We love slow cruising and nature

The coast of the Algarve is touristic. And even though we are here in low season, it can be rather busy on anchoring spots. So, when we approached Alvor, we did not really know what to expect. Could we do some slow cruising and enjoy nature?

picture showing the approach of Alvor from the sea
Ya approaching the Algarve coast at Alvor
picture showing Alvor Bay with lots of sailing boats
When we entered the bay, it appeared to be a beautiful and popular spot.
picture of sailing boat Ya dried out on the sand in Alvor Bay
We decided to dry out on the sandbank. No one else did so we were not sure if we could. We could.

After having found a nice spot on the dry, we started to look around. Lots of people entered the beach on low tide. They were looking around as well. Some of our neighbor-yachties came around to know more on the Ya. But the other visitors of the bottom of the sea got down and started searching. We soon understood why. 

picture of a lady catching clams on the bottom of the see in Alvor Bay
Clams! For many people the clam-catching on the sandbanks is a day out in the weekend, with a delicious meal at the end.
picture showing baked clams
We searched for clams for an hour and had a nice bite.

We decided to stay a bit longer and just walked.

picture showing the boardwalk trough Alvor Nature Reserve
We walked along the boardwalk. This also brings the people to catch the clams. It is a network stretching for miles across some of the fascinating wildlife habitats at Ria de Alvor Nature Reserve.

We learned that each spring and autumn, the estuary of the Alvor river becomes a staging post for thousands of migrating birds. It’s has been recognized by its designation as a Natura 2000 site, giving it special environmental and conservation protection.

The boardwalk and a cycle and jogging trail through part of the reserve allow all people to see and enjoy many of the wildlife species without damaging fragile habitats by walking directly through them. We saw a heron standing still, looking in the water and, all of a sudden: SNAP, he catches a fish.

picture showing Alvor Ria with yet some water on the marshlands
We saw on the chart that the bay ended in a little river. We went on it and ended in the middle of wetlands.
Picture of Ria Alvor at low water, showing the mudflats
The wetlands include mudflats and salt marshes and salinas (saltpans). With a diversity of flora and fauna all around us.

The Alvor Estuary is one of the finest places on the Algarve for birdwatching. And we saw not only the grey and the white herons we were expecting, but also lots of storks.

picture showing storks circling in the thermals
Right above us about 20 storks circling in the thermals, not flapping their wings once, lazy as they are.

Like we saw in Kent (read our article here) , the gentler farming practices of the Algarve tend to do less damage to wildlife habitats and species than do the modern intensive farming methods employed in other parts of Europe. And so, the farmland in the estuary is also home to many birds.

Very special with this precious Alvor nature preservation area is, that is freely accessible. This area is visited by hundreds or perhaps thousand people a week. They jog, walk, fish, catch clams. While other nature preservation areas are mostly closed tor activities. For example, the Dutch Wadden Sea, two hundred times bigger, has many restrictions to people, and large parts are completely closed to all.

What is the best? What we notice is that the people here, being part of nature, learn to respect nature.

And what about us? We love slow cruising to experience nature.

Moinho da Asneira: fool’s mill or early energy innovation in Portugal?

tile of tidal mill Moinho da Asneira

A Portugese friend advised us to sail the river Mira, because he thought it could be beautiful. The mouth is some 50 miles south of Lisbon. We found a river with a long history and a great, but “foolish” innovation.

Entering the river Mira, a navigational hurdle to start with

The mouth is poorly charted. There are no buoys to guide you in, because strong tidal currents and the breaking ocean waves constantly change the shape of the sandbanks. We had to cross the sandbanks and then go around rocks, partly washing. Then there was a narrow entrance. 

The shoals of the mouth of the Mira are uncharted because the bank changes too much and for most ships it is too shallow anyway. Only the rocks are marked.

We were before the mouth in the late afternoon. We could see the pretty town of Vila Nova de Milfontes on the hill. At that time the tide was pretty low and we could see the rocks clearly, as well as parts of the bank. The ocean brought considerable waves building up high and steep and the last ebb stream curled them before they fell broke on the bank. Entering now was dangerous, if not suicidal. So, we had to wait and try it the next morning. 
Lucky for us, the weather was calm so we could anchor at sea. However, the Ya was rolling in the waves, so we didn’t get much sleep. And we asked ourselves if the state of the sea in the mouth would be that much better with the flood. Would it be worthwile this sleepless night, or do we have to skip this beauty?

Next morning, when the flood was nearly on its end, and the water was high, we went to the mouth again. The state was completely different. No breakers, only at the rocks. We went over the banks flawlessly, with a wide curve around the rocks. Happy that we have engines and what great sailors were these Portugese in older days, doing everything under sail. 
Then suddenly we were in the peaceful river Mira. We anchored in front of Vila Nova de Milfontes. 

Some history and the first renewable energy

In Vila Nova de Milfontes we were intrigued by a small image on a tourist board. Along the river Mira there used to be tidal mills. 

