Povoa De Varzim

We finished our 2 week holiday in Povoa, securely tied up the boat and flew home for just over a month. Povoa, like many Portugese marinas can get wild in the winter storms and it is apparently a rule that the boats have to be out of the water by the end of September. Whats more the marina entrance can be closed for weeks at a time as the Atlantic swell can make the entrance too dangerous.

It was with great relief that as the day we were returning approached, the forecast was for little swell and no wind. The weather gods were kind to us and the autumn storms had held off until after our return date the 3rd October.

All credit to the marina and the staff, they looked after the boat for us and the prices put the UK to shame.

My brother in law Pete flew out with me to help me take the boat down to Porto, where we had planned on hauling her out for an inspection, a polish and a little tlc prior to heading to the Canaries for the start of the ARC. We flew in, thanked the staff, untied the boat and left on the 15 mile trip to Duoro Marina in Porto

Heading South down the Spanish coast – Galician Rias

Heading back to the boat for two weeks in August gave us the opportunity to head south. We hadn’t initially planned on leaving the boat further south after the holiday, but having thought about it briefly and researched the options, Lesley’s comment of ‘why are we heading back to La Coruna at the end of the holiday? made sense. It gave us much more time to explore the Rias and meant we wouldn’t have to hack back against the Portugese trades.

When heading south from La Coruna we knew that the first sail was going to be one of the longer ones between the Rias. We left early morning and followed the coast for several hours towards the Illas Sisargas. Reading the guide books, most suggest passing to seaward but also show an anchorage between the islands which looked pretty perfect for a lunch stop. A quick look on the chart plotter showed nothing scary if we went to the South of them and the AIS tracks showed a few other yachts heading inside. I guess the guide books were written before chart plotters were widely used and the swell was minimal and the wind light.

We dropped anchor in the small sheltered bay for a delightful lunch and an hour or so of peace and quiet in lovely remote surroundings. After lunch we up anchored and headed off south west. Not many people have too much good to say about the first realistic overnight stopping place – Corme, and since we didn’t want to spend every day at sea, we bypassed that and headed straight for Camarinas. Arriving late afternoon, we had a peaceful evening anchored off the beach.

The next morning out came the kneeboard and we enjoyed a few hours kneeboarding in the flat sheltered waters of this delightful Ria. We took the dinghy ashore in the afternoon and took a walk into the pretty town where we enjoyed a little local hospitality in the form of a drink an ice cream in the sun.

We left Camarinas the next day to head south and round the notorious Cape Finistere. With a fearsome reputation we were glad that the forecast was for benign conditions and thats what we got. Virtually flat calm, little wind and sunshine. Rounding the Cape we had the option of heading North into the Ria tucked up inside the Cape, or keeping going a little further to Muros. We opted for the latter and by lunchtime we were at anchor sunbathing in the warm sheltered Ria trying to figure out what the row of men were doing up to their shoulders in the water off the beach with big sticks.

By mid afternoon Charlotte and Derek were itching to get the kneeboard out again so went off to explore the Ria in the rib and on the board. With a large expanse of mussel beds just behind the boat creating a virtual ‘track’ for the board a good time was had lapping the beds at high speed.

Lesley meanwhile enjoyed the peace and tranquility of not having two energetic ‘children’ to amuse for a short while and took the opportunity to read her book!

Next stop was the Ria de Arosa. With so many options to explore in each Ria and not a huge amount of time, we relied on the pilot book to pick the anchorage. The book said “If you only visit one anchorage in the Ria, make it Illa de Arosa”. We did and it was immediately apparent that the author is looking for something slightly different than us! Whilst there was nothing wrong with it, it could not be classed as pretty, although going ashore the fishing village was very quaint and pleasant. However we decided to move somewhere different within the Ria for the day. We headed to the beach at Ribiera where the long sandy beach provided a beautiful backdrop to the anchorage. Here we decided to try out part of our almost finished ‘Series Drogue’ by towing it behind the dinghy. It passed with flying colours, rendering the 15 hp outboard virtually useless against the drag of the cones.

