Our good friends William and Claire Philpot were in Bayona aboard their palatial Moody 40 Melos 11 and were due to make their way back towards home. We agreed to meet at the marina at Pobra do Caraminal in the Ria de Arosa where they would book us a berth. So we left Camarinas at 0700 GMT to do the 50 or so miles to Ria de Arosa. The wind was from exactly where we wanted to go and now being cruisers on a budget we did our best to sail to the destination, two very long tacks later we decided to motor the last 10 miles to the Ria as we were going to take the shortcut between the islands. I had watched the local boats with AIS slip through and put a couple of waypoints to mark their track, however this is not something you want to attempt in low light conditions hence the use of the motor. We threaded our way through the sharp bits hoping that the vessels I had watched go through on the plotter were not surfboards. The depth held and we passed close to a starboard marker and noted that the port hand marker indicated on our brand new up to date paper chart and the plotter chart was missing, this is why we do not like to do these things min the dark!
We arrived at Pobra and parked next to Melos without removing any gelcoat which is always a good start to any meet. Bill and Claire were in fine form and seemed genuinely pleased to see us, we hit the town and sampled the vino and had tapas. The tapas we had was fried squid, octopus and cuttlefish all very nice, through the cuttlefish looked a bit dark and gooey! Plans were hatched to anchor out for the following evening which we did and once we had wrestled the boards in the bottom of the tender and blown it up we were mobile and did a shopping run to the local Gaddis supermarket. The supermarket is so close to the beach that even Karen's throw would see a stone land on the foreshore, this makes it ideal as you can drag the dingy up the beach do the shopping and then dingy back to the boat without walking miles fully laden, perfect!
The evening went well and we cooked aboard Pampero, tuna cooked three ways as we still have a fridge full. Claire noting that the first lot was underdone the second lot overdone and the third lot done just right. Upon eating the third offering she exclaimed "I knew you would get it right eventually".
The next day we were to make a move to Escrabote which is only a couple of miles through the Vivaros which are the mussel farming rafts that are frequent in this Ria. The anchorage is great, only three boats in it! A superb meal was served aboard Melos and the evening must have gone well as I could not remember the plan for the following day upon waking the next morning. We explored had coffee and found a Wi Fi signal that worked.
Bill and Claire had enough of us and this was to be our last evening of company, we all went for a swim and then had Chinese style chicken curry which went down well. We waved them off in the morning realising that it would be over a year until we could swap stories face to face.
Saturday 13th July
Karen was tasked with working out a suitable watch system for the rapidly approaching night, I know this is a bit late and unseamanlike to have waited until now but it had never previously been necessary. After much discussion we looked in a book and modified a watch system from a Swedish chap that seemed to fit the bill.
For those that are the slightest bit interested here it is.
Day 1 Day 2
1:00-5:00 4 hours Karen Stew
5:00-10:00 5 hours Stew Karen
10:00-16:00 6 hours Karen Stew
16:00-21:00 5 hours Stew Karen
21:00-01:00 4 hours Karen Stew
As the evening approached and the sun went down I handed the watch to Karen at 21:00, I admit with slight trepidation. Our whole adventure really depended on both being able to take watches within their stride whatever happens.
I needn't have worried as when we did the handover at 01:00 Karen reported that it had been a magical night, although the wind had dropped from its 12 knots to a more frustrating 7knots. The stars had been bright as there was little in the way of light pollution out here. Apart from our nav lights that are a real distraction. As we were sailing we could run our masthead tricolour which would save 3 amps (unit of power , very important akin to computer game gold as we are not plugged into the national grid and it is needed, though not vital onboard).But at some time during the rigging replacement perhaps, the lenses had been turned round so our port red was facing to our stern where the white sector should be so we would appear to be going through the water sideways, not good. So we had to use the normal deck level lights which uses three bulbs not one and reflects off all surfaces in the cockpit, this is perhaps a slight exaggeration but it is irksome.
However Karen's first night watch had been a success and she actually enjoyed it, whether this was because of the whole experience or the fact that she could indulge in a few crafty tabs while I was not around to comment, I do not know. I do remember waking with a bit of a start thinking that the boat was on fire but was much relieved when I recognised that it was a Mayfair on fire from a dwindling pack of 20. Perhaps it was the night watch that Karen enjoyed or it could have been the solitude and the break from the captain's eye.
