Rum Sodomy and the Lash

sailing around the world on our yacht, Ruby Rose

Category: Spain

Cadiz (Mainly)

As predicted, I haven’t had much time to update this blog over the last week. I will, however, attempt to make up for it now. Strap yourselves in: this is going to be a long one.

Quick photo to grab your attention- this is one of the main plazas in Cadiz.

Quick photo to grab your attention- this is one of the main plazas in Cadiz.

So, first thing’s first. Cadiz! Fun fact: Cadiz is the oldest continuously inhabited city in Spain. In fact, having been settled in about 1100 BC by the Phoenicians, it’s also one of the most ancient cities in Western Europe. But it’s not just it’s impressive age that distinguishes Cadiz; it has a long and tumultuous maritime history, first by those pesky Romans who seem to pop up all over the place, and later (much later) during the Age of Exploration, when Christopher Columbus set off on three out of his five voyages from the port of Cadiz. It was forced to fend off several hundred years of attempted attacks and raids from it’s enemies (the English mostly) due to it’s status as one of the most important bases of trade in Spain.

Anyway, history lesson over. Cadiz is, as you would expect, very beautiful. The old town bears plenty of evidence of it’s history in the form of walled fortifications and castles, as well as beautiful plazas, palaces, churches, and, of course, an enormous (is there any other kind?) cathedral.

Here's Cadiz cathedral

Here’s Cadiz cathedral

We enjoyed several walks around Cadiz. The map is a little confusing- Cadiz is quite large and, unsurprisingly, a bit of a maze- however, some intelligent person had the bright idea of painting purple, blue, orange or green lines on the pavement to represent different walking tours one might enjoy. Consequently, all we had to do was pick a colour and follow the line around the town, trusting that at some point we’d come across some interesting sights, and- hopefully- arrive back at our original destination at some point.

On Friday Kelly had to say goodbye to Nick, and the two of us jumped on a train to Seville for a girly weekend away before Kelly’s flight home. Now, I know this is a big statement, but I do believe that Seville might just be my favourite city in all of Spain. It is the mother of maze-like cities. I pride myself on an excellent sense of direction, but I literally had no idea where I was at least 95% of the time. Kelly, who is used to being in a constant state of disorientation, was less perturbed by this, but I was forever studying the map, looking around hopefully for a street name or a landmark, walking forward a few dozen metres, and then slowing to a halt in order to repeat the process. AND I’d spent a week in the city in February this year. Happily, it doesn’t really matter where exactly in Seville you are: beautiful streets and shady squares filled with outdoor cafes and little fountains or gardens are inevitable.

Seville, of course, has a cathedral that simply dwarfs the one in Cadiz. You can walk around it, and 10 minutes later be like, “Is this rather impressive building I’m standing next to STILL the cathedral?” It’s big. There’s also churches and old hotels and whatnot, but the real charm is in the stunning architecture and cobbled streets, little plazas and incredible restaurants. We stayed in a little apartment, and the owner who checked us in told us that there was a restaurant for every 29 people in Seville. That’s a lot of restaurants. Happily, the standard of food is high, and we ate extremely well.

Seville Cathedral. Or, at least, a bit of it.

Seville Cathedral. Or, at least, a bit of it.

On the Saturday night we went along to the almost obligatory Flamenco show. Now, far be it from me to cast a humorous light on an activity that is evidently taken quite seriously in this part of Spain, but, well, it has to be said that there’s something hugely amusing about Flamenco. It is all very, very, very emotional. The dancers especially are obliged to feeeeeel the emotion of the song, and, as such, tend to carry out their performances with an expression of extreme angst on their faces. That all being said, Kelly and I enjoyed the show immensely and didn’t stop talking about it all night.

Sunday was another train ride, this time to Madrid. We were gutted to be leaving Seville- we could have easily stayed another few days at least- but we felt obliged to spend a little bit of time in Spain’s capital before Kelly flew out on Tuesday. I don’t know why, but we weren’t very excited about going to Madrid. We just assumed it would be like every other European capital: historic, yes, but also big, overcrowded, expensive, noisy and smelly. Well, it was all those things (apart from smelly- yay), but it was also absolutely beautiful and extremely impressive. We got off the train, clutching onto our bags in defence against pickpockets, which we’d been warned about many times, and after several false starts, finally found our way out of Madrid Atocha station. In the cab we stared open mouthed at the stunning buildings lining the wide, leafy boulevard we were driving down: palatial, white, intricately carved, immense, and, above all, absolutely beautiful. After checking into our hotel (which was awesome- we stayed at Room Mate Mario, in case you need a recommendation) we took ourselves around the central area of Madrid and concluded that, actually, we loved it. Several impressive plazas are linked by busy, bustling streets with all the regular shops at ground level, but as soon as you look up you can appreciate the stunning architecture. The cathedral and Royal Palace were invariably the highlight, especially surrounded as they are by beautifully maintained parklands and gardens.

Almudena Cathedral

Almudena Cathedral

 

Royal palace in Madrid

Royal palace in Madrid

However, probably the lingering memory I will have of Madrid was Mercado de San Miguel. Only a few minutes walk from our accommodation, we found this food market almost as soon as we left the hotel, and we didn’t really eat anywhere else for our entire stay. It was awesome and had pretty much any food or drink you felt like- as long as it was Spanish. Oh, or sushi.

Olive heaven at San Miguel Market

Olive heaven at San Miguel Market

On the Monday we went on a food tour which was quite possibly the highlight of the entire weekend. We went with a company called Devour Food Tours and it was awesome. Our guide was exactly like Eddie Izzard except about 20 years younger, and not a transvestite (I don’t think…), and he took us to 10 different tapas bars over the course of 4.5 hours, giving us a walking tour of Madrid on the way. We ate a huge amount, and it was almost all delicious.

A food tour would not be complete without admiring (and tasting) Spanish ham.

A food tour would not be complete without admiring (and tasting) Spanish ham.

 

Tuesday came around and we had to say our goodbyes. Kelly headed off to the airport and I travelled back to Cadiz by train, arriving about 10pm that night, where Nick met me at the station. After living in each other’s pockets for the last 4 months, it was a bit of a shock to spend 4 days apart, and we were eager to exchange news.

Nick had spent his time alone in Cadiz wisely: by doing all the laundry, and practising the banjo for most of the day. His mother is also in Andalusia, in a nearby town called Jerez, and she and her friend came down to Cadiz for the day on the Sunday. We were heading there the following day. No rest for the wicked.

Wednesday we headed back to the station and made our way to Jerez. Gwen is on her annual Spanish course with a good friend of hers, and they came to pick us up after their morning lesson. We had a brilliant day walking around Jerez, which is a lovely old town, and had an excellent steak for lunch before heading back to their apartment for a cup of tea and a good long chat. We’re doing the same thing again tomorrow. Tough life, isn’t it?

Today I finally got caught up on things. I did my laundry, cleaned the boat, uploaded all my photos, wrote this blog, phoned my mother- all those things that shouldn’t take very long, but before you know it the day’s gone. We’ll continue to spend the next few days with Nick’s mother whenever we can, and in between visits we’ll prepare for our crossing to… Morocco!!

Red Rain in Rota

We entered the Bay of Cadiz last Friday and our first stop was Rota, a quaint Spanish town that is very close to the American naval base. It also seems to be a popular holiday resort for the Spanish. As such, it has loads of atmosphere, especially after the sun goes down, and a long, rather tacky built up seafront, like many of these European beach resorts.

