La Coruna to Povoa de Varzim
Before we left La Coruna, our Swedish friends Ingemar and Ann-Britt Klinte on Lady Ann arrived with other friends who had joined them for a few days. It was therefore an opportunity to catch up, explore the city, eat out, and take the tram around the coast to the other side of La Coruna, before walking back to the marina.
We escaped city life late on the afternoon of Thursday 18th September, and anchored at Ensenada de Mera, a village on a wide sweeping sandy beach opposite the La Coruna skyline, and enjoyed a spectacular sunset.
Leaving La Coruna for the run south is considered a gateway as the seas off the coast can be dangerous, so a weather window is always important. It’s not called the ‘Costa da Morte’ (Coast of Death) for nothing! Happily for us the weather was settled and we decided to complete a comparatively short passage to Corme, some 30 miles to the south west. With a mixture of motor sailing and sailing under cloudless skies in bright sunshine, the day was uneventful with the exception of passing a new port that is being built to the west, and is not shown on our charts or in the Almanac.
Corme is another small fishing village, protected from the prevailing summer north easterly winds, and is only slightly spoilt by a number of viveros, moored in the Ria. These structures are common in all the Rias to the south of La Coruna, they are large wooden square or rectangular frames resting on large floats, and used to farm mussels. There are many thousands of them along the coast – the extent of them can even be spotted on Google Earth.
After an overnight stop at anchor, we moved on to Finisterre on Saturday in company with Lady Ann and anchored off the village. While we had visited the anchorage before on Overlord, we had not been ashore so Sunday 21st September gave us the opportunity to walk to the lighthouse which stands some 200 metres above sea level. We stopped off briefly at the old church where Mass was about to be celebrated. Cape Finisterre could probably be likened to some extent to Lands End. The lighthouse is certainly not remarkable, the area is strewn with rubbish, and vendors have set up stalls selling normal tourist bric a brac!
The views were however spectacular, and well worth the walk. We then continued to climb until we were 300 metres above sea level, had magnificent views in all directions, and enjoyed a picnic lunch.
Finisterre village is a mixture of wealth and poverty, with the most ugly blocks of flats almost alongside very attractive detached houses! Overall though, it is worth a stop, as it is well sheltered and attractive.
Some 15 miles to the south of Finisterre lies the Ria de Muros with the fishing village of Muros on the NW side, another first for us. The village is dominated by its harbour and small docks, with the village clinging to the hillside.
Once again we were in an old settlement with narrow streets, a butcher’s and grocer’s providing provisions, and most trade taking place in the mornings at market stalls and other shops. The bustling atmosphere is totally different from the quietness of siesta time onwards! Attractive it is, but the marina at Portosin and yacht club beckoned, enabling us to replenish our fresh water supplies and give Pipistrelle a good hose down to wash off the salt water from her decks and hull. The watermaker, much used in Scotland and Ireland earlier in the trip has now been put to bed for the winter. Use of the marina laundry was also most welcome!
Having visited and explored the Ria d’Arosa extensively last year on Overlord, we decided to give this a miss, and head straight to the Ria de Pontevedra, and its delightful town of Combarro, which our friends had not seen. We were in for a surprise, as since last year a large marina has been constructed and the infrastructure will be completed by the year end. There is still enough room outside the marina area to anchor, so we did!
This old fishing village dates back to the C14, and is built of massive granite blocks, surrounded by vineyards and boasts countless stone granaries.
It is picturesque with excellent seafood restaurants, as well as a supermercado and fruit market in the square. We ate at the same restaurant as last year and were afforded an excellent welcome by the owner. The seafood paella was exceptionally good as was the local Albarino, an straw coloured white wine with a really good nose. In general seafood is in abundant supply in this area which offers not only mussels but also razor clams, cockles, langoustine, lobster, calamari to name but a few.
The Islas Cies was our next anchorage, where 3 islands protect the Ria de Vigo from westerly Atlantic storms. We anchored off Isla del Norte, and walked to its lighthouse 185 metres above sea level. These islands are probably the nearest likeness to the West Indies one could get to in Europe. They are mountainous, wooded, and very attractive, with clear seawater and some beautiful white sandy beaches.
We were lucky to visit at the end of the season, while the sun was still hot, and it is warm enough to swim, but the hordes of holiday makers have long since returned to work. Even so, the two ferries a day still brought a number of visitors from Vigo.
The walk was well worthwhile with pine and herb fragrances filling the air, fascinating rock formations at a high level carved by the sea millions of years ago, and the lighthouse and surrounding granite courtyard providing an excellent picnic spot and spectacular views. The sun was so hot that the shade from the lighthouse was a welcome relief.
In the evening we enjoyed an excellent BBQ on board Pipistrelle, cooking Spanish chorizo sausages and steak kebabs. The quality of meat here is tasty, tender and good value. Our friends joined us, and with suitable music, Spanish fireworks on the surrounding hills, the setting sun turning the sea golden, it was a memorable evening!
Two nights were then spent anchored off another beautiful clean sandy beach west of Cangas, and we enjoyed a superb prawn and rice dinner on Lady Ann, before returning to the Islas Cies, this time to the most southerly Isla de San Martin. A nature reserve where access is forbidden, the anchorage again is beautiful.