My watch was uneventful and I spent most of it looking at the stars in the sky and the phosphorescence in the water.
Sunday 14th July
The sun came up and the wind died so we spent an agonising hour trying to coax forward motion from a zephyr of wind. The swell kept spilling any wind there was out of the sails, they were slatting and banging all the time. Although the sound is off putting the thought of the perceived damaged to our precious sails rubs salt into the wound. Eventually we give in and started the motor justifying the diesel use by saying the money can come from Karen's car boot sale stash, this was agreed to with much wailing and gnashing of teeth. I did sympathise as this money had been hard earned by countless early car boot sale mornings, earning the hourly equivalent of a spotty youth's starting wage at the golden arches. The motor thrummed away and it was hot, damn hot!
Mid afternoon watch I was startled by a splash in an otherwise benign sea, after a scan around went back to daydream mode only to hear it again, but much closer. I was quicker this time and caught the miscreant torpedo shape fleeing from the scene. We had dolphins, not the specks in the distance that we had at Falmouth but about seven or eight, it is difficult to count as they keep swapping places. The dolphins swam under the boat to ride so close to the bow (belly in) to the hull that you would swear that they were stuck on though they were not touching! There seemed no reason to their antics, they were doing it purely for fun, chasing and jumping and having a whale of a time. I needed to take some photographs but first I had to unpack from its cocoon my recent birthday Nikon, this took considerable time! I woke Karen as I thought that the experience would justify the intrusion of off watch time, I was right. We watched the dolphins; though taking pictures was akin to clay pigeon shooting when you do not know where the trap is. The best technique was to point the camera where you think the dolphin will do something, let the autofocus do the work and shoot lots. If it were a film camera we would have to have won the lottery to get the processing done. We took turns laying at the bow a mere couple of feet away from these playful animals as they jostled and swapped bow positions. They were gone and this was our first dolphin experience, every cruiser must have hundreds of these encounters but this was our first and I will never forget it. Perhaps we humans should learn something here as these creatures were having real community fun without Playstation or using vast amounts of fossil fuels (V8 sold and motorbike mothballed and stored (thanks Jim)).
Monday15th of July
Yipee! The wind is back and the cruising chute goes up, we are belting along at between 5.8 and 6.1 knots which is good for our heavily laden, heavy displacement boat in cruising mode and we are making great progress towards or destination of northwest Spain.
Some would say that our lack of firm destination is a lack of planning but we have learnt the hard way that you need to take into account all possible scenarios of wind, tide and weather. We have on occasion pushed comfortable limits to stick to the plan on a two week cruise; Karen has always said that it was not following a plan but plain pig headedness. Now without the pressure to be back behind the desk we are able to form the plan according to the conditions and have found it much more comfortable. It was previously unthinkable to reduce sail and speed to make eating lunch more of a pleasant experience. No more chasing your potatoes around the cockpit floor or throwing your tea over the side to save time and mess rather than it being steadily spilt in the cockpit.
During the last couple of years I have been reading about fishing from a sailboat. The Cruisers Handbook of Fishing by Scott and Wendy Bannerot never far from my bedside table. I have, I admit spent large sums of money on 'essential' items of fishing tackle and associated paraphernalia often with the plaintiff justification that Scott has said we need it, even going to great lengths to hide illicit purchases. It has not been unknown for size 8/0 Aberdeen pattern stainless hooks to drop out of some books that we needed to take. I tried the often used female tactic of 'that old thing I have had it ages' and can confirm that it does not work with fishing gear especially if it is still in the packet.
Anyway I spent some time rigging two trolling lines one all singing and dancing affair using my huge penn 9/0 rail mounted reel the other a homemade affair using a very weary Eddystone eel on a handline. I sent these over the side and watched them in the wake. When Karen came on watch she said "have you not caught anything yet?" with a slight raising of an eyebrow and that was it, I felt that I had been slapped. I then proceeded with excuses that this was just a practise and that I was making sure that the lures were the right distance from the boat and that they were making the right noise and trails to attract fish when there were some available to be caught. I then went on about the fact that this is Biscay darling and it has been overfished by all adjoining nations. Explaining in a very condescending way that all the news about French, Spanish and British fishing fleets squabbling over the scraps that remain is a good indicator that I am unlikely to catch anything worthwhile. I retreated into the galley to make a brew and try to unruffled the feathers of this great white hunter!
