I am writing now as we sail amongst the Isla Cies, where according to the Guardian there is “the most beautiful beach in the world”. We tried it, it is good. But the most beautiful? In the world? We knew that the English liked their drinking but… anyway, carry on.
It has taken us three weeks of slow cruising to get from Bilbao to the West coast of Galicia. New Zealand seems surely like a long way away now. We take comfort in knowing that we have purposely taken our time to stop and get to know the coast, our boat, and our ability to sail her. We deemed it much better than rushing in long offshore legs, after all, that is what we are here for, cruising. Besides we need to get our sea legs back (if we ever had them), after a long time living the landlubber way.
Hence we saw the landscape change. From green it slowly turns to brown and red. The cliffs of the the Basque country and Asturias give way to the gently sloping mountains of las Rias Bajas. The accents and dialects change as you sail West; from the almost harsh Basque accent to the singing Galician one with hints of “shushuting” Portuguese.
It has been too easy to forget which day of the week we are. Only the fact of trying to shop on a Sunday reminds us of it. The Spanish coast has treated us generally with light winds, from all directions. This is good for testing Cirrus under all points of sail. We get to know which sails to use, when does Giorgio (he wind pilot) works well, when we have to use Otto (the Raymarine electric pilot). Thanks to Giorgio and Otto, one of us can practice his/her siesta skill or read a book inside without forcing the other one to be stuck on the helm, out of reach of the nibble cupboard.
So all is good under the sunshine. Because we are in Spain right? It should be sunny and no rain. At least that is what we think up North, in the UK, Belgium and the likes. But no, if the landscape is so green, there is no secret, it does rain at times. Like that time sailing to the Ria de Viveiro. We were having another gentle day of light wind, sunny spinnaker condition. All fishing lines had been deployed in the hope of that catch that still seem to elude us, when the weather gradually changed. The wind turned hundred and eighty degrees, the skies grew grey, the visibility dropped and finally came the rain and the thunder. We could not see further than twenty meters away but for the lightning falling all around us. In those conditions, as you are approaching a headland not far from the reknown “Costa da Morte” , you are grateful to those who invented the GPS and the AIS. With the AIS you can see other boats equipped with that system (all commercial ships, most fishermen and many yachts), where they are heading and at what speed.
Neither of us wanted to stay outside on the helm for the following reason; apparently if a lightning comes to strike an aluminium yacht, it should protect those inside in the same manner as a Faraday cage. And also, did I mention the rain? It came down to the dear Otto do the dirty job of steering us through that mess while we peeked an eye outside.
It was only three days later as we solicited Otto again that we found out Otto did not like the rain either. His unique answer as we plugged in the power chord was a long buzzing sound, his little screen gave no other sign of life. We had to open him up and fill his electronic guts of rice to dry him up. Water had come in through the shaft seal. He is now almost back to his former self but I don’t think he will bare the scars for the rest of his pilot life.
If the pilot did not come out uninjured of those nasty clouds, we did. And we made it to Viveiro, at the end of the ria which I called by the same name. Viveiro would be our first real marina since leaving Bilbao. That meant our first real shower (there is still a debate on-going whether going for a swim counts or not). Not that we could not in Cirrus, we are equipped of a solar shower, but let’s just say that life on a boat does not make you that dirty.
This wind blade had fallen off a ship…in the middle of the Ria de Viveiro
From there on we hopped into the next ria, Ria de Barqueiro, where we tucked ourself in the – at that hour of the evening – very lively fishing harbour of O’Vicedo. The usual chipirones fishermen stared at us as we motored in. Those who were not busy fishing had nothing better to do than to come help us moor alongside the concrete jetty. Everybody had an advice to give us about the place and within minutes we knew the most important: where to take a “caña” (small beer), that the “raciones” here have a decent size (not like those places where if you order squids, you get more chips than squid), that we could stay here overnight and that if we were unlucky the “guarda-muelle” would come ask us for money, but that it was better not to care and to speak to him in English as, anyway, he is not even from this village and no one likes him.
In spite of the weather, overcast, the call of the beach was too strong. A sad truth had to be discovered, they did not lie to us, the water is freezing in Galicia. But the location was perfect to expand our fishing skill from bare hook trailers to brave mussel pickers.
Those mussels picked would turn out to be a great comfort that same night in Cariño (slightly further West). In Cariño what had been a pleasant and almost trouble free cruise so far got a bit spicy. Not only we figured out the alternator had not been charging for the last three days, but the forward fresh water tank inlet was not screwed in properly and leaked half the water in the bilge, and one of the new cupboard closing mechanism came unscrewed. That last one is important. Not because you cannot possibly endure all night the noise of the cupboard door knocking against its framing at every wave, but because fixing it was so easy and provided us with the necessary feeling of “Yes, we got one of them fixed!”.
