Relaxed and comfortable at the helm of his small fishing vessel, Luis has found his special place in the world. All of his working life, a fisherman, he was saddened at the sight of an elderly friend’s boat, abandoned by the water in Ferragudo, because he could no longer sail it. With great reluctance the friend sold his boat to Luis, assured that it would be far better to see her proud on the water than slowly decaying. She was lovingly restored and refurbished, so that Luis could sail her on these waters he so loves, and share with us his delight in this special place.
Many times I have crossed over the waters of the Arade estuary, either on the motorway or, more excitingly, over the gracefully arched bridge that spans it, low to the water. When the tide is out bare mud flats stretch all around, but when the tide swells and surges up the river, it is pure joy to be carried along with it.
Leaving the harbour, Luis takes us across to the other side of the estuary and begins to share the history of the local fishing industry. We look up at the baskets on the quay, where fisherman used to haul the catch by hand. The chimneys dotted around the landscape are remnants of sardine factories long since abandoned. We pass by Portimáo’s proud waterfront and head for a sequence of bridges. Luis takes great care when sailing beneath them not to catch the lines of the fishermen above, and then we are racing across the water towards the next bridge.
I look upwards, excited to finally sail beneath this beauty. And then we are beyond the bridges, gently bobbing on calm waters as we round a curve into open countryside. Luis stills the boat beneath a rocky crag where wives used to gather, gazing seawards to pray for the safe return of their fishermen. The spot was consecrated as a chapel in the rocks by a bishop. In winter these waters are not so benevolent.
And then Luis gently steers the boat to where the waters divide, and we enter the channel which will take us to our destination, Silves.
Slowly we approach the city, former capital of the Algarve, and visible from afar across this flat stretch of countryside. When the tide is out the water here is very low and it’s a paradise for birdlife. We watch, spellbound, for heron, soaring off across the water and storks circling overhead. One day we must return to hike the riverside trail. For now we are hugely entertained by Luis and his knowledge and humour. He waves gaily to passing craft, seeming to be on first name terms with all who sail here, from solar powered boat to the owners of a tiny marina/restaurant.
The clouds have gathered and I’m grateful for a brief respite from the sun as we glide towards Silves. A shower was forecast, but we seem to have dodged it. Two large Viking style boats are moored at the quay, leaving little space for Luis, but he good-naturedly nudges his boat alongside.
We step ashore with an hour and a half to stretch our legs. Time enough for a stroll through the riverside park and across the river to look back on this magnificent, ancient city. Coffee and cake, perhaps?
Back on board, we retrace our journey, pausing to examine a tidal mill and the caves beyond, and a former sardine factory, now a smart hotel.
The sun is low in the sky as we reach the bridges, again carefully avoiding fisher folk suspended above. Luis explains that the arched bridge is designed to look like a fish, the eyes glowing brightly when floodlit at night.
Soon we are approaching Luis’ beloved home, riding high above the water. I’ve grown to love this place too. The beauty of this stretch of water, with its many moods and tidal changes speaks to me. You can only sail this route when the tide is right, but there are other trips you can take with Ferragudo Boat Trips.
So, when Tina asked me to Pick a place, special to me, I had no hesitation. Join me on Monday and we’ll do a walking tour of Ferragudo.