge rolling waves to propel us on our passage.

As you know, I have struggled with the heavy, high offshore waves. On Friday morning, I paid the price. After a short but memorable seasick session, I grabbed my potato and willed myself to get better quickly. I forced myself to eat something. I’ve decided that apples taste about the same coming out as they do going in, so I nibbled away a big red one and tried to quickly replenish and rehydrate.  I fought it off this time, fortunately.

By midday, we were cruising over Nazare Canyon and hoped to see some whales in this area. No luck, but it was kind of crazy to think that we were sailing over the top of a hole as deep as the Grand Canyon. It truly is a different perspective to be at sea and think about how massively huge it is. You begin to see things in a totally different way, and your perspective of space widens and deepens intensely. Flying over a body of water is so different than sailing over one. From 35,000 feet you may not even be able to see the waves breaking. And you certainly have a much broader view of the vast and massive ocean.  To see it up close helps you to appreciate just how small we are in comparison with the gigantic sea.

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By 21:00 that evening, the full moon was illuminated with a bright orange/red halo around it. I’ve never seen anything like this. I later learned that halos around the sun or moon are caused by high, thin cirrus clouds drifting high above your head. Tiny ice crystals in the Earth’s atmosphere create the halos by refracting and reflecting the light. The crystals have to be oriented and positioned “just so” with respect to your own eye in order for the halo to appear.

I learned that this is why, like rainbows, halos around the sun or moon are personal. Everyone sees their own particular halo, made by their own particular ice crystals, which are different from the ice crystals making the halo of the person standing next to you. Fascinating!

The pictures never reveal the actual beauty you see with your own eyes. But I do like this idea that these phenomena that we see at sea are personal—just as the sailing experience is personal. How remarkable to know that what I see at night while at sea is intimately special and personal—and just for me. Whether your passion is sailing, or something different, perhaps you have experienced this personal nirvana that makes you continue to want and need the special experience. I believe this is what makes your passion a part of your heart and soul . . . and not just a hobby.

Saturday-Sunday, 20-21 October 2018

We awoke in Cascais, a city in the greater Lisbon region of Portugal on the Portuguese Riviera, and dropped the anchor to wait on high water. A couple hours later we cruised into the heart of Lisbon and moored at the Parque das Nações (park of the nations) Marina, which is just about five minutes by car to the airport.

We spent all day Sunday doing boat chores and laundry, and then walked along the promenade to find some delicious Portuguese food. We took a quick ride on the gondola (Telecabine Lisboa) which was built in 1998 for the World Expo. Cap’n Jack and Scout loved this—especially Scout, who always just wants to see everything! It’s amazing how they have become such world travelers and are not afraid of any form of transportation!

A Week in Port – All Work No Sailing, 22-28 October 2018

Maik woke up before sunrise and took a cab to the airport. I knew that, for me, this would be a week full of work for my clients. I would miss Maik and miss the sailing adventures, but it was critical that I get caught up on my work. I had seven articles that needed to be completed, one with a critical deadline by week’s end.

When the pups and I awoke about an hour after Maik left, I turned on my computer to discover that it wouldn’t turn on at all. What a nightmare! I tried everything possible, but nothing worked.  I got on the phone with Apple. They walked me through several options, but nothing worked. It was dead.

This created a new kind of adventure. I quickly researched Apple Repair shops in Lisbon. Fortunately, we were in a large city with many options. The pups and I got in a cab and headed into the city center. I found a place that would take a look at my laptop, and fortunately, they had one guy who spoke English.  He took the computer and said he would get back to me.

The pups and I walked around the city center a little, but I was in too much of a panic to enjoy any sightseeing. Maik had his old computer onboard, but I knew it had a busted keyboard. I remembered that he had purchased an external wireless keyboard to use with it, so I headed back to the marina to see if I could make this work (although it was a European keyboard).

This was a creative solution, for now. Later that day, I received a call from the Apple Repair shop with bad news. The motherboard needed to be replaced, and it would cost 700 Euros and at least five working days to repair.  We knew we could get a brand new computer for just a little more than this in the U.S. By this time, Maik was already in Alabama.  Electronics in the U.S. are significantly cheaper than they are in Europe, so we agreed that Maik would purchase a new computer and bring back to me in a week. Meanwhile, I would make his old computer with the external keyboard work. Whew!!! 

I spent the entire week working as if I were in an office all day every day and was able to complete my deadlines and get a jump on the other articles that would be due the next week.

Meanwhile, Maik was working hard in the U.S. It was very strange to be in Europe while Maik was in the U.S. Usually, it’s the other way around. But our agreement early on was that if one of us had to make a trip for work, the other one would always stay with Seefalke and with Cap’n Jack and Scout.

About mid-week, Maik let me know that he would be returning on Sunday, as planned, but then needed to immediately travel to Germany the next morning to take care of his daughter for a week.  I was very bummed at first, thinking of another week without any human company. But Maik asked me to check out any pet hotels or boarding options for the week in Lisbon. This began another adventure. I hunted for several days to find a place that could keep Cap’n Jack and Scout for the week. These kinds of kennels and boarding places are very common in the U.S. but not so easy to find in Europe.

After an exhaustive search, and a little help from the ladies in the marina reception office, we found a very cool place in Cascais called SweetPet. We made all the necessary arrangements, and were so relieved.

A Break from the Sailing Life—28 October – 4 November 2018

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On Sunday, Maik returned to Seefalke just a couple hours before SweetPet came to the marina to pick up the Beagles. Without the pups, we decided to have a date night. We generally are limited with restaurants we can enjoy because we always have the pups with us. We opted for a Sushi place and had a nice evening out - just the two of us.

We departed for the airport on Monday morning and now are in our small apartment in Halle, Germany working, working, working. 

This is kind of surreal for me.

Last night was the first night in three months that I haven’t slept on Seefalke. As I closed my eyes, I could still feel the slight swaying of the sea, even though the ground beneath me was still. I suppose it takes a while to get back your land legs.

It’s also the first time since July 25 that I haven’t been with Cap’n Jack and Scout 24/7. 

I must admit that I was happy to sleep in a real bed last night. I was happy to have freshly-brewed coffee this morning rather than the instant variety we drink onboard. I was extremely happy to take a hot shower with unlimited water and no time limit. I am happy to have strong WiFi to get my work accomplished in a more efficient manner.

I have grown accustomed to living without these amenities, and I have realized with time that I don’t need them. But to have them right now is ok, too.

But even as I enjoy a few creature comforts, I do miss my pups. I miss Seefalke. And I miss the sea.