We started a research and were invited to join an excursion of the regional association for cultural heritage to find out more. Mr. Antonio Quaresma is a historian and author of a book on River Mira and he started telling. Already in Roman times, 2000 years ago, there were small factories along the river for conserved fish. It was a very profitable market, until the fishes got smaller and were harder to catch. Also in that time, the balance of the ecosystem counted, although local. 

Picture of explanation on the site, during the excursion
Here is historian Antonio Quaresma and collegue introducing us into the history of the Mira. On the background, you can see the mouth of the Mira with the ocean waves breaking while the ebb is running.

In the Middle Ages the landlords ruled, because they could bring up enough military force to keep the Arabs away. This led to stability, which is the condition to innovate in big projects. We all know Vasco da Gama, and Columbus, who were the first sailors to undertake world voyages. Earlier we see that in the 1400s the windmill, the moinho do vento, enters on a larger scale. They were small and simple and they could catch the wind on every mountain top. At noon the wind from the sea picks up, and then the mill could run until the evening. They were mainly used to grind the grain and corn to flour. They were worth the investment, they could do the work of a few dozen workers. 

Disadvantage of the windmill was that the wind did not always blow. Especially in the winter, one could need some reliability. Perhaps the water could help?

The moinho vento was simple, easy to build, and easy to use. In the 19th centuro there were more than 100 mills on the mountain tops around the city of Odemira.
The inside of the windmill is simple: a shaft brings the power to a reduction wheel, which is connected to the shaft of the mill stone. But it can even be simpler.

Moinho da Asneira or the fool’s mill

In about 1550 a project has started along the Mira. A big project. Idea was to create a mill that would work on the water tide. A tidal mill, a moinho de maré, also works in the winter and that would create a reliable, continued production of flour throughout the year. Some 2 miles upriver from Milfontes, there was a small side arm. They cut that off by building a dam, for a basin.

They made three holes in the dam.
One hole in the dam is made to let the water in with the flood. With high water, they closed the hole. 
The two other holes in the dam were to let the water out when it was low tide. And here is the trick: they let the water come out through a nozzle. This would blow the water with great impact on a wheel lying on the bottom. This wheel had a shaft going up, to power a mill stone. They made two mills, to be extra reliable and to improve, innovate further. They built a little house over it, to keep the installation, the grain and the flour production dry en free of vermin. 

Picture of the Moinho da Asneira
This little house was the tidal mill. It is at the end of a dam (not visible, behind the house), seperating the river (right) from the basin. Left of the house is the inlet, which opens at high tide. Under in the house there are the two holes, half visible because it is half tide. In each hole is a nozzle spraying water on the wheel to make it rotate.

Would it work? The rumor goes that nobody in the neighborhood believed in it, so they called this project ‘Asneira’. The ‘Moinho da Asneira’, The mill of a fool. The name never changed. Now there is a small resort around it, called Moinho da Asneira.

Tile at the door of Moinho da Asneira
Moinho da Asneira (fool’s mill) is the name of the little house where the two tidal mills were installed. Around it is a resort of several apartments. 

It turned out that it worked. From then this region has for a long time known the reliability on producing flour. A bit like the Ya: always make sure you have more than one source of energy and you can live fossil free  reliably, even if you sail fossilfree around the world.

This old picture shows the core moinho do mare, the tidal mill, situated in the hole under the house. When the basin is filled and the tide is low, they open the valve to the nozzle and the spray moves the wheel. On top of the shaft is (not visible) the mill stone. Flour production! 

Renewable energy in Portugal

Does one learn from the past? You might think so. Portugal enrolls the E4 programme: Energy Efficiency and Endogenous Energy . So the efficiency for the reduction of what you use. This is just what the Ya is good at: reducing the use of energy. 

And the endogenous way, so your own way, with your own means and measures for renewable energy, like the moinho do vento and the moinho do mare. 

Does it work? In about 15 years time, Portugal gets 30% of her energy from its own renewable energy, and it is still rising. The fossil fuel consumption lowers about every year. In May 2016, all of Portugal’s electricity was produced renewable for a period of over four days, a landmark achievement for a modern European country. Not fools’ work at all.

– – –

Check here where the Ya is now.

Why electric engines are better

It was in the early 19h century that the first coaches were motorized. Inventors like Thomas Davenport  tried it out. He was too early, because there was no electric distribution system at that time and he went bankrupt. 

The Prussian Moritz von Jacobi created the first real rotating electric motor in May 1834. He built one for a ship and it appeared to be remarkably strong; it could bring 14 people to the other side of a wide river. 

this image shows a scale model of an electric motor on a coach
The Dutch inventor Sybrandus Stratingh put an electric motor on  a coach and together with his assistent he drove around in his city Groningen. Here you see a scale model of the prototype. Click here   to see the film.

