I’ve reached La Coruna!

Fog off Cape Finisterre

Upon rounding Cape Finisterre or Promunturium Nerium as the Romans called it (for the Latin buffs), I found myself motoring on a tranquil sea with light variable winds, thoroughly surrounded by FOG!!!

With my radar detector buzzing a stream of constant warnings, I desperately rummaged through mounds of safety gear to find my ‘never before used’ aerosol fog horn.

Seizing the can of noise just as a fishing vessel materialized from the mist, I gave the big red button a serious push, only to have the blasted contraption squeak once (and rather feebly at that) before turning mute.

Despite liberal application of several unimaginative expletives, my efforts to ‘blow my own horn’ came to naught, though I probably needn’t have worried, anyone within a mile of Eileen would surely have heard my ravings. 😉

The fog was so much fun, I took a photo of it as a keepsake. Voila!

By midday the mist lifted and eight happy uneventful hours later, I was within sight of the “Tower of Hercules”, the only ancient Roman lighthouse still in use today. Not long afterward I was safely tied to the visitors berth at La Coruna rolling with the other boats in the wash from the constant comings and goings of the pilot boat.

An anchorage off the beach at Finisterre

Beach anchorage at Finisterre

I was not going to round Finisterre with north to northwest winds (from Force 4 to 6), so I only motored as far as the headland for a peek at the conditions (in a word… ugly), before turning to plan A and making for the beach anchorage northeast of the town.

Provided there isn’t too much roll, and the wind doesn’t shift so that you end up in surf, I’ve come to enjoy staying at beach anchorages. They can be so easy! You just approach the shoreline until you arrive at your desired anchoring depth (5 to 6m for me), and drop your hook in the clean white sand. No fenders to tie, no rocks to rub up against your hull, and no weed to reek havoc with your anchors holding ability. Bliss! As an added bonus you get to ‘people watch’ landlubbers for your afternoons entertainment.

Dawn at Finisterre anchorage

The port of Finisterre has virtually no room for a visiting yacht, but the anchorage served quite satisfactorily for my overnight stay as the winds died down to Force 1 and the seas settled. Just as predicted in the weather forecasts… What a novelty!

Rising at dawn, I photographed the French yacht that had come to share “my” beach retreat before joining the rush of fishing vessels heading for the cape.

Muros and Portosin

Taking on fuel at Portosin

I was running low on fuel and my wallet had a measly 10 Euro left in it, so I persuaded myself (after much discussion), to investigate the possibility of diesel and an automatic bank teller at Muros.

As I tied off to the outer pontoon I was met by the port police and immediately told that there was no fuel to be found here for the likes of me. Funny, I hadn’t noticed the “Solitary yachtsman, please abuse” sign pinned to my back this morning…

I suppose that the mention in Imray’s Atlantic Spain and Portugal guide, of subsidized diesel being sold to pleasure craft here, had led to a rush the authorities are still fighting to dissuade.

Fortunately, I was permitted to stop for the few minutes it would take to visit a bank, and not wanting to antagonize any additional officials by my mere presence, I made my tour of Muros notably brief.

Tiller in hand, (for no apparent reason, my ST-2000 tiller-pilot died this morning), I motored the 4 miles to Portosin in search of regular diesel. A shame really, because the weather would have been perfect for rounding Finisterre and now I am stuck in port waiting for the next weather window. I almost made a run for it this morning, but conflicting weather forecasts and the prospect of rain quickly dissuaded me.

I guess I’ll be visiting more of Portosin, and who knows, perhaps one of my north bound 3-day friends will catch up with me.

With free Wi-Fi, comfortable marina cafeteria at hand, and a fee structure based on boat size, I am in no rush to move on.

Piedras Negras to the anchorage at Muros

Dolphins escort Eileen of Avoca

Over the next leg I had a dolphin escort for much of the journey. Rather large dolphins I might add, perhaps it’s all that fertilizer floating in the Rias that’s bred a race of super large and extra cheeky cetaceans. I say extra cheeky because individuals in this pod had developed a new way to amuse themselves by splashing me (without resorting to the blow-hole technique describe in an earlier post).

The trick involves leaping from the water and giving an extra slap of the tail at just the right moment upon reentry to effect an extraordinary large splash . Very sopping amusing…

The ‘Big Brother’ helicopter was at it again today, but it was more interested in a trio of south bound yachts, and only bothered to give me a single flyby.

Approaching the anchorages off Muros, Spain

Approaching Muros, the wind picked up considerably (to its usual two to three times that indicated in the windguru.com forecast). Double reefed, I made excellent time traveling at a brisk 6 knots so I arrived in Muros by mid-afternoon giving me plenty of time to examine its two anchorages.