After a peaceful night we headed south to the next Ria – Ria de Pentevedra. The claimm to fsame for this Ria is that it produces something like 18% of the world’s mussels. With mussel beds everywhere it still remained a beautiful setting. On the basis that we needed to drop Charlotte at the airport the next day and we had a hire car booked from Pontevedra town, we worked our way as close to the town as we could sensibly find to anchor and dropped the hook off the little village of Combarro – about a 2 mile dinghy ride from the centre of Pontevedro.

The plan was simple: All three of us would take the dinghy to Pontevedro, Derek would jump out, pick up the hire car and drive it back to Combarro and park it up there overnight whilst the girls would take the dinghy back and collect Derek from Combarro, so that the next morning it was just a very short hop in the dinghy for the early start to the airport.

Unfortunately all the best plans are prone to falling apart and this was to be one that fell apart in epic proportions. Firstly on launching the dinghy we realised we didn’t have sufficient fuel to get tom Pontevedra and back. No problem, a quick Google maps search showed there were a few petrol stations close to the river so we could take the can and refill it. The wind also picked up a bit meaning the journey in the dinghy was a little choppier and wetter than envisaged and the girls began to get a bit nervous as to whether they would be ok alone against the wind and chop on their own. Having located a petrol station which was also a relatively convenient spot to drop Derek off, the girls were rewarded with ice creams and chocolates and sent on their way back whilst Derek set off to find the car hire company. On arrival he was met by a very confused lady who explained that she had no car despite the booking, which it transpired was for the previous day!

Unfortunately with no other cars available in the town and the girls on their way back to the boat, after a few web searches, it appeared the only option was to hire a car from Vigo airport, 40 minutes away by taxi! A booking was secured just as Derek’s phone went flat but unfortunately being though a third party, until the confirmation email came through there would be no instructions on where or how to collect the car at the airport!

Arriving at the airport it was pot luck as to which company to try first with a completely flat phone and no confirmation of car hire! Luckily the man behind the first desk had a phone charger and so Derek was able to charge the phone and check the emails, only to discover that the booking had been rejected!

Thankfully another car was sourced and a message sent to the girls to say ‘Problem with booking, currently in Vigo airport, will contact you when I get back in a few hours so you can collect me’

Having secured the keys and a map, things were looking up right up to the point of arrival into Combarro, where it transpired we had picked one of three days of the year when the entire town centre and water front is closed to traffic for an annual festival! The car was unceremoniously ‘dumped’ at the roadside and the girls were called and we were all reunited!

The next day, things went a little more smoothly – the car was still where it was dumped, we got to the airport on time and Charlotte caught her flight home. We then had to return the car to Vigo airport and find our way back to Combarro. We took the opportunity to visit Vigo city, since all the buses from the airport went via the city centre, so we had a delightful walk up to the old castle on the hill that overlooks the city. Another train and a bus and we were back in Combarro and then back on board – a long two days!

Time to move on and we set sail the next morning for the short trip into the Ria De Aldan. A small Ria on the southern entrance to Ria Pontevedra.

There are warnings that if the wind goes northerly it gets choppy and uncomfortable, so when that duly happened in the late afternoon, we decided to up sticks and head into Ria De Vigo.

For such a short trip it was quite eventful. The 25 knot breeze had whipped up quite a sea and having not prepared the boat for anything other than a short 20 minute motor in flat seas when the first wave hit, it came through the open hatches, soaking whatever was in its path and causing Lesley to have a complete sense of humour failure. Having been promised a roast dinner (since it was a Sunday) and having already put the veg in the oven, to be subjected to 45 minutes of total wet wild turbulence, wet cabins, burnt veg, and a stomach that had no desire to eat anything, the promised roast lamb and three veg evening treat was doomed. At least we had found a very nice sheltered spot to drop anchor and mop out the boat.

It wasn’t until the next morning when we were leaving to go via the much talked about islands Islas Cies that we learned the full story of our anchorage. As we sipped our morning tea admiring the bay from a little way off there was something different about the early morning beach goers – the way they were purposefully strutting down the beach was different to most beaches and it was only when we grabbed the binoculars we finally identified why – we had picked the local nudist beach to anchor off! Back to the Islas Cies: Unfortunately when we did a little research, we learned that you have to get a permit to visit the islands to restrict tourist numbers and we didn’t have time to do so, so officially we could not go there. Unofficially it appeared that many boat owners do go there and are not hassled. As we closed on the islands in the early morning, we saw no reason not to take a quick detour, so like may others we did, and they really were stunning, A picturesque anchorage and great views from the higher levels. We decided not to push our luck too much so moved on and dropped anchor in Baiona, a well frequented bay which marks the southern extents of these Rias and for us the end of our time in Spain.