An hour or so later Karen said "I think there may be a fish on your line as I just saw a flash in the water and your hand line has gone tight". How cruel can a woman be? Teasing me in this way is just not cricket. I did think that the line was tight and it was moving from side to side so I gave it a tentative tug and it was solid. Fish on! There was definitely something heavy on the end of the line and I started to haul it in, which was hard work as we were going at 6 knots with the cruising chute up. The gloves arrived and I had half the hand line in when the rail mounted real started screaming and my precious line was disappearing in the wake at an alarming rate. With one hand I tightened the star drag right up on the reel and this slowed the line considerably. Back to the hand line, we could now see some colour in the water and there was a fish and indeed it was larger than a mackerel. Close to the boat and the realisation was that we had a tuna. Getting it on board was the next step and I asked Karen to get me the gaff from the forepeak, which one she retorted, the red one I shouted. I complained about the time taken to fetch the gaff and Karen's reply was that the red gaff was at the bottom and she was hit by the avalanche of my hastily stashed fishing gear, fair point, I had to concede. Both fish were gaffed and hauled aboard! Easy to write but harder to do!
Scott had mentioned in his book that you have to bleed tuna for fine blood free sushi grade fish! Right, this is what I proceeded to do with tail cuts and pectoral cuts, the cockpit resembled a scene from the Texas chainsaw massacre, if you can remember that far back. By the time the fish were filleted and in the fridge and the mess was cleaned from the cockpit and surrounding areas several hours had elapsed. Exhausted we both sat down with a brew, Karen looked at me and said" no fish in Biscay eh!" I said nothing, there was nothing I could say but take my punishment and look a bit sheepish though I must add this was one happy sheep! "No fishing lines out until we have eaten what is in the fridge" was the order from the crew.
Early afternoon we heard a loud bang and then lots of flapping, the line tying the cruising chute corner (clew) to the bow fitting had parted due to chafe. The chute now resembled a large flag, very pretty but doing little for forward motion. The sail was recovered and a thicker rope used, though I am going to have to give the arrangement some thought to prevent this re-occurring .
Tuesday 16th July
The wind held and increased to be gusting about 20 knots from the northeast though this is a good wind speed, it is right up the chuff and this makes the boat roll. We bear away a few degrees to make the ride more comfortable though this does mean a less direct course.
I start to plan the rough arrival time and realise that at our present speed we would be making landfall very early on Wednesday morning in the dark. This is not really good practise, once you have been to a place then you remember the layout and it does not seem to matter how long ago this is, you think that you have forgotten but things start to fall into place. However we had not been to Spain by boat so decided that we would slow down to make landfall an hour or so after sun up. So we reduced sail and just had half the genoa up. The wind increased and so did our speed, we reduced sail again and tried to keep at about 4 knots. Eventually we had just an embarrassing scrap of sail up and set badly. I was glad it was getting dark as if any other sailboat had spotted us our apparent lack of seamanship in the sail handling department would have been an embarrassment. If we had been seen by a French boat I would have been forced to take down the ensign to save national pride!
The sun was going down and sea slightly ominous, a large swell had picked up due to a wind over tide situation and the odd dollop of Biscay joined us in the cockpit. Karen's sudden exclamation had my attention, pointing into the gloom we saw the fin and flukes of a whale, we do not know what sort of whale it was but I secretly hoped that it would not wish to play with our boat as the dolphins had done! It disappeared leaving a large eddy swirling on the surface I hope our next whale encounter is in the daylight.
Wednesday 17th July
Both Karen and I spent the night dodging fishing vessels and were glad to be now closing the coast. We spotted the Cabo Villano lighthouse and sailed to the first of our waypoints that would take us to Camarinas marina. The waypoints that I had got from the pilot book took us a little closer than I would have liked so I moved them away from the sharp bits. Each to his own, but I like my entry waypoints to be in the middle as far as possible from any dangers, even if this means a greater distance ,as the next time you use them it could be rough ,foggy and after a 20 hour passage.
