We started this edition over two weeks ago and having arrived on Tuesday afternoon (16th September) in the Crystal City of La Coruna, have at last put the final touches to it!
So we begin on Tuesday 2nd September:
We’re lying at anchor just inside Santander off a pretty beach with castellated villas on the hills beyond. The sun is shining, and we’re having evening drinks on deck. In these surroundings, it’s quite difficult to believe how busy this port is until we feel the effects of wash from the large vessels that pass.
We arrived here this afternoon having motored the 28 miles from the very pretty town of Castro Urdiales where we spent last night at anchor and took the dinghy ashore to join the throngs who take to the streets just after 9 pm to promenade, meet friends, have a drink and tapas and generally enjoy the cool of the evening. This includes children as well, the youngest of whom seem to be able to sleep through the hub-bub. What a different way of life from the British and how relaxed it seems to the ‘idle’ tourist or sailor like us. So adopting the ‘when in Rome’ principle, we are also having our dinner after 9 and last night chose some very tasty tapas or ‘raciones’ at the Meson Segobiano which Elaine had remembered from a trip on Overlord 8 years ago.
The passage from Santander to Ribadesella is 60 miles, 80 miles as far as Lastres or 92 miles to Gijon. There are 2 problems with the north coast of Spain, the first being the lack of harbours that are accessible at any state of the tide within reasonable distance, and the second being the Atlantic swell. This is nearly always present, no matter how calm it is, but a storm in the UK can create a swell of 5-6 metres along this coast. Many of the harbours that are safe to enter in normal conditions but become impossible when there is heavy swell.
And so it was on our first attempt to reach Ribadesella (Wednesday, 3rd September). Halfway there the wind had picked up to 20 knots from the NW, and there was no indication whether it would continue to rise. Ribadesella could have become impossible to enter, and an entry to Gijon would have been at midnight. Prudence dictated that we returned to Santander, having sailed 60 nm and back at the starting point!
After a short night we were up at 04.30 to try again, but this time to get to Gijon in daylight, which we achieved with some sailing, and when the wind died the engine took over. We were alongside in the marina by 20.00. For the first time we were asked to produce official paperwork for ourselves and Pipistrelle, so passports and the ship’s registration documents along with the insurance certificate in Spanish were duly presented. After completing that task, tired as we were, we changed, headed for a tapas bar, relaxed and returned for a good night’s sleep.
Gijon is a major city, and was largely rebuilt after the civil war in 1936, and is now the major port, industrial and commercial centre on the north coast. As such it is not really our scene, but the wind was correctly forecast to increase to over 30 knots with a 4 metre swell. A 70 ft yacht left the day after our arrival, but was forced to turn back after 5 hours. Another delivery skipper arrived having endured a force 9 in the Bay.
Consequently we stayed put, explored the city, and then on Sunday 7th September caught a bus to Oviedo, a 30 minute ride at the vast expense of 3 Euros each return. Oviedo is a cultural centre, a lot of the buildings old and attractive, and we very much enjoyed our afternoon visit there.
We then learnt on our return that just because a sign on the bus says Gijon-Oviedo-Gijon, it doesn’t necessarily mean that. By the time we were out of the city and realised we were heading the wrong way it was too late, and the destination was an hour away in the mountains! We left the bus at the first stop, some 20 minutes along the motorway, and then had a further hour to wait for the next bus coming the other way, plus explaining why our tickets had been torn and had pieces missing, the driver’s method of marking a journey!
On Monday the weather gave us a break to move on to Ribadeo, some 30 miles to the west, which we did in the company of Ann and Ingemar, a Swedish couple on their Dehler called Lady Ann 3. We had originally briefly met them in Bilbao, and they are also making for Povoa de Vazim to lay up for the winter, and are flying home on the same day as we are. The wind died to nothing on this leg, and with the bimini shielding us from the sun, Elaine decided a swim was needed. The sugar scoop (that’s at the stern of the boat!) and bathing ladder came into use for the first time. Elaine swam in a refreshing depth of 86 metres.
After anchoring overnight in the Ria at Ribadeo and having tapas on board Lady Ann, we moved into the marina the next day. The main part of the town is some 200 ft above the marina, and we felt the town itself didn’t really have the charm we’d envisaged or encountered elsewhere. In addition even the marina suffers from the swell, so we were quite happy to move on and take the opportunity of another weather window to get to Viveiro about 30 nm away.
Viveiro lies at the head of a long and attractive ria, with rocky headlands, beaches and large and small bays indented along its length. We arrived with the temperature reaching 30 C in the shade, and a swim was called for. We later anchored off Playa del Covas, and had a langoustine BBQ in the late evening sun, sipping wine while listening to the strains of Chris de Burgh and Beautiful Dreams. A perfect end to the day!
With more significant swell forecast, we decided to shelter in the marina the following night, which gave us the chance to reprovision and explore the old part of the town. The main feature of these Spanish towns is the tiny streets with multi-storey buildings, large attractive squares normally formed in front of a church, and numerous bars and restaurants.
On Saturday 14th it was on to Cedeira, an extremely attractive town at the head of another beautiful Ria, with our day sail taking us along a section of coast formed by sheer cliff faces hundreds of feet high, tumbling down to jagged rocks at water level. With the Atlantic swell crashing onto these rocks, it brings home the power and danger of the ocean, so we maintained a safe distance as we passed by.
As we entered the Ria, and remarked on how extraordinary it is that these huge swells dissipate the further one goes, until rounding the corner into the harbour, one reaches tranquillity. We anchored, and apart from fishing boats, had the harbour to ourselves. With the enduring good weather, the BBQ was duly lit for another supper in the cockpit. The next day we took the dinghy ashore and explored, firstly the Sunday market which sold everything from hams, local cheeses, fruit and vegetables to what could be a new wardrobe of clothing! Then we enjoyed lunchtime tapas in the shade of the vibrant town square before ambling back to the dinghy and Pipistrelle. By late afternoon a number of yachts had arrived with which we were familiar.
On Monday – another hot and windless morning – it was time to move on to La Coruna with a stop at Sada marina in the Ria de Betanzos to refuel, (we seem to have mostly motored from Bilbao due to lack of wind). From there we managed to sail for the first time in what seemed like ages to Ares, across the bay where anchored off for the night in the lee of the NE’lys before finally arriving at La Coruna yesterday. Here we were greeted almost as soon as we had moored, by James Stewart who is also a member of the Royal Southampton YC, and his partner Lucy. They are making their way to the Canaries to join in this year’s ARC, as are many other of the yachts moored here. We are now experiencing the close knit sailing community, with most of the yachts heading south. We have Norwegians, Swedes, French and Germans as immediate neighbours, and a number of these are sporting the ARC 2008 flag.
Tomorrow we plan to head south again towards Portugal, from where the final blog (yes – unbelievable but true ….) will be posted!
Some vital statistics to end with …..
Nautical miles sailed to date: 2,885
Number of days on board: 110
Number of days remaining: 28 (but we’re not on countdown!)