Cafe culture in Rota

Cafe culture in Rota

The passage from Punta Umbria was a fairly long one, compared to the short hops we’ve been doing lately. 55 miles, which equated to about 8 hours of sailing. The sun was out, and it was HOT. Like, sweltering. Even on the water with a breeze, we were sweating and following the shade around the boat as the sun moved.

We hoped that Rota would provide a good base to wait out some bad weather, and so it proved to be. When we arrived, we went for an early evening walk and had a beer. The streets were practically deserted, the bars empty. So we returned later than night for an ice-cream (it was far too hot to go to bed) and boy, what a difference a few hours makes! What had appeared to be a sleepy town, turned into a heaving, noisy and bustling maze of alleyways and laneways all packed with families and beach-goers. We walked around with our rapidly melting ice-creams and soaked up the atmosphere. Oh yes, this would do us just fine!

The next day was a bit of a doozy. Firstly, Kelly got bitten on the eye by a naughty mosquito and it swelled up impressively so that she looked like half a Gollum (on the non-swollen side… hahah, kidding! I jest!). Secondly, the easterly Levante wind started to make itself known. Before long, all the boats in the marina were rocking to and fro, and the water was slapping against the hulls. The palms on the promenade were all blown to one side. Nick turned our instruments on, and the highest speed we spotted was 35 knots. Unbelievably, we actually saw a (British) yacht cast off and make it’s way out of the marina in these conditions! We hoped for his sake he was going downwind. By the evening the wind had eased off, and we ventured out, assuming this was the end of it.

Rota!

Rota!

Into town we went for our ice-cream, once again. This time, there seemed to be some kind of grape harvest/wine/cheese festival going on in the main square. There was a long line leading to some stalls handing out wine (it turned out to be sherry) and cheese, and on a raised platform there was a large vat with grapes in it. People were taking turns to crush the grapes underfoot. It looked fun, but the lines were long, and the night was young, so we returned after our perambulation. By this time, a band had set itself up and serenaded us as we took our turn crushing grapes, drinking free sherry, and nibbling on cheese. It was all extremely pleasant.

Grape crushing.

Grape crushing.

No sooner had we returned to the marina than the wind picked up again. Nick scuttled around the boat doubling up our lines and all night long we were rocked back and forth by the wind, which we could hear howling through the marina. The next morning was overcast and muggy (even though it was still windy). Eventually, the weather broke and it started to rain. The temperature finally dropped, and we all breathed a sigh of relief.

However, late afternoon the grey sky turned into an odd pale purple-red colour. Kelly was the first to notice. “Hey, look, the sky looks weird.” I glanced at it, grunted in appreciation, then went back to my book. It started to drizzle, and I noticed that the spots of rain on my kindle were a funky red colour. It wasn’t until I looked up and realised that the entire boat was slowly turning a rusty terracotta colour that the penny dropped. I had read about this phenomenon. It was dust from the Sahara, carried all this way in rainclouds (maybe… I’m not sure about the exact science) and now it was falling onto southern Spain. More specifically, our boat.

Needless to say, the next day involved a lot of cleaning and scrubbing, probably by almost everyone in Rota judging from the state of everyone’s cars. The good news is that the hot, muggy conditions had passed, the wind had changed direction, and we could now think about moving on.

Yesterday we did exactly that and made the arduous 5 mile passage to Cadiz. I shall save my musings on this part of Andalucia until a later post, but first impressions are extremely positive. We’ve got a bit going on over the next week and a half- my sister and I are taking a little trip inland to visit Seville and Madrid before she flies back to Australia, and then we’re spending some time with Nick’s mother, who is in Jerez with a friend at the moment. In short, we’ll be based in Cadiz until mid-September, and we’re looking forward to getting to know this interesting and picturesque town in more detail.

Ayamonte

We’re finally back in Spain!

Ayamonte!

Ayamonte!

After hurriedly leaving Vilamoura, we anchored overnight in the Rio Formosa. Although inoffensive, it certainly didn’t compare to the picturesque tranquility of Alvor, and we left after one night without ever going ashore. By now we were really impatient to get back to Spanish soil, and so we decided to make a break for it and head to the Rio Guadiana, which separates the two countries.

We have mixed feelings about Portugal, but on the whole, we didn’t feel a connection to it- which was a shame. Some places we loved: Nazaré and the beaches of Peniche being a definite highlight. Lisbon and the marina we stayed at in nearby Oeiras were also fantastic. Sintra was also an incredible place, and I’m glad we made the effort to see it. Alvor joins the list of favourites.

However, there were a couple of things that we didn’t like so much. One was the food. I love fresh fish and salad with boiled potatoes as much as the next person, but there’s only so much of it I can eat. The calibre of food at many of the restaurants we went to simply wasn’t very high. As a result, we usually ate onboard, which at least saved us some money. Portuguese tarts are clearly an exception here, as we couldn’t get enough of those little beauties.

Another issue we had with Portugal was one we were prepared for. The Algarve was probably very beautiful 40 years ago, but the tasteless high-rises and apartment blocks have spoiled the coastline, and foreign tourists- mainly Brits- have also eroded any sense of the ‘real’ Portugal in these areas. We couldn’t get away from these concrete jungles quickly enough.

So, we hastened towards Ayamonte. The day started out beautifully: warm and clear with a gentle breeze from behind. We sailed goose-winged and turned the engine off. It was perfect. Kelly and I sat on the coachroof reading, and Nick sat in the cockpit playing the banjo. At some point, I looked around at the chart plotter and saw we were hitting 7 knots. Yes, it did seem a little breezier, now I thought about it. But the seas were calm and we were sailing comfortably, so no worries. Slowly the waves built, as did the wind, and as we recorded 20 knots (from behind at least), we decided to furl in the jib. After all, there was a bar at the entrance of the Rio Guadiana, and it would do us no good to arrive too early. We had timed the passage to arrive at the river entrance at half flood. At this rate, we’d arrive bang on low water, and risk grounding the boat. For possibly the first time ever, we wanted to lose speed. However, the jib obviously hadn’t been doing a huge amount, because we barely noticed the difference. We started to make 8 knots, even without a jib. Okay, no problem, we’ll put a reef in. Er, actually, make that two reefs. Into the wind we went, and suddenly we appreciated just how windy it really was. The boat bucked like a horse, and Nick and I got a saltwater shower as we turned her into the wind. Nick worked as quickly as he could while I tried to hold the boat steady, and we all breathed a sigh of relief as we turned back on course and were once again going with the wind instead of against it.

The sail started off so well...

The sail started off so well…

At some point, Kelly went downstairs. Nick and I stayed in the cockpit watching the swell build, and keeping a worried eye on the chart plotter. We had barely lost any speed at all, and were still due to arrive just after low water. We decided to deal with that problem when we got to it, and as the wind got into the high 20s, we considered putting in a third reef- but we couldn’t bear to turn back into the wind. Another yacht passed us, heading in the opposite direction. They were see-sawing up and down over the short choppy waves. It looked horrendous.

Eventually we reached the river entrance. By chance, we saw a yacht on the AIS that had just passed over the bar we were so concerned about. We radioed him and asked what the depth had been, and he assured us that there was no problem- the shallowest depth was about 3 metres. We dropped the main and headed in. As the depth became shallower and shallower, and as we went over the shoals towards the entrance, the waves- which were now hitting us side-on, since we’d turned towards the coast- got bigger and more powerful. Kelly was still down below, and feeling pretty queasy, unsurprisingly. Later, I asked her why she hadn’t come into the cockpit if she wasn’t feeling well down below. She replied that she was too scared to move! With every large wave, the boat heeled over and a corresponding crash came from down below. Our rosemary and chives, which had been living happily under our sprayhood, crashed down the companion way, soil going everywhere. Books went flying off the shelves, empty bottles of gin fell onto the floor along with baking trays and chopping boards. With every rocking motion we could hear glasses crashing against each other in the locker- we wondered how many were left intact. Kelly grabbed Nick’s banjo, which was precariously positioned on the couch, and held onto it, waiting for it all to be over.

