Rabat and Lanzarote
28 September 2018 | Arrecife, Lanzarote, Canary Islands
Barbara/hot and windy
We will have had more than a year for this trip – bringing Sequoia home from Europe – and yet it seems like we’re rushing from place to place, with little time to see the sights in each place. Folks who are truly full-time cruisers – who have no deadline for getting somewhere – can theoretically stay as long as they wish wherever they are. Of course that isn’t really true – Countries have deadlines for how long you can stay, and weather conditions often dictate that you shouldn’t be where you are. Health concerns can send you home to get the medical care you need.
We spent a week in Rabat, the capital of Morocco. As noted in our previous blog post, part of the stay was designated for convalescence from our mutual episode of travelers’ diarrhea, likely caused by some food we shouldn’t have eaten, or water we shouldn’t have drunk. Once we were back to full health, there were a number of boat chores that prevented us from getting out and sightseeing much. But to be honest, just doing business in such an unfamiliar place is an opportunity to learn a lot about it, and to see interesting things.
We ran out of the Spanish water in our tanks, so we had to take on water in each of our two ports in Morocco. (The watermaker is not working at the moment; that’s another story). Each of the marinas assured us that the water piped to the docks is fine to drink, but some of the cruisers were not so sanguine about it. The best advice seemed to be to add a bit of chlorine bleach to kill any possible bugs.
In Rabat we went off in search of a) bleach, and b) paper test strips to test the concentration of bleach in the tanks. The bleach bottle was easy to find in the nearby medina. You’d think figuring out the dose for the tanks would be a simple question of mathematics, but hang on a second – the bleach bottle was entirely in Arabic, and the only thing we could read in the midst of that was 12°. Hang on, twelve degrees? Is that the same thing as twelve percent? We went up to the harbormaster’s office, and although the English-speaking guy there could read and speak Arabic, he had no idea what twelve degrees meant. I guess dealing with bleach, mostly used for laundry, is women’s work. I looked it up on the internet, and it turns out that the degree system is in use in Belgium and France, and there’s a complex mathematical formula for converting that to grams per 100. Then there’s the uncertainty of how fresh the bleach is, which affects the concentration…. You get the idea. So we determined that we needed test strips.
We located the nearest swimming pool supply store on google maps, but it was the weekend. Repeated calls just rang and rang. Google in Morocco is notoriously out of date and under-supplied with information. We located another store, and this guy actually answered the phone, although our only language in common was French, and we have little enough of that. We decided it had a positive enough sound that we’d give it a try.
The shop was in a distant part of the city, so we took the modern tram part of the way, and then found a rickety taxi for the remainder. The guy in the marina wrote down the name of the street in Arabic. That was a help, because the cab driver didn’t speak any language we did. The trip took us through newer parts of the city, including beautifully landscaped parks and grounds in the area near the royal palace. When we arrived, it was on a wide boulevard cut through an older part of the city. We located the store by its crudely hand-painted sign on the wall: “Aqua Cristal”. It was a narrow, cramped shop, maybe 100 square feet in size, with an elderly guy ensconced at one end, talking with his buddies. There were modern pool supplies, including filters, fittings, pumps, chemicals and pool toys stacked high up the walls on each side, many beyond reach without a stepstool. The buddies moved aside quickly and offered me the only chair to sit on.
Turned out the guy had no paper test strips, and he gave us a long story in French about how he’d been trying to get them. Then Craig asked about a test kit – yes he had that, but Craig would need to climb up and get it. 50 dirham (about $5), just the thing! Whew – we concluded our business, exchanged pleasantries as best we could, and made our way back out onto the street.
We stopped at a café then, despite my initial reluctance. The people sitting in the café (there must have been 50 or 75 of them) were 100% men. No women whatsoever. No women servers. Was it even proper for me to sit there? We did, and had fine cups of café au lait. All the men – mostly alone – sat at their little tables and stared at their phones. Groups of women walked by on the street with nary a glance at the occupants of the café.
On the way back to the boat, we had the taxi driver drop us at the Hassan Tower, which we’d been seeing from the marina across the river. At night it’s lighted beautifully, although it becomes more ordinary in sunlight. It’s not a tower you can climb, but it’s adjacent to a vast, carefully maintained ruin of a mosque. To gain entry to the area, you go through a gate, between two uniformed guards mounted on horses. The matched horses apparently have to stand there for hours in their little sandboxes. The guards are talkative (unlike the palace guards in many other countries) and are glad to have their pictures taken with visitors. Beyond the gate, acres of stone pavement are interrupted by periodic columns and pieces of columns. Next to the tower is a gorgeous decorative pool and fountain. Other decorative work around the edges of the area is astonishingly intricate and beautiful.
On the opposite end of the stone-paved area is the mausoleum of King Mohammed V, grandfather of the present King. It is a relatively simple rectangular building, with the marble tomb on the bottom floor, and a walkway around the next floor up. There are guards in each corner, but you are welcome to stop and look as long as you want. The tile work is simply magnificent. Intricate designs are formed not in large tiles, but in tiny pieces which are mortared into place. There is a magnificent rug next to the tomb, and a smaller rug equipped with a microphone and open book (presumably the Quran).
I want to tell you more about Adnane, the fellow who lives on the tiny cabin cruiser next to our slip in Rabat. He was persistent in his offers of help and information, and his inquiries into our well-being. But he was seemingly unconscious about the effect of his radio listening until 3 or 4 in the morning, and we didn’t know how to bring it up to him. One day he offered to bring couscous and some other food his mother had prepared for a special Muslim holiday that involved fasting. (I never did quite work out how the fasting and the couscous would work together…) Apparently, the holiday involved sacrificing a ram, which they did on the rooftop of their apartment building, which he pointed out to me, “right over there.” The next thing we knew, Adnane was insisting on showing us video on his phone of the whole sacrifice ceremony, including spurting blood and cleaning up pools of blood afterwards. The flat roof of the apartment building was painted orange-red, so maybe the whole purpose of the rooftop was to host such things???
Adnane brought around two different women he called “my girlfriend.” One was only about 18 and still lived with her parents. (Adnane is perhaps 40 years old). She was quite beautiful, going through some crisis, and Adnane appeared to be providing emotional support. We think in this case the girlfriend was a young person he was attempting to mentor, rather than having any sort of sexual attraction. The second girlfriend was perhaps 35, and Adnane confided that this was the woman he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. She lives in France with her three children, and only occasionally comes back to visit. It’s not clear how that could work out.
One evening we invited Adnane and one of the girlfriends to join us for dinner. He was a most gracious guest, glad to be welcomed aboard our boat, and full of curiosity.
We learned that Adnane, who clearly has a lot of problems, is on a disability pension. His former job was as a waiter to the King. For 18 years he prepared the beverages for the King, a highly prestigious job. He told us all about what sorts of smoothies the King liked to have for breakfast. Then one day, Adnane fainted, fell backwards and cracked open his skull, apparently due to untreated high blood pressure. He was in a coma for 5 days, was rehabilitated and came back to work, but was unable to continue. His personality changed, his wife divorced him and he has lost touch with his kids. The King provided him with a pension, so he is able to support himself by occasionally taking visitors or families for outings on his boat. Wow, what a life history!
After a week in Rabat we were finally ready to go. At high tide there were “personal watercraft” races on the river. Machines went by at a high speed, wending their way around a course along the river. The marina’s pilot boat led us out across the course, between the racers and then toward the ocean. We went past the fishing boats, the modern condominiums and the forts and palaces where the Barbary Pirates once held sway.