We took the opportunity to refuel, took a walk through the town and prepared to head south to Portugal the next morning.

 

Ria de Ferrol

The Ria de Ferrol does not sound overly attractive when the guide book is read, mainly because its a large naval and commercial port with little in the way of marinas or anchorages.

However because it is close to where we were and because we like to make our own minds up about places we decided to take a trip and have a look.

As we left the Ria we let out the trolling line and much to our surprise had a bite within a few minutes (very different to the hours we spent the days before trying to catch one of the thousands of elusive Mullet that were swimming around the boat). Unfortunately we didn’t recognise the fish we hooked but landed it anyway and it transpires it was a needlefish. Perfectly edible, although the filleting left a lot to be desired meaning the small fillets were full of tiny greeny-blue bones, which after a bit of research we found was completely normal for this type of fish. The fish likers said the flavour was nice so one we will try again if we get the opportunity.

The few miles across the mouth of the Ria de Betanzos were a slightly rolly affair with the Atlantic swell that had obviously built since we entered the Ria, hitting us directly on the beam, and no wind to steady the rig. However after a short time we were entering the steep sided valley and headed up the estuary to the imposing defenses which guard this natural harbour.

Julie on the bow, with the older fort behind

Our friend Julie on the bow, with the older fort behind

The entrance seems narrow due to the height of the hills either side but there are tankers and naval ships inside so it is obviously an illusion.

The more modern fortress
The more modern fortress on the Southern side

We passed the anchorages and continued into the wide open commercial area then after a quick tour around, returned and dropped anchor in the middle of an almost empty bay – a few local yachts on buoys on one side, a small beach on the other and nothing else.

I can’t say it ranks as a ‘must go back’ place but certainly one we are glad we visited. The anchorage was perfectly still overnight, and watching all the locals fishing in small open boats all down the estuary as we left in the morning, certainly left an impression of a true ‘locals’ Ria, we were left wondering if they were fishing commercially or just for the fun of it. Unfortunately we had to leave to come home so didn’t have the opportunity to find out.

Ensenada de Mera and Sada – Ria de Betanzos

Just 15 minutes from La Coruna marina is the small sheltered bay of Ensenada de Mera.

The Beach
The Beach

We had passed it a few times previously but decided we would use it as a lunch stop having flown in for a few days and left the marina late morning. We didn’t go ashore but it was a small charming bay offering us an excellent sheltered anchorage for lunch and an early afternoon siesta for some, content to get back into the spanish way of life after a 02:45 get up to get to the airport! With the added benefit of a clean anchor when we decided to leave, it will certainly be used again, maybe even for an overnight stop.

The anchorage just west of the beach
The anchorage just west of the beach

A short hop under genoa, back into the Ria de Betanzos, meant we had many choices of where to stay the night, but we opted to head south for a couple of miles to Sada on the western shore of the Ria. The chart plotter showed the favourable anchorage might be a little shallow for us but when we arrived and did the calculations we were able to find a spot tucked in behind the breakwater for a very pleasant evening.

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Wide pavement and cycle path with shady park behind

A trip ashore landed us in the marina where we were not immediately taken with the buildings. The marina is however built a little to the north of the main town centre in what appears to be a more commercial environment, and a short walk south along the front took us to the main shopping and eating areas – a much nicer prettier environment. What struck us was the mix of old and new; there are some very old buildings, then closeby some modern glass fronted buildings, but somehow in the main they seem to work together. What we also concluded, is that the town has been hit quite hard, presumably with the recession. There are many closed down and boarded up buildings, some rather nice buildings, and also some very old buildings that have been demolished – strange to wonder down a street and see the last building in a terrace, or half a several hundred year old semi demolished with the rest still standing and occupied.

