Spanish Rias – Sunshine, BBQs & Fiesta’s in the rain

Posted August 23rd, 2011 by Nick and filed in Uncategorized

P8210211, originally uploaded by melandnick.

Even before leaving the UK, we’d always planned to have a ‘holiday’ in the Spanish Rias. When I say ‘holiday’, I mean in the sense that we are slowing right down for a couple of weeks doing no more than a few hours sailing at a time between bays.

We arrived in the Ria de Muros after a 20 hour sail from Coruna. As we drifted past the fearsome Cape Finisterre the sun began to rise whilst a mist began to descend over the coast. We turned into Ria de Muros and headed up the inlet in flat-calm seas, surrounded by small fishing boats operating in near silence due to the noise dampened effect of the fog.

Within an hour we turned in towards Muros itself and anchored up near the main harbour still shrouded in mist. Whilst we were tidying the boat up following the trip, the sun gradually burned through the fog and as we looked around, we could see we were in a bay surrounded by tall green hills peppered with Spanish villas and along the harbour in front of us stretched a very pretty traditional fishing village.

By lunchtime, there were clear blue skies and the air had warmed up so we decided to put on our shorts and t-shirts and head into town to explore and try to find something nice for dinner. The town was bustling, and we soon stumbled across a small fishmongers where we bought a medium sized bream and a bag full of mussels for only 5 Eurobucks. The mussels here are grown throughout the Rias in large square floating mussels beds, and to say they are huge would be an understatement, they are also delicious!

In Gijon, we’d heard rumours of an amazing local dish, traditional Galician octopus (pulpo in Spanish) so naturally, I bullied Nick into a local bar to order a drink and a plate of pulpo to try out. I wasn’t disappointed, it was good, very tender and marinated in red wine and olive oil, served hot!

The day after we again purchased more fresh fish, and invited an English couple, Ray and Judy, on the boat next to us over for dinner that evening and tried out our new BBQ which attaches to the back of the boat (it works very well).

The following day, we fancied a change of scene, so headed to the next bay, called San Francisco, and anchored up right next to the large beautiful beach there. The weather was stunning, so I spent the day sunbathing in the cockpit and Nick jumped in the sea for a quick swim and settled down below in the cool to read his book. We ended the day by joining Judy and Ray, who had also moved to San Francisco, for a drink on their boat that evening.

The next day was equally as lovely, so more sunbathing for me . Nick had a good idea to invite everyone on boats around us (4 other English yatchs) to a BBQ on the beach in the evening. This turned out to be a lot of fun; we commandeered a corner of the beach at 7pm, and 8 of us spent the next few hours cooking, chatting and sharing a few drinks.

Yesterday we sailed down to Ria de Arousa, which is the largest of the Rias (there are a couple more to explore after this one) and as we sailed up the Ria, we realised it’s even more stunning than Muros. We arrived in Pobra do Caraminal yesterday evening to find yet another fiesta in full swing. As we approached the marina, fireworks started going off, and between us and the marina a big lifeboat begun firing it’s huge and very powerful water cannons in a display lasting nearly an hour as the sunset. At first, we mistakenly thought this show was a very friendly Spanish welcome to their new English visitors . Eventually the lifeboat finished its demonstration and we got into the marina, had a shower, and went to explore….

….Despite it being a Sunday evening, there were thousands of people of all ages out in the town, enjoying the numerous bars, restaurants, the fun fair or the huge open air stage performing traditional music (with the exception of Abba’s Mamma Mia being sung in Spanish), there was a great vibe.

After strolling around for a while, the hunger took-over and we found a table outside one of the restaurants and ordered a selection of tapas. As the first dish arrived, we started to feel a few drops of rain, so decided to move indoors. Lucky we did! A downpour ensued and the party goers in the town dispersed into doorways and bars waiting for the rain, which developed in to a massive thunderstorm, to pass.

We finished our meal and moved out into the rain. We ran back to the boat, stopping en route to have a quick dance by the big stage as the band was still playing but due to the rain the area in front had been deserted. By the time we got back we were drenched, but quite exhilarated from our run home in the thunder storm.

We’re very pleased to be in the Spanish Rias and hopefully we’ll have plenty more to write about them in the next couple of weeks!

Lots of love to everyone, Mel x

Big waves and La Coruna…..

Posted August 15th, 2011 by Nick and filed in Uncategorized

wave, originally uploaded by melandnick.