Eventually we made it into the river and it’s relative calm. We moored up in Ayamonte without issue, and cleaned everything up. Surprisingly, nothing was broken- apart from our poor chives, which never recovered. Too exhausted from our ordeal, we cooked up whatever was handy and had an early night.

Happy to be back in Spain

Happy to be back in Spain

The next morning we woke, recovered and rested and ready to explore this Spanish town. We walked across the canal and into the old town, and immediately felt a sense of well-being and contentment. We were back in Spain! In the land of tapas and a language we could kind of understand! Ayamonte was a charming and quaint town, and a perfect introduction to sailing in Andalucia.

Cheers!

Cheers!

The first meal we had was a disappointment- but at less than €30 for three of us, we didn’t feel too let down. However, on our final night in Ayamonte we went to a restaurant in the main square, and it was frigging amazing. We ordered dish after dish, and soon enough the waiter got the gist of it. “Do you like fish? You must try the tuna.” or, “The calamari croquetas are excellent. Shall I bring you some?” We just kept eating and drinking whatever they recommended, and it was all absolutely amazing. Possibly the best meal I’ve ever had in Spain. You heard me.

Mmmm

Mmmm

Mmm again!

Mmm again!

Sadly, we had to leave this morning. We sailed in much more benign conditions to Punta Umbria, a modern Spanish resort town which is opposite a massive oil refinery. Needless to say, we’ll be leaving in the morning. But it’s good enough for a stopover. Tomorrow we continue east with a 50 mile passage to Rota. We’re hoping we’re just as taken with Rota as we were with Ayamonte, because the easterly Levante is forecasted to blow all weekend until early next week, so we expect to be port bound until then.

 

Adiós Spain!

Well, as much as we would be quite happy spending an entire sailing season here in Galicia, the time has come to move on and cross the border to Portugal. We plan to leave tomorrow morning, bright and early, and reach Viana do Castelo by mid-afternoon.

But first! The last time we spoke, we were waving goodbye to Nick’s parents in Combarro. Dragging ourselves away from Combarro wasn’t easy, it’s the type of place that pulls you in and refuses to let go. However, we knew we had to move on, and off we went to Islas Cíes, a nearby island group which is also a national park. We had to apply for permission to enter the park, and once that was approved, had to register our intention to anchor in the park. We only had two nights, because the weekend was fully allocated already.

We motored our way across calm, flat seas to the islands, enjoying the gorgeous scenery and sunshine. One of the islands is a bird sanctuary and you can’t land there (although anchoring off the beach is fine) so we chose the other island which had a stream of ferries going to and fro the mainland, carrying hoards of spanish tourists. The island was obviously a popular camping spot also, as we saw many tents dotted around the place as we approached.

This is the life!

This is the life!

By mid afternoon we were one of about fifteen yachts and motor boats anchored off a beach absolutely teeming with people. The island was craggy and wooded, with only a few run down buildings off the beach, and that’s it. Nick and I sat around all afternoon, sun baking on deck or napping in the shady cockpit. We made a few noises about going ashore, but characteristically stayed put.

Evening arrived and, after a lazy afternoon, we made a reluctant decision to go ashore, born more out of guilt than any desire for an excursion. I stood to go ready the dinghy, and Nick stood to take off his t-shirt and retrieve his snorkel and mask from the locker. We looked at each other, confused.

‘Aren’t we going by dinghy?’

‘What’s the point in that? Let’s just swim.’

‘Er, no. I dipped my toe in before and my entire leg went numb with cold.’

‘Are you exaggerating by any chance?’

‘Me? Exaggerate? How very dare you.’

‘Well, if you want to go by dinghy, you’ll have to get it in the water yourself, because I’m swimming.’

‘Fine! I’ll row alongside you and point and laugh.’

‘Come on, girl! You’re Australian! Don’t tell me you’re afraid of a little cold water.’

‘I spent my entire childhood swimming in cold water! The next landmass after Adelaide is Antarctica. Believe me, the water is chilly.’

‘That’s settled then.’ (Jumps in. Teeth are chattering, pretty sure his skin is turning blue…)

‘Is it cold?’

‘Y-y-yes.’

‘But… it’s okay once you’re in, right?’

‘Nope! S-st-still freezing.’

‘Bugger.’

Fast-forward two minutes, and I’m standing on the bow, dry bag stuffed with a towel, a shandy, our sunglasses and our shoes slung over my shoulder, watching Nick swim towards the beach. Having no choice, I jumped in. And yes, it was bloody freezing.

Now, I’m not sure how far the boat was from the beach. Probably a few hundred metres. But gone are the days where I can swim forever and ever without getting out of breath. Not to mention the fact that somehow I ended up towing along the bloody dry-bag, AND I forgot to grab my goggles, so my head was lifted out of the water the whole time- which makes swimming far more tiring than it ought to be. Needless to say, we dragged ourselves onto the beach (and I could only touch the bottom when I was, like, a metre away from the sand) panting and wheezing, and knowing we had to swim back.

However, I’m tempted to say it was worth it. The evening light across the mouth of the ria, all the Spanish families running around, the bay full of boats at anchor, all contrived to create a very relaxing atmosphere. We drank our shandy, went for a walk up the beach and back, then swam back to the boat.

At this point, we were finally able to make use of our stern shower. The water from the shower head was far warmer than the sea, so it felt quite nice to sit on the back of the boat and give ourselves a rinse. In fact, I decided to take it one step further. I collected my various lotions and potions and, sitting on the steps on the stern, washed my hair and my face. Then I started to wash my body, but thought, ‘Hold up. All these other sailors wander around stark bollock naked on their boats. [Indeed, we’d spotted several men and women on neighbouring boats in various states of undress throughout the day.] Why can’t I?’ So, to prove to myself that I’m most certainly NOT a prude, and I can embrace the hippy live-aboard lifestyle as wholeheartedly as the next person, I stripped off and got scrubbing. After all, no-one could really see me. There were only two other boats in my line of sight, and I couldn’t see anyone on deck looking my way. And we were facing away from the beach, hidden from view, so really it was pretty low-risk.

Needless to say, like something out of a predictable sit-com, that was the moment a dinghy full- FULL- of 30- something men decided to zip past, not two metres away from the back of our boat, my naked ass- and more- in full view. I thought furiously. What to do? Do I appear all nonchalant, like, ‘Hey, nothing to see here, move right along, I’m naked and totally fine with that!’ No, clearly not. I did what we all do when caught in an embarrassing situation: avert one’s eyes and take a sudden and keen interest in something totally banal. In this case, rinsing my hair. Definitely no conditioner left in my hair that day. Ohhh, no.

That night the wind picked up and the anchorage became really quite rolly. Neither Nick nor I got much sleep and the next day dawned to drizzle and cloud. We had to leave the next morning anyway, not being able to secure anchoring permission for the weekend, so we decided to get going and head to Baiona, only 7 miles away.

Baiona

Baiona

Baiona has two marinas, and we have a discounted rate for one of them (the MRYC), which is, of course, the more expensive of the two. I’m not sure why this marina is so pricey. The facilities are nothing special, although the wifi speed is pretty good. The restaurant and bar are too fancy for us- we try and avoid table cloths and waiters in crisp white shirts wherever possible, unless, of course, we’re in London and Nick’s paying- so we headed into town.

