Our Grand Tour of the Portuguese Health System

About 6 weeks ago, just after the kids had gone to bed, Lara felt a sharp pain in her chest. A bit of heartburn we thought, it’ll subside… Half an hour later and Lara was struggling to breathe. Better get to hospital. Luckily we were in Oeiras marina and a decent hospital was easy to find. The wonderful marina staff drove her straight to Cascais while I stayed on the boat with the girls. Fast forward to the wee hours of the morning; after 7 hours in the waiting room and Lara was diagnosed with a spontaneous pneumothorax of the left lung. They immediately inserted a chest drain and long story short, she was out of hospital 6 days later. We took it easy for a week, had an x-ray and after a meeting with our doctor, made an informed decision to continue on our merry nautical way.

Back on the road again!
And moments later, incapacitation strikes again. Even Spot and his elaborate First Colours couldn’t overcome a 4 meter swell on the beam!

We eagerly departed Lisbon and sailed down the Portuguese coast. It was sublime, our adventure had really begun. Several delightful nights at anchor later and we’d made it to the beautiful and more protected Algarve coast of southern Portugal. We decided to take it easy for a day, do some baking, make some fresh water and muck about in the tender. Half way into baking a delicious chocolate cake, those pains returned in Lara’s chest. This time instead of being in a marina we were at anchor though, in a spot that whilst beautiful, felt a little more isolated. I cannot begin to describe the feeling of vulnerability that ensued. With Lara incapacitated in pain and breathless, we launched the tender, donned life jackets and got to shore. Luckily we had phone reception and managed to arrange a taxi to drive us straight to a private hospital in Lagos.



Our delightful anchorage in Sagres, just before Lara’s lung collapsed again.

Lara spent the next 2 weeks in hospital, firstly in Lagos where the lung collapsed again, and then moved to Alvor hospital by ambulance. Another hole in her chest, another tube, and so it continued until finally the decision was made to conduct Pleurodesis surgery to seal the holes and glue the side of her lung to her chest wall. She has had a total of 5 holes poked in her side to insert various tubes into her chest cavity. The surgery provided a more permanent solution to this issue, and now it’s the beginning of a slow and at times painful recovery. 

Luella gets to play real life “doctors and nurses”

Now we are faced with the “what next” decision. After some chats with close friends, I finally realised that despite my instincts telling me a rash decision was required, now is the time for calm, considered decision making, which is totally at odds with how my mind works. We’ve considered many options, from selling our dream boat and returning home, to enlisting another crew member to help out should we need to leave the boat and make tracks to hospital, to staying put and seeing the summer out here in the beautiful Algarve. Our plans are always evolving, as they would be anyway during this lovely cruising life. We are determined to give it a shot, although what that now means may be slightly different, at least initially, from the aspirations we had of reaching remote cruising grounds in the near future.

C’est La Vie…

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Viv says:

    Sorry to hear all this but glad you have supportive friends to help you make a decision that is best for all the family.
    I wouldn’t come back yet as you would always regret it. Try to think laterally. Perhaps rent a cottage in Portugal near the marina for the summer ( and with access to the hospital) and turn your boat into a business. Perhaps air bnb at the marina. Or charter day trips. Or turn it into a holiday destination for Aussie’s with a 3 day cruise along the coast. Then Lara could go along when she’s better. It would take your mind off things . Then at the end of summer ; reassess. Deal with one thing at a time. Take one day at a time. Thinking of you all, viv


  2. Tim Harris says:

    Hi Guys, can I help in anyway…..Tim


  3. Iain says:

    Thank you for sharing your journey so far with the world. My wife and I (plus our 3 young boys) have just decided to take the plunge and do exactly what you are doing- right down to a Lagoon 42 being a likely candidate for our adventures! I stumbled across your blog when doing preliminary research.

    For what it is worth, I would echo Viv’s ideas of staying in the Med. Maybe stay alongside initially and then build up duration and distance when you feel able to go back to sea. The medical care shore-side will be just as good in Europe as it is in Aus.

    Bone up on ‘needle thoracocentesis’ and make sure of the T&C’s of any medical insurance you have!

    (DoI: I am a Naval doctor)

    A trip only becomes an adventure when things don’t go according to plan! Your girls will learn so much by seeing how their parents cope with adversity. Thank you once again. Safe travels.


    1. Sailing Sabella says:

      Hi Iain, thanks for your message. Our “advanced first aid afloat” text includes a section on needle thoracocentesis. Sounds like a hoot…

      We do plan to continue the adventure, and will probably head off slowly and cautiously early next week. We’re having too much fun to let go of this new life that easily, although in the thick of the moment it certainly felt like throwing in the towel was the right thing to do.

      Let me know if you’d like to discuss anything about the Lagoon 42 and/or doing this with kids. Given our time again we’d chose the same boat, although we’re now biased 🙂

      BTW, which Navy?

      Kind regards,



      1. Iain says:

        The British Royal Navy. But currently living in Naples, Italy. Give us a shout if/when you are in the area!!

        I am really pleased that you are going to press on. A year from now there will be so many memories crammed in to your minds, the current fear and worry will be fading into the distance.

        All the best,


  4. Eric Chase says:

    Hey guys my heart goes out to you! Living through this nightmare will in years to come be all but a faded dream.
    You gotta get back to living our dream that we’ve all been living vicariously through your posts and blog.


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