Empty beach
Empty beach

Worth noting for us is that there is a large modern supermarket just a couple of minutes walk from the marina – so this may well end up being a regular first stop having arrived in Spain!

Redes and Pontedeume

Just to the east of Ares, we anchored off the Ensenada de Redes, tucked away behind a headland completely sheltered from the Atlantic.

Redes Anchorage
Redes Anchorage

A short blast in the dinghy took us first to the small town of Pontedeume, sitting behind the long roman road bridge, which for many years was the longest bridge in Spain.

The Roman Bridge
The Roman Bridge
There is More Than One Way to Tie Up Your Boat
There is More Than One Way to Tie Up Your Boat

Pontedeume certainly has some charm. Built on the hillside, the narrow streets in the old town are interspersed with little squares and many of the buildings feature traditional Galician architecture.

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Quaint Little Streets
Not sure about Lesleys New Friend
Not sure about Lesley’s New Friend!

A small walk up the hill is the impressive Church of Santiago.

Santiago Church
Santiago Church

Its difficult to get an overall view of the church because its packed in between other buildings but the western facade has some very fancy detailing.

Across the old bridge is the beautiful beach of Redes, Close to a mile in length, and sweeping gently around the bay, the sand was soft and the shallow water completely calm, We were able to take the dinghy into the beach and anchor it in a few feet of water, wading ashore to take a stroll through the small town, where we found little in the way of shops – maybe people shop in Pontedeume, but what appealed in Redes was the woodland between the beach and the houses, creating a shady area with the lovely aroma of pine needles that we can imagine would be an absolute delight in the heat of the summer to shelter from the afternoon sun.

First Experiences of the Spanish Rias

Just a short sail from La Coruna, the Ria de Ares and Ria de Betanzos provide us with some fantastically relaxing and peaceful anchorages.

For our first trip we headed for the anchorage at Ares where the girls had plenty of space to kneeboard without irritating anyone. We took a trip ashore to the pretty small town where the streets were lined with flowers for the annual festival of  Corpus Christi and Charlotte and Derek took a cycle ride to the petrol station to get fuel for the outboard motor for the dinghy.

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The girls having some fun at Ares in the Ria de Ares, just North East of La Coruna.

More pics here

La Coruna – Ocean Blue’s Home For The Summer

It is strange flying home and leaving the boat 500 miles away.

For the last 5 or so years we have had her no more than 20 minutes down the road, and most weekends we have been onboard, either enjoying sailing her or upgrading something. Now unless we are flying out to Spain, we have time to do what normal people do at the weekend – well not quite as we are already into sorting out the house for when we leave in October!

Sun Rising As We Leave To Catch a Flight Home

 

Fixing the Autohelm

Since we have owned the boat, the autohelm has given us a few headaches. Not because of any deficiency in the autohelm itself, but more to do with the installation of it.

The first issue we had with it was in 2013. The hydraulic pump failed when we were on route to Brittany. The positioning of the pump meant that stray salt water that got into the lazarette corroded the pump and eventually it took its toll. A new pump, shipped out to Benodet fixed the issue.

The ends of the hydraulic pipes connecting the pump to the ram are mild steel, and that again does not mix well with salt water, so after several years of soaking in salt water, as we tested the new pump and deliberately loaded up the system to check for leaks, we blew a pipe! Luckily we found a hydraulic pipe supplier just half an hour’s cycle ride from Benodet and we were back in business.

However as we tested it we discovered the unsettling fact that as the autohelm steered the boat, the entire lazarette floor moved from side to side! On investigation it transpired that although the boat was built with webs moulded into the hull for the ram, whoever had installed the ram had bolted it to the plywood floor rather than the mounts! Whilst the ram was mounted very securely to the plywood floor, the plywood floor was only held in place by a few lightweight screws. We fixed this by manufacturing a stainless bracket and mounting this directly to the webs on the hull. A permanent rigid solution with the added bonus that the floor can now be lifted to examine the autohelm without disturbing it.

In 2015 as we headed out across the channel the actuator on a solenoid valve failed on the ram. A quick easy fix once we obtained the parts, but of course obtaining parts when cruising is not always easy or quick. Luckily we had visitors flying out and they were able to bring a replacement with them. We started what has become a trend for us at that time – we bought two activators so we now have a spare!