Baiona is charming. It’s a bigger town than anywhere we’ve stayed apart from La Coruña, and has plenty of hustle and bustle. The old town is quaint, with a narrow pedestrianised street packed with tiny bars, occasionally opening onto a square with restaurants. We love it. Prices are cheaper than Combarro, the food is just as good, and the atmosphere is buzzing, especially at night (well, it doesn’t become ‘night’ here until 11pm, which is when I go to bed, but you know what I mean).

Free mini croissants and a shot of freshly squeezed orange juice with my morning coffee. I love Spain.

Free mini croissants and a shot of freshly squeezed orange juice with my morning coffee. I love Spain.

However, as I said, we must move on to Portugal if we intend to cross the Atlantic this November. To be honest, we’re so taken with Galicia that, if we weren’t already booked onto the ARC and had our crew lined up, we’d be tempted to spend the rest of the season here, picking up where we leave off next year. But no, the Caribbean also beckons, and we’re sure we’ll enjoy sailing other parts of the world as much as we have the Atlantic coast of Europe. Besides, we gotta come back this way at some point! And when we do, Galicia will definitely be on our list of places to return to.

Charming Combarro

We’ve now been in Combarro for a week, and, dare I say it, but I think we have a new contender for favourite Galician town so far. It is absolutely beautiful. The old town is a charming jumble of granite buildings, most of them residential, but with the obligatory souvenir shops and restaurants thrown in here and there, mainly along the seafront. The town is also dotted with horreos, which are 18th century granite sheds on stilts, mainly used for drying food back in the day.

 

Horreo in Combarro

Horreo in Combarro

In fact, it’s probably better if I just let the pictures do the talking.

 

Lots of red roofs, flowers and quaint houses

Lots of red roofs, flowers and quaint houses. Oh, look, there’s a bar.

 

A gap between two houses shows the beach with the tide out

A gap between two houses shows the beach with the tide out

On Friday, Nick’s parents arrived bright eyed and bushy tailed. Even after a 2am start they were keen to get out and explore the area. We showed them where they were sleeping, reminded them how everything worked, let them have a drink, and then we went for a long and boozy lunch.

The seafront of Combarro is dotted with restaurants overlooking the beach and fishing boat moorings, accessed by a narrow laneway full of shops all selling exactly the same souvenirs- namely, plates for serving octopus, bottles of local liqueur, and, inexplicably, little witch dolls. It’s a bustling place, especially late at night, where couples, friends and families- everyone, from the very young to the very old- sit down somewhere in the region of 10pm and start their evening meal. Right about my bed time, although Gwen and Marco, party animals that they are, made me push that back a couple of hours. We marvelled at the fact that, even at midnight when we were making our way home, children were playing in the playground or sitting at a restaurant with their families. The Spanish approach to family life is very different to the English or Australian one, and I think I prefer it. Why not let the kids run wild while having a late dinner and drinks with the grandparents? None of this 7pm bedtime nonsense. Where’s the fun in that?

The beach with the tide out. And a boat. Also, some houses.

The beach with the tide out. And a boat. Also, some houses.

On the Saturday we went for a drive in the car Gwen and Marco rented to Noia, a town at the head of Ria de Muros. We had a coffee and walked around, and while it was quite a nice medieval old town, we decided to move on to Muros for lunch. You might recall that we spent some time at anchor off the quaint village of Muros, so we were more than happy at this surprise return.

Unfortunately, our arrival on the outskirts of Muros coincided with what appeared to be a large cycling event, and we found ourselves stuck in a series of mini traffic jams while waiting for cyclists to pass. As we inched towards the city centre, we at least had plenty of time to admire the views and plan our lunch.

Eventually we made it into Muros, parked the car and walked up to the main square. We ordered a leisurely lunch of calamari, pimentos, and razor clams, which look like fat juicy worms, and taste absolutely delicious. Then we had dessert, a tart type thing, which was a delicious if slightly curious mix of creme brûlée, cake, and custard. Then we dragged ourselves back to the car, drove home and fell into bed for a nap.

On Monday we had another day trip, this time to Pontevedra, which is only a few kilometres up the road. This was, apart from La Coruña, the biggest town we’ve been to since arriving in Spain, and it had loads of charm and atmosphere. The architecture of the old town was impressively grand, very beautiful, and there were many pedestrianised areas. I’m sure there’s plenty of cultural activities to do there, but all we wanted was to wander around and enjoy the bustle.

While we were here, we saw a road sign that caught our attention. It pointed towards the house where Christopher Columbus was born. Interesting, considering he was born in Genova, Italy. Now, most of us (well, I) would see that sign, puzzle over it for approximately three seconds, then forget about it and probably never think of it ever again. Gwen, on the other hand, was determined to solve this mystery, and, to this end, took to questioning anyone who showed even the slightest inclination to chat. So, we got it from several locals that, based on what seems to be rather tenuous evidence, the Galicians have decided to adopt Christopher Columbus as their own. Fair enough!

Entre Pedras, our favourite restaurant. Marco is easily spotted in the yellow cap.

Entre Pedras, our favourite restaurant. Marco is easily spotted in the yellow cap.

We spent a lot of time in one particular restaurant called Entre Pedras, where we practically tried everything on the menu and, by the end of the week, were on first name terms with the waiters. The benefit of this soon became clear, as we were slowly given a little bit of extra bread, then our glasses of wine became a little larger, then, finally, after four days of being as charming as we possibly could, they plonked some local liqueur on the table and let us help ourselves.

Foooooood

Foooooood

 

More foooood

More foooood

We also found a bar called A Rosa Dos Ventos, which is a nautical themed rooftop bar with fabulous views over the beach and towards the old town. We signed their guestbook on the first night, and put the name of our blog down on the off chance they’d actually be interested. The next night, the owner and his sister told us they had both not only looked at it, but had read back at least several blogs. The owner, a man called Jose Luis was very friendly, who was happy to sit with us and chat, putting up with my non-existent Spanish, Nick’s improving Spanish, Marco’s reasonable Spanish, and Gwen’s excellent Spanish. In fact, here’s a picture of them now. If you’re in the area, go have a drink! At €1 a beer, you can’t really go wrong!

The lovely owners of A Rosa Dos Ventos (and some random in the background)

The lovely owners of A Rosa Dos Ventos (and some random in the background)

 

Enjoying one of many drinks at A Rosa Dos Ventos

Enjoying one of many drinks at A Rosa Dos Ventos

However, all good things must come to an end, and yesterday Gwen and Marco made their way back to London. We couldn’t have chosen a better place to spend a long weekend with them, and we had even more laughs than usual after the last couple of months apart. Nick and I were extremely relived that they were comfortable on the boat and there were no issues- not something we take for granted: boat life certainly isn’t for everyone. But Gwen only managed to crack her head half a dozen times, which we considered to be pretty good going, so all in all, it was a success and we can’t wait for them to come back and visit as soon as possible, hopefully with some more members of Nick’s family in tow.

We had planned to leave today, but even though it’s lovely and warm, it’s also very windy, so we’ve decided to wait. Tomorrow night’s stay in the marina is a freebie, so now we might just be forced to stay another day. To be honest, I could probably spend the rest of the summer here, but it’s coming up to mid-July and we’re not even in Portugal yet. We better get a wriggle on!

Charming Combarro, seen from the terrace of A Rosa Dos Ventos.

