14/Aug/2009, At the Spanish - Portuguese Border
On our way into Portugal and we have just crossed the border between Spain and Portugal. It is flat calm so we are motoring in a glassy sea with misty weather and the sun blazing down. A couple of miles inshore we can see the entrance to Rio Mino. Not much to see out here. A couple of ships and three yachts that were motoring in the opposite direction; a number of floats with tattered flags attached mark fishing pots. Wildlife has included a few gannets (nothing like the numbers off the Irish coast), a few other seabirds and, so far, three of those strange beasts called "Sunfish". They are very broad fish from top to bottom that laze about on the surface flapping their tall dorsal fin from side to side, their tail end is a bit ragged and looks as if something has bitten the back end off. We are posting this while at sea using an email to the sailblog via our HF radio. So, a bit of a test to see if this works and we will be able to continue posting updates when we are doing longer ocean passages. We'll post a picture of a sunfish when we next get to an internet cafe.
Tonight we are aiming to stop at Viana do Castelo, some 11 miles south of the border, and stay a couple of nights so we can visit the old town.
An after posting note: we failed to get a photo of the camera-shy sunfish, they didn't cooperate and dived deep when we went in for the camera shot... but we did have one we took in 2002 when we saw the same creatures off Ireland... so we have cheated and used an old photo so you can see what we are talking about.
13/Aug/2009, Bayona - Ria Vigo - Galicia - Espana
We spent a week in La Coruna after 11th July and the passage down from Dingle in Ireland. That was a great sail and we enjoyed covering so much ground in only four days, keeping up 6+ knots average for the first couple of days. Although a bit bouncy in the large swell we didn't want to slow the boat down due to racing to beat the next predicted depression hurtling in from the Atlantic. Didn't like the idea of SWerlies after last year bouncing around in F7 crossing Biscay. It was definitey a good move keeping way west of Biscay, some 150M west of Scillies and 200M west of Ushant, we were slowly making easting all the way instead of clawing our way westwards. While we were on passage the forecasts showed the channel and Biscay received a typical pasting. Two friends heading for La Coruna departed Portsmouth on the same day as we left Ireland and made it to Falmouth (motorsailing into F6) after 2-days, they only managed to arrive in La Coruna on 6th Aug after waiting 4 weeks in Falmouth for a suitable weather window to cross the Bay. It's reputation would seem well founded.
Our Newfoundland friends, Jon & Sue, also had poor weather for their Atlantic bid this year. They were delayed for a month with atypical SE (moist) winds hitting the icebergs in the Davis Strait causing thick (20m visibilty) fog. The longest period of continuous fog for decades. When they finally made a start they were forced to give up after 3 days due to strong head winds and trouble getting their self steering to operate satisfactorily (still need more info on that issue as we have the same piece of kit?). Jon and Sue are enjoying a fantastic cruise along the Labrador coast and assure us they have weird and wonderful photographs of ice formations. They have frozen while the Little Green Boat has sweltered in the sun:-)
Our cruise through Galicia has been most enjoyable. Since hauling ourselves south of Cabo Finisterre the scenery has been glorious. A visual cascade of blue skies blending into the turquoise seas through a green and granite pallete of shoreline. Mountains climbing into a mainly cloudless vista occasionally tarnished with high wispy flecks of cirrus heralding something unpleasant heading toward British coastlines. As per the pilot book's claims the winds are generally from the north. A wonderful change from the situation while passing along the Spanish northern coast, grey skies and conflicting forecasts often proved wrong by contrary and strong head winds.
Once away from La Coruna we quickly pressed on to Ria Arosa, although this missed some bays with claims of beauty we were to meet friends flying out from the UK to join us for two weeks at Villagarcia. Cruising the Rias Arosa, Pontevedra and Vigo have surely provided a representative collection of memories typical of Galician experiences. Dolphins leaping close by while at anchor, old and solid granite architecture that has survived centuries, strange stone crosses errected on rocky outcrops, snorkeling from the boat and the absolutely gorgeous Islas Cies, a national park offshore from Ria Vigo. In truth there is a real mixture, from the old worldness of fishing villages to the brash newness of ugly holiday appartments vieing for proximity to breathtaking bright white strands. Towns that offer an ill thought out, and unplanned, clutter of the old and the new jostling together. In all probability we may be seeing the effect of the Spanish civil war in the 1930s when some towns were destroyed in the fighting, there appears to be little other rationale for why some historic fishing villages offer little evidence of the anticipated old architecture.