For the alternator things were a bit more serious. So both of us put our headtorches on and we got through the complicate task of reading what Nigel Calder has to say in his book (Boat Maintenance and Electric Manual) without falling asleep, then putting into practice his testing procedure. The verdict was: this one is no good, where can we get a new one. A phone call to the shore team (Gonzalo, Rocio’s dad) gave us the first answer: head to Sada to the chandlery “Cadenote”.
As the solar panels kept charging both batteries, we could ensure that the engine could be started and were in no big rush. Two days later, with a stop in Cedeira, we arrived in Sada. I would recommend to any yachtsman in the need in this area to head there. Within two days we got the part ordered, shipped, delivered, mounted, and best of all, it worked. Thanks to Bea, Miguel and their team, thanks also to Arturo the sailmaker who patched up our lazy bag (what holds the mainsail when it is lowered – for you landlubbers 😉 ).
The easy peasy cruise got under way again as we sailed into the sunset towards Laxe where we arrived late in the night. The sun was short lived and when we woke up the morning, the wind had turned to the South, pushing low clouds heavy with rain. We decided for the comfort of staying at anchor for a full day until the sun comes back. Twenty four hours at anchor with neither of us wanting to inflate Cheeky Bombard (our inflatable dinghy) meant we had to find some indoor activities; reading, drawing, painting drinking whiskey (moderately of course and observing our anchorage neighbour, a fellow British ship, wondering whether the long hair made him/her a girl or a boy. We also observed the ever present chipirones fishermen aligned on the jetty, braving the weather for a few cephalopods a some chats away from the wives. That made us wish we had one of those chipirones lure, next harbour we get one!
The new baby (alternator)
The beach in Laxe… beautiful but not too appealing under the rain
Laxe by night
When on Monday morning the clouds had cleared we were swift to pull up the anchor and hoist the sail to get moving along the “Costa da Morte”. We moved, at a slow pace, beating to windward in a light breeze. Skirting the fog, sometimes caught in it, we would see appearing for a brief moment the Cabo Villano and its wind turbine to be later occulted by the clouds. In those moments the only noise was from the waves crushing on the rocks in the distance. This spooky navigation was crowned by our arrival in the ghost marina of Muxia. Having been built recently it apparently suffers from its competitor across the bay, Camariñas.
Inside the harbour what marked us besides the fact that only six or seven berths were filled was the 22 footer sailboat with German flag anchored ten meters off the end of the pontoon. Its owner came rowing back to his boat aboard one of those inflatable beach rubber boats. He looked young, maybe twenty, blond and sun battered as we could not help but notice from a distance by his red peeling nose.
The town is apparently a famous stopover in the Camino de Santiago. It boasts a pretty church in an especially beautiful location (how come they always seem to get the best spots?); by the headland closing off the bay to the South, facing the Atlantic swell crashing onto the rocks opposite the majestic Cabo Villano.
When we came back from touring the town, we saw that the little German boat had made it into the marina and was moored not far from us. We invited Christof, its blond nose-peeling owner to come share a beer in our cockpit. For once that we have a larger boat than the other cruisers around, we had to take the opportunity to offer the hospitality. We did not bother apologizing for the temperature of the beer – our fridge had been switched off to save some battery – because he certainly did not have a fridge himself and was certainly used to the taste of mildly cold beer.
Christof had recently arrived from the Azores after completing in solo an Atlantic tour by the “classic route” (Europe – Canaries – Caribbean – Azores – Europe). He had discovered sailed a year before setting off for his epic trip, bought his boat for 1900 euros and was now waiting for the good weather window to cross Biscay and head back to his homeland. Call that temerity or bravery? Rocio summarised well the feeling he left us “This crazy guy makes me feel old an rich onboard a superyacht Cirrus”.
The spectacular views from Virgen da Barca
Costa da Morte
Little brave German yacht
Many people recommended us la Ria de Muros, and with reasons. La Ria de Muros is the first one of las Rias Bajas coming from the North. It is famous for its mussels and seafood. The town itself dates from the medieval times with stone buildings and arches, curvy little streets. We stayed two nights there. Sailing down to Muros from Muxia was quick. Once we left Cabo Finistere behind, it seemed like we abandoned the clouds and the light winds, stuck over the mountains of the Rias Altas. We got our spinnaker out again. By now we both became pretty efficient at hoisting, gybing and dropping in two of us.
After Muros came Sanxenxo where we could not stay as the harbour was full for a race. Sanxenxo is the base of MAPFRE and DONGFENG, two of the Volvo 65 teams getting ready for the next Volvo Ocean Race. In front of Sanxenxo lies the Isla de Ons, where we had to ask for a permit to cruise and anchor. We dropped anchor North East of the island in front of a proudly claimed nudist beach. That is fine with us, we have binoculars.
Rocio knew the island for having visited it when she was a child with her parents. She warned me to get ready for a good hike to go from the beach to the village if we were to have any fresh cañas. It turned out that it was actually more like a short walk amongst the Eucalyptus tree rather than a hardcore hike. I guess that back in the time she must have had shorter legs, funny how everything is a matter of perspective.
And that brings us now to Islas Cies where I finish writing this post.