Gijon was a nice town, lots of new buildings interspersed with the few examples of historical architecture that were not destroyed when the inhabitants stood against the ultimately victorious Franco.
The marina was pleasant. Being situated in the heart of the town, it was buzzing and had a great atmosphere but was not overly noisy and the nights were peaceful.
The day after we arrived, Mel and I had reason to be glad that we had decided to stop in Gijon when a squall blew up and several people on boats registered 55 knots on their instruments.
That is considered storm force and came up so quickly that we would have had a very rough time had we been at sea and may have lost a sail.
We were in town hunting for a filthy cake shop when this happened and all hell broke loose with smashed glass being blown down the street from a building site like something from The Omen.
Later, I went for a stroll along the pontoons as is my way and got talking to an English guy, Bob who was sailing with his wife Pam on their Bavaria 38, “Catherine” and who had lost his main sail on the way to Gijon. We were to meet again in La Coruna.
After chatting to Bob, I carried on to the end of the pontoon where I stood looking at a very handsome yacht named “Alchemy”.
As I admired her and, being something of a boat geek, took in the details of her rigging etc I noticed someone watching me from the cockpit.
Sailors tend to like looking at other boats, it’s totally accepted and not at all unusual to find them strolling down the pontoons chatting to owners about the cut of their jib etc….you get the idea.
I was a little self conscious, being aware that I was dressed VERY scruffily and not really sure what to say to the owner of this immaculate and obviously, very expensive yacht.
He stood in his cockpit, behind his spray hood, watching me and I stood on the pontoon in quite a dilemma.
You see, he was leaving it up to me to make the first move and I stood there thinking that if I walk away now, after staring at this boat for so long then it’s going to look like I was casing the joint so I strolled to the end of the finger pontoon that he was on and started to make small talk about his boat.
Turns out he was a great guy.
Next day he buzzed round in his dinghy to our side of the marina (where the little boats like Borne were hidden).
I figured he had come to check on my story of having a boat there but he actually came by to invite us for drinks that evening.
Seems that he had a motive though as Dick and Ginger (his wife) had been wanting to try the local cider but as it was only available by the bottle they were recruiting us as partners in crime.
So that evening we went out and headed for a sidreria and Dick spent the lofty sum of just over 2 Euros on a bottle of local alcoholic apple juice.
Dick then proceeded to pour it into the glasses in local fashion which involves holding bottle and glass vertically as far as possible from each other and seeing how much you can spill.
Luckily for us very little of the cider made it into the glass and all I can say is that you get what you pay for.
Mel described it as ‘eau de farmyard and Ginger agreed that there was something of the GOAT about it.
After, we went back to “Alchemy” and shared some munchies and a couple of bottles of wine, including a very good Portuguese Vinho verde, a very fresh and slightly sparkling wine.
Dick and Ginger are on the way North and are hoping to spend a year or more cruising the UK and then further into Northern Europe.
We did explain that it was going to be COLD but they paid no heed to our warnings.
They have been living on board for the last 10 years and I can’t think of a better boat to be cruising on than their Valliant 42.
Only problem is that now Mel knows how the other half live and has already taken to checking the yacht brokerages for Borne’s replacement!
The next day we were surprised to hear the sound of bagpipes wailing down to us from the town and stepping out of the cabin we found a procession of pipers and drummers leading a long trail of people through the town all dressed in old traditional costumes.
Later we went for a stroll around the cliffs and came to a park where a stage and side stalls were set up and hundreds of locals of all ages were singing and dancing to old songs and getting merrily drunk on the evil that is the local cider.
There was no sense of threat, no one was being out of order, no fights, nobody throwing up……can you imagine that in the UK!!
Soon it was time to leave though and we bid Gijon a fond farewell as we motored out of the harbour, confident that we had enough fuel on board to motor all the way on the 140 mile trip to La Coruna in the forecast calm and windless conditions.
So you can imagine our surprise when we rounded the inner harbour wall and started pitching heavily in a large swell. I got the sails up and we started heading to clear the outside harbour wall. Meanwhile, Mel asked if I thought the large tanker to the left and ahead of us might be leaving its dock but I told her not to be foolish. If it was moving we would see white water around the bow…..just like that…..Quick, tack, and off we go out of its way.
An hour later and we are running down wind in a good force 4 with only the Genoa up and things could not be better.
We normally put a fishing line out when we sail and I have found that the best way to catch something decent is to have the lure on or close to the surface. I tell people that we always catch something but unfortunately the catch of that day was feathered and a little dazed by the time I reeled him in.
He was a magnificent, large, grey gull with a huge wing span.
We managed to set him free and watch him fly off though so hopefully he wasn’t too shaken by his adventure.
We had been going along nicely for a couple of hours, then there was a loud bang and I felt the boat shake.
I shouted down to Mel who was in the galley making lunch and then I heard another bang and the wind steering rudder took a direct hit from what looked like half a shed floating off into our wake.
Luckily the wind gear is well designed and only suffered a bash on the leading edge before the rudder kicked up and the entire gear swung up on its brackets.
Mel said she had heard something bashing its way along the whole length of the boat.
That evening the wind started to freshen and the waves grew.
Not a problem, I thought, as the wind often got a little stronger as the sun went down but seemed to drop again once it was dark.
Not this time.
The night was lively with the loud roar of waves all around and the howl of the wind in the now well reefed genoa as Borne raced on through the night rolling heavily as the waves broke behind her.
Mel did her night watch without a complaint and though it was uncomfortable and neither of us slept it was still an exhilarating run and probably the fastest 24 hrs I have ever done in Borne making about 140 miles and at one point showing 12.3 knots on the GPS as we surfed down a wave.
By morning the waves were still larger and the wind was blowing 25-30 knots with a couple of hours of 35 knots.
Now for the non sailors amongst you imagine you’re on a surfboard in the big waves and now imagine the surfboard is 32 foot long…..well that’s what it was like.