The one closest the marina (and town) was over (reportedly) foul ground, and at 10 meters, I opted for the shallower eastern side over sand and weed. Here I would have ample scope for my meager 25 meters of anchor chain.

It was a tranquil night and my sleep was only interrupted once when at 5am a crescendo of engine noise, followed by subdued Spanish conversation and culminating in much rattling of my anchor chain, had me frantically reaching for my clothes.

Once suitably attired (yes, I know I have questionable priorities), I ventured on deck to discover a couple of fishermen passing their tiny boat under my anchor chain. Upon seeing me, they explained that they were just getting themselves unstuck from my chain and that there was no need to worry, which I figured was the polite Galician way of saying “you anchored on our fishing net, dimwit”.

Bayona to Piedras Negras Marina, San Vicente del Mar

The beach at Piedras Negras

The mornings downpour was relatively short lived and by early afternoon I made the most of the improved conditions and set out to explore the anchorages off Isla del Faro. I liked the beaches here so much, I went for a swim!

In truth, I managed to collect an unwanted souvenir around Eileens’ propeller and was forced to take a dip to remove the culprit. Otherwise I’d never have ventured into the water, especially after what I’d seen floating in it yesterday!

The anchorages off Isla del Faro are fine for a day-time stopover, but I didn’t feel comfortable remaining there for the night, so, having had my 30 second swim, I set off to investigate what Isla Ons (10 miles further north) had to offer.

Helicopter surveillance in Spanish Rias

On route, I was intercepted by the ‘big brother’ chopper for a photo shoot (see marked white bulbous protrusion in accompanying image).

Your guess is as good as mine as to why the helicopter crew found it necessary to take aerial shots of Eileen, (is she really that pretty?), but not wanting to be outdone, I quickly fetched my own camera and after a brief wave (for good measure), set about starting my own collection of helicopter photos.

The anchorages off Isla Ons were much worse than those I’d visited earlier in the day, leaving me no option but to push on for San Vicente del Mar, just 3 nautical miles to the north.

Sunset in Spanish Galicia

I was treated to a spectacular sunset and arrived at the little marina of Piedras Negras just as the last of the light faded.

If the surge within the marina was anything to go by, I made the right decision not to anchor for the night. At one point I wondered whether the entire pontoon would break loose, but even the jarring, creaking marina cacophony was not up to the task of keeping me from my sleep, and by morning everything had settled.

Sailing from Leixoes to Bayona, Spain

Polluted waters in Spanish Rias

Leixoes turned out to be my last port of call in Portugal. I had originally intended to stop in Viana do Castelo but changed my mind on route as the weather was so enjoyable.

Not so pleasant was the amount of pollution in the water. Large patches of sea along the coast here, can only be described as truly repulsive. I was beginning to wonder whether my cooling system might clog motoring through this soup of effluent discharge!

What is this odd vessel?

I passed the time trimming sails that didn’t need trimming, rigging a boom keeper just for the practice and watching odd ships pass by. The one pictured here wins the prize for “oddest vessel of the day”. Goodness knows what sort of ship it is. If anyone knows, feel free to enlighten me. Fortunately there was little in the way of swell, because it certainly didn’t look very seaworthy.

Arriving in Bayona at dusk, I thought to anchor for the night. Unfortunately the anchorages marked on my charts turned out to be occupied by private moorings. I only discovered the next day that picking up a buoy for the night would have been fine. As it was, I took the advice (shouted by an English crew) that “this marina is cheap”, and took an outer berth at the Monterreal Club de Yates (at the foot of Bayona’s castle) for the night.

View from marina, Bayona Spain

The following morning, as I sat at the marina cafe admiring the view from the fortifications which included the replica of Columbus’ ship the Pinta berthed nearby, I satisfied myself that English dry humour and the 16 Euro a night fee were not so acerbic. 😉

30NM from Mazagon to Isla Canela

Sailing obstacles

The next day I made my way west taking full advantage of the smooth seas I had so eagerly sought this far north.

What I had not taken into account in my planning, was having to dodge the hundreds, if not thousands, of fisherman’s lobster pots (at least I think that’s what they were), littering the area. It would appear that only day passages are possible, as at night, you would be almost guaranteed to become thoroughly entangled on a regular basis. Perhaps there is scope for inventing a new sport here: What do you think of ‘Giant Yacht Slalom’?

Isla Canela Marina

While mooring at my designated finger pontoon in Isla Canela marina, I jumped clumsily to tie off and the jarring motion sent my best sunglasses falling to the murky depths beneath Eileen. I spent the next hour free diving to try and recover them, but to no avail. Visibility in the water was so poor I literally could not see more than 20cm in front of me and at 4 meters I couldn’t hold my breath long enough to search effectively .