Charming Combarro, seen from the terrace of A Rosa Dos Ventos.

 

Back to Marinas

Well, that would be about right. I lived in London for five years, and the only time I experienced anything akin to ‘heat’ was when I went back home to Australia, or joined Nick’s parents in their house in Greece. Now, there’s a bleeding heatwave! Today the temperature in London is 35 degrees! They’re actually issuing public health warnings. It’s only 20 here, and I’m in Spain, for crying out loud. Where is the justice in that?

Actually it’s lovely here, weather wise. We have had some scorching days, but it’s cooled down today and there’s some cloud cover and a pleasant breeze. Warm enough for shorts, but cool enough to avoid unsightly sweat patches. Ideal. So I’m trying not to be too jealous of the weather in London. Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say!

So, where’s ‘here’ exactly? Well, we’ve moved south since I saw you last. We left our idyllic anchorage in Muros, and sailed to the next ria along, Ria de Arousa. Now, according to our trusty cruising guide, Arousa is “not only the largest Galician ria, but also the most attractive for cruising, with many pleasant anchorages.” Well, large it was, but we were unimpressed. It was far more developed than Ria de Muros, and although it did have plenty of anchorages, few were suitable for us due to weather conditions. We decided to make for a town called Pobra do Caramiñal, which the cruising guide describes as “Gaining reputation for good restaurants in town. Well liked marina.”  Sounded good.

Perfect sailing conditions!

Perfect sailing conditions!

A long beach curves away from the marina, which is where the recommended anchorage is. There were several other boats anchored here when we arrived in the early evening, so we joined the party- only to realise that our chain counter had broken, meaning we didn’t know how much chain we had put out. We made an educated guess, then Nick spent the next hour fiddling with the small handheld device trying to get it to work again. You know the drill: take it apart, swear a bit, get your iPad out and look something up on the internet, change the parts you happen to have, put it back together, swear a bit more, connect it up to the windlass (the electronic bit of kit that saves us from having to let out or haul up the anchor ourselves), turn it on, swear quite a bit more, then announce that you’re giving up. That process takes about an hour, during which I wait impatiently, occasionally tapping my foot or looking at the clock and sighing loudly. Sometimes, when I’m really over it, I actually ask the dreaded question: “How much longer are you going to be?” I’m either rewarded with silence, or I get the expected reply, “It will take as long as it takes, now either do something useful or be quiet!”

Did I mention that we were both starving, had very little food on board (apart from frozen cornish pasties that somehow survived the Bay of Biscay passage, and we are now saving for a special occasion, or possibly some kind of ceremonial festival of english food, complete with Marmite and Branston pickles), it was extremely hot and we were knackered from a full day of sailing. So, I made myself useful and got the dinghy ready to go. We needed food and a cold beer, and we needed them now.

But after his unsuccessful repair of the chain counter, Nick decided to opt for the next best thing: to go for a swim. More specifically, to swim to where the anchor was (hopefully) embedded in sand and weed and make sure it was secure and we had enough chain out. Well, that took a bloody long time, not least because his flippers and snorkelling mask were down the bottom of our stern lockers. Out came everything in that locker, including, but not limited to, folding bikes, baskets for bikes, extension lead, hose, wetsuit x2, lifejacket, a BBQ, a broom, the attachment for the hydrovane, a bucket and an extendable ladder.

Finally Nick was happy with the anchor. He dried off, got into the dinghy, we wrestled the outboard engine onto the back, and I was just about to drop the painter, mouth practically salivating with anticipation of my impending dinner, when the wind went from almost nothing to really quite something. Our boat swung around with the new wind direction and we were now on a lee shore.

Nick: “Wait! We can’t leave the boat like this! It’s far too windy.”

Me: “Like what? It’s fine!”

Nick: “No- what if the anchor drags? We’ll go straight into the beach.”

Me: “I’m willing to take that risk. I don’t think you realise quite how hungry I am.”

The conversation deteriorated from there, and ended in me eating weetbix and Nick making the decision to go into the nearby marina. He also ate some weetbix. We felt a lot better after that.

So, out came the lines and fenders and into the marina we went, wind howling. We had two options. To go into the marina proper, or to moor up to an outer pontoon which was about 100 metres long and had only one motor boat on it, with all the space in the world for manoeuvring. Clearly, we chose the more difficult option, which was to go inside. Nick was heading to a berth directly ahead, but we were distracted by a tiny man on the opposite pontoon, all skinny brown limbs and an straggly long white hair and an impressive white beard. He looked like Tom Hanks after he spent all those years on that island, except Spanish and about one hundred and ten. We couldn’t understand his words, but his meaning was plain enough: “I’m the boss, come over this way and moor up here.” Fine. That’s what we did. And it wasn’t quite our worst mooring. After much discussion and debate, we decided it wasn’t even our second worst mooring. But we agreed that it was almost certainly our third worst, and we’re just thankful the boat survived unscathed, unlike our pride. The wind was pushing our boat off the pontoon, and it took about fifty lines, and five people to get it sorted.

[Nick: actually it is debatable whether our Spanish captain Ahab was a help or hinderence. Our boat has high sides which means it is always blown downwind when turned to the said wind. As such we have a technique where we lead a midline through the mid cleat and back to a winch. The line has a bowline on it which we place over a pontoon cleat with a boat hook. Then in a blow, we winch ourselves in. Simple . Yes? Except señor Ahab sees us on a mid cleat, attaches a stern line then releases our mid line. Off goes the bow downwind. I think that left to our own devices, we would have taken a downwind pontoon finger and been blown on, like we did when we arrived at combarro marina. But there is nothing like a shouting,gesticulating,Spanish version of uncle Albert to put pay to our fine ideas.]

Minutes later, the wind died off. Of course it did.

Well I can’t complain about the marina, but how this town has a reputation for good restaurants is beyond me. We could barely find anywhere serving food, let alone good food. There were more bars than you could shake a stick at, but few of them had a menu. By this time we were so tired that we made do with the free food you get with your drinks. We found one place that brought out the beers, then a big bowl of crisps, then an equally big plate of olives, and then a fried egg each with a piece of bread. That would do.

The town wasn’t overly offensive, it just didn’t have the charm that Muros did, and we were disappointed. It did, however, have an excellent supermarket, and the marina had very good wifi, so we stocked up on food and drinks, downloaded Jonathon Strange and Mr Norell from BBC Iplayer, did our laundry, and moved on.

Lunching it up in Combarro

Lunching it up in Combarro

I’m delighted to report that our next destination, Combarro, is as charming and beautiful as one could possibly wish for. We arrived yesterday and will stay until Tuesday, as Nick’s parents are coming out to meet us over the weekend. The sail was painless, with barely a breath of wind or a hint of swell. Predictably, as soon as we came within sight of the marina, the wind increased to 15 knots, gusting 20, as suddenly as flicking a switch. We were like, “Seriously!?” However, this mooring went far more smoothly, so our confidence is restored. A quick walk around the old town revealed numerous restaurant options, one of which we sampled today and were not disappointed with. But I will leave a full description of Combarro until my next post- gotta keep you lot wanting more, after all.

An excellent incentive to learn Spanish

An excellent incentive to learn Spanish

 

Until next time!

 

Siestas and Fiestas

I don’t wish to appear too smug… but I really think that life could not be better. We are at anchor about 200 metres away from the charming Spanish town of Muros, and the anchorage is just beautiful.

Our anchorage. It's so lovely, we don't even mind sharing.

Our anchorage. It’s so lovely, we don’t even mind sharing.

