Dunkers - Milford Haven to La Coruna
02 October 2010 | La Coruna, Galicia. Spain
Milford Haven to La Coruna
With my buddy, Jim, as crew we finally left Milford Marina on Wednesday 8th September and motored up to Dale, at the entrance to the Haven and picked up a mooring there. The forecast was still very iffy so it wasn't until Sunday at lunchtime that we slipped and headed out to sea.
The wind was NW 5 and we were soon cranking along at 5 kts heading SW to a point which would mean we could turn south direct for La Coruna and be well to the west of the main shipping lanes.
After a few hours, however, the wind backed until it was right on the nose and the best course we could make was 90 degrees off the one we wanted. The wind strength also increased to force 7 and the sea got up very quickly too. The boat was behaving well but progress was slow.
Subsequent forecasts were still SW 5 to 7 but the 1200 forecast on Monday gave it increasing to gale 8. As we had only made about 50 miles south I decided to turn back and wait for better conditions. We set a course back to Dale and then had a long eleven hour sail fighting the wheel all the way. The wind and sea were on the port quarter and the boat yawed over 60 degrees each way on the course. It was quite an effort to keep her going in the right direction but we clawed the miles back eventually. I
dropped the mainsail in order to stop her flying up into wind and that made life a little easier and carried on with just about three quarters of the genoa out.
Eventually the sun set and as it got dark I could see St Ann's Head light guiding us into the Haven. It became a very dark night as there was complete cloud cover and no moon to even lighten that. We got into Dale anchorage about 2300 and then found that the furling genoa had a riding turn and could not be fully furled. This meant turning the boat into wind and taking down the sail and not allowing it to get go over the side to fill with water. A very hectic half hour followed but eventually we got the sail down and tied to the guard rails so that it was secure. I wanted to go over to the west side of the bay to be in the lee of the land but it was as black as pitch and even my very powerful spotlight couldn't give us enough light to risk going through the moored boats to pick up a mooring. So we anchored and spent a rolly night where we were. Despite it blowing hard my new 20kg anchor held and was a good test of its holding power.
The following morning we retrieved the anchor and motored to the other side of the bay. Here, on a mooring, we found the motion much more comfortable and were able to sort out the troublesome genoa furling gear and furl the sail properly. Meanwhile the weather continued to be pretty awful with no sign of a let up for at least a couple of days. So we spent Tuesday on the mooring catching up on sleep and soon had a tidy boat once more. We decided to go into the marina in Milford Haven to top up with water and fresh food. There was also the draw a long hot showers to entice us even further.
So at 1000 on Wednesday morning we dropped the mooring and motored into Milford with quite a stiff breeze and the tide helping us along. An hour later we were secure in a berth only about 20 yards from my old berth of four years. A very long hot shower followed after which a well earned pint was sunk.
A study of the weather charts indicated that the following afternoon the weather would be much more favourable to us with the wind veering round to the northwest and decreasing to a 3 to 5. So at 1230 the next day, Thursday 16th September, we slipped from H pontoon and motored through the lock back into the Haven. An hour later we hoisted the main, unfurled the genoa and stopped the engine. Five minutes later we passed St Ann's Head and headed out into the open sea. The motion was comfortable and we were able to make our Swly course at nearly 5 knots. The sky was clear and visibility was good and we soon settled into sea going routine.
We were able to do long watches but the beautiful star lit nights with no light pollution meant that there were not arduous. By 0500 on Friday the wind began to ease so I set the mizzen and let out the whole genoa. The sea was now much calmer than a few days previously and the weather was set to be fair, excellent conditions for us.
During the day the wind back slightly so we had to tack for a while and then resume our starboard tack later in the day. There was a bright half moon that night which made again for a pleasant night's sailing. By the following morning we had passed our waypoint and we were able to head south towards our goal of La Coruna. We couldn't quite make this course but a few degrees to the east of it. However, I was happy with this as we would eventually see the coast of Spain and then tack to the west to round the north west corner.
At times the wind died almost completely so we hoisted the "iron jib" and motored until the wind filled in again. At other times the wind got up and we had to put reefs in the sails. It was a mixed passage with some really good sailing with alternate periods of motoring. We had some quite close encounters with ships who were obviously not keeping a good lookout, or in fact any lookout at all. This often meant that when I was below trying to catch up on sleep Jim would have to call me because of vessels being on a steady bearing and therefore liable to be on a collision course. Also as we got closer to Spain we were mixing with dozens of trawlers which are a law unto themselves. We would alter course to go round them and then they would turn through 180 degrees and have another go at trying to take us out. This kept us both very vigilant especially during the night watches
On the evening of the fifth day at sea we could see shore lights as it got dark. As the night wore on the lighthouse on Punta de la Estaca de Bares could be seen winking its guiding light, a very welcome sight. The wind was very light all night so we were motoring for the last few miles. Just after dawn we noticed that there was water in the bilge. Initially I thought that it may have been due to me not pumping the bilge for several days but after we had got all the water out it became obvious that there was water coming in. My first thought was that it was a leaking stern gland but lifting the engine room hatch proved that this was not the case. It looked as if it was coming in through the bolts where the zinc sacrificial anode entered the hull. The pump was coping ok so we carried on. La Coruna bay gradually opened up and soon, through the murk we could see the Tower of Hercules the oldest Roman working lighthouse in the world. We headed into the bay and at 1030 we berthed alongside in Marina Darsena La Coruna. It had been a tiring passage with just two of us to man the boat and sort out the few problems with the furling gear, which played up a few times and the normal maintenance jobs. Jim was the star as he cooked every meal and did all the washing up to. This left me free to do the sailory things like navigation, dodging tankers and trawlers and posing with my white ducks, blazer and cravat with my telescope under my arm with my monocle balanced precariously in my eye. Seriously though we worked well as a team and Jim was such great help.
After we had checked in at the marina we both headed for the bathrooms for long showers and change into clean clothes - what a joy. Back at the boat we checked the bilge and found that very little was now seeping in. So it was off to find beer and lunch. There it was right in the marina so we had only a few paces to walk, which suited us fine. Needless to say we had an early night as we were both suffering from a severe lack of sleep.
We found the cause of the leak, it was the water pump on the engine spewing water everywhere. Its now ashore being fixed, I hope and should be back in a few days time to be refitted and tested in situ.
Jim is flying home in a couple of day's time and then, assuming that I have a working engine, I shall begin the slow job of moving south bit by bit. I hope to spend a few days in some of the rias which occur from here to the Portuguese border where I can anchor for nothing and not have to pay for expensive marina fees.
As for La Coruna, its very interesting city. The gardens along the front are beautifully kept and there is very little litter and crap about. There are lots of little alleyways to explore and we have found everyone we have met to be extremely friendly and helpful. I'm very much a country boy these days but I do like this city. One downside is that prices in Spain seem to be very expensive these days. I was hoping that the cost of living would be less than UK but on the contrary food in the supermarkets is at times eye watering. Whether its cheaper in the Costas I've no idea but its time to be very frugal.
I hope to be off the Camarinas in a few days time, only a day sail, and then round Cape Finisterre and south.