Eileen of Avoca returns to Yarmouth

Ramblin' Rose greets Eileen of Avoca

With the high pressure system responsible for England’s mini ‘heat-wave’ weakening, and only 80 miles remaining to reach Yarmouth, my eagerness for an extended stay in Dartmouth was understandably muted, besides, I’d promised friends I’d do my best to reach the Isle of Wight in time for the annual Yarmouth Old Gaffers Festival (YOGAFF).

A settling sea (my favourite kind), greeted Eileen of Avoca as she embarked (mid-afternoon) on her decisive leg. With mainsail aloft, and time aplenty, we…

(no, I’m not using Pluralis Maiestatis, it’s just that after all this time sailing, I can’t help anthropomorphising a little with Eileen, especially when I know that she’s the one doing all the hard work…),

anyway… we chugged across Lyme Bay at half speed and on into another fine night…

Ensuring that our ;) course provided a minimum 6 mile offing from Portland Bill (well clear of the race), I set the solo sailors bane (the mechanical egg timer) to annoy me at 30 minute intervals.

By sunrise it had certainly done its job!

Satisfactorily peeved by egg timer induced nap disruption, I turned Eileen toward the ‘Needles Channel’ on a course of approximately 20º arriving at the fairway buoy just as the tide turned. Unfortunately, the turn was for the worse (an ebb tide), but a quick delve through my tidal atlas revealed a counter-current close to shore! Ah, “Hope springs eternal…”, and the increasing number of small craft escaping the Solent were spared any impending howls of frustration.

Upon reaching the west cardinal buoy marking ‘The Bridge’, I hurried shoreward and within minutes of passing ‘The Needles’ I found my elusive counter current.

It is at this point that I noticed Eileen was being closely pursued by a boatload of tourists. How surreal, but what a pleasant surprise when it turned out to be David Lemonius on Ramblin’ Rose coming to welcome Eileen home. One of his prodigal daughters returns… and who could have asked for a finer welcome!

After a brief exchange of greetings and many a click of the tourist camera as David’s passengers made the most of their unscheduled stop, I said an embarrassing “hello everyone” to his captive audience before turning to fight the remaining tide into Yarmouth.

After three years of wandering abroad, Eileen of Avoca was back at last.

Wandering aimlessly in Dartmouth

Entrance to the River Dart, Dartmouth (kind of obvious?)

Despite arriving at a truly uncivilized hour of the morning, I managed to remain awake long enough to moor safely on the Kingswear side of the River Dart (at the end of the Darthaven Marina visitors pontoon).

A real English pub... Cheers!

That makes two crossings of ‘The English Channel’ for Eileen of Avoca! Hip hip hurray! Now before I get too carried away with partying, it’s off to bed…

At a far more reasonable hour to be conscious (after midday), I formally celebrated my safe arrival in England with a cool lager and traditional pasty in Darmouth proper.

How nice to be back in small boat territory, and what a fabulous holiday atmosphere!

No Children!

Every man, woman, child and four legged friend was out enjoying the unseasonably warm weather. The latter having an especially good time as evidenced by some of the following photos:

Apparently children are best left at home in this town…

Sea dog and child

…or in the tender where the dogs can keep an eye on them.

Dog in a pram!

But never fear, you can still make good use of their perambulator… :)

My only criticism of Darmouth is that there really isn’t much to do at night other than dine out or drink (neither of which I enjoy doing alone). Restaurant or pub, take your pick because the streets are completely deserted once the sun goes down (fear of the Banshee perhaps?).

Never mind, after my winter stay in southern Spain, I’m becoming rather acclimatised to wandering about veritable ghost towns.

At least people here were making good use of their boats during daylight hours!

In fact, I was so enthused by all the boating activity, I couldn’t resist visiting all my new sailing neighbors to swap stories.

Tupny, a Colvic Watson

I may have traveled a few thousand miles in Eileen of Avoca but that often pales in significance compared with the adventures older sailors recount.

I tip my virtual hat in respect to the crew of Tupny and wish them well. What a pleasure it was to listening to their tales. If anyone else happens to come across Tupny, be sure to ask about their boats history, the sea anchor mishap and of the penguins of fortune…

Sailing from Camaret sur Mer to Dartmouth

Fog approaching, 'Le Four' France

Chasing a fresh supply of French wines had me running late for my planned 3pm departure from Camaret (to catch the appropriate tidal stream through the “Chenal du Four”), but I still managed to be the first of several yachts converging on “Pointe de St-Mathieu” for the turn of the tide. A few south bound stragglers rounded “Les Vieux Moines” as I approached, and surprisingly, one even stopped to say hello.