When you are running downwind the waves don’t seem so big and Mel guessed the height to be about 6 feet. Then the wind steering gear, which had been playing up since it was hit, let us broach side on to the waves and suddenly you were looking up at a wall of breaking water towering above you.
Unlike me, Mel is not someone who exaggerates and re estimated the height to be 10 feet but suggested that they were probably bigger.
And so we arrived a La Coruna tired but happy.
Borne had proved that she was well up to tough conditions and so had Mel.
Me? Well I did OK but I do get really grumpy if I’m tired.
Coruna has been great.
The marina is the best yet. It’s new, half empty and has the best showers in Spain.
The town is pretty and we have had the usual spectacular fireworks every night…….
Spain seems to be in a permanent state of Fiesta.
Oh, and we found the best pizza place ever. Run by an English guy, who is half Sicilian and half Spanish. If you ever head to Coruna then ask us and we will let you know where to go.
Later that day Bob and Pam arrived to leave their boat here a while and we had a nice evening sitting in their cockpit eating munchies and drinking bottles of Rioja (see a pattern here?) while they told us amusing stories of their time on the planes, him as a pilot and her as a stewardess.
The last couple of days have been relaxing and though we have had some rain it has always been warm.
It really does feel that we are at last starting to relax and enjoy travelling.
From here on I expect us to meet more long term cruisers as we are now heading out of range of casual French and English sailors and into the realm of the real adventurers!
Tomorrow morning we will leave La Coruna and head for an anchorage that Mel has researched about 50 miles further down the coast.
Hopefully we can now start to avoid expensive marinas and spend more time swinging at anchor.
This means spearfishing, using our crab pot and I might just set up the barbeque that I bought to hang off the back of the boat…….real travelling!!!!