We closed the marina at approx 06:45 and looked for a space there was one on a hammerhead but as there were much bigger boats on the other two I did not want to be asked to move as soon as the port captain woke up. Instead we chose a spot starboard to with an unyielding concrete slipway close by, I would never usually berth in a spot like this as it would be difficult to get out of. Part of the reason for this is that the Nicholson 35 does not like reversing and goes where she wants to, you just have to get used to this and make allowances. We went for the spot tied up and I started to fret that with this wind if we are asked to move it is going to result in a loss of gel coat. Karen told me not to worry yet and said that the Spanish are going to be even more laid back than the French. Karen was right, the port captain ambled up, gave us a form to fill in and asked us to bring the completed form to his office ( read shed) all this was in perfect Spanish but we got the gist and nodded enthusiastically. After filling out the form we visited the office armed with all the documents that the guidebook said we would need. The port captain eyed the folder and obviously not wanting to read the Spanish translation of our insurance handed us a receipt asking for the reasonable sum of 26 Euros for 2 nights gave us the shower key and that was it. A quite painless experience!
07/18/2013, Hamble to Falmouth
So today Wednesday 9th July at half past sparrow fart in the morning we set sail on our adventure.
Delayed by nothing really, except a wish to do all the jobs on board, whether or not they were really necessary. Perhaps a subconscious anchor to our old lives and a slight trepidation of what lay ahead.
Pampero slid down the river Hamble for the last time for what we hope will be over a year. The Hamble had been her home for the last three years and it was with unexpected sadness that we left Calshot Spit bouy just to port and dawdled before the wind to catch the tidal gate at Hurst Narrows. Taking our preference of the North Channel out of the Solent and towards Weymouth where we would meet my father (Tom) and Rita for a farewell meal and a few drinks. The sail to Weymouth was uneventful from the absence of wind and the steak I had once we got there. The company was good and the wine of an acceptable quality as my father generously volunteered to picked up the tab , no house red for, us oh no!
We fuelled up in the morning and headed for Falmouth which was to be our shakedown cruise, but after rounding Portland Bill the wind again dropped and we found ourselves unable to make two knots. We sparked up the iron mainsail and motored for the next 17 hours to Falmouth it was hard to keep awake but also hard to sleep with the noise and vibration. Thank God we retired the Perkins 4108 which although a good engine sounded like a cement mixer full of spanners and wept oil from the crankshaft oil seal.
Falmouth was pretty but confusing, maybe it was the fact that we were both tired but neither Karen or myself could remember Tom Cunliffes' words of wisdom from the pilot book that we had been reading for the last 10 years! Once we had found a vacant bouy I crashed!
Awake at about midday we topped off the tanks ready for departure moved the boat to a more convenient bouy and went ashore and indulged in a pasty and washed this down with a pint of Bettie Stot ale at the Chain Locker, which went down very well, what a talented woman she must be.
Saturday dawned and we went ashore for a final shower. Here I feel technology is not always a leap forward but rather stumbles around looking for an application. The showers are controlled by little sensor pads and a timer. Accidently touch the control pad and either you get roasted or a cold blast. Coupled with the fact that after stepping out of the shower it continued showering after I towelled down, dressed and left the cubicle. Give me good quality manual controls every time. Perhaps this is just me and I should embrace technology more, but I never really felt winding down the windows in the car a chore and could not understand the fuss about electric ones.
Anyway we downloaded the latest grib files from the ether via Karen's Ipad (now that's what I call useful technological advancement) the picture was not good, the wind, you see was not playing ball, there was none, and we were in two minds whether to go or stay. We went and for the first 3 hours motored until we detected a slight breeze. Off went the motor and we were sailing albeit at 3.5 knots but it was great.
Just a little note from the crew wanted to mention the Dolphins that were playing (all be it a way off so no photos sorry) about an hour out of Falmouth, surely this can only be an oman for good times ahead! And also to leave you with a picture of Stew doing the washing on passage from Weymouth to Falmouth in just his socks!!