It was a three day/three night passage to our next destination, the island of Lanzarote, part of the Canary Islands. We never had much wind, and at times we were navigating through thick fog. On the plus side, the middle night was full moon, so we had plenty of light all three nights to help the nighttime visibility. I was able to make most of the passage food ahead of time, so we had a pretty easy time in the galley department. We read our Kindles and listened to podcasts while keeping an eye out for ships and fishing boats. The ships generally have AIS transmitters so that their information shows up on our electronic charts. The fishing boats generally don’t, and sometimes they don’t even generate a radar reflection. That makes for some tense moments.
After three days of motorsailing (we get pretty sick of the motor noise) we finally arrived in Arrecife, the capitol of Lanzarote. It appears to be a volcanic desert island, with low groupings of buildings and not much green except for city parks. We were greeted by our friends Kris and David of S/V Taipan, who had preceded our arrival by three days. I was glad to be back in a country where I could actually sort of speak the local language. (The Canaries are part of Spain). Things became easier to understand. The strict Muslim dress rules for women no longer applied. Big sigh of relief!
The first day involved a lot of sleeping, and then we made our way into the City for our first excursion: checking in with the police and getting our passports stamped. We got directions from the marina office (“yes of course you can go there by bicycle”). The directions were fine as far as they went, and then the bike path ended at a locked gate. The other choice was a gravel/sand road into a nautical garbage dump. We could see the likely buildings where the police station would be, but there appeared to be no direct way to get there. We chose the dirt road, which proved to be a challenge for our Brompton bikes with their tiny tires (two bike falls). The road headed past old boat hulks and skeletons of windmills, all surrounded by fields of lava and lava gravel. When the pavement finally started up, it took us past garbage transfer stations, recycling and various other industrial operations, and finally to the edge of a highway. We stopped to ask directions and finally made it to the police station.
Of course no one was there, despite it being during their marked open hours. There was a number to call, and two fellows finally did show up. They were very nice, even though we probably interrupted their lunch hour. They ceremoniously stamped us in to the Canaries, saying it was important to know that we were still in Europe, and that we would need to get an exit stamp when we left “Europe” (the Canaries for us, but also possibly – for others – in the Azores or Madiera).
Getting back to the marina involved reversing the previous route, although we did make a couple of stops – once for lunch, and another time to wade in the water at a nice little beach along the way. When we returned, of course, we were completely exhausted and spent the rest of the hot afternoon napping.
Today we invited Kris and David to join us for a trip to the Fundacion Manrique, a museum celebrating the art and architecture of César Manrique, a man who is perhaps the spiritual father of the island. He was a friend and contemporary of Picasso, Miró and other early twentieth-century artists, and their work was featured in one of the rooms. Prior to becoming a museum, the building was Manrique’s home. The lower level is built in room-sized lava bubbles, some of which are entirely enclosed, and some open to the sky at the top. Manrique connected them together with tunnels which are now painted white (like much of the building above). The bubbles house pools, exotic plants, big seating areas and art displays. It reminds one of the luxurious underground rooms seen in the James Bond movie, Dr. Who. The upper level consists of big rooms with views over the surrounding lava flow landscape. Surrounding the building are amazing desert gardens featuring Manrique’s sculptures and mosaics, along with native and exotic plants. There are quiet cool corners everywhere, and it makes you want to stop, sit, and think profound or not-so-profound but relaxing thoughts.
Tomorrow we’ll move on to Gran Canaria, where we’ll leave the boat for a few weeks while we head home and take care of some important things (like voting!). So I will leave you here, dear reader, and I wish you all the best.
Craig & Barbara Johnston
Impressions of Morocco
19 September 2018 | Rabat, Morocco
Barbara/hot and humid
In Chefchaouen, the incredible Blue City, we evidently had something bad to eat or drink. Our goal of leaving Tangier on Saturday went by the wayside, and we spent the day instead dealing with – well, you know, no need to describe it. Feeling a bit better on Sunday morning, we decided to make the 120-mile overnight passage to Rabat, the capitol of Morocco. The passage would take us briefly out into the Straits of Gibraltar, and then, turning the corner, another 100 miles down the coast of Africa.
You may recall in my last blog post I described the crossing of the Straits as something that should not be done without careful examination of tide and current forecasts, because of the Levanter phenomenon which can build to 30-35 knots and can become dangerous in adverse currents. When we crossed before we had none of that. I’ll describe it a bit, since I had written about the dangers, but said nothing about our actual crossing. (Thank you to one of my dear readers for pointing that out!)
In fact, the crossing of the Straits of Gibraltar between Cádiz and Tangier was a complete non-event. So much so that I didn’t even think about it when writing the blog. It took about 7 hours motoring; although it was hazy, you could see both Spain and Africa all the way across. We had 0-7 knots of wind, mostly from behind. We tried to put the jib out, but mostly it fluttered. The most exciting part was dodging the multiple freighters in both directions. The AIS says (for example) the closest point of approach will be .3 miles in 8 minutes and it looks like the danged ship is coming right at you, and you have no idea whether the closest point of approach will cross your bow, or cross behind you. Heart in mouth, you stay on course (that’s what the freighter is counting on, after all), and they DO cross behind you. (Craig has since pointed out to me that the AIS can be set so that it shows the projected course of the scary freighter. We’ll be changing that setting!)
Returning to our Sunday trip down the coast to Rabat: After clearing the police and immigration inspection at the marina, we headed out into the Straits of Gibraltar, where a Levanter wind was building. The wind curved around the point at Cape Spartel, lessened a bit and gave us a lovely broad reach for several hours as we headed south. Blowing off the land at 18-28 knots, there was almost no wave action and the sailing was terrific. Eventually though, the wind became light and varied, and by sundown we were motoring.
As visibility became worse, the fishing boats came out. We had heard that they fish in groups, stretching huge nets between them. So spotting the groups was critical. The radar sometimes helped, but I swear, some of those boats are wearing radar invisibility cloaks. Throughout the night we continued to see pinpricks of light that would grow into brilliantly lit fishing boats, but never registered a dot on our radar.
The fascinating show of the night was lightning ashore over the High Atlas Mountains. For 5-6 hours, we were seeing more than one strike per second off in the distance. Craig said it reminded him of a Star Wars space battle. Interestingly, the sky was completely clear over the ocean; the disturbances appear to have been created by the mountains themselves.
We needed to arrive at Rabat at high tide (8 am), so that there would be enough depth to get into the Bouregreg River. The marina sent out a pilot boat to guide us in past an old fort/castle, scary rocks sticking out of the water, hundreds of open fishing boats, docks teeming with people and ominous floaters of bubbly brown sludge. (New rule: wash hands after every instance of touching a dock line!)
After going through a one-hour customs/police sequence, we were taken to our slip by the same pilot boat. Unfortunately, we are out on the end of a dock of small boats. All the other cruising boats are two docks away. We usually enjoy socializing with other cruisers, but this gives us an opportunity to get to know the owners of some of the smaller boats around us. Adnan, from the 15 foot sport fishing boat next to us, says he spends all day every day on his little boat here, and in fact he appears to live on the boat. He is anxious to practice his English and tell us the practicalities of getting around in Rabat, and where to buy the supplies we might need.
I want to take this opportunity to pass along some of my impressions of Morocco. The same faithful reader who noticed the lack of any description of crossing the Straits of Gibraltar asked me for more of my impressions, particularly what it’s like being in a Muslim country.