We woke up in La Coruña on Tuesday to thick fog. There was much discussion about what to do, because we had planned to move on that day, but didn’t want to risk it. We decided to wait and see what the fog did, and during the course of the morning we had a visit by… our Southerly 38 friends from Falmouth! Perhaps you remember them from a few posts back? They were planning to set off into very high winds and unpleasant conditions, and we thought they were a little crazy? Well, we’d kept in contact with them by email, and so we knew that shortly after setting off from Falmouth, they sensibly abandoned their plan and turned around to pull into nearby Plymouth, at which point their crew disembarked and went back to work… leaving them without crew for their Biscay crossing. We said, “Just cross the two of you! It will be grand!” But their insurance wouldn’t allow it- they needed three people. We’re glad our insurance doesn’t have such stipulations.

So they found a random bloke who was happy to crew, and crossed Biscay 24 hours after us. They popped round- Fiona and Mike their names are- and told us that, fog or no fog, they were leaving that day because they had to be in Lisbon in a few weeks time for a flight back to the UK. Sense a pattern?! Nick told them in no uncertain terms (unfailingly polite though, as ever) that it was too dangerous at the moment and they should wait.

Foggy!

Misty!

Either way, by lunchtime the fog had lifted slightly and visibility was reasonable enough that we were happy to leave and hope it wouldn’t worsen again. So off we went, waving goodbye to La Coruña, which we have very fond memories of.

That night we anchored off a little town called Corme, which was an uninspiring modern place with little charm, from what we could tell. We didn’t go ashore, preferring to anchor off a nearby beach and enjoy a well earned beer with dinner. The next morning, we left.

On watch

On watch

The day sailing in fog had been arduous. We had the radar on all day and had to have two of us on watch whenever possible. It was also cold and there was nothing to look at but degrees of white and grey. However, the second day was much better. The fog had cleared, and although it was a little misty, visibility was good. We could admire the Galician coastline, half shrouded in mist, but impressive all the same. The sun shone, and we found ourselves part of a little convoy of boats (some of whom we had met in La Coruña) who were all taking advantage of the light winds and clear skies to round Cape Finisterre. To make the day even more perfect, Nick finally caught a mackerel. And then another one. And another. Five in total, but after three we said that was plenty, and threw them back. We ate them for dinner that night, and they were sublime.

Caught some fish at last!

Caught some fish at last!

Now, Cape Finisterre is the western most point of Spain. It is notorious for it’s high winds, which seem to funnel around it from the north, and it’s best passed in only calm conditions. So, that’s what we did, and once we were around the corner, we knew we could slow down and take our time meandering around the Spanish rias.

I’m not quite sure how to describe the rias. They’re not lakes. They’re not rivers. They’re not inland seas. They’re similar (I think) to the fjords of Norway, but the mountains are capped with vineyards instead of snow. Have a look at the handy tracker on the right of the screen (or go into Tracking on the main menu) to have a look at the shape of the coast. Then check out the photos. I’m sure you’ll be able to put two and two together.

Anchorage

Anchorage

Anyway! However you want to describe this part of the world, there’s no doubt it’s absolutely beautiful. The mountainous terrain is rugged and covered in rocky outcrops and dry wooded areas. Villages are dotted around the place, usually on the seafront, and little bathing beaches are prevalent. Nick went swimming to the one we’re anchored off this afternoon. He came back panting, and predictably said, “God, that’s further than it looks!”

We’ve been ashore to explore Muros every day, and it’s a charming place. Plenty of bars and restaurants, all featuring a menu dominated by seafood, and there’s been plenty going on. Yesterday was market day, last night there was some kind of band playing (until 4am! These Spanish sure know how to party…) and today they were setting up a fare of some kind. There were lots of posters displaying the word ‘Fiesta’ with various dates underneath, and it seems that this is a very popular spot not just for visiting yachts, but for Spanish holiday makers.

Muros town

Muros town

We had our own little fiesta- or what passes for a fiesta for us these days! Once again we crossed paths with Fiona and Mike, the other Southerly owners, and since we Southerlys have to stick together, we went round for drinks one evening. They’re a lovely couple, and we’re very much hoping to continue to bump into them as we sail down the Spanish and Portuguese coasts. They’re also making a crossing to the Caribbean this winter, so it looks like we’ll be following each other around for at least the next 12 months.

There is a marina here, but we’re quite happy at anchor. It’s an interesting exercise in self-sufficiency, plus it’s free. With the wind generator and solar panels as our only source of energy, we’re finding that we’re having to be very careful with our energy consumption. That means only one episode of Sons of Anarchy per evening! How we’re coping, I don’t know. Recent discussion has turned to ways of both making more energy, and being more clever about the energy we are using. I shall keep you updated. You’re obviously dying to know.

Main square in Muros

Main square in Muros

Now, onto a far more interesting topic: food. I shall now devote quite some time to detailing just how bloody civilised the Spanish are when it comes to food and dining out. Nick and I, after a morning grocery shop, had a coffee at a little cafe- the type with plastic seating and loads of Spanish families with young children milling round. We ummmed and ahhhed about what to eat, only to discover that, upon being served our coffees, we were also given a little plate with four slices of cake on it! And, dare I say it, but the coffee here is actually better than Italian coffee. There. It’s out there. Maybe it’s the free cake (moist, fluffy cake it was too) that’s making me overly generous, but I’m sticking by it.

So, after coffee and cake, we have another little wander, then stop for a beer before heading back to the boat. And what happens, when we’re given our beer? Oh yes, a little tapas each is also served. And, if you either wait long enough, or order another drink, they’ll come around again, and give you some more. Sometimes you’re given whatever they have, whether you like it or not. Other bars (we’ve tried several, purely for research purposes you understand) come around with a giant platter full of little tapas and you can pick your own.

Civilised, like I said.

However, as much as we love Muros, we’ve been here four days now and it’s July next week, so, one eye on the calendar, we are moving on. Not far, of course. Just to the next ria along. How it’s going to beat this, I don’t know, but we shall see!

Adios!

View from our boat. This life is tough!

View from our boat. This life is tough!

Una Cerveza, Por Favor!

It didn’t take us long to lean the very important phrase, una cerveza, por favor as it’s been so lovely and hot here, all we’ve been doing is one big bar crawl, or so it feels like. There’s nothing like enjoying a cold beer in the sunshine after a long walk exploring a new city.

La Coruña

Neil and Viv enjoying a walk in La Coruña

We arrived in La Coruña last Wednesday, and after a verrrrry early night (it doesn’t get dark here until 11pm, but I certainly haven’t let that stop me going to bed at an almost shameful 9:30pm some nights…) we took a leisurely walk into La Coruña town. Neil had been managing our expectations of this rather industrial port- he came here some twenty years ago and warned that, although it was pleasant, perhaps it didn’t necessarily have the Spanish character and charm that we might be after. Well, what a difference twenty years makes! Although there is plenty of evidence of its more industrial side- on the other side of the river there are cranes galore- the old town is as charming as you could wish, with a lovely big central plaza, off which run a maze of pedestrianised laneways full of shops, bars and restaurants. A wide, paved area, obviously new, and with pockets of attractive landscaping and seating areas, wraps around another marina in the centre of town. This area is so new that there’s large parts still under construction, which would be disappointing if you were staying in the central marina, since you’d hear nothing but the sound of drilling all day. However, it is good for the town, which obviously has money being invested in it- great to see, given Spain’s poor economic situation over the past 7 years.

la coruna4

 

Main square in La Coruña

Main square in La Coruña

So, Neil has revised his previous assessment of La Coruña, and we couldn’t have been happier with our introduction to sailing in Spain. One of our first stops (after the bar, of course) was the supermarket. I’m pleased to report that Spanish supermarkets are definitely on par with French and Italian supermarkets, and once again I am flummoxed as to why we don’t have a better standard of produce in the UK. God knows what people coming over from the continent think on entering Asda’s.

