Imray News

Book of the month – Atlantic Spain and Portugal

February's Book of the Month

28th February 2023, By Will Thomson

If you look at the weather forecast for the Gulf of Cadiz over the next week, it’s showing clear blue skies and temperatures touching nearly twenty degrees. This is just one reason why now is the perfect time of year to explore the region, naturally with the aid of our book of the month Atlantic Spain and Portugal by Henry Buchanan/Royal Cruising Club Pilotage Foundation.


While the spring weather makes southern Portugal and Spain an appealing early-season cruising ground, don’t forget to keep an eye out for any lows coming off the Atlantic that may deteriorate conditions. One option is to hunker down in a marina, but an enriching alternative avoiding the swells is to explore one of the great rivers in the region, the Rio Guadiana and Rio Guadalquivir. 


In this blog post we explore the highlights of each river alongside some practical navigation advice from our pilot book…


There is general agreement that the upper reaches of the Río Guadiana are not to be missed, particularly by birdwatchers. White storks can often be seen on the lower reaches of the river above Ayamonte, along with other interesting birds. These include cattle egrets, black-winged stilts and kingfishers. Red-rumped swallows, hoopoes, golden orioles and bee-eaters may be seen further upriver, and a flock of azure-winged magpies live close upstream of Alcoutim/Sanlúcar.

Navigation Tips

The Río Guadiana forms part of the border between Portugal and Spain. The river, which has strong currents, is navigable to Pomarão some 25M upstream and can make a pleasant change to seafaring. 


If heading upriver, leave at low water, favouring the starboard side while passing Ayamonte to avoid the muddy shoal which extends nearly halfway across the river north of Vila Real. At this point the river is quiet, pretty and deep but has a current to be reckoned with – approaching 2kn on the flood and 3kn on the ebb. 


With the aid of the flood it is possible to make the 20M or so up to Portuguese Alcoutim and Spanish Sanlúcar de Guadiana on one tide. A minimum of 3·5m, and a maximum of 20m, may to be found as far as Alcoutim/Sanlúcar even at dead low water. 


If you are venturing upstream, be careful immediately after heavy rain further inland which, as well as adding to the already strong current, can send large items of floating debris such as branches, bamboo canes etc careering downstream. 



Read more about navigating the Rio Guadiana on pages 268-275.


The Rio Guadalquivir takes you into Seville, which is one of the foremost cities of Spain, steeped in history and with something unexpected around every corner. The old part appears to have far more than its fair share of monuments and historic buildings, including a stunning cathedral and several royal palaces. A yacht provides a most convenient base for exploration, but as summer temperatures can rise above 40°C (102°F) the best time to visit is in spring or autumn, though Seville is also becoming an increasingly popular place to winter on board for many nationalities. Highlights of the year are the Easter processions of Semana Santa and the vast feria which is held two weeks later on a site adjacent to the Club Náutico Sevilla.

Navigation Tips

It is worth noting that the featureless approach up the Río Guadalquivir (from the Arabic Wadi-al-Kabir or ‘big river’), can be tedious at times  - but bear in mind that in this case it is not about the journey but the destination; the fascinating city of Seville.


It is about 55M from the mouth of the Río Guadalquivir to Seville. Starting an hour or so before the beginning of the flood (which a yacht can ride upriver for at least 9hrs) most yachts will be able to make it on one tide. 


Before setting off, it is highly recommended to book in advance with the marina in Seville you intend to use. To this end it is sensible to stop in the marina at Chipiona (at the rivermouth) for advice, where you can also top up on fuel and wait for a fair tide up the Río Guadalquivir. 


Read more about navigating Rio Guadalquivir on pages 294-301