from 'The Journal of Alacazam', by Mary Swift...
It's Wednesday 8th August 2001. We've spent several days exploring the Rias Altas of Galicia, northern Spain - the Ria de Cormé y Lage and the Ria de Camariñas - and now it's time to move on.
We have a schedule to keep if we are to continue passagemaking south into Portugal before setting out for Madeira and the Canary islands - and onward across the Atlantic Ocean for the Caribbean.
But I slept badly last night. The insect bites on my hand were itching and very painful; my hand is swollen and I try TCP ointment for a change and later witch hazel gel.
Dick, my skipper (and long suffering partner - his words) gets just as many insect bites but they just subside on him and cause him little discomfort. I though, seem be allergic to them; it doesn't seem fair at all...
But the weather is sunny and pleasant; the forecast states winds W to NW force 4 to 5. Perfect! Time to weigh anchor...
Motoring out of the Ria de Camariñas, one large wind turbine comes into view on our starboard side. It looks like an alien; like something out of War of the Worlds by H G Wells. Eerie! We can see smoke again too; we keep seeing fires burning in remote places. We are the last of five yachts leaving Camariñas, all heading south.
There is a good wind, albeit now southerly (how did that happen?), but we are sailing well and are soon at the front of this small fleet. The swell is high but long and Alacazam is handling it well.
Both Dick and I take turns helming for the sheer enjoyment of it, as it's wonderful sailing. As we sail further out from the coast the wind increases and there are waves on top of the swell. Although a little more uncomfortable, Alacazam still sails well. We stay on the port tack until 1300 hours and when we tack to starboard the swell is behind us. The pattern of the periodic two large waves starts.
These are enormous - the height of a house but we surf down them effortlessly. We are heading south, the wind is south west and the heavy swell is from the north west, Consequently we are surfing down the face of the waves and beating into the wind at the same time. A strange sensation...
The dolphins have come to play. They are surfing down the waves behind us; we can see them just below the surface. When they catch up with us they leap and dive around the yacht before holding back to surf down the next wave, again and again. There are about seven or eight of them having wonderful fun. And then they are gone; on to the next boat perhaps.
This tack is quite comfortable and despite the swell I am able to prepare a bite to eat. The witch hazel appears to be working, although my hand is still swollen, the itching and pain has stopped; I can live with that. As we approach Cabo de Finisterre the wind drops and we slow to 2 knots. We tack again to see if that improves the sailing but to no avail; we have to motor.
We have reached a milestone rounding Cabo de Finisterre (truly heading south again) and afford it the reverence that it deserves. The scenery is wonderful, with high craggy cliffs and grass rolling down to the edge of them. There are mountains in the distance and there is an ethereal quality viewing them through the haze (it has been hazy all along this coast).
Through the binoculars we can see a lot of people on the cliff top by the lighthouse. It is a very high, unprotected cliff and some of the people seem to be standing right on the edge. The lighthouse is enormous and obviously quite an attraction judging by the number of people we can see. We aren't visiting the town of Finisterre, choosing to move on further south out of the Rias Altas into the Rias Bajas.
As we round the Cabo we can see Finisterre and its harbour wall tucked away at the mouth of the Ria de Muros. The mountains here are much nearer the coast with several villages nestled at the bottom of them. It would be nice to visit but we hold firm to our decision to go on to Muros.
We coming across a number of fishing boats and some are a nuisance and quite confusing; changing course right in front of us as they lay their fishing pots. Although sunny, it's definitely not warm and we are both wearing long trousers. I am not as hardy as Dick and I'm also wearing a snug over my tee-shirt.
We continue motoring, expecting to arrive at Muros at about 1900 hours. I put a chicken into the oven to roast using the casserole dish I bought at the London Boat Show. It consists of two individual non-stick pans, with removable handles, that link together to form a covered dish; perfect for roasting. I also roast green pimientos with tomatoes drizzled in oil and salt. These however, roast much quicker than I thought and we have to immediately eat them on their own (a tasty starter). I quickly prepare boiled potatoes to have with the chicken.
We enter the Ria de Muros which is much larger than the ones we have already visited. There are more villages here and the terrain is very craggy and mountainous but with a green belt of trees nearer the coastline. Muros, on the north side of the Ria, offers the greatest protection from the swell with the wind in this direction and we have to negotiate windsurfers, dinghies and other small craft as we approach the anchorage just off the town (which looks interesting).