The clothing rules are a bit difficult to figure out. Shorts are definitely not the thing for women, but seemingly OK for men. The stylishly dressed Muslim women are wearing headscarves, but sometimes with form fitting clothing, so you do sort of wonder what’s the point. Some young women are not wearing headscarves, although otherwise conservatively dressed. Older women (and by that I mean 40 or more) are wearing robes with built-in hoods/scarves, with a complete second layer of clothing underneath. I’ve been wearing long pants (difficult in this heat) or a longish skirt and a light (sometimes sleeveless) top, and it seems OK. No one has yelled at me.
Some men won’t talk to me, and some women won’t talk to Craig. At the Tangier marina we were sort of “on display”. The onshore buildings have an open-to-the-public upper level where it seems to be a fashionable family outing to come and stare at the boats and the foreigners. The docks are so closely guarded that no locals are allowed unless they work there. We didn’t see any local boat owners at all in Tangier.
There are calls for prayer at prescribed intervals during the day (first one at 5:30 am). They start with a river of wailing, coming from multiple minarets at the same time. I thought at first that they were recordings, but Adnan assures us that each one is a live person. No one seems to pay any attention. No one stops what they’re doing to run off to pray. However one day I was up at 5:30 am and did notice that there was a big gathering of men onshore, chanting and waving hand-held fireworks around. (looked like marine distress flares to me, but what do I know?)
In Tangier we visited the medina, with its narrow winding streets and tiny shops, all cascading down a steep hillside. We walked up to the top, where we found a restaurant called “Detroit Café”. There was no formal sign, just a handwritten whiteboard which offered “Panoramic Views” and couscous, up two flights of stairs. Then you enter into an airy room, looking down on lush gardens, elaborate carvings on the ceiling and some of the walls, and caged canaries and parakeets on the window sills. We ordered a nice lunch and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere. We talked to a gentleman who turned out to be the owner, and he said that this was a former sultan’s palace, built in the 1600’s. The floor above us had the panoramic view, but the wind was really blowing so we didn’t go up.
We walked downhill into the medina after lunch and found a tiny hole-in-the-wall barber shop where Craig got a very nice haircut for about $5. We were accosted frequently by young men and older men who wanted to show us around, which inevitably involved inviting us into shops. They were all very persistent, although we got pretty good at saying “no”. One said, “What are you looking for?” We told him we were looking for a Moroccan courtesy flag for the boat. He assured us that his shop would have such flags. We allowed him to lead us to his shop. It turned out his shop was a carpet shop – five floors, including two vast spaces where young women make carpets. He took us up to the top floor where there was a gorgeous view of the city. (See the photo at the top of this post), He and his colleagues offered us tea and wanted us to look at this carpet and that carpet. We kept asking about the flag. What’s the price – “Oh we have that for you, just the thing, such a reasonable price, you will be happy.” But what’s the price? “We’ll make you a good price.”
As it turns out, the bag of flags was the last thing we saw, after we turned down (as politely as we could) all the carpets and assorted other souvenirs. Most of the flags were the standard plain red with a green star, but the size we wanted was only available with a yellow crown in addition. We hadn’t seen one like that anywhere. We asked whether that was going to be acceptable for us to fly on the boat, and these guys assured us, no problem, this is a monarchy, etc. etc.
The quoted price when we finally learned it was 150 dh (about $15). We ended up paying 135 dh for the flag (our dock attendant/concierge Halim said we should not have paid more than 20 dh). We walked out of the shop with a huge sigh of relief at just escaping the intense guilt-inducing sales pressure. Halim later told us the flag is a flag of the Royal Marines, but he didn’t think we’d get in trouble for flying it. We’ll see! (Here in Rabat we are two docks away from the Royal Dock. No boats in residence now, but there are armed guards...)
In Rabat we have no dock attendant, but there are plenty of security guards. The marina was built by the king, who is an enthusiastic boater. It is a fine marina, with good facilities onshore, and lovely landscaping up against the river banks. Along two sides of the marina there are shops and restaurants, and it appears to be a major destination for the Rabat residents able to afford it. At night there are families with small children and grandparents, walking back and forth or visiting restaurants. Some of the women are dressed in their finest robes and headscarves, decorated with a bit of bling.
Last night we went to one of the more modest restaurants and spent some time chatting with the owner, who told us a bit about his restaurants and his career. He started life as a fisheries inspector for the government, apparently focusing on foreign ships who fish off Morocco shores. (We asked him about the big groups of boats apparently fishing with one net between them; he told us they are for catching tuna, and showed us illustrations of such nets on his phone.) After he left his job as a fisheries inspector, he went to Quebec for 10 years to get a degree in some aspect of fisheries. When he returned to Morocco, though, he decided to go into the restaurant business, and now owns three restaurants in Rabat, two of them at this marina.
The marina is in the city of Salé, which is across the river from Rabat proper. There is a modern tram which makes frequent stops right outside the marina. Yesterday we made our first outing into Rabat, crossing the river on the tram, continuing to some provisioning errands and another foray into cell phone connectivity (with only partial success).
We plan to stay in Rabat for at least several more days. Then our next passage will likely be all the way to the Canaries – a major milestone in our voyage back to Oregon.
Best wishes to all
Craig & Barbara Johnston
From Europe to Africa
14 September 2018 | Tangier, Morocco
Barbara/cloudy but humid
The last time I wrote a blog entry, we were about to arrive in the southern Spanish city of Cádiz. That was about three weeks ago, and the magnitude of everything we’ve seen, and everything that has happened without my writing about it, is starting to weigh on me. We’re now about to leave Tangier, Morocco, which is only a day’s sail away from Cádiz, but there’s much more distance to it than that. It’s a crossing from Europe to Africa. It’s an entry into a Muslim country, and very different cultural expectations and norms. Plus, it’s a day of sailing that is often not advisable. It is a passage across the Straits of Gibraltar, and there is often a strong east wind, called the “Levanter” that is pouring through the straits, often with resulting heavy seas.
Craig has read about the vagaries of the weather in this area, through nautical fiction based on 18th century maritime history. Both he and Mark Downing, who was then with us, were looking forward to sailing into Gibraltar, seeing the gigantic rock against the sky, and imagining themselves the successors to those 18th century British mariners. Alas, it was not to be. Mark and Fern had a scheduled trip in Morocco, and it didn’t leave time for the wind to calm down sufficiently for us to arrive in Gibraltar before their scheduled departure. So instead, they said goodbye in Cádiz, taking the bus to Gibraltar and a ferry on to Morocco. (Above, exploring Cádiz with Mark & Fern).
We decided to leave the boat in Cádiz for a planned 10 day trip to central Europe. We had train tickets from La Linea (Gibraltar) to Madrid, so we took the same bus there a couple of days after Mark and Fern left us. We took the tram up to the top of the rock, saw the famous macaque monkeys, marveled at the view into the Mediterranean and into the Atlantic from the same spot, and then walked all the way down (our knees did not forgive us for several days). It was fascinating to tour the siege tunnels which had originally been created to defend against the Spanish siege of 1789-1792 and were expanded during both World Wars. The openings in the siege tunnels look down on what is now Gibraltar’s airport, marking the boundary of the Territory.
We took the train to Madrid and spent a nice 18 hours seeing art museums (Reina Sofia and Prado). Probably the most striking for me was seeing Picasso’s Guernica in the Reina Sofia museum. They have it very handsomely displayed with a vast supporting exhibition about the Spanish Civil War. Afterwards we sat down at a table in a sort of carnival for a drink, and struck up a conversation with a young man who grew up in Venezuela and was working as an economist there. Unfortunately he was working for the opposition party, and finally fled the country when things got too bad. Fortunately his grandfather was Spanish, so he was able to claim a Spanish citizenship. Unfortunately his credentials didn’t transfer (he’s waiting for a certification from the current Venezuelan government – that’s not going to happen!) and he finds himself working for this carnival, presumably at minimum wage. It was a fascinating look into a refugee problem from an entirely different perspective than we’re used to.
