Departing from Mazagón was straight forward, timing our arrival into the Rio Guadiana was definitely not. We needed to go over the very shallow bar no more than 3 hours before high tide, preferably in flat seas with no swell and in daylight. We confess that our first attempt did not meet enough of those requirements!!
For the first time EVER we sailed 17 miles towards our destination then made the call to return back to where we had come from. We had a 34 mile day sail for Balvenie to stretch her legs, and a lesson for us not to under estimate just how quickly the sea state can churn up in these shallow waters with a sea breeze of over 20 knots coming in from the Atlantic.
We had a great sail to start with, around 10knots hard on the wind with flat seas and we were whizzing along. That was one of the problems, we were going too fast and the tide would not be high enough for us, then the sea breeze really kicked in and the waves and swell built very quickly. With about 10 miles to run we had a quick board meeting and decided the sensible option was to return to Mazagón, so we did and had a very fast downwind sail back to the anchorage.
We did “take 2” a couple of days later, starting again with a great sail along the coast in light winds and flat seas. This time the wind died out completely and we ended up motoring up to the river mouth in flat water about 30 minutes before high tide, perfect timing. We had a 3.3m tide and we saw a minimum depth of 4.1m so we were very pleased that we had aborted our earlier arrival.
The Rio Guadiana is the river that marks the boarder between Spain and Portugal, on the Spanish side is the town of Ayamonte and on the Portuguese is Vila Real de San António. All seems at peace between them now, but there are ruins from Roman and Moorish forts on the Portuguese side a reminder of a more turbulent past. We anchored on the Spanish side just past Ayamonte and all was well. We stayed at anchor a couple of nights, but we were nearing spring tide and the tides combined with the strong river flow created quite a current. For the couple of hours a day at slack tide all was peaceful and serene, but for the rest of the time the anchor chain was as taut as a guitar string and down below was the familiar sound of bubbles roaring passed the hull. It felt and sounded like we were underway and doing about 8 knots !!.
We couldn’t leave for a few more days as we needed an early morning high tide to depart on, we didn’t like to leave Balvenie at anchor to explore ashore so we decided it was time to check into yet another marina. We chose the Ayamonte one over the Villa Real option, we were ready for a change of country but the Spanish marina had much less current running through it - so Spain it was.
We spent the next few days in Ayamonte, literally waiting for the tide to come in!!! We had originally hoped to go up the river as it had come highly recommended, but the clearance under a bridge about two miles upstream was a very tight fit for us so we had ruled that out. Instead we explored the small town of Ayamonte, it doesn’t look much at all from the river front but just inland is a delightful town full of pedestrian lanes and shady plazas, really rather pleasant.
One day we caught the local ferry across to Villa Real and walked on Portuguese soil. It is a lovely town and they have made a huge effort with a palm tree lined promenade along the marina and river, some long cafe lined pedestrian streets and a very pleasant town square. The town was rebuilt in 1774. It, along with most of coastal Portugal had been devastated by the 1755 earthquakes and subsequent tsunamis. The town was rebuilt in a grid pattern, one of the first in Portugal – I prefer all the little higgledy-piggledy rabbit warrens of lanes myself. But it was all very nice and just so different to Spain.
We had a couple of days of very heavy rain while in the marina, now normally rain in these parts deposits dust and sand all over everything but for the first time since arriving in Mediterranean Europe four years ago, the rain was clean !!. Certainly cause for celebration. Sunday morning we slipped out of the marina and then crossed the bar just on dawn and with the tide about 20 minutes away from high, we saw 3.8m – gosh 1.3 metres to spare!!! Adios Espana….. for now anyway!!
For Cruising Info both at anchor and in Ayamonte Marina on the Guadiana River, onshore facilities and ferry info across to Villa Real click here to go to Balvenies Cruising Info blog.