The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Experts Worth Their Weight In Gold

Back afloat at last, and it’s so good to feel Pèlerin swing to the wind and tide at anchor once more, after what seemed an endless winter.

The last few weeks in the boatyard have been exhausting, as we’ve slogged through the work getting her ready for the long haul after a series of false starts. A patched up repair to our rudder coming down the Portuguese coast last year was obviously not going to be the long-term solution that was required.

Local knowledge always helps

Not knowing the area some homework was required to identify a yard capable of carrying out the work. A phone call to an old delivery skipper friend led us straight to Sopromar, a family run yard at Lagos, and that’s where we’ve spent the last few months. And what a great yard we’ve found it; technically sound, spotlessly clean, good chandlery (boat store), and a genuinely warm welcome.

Knowing that we want to be off the beaten track for the foreseeable future, it was time to bite the bullet and go through everything, checking and servicing, and making a number of engineering modifications that we’d long wanted to carry out. And it was a real pleasure to find that the guys at Sopromar were ready to listen and advise on our requirements, and possessed all of the necessary skills to carry them out.

The engineer in charge of the machine shop particularly inspired confidence throughout the whole exercise, quietly competent and completely unruffled by any challenges the work threw his way. As he didn’t speak English and my Portuguese is lamentably lacking, we communicated in pidgin and gesture, and got along fine. But when he started speaking impeccable Spanish I had to ask where he picked it up – 26 years as a fishing fleet engineer in Ecuador explained that, and much, much more.

Who can you trust?

One of the worries for any crew intending to visit remote places is what happens when a major engineering challenge occurs? The sort of thing that is beyond even the best toolkit – it fills me with dread. I once had to replace the fresh water pump on our old Perkins engine in a very remote part of the western highlands of Scotland. Being a Perkins (and being in the UK) the part arrived the next day; but, to my horror, the drive pulley wasn’t on it. With a party of volunteer crew arriving in a matter of hours and expecting to spend the next week in remote sea lochs, this wasn’t the best news I’d had for a while, but the local fishing boat engineer got straight on to it, so there was hope yet.

As the pulley had been heated and then shrunk on to the pump spindle as it cooled, heat was required to get it off the old pump. But after a couple of hours, applying more and more heat, and with a succession of ever more robust, specially fabricated pullers that all bent or collapsed, I was really getting into a tailspin, and asked him if he thought we’d ever get it off. Without even a glance in my direction he absent mindedly muttered ‘oh, it’s coming off alright’ – and I ceased worrying immediately. Half an hour later he was proved right, and we were on our way.

So if you, too, share my nerves about such matters, remember that these are guys that at times will work all hours to keep the fleet on the water, nothing phases them, and they are often the most versatile, resourceful engineers out there – in my experience (at least) you’ll be in good hands, as we certainly were at Sopromar.

So, so far so good, for us, and we’re so happy to be out here feeling the breeze – and on our way again.

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Paul Mills

Hi Colin,

You have an uncanny knack of timely articles for me…

I am almost definitely looking to leave our boat in Portugal next winter for a few months, after some longer distance autumn sailing – and pre Med sailing before returning to the UK for July/August 2012.

How have you found prices compared to the UK?

We are currently in Plymouth heading for the West Coast for two months 🙂

Colin Speedie

Hi Paul

I think that prices in general are lower than the UK, although with 23% VAT that hasn’t helped!

If you send me a PM I can offer more specific advice, at least, as I have found it.

Best wishes


Nick Kats

Hi Colin
You speak of a series of false starts. Are these due to teething problems with your new boat?

Colin Speedie

Hi Nick

Yes, that has sometimes been the case, and I’ve posted elsewhere on this site about some of the work we’ve carried out. Given that we’re planning to spend time in some remote places over the next few years, we took the view that we should sort out all of our concerns before heading too far from ‘civilization’. As many people before us have discovered, building a new boat doesn’t automatically give you a trouble free ride.

But it’s also true that work has dictated that we stay put in one place for periods of time, while we both get off and go and earn a living. There’s only so much we can do when on the move. But we’re currently at anchor up the Rio Guadiana between Spain and Portugal, and the view from the office is – wonderful.

Best wishes



Hi Colin,
I ran into a situation where i remembered this article and came back to refer to it. Did anyone in Sopramar could weld aluminum? Did you do that? If yes, were you satisfied with the work?
Thanks a lot.

Colin Speedie

Hi Tassio

The guys at Sopromar did weld a small section on our rudder blade, but whilst it was strong enough it wasn’t cosmetically the best.

Knowing how resourceful they are, I’m sure they could get someone in to weld aluminium to a good standard.

As a side comment, we carry pieces of 5083 plate of different thicknesses and two different sizes of rod to match, so that we know what is being used will be compatible with our hull in the event of damage that we need to patch, and a marine standard welder can’t be found.

Best wishes



Thank you very much for the quick reply Colin!
We sent them an email to get a quote for our time on the hard and will see where we will go.

The tip for caring the rod is a great one! Thanks for that as well. We carry different pieces of plate but never thought on the matching rod.

We are in madeira now and it seems we might have to wait here for the weather to brighten up a touch! In the meanwhile we look for the yard to come…

Take good care, thanks again for the help and my best wishes to you.