Wintering in Lisbon

The weather is slowly getting warmer, the days are getting longer and that means we’re getting ready to leave Lisbon. It’s been an action packed end to winter here in Portugal, never a dull moment for this young family. We’ve had challenges a plenty and many little adventures both at sea and ashore.

When we packed up our lives in Australia, we sorted our stuff into 3 piles, one to give away, one to store in a shipping container on a good friend’s block of land and one to ship to Lisbon. The Lisbon pile ended up as 8 remarkably well travelled boxes and arrived, unscathed, 3 months later. Excitement!

These boxes apparently went to Sydney, Bundaberg, Hong Kong, back to Bundy again, somewhere in Africa, cleared customs in the Netherlands and then by road to Portugal. It’s a miracle that we saw them again, well done Seven Seas.

Boat fit out

We’re about half way through Sabella’s after market fit out, it’s been quite the project to manage, particularly as the Portuguese seem to keep different working hours from the average Aussie. Nevertheless, we expect to have everything done in time to set sail by mid April (fingers crossed, hohoho!). Most importantly, we’ll have our solar array for energy production, more batteries to store that energy and a water maker for self sufficiency.

We’ve done some of the work ourself too, like installing an excellent water filter under our drinking water foot pump, and adding 6 Caframo Ultimate fans. Running the wires for these was like going caving in a tight (prickly fiberglass) tunnel. I discovered parts of the boat that I never imagined existed and hope to never see again. Lara’s double joint-ed-ness played a large part in this endeavour. It was a delight to turn them on and see them not only spinning, but spinning in the correct direction!

I’ve got no idea what I’m doing
Sabine receives a lesson in continuity from her big sis











Sounds obvious, but learning to sail a big cat, whilst trying to keep 2 scallywags safe and ideally entertained, is bloody hard work. We reckon we’re a fairly capable couple, and taking Sabella sailing is right at the limit of those capabilities. Our morning “let’s go sailing routine” generally goes something like this….

Picture a rigid 10am departure from the marina to meet a slack tide and minimal cross current, at 9.45 I start the engines and prepare the docklines to slip, at 9.50 Sabine goes into meltdown (sensing our tension no doubt), at 9.55 Luella follows suit, at 9.58 we have a loud (to be heard above kids wailing) discussion about how to get off the dock whilst trying to avoid the boat next to us with the wind blowing us on, at 9.59 the crowds gather and assume their seats in the peanut gallery, 10.00 and we’re still on the dock about to miss our slack tide exit from the marina….”bloody hell this would be much easier in an RV”. Yep, we’ve had “the RV chat” once or twice this month.

One of the significant challenges we’ve had whilst learning to sail this boat ourselves has been “the dreaded sluice” at Marina Parque das Nacoes. This is a huge gate that’s used to control the river currents running through the marina, a good idea. The trouble is the gate is 9.6m wide and Sabella’s beam is 7.7m (more with her fenders), you do the maths. There is an “interesting” whirlpool like cross current at the exit from the sluice which moves the boat sideways once you get halfway through the thing. The trick, we’ve been told, is to take it slowly for the first bit then gun the engines for the remainder to avoid being picked up and pushed into the concrete wall of the sluice. Well, that concrete wall and I became good friends on our first go.

Me old mate “the sluice” at slack tide

We didn’t touch badly, but we did scrape her slightly on her starboard side when the fenders rolled then popped up, and it terrified me. I’ve spent my professional career trying hard not to crash things, and I don’t plan to start now. After that harrowing exit, Sabine fell asleep in Lara’s arms and Luella and I had a discussion (4 year old style) about WTF to do now, because we sure as hell weren’t going back through that sluice! And so we not-so-gently bobbed down the River Tagus calling marinas as we went until one was kind enough to let us stay overnight on their visitor dock. By not so gently I mean that Lara and Sabine came up on deck earlier than expected from their nap, and each of us spent the next hour holding each child’s hair back as they emptied their stomachs, repeatedly. We hope this is the first and last time they get seasick… On a positive note, we are making good use of this boat’s autopilot! River current against tide against wind isn’t fun.

One thing has become clear, we need to work out a practical way to keep the kids safe. It’s easy for a casual bystander to say “just keep them tethered with lifejackets on”, but it’s just not practical. Sabine’s (correctly sized) lifejacket is so bulky that if she falls over she can’t stand back up, poor little thing (cue meltdown). We have a full body climbing harness for each of them that we use to keep them tethered if outside the saloon, but gee whiz, two climbing ropes tied to a hard point resembles spaghetti quickly with 2 kids running a muck in a sea state. We do believe that they’ll get used to it, bring that day on!

Operational test and evaluation of child restraint methods

We’ve been at the Marina de Oeiras visitor dock for 2 weeks now and it’s been wonderful. We are away from the silted river and out in the clean ocean, the view of the city is stunning and they even knock on our hull each morning with a delivery of fresh bread. This is certainly the pick of the marinas in Lisbon.

Gorgeous view from the boat at Marina de Oeiras

Easter was a hoot, egg hunts on boats are fun! Although we must caution against using the top of the winches as hiding spots on a warm sunny day (melted chocolate, mmmm)

Luella in particular consumed too much chocolate but with firm instructions that she was only allowed to go “good crazy” she managed the sugar high with flying colours. High five!


On the whole, living on Sabella is wonderful. Whilst much smaller than an Australian house, we each have our own space and it doesn’t feel cramped. Making an effort to put things back where they belong becomes extra important (the girls don’t necessarily share this view!). We make an effort to get off the boat each day, even if it’s windy and rainy, just to run around a bit. This makes a big difference for both us and the girls. The daily beach commute is now a whole lot quicker with Ziggy, our electric scooter. The water is still pretty cold but the girls don’t see this as an issue. The surfers in the background of the shot below are wearing wetsuits; Lula and Sabine, their pyjamas 🙂



Daily commute to the beach playground


3 Comments Add yours

  1. I have always found it fascinating to watch sluices ‘in action’ so to speak. I’ m not surprised they are so tricky to navigate. It’s good to read your update and see your fabulous photos.


    1. Sailing Sabella says:

      Haha, yep, fascinating to gaze at 🙂 Give me the open ocean and no concrete and metal walls any day!


      1. Sounds perfect. I’d choose the forest.


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