With some difficulty we made it to the Madrid airport on time, and caught our flight to Prague, where Cori and Jens Kosyna and their two kids, Finn and Simon were waiting for us. We spent an interesting two days with them, sharing a couple of different restaurant experiences, walking around Prague, picking heirloom apples growing on the hill above their house, and finally attending an excellent performance of The Marriage of Figaro in the VERY THEATER WHERE MOZART HIMSELF CONDUCTED THE WORLD PREMIERE OF DON GIOVANNI! For you non-musicians who might not otherwise be able to tell, this was a very big deal for us.
The next morning, we flew to Zurich and then took the train to Altstätten, where Jürg Buschor met us (exactly on time; this is Switzerland, after all…) Jürg and his wife Susanne and children Jonas, Flurin and Lena entertained us for the next couple of days. We started with a dinner of rösti (Swiss potato dish) and cheese. I mean, 20 different cheeses spread out on a couple of big boards, all but one Swiss, in a variety of different flavors. Wow, what a spread! Jürg took us the next day to see the St. Gallen library which was founded in the 8th century by an Irish monk (St. Gall). The building – not nearly so old, merely 400 or 500 years old – was incredible, but the exhibits included some manuscripts from the 8th century, with a recognizably Irish type of script. St. Gall was one of those lights of learning who saved and passed on some of the Roman and Greek knowledge and writings which would otherwise have been lost. (Read: Cahill: How the Irish Saved Civilization).
It got better. The next day the Buschor family took us to Ebenalp at the top of a mountain tramway in the Appenzell region. From the top of the tram we walked down through a cave and across a ledge to a Swiss Inn where we enjoyed a snack. We watched dozens of hang gliders take off from a mountain slope and circle in the sky above us. The scenery was beyond spectacular. The day finished with a barbecue put on by Jürg and Susanne where they invited all the young men (now somewhat older) who had visited us in Forest Grove while Jürg was living with us in 1991. What an experience!
These past paragraphs have not been about sailing (the supposed topic of this blog), but they have certainly given us an interesting perspective on what our lives are like when we are sailing, and how they might be different if we made different choices.
We made our way back to Cádiz, and found the boat was still there, in good condition. One of the boats which had arrived in the meantime was Taipan of Australia, with Kris Adams and David Frost aboard. I’ve been corresponding with Kris, through several Facebook groups, for about a year and a half. They were in Vlissingen, Netherlands when we were considering it as an overnight stay back in May, 2017 (we didn’t end up going there because the tide wasn’t high enough for us to get across their cill.) A quick exchange of information with Kris helped in resolving our decision. Later that year we came near to meeting in Gothenburg, Sweden. Then in winter, 2017, when we left Sequoia in Suffolk Yacht Harbour near Ipswich, England, it turned out that Taipan spent several months just up the river in Ipswich proper. We nearly met in Falmouth last June, and then again at several ports in France, Spain and Portugal as the summer progressed. Pretty soon our messages were about “when will we meet?” and now, in Cádiz, we were finally seeing each other.
We spent several days together in Cádiz, and then crossed together to Tangier, where we now are. Taipan left yesterday for Gibraltar, but we certainly had a good time together while they were here. We hit it off great, as it turns out, but it will take a concerted effort to meet up again. They are heading back to Australia by plane in the next few weeks, and by the time they return to Europe we’ll likely be in the Caribbean. It may need to be a land trip by them to Oregon or by us to Western Australia. (We have other people we’d like to visit in Australia, and we’re unlikely to get there again by boat).
Marina Tanja Bay, where we are staying in Tangier, is brand new; it has been open only two months. They plan for 1400 berths with the first half of the docks now installed, and I’d say there are only about 8 cruising boats here, plus a smattering of local pleasure boats. The facilities have a way to go. The office people have a tendency to say “I only work here; I have no ability to change things.” (We’ve heard that a lot in Morocco). No hot water in the shower, no laundry facilities, a card access system that only sometimes works, etc. etc. On the plus side, they have numerous security guards who tightly control access to the docks. In addition, we have what can only be described as a “concierge” who keeps an eye on boat lines during periods of high wind, and who will help out with any problem or request we might have. Our “concierge” has gone to bat for us in finding taxis at reasonable prices, giving us good advice about where to find things in the city, and telling us how much something is worth (a help in this bargaining-centered economy). There is a seagull poop crew – Two guys who travel up and down the docks in foul weather gear and boots, cleaning off the messy leavings of the gulls with a pressure washer. They do a very thorough job when they come, but there is so much sparsely occupied dock space to take care of that they can’t come as frequently as you’d like. The seagulls are happy to spend their nights and part of their days on any unoccupied section of the docks.
Much of what we’d like to have is simply not available, or at least we haven’t been able to find it. An example: We have a power cord with a 16 amp connector standard in European marinas. They put us on a dock with 32 amp outlets only. Other marinas have provided adapters, but they have none here. We’ve gone out searching for the parts for Craig to make an adapter, but they simply can’t be found. We borrowed an adapter for a few days from another boat but gave it back when they were ready to move on. At the moment we’re relying on solar and wind power, which unfortunately doesn’t make hot water (back to the issue about no hot water in the shore showers…) So this is a marina with a very promising future, but a number of problems to solve.
After exploring Tangier’s very interesting Medina and Ville Nouvelle, we decided to travel by land to the “Blue City” of Chefchaouen. It’s visually spectacular; I must have taken 1000 photos. The narrow winding streets of the city are painted varying shades of blue, and small stalls sell interesting handicrafts in a less persistent way than what we encountered in Tangier. I bought some hand-woven cloth from a shop where the owner, blind, operates the loom. His son sets up the colors, and the old man does beautiful work. In the back of the shop they have started an institute for other blind people, and several came in while we were there. I felt good supporting that enterprise.
One of the interesting things for sale in the small streets are bags of powdered paint. A person buys a scoop of the powder and mixes it with water. There are 18 or 20 colors, so presumably you can mix or match. They were selling a lot of blues.
We walked up to a waterfall which was historically used as a water source for a mill to grind wheat and extract oil from olives. Now the walkway along the creek and channels is lined with tourist shops, but it is still a beautiful area with an amazing amount of water for such dry countryside.
Chefchaouen is also interesting because of the strong Spanish influence that can be seen, particularly in the architecture. When the Moors and Jews were kicked out of Spain in 1492, a number of them came to Chefchaouen. The Jews particularly lived a very isolated life, and when Spanish soldiers came to claim the area as a Spanish colony in 1920, they were astonished to find a population speaking 15th century Castilian. Today much of the architectural research and restoration that’s taking place is being funded by the Spanish government. You can see plaques memorializing the Spanish financial contributions all over the city. The mill and channels of the waterfall are one of the Spanish restoration projects.
Last night we returned from Chefchaouen, and now we begin the process of getting ready for our next jump, down the coast to Rabat, the capitol of Morocco. We have laundry to do (probably just some hand wash – no laundry service at the marina) food to buy, and other supplies to check.
So I will leave you here, dear reader, and I hope not to leave such a gap before I write next time!
Best wishes to all!