It was Damian from Dartmouth on his yacht Simba. I’d met Damian in La Coruna crewing for Riviera Magic, and here he was again sailing his own yacht to Camaret. Small world! I wonder who else I’ll chance upon at sea when sailing back to Portugal in July.

Despite Damian’s warnings of dense fog off Ouessant (also broadcast in a special bulletin on VHF 16), I decided to risk the poor visibility in order to reach England before even worse weather arrived.

My plan was to be well clear of the tidal stream in ‘le Four’ before a forecast breeze of 10 to 15kts veered north. Three other yachts apparently had the same idea as they quickly motor-sailed past Eileen despite my best efforts to maintain our top speed of 5 to 6kts. Shortly after overtaking us, the yachts disappeared into a broadening bank of gray mist to the north.

The forecast northerlies and the fog arrived early, making for an uncomfortably wet ride through mist on agitated seas, but fortunately the disagreeable conditions were short lived.

Curiously, (as the visibility improved), I found that the yachts that had previously overtaken us (off St. Mathew), were now behind us… In just 20 minutes, Eileen of Avoca had outdistanced the lot!

How we managed to pass everyone in the fog remains a complete mystery. I can only imagine that cloaked in heavy mist Eileen must have felt brazen enough to lift her seaweed ruffles and make a dash for the lead while nobody was looking. :)

Sunset at Start Point

Thirty hours later I found myself off Start Point enjoying the sunset on my approach to Dartmouth. With Eileen’s lackadaisical pace, I get to see a lot of sunsets, something I’m sure only other Yarmouth23 owners can truly appreciate.

‘Enjoy your sunsets at sea with a Yarmouth23′ ought to appear on the sales literature.

A synonym for ‘don’t count on getting to port before dark in a 23ft gaffer that weighs almost three tons!’ ;)

But at least I arrived in Dartmouth safely!

Camaret sur Mer

Camaret sur Mer

My night approach to Camaret in light mist and flat seas was also uneventful. With no moon, it was too dark to see the events!

But never fear… the hand-held chart plotter is here…

Ah, the wonders of chart plotters. Just follow the dotted transit line and you arrive safely in port despite not being able to see a thing.

Somehow I can’t help but think of it as cheating, but chart plotters really do make for ultra safe sailing. Now if I can add an AIS receiver to my list of electronic goodies I might be able to do nothing but sleep while passage making. :)

And why stop there? Hook up enough of that modern electronic gadgetry (as seen on many larger yachts) and I can even stay at home watching TV (not that I have either one or the other at the moment), while Eileen safely sails herself to wherever I fancy…

But then I’d have to mow the lawn again on weekends….On second thought, perhaps I’ll draw the line at just installing an AIS receiver and keep playing sailor. :)

The crew of Erimar

Eileen of Avoca featured in Camaret for one night only!

I came, I refueled, I loaned my harness to the crew of Erimar (who were unsuccessfully playing piniata with a boat hook and wayward halyard), I checked the weather, I bought a few bottles of French wine, I drank a bon voyage glass of Zoco with the aforementioned crew of Erimar…. I left…

Crossing the Bay of Biscay in a small boat

General weather situation for Bay of Biscay crossing

Crossing Biscay wasn’t something I was willing to take on without careful preparation. I spent hours sifting through my pilot books studying approaches to suitable bolt-holes and checking the tides for destinations as varied as Audierne to the north and La Rochelle to the northeast.

The prevailing weather conditions (winds with a northerly aspect and corresponding swell), would not make the passage trivial, and given the frequency of storms, it is not surprising that it took a week of sheltering in Gijon before a suitable three day weather window presented itself.

Gijon was my chosen jump-off point because it shortened my crossing by at least 24hrs (compared with La Coruna), and maximized options for changing my destination on route.

As a large high pressure system approached Biscay offering north westerly winds and settled conditions (see weather-fax) I committed Eileen of Avoca to the crossing.

The idea was to head north as quickly as possible and try to stay ahead of the high pressure system’s center. I was only partly successful.

After a marvelous 24hr run in steady Force 4 winds, covering more than 100NM under sail alone, I stalled in light variable winds. Apparently it was not fast or far enough to outrun the high. The next two days were spent motor sailing, maintaining 4 to 4.5kts, a speed necessary to avoid being caught by the cold front strengthening in the Atlantic.

That’s the official line. I’d like to embellish it further and add volumes on the discomforts endured and how only fine seamanship and the luck of the Irish (I’m figuring that Eileen of Avoca qualifies for this), saved us from a certain doom as we fought a savage sea against a lee shore. But I’ll save that version for my retirement.

The unofficial version (for your eyes only) goes something like this:

I spent hours pouring over my pilot books because there is nothing else in the way of reading material on Eileen, and I stayed in Gijon a week because I didn’t want to be rained upon on route.

The approaching high pressure system equated to an inconsequential swell,which suits me fine because I can keep my food down better when I’m not being violently shaken about.

Swallow visiting Eileen for the night

My marvelous run was spent deciding what to eat next (at sardine sandwich o’clock or half past cold roast chicken), and dozing, because heading directly north from Gijon allows you to miss most of the shipping traffic (my radar detector bleeped only once).

All I had to do was stay on the boat and amuse myself while Eileen did the rest. Hardly an epic journey.

Apart from a surreal “Hitchcock birds” moment or two as increasing numbers of exhausted swallows noisily settled both on and in Eileen each night (in the most unlikely of places), it was delightfully uneventful. Dull is always good when sailing.

As soon as I see the first item in NAVTEXT transmissions taken on route stating “No Warning”, I know I can relax into my semi-catatonic solo passage making stupor. Here is one that almost threatens to be moderately interesting with its mention of fog and rain, but upon closer examination doesn’t quite manage it:


181200 UTC MAY 10



TUE 18 MAY 2010 AT 09 UTC.




LOW 983 48N45W, MOV SE, EXP 995 47N40W BY 19/00 UTC THEN 998 49N35W





3 : FCST TO WED 19 AT 12 UTC

















Keeping busy in Gijon

Service with a smile at Gijon marina

The weather is consistently atrocious all over northern Europe so there is absolutely no point in trying to sail anywhere.

Every morning (or afternoon depending on how well I sleep), I make my way with my laptop to the Hotel Esteban’s cafeteria and check the forecasts on passageweather.com over coffee, an enormous slice of tortilla de patatas with bread, and orange juice, for the frugal sum of 2.10 Euro (I think we have already established that I’m one of the last of the big spenders). ;)

Traditional music

According to the weather reports I’ll be visiting Gijon for at least a week. Fine with me, It will give me time to prepare for my Biscay crossing and allow me to fight the entropy threatening to spread gear and clothes homogeneously throughout the cabin.

After digesting the bad news (with regards to the weather), I usually make my way to the marina where the girls at reception cheerfully assist me to overcome my innate resistance to pay for another night (12 Euro, and all payments must be in advance).

Administrative duties complete, I’m free to play “stupid tourist” (happened to hear that phrase en passant)!

In the spirit of La Coruna’s photographic ramblings, here is my collection of gems from Gijon:

Dancing in the streets, Gijon Spain

It’s Sunday, there is music in the streets and a festival atmosphere. This young fellow is having a ball as he is too young to realize that the audience is laughing at him rather than with him. Not to worry, he is sure to have the rhythm conditioned out of him by the time he is a teenager. Evidenced by my brief visit to a nightclub yesterday. ;)

Cheese anyone?

I make my way to the markets and can’t resist stocking up on fresh bread and cheese.

What are those children up to now?

Old ladies shout at the children running amok in the streets,

Feline disdain

while feline onlookers (this time of the fur covered variety), glance disdainfully at all the noise and merry making.

Children in conversation

I stumbled across these two engrossed in some deep and meaningful conversation,

Pizza and Chinotto

and finished the day on a high with the best pizza I’ve eaten since leaving Italy (at Vesuvio). The icing on the cake is that they sold chinotto! In my inflated opinion, the ultimate beverage accompaniment for pizza.

Yes, a few extra days marooned in Gijon will not be too burdensome.

Carino, Ribadeo and on to Gijon

Overtaken by the Dutch

The forecast swell was under 1.5m for the next three days so I made good progress under power despite frequent showers and little wind. At least the fishing was good, withing 30 minutes of leaving the marina I had already hooked another Bonito!

This very patriotic racer (judging from the size of his ensign), overtook me just 15 miles out from La Coruna despite my liberal use of the iron topsail.

At just under 45 nautical miles, and traveling at 4.5kts, I reached my first stop at the anchorage in Carino well before dark and spent the night rolling about despite the relatively benign conditions.

The rolling itself doesn’t really bother me, but the washboards and the companionway steps tend to creak when Eileen sways from side to side, and this together with the thumping of the rudder as it shifts in its fastenings tends to irritate me after the first few hours of sleep deprivation.

Anchorage off Carino, