Wow, a week has gone by and so much has happened. Better get writing to get ahead of the crowds of memories! We welcomed Jamie Simpson and Eleanor Kure 8 days ago in Roscoff, France, and said good-bye to them this morning in A Coruña, Galicia, Spain. We had invited them to join us for the crossing of the Bay of Biscay, including several days on either side of the crossing. Good decision!
We always like to have crew for passages that involve more than one night on the ocean. If we don't have someone else to share the night watches, we get so tired. When we have delightful people with us as well, it's a true bonus. (To be fair, we've only rarely been wrong in choosing extra crew members. They are part of the joy of our cruising life.)
Jamie had joined us on our 2011 passage from La Paz, Baja California to Hilo, Hawaii. He's a published author on forestry and ecology in the Canadian Maritime Provinces, and since 2011 he's been to law school, entered the practice of law in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, and joined up with partner Eleanor Kure. Eleanor is an artist and entrepreneur. They're both very good company and most considerate guests.
The morning before they arrived in Roscoff, we had bicycled to the public market and acquired fruits, vegetables, cheeses and meats for the upcoming passage. Craig found a Breton shirt he liked, and we ogled various items that would not make it into our shopping bags. One booth had grilled pork on offer, sliced right off of a still-recognizable barbecued pig. We bought artichokes (we've seen fields of artichoke plants here), multi-colored carrots (white, orange, purple, yellow), shallots, potatoes, tomatoes, peaches, spices, and finally superb lunch portions with pork or chicken and potatoes in delicious and aromatic sauces. And a couple of different cheeses. Oh, French cheeses - so many varieties, such wonderful and distinctive tastes!
Above: Craig in his new Breton shirt, showing off all our food purchases from the Roscoff market.
We bicycled back to the boat and tackled those lunch portions (each of us could only eat half of our respective portion) and saved the rest for later use.
The tides in Roscoff are huge, as in much of the rest of the north coast of Brittany. The old Roscoff harbor dries at low tide and hundreds of small and medium-sized boats are sitting on the mud. In the marina, which has floating pontoons, the ramp up to the land ranges from gentle to stupendously steep. The harbor even installed an elevator down to the pontoon, which I only saw used once in the several days we were there.
Next to the marina is the ferry landing, with ferries coming and going to Plymouth UK, Bilbao Spain, and various other destinations in between. Acres of paved surface are provided for dozens of lanes of waiting vehicles, accessory buildings and bus stops. We knew that Jamie and Eleanor would be arriving somewhere over there, so we went over to try to meet them, despite warnings from the marina office that no buses were arriving at that designated hour. Fortunately, J&E were right about the arrival hour, and we did indeed find them.
The next morning we sailed (actually motored) for L'Aberwrac'h, further west along the Brittany coast. No wind, just dodging other boats and taking extra special care to watch the charts for the frequent unexpected rocks, and strong currents.
L'Aberwrac'h is in a beautiful inlet ("aber" in Breton), and seems to be headquarters for an array of summer camps for children and teenagers. Fleets of small sailing dinghys, windsurfers, stand-up paddle-boards and other watercraft are constantly plying the waters. Onshore there is lots of music, along with basketball and volleyball games. In the morning, you'll see chains of small craft heading out into the bay, towed by a motorized craft of some sort. The chain consists of windsurfing boards or paddle boards, with a kid standing up on each. Fairly frequently, someone will lose his or her balance, and the whole chain has to stop while they get back in position.
Above: L'Aberwrac'h summer camp--board learners being towed out into the bay.
There is a friendly, welcoming yacht club with ice cream bars, soft drinks, a bar and a large area for socializing. Along the shores of the inlet, there are lots of beaches, oyster farms, and plenty of people with dip nets, collecting ... something.
After we got the boat tied up, Jamie and Eleanor went off for a hike along the beach and came back several hour later with a new dip net and a good supply of small, wriggling shrimp, a few oysters and a few clams. Those all made for excellent hors d'oeuvres when dinner time came around. Craig and I made a biking expedition to the grocery store, although I must admit we did get a ride up the rather steep hill from some sympathetic British tourists with a car.