There are only a few yachts at anchor and the holding is good. We don't go ashore and have dinner on board. The chicken I am sure, is organic it tastes so good, a bottle of vino followed by coffee whilst listening to Irish music by candlelight. Perfect.
We motor out of the Ria into the swell. It is not too high but it is surprising how well protected we have been in this Ria. There's very little wind and what little there is, is on the nose - of course - probably created by us motoring. We are motoring at 6.5 knots and end up motoring all the way to the Ria de Arosa.
Our time is spent keeping a keen watch as there are fishing boats and fishing buoys everywhere. We travel between rocks about 5 miles off the coast and can see the spray breaking over them from a fair distance. Early afternoon three dolphins come to play, but they are the only ones we see on this passage.
There are sandy beaches all along this coast, which reminds me of Cornwall. We keep seeing what seems to be waves breaking over rocks but as we get closer we can see it is just a white sludge. It can be spooky sometimes as it can look as if you are about to hit rocks.
The approach to the Ria de Arosa is tricky; there are a lot of treacherous rocks to negotiate. Dick has to decide whether to sail around the island situated in the mouth of the Ria or navigate the passage through the rocks.
There's good visibility, little wind or swell and when we see a large fishing boat motor through, we decide to cautiously follow it as it will save a considerable amount of time. We have to motor close to rocks, small islands and a lighthouse but manage it well.
It is very pretty here, dotted with islands. We check out the various villages in the Pilot Book and decide to make for Santé Eugenia de Riviera, not least because it is reported to be the sardine centre of Galicia. There is wind, on the beam, so we put up the headsail and sail in at 4 to 5 knots.
Dick catches a mackerel on the trolling line and fillets it ready to eat later. It is good to be sailing once again; we really do enjoy the voyaging. Dick is a good navigator and I realise how little navigation I do, relying on him totally. But I am a good watch-keeper and general crewman and I am doing a lot more than I used to, without having to be told.
We anchor near the harbour wall quite close to the beach in eight metres of water. Dick lets out the chain and reaching the rope realises that he has let out 40 metres of chain. This is too much and we have to re-stow the chain, with me in the forepeak trying to flake it into the locker and check for the marks at the same time.
I cannot see any marks; Dick can see one but at what length? We have to take all the chain in and start again. We get it right this time but we are going to have to find a better way of marking the chain so this does not happen again.
We finally anchor about 1700 hours near two small boats. Santé Eugenie is a large fishing port and the beach where we are at anchor sweeps right around the bay. It seems fairly quiet here and there are not too many people on the beach.
Then! School must have finished for the day, because we are suddenly surrounded by two dozen Optimist yachts and other small craft, all sailed by teenagers and children of about 8 or 9 years old.
A yellow motor-boat leaves the Marina and next minute someone is paragliding from it. Two of Dick's favourite toys, jet-skies (I jest of course) race by and also powerful motor-boats. We are bang in the middle of all this activity and the youngsters, who are racing, come close enough to greet us 'Hola'.
It is good fun and most pleasant. (Skipper's comment - yeah, yeah...)
Monday 20th August 2001
We both wake up early. My arm has not got any worse in fact although it is still very swollen, the redness is diminishing and it seems contained at last. The weather is looking good and we make sure Alacazam is shipshape ready to move on.
We pay up at the marina office and take a shower. The showers are new and excellent but the lights work on a timer using photo sensitive cells. This is fine when you are within its vision but after a few minutes in the shower the light turns itself off and I am in complete blackness having to open the shower door to entice the light back on.
Just as we are ready to leave the berth there is a knock on the hull, it is Mike and Kay. They have brought me an emergency kit, in case I ever have a serious allergic reaction to an insect bite or sting (e.g. unable to breathe if the throat is swelling), a shot can be administered immediately to relieve the swelling. They have another kit but even so I am very touched by their generosity.
Mike has received a weather fax and the forecast is good, a north westerly F2 to F4. They, too, are considering going to Bayona and want to meet us there having enjoyed our company and our European ways with the locals. They had been finding them a little unfriendly, but through us, had realised a different way of handling them. Mike can speak a little Spanish but was glad of Dick's command of the language and Kay was just pleased to find someone she could understand, although she has difficulty with some of my expressions (she thought chuffed meant annoyed). They're great fun and have a terrific sense of humour and can share our British sense of humour, often difficult for Americans (as our British comedians have found to their detriment).
