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Sail the Atlantic Coasts of Spain, Portugal & Madeira

An Atlantic cruising ground that stretches from Bilbao in the North to Cape Trafalgar in the South. Our tall ships and traditional boats can sail inland up mighty rivers to Lisbon, Porto and Seville of out into the ocean to Atlantic islands like Madeira. Way before you reach the coast of Northern Spain the skies seem to come alive with seabirds and local fishermen reaping the rewards of these rich cool seas. The heady scent of pines and eucalypus forests greet you as you enter the small ports or rias. Famous for sea trade and maritime discovery Lisbon and Porto are the perfect place to pick up cargoes or set off on an ocean journey. Further South the influence of the Moors can be seen in the houses built for hot summers and fortress like hill towns.

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Why we love this sailing ground

Northern Spain - Seafood and Rias

A favourite spot for chefs on holiday, Northern Spain is still off the tourist track if you approach it from the sea. The NW corner around La Coruna is the Spanish region of Galicia where seafood is plentiful and tapas in a little working cafe watching the fishermen mend their nets is a pleasant pastime. The drowned river valleys or rias can be found here all along the coast until you reach Vigo. Ria de Muros, Ria de Arosa, Ria de Pontevedra are the more well known, but East of A Coruna are magical places like the winding salt marsh of Ria de Santa Maria Ortegueria as explored by pilot cutter Agnes in 2017.

Agnes in a Spanish Ria
Agnes in a Spanish Ria

Sailing Retreats in Galicia on Grayhound

New for 2019, sailing lugger Grayhound has 2 voyages in Northern Spain, based around Vigo and the Cies islands for a relaxed style of holiday. Sea swimming, walking amongst the pines along nature trails, a spot of yoga on white sand beaches and the good food of the region.

The Cíes Islands are the Vigo estuary’s greatest treasure: an amazing national marine-terrestrial park and one of the country’s most beautiful places, which is why the Romans named them the islands of the gods. Vigo Tourism

The Cíes are an ecological treasure. The Parque Nacional Illas Atlánticas (Atlantic Islands National Park) is an incredible marine-terrestrial park formed by a chain of islands that run from the Arosa estuary to the Vigo estuary; a natural paradise of steep cliffs and protected seabeds of exceptionally rich marine life.

It is a great place for diving or snorkelling and with a bit of luck, you can swim or sail surrounded by arroaces (native, smaller sized dolphins). Thickets, dunes, beaches, rich seabeds... make up an impressive natural mosaic with over 200 species of algae that coexist with a wide variety of fish, shellfish, and sea birds that nest on the cliffs of the Cíes.

Grayhound Crew on the Isles de Cies
Grayhound Crew on the Isles de Cies

Port Houses & Historic Waterfronts

This old city district of Ribera in Porto will sweep you into the past, especially if you are loading a cargo of olive oil onto Grayhound. It is always a great way to talk to locals and curious tourists about you trip. Porto and the Douro River that runs though the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The iconic river boats that transport port and wine from the hinterland of Portugal to the port warehouses all add to the nautical scene.

Lisbon and the fortified coastal town of Caiscais are both popular stop overs or crew change ports for our bigger tall ships heading South for the winter season. Lisbon is built on seven hills, its city tram network whisks you up impossibly steep cobbled streets. If you walk you see a lot more from the tiled pictures on the walls to quiet courtyards or terraces with a lofty view across the city.

Porto in Portugal
Wine boats on the Douro in Porto. Photo from Pixabay

Madeira - Island of flowers

Madeira, Porto Santos and Ilhas Desertas are a group of volcanic islands over 500 miles from Lisbon. In terms of latitude they are level with Morocco so the climate is pretty perfect for winter sun holidays with a difference. Madeira sits close to the NE trade wind belt so the ocean sailing to this lush island of flowers can have some cracking blue water sailing too.

Old aquifers called levadas up in the mountains and terraced fields allow you to contour around the hills on fairly gentle gradient paths, with fantastic views down the volcanic slopes. It is not all easy walking as the water often plunges down to a lower level aquifer and you find yourself having to make a steep decent to carry on. We recommend you bring proper walking boots on and a small rucksack. The walks are not compulsory but give a real flavour of Madeira - the island of flowers.

Terraces in Madeira

Algarve, Cape Trafalgar & Andalusia

Blue Clipper and gaff Ketch Maybe spend part of the winter on the Algarve coast of Portugal so they have voyages sailing here in the Autumn.  Three masted sailing ships  Tenacious and Lord Nelson have made sailing up the The Guadalquivir river 70km inland to the City of Seville one of their trademark voyages.

Seville is an acient city. It has been Arab, Jewish and Roman, and its river and its river port were a key setting off and return point for trade with the West Indies. 

The towns and cities on the shores of this great river are living testimony to the whole regions historic and cultural past.

On the coast is Cadiz, burnt and sacked by Francis Drake, and Cape Trafalgar, famous for a different reason.  Around Tarifa and the Straits of Gibraltar are strong, hot winds blowing off the Atlas Mountains...great for sailing breezes.  Many birds congregate on these coast, as they migrate between Africa and Europe.

In the hills with the vultures above Tarifa.
Which ship for my adventure?

Northern Spain is an occasional summer expedition and sailing ground for medium sized sailing ships like Grayhound or smaller boats like Agnes.

The latest addition to our fleet is Santa Maria Manuela. This four masted schooner was built in 1937 in Lisbon. Now wonderfully restored for adventure charter and diving holidays, she is a proud flagship for Portugal and a great choice to explore her home waters of Portugal, Madeira and Azores.

Portugal is also often the first part of your early summer holiday on an island hopping voyages to Madeira or the Azores on Grayhound. These voyages also include a fair bit of open ocean sailing, watches and night sailing.

In the autumn we regularly have vessels like Morgenster, Lord Nelson, Oosterschelde or Tenacious sailing down the Iberian coast on their way to winter sailing grounds like the Canaries, Cape Verde and the Mediterranean.

Other tall ships that use Portugal or Spain as a pleasant setting off point are Europa on the way to South America, or Blue Clipper heading South for a trade wind trans Atlantic Crossing to the Caribbean.

In Spring and early summer there are sailing ships heading the opposite way. 

Destination Vessels
Europa has a reputation as an ocean Wanderer - Albatrosses in Southern Ocean; Skysails in tropics
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Northern Spain and Portugal

Navionics Chart Tool - North West Spain & Portugal


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Map Showing Southern Portugal, Spain, Maderia and the Azores 

Navionics Chart Tool - Madeira, Southern Portugal and Spain

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