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Cruising Portugal's Rivers

There are 3 rivers in Portugal that are suitable for cruising.

  • The River Minho which is navigable for 40 kilometres
  • The River Douro which is navigable for 200 kilometres to the Spanish border
  • The River Guardiana which is navigable for 40 kilometres

This river forms the northern frontier with Spain, and is only suitable for vessels that can take the ground.

The scenery is very beautiful with interesting riverside towns and villages.

The entrance into the port of Caminha should only be attempted in calm seas.

The river is not buoyed but can be navigated without trouble on a rising tide.

At Valenca there is a rail bridge with an estimated clearence of 15m. Anchorage can be found on the south side of the river below the walled town.

Those that can pass under the bridge might like to anchor in the Spanish city of Tui, a short distance upstream.

The metal bridge at Porto has a clearance of 7.8 metres and therefore most yachts will have to have their masts removed.

This can be done at the Marina at Povoa de Varzim where the necessary expertise is available (except for the correct tensioning of the rigging).

It is then suggested that the 10 mile journey to the River Douro be made under motor.

The River Douro used to be fast flowing but now is tamed by a series of dams with locks incorporated in them. The locks are used by small coasters and hotels' boats with very little non-commercial traffic. They only operate once per day unless a special charge is paid.

The river is buoyed for its navigable length to the Spanish border and although detailed charts are available, they should not be necessary for a yacht.

Since the river has recently become navigable, there are few facilities along the banks, however, the scenery is outstanding. Porto, the Upper Douro Valley and the Foz Coa park, all of which are on the route, have each been designated by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.

The river runs in a deep valley with the hillsides steeply terraced for the grape production to make the excellent red and white wines as well as Port Wine. The various Quintas are painted white to add to the scenery.

It is considered that the trouble of removing the mast is fully justified by the ability to cross Portugal through this most attractive river.

The river forms the south eastern border of Portugal with Spain and has a hot, dry climate and scenery which is very different from the Northern Portuguese rivers.

The river goes into the sea at the Port of Vila Real de Santo Antonio.

There is a new road bridge (23 metre clearance) shortly after Vila Real de Santa Antonio.

Although not buoyed the river is deep in mid channel and on the outside of bends. Shortly before the limit of navigation there are pontoons at Alcoutim (Portugal) and Sanlucer (Spain). Local advice should be taken if proceeding above Alcoutim since the channel is not obvious and the sand banks shift.

The towns up the river are more attractive than the ports at its entrance. Travelling shops visit the villages with bread, fruit and vegetables. Free berthing and showers are sometimes available but not always water and electricity.

In 1998 many boats wintering in the river were carried away when the river rose rapidly 6 metres above its normal level. This also caused damage to the marina. This event took place after heavy rains upstream.

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