Craig & Barbara Johnston
Porto and Lisbon
24 August 2018 | Mazagon, Spain
We arrived in Porto on August 10, my birthday, and it was a very nice place to celebrate. We had dinner the next night at a sidewalk seafood restaurant (one of many) in Afurada de Baixo, the fishing village adjacent to the Marina Douro. All the restaurants have charcoal grills set up on the sidewalks, where they cook sardines, squid, octopus, sausage, steak, chicken, and a variety of other fish. The streets swirl with fragrant smoke, which I'm sure permeates the residents clothing hanging to dry from the balconies. No question, though, the grilled food is delicious. We were to eat in one of those Afurada restaurants (a different one each time) twice more before leaving Porto.
The Marina Douro where we found moorage when we arrived, has a few interesting features. The buildings of the marina have a highly unusual beam structure across the front, and we finally came to realize that the structural beams spell out "Marina Douro" in highly stylized lettering. Obviously someone spent a great deal of money on architects. There does seem to be a lot of attention to art and architecture in Portugal, and it is an attention that I think we sometimes lack in the United States. Despite the expense of the unusual buildings, the marina is quite understaffed and they neither answer their phone nor respond on the designated VHF radio channel. Perhaps this is simply an artifact of the high season in Portugal, but it's sometimes a bit distressing. On the other hand, one of the perks of being a visitor is that the moorage fee includes an 8 am delivery of more fresh bread than you can possibly eat. We had some for breakfast, made sandwiches with it for lunch and sliced some of the rest to have with cheese before dinner. (We were to find even better bread - crustier, part whole-wheat - delivered to the boat every morning at 8 - at the marina near Lisbon.)
Just upriver from the marina is a huge bridge, spanning the gap from cliffs on each side. Public transportation from the Marina to downtown Porto is chancy. Despite it only being 2-3 miles, we were told the bus would take about an hour and a half. An alternative was to cross the river from a dock near the marina, using a small passenger ferry, and then catch "the tram" into town. The tram looks like a San Francisco cable car and doesn't carry a lot of people. If full, it will just glide right by your stop, leaving you to wonder whether the next one (20 minutes or so hence) would also be full. Mostly, yes. So we tried riding bikes downtown (some bike paths, but mostly narrow, crowded streets) and we tried walking (somewhat exhausting in the heat, but often faster than the gridlocked traffic we were passing). One time we rode an electric "Tuk-tuk" sort of taxi from downtown to the foot ferry, and that was probably the most enjoyable. We also tried Uber, which was less of a hassle than most other methods. The number of convoluted turns they took to find the fastest route was nothing short of amazing.
The marina was offering "special deals" for tours of wineries (Port wine is the big deal in Porto). But in the end we decided we didn't really want to devote hours of time to the drinking of sweet wine that is generally not to our taste. So we spent time exploring the city instead.
I made a special bike trip to Matosinhos on my own. Between the mouth of the Douro River (where we were berthed) and the Port of Leixoes, is an expanse of beach and rocky seashore, several miles long. There is a nice bike path for the entire distance, so this was definitely the way to go. It was intermittently foggy, but despite that, there were lots of people heading to the beach with their bags, umbrellas and beach toys. They staked out their spot on the beach and waited for the sun to come.
My main goal in the Matosinhos trip was to find the places my parents had visited on their honeymoon in 1938. I have a number of photos, and I wanted to find out if anything was still recognizable. They bought passage on a freighter from Galveston which stopped at Leixoes (then and now the port for Porto) as well as Marseilles and Genoa (where they ultimately disembarked). During the two days the freighter was in the harbor at Leixoes, my parents went ashore with two friends and explored, finally reaching as far as downtown Porto. From their written description, I gather they took the tram back, down the river from the city center, and then along the beach and rocky shore described above. I wonder whether it was the very same tram cars we now saw so overloaded with tourists.
The photos I have from 1938 are mostly of the Matosinhos area, adjacent to Leixoes. I visited a purported local history museum, which turned out to be an art museum. The person at the museum (who really didn't speak English -- we struggled together with me in Spanish and him in Portuguese) suggested that I ought to go to the city archives at the City Hall. (Unfortunately the archives were closed at that time.) He did, however, look at my photos. He told me the ladies washing their clothes in a stream were likely at the mouth of the Leços River. It no longer exists: they have turned it into a container port and cruise ship port. He wasn't able to help with any of the others. But a museum docent in downtown Porto had looked at the pictures and told me the names of the likely streets to look for in Matosinhos. I did find those streets, and I definitely found houses built with the same distinctive finishing and styles as could be seen in two of the 1938 photos. (Yay for that!) I also found a huge Norfolk Island Pine, saved in the middle of a traffic circle, which was perhaps the same tree that so fascinated my parents in 1938.
What they commented about the most in their 1938 letters was the grinding poverty they observed (they were fairly impoverished students themselves, so it must really have been excruciating poverty they saw.) I can state definitively that Portugal has come a long way. These appear to be mostly middle-class people, doing well in service industries connected to the cruise port and container port in Matosinhos. At the museum I visited, they gave me a brochure detailing the 12 different museums that now exist in this little town - Roman artifacts, convents, schools, firefighters, religious, nautical, mineral. It will have to be another visit when I come to see all of them.
One afternoon, as we waited for the foot ferry crossing the River Douro back to the marina, we noticed a group of German-speaking people who were also waiting. I particularly noticed one woman, and what made me notice her was my thought that she looked like a cellist, and in particular like a cellist friend of mine. After we got on the ferry, we began talking to the group, and I gave the woman (Elke) our boat card. She looked at my email address and asked if I was a cellist. It turned out she is also a cellist, as were 3-4 other people in her extended family. Her son was a cellist/lawyer practicing law in London. They were all (about 12 of them) in Porto to celebrate the birthday of Elke's sister. We invited anyone interested to come and see our boat, and they in turn invited us to join them for a planned family dinner at one of the Afurada restaurants. What an amazing experience! I hope we are able to stay in touch.
Midway through our stay in Porto, our friends Mark and Fern arrived from Portland. They bravely faced off against jet lag, and led us in an energetic walking tour of downtown Porto. We saw the train station, which is famous for its interior azulejos. Azulejos are a blue-and-white tile style, originating apparently with the Moors, who occupied part or all of Spain and Portugal for about 700 years. Grand works of art are completed using the azulejos, and the level of artistry in the train station is indeed impressive. Portrayed are warriors, kings, religious processions and ordinary people. The azulejos continue on up to the ceiling, which must be 40 feet overhead. It even appears that the dimensions and proportions of things are adjusted so that they can appear in normal proportions to viewers many feet below.
We walked on from there through tourist-engorged streets. We saw an organ grinder who had a chicken instead of a monkey, and who ground out renaissance keyboard tunes using a folded stream of punch cards. Many artists offer bracelets, portraits, cork purses, ceramic roosters and a vast variety of other creations.
Some of the sites we had wanted to see were not open, it being a church holiday (Feast of the Assumption). Craig and I finally decided to return to the boat (via the aforementioned tuk-tuk) while Mark and Fern continued on with the walking tour.
When it was time to leave Porto and head south to Lisbon, we set out on an overnight passage, with promised winds from astern at 15-20 knots. Should have been good conditions for a quick passage. What we didn't count on were the big swells (6-8 feet) on our stern quarter, which made for a fairly rough passage. When the wind dropped overnight, the swells continued on, increasing the amount of rolling. There was not a lot of eating that happened in that 24 hour time period, although on the plus side no one got physically sick.
We were very glad to arrive the next morning at Oeiras Marina a few miles west of Lisbon, where we pretty much collapsed in exhaustion for the entire day. It was hot, hot, hot, and we could not summon the energy to get to the on-site swimming pool.
I must admit that with so many stops in Europe, I've had little time to research each place before we get there. It's more a question of whether the distances between ports are manageable, what the weather's going to be, and what are the port facilities.