"Cast off", shouts Dick, and just as he's ready on the helm to go astern, I panic, because I think I have lost my sunglasses and refuse to let go the rope yelling "No!". Dick, not expecting this mutiny from his crew, has already let go the stern line, the tide is low and we are nearly caught up in the stern rope holding the French boat next to us.
I quickly let go the bow line and luckily Dick sees what is happening just in time and manages to go astern and we untangle ourselves with no damage done. Although Dick rightly berates me to "Never do that again", he has understood my feelings and as soon as he can, quietly goes below and finds my sunglasses (left in some obscure place not easily seen) and gives me a big cuddle.
We have been able to sail out of the marina; there's a gentle wind and we are soon sailing at 5 to 6 knots with the wind abeam and cannot believe it when the wind suddenly dies away and we have to motor out of the Ria.
There's very little swell, the sun is warm and if we were not motoring this would be perfect. My arm though, is not liking the sun, so I wrap a wet tea towel around it and the instant relief and coolness is just wonderful. We pass the our American pals on Summer Lady and wave.
We're sailing the passage inside the lighthouse close to 'Isla Ons'. The area is a nature park and not many people live here and a smaller island close by (Onza) is a bird sanctuary. I want to take a photograph and fetch my camera but the lens will not open, the battery must have gone.
At the same time Dick thinks he has caught a fish (turns out to be a false alarm) and the wind suddenly fills the mainsail and we are off, a few moments of frazzled activity. The weather forecast on the VHF is still forecasting winds of force 2 to 4 increasing later, but the wind soon dies away again and although we try to sail when there is occasionally wind, we mostly have to motor.
At one time, down to one knot with the mainsail banging and flapping, Dick suddenly shouts "We've lost a seat back!" the mainsheet catching and whipping it off the guardrail. It is a good time to practice a man overboard routine so we tack through the wind and go back for it. I can't find the fishing landing net and while Dick is below looking for it the wind picks up and I helm right past the seat.
We turn again and this time I am ready on the foredeck with the net, directing Dick who is on the helm, and easily swoop it up - mission accomplished. Mike, meanwhile, has been watching this, wondering what on earth is going on and calls us up on the VHF to see if we are OK.
Alacazam is sailing upright and there is so little swell that I am able to easily cook chicken breasts with boiled potatoes and steamed French beans, carrots and kohlrabi, which we eat in the cockpit.
Approaching the Ria de Vigo, a highly populated Ria dominated by the industrial towns and large port of Vigo and Cangas, there are a number of container ships at anchor in the mouth of the Ria.
We're sailing by the beautiful Islas Cíes and can see the beaches forming the isthmus joining the two main islands, which are quite mountainous and green. These islands also form part of the nature park and are only slightly populated, but have many visitors arriving on ferries from Vigo, Cangas and Bayona, throughout the summer months. There's an anchorage off the beach with yachts at anchor and we want to visit it ourselves before moving south from Bayona. The visibility is clear and we can also easily see the mainland on our port side.
Bayona is situated at the mouth of the Ria on the southern side and has its own pretty bay. A walled castle dominates the approach, prominent on an outcrop between the bay and the Atlantic, behind which, is the harbour and the Marina.
Summer Lady is close behind us and we easily pick up two mooring buoys, but have to move again when on contacting the Marina office are told we are on private moorings. The moorings here are close together and memories of La Coruña come to mind.
The Marina looks very full and we want to anchor but the Pilot book states that the Yacht Club here does not recognise visiting yachtsmen who anchor. Dick calls the office again to tell them that we cannot find another mooring and have decided to anchor and ask if we can leave our dinghy on the Yacht Club pontoon when we row ashore. There's a long silence and just as we think we must have been cut off they respond "Yes, it is alright to do this".
There are many boats at anchor but we find a suitable space inside the harbour wall for the two yachts. Just as Summer Lady drops her anchor a big Swedish yacht motors in, the owner drops the anchor without even going astern to see if it has dug in and is much too close. Other yachts are anchored off the beach and although further from the Marina, there is much more room, so we up anchor and move there.
It's 8pm and we do not particularly want to go ashore but Mike invites us for a drink on Summer Lady and by the time we have put on the sail covers and launched the dinghy and outboard it is already 9pm. We relax in the cockpit and nibble on cheese, crackers and nuts with just a few glasses of wine and watch the sunset. It is a lovely night, flat calm and still, the lights of Bayona twinkling close by and the company ambient. Although mostly motoring we have had a lovely day and all agree to an early night.
Next: Passagemaking: Onward to Portugal