Laid back we both are, chilled out mentally although rather warm during the heat of the days. We are aclimatising. Andy has now finished the extended gardening leave and is officially retired from the UK motorway network. Hurray!!!
In the next day or so we'll head out of Ria Vigo and point our bow southwards. The main stops planned before Maderia are Lisbon and maybe Lagos. We were going to head for the Maderian Archipelago directly from Lisbon but two friends (Liz MacInally & Ju Randall), with their boat based in Lagos, have just returned from doing a delivery trip to Greece. So, weather permitting we may well pop down there for a couple of days and a beer in the Algarve. Rounding Cabo Sao Vincente is bound to be good for some cam-corder footage anyway. Oooh look! Another lighthouse:-)
Time to plan the next hops. Providing we can find suitable marinas (price & security) we want to do some hiking in the high level national parks in Maderia and on some of the Canary Islands. Still need to spend more time learning Spanish before hitting those islands. Not going to bother with any Portuguese as we'll only be there for a week or so. Spanish will be useful if we eventually go cruising to South America, assumng of course we haven't had a fill of the boating life by then.
If it looks like there is a gap in the Spanish pictures between La Coruna and Combarro that is because ....there is a big gap in the Spanish piccies due to Sue inadvertently leaving her camera at La Coruna Marina. Another friend, also from Portsmouth, has picked it up and will hopefully catch us up before too much longer. It certainly solved my problem of what to get Sue for a birthday present:-) So thanks to Arlene for finding the missing camera and thanks to Colin for leaving a spare SD card for Sue to use until getting a new one.... yes that technical wizard, Andy, forgot to get an SD card with the new camera.
We'll try to do better at keeping everybody updated on our progress. Best wishes from the Little Green Boat.
12/Jul/2009, La Coruna - Espana
A short note to give you a progress update. The little green boat has completed the passage from the emerald isle to the land of rioja and matadors. Spruce arrived in La Coruna as a beautiful dawn broke on Saturday 11th July. The voyage South from Dingle started with a very boisterous 25 knots of wind from the North West, (for those who don't sail - that was good news). The waves were quite large with breaking crests as it had been blowing strongly out in the Atlantic ocean for a few days. As we progressed Southwards the wind gradually eased off and the seas reduced giving pleasant sailing conditions until we needed to motor -sail to keep up our speed. There was a forecast for strong winds from dead ahead (for those who don't sail- bad news) in another couple of days and we wanted to get to Spain before that happened. We finished up with a moderate breeze from the East for the last 30 miles or so which was a very enjoyable finish to an excellent passage.
Wildlife at sea included the usual plethora of bird life - amazing how far from land these creatures glide around looking for food. Some follow in our wake at night looking for fish disturbed in the phosphorescence that make an easy meal. Several different types of dolphin came visiting but still no whales - we hear there are Minke and Fin whales about but nothing near to us.
Another sailing boat that left Dingle later the same day after us (the Khepri) has arrived in the other marina at Coruna, we'll go and have a chat with them tomorrow and see how their trip went. Other friends, who were sailing the Atlantic from Newfoundland, have had to turn back when a couple of hundred miles offshore due to self-steering problems. This makes our decision to depart from Dingle before their arrival less of a bother, if had we delayed the weather this week looks awful for anybody trying to reach La Coruna from the North. (For non sailing friends we really are just at the mercy of the weather and try to choose a time to travel of Poseidon and Neptune's liking:-))
This is quite a cosmopolitan port with sailing boats traveling both North and South, some returning from the other side of the Atlantic or the Mediterranean others setting off on similar adventures. A great place for the passing of information from old salts to those lesser informed. In the past day we have seen yachts carrying ensigns (country flag at the back) from Sweden, Denmark, France, UK, Ireland, Netherlands, Belgium and Germany as well as the home nationality. It is all very exciting. The weather has let us down today, after glorious Iberian sunshine yesterday the large Atlantic depression on its way to beat up the UK has deposited much drizzle on all here today.