Love Nick

Night Watches and Spain

Posted August 6th, 2011 by Mel and filed in Uncategorized
Guggenheim Dog, originally uploaded by melandnick.
A week ago we completed our crossing of the Bay of Biscay and arrived in Bilbao, Spain. The crossing itself took three days/two nights, and was lovely, mostly we had clear blue skies, light winds and lots of sunshine.
Prior to this passage, we’d only done up to one night at sea, and I was still not comfortable with night watches and approached each one with a certain amount of anxiety. For those who don’t know, night watches are an unavoidable part of long distance sailing, their purpose is to ensure you stay on course, and more importantly, don’t crash into another vessel at sea, which would be catastrophic. Nick and I are following a 4 hour on, 4 hour off watch pattern, and the night is divided up into chunks as follows: 8pm to 12, 12 to 4am, 4am to 8am. During the day we catch an hour here or there to catch up on any extra sleep.
The dark watches are the ones I worry about most, between 8pm-12 and 12-4am, up until the Bay of Biscay, these have been the coldest and loneliest times to be outside in the cockpit, with nothing much to do other than look around for other boats, check the sails are trimmed properly and consult the GPS from time to time. Overall, I considered night watches, cold and boring, and a little scary due to the noises made by the sea and the boat which appear quite alien at night when you can’t easily identify their cause.
During the crossing of the bay, night watches transformed into a magical and wondrous time to enjoy my new environment. I took the 8pm to Midnight watches both nights, and as the sun set on the horizon the stars slowly came out one by one. The moon wasn’t out either night, and with such clear skies, I could see what seemed like whole Milky Way stretching out across heavens, the stars were so bright, that the sky was almost white with them, and I could clearly see the horizon, and sea around me. For the first time I saw 5 shooting stars in one evening, (Nick had told me you see them all the time, but I’d yet to experience it). As the hours drifted by, I became more and more at one with the boat, and the sea around me softly breaking every so often and the motion of Borne lifting us gently up and down as we headed South towards Spain.
As my watch finished, Nick took over, and within an hour he woke me and told me to come out to the cockpit straight away. At first I was reluctant, having just fallen asleep, but eventually I hauled myself outside to find that there was a pod of dolphins playing around us. At night, I didn’t see much of the dolphins themselves, instead I saw the streak of phosphorescent sparkles they leave in their wake as they flash around the boat like small comets, it was amazing.
So, now we’re in sunny Spain, and so far we’re loving it! We anchored in the main harbour in Bilbao for two nights. There was a fiesta in the suburb surrounding the harbour, and both nights we were treated to an amazing fireworks display right over our heads! We took a small cultural expedition to the Guggenheim Museum which was fascinating, although it would be untrue to say we fully understood and appreciated all the exhibitions…There was one in particular that caught our imaginations; a huge room dedicated to large brown structures that you walk around in spirals, it’s hard to describe, but was probably the highlight, that and the impressive architecture of the museum itself.
We left Bilbao and moved on to a place called Santona, which we didn’t fall in love with partly because it was very expensive and we didn’t even get hot showers.
We left Santona with the intention of travelling all the way to Viviero (about 200 miles west). A couple of hours in to our trip, Nick caught a 3 kilo Bonito. We decided at that point to pull into Santander, and anchored up near a beach on the way into the main harbour overlooked by a Palace and some very plush looking villas. The main reason for pulling in was to try and do some justice to the fish, cooking at anchor rather than at sea. However, having eaten some of this fish, I can tell you that if you’re ever offered Bonito it’s probably best to politely decline. I can’t imagine a way to cook it and make the thing taste good. So although it looks like a stunning fish (similar to tuna), I have said to Nick if we catch more, we should put them straight back into the sea! Upon tasting it, Nick also remembered he’d had it once before and didn’t like it then either, I only wish he had said so sooner!
We left Santander the next morning, having filled up with diesel and we were set to spend the next couple of nights at sea. As we motored down the river from Santander, we passed through a huge gathering of yachts milling around the start line of a major regatta, once we were half a mile beyond them, we heard the starting gun, and were chased down by 100 or so racing yachts taking up the width of the river.
The day was beautiful, hot and sunny, and the forecast was for it to be light winds for the next few days, so we thought we’d probably motor the whole way. In the evening it clouded over, and I took my first watch at Midnight. By 2am, the winds had picked up from 3 knots to 12, and by 2.30am gone from 12 knots to 21. This in itself isn’t particularly strong winds, however they were coming from directly ahead, and within an hour, the sea had built up into very steep waves of about 2.5 meters high which made for very uncomfortable sailing. I had to wake Nick up to put a reef in the main, and we spent the rest of the night being smacked around by the waves and bouncing all over the place until morning when the storm passed leaving a significant swell. By then, both of us were totally knackered, having not slept at all the night before, and we wanted to check the forecast, so we decided to head into Gijon for a night or two for rest and pizza!
We arrived in Gijon yesterday afternoon, and we’re safe and sound in a marina which is right in the heart of the city. Gijon itself is a very lively place, with live bands playing outside and all sorts of other things going on in the city centre. Last night there were lots of people out and about strolling around the city and enjoying tapas in the many bars dotted all over the place. We like it here. We indulged in a few beers and tapas and then munched a delicious pizza before heading back to the boat and crashing out.
We’ve decided to stay here for a few days as Nick needs to reseal the diesel tank and we’re going to wait for the wind direction to change, so looks like we’ll be off again towards Viviero on Tuesday.
Mel x