For the development of the electric motors, we have to look at cars. The boats just follow. It took until about 1890 for the first electric driven cars to be built in mass production. These cars were popular: especially the ladies liked them, because they were clean, silent, endurable, reliable, comfortable and simple to use. And they did not stink. They also required less maintenance compared to petrol engines. If you would ask a physicist to choose an efficient way to make a wheel turn, he would choose the electric motor as the best option and the explosion motor as the worst. The petrol engine of 1900 had a maximum efficiency of hardly 20%.

But, the petrol engine had one strong advantage: you could travel longer distances with it. Since ages people have the habit to travel 1 ½ hour a day, and you don’t change that. And since 1900 the infrastructure of roads became much better, but the electricity net remained only good in the populated areas. So most people accepted that the petrol engine stank, was noisy, dirty, not endurable, uncomfortable, and complex. They also accepted that it was difficult to use, needed much maintenance, took a lot of space, and was very inefficient by its nature. 

Funny thing is, the complexity of the explosion motor seemed to be an advantage. This tendency to complexity is typically a man’s thing.  And the neat ladies’ preferences? Well, women, you didn’t listen to them anyway. 

So: bye, bye to electric cars: since 1910 the explosion motor (petrol, then also diesel) took over.

The engine in a boat

First a word of deep respect for the developers of the petrol and diesel engines. They did a tremendous innovation job the last 120 years. From the overhead camshaft to the 16 valve system, from the injection motor to the turbo technology, it is fantastic. So much added technologies and even the whole motor space became smaller and smaller. Not to forget all the software put into make everything working smoothly and efficiently, and with less and less maintenance. Nowadays, with a lot of added technology and computerising, it is possible to make the explosion engine with a near 50% efficiency. But the thing has become very complex: if there is a defect, even mechanics need computers to tell them what’s wrong and how to repair it. 

The electric engine has not changed, or not dramatically. It is still as simple as it ever was. In a boat they have an efficiency of about 85 or 90%.

this picture shows the engine room of the Ya
The engine room of the Ya, a 34 ft Koopmans design. Normally this room is full, with the diesel engine in the middle and the various added technicals around it, plus acoustic insulation to temper the noise. But now there are two 6.5  kW electric motors in it (total 18 HP). And the rest of the space is empty, and clean.

What is on a skippers mind?

On board of leisure yachts there are still diesel engines and more and more I wonder why. Most sailors I know, express their love for the KISS formula. Keep It Simple, Stupid! But they all have diesel engines. Why? They don’t see it as a problem to take a 2 days course on “maintaining your diesel engine”, on the contrary, they like it. While a maintenance course of an electric engine is not necessary, because there is hardly any maintenance, it is reliable by itself. So why this tendency to complexity? When I ask them, they even try to explain that their Yanmar or Penta or Perkins is not a complex engine.

Did you know that a diesel engine has its efficiency on only a small range of power and rotation? Mostly it is efficient somewhere between the 4 and 6 knots speed, with the sails down and on flat water. The electric engine is efficient in nearly its full range (it is only the propeller that could be limited in its efficiency). For example, when you manoeuvre in a harbour or lock, you must give speed with the throttle shortly strongly open. Such a ‘power blow’ in diesel engines is only possible with a lot of smoke, so very inefficient and bad for nature and for you. A power blow with an electric motor is efficient and no harm is done.

A diesel engine should run at least hours, or better: days, or best: weeks. It wears by using it mostly for starts and stops. So I wonder why so many sailors use a diesel engine to come in and out of a harbour, and why they don’t all go for the  electric motor. 

The only rational advantage I can think of, is the compact energy storage. Especially we leisure yacht skippers, we like to have a lot of motor hours, just in case you need a big range.

But, the range? Well, is this still true? Over the last century a silent revolution has been going on.

The silent revolution of the electric energy storage

Did you know that from 1900 to 2000 the battery silently made a serious development? The energy storage increased a rough 100% (or more) and the endurability increased. Most batteries don’t need maintenance anymore; just a bit of attention is enough. A normal battery life is 6 or more years, and on board of yachts, with a lighter use, this can go up to 10 years or even more.

The most commonly used battery (the lead acid) can be recharged many times. Before 1940 this battery could be recharged from 50 to 100% a couple of hundred times before they stopped holding energy. But nowadays this is more than a 1000 times in this range and they still hold some 60% of their energy.

The last decade the lithium battery shows that the energy storage becomes also lighter in weight. Light enough to put them in cars, such as the Tesla.  Problem is that they cannot be extinguished when on fire. You don’t want such batteries on board.

Since some years, the LFP (or LiFePO4, or Lithium Ferro Phosphate) batteries enter the market. They are self-extinguishing. And, they can be recharged over 2000 times from 50 to 100% with hardly any loss of energy content.

A 85Ah AGM battery weighs 25 kilos and a 100 Ah Lithium Ferro Phosphate (LiFePO4 or LFP) battery weighs 10,5 kilos (would be less than 10 if also 85Ah). This means that the batterypack needed for your motor can weigh 2,5 times lighter! And yes, they cost 2 times more, but they last 2,5 to 3 times longer.