We are off out to eat ashore this evening to celebrate Sue's birthday. Our knowledge of Spanish is sadly lacking so we may have something completely different than expected. Its all part of the fun of exploring new lands - ??we think..but let you know later :-)))
Time to do some reading up on the Spanish language, the Galicia region and to plan the next few weeks of cruising this corner of the world. Lots of bays lots of new sights to see and people to meet.
Good cheer to all from a happy little green boat's crew.
24/Jun/2009, West Coast of Ireland
A short note on the meandering's of the little green boat in the Emerald Isle. We have sailed up the west coast from Bantry Bay where the cold strong wind blew from the North West for far too long and are now moored in Killeany Bay off the town (village) of Kilronan in Inis Mhor the largest of the Aran Islands, these are located on the outskirts of Galway Bay between County Clare and Connemara. (Lat/Long 53 07.0N 009 40.1W for those Google Earth aficionados).
The trip from Bantry Bay was briefly paused at Ventry bay, just west of Dingle for an overnight stop and local bonhomie in a hostelry. The passage, next day, up to the Aran Islands was some 70 Miles distant with the fascinating scenery changing from rolling hills and ancient farmed landscape on to Atlantic wave battered cliffs plunging vertically into the sea. Although the wind had reduced the large Atlantic swell still pounded the skirts of the coast with tremendous force. Often bays that might seem sheltered from the wind are completely untenable anchorages due to this onshore swell from the ocean. Sue has uploaded (or is about to upload) some great piccies of the coastline.
Aran is a barren but atmospheric group of islands. Ancient limestone rock structures and walls but little that could be called a tree. The lack of wood evidently affected the architecture of years gone by! We were invited to join a local community for their St Stephen's day celebrations, this is a Christian promoted event that seems to have strong historical pagan links. It involved each village lighting a large bonfire and gathering around through the night until dawn. Folk chatted together while sharing food and drink while local children ran about playing and toasting marsh mallows on the fire. (The teaxchers at the local schools must love working on 24th June:-)) It doesn't truly get dark at night with an area of twilight progressing across the Northern skies until the sun comes up in the early hours. We also met some Canadians from French-Quebec who celebrate the same evening (23rd June) under the name of Saint Jean Batiste (I think that was the name). We'll put some piccies of this on Facebook next week.
We have actually seen only five other cruising yachts since we arrived in Aran two days ago, one of them from Australia, one from the UK and three from Irish waters. We did see 3 distant sails as we crossed Dingle bay on the passage northwards but these waters are completely different from sailing on the South Coast of the UK. Perhaps things get busier once the school summer holidays start, but we hope to be off to Spain by then. We are enjoying the availability of uncrowded anchorages and the relaxed friendliness of everybody we meet in this part of the world.
Tomorrow we'll head back towards the Shannon Estuary and aim to leave "Spruce" at Fenit Harbour (near Tralee on the North side of the Dingle Peninsula) while we do a short trip back to the UK next week, before returning to cruising the Dingle Bay area in early July.
11/Jun/2009, West Coast of Ireland
Anchor up and we left Porth Cressa at 0630 on Monday 8th June. Initially little wind was found and the engine pushed us North Westwards away from the islands. Eventualy the wind filled in from the east and gave us a very lumpy broad reach in F5-F6.
Destination now Baltimore, Ireland ETA 0900ish Tues morning. After a grey start the cloud based lowered and a steady drizzle set in. A couple of hours later it hardened to raining and cold as well... after 3 nights we had got fed up sitting in the Isles of Scilly waiting for the next depression so we jumped at a weather window offering East and NE winds Force 5-6 to head for the land of clover and leprechauns. The wind was forecast to go North after 24hrs and we gave up ideas of straight to Dingle, settling for the familiarity of Baltimore, nice pubs and a sheltered anchorage with Irish music on some evenings.