As one would expect, Nick and Neil became quite obsessed with the idea of buying a cured leg of ham, which hang enticingly around the meat section of the supermarket. Viv and I were (purely for practical reasons, you understand) rather against the prospect of having a leg of ham hanging in the galley/ dragging it back to the UK to hang in their charming but small kitchen. Needless to say, the ladies won that argument. For now.

Happy to be in Spain!

Happy to be in Spain!

Saturday was Viv’s birthday and we decided to go to Santiago de Compostela for the day. We went to the information desk the day before and got the train times, delighted to discover that it was less than 30 minutes away. Perfect! What we failed to factor in was the hour long walk to the train station. And then the 30 minute walk from Santiago station to the town centre. Not to worry, all the walking did us good, and we certainly made up for it with a fantastic lunch served by a rather surly waiter. Oddly enough, the food looked unpromising when it arrived. One dish was pork (we think.. jury’s still out), pale strips of it covered in a sauce that resembled watered down soy sauce. Another was… pork? Again? This time covered in a red sauce that looked like something you got out of a jar (in Asdas). Bloody delicious, all of it.

DSC_0016

Santiago de Compostela is of huge historic and spiritual importance to the Catholics and a UNESCO world heritage site. Apparently the remains of Saint James were found at Compostela in the 9th century, everyone got very excited because it was assumed the remains would still be in Jerusalem where he was martyred, and pilgrims started making their way to the site in droves. Saint James soon became a figurehead for the Christian struggle against Muslim domination in the area. A basilica was built in the 12th century- but that apparently wasn’t enough to demonstrate the Christians’ devotion to Saint James, because soon enough hospitals, churches, chapels, cathedrals and hospices also sprung up around it, and in 1139 a guidebook was published for the benefit of would-be pilgrims. It was obviously very persuasive, because the Christians continued to flock to the site over the centuries, and still do today. Thanks google, I couldn’t have done that without you.

We walked around in circles for what felt like HOURS before finally finding the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. There’s a lot of cathedrals and churches around, but only one that matters, which is the one where Saint James is apparently buried. And when we got there, it was covered in scaffolding! So you get pictures of other gorgeous buildings around the old town, but what their historical significance is, I don’t know.

Santiago de Compostela

View from balcony of Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela

Streets of Santiago de Compostela

Although I’m sure there’s still the odd cripple hobbling their way to Santiago in the hope of a cure or something (when they really should be chilling out at home and just taking the bus), I think most people on the pilgrimage route these days are doing it more for the enjoyable challenge of walking between France and Spain. Certainly that was the impression I got. My father in law has actually done portions of this walking trail before, purely for the enjoyment of it rather than any hope of spiritual enlightenment. Certainly it would be a fantastic experience (apparently the Spanish route includes 1,800 buildings of historical significance), but that might have to wait for another day. Or decade.

So, we loved Santiago de Compostela, and I can heartily recommend it. You could spend days exploring all the historic buildings, but we only had an afternoon, so after the aforementioned birthday lunch, we headed back to La Coruña. I’ll take this opportunity to praise the Spanish train system. National Rail could learn a lot from a weekend in Spain, I’m telling you. Punctual (like, down to the second), comfortable seats that you can adjust, air-conditioned, allocated seating, foot rests, folding trays, luggage racks, clean toilets… and cheap.

Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela

Sunday was going to be our lazy day. However, upon waking, ‘doing nothing’ turned into ‘doing all those chores we’ve been putting off for days’ and while the men did manly things like… do you know, I have no idea what they actually did. I know they, at some point, collapsed in the cockpit with a shandy, complaining of a long morning of work, but apart from that, nothing. I’m sure it was important. I, on the other hand, was elbow deep in bleach for much of the morning, and I also did the ironing (yes, Mum, Nick even took a photo if you need evidence of this!), and the laundry. I’m not a particularly domestic person normally, and the feminist in me is not happy about doing all the tasks traditionally assigned to women, but the fact is that it’s one of the main ways I can contribute to the running of the boat. Perhaps next time Nick announces that he needs to service the engine or whatever, I’ll offer him a swap? Can’t be that hard, can it? I’m sure google will tell me what to do.

After a morning of hard yakka, we went into town for lunch. We found a street crammed with seafood restaurants and took a seat. None of us could decipher the menu (even the English one was confusing), so we just said, “Set Menu, por favor!” Well, we still had to choose our courses, and, like a lot of Spanish people, our waitress couldn’t (or didn’t want to) speak English. So we managed to steer away from the goose barnacles for the starter, instead opting for a spider crab, but the mains were beyond our comprehension. So we just got one of each, hoping for the best.

Spider crabs for starter

Spider crabs for starter

Well, we had a 50% success rate. The spider crab was delicious, and my main (a type of flat fish) and Neil’s main (veal chop) were fantastic. Nick (fish of some kind, possibly dried?) and Viv (steak, I think?) were less impressed with theirs. But it didn’t matter, the atmosphere in this narrow shady lane full of alfresco diners eating seafood was fantastic, we only wish we’d discovered it sooner.

This morning Neil and Viv said adios and went back to the UK. We’ve had such a great time with them. Not only did the extra crew make sailing very enjoyable and relaxing, but we’ve also loved their company. Neil is joining us again for the Atlantic crossing, and Viv will be waiting for us in Saint Lucia, so we look forward to our next holiday together!

Tomorrow Nick and I intend to make the 50 mile passage to Camariñas, but fog has been rolling in all afternoon, so we’re hoping for a clear day tomorrow. If not, we wait. We’re not in a rush!

Until next time!

Until next time!

 

 

Biscay Crossing

A few days ago the time finally came where we had to say goodbye England and ‘Hola’ to Spain! For the past 5 weeks we’ve been sailing steadily westward along the southern English coast. Although we’ve had to say goodbye to family and friends as well as our ‘primary’ home, London, and our ‘boat’ home, Conyer, we found it hard to actually believe we were embarking on this adventure. We were, after all, still in the UK, still drinking ale and gin and tonic, still enjoying the rain and cold that is British summer. After a 10 day wait in Falmouth for the weather to sort itself out, we finally left the UK, crossed Biscay, and have now arrived in La Coruna, Spain.

Mid Biscay. Not a lot going on out here!

Mid Biscay. Not a lot going on out here!

The Biscay crossing was something Nick and I were a little trepidatious about. Okay, a lot trepidatious about. The thing is, the Bay of Biscay has, to sound like something out of a children’s story, quite a fearsome reputation. The European continental shelf meets the Atlantic ocean in the Bay and the depth suddenly goes from 150 metres to almost 5000 metres, which can kick up quite impressive swells. It is notorious for unpleasant- even dangerous- sailing conditions, and you really have to pick your weather window. Additionally, this was to be our longest offshore passage yet, of 450 nautical miles, and we were using it as a bit of a test run for the Atlantic crossing. Which is almost 3000 miles. The two don’t really compare, but this crossing was our last chance for some decent offshore experience before the big one in November.

We set off from Falmouth on Sunday morning, which dawned cool but reasonably bright. Viv was up so early, eager with anticipation, that she literally had to wait for the cleaner to leave the showers before jumping in and giving herself a scrub. That’s what we like: keen and rearing to go! I, on the other hand, lay in bed as long as I could get away with, before getting myself up and organised.