Which leads us to the failure in Biscay. The ram is attached via a rose joint to a pin on the quadrant. When new the pin is no doubt a tight fit in the hole and remains perpendicular (well almost) to the thrust of the ram, so there is little if no tendency for the rose joint to work its way up the pin. Despite this, why the manufacturers decided to prevent the rose joint being able to come off the pin with a split pin less than 1.5mm diameter I cannot understand, but what we do know, is that after many thousand miles the pin had worked its way a little loose in the hole, so it could tilt over a little and the repeated forces on the ram had pushed the rose joint up the pin shearing the split pin allowing the rose joint to work its way off the top of the pin.

We decided to take a belt an braces approach to fixing this which basically involved a new pin that fitted the hole, with a plate on top bolted down so it couldn’t be lifted and a much more beefy split pin for good measure. It may be overkill but it certainly shouldn’t fail again!

Stainless Plate
Fabricated Stainless Plate
Quadrant Pin
The new pin, plate and split pin installed on the quadrant

The Notorious Bay of Biscay

The Bay of Biscay got its notoriety in the days of square riggers. The prevailing wind would push them into the bay and onto the lee shore as they were unable to sail upwind. The sea bed also drops rapidly to several thousand metres so waves often heap up and very steep confused seas can occur.

Modern boats with reliable engines and rigs that allow boats to sail upwind efficiently have certainly reduced the risk of Biscay, however after a couple of crossings I can without hesitation say it’s still a stretch of water that commands a huge amount of respect and is likely to throw a curved ball at any time. Having stopped at L’Aberwrach to wait for a change in the weather, we moved the boat to the beautiful Camaret bay to give ourselves the best kicking off place for ‘the bay’.

The winds were still from the South West when we left Camaret but our routing software was predicting a change to the North West by the time we got South of the Brest peninsular.

It wasn’t wrong. As we neared the lighthouse that marks the southernmost point of the Raz De Seine the wind shifted 90 degrees and we set the sails for a pleasant broad reach overnight.

Because the air temperature was so low we decided to change the watch system for this leg. We opted for two hour watches rather than three. The disadvantage of this was that the off watch crew only got a maximum break of four hours but we decided that was preferable to getting very cold for three hours at a time.

Throughout the night the wind veered as forecast and dropped so by morning we were looking for ways to get some more speed. We tried the Parasailor, a favourite of ours but there wasn’t even enough breeze to keep that filling sensibly in the slightly rolly conditions so that came down and the engine went on.

By early evening the wind had increased a little so the Parasailor went back up for a few hours and we had a pleasant few hours before we took it down for dinner as the wind was by now going forward on the port side and increasing.

The forecast was for the wind to increase during the evening and build to 20 to 23 knots overnight from the East.

We were over half way across the bay by this stage and we settled down for our second night expecting it to b slightly less comfortable but fast and not unpleasant.

One might think that winds from the East would be ideal for a Biscay crossing and actually it was certainly better than the SW winds I had on my last crossing but what we didn’t expect was quite how steep the waves built. With the swell coming in from the west and the wind from the east, the wave faces were unexpectedly steep. The direction we were travelling meant we were travelling perpendicular to the wave direction so effectively sailing along the waves and depending on whether we were on the face or back of the wave the effect on the heel of the boat was quite surprising. There was no moon and a lot of cloud too so in the dark it wasn’t possible to see the waves coming – often you would hear the breaking of a wave seconds before it arrived, heeling the boat to starboard before the wave passed underneath and the boat picked itself up and rolled back upright to port down the back of the wave. For those off watch, sleep wasn’t as easy as the previous night!

By 1 am the wind had built to closer to 30 knots at times so we had reduced sail quite a bit to quieten things down but we were still travelling quite fast, often travelling at eight to nine knots in the pitch black. It was quite wet in the cockpit due to the waves hitting the hull and being blown up and across the boat. Since the auto helm was doing the steering, the preferred watch position was well forward in the cockpit sheltered by the screen and spray hood.

We have a chart plotter at the front of the cockpit and auto helm controls there so it’s quite a sheltered comfortable position to monitor other traffic (of which there was very little) and keep an eye on the boat.