The passage was 'orrible, a following, choppy and confused sea had formed after several days with wind from around the compass... not to mention a solid 24hrs of rain that still hadn't stopped once sitting at anchor in Baltimore. It didn't seem the best weather to pump up the dinghy and rush to the nearby hostelry so we remained in the warm cabin resting and peering through the misty glass at the desolate harbour, an occasional vehicle or vessel to add interest. Luckily Sue stowed enough provisions for a decade and no need to go ashore yet - ever!
Only six days away so far and Sue has already made on-board bread, not too sure how that might be with the heat of the tropics in months ahead. An email was sent via the HF radio notifying friends and family of our arrival in the emerald Isle. Google Earth afficionados were provided with our position, 51N29.1 009W22.6, and the tongue in cheek quip "Yes, that right, the one under the big rain cloud!"
When starting the engine as we approached Baltimore harbour entrance Andy had managed to buckle the gear control cable while getting the engine out of reverse gear; locked at sea to stop the propeller spinning while sailing. So off to Skibereen on the morrow playing hunt the cable .. or botching the broken bits using the tools/spares kit.
A taxi ride to the nearby town (8-Miles) called Skibereen (we do love these names) and a chandlery where they had a good stock of Morse Cables. Followed by a 10 mile walk around the back-ways and by-ways. One thing we have found in the past is Ireland is not particularly helpful for public rights of way and footpaths, so it is often better to stay on roads. Sue "enjoyed" scaling a couple of high gated pathways where the short cuts were far too inviting to miss. The thought that Andy knew how to suture any mishaps on the spiky railings didn't make her feel any more relaxed about "breaking the rules".
Upon our return Andy spent a joyful two hours swearing, buried in the bowels of the boat, fitting the new gear engagement cable, Sue so loves his hands stinking of grease for the following 2-days. New control cable duly installed and we set off ashore on a quest for "Craic". A leisurely evening out in a couple of local pubs settled us into the cruising life; one with an informal Irish music session, locals practicing in fits and starts between top ups of guinness.
Another day ashore and then we hoped to be off Northwards up the coast of Kerry and perhaps the Aran Islands by the weekend. The weather had turned distinctly un-Irish with bright sunlight, the locals were wandering about blinking like moles hauled from the dark depths. Clear skies lead to all sorts of outlandish plans with little allowance made for inclement weather, a sure way to disappointment in these waters.
The last time we visited here was when we sailed over in 2006, we think this is a fantastic coastline for cruising and there are still plenty of new places to visit. Its taking a bit to get used to the mindset change from a summer holiday 3-week cruise into a "live-aboard" way of thinking.... but we are working at it:-)
06/Jun/2009, English Channel
"Spruce" swept westwards out of the Needles channel on the first swirlings of an ebb tide, heading off on her way down the English Channel towards Ireland.
It was a summer morning. Thursday 4th June. The original plan to set off the previous afternoon had been hurriedly changed while under way. After much rushing to and fro doing the final loading and preparations the crew were tired, if not exhausted. Spruce motored out of Portsmouth Harbour and along the Solent; Sue and Andy were silently considering their options. Sue had an hour in her pit before passinging Newtown Creek. A reluctant decision was taken to pause at Yarmouth, pick up a buoy, and have a good night's sleep before pressing on westwards. Uneasily dropping into a night time watch keeping system when both so jaded was not a comfortable thought; at least 350 Miles of passage until Baltimore and a further 70 to our destination. Dingle. Little was said but both had arrived at the same conclusion. Sleep was sorely required! A good night's sleep behind us, enjoying the early day's sunshine and fair winds as we departed familiar waters. Hurried cam-corder footage captured of a rapidly receding Needles lighthouse; chalky white cliffs framing the red and white edifice at the western extremity of the Isle of Wight. A familiar sight over the past seven-years during brief weekend trips to Poole harbour and Studland Bay.