Fern, on the other hand, has done her research. She and Mark led us the next day on a walking tour of some of Lisbon. We took an Uber to one of the highest scenic points and then walked downhill from there. Lisbon is an amazing city, with an incredible mix of new and old. So many of the older buildings are covered with azulejos. 99% of the roofs, new and old, are red terra cotta tile. There are beautiful, creative graffiti (and a bit of ugly graffiti) on many of the stucco walls. I remember two in particular: a poem written on a corner wall. It begins: "Ser Poeta é ser mais alto é ser maior; Do que os homens! Morder como quem beija!" I'm a complete beginner in Portuguese although I do speak some Spanish. With the help of WordReference, I take this to be an approximate translation "To be a poet is to be higher and better than other people. Hurt those whom you kiss." (It goes on for many more stanzas) Please, if anyone out there speaks Portuguese, give me a better translation! I don't much like this one.
[Note added later] See Liza's comment in the margin. The translation she offers: "To be a poet is to be taller and bigger than men. It is to bite as if you were kissing, to be a beggar but give alms as if you were king of the realm" Published posthumously. The writer Florabela Estanca took her own life aged 26 and died in Matosinhos.
A second instance of graffiti which particularly caught our attention was done in brilliant reds and oranges, and included Homer Simpson, Mr. Burns, Buzz Lightyear, Captain America, the red M&M, Kung-Fu Panda reading Mao's little red book, the Empire soldiers from Star Wars, Donald Duck, and others who would doubtless be recognized by people younger than me. The whole thing is done in the character of a protest march with flags and slogans I don't recognize.
At the Igreja e Convento da Graça the noon bell was ringing. Instead of being hid invisibly inside a high bell tower, it was only 3 storeys up, swinging 270 degrees back and forth for all to see. Inside they had a clay-figure re-creation of the Corpus Christi procession of 1717. More than 1500 clay figures took part in the diorama of the procession, representing craftsman guilds, religious orders, civic groups, royalty and church hierarchy. If you look closely, each figure has a different expression on his or her face. I found it to be quite compelling.
Mosteiro de Sao Vicente de Fora is part archaeology, part religious museum and part exhibit of cloister architecture and azulejo scenes. Craig learned from a local guide there that soldiers were quartered in the cloisters at the beginning of the twentieth century. Some of the soldiers thought that the figures depicted in the azulejos were staring at them, so they systematically gouged out the eyes, and in some cases the entire faces of many of the important figures.
Finally we visited the Castelo da São Jorge with another gorgeous lookout over the city, an extensive archaeological museum and various old buildings. The heat pretty much got to me at that point, and Craig and I found our way back to the boat via Uber, while Fern and Mark continued on.
We always enjoy meeting the other sailors in a harbor. From time to time we have encountered an older boat with young people aboard, living the sailing life despite lack of money and a distinct state of unpreparedness, always with tremendous enthusiasm. In Oeiras Marina we met the two young couples aboard Zirconium, an older boat with some maintenance issues. They are all from Venezuela, but have been living in Ireland. Jorge, the owner of the boat, learned to sail as an employee of a charter boat company in Ireland. His girlfriend took a navigation course there. The other couple have no sailing experience at all. So here they are in Portugal, encountering one problem after another. Their sails are saggy or failed, and sail tape is their best friend. Their cutlass bearing was coming adrift, and Jorge was free diving under the boat trying to fix it. Craig was able to offer some advice and the loan of some equipment which may have helped solve the problem. They have grand plans to sail into the Mediterranean, then cross the Atlantic and head maybe to Hawaii. There's no doubt that Jorge is a clever fellow and well able to concoct work-arounds, but a certain amount of money is required to repair and maintain a boat in a seaworthy condition and it's not clear where that's going to come from. We wish them all the best.
The time has come for us to leave Lisbon. We have dates down the road and Mark and Fern have travel plans after they leave us. We've laid out a few hops down the coast of Portugal and then Spain which should have us in Gibraltar by August 28. So this morning we set off through the fog, all of us looking and listening with all available eyes and ears plus the radar and the AIS system. Predictions are for calm seas and little wind, so I'm even willing to write this blog out in the open sea. It's possible I won't last too long, because even the small amount of motion may test my stomach...
Since finishing the above, we've moved on, through the southern Algarve coast of Portugal and into Spain. We're currently at the port of Mazagon, near Huelva. We've been covering a lot of distance, stopping overnight in a couple of different towns that have turned out to be overwhelming and expensive tourist destinations. Vilamouro is known for its five golf courses, and English is heard everywhere. Mazagon is full of Spanish tourists, including large groups of teenagers walking down the sidewalk, eyes on cell phone.
Today we'll head for Cadiz, the oldest continuously occupied city of Europe, now in its fourth millenium.
Best wishes to all!
Craig & Barbara Johnston
From Spain into Portugal
12 August 2018 | Porto, Portugal
Barbara/Craig Warm but overcast
I last wrote from Muros, where we were in the marina with the sailing pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela. We enjoyed the attention of "Pedro" there - he runs a very tight marina, with loving attention to every boat that arrives. He has cute children's artwork in his office, by young cruisers who have visited the marina with their parents. When we first arrived, once he had taken our lines and we were safely docked, he shook Craig's hand in welcome and gave me a kiss on both cheeks! I've never seen that treatment before, and doubt I'll ever see it again.
Pedro recommended a restaurant out of the tourist area, which adhered to the Spanish dining rules: the kitchen doesn't even open until 8:30 or 9:00 pm. But, my was that good food! We had a salad adorned with cooked seta mushrooms and langostinos, followed by a piece of roast lamb with potatoes. After dinner we walked back through the maze that constitutes the Old Town. We found a hair salon where Craig was able to get his hair cut the next day. We photographed the turns so we could find it again! We saw a house festooned with life-size marionettes or mannequins, fascinating to all the tourist passers-by.
One of our days in Muros it rained like crazy; another day we took a bike ride to nearby San Francisco, through a eucalyptus forest. The beach in San Francisco was crowded, but we dipped our feet in the water and walked between crowds of screaming children, proud parents and strutting teens.
On July 31 we departed for Sanxenxo in the Ria de Pontevedra, skipping altogether the Ria de Arousa. We were thinking to anchor off the beach. It turned out, though, that Sanxenxo is in a very populated, high end resort area, and we didn't want to anchor in front of the 20 story apartment buildings and crowded beach areas. So we went into the marina. On advice of some gents at the fuel dock, we took an alongside tie as far away from the shore as possible. They said there is loud music every night. Boy was there! Thumpa thumpa until 2 am or beyond. Lots of obstinate teens on their jet skis. There was officially only one walk-in entrance to the gigantic marina, but the truth was that the security perimeters were somewhat lax. In the office I heard someone complaining about theft of fishing equipment, and we later talked to a cruiser whose boat was boarded while he was asleep. He heard the noise and saw the feet in the cockpit and yelled out an open port. The intruder got off the boat right away, but still...
We next sailed to Moaña in the Ria de Vigo. It's just across the Ria from the City of Vigo, the largest city in northwest Spain, and a major seaport. We had boat parts to pick up from a chandlery in Vigo, and lots of exploring to do. The Ria reminded us of San Francisco Bay, with eucalyptus forests on the hilltops and red tile roofs.
Our first day in Moaña we took the ferry over to Vigo and found our way to the chandlery. It's located across the street from shipping terminals in a long stone building with covered walkways in front of all the businesses. The covered walkway made probably a twenty degree difference between the outside temperature and the temperature inside the stores. It was getting pretty hot outside, so this was quite significant.