Brittany seems to be a somewhat independent area with a strong Celtic tradition. Most signage is in both Breton and French. The evening of our arrival there was a Celtic band playing at the yacht club, with accordion, bagpipe, drum, violin, and guitar (at least) and an enthusiastic group of listeners. Jamie is a fiddler, so was intrigued with hearing some of the songs he's familiar with, and we all enjoyed very friendly ambiance. Craig and I sat at a table with two other boaters - Pat turned out to be a semi-retired British solicitor with a practice much like Rumpole of the Bailey (he said so himself). He assured us that the British practice of law was accurately represented by the Rumpole series. His wife, Deb also seemed like an interesting person, although we learned somewhat less about her. We ran into them several times over the next few days, and interesting conversations always followed.
Above: Deb and Pat at sunset in L’Aberwrac’h.
Two days after our arrival in L'Aberwrac'h, we decided the weather was good to make the passage from there, across the Bay of Biscay to Spain's northwest corner, the city of A Coruña. We thought it might be a three-night passage, but the currents were so strong (and in a favorable direction) that we made it in 3 days and two nights. Most of it was motoring, with no wind at all, but the last 24 hours we were able to sail. The Bay has such a reputation for awful weather that we were very pleased with how we found it. On the second day a pod of dolphins (about 10 of them) found us. We did a lot of the usual laughing and shrieking at their antics. After a half an hour they seemingly became bored and faded away.
Here in A Coruña we find ourselves in a very friendly marina although with a rather strong surge. We are just a couple of blocks from the Old City area of A Coruña. Here the language is Galician, although everyone also speaks Spanish. Galician seems to be about half way between Spanish and Portuguese, and not too difficult to understand if you speak Spanish. The letter "x" is used with great frequency, and seems to stand in for a variety of different sounds. Here again there is a Celtic heritage, and the folk music could be Irish or Scottish. When we were in Santiago de Compostela yesterday, there was a Galician bagpiper standing in a pedestrian tunnel. His instrument is called "gaita" which is a word fairly similar to the Bulgarian bagpipe "gaida" which our son David plays. We listened to him play, quite expertly, for a bit and then put a few Euros in his case.
In A Coruña, we were introduced to the Spanish tapas custom. Dinner isn't until 9 pm, and is based on a collection of tapas or raciones which are shared among all diners. In A Coruña, one of the dishes is for sure Chipirones (fried squid) or Pimientos al Padron (fried small sweet green peppers) or Pulpo a la Feria (Fair-style octopus). Over our several days in A Coruña, we have come to love all three.
Our second dinner in A Coruña started at one tapas restaurant, and after a post-prandial walk we stopped at another restaurant for spectacular desserts and a pitcher of sangria. My, but we're having fun!
We had tapas again after we took the train to visit Santiago de Compostela yesterday. We saw the public market there with superb-looking fish, meats, fruits and vegetables and then settled into an adjacent café for coffee and lunch.
From there we continued to the Cathedral, which is the destination of so many pilgrims from throughout Europe. Like many other European churches, the Cathedral is undergoing continuous restoration, with scaffolding covering many areas and a giant crane towering over the building. We were particularly struck by the numbers of pilgrims we saw, mostly young people with heavy backpacks. They made their way to the hotel specifically provided for them adjacent to the Cathedral.
Inside the Cathedral there were many people, mostly tourists. The main altar is richly embellished with gold leaf. We spent a long time looking at the organ, embellished with hundreds of cherubim and seraphim, and featuring sprays of pipes fanning out into the adjacent open space.
We visited a museum adjacent to the main Cathedral which featured old tapestries, gigantic old bells, and an exhibit about one of the master craftsman who directed work on the cathedral in the 11th century, "Maestro Mateo". The tapestries were copied from paintings by old Masters Reubens, Goya and the like. I had a conversation with one of the docents, and she explained that the tapestries are called by the names of the old masters, but the needlework was done by others, whose identity we do not know. I asked her, "Mostly women?" and she agreed. Hmmpf.
Well, enough about our over-eating and our enjoyment of the Galician culture. This morning we sadly said good-bye to Jamie and Eleanor, who are off to do some rock climbing in the Picos de Europa east of here before they return home to Halifax. This afternoon we'll ride bikes to see the Tower of Hercules, originally built by the Romans in the first century AD - a lighthouse at what was then the furthest edge of the civilized world.
We may stay here another couple of days, and then it's off to the Rias Baixas, a series of inlets which reportedly comprise great cruising grounds, just north of Portugal.
We send our best wishes to all our friends and family, and we hope you're having as much fun as we are!
Craig & Barbara
Thanks to Eleanor Kure for the cover photo for this post. Check back in a few days for more photos