Delaying our departure for a couple of days, the last minute rush drawing out into more than a few minutes, meant the steady easterly winds of the past two weeks were now waning. The first indications of the future weather going un-favourable were entering the forecast outlook. Northerly force 5 to 7 for the Lands End area, still 150 Miles distant but only a day's sail. Fallback plans allowed for stopping at the Falmouth Estuary or maybe the Isles of Scilly for a day or two. In the meantime pressing on as far as
could sensibly be achieved with the weather in progress was the plan. After all it was the summer and such forecasts sometimes fizzled out to become nothing more than a minor glitch in the established pattern. Hope was being firmly grasped by all aboard.
A moderate Easterly wind, although from astern and favourable, was too light to rely on for best progress ahead of a threatened change in the weather. Motorsailing, with its constant drone became the compromise choice between speed and conserving fuel. Spruce was already well past Portland and the last of the ebb (outgoing tide - favourable) was still with us. Sailing under Hydrovane self steering control was not working; the wind direction was all over the place and wind-strength varied enormously giving little stability in which to tune the equipment. The electronic steering magic box stepped into the breach and performed well, the extra current drain not an issue with the engine running; continuously charging the batteries. More forecasts of Northerly 5-7 at the western end of the Channel. It was becoming clear we would need to take a stop somewhere before crossing the Celtic Sea to Eire. A refuge that provided shelter from weather from the North was required.
Other Channel landmarks came into view and steadily disapeared astern. Start Point. Eddystone Lighthouse. Lizard Point, the satellite dishes of Goonhilly Down visible in the distance. We wanted to reach our goal of the West coast of Ireland in one hop but the forecast of N-NW 5-6-7s for Saturday had firmed up. Our decision was to stop at the Isles of Scilly until it blew over. Options for safe anchorages included Porth Cressa, on the South side of St Mary's or The Cove, a bay on the south side between the islands of Agnes and Gugh. As the wind had been from the South East and East for some time a series of waves from that direction were running down the channel towards the Scillies. Would that make the viable anchorages sheltered from northerly winds untenable when we needed
to stop? Time would tell!
Friday afternoon saw us past Lands End and running down towards the Scillies under full main and boomed out genoa, getting used to an exaggerated rolling again... Oh bliss! The memories of previous years come flooding back... and only three weeks to endure if we evetually cross the Atlantic. We had so far motor-sailed most of the way due to little apparent wind with coming from well aft of the beam. Making good only 5 knots but it was so much of a relief to quieten the squealing donkey in the bowels of our little green boat. With only twenty miles now remaining to make the Scillies a reduction in progress could be afforded in the interest of peace
and sanity. Past Wolf Rock and only 16 miles from St Agnes. The forecast still telling grim tales of a Force 5-7 from the North tomorrow, no weather for two "elderly" retired folk to be bashing to windward across the Celtic Sea. Would our cunning plan to hole up in "The Cove" until the promised SW wind came about in a day or two and allow us to head off to visit the Leprechauns and the Emerald Isle.
Our new acquisition, a water maker, had been run up during the morning and made 12 gallons of something purer than the alimentary system is used to. The system seemed to be getting some air into the intake on the rolls so might need a booster pump after-all. It was not clear where this might be shoehorned into the boat. A problem to be added to the ongoing list and resolved at a later date.
The Cove proved unsuitable due to swell but Porth Cressa on the South Coast of St Mary's was a welcome stopping point. We dropped anchor with 5.4m under the keel; ours the only keel in the bay. Other keels soon appeared and we became one of 5 vessels waiting out the impending northerly winds. During three days in Porth Cressa we enjoyed the company of John and Tracey aboard a Contessa 32, "Tiptoe". Along with their trusty ship's dog, Barty, they were heading away from the madding Solent crowds and planning to base Tiptoe in a Scottish cruising ground from Ardfern for a period. They too needed other than northerlies for their planned destination of either Wales or the East Coast of Ireland.
A pleasant couple of days were spent reaquainting ourselves with the isles of Scilly, last visited in 2006 upon our return from a 3-week holiday to Ireland.