As it turns out, we visited twice that day: once in the morning, when we found out they'd ordered the wrong part, then again in the afternoon to pick up the correct one. In between we went to the Praza de Constitución, found a shaded outdoor restaurant, and had a relaxing lunch. Vigo is a city with lots of hills. The winding streets are interesting, and there are motorized escalators in some places - not sure if that's for the tourists or the residents!
After we finally obtained the correct part we returned to the ferry landing by way of an air-conditioned shopping mall where we stopped for some icy drinks.
The next day the heat wave hit with full force. It was in the high 90s for most of our time in Moaña. During the day we pretty much stayed in the boat and saved our outings for early morning and late evening. We biked to two different restaurants recommended by the marina manager, and watched a band rehearse in the bandstand in the very late evening. By then the temperature was almost pleasant, and there was a slight breeze coming off the water to make things easier. Craig admired the band pavilion, which had a nice timpani ramp around the rear (there was no percussion whatsoever in this band, which appeared to be an intermediate level, or perhaps all-comers band. What they lacked in skill they made up for in enthusiasm.)
There were lots of late night walkers out walking in the dusk, including big families with tiny children and grandparents along for the stroll. The restaurants were full, in some cases with people (including us) waiting a half an hour or so for a table. The food was, as usual, quite wonderful.
On August 5, we left in the early morning for Baiona, the last harbor we would visit in this part of Spain. It was the third day of hot, hot weather. Baiona's claim to fame is that it was the first City to learn that Columbus had discovered "the Indies" (as it turned out, of course, it was the West Indies and the New World, not southeast Asia). La Pinta, one of Columbus's three ships, was the first to arrive back, putting in to Baiona. In the waterfront there is a full sized replica of La Pinta, which tourists can explore for a fee. It is a fairly crude replica (steel masts??!), and nowhere up to the standard of other historical ships we have seen restored, particularly in England and Sweden. Still, it does give you some perspective on what life may have been like for those sailors, and Columbus's audacity to think you could make a major trip of discovery, and possibly fall off the edge of the world in a little ship only 65 feet long.
Probably ½ mile away from where we were docked, there was what appeared to be a hilltop castle. It had been converted into a big luxury hotel recently, and lots of theme-park touches were added to castle walls. From a distance it looks great, but close-up the inauthenticity is glaring. Below the castle is a very popular swimming beach and a huge carnival with all the usual rides plus a performance stage. Many of the rides had competing, extremely loud music, and lots of carnival barkers shouted simultaneously through their individual PA systems. In the late evening the performance stage hosted some sort of very loud rock concert which seemed to continue until about 2 am.
We biked through the older part of Baiona and noticed a couple of interesting churches. The first - La Liberta, is dedicated to a first century saint who is said to be the first Christian woman to die as a martyr by crucifixion. We listened to lots of church bells. Each church seemed to have only one bell (or perhaps several bells at the same pitch) which would at times ring over-and-over in various rhythmic patterns. Of interest perhaps only to my musician friends, the most fascinating one rang in triplets for a minute or so, then changed in hemiola fashion to slower notes equal to two of the eighth notes in the previous pattern. It continued in the second pattern for several minutes.
The old town area has very narrow streets which are further narrowed by arrays of tables served by restaurant kitchens in adjacent buildings. We had a nice dinner at one of these the evening before we left to head south.
August 7 was our day to cross the border into Portugal. Now the geography would change. There are no more Rias (inlets). The coast runs basically north and south with an occasional river allowing for a harbor inside. Sometimes the rivers have bars which means one must be conscious of the state of the tide and wind which can make entry dangerous or even impossible. Fortunately there would be no such problem at our first harbor, Viana do Castelo.
Viana do Castelo is, however, not without its problems. Docking was the first of those, and there were new experiences in store for us here. Entering a strange harbor you never know what you'll find. We're lucky if we know in advance whether it's a port or starboard tie. In Viana do Castelo, you wait outside on a pontoon until they open a pedestrian bridge.
Then when the bridge opens you head inside - and it's not a slip at all, it's backing up to a pontoon, picking up what we have dubbed a "slime line" to attach at the bow and putting our own stern lines to the dock. The slime line goes down to an anchor in the bottom of the harbor, and of course its tightness changes with the tide. We saw this being done at Svaneke
on the island of Bornholm in Denmark, but in Bornholm there is no tide to worry about.
You must keep the slime line taut or the boat will move diagonally with the wind and current. That becomes even more of a problem if the boat adjacent to you doesn't keep their slime line taut, because it means their weight may be added to your slime line's holding capacity.
The second night, the system was further tested. The winds came up quite strong. Then a larger boat came along and picked up the slime line next to us. They pulled and pulled on their slime line and finally pulled up some chain. We think that the chain may be part of the anchor system which ought to be on the bottom. There ensued a lot of negotiation between four boats (including us), Swiss-Italian, French, Dutch and us (English). The Dutch guy spoke the most languages the most fluently, so he turned out to be the best mediator. The harbor representative came around, but he was a relative newbie and had very little experience or knowledge that might have been helpful, not to mention he really only spoke Portuguese. We finally got it all sorted out, but there were some tense moments.
The next morning, all the boats except the Dutch one wanted to leave at first light. The French boat headed out first. It was approaching low tide, and they immediately went aground in the harbor entrance. The Swiss boat (which had a partially retractable keel) went around them and out into the river. Finally about 2 hours later the French boat was able to float off and they left, followed by us. Whew!
Don't get me wrong, Viana do Castelo was a beautiful and interesting town. The big bridge there was designed by Gustave Eiffel of Paris tower fame. It has been well-maintained, and is very impressive. There is a wide esplanade along the river which makes for great bike riding. (We rode along it at top speed trying to make it back to the boat in a sudden rainstorm.) The narrow streets of the old city are scenic and interesting.
We met an American couple from Forest Grove, Oregon, who were about to move to Viana do Castelo. They were delighted with the prospect and had just taken a year's lease on an apartment. It was apparent that part of their motivation was the less expensive cost of living, and in particular medical care for pre-Medicare aged patients.
While we were in Viana do Castelo, the Tour de Portugal came to town. The streets were lined with pedestrians for blocks. The bikers themselves were through in a flash, but they were preceded by many police cars and motorcycles and then followed by about 60 vans, each of which appeared to have 6 or 8 bicycles on top. There were multiple booths selling biking "gear", local folk art or total junk.
Immediately after the Tour de Portugal went past, the traffic jam started. For about 3 hours, all streets, including the narrow streets of the old town, were an absolute parking lot. I happened to be walking in the area, and some of the streets were so full that it was impossible for even a pedestrian to get through.
On August 10, after escaping the low tide exit from the Viana do Castelo marina, we headed south to Porto, and had a beautiful sail along the way. The prevailing winds in the last few weeks have been northerly, starting very light in the morning and increasing to 12-18 kn as the afternoon progresses (and it seems like 20-25kn when we enter our destination marina!). A north wind is great when you are sailing south, but from dead astern we really would like to see 20kn to get us up to hull speed. (If the wind is behind us at 15kn, we might make 5kn, which subtracts from the apparent wind; the boat sees only 10kn.) An additional complication is that the best configuration of the sails in this case is with the mainsail all the way to one side and the genoa on the other. This requires care at the helm to avoid backwinding one or the other of the sails, and also they tend to collapse and fill as the boat crests each swell. On this passage, we kept the main furled and deployed the genoa to one side and the small staysail to the other, held out by the spinnaker pole. The result is kind of like having a spinnaker set, but with a lot more control pus the capability of handling stronger winds. For the price of 30 minutes setup, we were able to make 5-7kn and avoid using the diesel. We carry three sails rigged and have three more down below but it seems like there are dozens of alternate ways to set the rig!