Shortly after 1 am there was an unusual bang, unlike all the other bangs and crashes that are typical of a yacht fast reaching through confused seas and after a few seconds it was obvious that the autohelm had disconnected and the boat was running off course.

Having grabbed the wheel and tried to re engage the autopilot it was obvious that the peace and relative warmth of the cockpit front was not going to be an option for the near future and I set about hand steering while I tried to figure out what could be wrong and how we could fix it. The most unfortunate aspect was that without the autohelm it was clear we would need more than one person on watch so the 4 hour off watch periods were history!

Trying to maintain course for long periods of time in the pitch black with waves pushing the boat around was tiring and even after reducing sail still further it was clearly going to be a long night, so I did what all good skippers should do – I went to bed!

Well actually it’s not quite true. I left Pete at the helm and went to wake Lesley for two reasons; firstly to join Pete on watch and secondly because all the electronics for the autohelm were beneath the bunk she was sleeping on and I wanted to check all the connections and fuses to ensure the problem wasn’t a quick and easy fix.

It is fair to say that lesley was not best pleased to be woken! When I asked if she had slept well her response was ‘I didn’t get off to sleep for a long time since there was something banging and crashing just behind my head for ages. Suddenly it all went quiet thankfully so I could get some sleep, but now you are waking me up two hours before I start my shift.’

Needless to say, we put two and two together quite rapidly and concluded that shortly before failing, the autohelm was making more noise than normal, since it was no more than a metre from her head, albeit the other side of a bulkhead!

After explaining the failure to Lesley, she was a little happier to be woken so joined Pete and I dismantled the bunk to get to the electronics, only to confirm what we now suspected, which was that the failure wasn’t just a loose wire and was more likely a mechanical issue in the bottom of the lazarette.

Having put the bunk back together, recycled all electronics and checked everything we could think of that was accessible in the middle of the night I did leave them to it to grab a couple of hours sleep.

Sleep didn’t come fast as my mind raced thinking through the systems and it wasn’t long before based on the knowledge of the system and Lesley’s description of the noises I had a pretty strong feeling about the cause. I suspected the hydraulic ram had come off the pin on the steering quadrant – the split pin that prevents it from coming off had always seemed a bit flimsy but theoretically there should be very little force on it. In the morning light, if conditions allowed we could empty the lazarette, lift the floor and take a look. Until then we had to hand steer.

When I emerged on deck to take over steering it was obvious that it had been a tough, wet job in the pitch black of the night. Sail had been reduced yet further but still the helm loads and seas meant it was a welcome relief for Pete who didn’t take long to doze off having relinquished the wheel.

As it was beginning to get light, we discussed the plans for emptying the lazarette but the theory and execution ended up being rather different due to a series of unplanned events which ended up with Lesley being smacked across the face with the main sheet and receiving two black eyes and a bruised forehead, an accident that was bad enough but could have been far worse. We were reminded very clearly that no matter how well things are planned, they can go very badly wrong in an instant at sea. In this case we hadn’t factored in the rising sun, which temporarily but critically reflected off the instruments blinding the helmsman and completely obscuring all indication of course and wind direction.

The good news was that the diagnosis of the autohelm problem was correct, so we were able to replace the split pin and take a much needed rest from hand steering, until the new pin sheared two hours later!

The remainder of the journey was uneventful. As we closed the shore, the wind died and the seas flattened out enabling us to shake out the reefs and enjoy the sunshine as we sailed into La Coruna – total journey time just over 48 hours from Camaret.

Safely moored in La Coruna marina we walked into town for a much earned beer and tapas with Lesley sporting the biggest sunglasses she could find to avoid Pete and I potentially getting arrested for gbh!

Port Solent to L’Aberwrach

Before we left Port Solent we had subscribed to the PredictWind weather routing software and that was telling us that we had a weather window that would give us a pleasant trip to North West France, but if we went further we would have a pretty tough time. We opted to sail to L’Aberwrach, wait a day or so for the weather system to go through, then carry on across Biscay.

The software was spot on, and we dropped anchor in the mouth of the estuary after an uneventful but very cold crossing in the early hours and went to bed.