You don’t believe it? Check the pictures below. 

this picture shows the 12 Volt AGM on a weigh scale, showing that it weighs 24,5 kilos.
This is a high quality 12 Volt AGM battery of 85Ah on a weigh scale. It weighs near 25 kilos. 

this picture shows the LiFePO4 battery on a weigh scale, showing that it weighs 10,5 kilos.
Here we see a LiFePO4 battery of 100Ah, weighing 10,5 kilos. So, 2,5 times lighter than the conventional battery.

So, yacht owners, cruisers and racers, this is a revolution. It means that you can throw out you big diesel motor and you big tank and replace it for a little electric engine and a battery bank. Take off the top of your 100 litres diesel tank and put LiFePO4 batteries in. Your engine room will look very spacious, but you can fill it with some LiFePO4 batteries. I don’t say you get the same amount of energy back, but you can get pretty close. And your ship might become lighter if you want.

The cruisers have the advantages as shown on top of the article. Especially the experience of the silence is overwhelming. The racers have the extra advantage to make their ship lighter by choosing even less batteries to take with them. 

The money thing and the real thing

There is always the money thing. The excuse not to invest. Or, you would sell your ship on short notice. But sorry, to be honest, then sellyour ship. And in terms of money, a leisure yacht is a disinvestment anyhow. It should not be the finance, but the leisure.

But if you still want to talk money, my electric installation was about 8000 Euros more expensive than the diesel installation. Then 3 years later, after my first circumnavigation I met a fellow circumnavigator who tanked 8000 Euros just on diesel to go around the world with his own 9 meters boat. Break even so far. And, he had maintenance. He also had some repairs. And, he was close to renewing or revising his complete engine, while mine just had the first trace of use. And he had sludge in his tank. I have clean batteries.

In case you don’t circumnavigate, and you are just a weekend sailor, then be aware that an explosion motor wears by starting and stopping. Or even worse: they wear by waiting. This will cost you extra maintenance, and the risk of extra repairs ruining your leisure time. An electric motor, when properly installed, can wait without wearing.

I would say, circumnavigator or weekend sailor, if I look at all costs, the electric motor wins.

Finally, the real thing. Many people live for their leisure. This is spending your time with your family, your friends. For us sailors this is sailing, and at the end of the day anchoring somewhere on a quiet spot, being aware that you feel in balance with your environment, enjoying it with your beloved ones, for example your children. 

About that balance and about children, once a yachtsman told me his grandchild said, in an anchor manoeuvre: “Your motor stinks and it chokes my future.” Pretty blunt, but she has a point here. This same grandfather had put money aside for her, for her future. Her words made him think. He changed to electric propulsion, put some solar panels as a biminitop over the cockpit. Now he says, he sails so much more in balance with his environment and with himself. And his grandchild is proud and tells everybody about her granddad’s ship. Which is generally the same what the neat ladies in the 19th century said about the electric driven coaches.

Like everybody else, the highlights of my life are mostly associated with my family and my leisure, sailing.

Experience with fouling release systems

This article actually talks about coatings that protect not only ships bottoms from fouling, but everything outside, from facades and terraces to garden devices. If you are not a sailor, this can also be interesting. The good thing is that the boat’s bottom is about the most potential place to let foul grow on, and it is the most important place to keep flat, smooth and clean. So it is the ideal thing to test if you can keep a surface clean, such as your terrace, your wooden garden chairs or the walls of your house.

So here you find the test results on the Ya.

History and future

For thousand years, as long as sailboats exist, we had foul on our bottoms and we scraped it off. Then the so called anti fouling paint came. You paint it under your boat once a year, in about 3-4 hours. It costs you for a 10 meter boat about 200 or 300 Euro, and if you let someone do it, about 400 Euro. This is a soaping paint, that contains biocides.

What is a biocide? Well, bio means life, cide means kill. It leaves that many killing components in the water. So the living creatures get poisoned, such as plants, barnicles, algues, it kills water plants and leaves the fishes with misforms and makes them die. 

The anti foulings build up in the water and this is worse and worse for nature. So the regulations get stronger. In the meanwhile the stuff is so weak that it works poorly. And still it leaves biocides to the nature. So there is no future for this sort.

It also costs pretty much money to get it off. Only a professional is allowed to spray it off with a pressure water hose, and all this water must be caught in a special sewer, to prevent this biocide would go into a sewer or in nature.

So more and more it is time for alternatives, the fouling release systems. These coatings are made so flat, that foulings can hardly grow on it. And if so, they should easily be cleaned off the surface.

Neosil and Biocoat

Under the Ya two fouling release systems have been put:

Neosil is a coating that only a professional can spray on your boat. First a special primer is sprayed and then the topcoat, that consists of a very smooth layer, probably with silicon and/or Teflon in it. That stuff makes it hard for the foul to grow and stick on.

Neosil is sprayed on the grey primer here.