I will leave this blog here (it's getting too long) and save the lovely City of Porto for another writing. Apologies that there is only one picture with this blog. The sorting and uploading of illustrative photos is prohibitively time-consuming and will happen later!
Best wishes to all our friends and family, at home and along the way.
Craig and Barbara Johnston
Traveling in Galicia with the Pilgrims of the Way
28 July 2018 | Muros, Galicia, Spain
Barbara/Sunny in the Afternoon
Along the west coast of Galicia (Spain's northwest province) there are a series of inlets, called Rias
in the native Galician language. Each one seems to have a collection of interesting communities, most being fishing villages (at least originally). These days there is a fairly high reliance on tourism, in its various land-based and ocean-based forms, although there are still plenty of fishing boats, plenty of seafood for sale in the local markets and roadside stands, and many restaurants featuring mariscos
(seafood). Beaches abound, well populated with playing, swimming and bronzing people. Most mornings there is fog from the ocean, but by late morning it burns off. By late afternoon, it's typically quite hot.
Above: The beach at Muros.
Each of the Rias seems to have plenty of well-protected harbors - either anchorages or dedicated harbors and marinas. The marinas are often built within the sea walls of an old harbor. Sea walls fully visible at low tide have layers of different sorts of stones and construction techniques. It's easy to imagine that the bottom layers may have been put there by the Romans in the 3rd century AD.
The coast west of A Coruña is called the "Costa da Morte" (Coast of Death) on account of the multiple shipwrecks which have occurred here. There are local legends of people who would put out deceptive lights to lure ships onto the rocks, in order to be able to plunder their cargo. By contrast, we found it to be a very benign coast, but then we always wait for the best possible weather. I'm sure sailing in winter is another thing altogether.
The area is suffused with the presence, not far off in the center of Galicia, of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Pilgrimages ("the Way") to the tomb of St. James at the Cathedral are always in evidence. Bakeries sell pastries stenciled with powdered sugar using symbols of the Cathedral. (See photo at the top of this post). The scallop shell emblem that symbolizes the Way appears often in local artwork and signage. Small chapels abound with references to the pilgrimages. Yesterday we visited a 15th century chapel in Muros dedicated to La Virxe do Camiño (the Virgin of the Way).
Above: the interior of the Sanctuary of Virxe do Camiño, cleaning underway?
Also yesterday, a flotilla of sailboats arrived in the marina bearing religious flags, with scallop image and the motto, "Navega el Camino 2018." (Sail the Way 2018). It turns out this is another means of completing "the Way". The boats that arrived here yesterday had sailed to a succession of 11 marinas across the north coast of Spain, then around the northwest corner to Muros (where we now are). Tomorrow, the participants "walk" to the Cathedral (60 kilometers distant), although it turns out the sponsors provide a bus for the middle 50 kilometers. There, at the pilgrimage office, if you have completed all necessary steps, you can get your piece of paper ("La Compostela") certifying that you've completed the pilgrimage. Today, on the eve of their completion of The Way, the sailing pilgrims seem to be having a very good time. As I write, there appears to be a competition in the blowing of conch shells.
Above: The flags of some participants in the sailing pilgrimage
Before we left A Cornuña we said good-bye to Jamie and Eleanor, who had helped us with the crossing of the Bay of Biscay. We spent a couple more days there, waiting for a north wind to continue west then south around the corner of Spain. We went back to a favorite restaurant, Taberna del Chipirón, and ordered our by-then favorites Pulpo a la Feiria (octopus, fair-style), Chipirones a la Plancha (grilled squid) and Pimientos al Padrón (small sweet green peppers, fried and salted).
Above: Dinner at the Taberna del Chipirón
We bicycled out to the north of town on an excellent bike path, and climbed up the hill to Hercules' Tower - a lighthouse that is reportedly built on the foundations of the oldest lighthouse ever - erected by the Romans at the western edge of civilization.
The marina in A Coruña is located next to the downtown esplanade - a wide pedestrian plaza backed up to the harbor-front street which is in turn lined with tall mid-century apartment buildings. Since we had arrived, they were setting up for a weekend street fair called "StreetStunts". Two big climbing walls were erected, including one slanted out over the water. There was a parkour obstacle course being set up, a large floor for gymnastics floor exercises, a trampoline, a tightrope being used for trampoline-type moves, several performance stages and a plethora of Estrella beer stands and food carts.
Above: StreetStunts fair adjacent to the A Coruña harbor.
It was fun to watch the various activities and athletic endeavors, but we feared what might be coming from those performance stages. Indeed, by Friday evening there was a great thumpa-thumpa which could not be escaped from even inside our boat with all the hatches battened down tight. The next morning we moved the boat to a marina about a mile away, prior to our planned departure on Sunday, when the winds were predicted to be good.
We went first to Camariñas, in one of the first Rias west of A Coruña. The little town climbs up a hillside, and interesting sights are promised in every direction. We set off several times on our bikes but found the maps didn't quite match up with what we saw, and some unsigned turns that appeared to be public roads were, in fact, someone's driveway. Or "the road" turned into a dirt path, and we find ourselves unwilling to test our brand new Bromptons on a path of unknown bumpiness and dustiness. In town we found the ice cream stand and the local "supermarket" (somewhat closer in feel to a corner store).
We tried the restaurant in the marina, filled with local vacationers, and had our first paella, bubbling away as it was set down on our table, filled with tiny clams, squid and shrimp.
Above: Paella in Camariñas.
The marina was filled with French boats, and as we sat in the restaurant, we watched another one come in. This one was in trouble, apparently unable to furl their mainsail in 20 knots of wind. They had untied the back end ("clew") of the sail from the boom and tied it forward to the mast, but most of the sail was still out catching wind, and making the docking a disaster about to happen. All the other French sailors, and Craig, ran down to provide help, but it turned out that not speaking fluent sailor-French was a real handicap. They got the boat tied up, and then fussed for several hours, into the dark, trying to get the sail under control. The boat had an in-mast furling system, which requires real precision to get the sail to furl properly. The boat did not have a bosun's chair (system for climbing the mast), but they were able to borrow one from another boat. After considerable time aloft, they were able to sort out the problem and the mainsail was finally rolled into the mast.
Above: Problems with in-mast furling, Camariñas
This all confirms Craig's conclusion that in-mast furling systems, if not carefully managed, can be a recipe for disaster. If they work well, they can make sail management much easier, but the possible downside is pretty bad. Because of rolling on the vertical, they lack the horizontal battens which help force the sail into an efficient airfoil profile.
From Camariñas we watched the forecasts for the next good wind for heading around Cape Fisterra (Cape Lands' End), longitude 9°W, more than 500 miles west of the Greenwich Meridian, the furthest west point of Continental Europe.
If you head south around Cape Fisterra into a south wind, there is apparently the risk of big confused waves around the cape. When the good forecast came, we headed out into the fog, radar at the ready, and continued west and then south. Cape Fisterra is a knife-edge ridge jutting out into the ocean, with a lighthouse and a church perched on top. Apparently that church is sometimes the final destination of the Santiago de Compostela pilgrims. A friend told me that it also has a different but still spiritual significance for the Roma people.
Above: Cape Fisterra
So that brings us around to where I started this blog - in the harbor at Muros. Here we're dealing with some pesky boat problems, but also enjoying the town and the beautiful surroundings.
All the best to friends and family at home and along the way.
Craig & Barbara
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