 

We had a quick breakfast of porridge before dropping the lines and motoring out of the harbour. This was to be our last glimpse of the motherland, but we weren’t feeling overly sentimental. In fact, the whole thing felt a bit surreal, not unlike the rest of this bizarre experience thus far. I wonder when it will finally hit us that we’re doing this crazy thing?

Our Biscay crossing

Our Biscay crossing

So, the crossing. Our boaty friends get it, and are suitably impressed. Our non-boaty friends and family are either completely nonchalant, or sick with worry. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground. In fact, that attitude extends to our entire trip. I’ve actually had a friend ask me to stop talking about it because she felt physically sick. Others barely registered that I’m about to sail around the world on a 40ft boat. Perhaps they think it’s a bit like a cruise, where we go jaunting across oceans in the space of only a few days, jump off for a couple of happy snaps, then we’ll be home for Christmas? I don’t know. Neil and Viv were recounting a story of a friend of theirs who had done what Nick and I are trying to do: sail around the world. It took them 5 years, and on their return they were talking to an acquaintance about it. Their reply? “Oh yeah, we’ve sailed before! We chartered a boat in Greece last year for a week. Sailing’s great, isn’t it?” It’s hard to understand the life we’re now living. But, hopefully enough of our friends are reading this blog to give them a pretty good idea.

Now. Where was I before I embarked on that little diatribe? Ah yes, Biscay. So, Sunday. We were all wrapped up against the chilly winds, but the seas were nicely calm (and remained so up until the final 6 hours of our passage). The sun was out, the motor was off at long last, and we had a fantastic sail. Nick cooked up a delicious pasta and then 3/4 of us went to bed to get an early night. I was the exception, as I had first watch, 9pm-12am. So I got the sunset watch. Lovely. The skies were perfectly clear and the stars slowly came to life as the last of the daylight faded from the horizon. It was extremely serene, apart from one thing: I was bloody freezing. Even in all my wet weather gear and under-layers, a blanket over my knees and a cup of tea (oh God, I’m turning into an old lady aren’t I?), I was shivering. When Nick got up at 12am to take over, I didn’t linger to chat. Off I went to bed.

Our chart table complete with ship's log, Biscay chart, laptop for weather forecasting, as well as various electronics.

Our chart table complete with ship’s log, Biscay chart, laptop for weather forecasting, as well as various electronics.

Some people sleep exceptionally well on a rolling boat. I am not one of those people. However, I did manage to snatch a few hours, and the next day I was on cooking duties. We were testing out a system where the watches are shared by 3 people during the day, and the fourth person takes over the domestic duties. Night is split into the usual 3 hour watches, covered by everyone. So, I lounged around, made a couple of sandwiches for lunch, had an afternoon nap, caught up on my book, and finally mustered the energy to make a sausage casserole for dinner. Then, bed.

I was on the 3am-6am watch that morning, and it was a busy one. No sooner than Neil went to bed, I had him up again helping me with tanker after tanker who seemed determined to come into our path. In all fairness, I think we were the one in their way, not the other way around, but hey- we’ve got places to be, too. We finally got clear of them, Neil went to bed, and I sat and watched the sun rise.

After another nap, I woke up to day three of our passage. The skies were cloudy, and a quick peek out of the cockpit revealed everyone was in jumpers still. Nooo- aren’t we meant to be near Spain by now? Spain’s hot, right? However, over the course of the day the sky slowly cleared and, suddenly, we had blue all around us and it was almost too hot in the direct sunshine. We stripped to shorts and t-shirts, claimed our various lounging spots around the boat (I had the foredeck, leaning against the Parasailor packed away- it provided a handy cushion), and in no time I was soaking up that vitamin D. To top it off, dolphins just did not want to leave us alone that day. They seemed to visit for half an hour, head off again, then a few hours later reappear. Viv got some fantastic shots, but I didn’t want to risk leaving to get my camera. For such show-offs, dolphins are annoyingly camera shy and seem to sense when you’ve run off to get your camera, at which point they decide its time for them to split.

Hard at work

Hard at work

Dinner was tortellini (look, I know you’re all desperate for this level of information, so just roll with it), then I had the 9pm-12am watch again. Sunset was a stunner, and to top it off, those friendly dolphins returned, just for me. However, as much as I was hoping for them to photo-bomb my shots of the sunset, they refused, only leaping out of the water when I had my camera down by my side, or when I was fiddling with the settings. Eventually, they cleared off, leaving me to it.

Me and the sunset

Me and the sunset

Night fell quickly as the sky was once again blanketed in cloud, and all I could see was the inky blackness of the water, and the smokey charcoal sky, the horizon barely perceptible. The AIS receiver showed only us and two other yachts that we’d already been in radio contact with for a quick chat for miles and miles- no tankers tonight. I sat and stared into space, occasionally hearing a squeaking sound coming from the water off our starboard side, but thinking I was probably imagining things. Then, you guessed it- dolphins. Now, you might think I wouldn’t be able to see anything in the darkness, and you’d be right, except for the phosphorescence in the water that night. You could see it in the little waves breaking around the boat: a sparkling white light. Then, suddenly, a dolphin crested the water beside me, and I could see its phosphorescent path as it dived under and around the boat. It looked absolutely magical, like a trail of white glitter from a fairy’s wand. The dolphin was joined by another, then another, then, in the distance I saw twin lines of that sparkling light, shooting towards me. I cannot tell you how utterly beautiful it was, this pod of dolphins weaving, ducking and leaping out of the water around the boat, all completely veiled in bright, sparkling phosphorescence.

100 miles to go

100 miles to go

The final morning there were no dolphins around- the winds picked up unpleasantly and they clearly felt they had better places to be. And, funnily enough, so did we: land was sighted at last! A grey blur on the horizon slowly solidified into the mountainous Galician coastline, and we were ushered into La Coruna by 25 knot winds (from behind, thankfully) and a rising swell. Soon enough we were surfing down those waves, reefing the sails in, and checking our speed. Our record so far is 11.5 knots- we didn’t quite beat that, but got up to 11.3, which is respectable for our boat. Usually in these conditions Nick and I start to feel a little nervous about how our mooring is going to go- but, with Neil and Viv’s help we knew it would be a breeze, pardon the pun. And it was. Thus ended our 450 mile passage from Falmouth.

A bit of extra information, for those who are interested: we averaged 5.8 knots, which is roughly what we’d expected, and used a quarter of a tank of diesel. Water and power wasn’t a problem, mainly because we were running the engine after the first 24 hours. The Parasailor was our downwind sail of choice, but in very light winds it wasn’t much use. The hydrovane, which is our new self steering system we installed earlier in the year, worked extremely well- as long as the sails were perfectly trimmed. Several times it just didn’t want to keep to course and we were getting frustrated. We soon realised why, and the moment we trimmed the sails properly, it worked like a dream.

On arriving in La Coruna we hastily showered and then made our way to the nearest bar- which, happily, is in the marina itself. We practically screamed “FOOOOOD!” at the waitress, a plump and smiling lady who graciously put up with Nick’s attempts to speak to her in Italian, but with a Spanish lilt. She understood anyway, and we were soon munching on octopus, calamari and pan-fried steak with chips. Nick and I are now committing ourselves to learning enough Spanish to get by, although Nick’s miles ahead of me already because of all the similarities to Italian.

So, we’re here in Spain, and I feel like our adventure has actually begun. It’s warm (and windy!), food and drinks are cheap, everyone is so friendly, and the Galician Rias are our next stop.