As the sun set, I gave up in disgust and went to mope over their loss at Sugar Reef, (a bar boasting Wi-Fi). Several beers (I mean hours) later, I wasn’t feeling too bad about my latest trivial misfortune. 😉

Chipiona to Mazagon

Boarded by customs

I left Chipiona in mild weather, so it came as quite a surprise to find myself thoroughly tossed about in the muddy tidal ebb of the Guadalquivir river. As I crossed the line drawn by a sea colour change, the conditions settled and I enjoyed a trouble free ride all the way to Mazagaon, (a little less that 40NM to the northwest).

On route, my lucky blue lure caught me another free meal. Five miles from my destination, when I had just finished cleaning this latest windfall, I was taken aback when intercepted and boarded by Spanish customs.

My concern was that they might impose some sort of penalty as I belatedly wondered whether there might be size limits on tuna catches for these waters. I had heard horror stories of cruisers being fined several thousand Euro for catching octopus (apparently protected in some areas), and perhaps I’d fall victim to some obscure regulation of which I was totally unaware.

Friendly customs officers

As the customs vessel approached they indicated that they would come alongside, so I took out several fenders from the push-pit lockers and simultaneously stowed my questionable catch.

I needn’t have worried, while one officer sat (on the locker hiding my catch) reviewing my boat documentation, the other helped me decide which ports I should visit on my future travels along the Portuguese coast. They were very pleasant company and even posed for a couple of snapshots.

Snug at my assigned berth in Mazagon I set about the serious business of preparing my hidden treasure. Seared in very hot olive oil with a few bay leaves and served with sliced avocado, mayonnaise and a dash of pepper. A true delight.

Tuna steaks with avocado

It’s days like this that make me truly appreciate the cruising lifestyle. As I enjoyed an accompanying glass of white wine my only regret was that I had nobody with which to share the moment. My consolation however, was that there was a second helping of fried tuna to be had. 🙂

The accidental wind intruments of Chipiona

Chipiona at high tide

Keeping the obligatory two miles from the coast, I motored the 17NM from Rota to Chipiona in calm seas with Force 1 to 2 winds. Unfortunately, the gentle breeze was short lived and for the next three days I found myself weather bound. It seems I only ever get to play tourist in bad weather!

Chipiona is an interesting town and the days passed relatively quickly. Apparently it’s population of about 20,000 triples in the summer as Spanish tourists flock from Sevilla on mass, to enjoy the beach life (though it’s more like rock life when the tide is out). Not that this migratory phenomenon was evident in March.

The center has plenty of shops and restaurants, a pleasant seaside promenade and a few architecturally interesting buildings, but what really captured my imagination was the haunting sound coming from what must be one of the most unusual accidental wind instruments I’ve ever heard.

It took me a considerable amount of time to identify the source of the towns pervading and eerily haunting music, but I finally narrowed it down by the tedious process of elimination, to the resonating of a steel railing running the length of the foreshore. How bizarre! I bet that was also what the locals were thinking of me as I set my ear to a number of unlikely candidates in the course of my auditory investigation.

Barbate to Rota in turbulent seas.

Weather west of the straits

Just 5 miles west of Barbate I found myself sailing around the many shoals off Cape Trafalgar. Yes, this is the site of the famous, or infamous, (presumably depending on your nationality), 1805 naval battle between Villeneuve and Nelson.

I’d checked my almanac and Imray pilot to time the departure for a complementary tidal stream, but after an hour of speeding west at 7.5kts I realized my northerly stream was not altogether northerly! If only the disclaimer printed beneath the tidal stream extract was given more prominence, I might not have taken it as gospel. Lesson learnt.

The wind was now gusting to twice that predicted in the “windguru.com” and “windfinder.com” web site forecasts and the direction was anything but favourable. I was obviously in for another rough trip. A brief glance at the brevity of my ships log (one entry 6hrs after departure) is testament to this.

So why was I stubbornly heading North toward the bay of Cadiz instead of just heading out to sea on a direct route to Portugal?

For several reasons:

  • Firstly, I found it was difficult to trust the weather forecasts for one day, let alone the two to three that I’d need for a longer leg;
  • I also wanted to take advantage of the promise of smoother seas further north (clearly shown in my weather forecasts an example of which is posted above).
  • A degree of wanting to play tourist also had to be taken into consideration.

Ugly but functional

By sunset I was bouncing my way into the bay of Cadiz. No torn mainsail this time, but the bronze rail at the end of my boom (tensioning the mainsail), was dramatically ripped from its fastenings. For now, I have decided to do without it, and have come up with this (see photo) elegant solution. OK, I’ll admit it isn’t pretty, but it does work!

Of Rota, I saw nothing but the refueling pontoon by night. Fascinating. So much for the argument of heading north to play tourist. 🙂