We were incredibly lucky to visit this area with high pressure settled over the UK and Scandinavia, and the Azores high providing settled conditions over most of Spain. The days are cloudless, the seas calm, and the opportunities to anchor in the most beautiful bays and beaches are numerous. The mouth of this Ria is certainly the most beautiful we have visited along the Galician coast.
Regrettably the heavy industry surrounding Vigo is not so beautiful, nor is the city of Vigo, but we sailed to the head of the Ria passing under a suspension bridge with air clearance of 38 metres, more than sufficient for our 22 metres!
This area was peaceful, with pine forests interspersed with small villages. We spent a night here before having an excellent sail in the northerly breeze to Bayona, which lies at the southern corner of the Ria, and is protected from the north and west by small islands and dangerous reefs. Inevitably, the area is scattered with wrecks.
Bob had last visited Bayona in 1989, his first introduction to Overlord, and a passage to Falmouth frequently referred to as a voyage to hell! Since then 3 marinas have been created, but there is still anchorage space, but not quite so sheltered. The town is however very attractive, dominated by Montereal Fort, which has been known over the last 2000 years as the walled precinct. There is a superb 3 km walk around the crenallated battlement walls, dating from the 9th to 17th centuries. It is now also the home of the local Parador hotel.
Bayona is also famous for the navigators Pinzon and Columbus who both used Bayona for their arrival after discovering the new world. It also has a very attractive old town, with paved granite streets and attractive stone buildings, many housing bars and restaurants. The yacht club within the grounds of the fort was very smart, similar to the Royal Yacht Squadron at Cowes, but we understand charged extortionate prices within the club house.
Our stay here was limited to 2 nights, as Friday 3rd October marked the last of the forecast northerly winds, which would help drive us south for the 50 nm passage to Povoa de Varzim, our final destination. Any thoughts of having another BBQ on board Pipistrelle were shelved because of the wind strength, so instead we entertained in the warmth of the saloon. We set off early next morning in fresh temperatures and had to motor for the first two hours, but then the wind filled in, and we were able to set the genoa. By lunchtime we were cruising at 6.5 knots, and as we entered Portuguese waters were able to also set the jib so we were once again running under twin headsails.
Whilst in Spanish waters the sea was almost dead, the floating rubbish was disgusting and a disgrace to the country. We only saw one single dolphin, and apart from seagulls which are scavengers, the bird life was non existent. Of course, we are not sure, but we put this down to the Spanish fishermen, who have fished the sea to death.
By contrast, as we entered Portuguese waters, the sea changed colour from black to a blue green, we had a pod of 8 dolphins playing alongside Pipistrelle for some time and we encountered large flocks of birds, similar to Manx Shearwaters. The only downside was that lobster pots were not at all clearly marked, in many cases the only indication was a stick bobbing on the surface with a very small flag attached to it! We mention this because the danger to sailors is that the rope attaching the creel can wrap itself around the propeller or rudder causing significant damage to either.
The wind continued to increase and soon we were hitting 8.5 knots with a constant 10 kn speed over ground. Inevitably we had to shorten sail, and as we entered Povoa harbour with a true wind speed of 25 knots, any thought of berthing alongside and downwind was instantly dismissed. So we anchored for the night, only to have the prudence of our decision vindicated by a large Belgian yacht which followed us in, decided to berth, lost control and collided with a steel yacht berthed on the hammerhead. The damage was considerable.
The staff at the marina, where we have now been safely berthed since last Saturday, couldn’t possibly be more helpful and friendly. We have already ticked off many items on the long list of jobs involved in putting the boat to bed for the winter. This started with removal and packing of the two headsails in calm conditions ready for them to be sent off to the sailmaker’s for some minor repairs. Then we took off the running rigging and washed it all in fresh water, replacing it temporarily over winter with mousing lines. The heavy rain that was forecast and arrived last Tuesday, meant it was an ideal day for working on engine and generator servicing (Bob), cleaning and trying to dry damp laundry (impossible – Elaine) before having a lesson on Single Side Band radio from some Kiwi friends, John and Jane who we met in Bayona. Once the boat is lifted ashore on Monday, we will be living on board for a couple of days (should be interesting!) while we do the final packing and checking before boarding our flight back home.
We have now been here a week, and happily the hard work on Pipistrelle has been interspersed by joining in the great social life that may be unique to Povoa. Last Saturday evening we were invited to dinner on board Lady Ann, hosted by our friends Ingemar and Ann-Britt who cooked a fantastic paella. A group dinner ashore on Monday for 10 of us in a local café was excellent – we have never been treated to such large helpings of superbly cooked prawns – and will probably return for a ‘last supper’ ashore on the night before we leave. Tuesday evening saw us on board Tara, owned by John and Jane, for another delicious meal – this time freshly cooked curry along with many and various tasty side dishes. At the shoreside BBQ for 26 people on Thursday we met more of the international marina community here – some have been in Povoa not for weeks or months but years! They sail from here each spring and summer, returning in the autumn and maybe living on their boats during the winter with the odd trip home….. Elaine has even met a couple from Mannheim/Ludwigshafen in Germany, where she lived for 14 years.
After an interlude in Oporto (more of that separately) it’s back to some hard work and socialising to make the most of our remaining few days.