Biocoat is a nanotech product, so extremely thin, that the surface should be really smooth in the first place. Here one also must know how to use the system. In contrary of Neosil, Bionics can be easily used on other stuff, like wood, or stone. (such as your garden wall). The fouling can not stick on it, because the coating structure itself is too dense, as hard as steel, and very flat.

Cleaning restrictions

Neosil and Biocoat can not be cleaned with a high pressure water syringe. It would damage the coat. But further, the coatings are strong. Compare it with steel. Don’t use steel, stone, nor sanding paper or sanding (steel)wool. Do use plastic scrapers, plastic brushes, whatever.

Biocoat also doesn’t like stronger acids.

Cleaning a 3 months fouling from the bottom

Here we show pictures of the cleaning from the Biocoat system. Actually we did not notice much difference with cleaning the Neosil, so the cleaning work on both systems are the same.

The foul grows wherever there is sunlight. So on the bows, standing vertical in the water, the fouling is well represented and tougher to get off.
On the bottom astern, where the sun hardly shines, there is hardly any fouling; you just see some yellow-grey dots.
A 3 month fouling is easy to get off. This broom wide part costs one minute work.
On the aft ship it was even easier. The left side on the picture was done in two minutes.

The complete bottom we cleaned in about an hour.

Cleaning the bottom after 10 months

We left the Ya in the water from September to July. We had a spring with great weather and lots of sun. So that helped the foul to grow. The sun came in especially on the foreship on the port side.

Here again, we show pictures of cleaning it from the Biocoat system, but cleaning it from Neosil is actually the same.

On port and starboard the fouling has grown heavily and it turned he bottom green black.
The white spots show some forming of barnacles. This was easy to scrape off (what we already did on the right).
First we started scraping with a plastic window scraper. Sometimes we sharpened it with a rough sanding paper on a plank. That helped. It takes 1 ½ manhour.
 Then we scrubbed it with a hard haired broom. This costs about 2 manhours work.
The top 15 cm we cleaned with a cloth to get the red colour back. That takes about an hour. Or more, if you want to clean it deeper to the bottom.
Although Inge was not happy with this result, I found the bottom flat enough. This picture shows the worst side, the port foreship, because there the sun ‘baked’ on it for 10 months and helped the fouling growing strong on the skin.
The more to the aft en the lower on the bottom, the less fouling and the easier it was to brush off.

Conclusion : the flatter, the better

Starting with a remarkable note: on the aft under the ship the Ya has a stainless steel heat exchanger. There the fouling was really easy to get off. Why? I think because the stainless steel is really flat. The Dijkstra’s are great sprayers and always deliver first class painting work, but however, a peace of polished stainless steel is simply smoother than paint.

Therefore, it perhaps could help if you first sand or even polish the paint before you put the Biocoat on it.

For the Neosil, I think it also can help if you polish it, let’ s say once a year.

If we compare it to the current anti fouling, some notes can be made:

  • A fouling release system like Biocoat or Neosil costs you some 3000 Euros on a 10 meter ship, done by a professional. Then it lasts long, at least 10 years. An antifouling each year costs you about 50 Euros to clean it, and 400 Euros to put it on your bottom. So the fouling release system is cheaper.
  • If you take your keelboat out of the water each season, you have to spend some 2, perhaps 3 manhours to clean the fouling off. If you are in the tropics, you have to do it anyway every 2 or 3 months for an hour or more, no matter if it is antifouling or a fouling release system.
  • The ethic thing: if you stop putting antifouling under your bottom, you live sustainable, because you stop compromising the future nature for the next generations.
In the tropics it is not a bad job to scrape the bottom. It gives a nice result, and some exercise is good for your health. Or, at least, if you have a fouling release system under your ship, and not a biocide.

Hydropower and rice growing in Mondego Valley, Portugal

Over 30 years ago Inge wrote her master thesis based on fieldwork in the Mondego Valley in Portugal. In the end of the 1970’s the Portuguese government designed a project for the Mondego Valley, to get hydro energy and to regulate the water for controlled irrigation.

The agricultural reforms were an important driver for the Mondego project, but also the construction of large hydro-infrastructural works for the energy-generation.

The picture shows the project area of the Mondego Valley. Where the dams are built, the red areas show the water reservoirs. The turbines in the dams deliver electricity. The reservoirs deliver water, to be regulated to a large area around it for irrigation. This can deliver larger agricultural areas with crops with a higher yield.
The picture shows the project area of the Mondego Valley. Where the dams are built, the red areas show the water reservoirs. The turbines in the dams deliver electricity. The reservoirs deliver water, to be regulated to a large area around it for irrigation. This can deliver larger agricultural areas with crops with a higher yield.

The project aim of controlling the flooding of the area and ensuring a new source of electricity succeeded much earlier than the land reform. Two mayor hydro-powerplants were built in the Mondego valley: the Aguieira hydro power plant, located in Aguieira, started operating in 1981. Its average annual production is 193 GWh. The Raiva hydroelectric power plant (1982) generates a yearly average of 44 GWh.  All together almost 1% of the Portuguese energy consumption.

