Time is an abstract concept.

The white lines of Ruffian and the white walls of Spain.

25th October 2020

Ilha Da Culatra, Olhão, Portugal – Sanlucar de Guadiana, Spain via Ayamonte. Spain

Sailing around on a yacht life should be low stress, time should be an abstract concept to be ignored and freedom should be the essence of life. For once however life on Ruffian has been full of stress, we have been driven by time and Ruffian hasn’t been free to move as she pleases. Ruffian has however passed the stressful times enabling her to venture far inland, away from the sea and her usual playground.

Timing was everything as we left Ilha Da Culatra. We had to leave the river with enough water so Ruffian would remain floating, but without the maximum current so Ruffian could maintain steerage and the waves at the entrance would not be too large as the outgoing current met the swell left over by the storm. At the end of our planned route we then had to enter another shallow harbour, where we hoped there would be enough water so we wouldn’t get washed onto the rocks or swept with the tide onto the sand bar and this was all before putting Ruffian under a bridge that seemed impossibly low and into a river where our charts showed no water and just land. It all sounded like a nice low stress passage!!!

With the hour minute and second hands clicking onto our elected departure time we made our way to the standing waves at the entrance to Ilha Da Culatra. The tide scooted us out and with just enough water under us we skirted around the dangers. Sailing along we now had to watch the hands of time tick to arrive at the allotted time at the entrance to Guadiana River.

Nearing the entrance we feared for white water and a channel whose markers had been blown away by Storm Barbara, but we had a saviour in the form of a fishing boat. Cutting in front of us, he showed us the deep water, drove around the breakers and took all our worries away.

After we’d passed over the sand bar at the entrance with enough rise of tide, we then had to wait for the tide to drop away again from under Ruffian’s keel and increase the amount of air above her mast so we could squeeze under the bridge and be finally able to head up the Guadiana River. Right on time Ruffian’s mast cleared the bridge, our stresses seeped away and we no longer had to keep a beady eye on the ever present hands of time.

The river opened up in front of us and as we headed further and further inland it became prettier and prettier. Uncultivated scrubland with no sign of life, gave way to hills covered in trees and grazed by goats clanging their bells, which magically changed to reed beds where birdlife flourished and sang a happy song.

As we spied castles looking down on us from every bank we knew we’d reached our twin country, triple castle, and quadruple time destination. We were to settle between the villages of Spanish Sanlúcar de Guadiana and Portuguese Alcoutim.

The castles that protect the river date from every era and we explored them all. We played at Phoenician and Roman legionnaires looking down from the Portugal and then took on the role of medieval Christian archers as we frolicked in the ‘new’ castle in Spain before finally playing the parts of marauding Moorish hoards in the ‘old’ castle.

Not all the exploring however could occur by foot and out came the trusty Bromptons. Scaling the hills that over look the river we were greeted by breath taking views of the dry interior that gave a whole new perspective to our traveling by water. The little wheels whizzed as we sped along the silky smooth tarmac with our destination being glimpsed in the far distance. This joy however was not set to last.

Far from home Iain heard an ominous hissing sound and the Brompton’s ride was becoming increasingly bumpy. He had a puncture, and now had to experience the same views but at a far more pedestrian pace as he walked back to Ruffian and the tools to fix his poor steed.

Being in both Spain and Portugal feels like we have complete freedom to roam, however this freedom is impacting time. Spain and Portugal both operate on different time zones, another clock changed happened with the end of ‘daylight saving’ time, and now we don’t know if we’re having breakfast at lunchtime, morning tea in the afternoon or evening drinks before the sun is over the yardarm. Thankfully though these land locked stresses and times are easier to managed than the ones at sea.

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Author: Iain & Fiona Lewis

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