The agricultural reforms were made to be able to control to the irrigation and drainage of the area, to protect the area from the floods. Originally only rice could be grown. A controlled irrigation would make it possible to grow crops with a higher yield. This could make cultivating what agricultural soil Portugal has, more effective. Inge came in in the late ‘80s and started interviewing the farmers in Montemor-o-Velho. In 1989, the project had been delayed, which coincided with local resistance from the small farmers, and even sabotage of the works. The bigger and more entrepreneurial farmers from the association of farmers were enthusiastic about the project.

What happened in the 30 years in between the master thesis and 2020?  

Image of the Aguieira Dam
Image of the Aguieira Dam

First, we went to see how the valley developed since then. The train from Figueira da Foz to Montemor-o-Velho took us through familiar looking small-scale villages and some abandoned farms. But further inland, we saw the image of the land reform unfold.

From around Montemor-o-Velho and some 30 km to the East, the complete agricultural area in the Mondego valley is now regulated for controlled irrigation.
From around Montemor-o-Velho and some 30 km to the East, the complete agricultural area in the Mondego valley is now regulated for controlled irrigation.
Peter walking 45 minutes from the train station towards Montemor-o-Velho, crossing one of the canals of the Mondego Valley
Peter walking 45 minutes from the train station towards Montemor-o-Velho, crossing one of the canals of the Mondego Valley

For a long time, the number of land owners stayed the same. In 2008 the number of parcels they owned had halved (so the parcels on average became twice as big). Rice (60%) and corn continue to dominate, with potatoes and other vegetables. It appears that this has been a key to success: The project adapted to small sized parcels and conciliated to predominant existing crops (rice, corn). 

For the Mondego valley itself it seems to have been a success story even though it has cost lots of time and money. Estimates from 2008 on the total investment costs for about 5.500 ha (roughly 2/3 of the original project): almost 43 million Euros. And we see that the works on the adjacent rivers have suffered severe delays, much to the dismay of farmers in those regions.


Rice growing is water consuming. The University of Coimbra and the research institute MARE carry out research on how to minimize the environmental impact of this crop while keeping the yield high. During the field work in ’89 we were welcomed with words we will never forget: You come all the way from the Netherlands to study our situation while we never ever saw those professors from Coimbra, only 30 kilometers from here”. So, this is a positive change. 

On our 45 minutes’ walk from the train station to Montemor-o-Velho we walked along the endless corn fields. We then saw another potential challenge: How to grow crops without relying on large biochemical companies.

Bayer advertisement near a corn field. Is help from large-scale biochemical companies necessary for improving the yield of corn?
Is help from large-scale biochemical companies necessary for improving the yield of corn?

New developments

In recent years several groups in Portugal have protested against new mini-hydropower plants on the Mondego and other rivers. Environmental groups and other civil society organizations were able to stop two projects. In early 2016 the government decided that only four of the original seven dams will be built: the Girabolhos project on Mondego river was cancelled. Main reason for this was the incompatibility of the fish ladders built, and the broader changes they would bring, which included the expropriation of people’s houses. The construction of a fish pass in the Açude-Ponte dam in Coimbra represented the first step of the restoration process for the fish in Mondego river. It motivated further interventions in five of the smaller existing obstacles to promote successful fish passage. This is good news for sea lamprey and shad. These are gastronomic delicacies in this region and could help promoting the development of fishery, and generate incomes for local population and regional tourism activities.

In general, the organizations defend that no more dams should be built in Portugal and the cancellation of public subsidies for hydroelectric dam projects. Municipal leaders in municipalities near the dams, on the other hand, protested against the decision to reduce the number of dams, claiming that it will result in the loss of potential profits and benefits for local businesses. Also, the flooding of the valley could be controlled better by the dams, which in the light of climate change could be an important function of the dams as well. 


Writing this blog, we realized that large-scale interventions bring benefits but often have adverse effects in other fields. The large dams hold the water and yield energy. But this leads to expropriation and potentially causes malnutrition for the underlying lands, hence the need for using fertilizers. Maintaining the system of irrigation and drainage is a complex task for a rural community. The large dams hinder the passage of fish, which makes other infrastructural projects necessary. 

The approach chosen for reducing the environmental impact of rice growing looks hopeful: stay close to what happens on the land, use local knowledge and try to improve the situation together gradually.


Van de Gruiter sponsors Fossil Free Around the World

Van de Gruiter , the specialist on rigging and sailing gear for the watersport, is sponsoring the Fossil Free Around the World project. Van de Gruiter already sponsored the Sustainable Yacht project before, with the complete running rig.
Did you know that the running rig, the halyards and sheets and block and tackles on the Ya, already last for over 37.000 miles these last 6 years? This is quality, this is the sustainability that Van de Gruiter brings in.

Old and new technologies meet on the barge ‘Albatros’

Near the Frysian town Franeker, somewhere in a channel in the meadows, we moored to the ‘Albatros’, a historic motor barge built the beginning of the last century. Michel, in daily life technician on a wharf, is the owner and captain of this strong old cargo ship. He uses the Albatros is for leisure, inviting friends, for activities around the Water scouting.

Michel Loois and his daughter before the deckhouse of the Albatros. The Albatros is called a ‘luxurious motor ship”. Luxurious, because I was built with a deckhouse on the aft, where the complete skippers family lived in.
The crane of the Albatros is also an excellent swingset for Michels daughter and her friends.

Preserving the history

Michel revised the beautiful old original 3 cylinder Kromhout diesel engine. Every mechanic who sees, hears and feels these pistons slowly, smoothly and steady going up and down, would give a deep sight of sheer luck.

I asked Michel if he enjoys it all. But he answered: “Well, to be honest, since I have no cargo, the ship is too light for this big engine. It simply can not do the work what it is built for. Only in stationary I already make enough speed. And, I nearly always make short distances, sometimes only 5 or 10 miles. This all is bad for this beautiful engine.”
Indeed, it is a pity to only run an engine in only the lowest rotations. It is inefficient, it wears the engine and the fumes contain a lot of fine dust, with extra NOx and SOx. All bad our health, for nature, and bad for the next generations.

Sailing sustainably

Michel solved the problem sustainably: “I have built in an electric motor and connected it to the shaft of the propeller. Easy does it!”
This is the way to respect the history, and respect the future of the next generations. Like his daughter’s. Now he has reduced his emisssions with about 80 to 90 percent!. And by the way, it is efficient, saves money so he will get his costs back.

Seeing is bellieving

Here below you find a small film from the engine room, with the Kromhout engine, and with the electric engine in its work and running the propeller shaft.

You want to know where the Ya is now? Check here

A Parasailor on the Ya

The Ya has a Parasailor!
The Parasailor is the very solution if you want to make enough speed in an easy, comfortable way. You hoist it, unsniff it… and there you sail. Much much calmer than spinakers or genakers.
Now the Ya is able to get enough speed in light weather conditions, enough to make the Autoprops deliver electricity. This was our weak point and we solved it! Read this article if you want to know all details about the hydrogenation on the Ya.
Bruntons Propellors was willing to sponsor it, distributor Bomarine sponsored and last but not least, Van de Gruiter sponsored again with all necessary running rigging.

Vital villages: Calstock and Burdaard

On her trip through England, Ya landed in Calstock, just before the huge 19thcentury bridge over the river Tamar, some 12 miles upstream from Plymouth.

Our daily view from our berth in Calstock. The famous 19th century bridge. Sailing ships sailed under it, and the trains brought cupper and phospate over it. Calstock was blooming in that time.

The first basic necessities for sailors are available: WIFI, fresh water, electricity and… friendly people.

Because the supermarkets had disappeared from this town, volunteers during COVID set up the Local Community Shop, to provide for the basic necessities for the villagers. It opens three times a week in the former townhall. They sell the products for reasonable prices or even for free, but you can leave a donation. The restaurants, pastie shop and therapy hub are open with measures for social distancing.

The management of Calstock Boatyard opened up the wharf for local artists and small entrepreneurs. One of them is Kim, who makes sustainable soaps, with pure oils and ingredients like walnutshells and salt. These artisanal soaps leave your hands cleaner and softer than antibacterial products.

Kim shows her freshly made salt bar soaps

Visiting Calstock made us think of how vitality and sustainability are shaped in our hometown Burdaard, Ya’s first home harbor.

Some years ago, we were afraid of seeing the local supermarket disappear, but now Burdaard has two fine small supermarkets selling the best products from the region. And many other great small shops. The township and other parties organized initiatives in the field of sustainability like energy-checks for houses. Thanks to the new multifunctional centre Burdaard even has an indoor swimming pool. There is an internationally known museum of naïve painter Ruurd Wiersma.

Local entrepreneurs recently developed ‘Burdaarder Blond’. This special beer is brewed in a village nearby and its profits go back to the community. The beer even has its own website.

Burdaarder Blond proudly shows a painting of Ruurd Wiersma on the bottle.

Burdaard and Calstock, both in their own way, manage to keep the village vital. With a keen eye for what is necessary, with pride and with local products and initiatives.

PredictWind sponsors Fossil Free Around the World.

On a daily basis busy with wind and weather, PredictWind has a keen eye for climate and climate change. So we are happy that PredictWind immediately said Yes! when we asked them to sponsor the Fossil Free Around the World project with weatherforecasts, routing and advice. PredictWind is a partner we embrace.

The coming days will cross the Bay of Biscay, and then to Portugal. Click here to see where we are now

Sailing, farming, nature preservation

Philip Merricks is a sailor and a proud farmer who happens to know just about everyone meaning anything in the nature preservation in England. And in the Netherlands as well. Philip showed us around in Rye and shared his vision and contacts with us. He even found an aluminium welder for a small but necessary repair on the staysail’s boom. This remarkable farmer is also passionate about sailing. A strange combination? Philip does not think so. 

Philip Merricks on his way to take a picuture near the 'Rampion' windmilpark west of Rye
Philip on his way to take a picture near to the ‘Rampion’ windmilpark west of Rye

Ya‘s philosophy

When he first saw Ya he exclaimed right away: ‘What a remarkable boat!’ And he kept coming back to discover more details of the design and ultimately also on the philosophy behind the design.

Elmley‘s philosophy

We found out this is where the philosophies of farming, nature preservation and sailing meet: Think carefully of what you need and then take care for what you use. Philip and his team want an economically sound company. And for continuity they want to preserve the breeding waders and wildlife in their part of Sussex and Kent. They manage their farm in a sustainable way and add hospitality to it, opening it up for camping and events. This way they introduce sustainability as a way of life to their guests as well. And they love it. All winners.

Sailing, farming and nature

What Philip and Peter have in common is; use what you need. You must now your objectives (in this case: a combination of sailing, farming and substainability),and then you take some radical decisions and make it work. 

Redshank, Elmely Marshes, Kent
Redshank, Elmley Marshes, Kent

We invited Philip to sail the English Channel with us and had a great time, enjoying good food and traditional English treats like fruitcake and flapjacks. And perhaps because they sensed lots of love for the environment on the Ya, several smaller groups of dolphins accompanied the Ya for miles and miles and played around her.  Thank Ya!

Dolphin behind the rudders of the Ya between Rye and Calstock
Dolphin behind the rudders of the Ya between Rye and Calstock

The Shower Check: save money and CO2

We were in the Medemblik marina , where the Ya always gets a warm welcome. We take showers there. Everybody takes a shower there. All together some 50 to 100 showers each morning. Although the Dutch heat efficiently on gas, an average Dutch shower brings approximately 1,5 kilogram CO2 into the air. When you use coal to heat, like in the USA or China, this can be triple! We shower a lot, so here is something to reduce. Use a checklist to reduce CO2 in your showers: the Shower Check.

The Shower Check applied

Peter made a checklist on what you can do to save CO2, and money. He applied it on the showers in the marina of Medemblik. Here you see the checklist and the results.

Medemblik Marina Showers 
CO2/energy/money saversOutcome
Throughput (flow) of the spray head4,4 ltr/min
Temperature41 degrees at outlet
Heating efficiency90% (on paper)
On/off buttonyes
Automatic stop on e.g. 2 minutesyes
Short hot water linesyes
Heat recovery unit(s)no
The Shower Check for the Medemblik Marina showers

Peter put a bucket under the shower and let it run for exactly 1 minute. The Medemblik Marina showers are well adjusted. They managed to lower the flow to the minimum of 4,4 liter per minute. And still you have a nice shower. The temperature only could perhaps be lower; this saves CO2 as well. Directly after our feedback, the harbourmaster lowered it.

If you push the ON button, you shower runs for 2 minutes. Push again, and it starts again for two minutes. Luckily there is also an OFF button, when you want to stop. Many harbour showers have coin systems and then the shower simply continues, also when you are done. It runs only for the bureaucratic reason that you paid for a certain amount of time. It is a waste. Not in Medemblik. You get exactly the shower you need. This saves money and the showers are free (the coin system would only make it more expensive).

What the marina does not have is a heat recovery unit. This installation reuses the heat from your wastewater to heat to your fresh shower water. This saves a lot, but it should be built in when they rebuild the showers. This, together with some sun boilers on the roof, would easily make the showers fossil free, and cheaper on the long run. The harbour master explained that the steep roofs  do not allow to get enough sun there. The roofs must be rebuilt then

Generally, the fossil fuels used, are reduced to the minimum. It is the main prayer of the Fossil Free Around the World project: “Three things: (1)Use only what you really need, (2) use only what you really need, and (3)use only what you really need.”
The whole installation is as ecological optimized as one can with the conventional equipment. If Medemblik marina wants to save more, structural decisions have to be made.

the photo shows that the roofs of the harbouroffice in Medemblik are not suitable for sunboilers to heat the showers and reduce CO2 because they will always be partly in the shadow of a roof.
The Medemblik Marina Pekelharinghaven. Right next to the stairs are the men’s showers. Sun boilers on these roofs would be very ineffective, because they will be always partly in the shadow of a roof.

How you save CO2- money- and energy

You can use the Shower Check to reduce your own CO2 en money emissions.

First, you can minimize the flow. In stead of a big, wide spray head creating a rain shower of about 10 or 15 liter per minute, you simply buy a so called ‘sport spray head’. These do not cost much and give a pleasant flow of about 5 liter per minute.

Second, you can reduce the time of your shower. The average shower is 9 minutes. This is not necessary (and it is also not healthy for your skin, you might give that some thought).

Heating water means combusting gas, oil or coal. Medemblik Marina uses a gas combustion heater, with an efficiency of about 85%. But there are heaters that do over 90%.

If you have the money, install one or two sun boilers on your roof. Better put your money there than on a bank. And you shower fossil free!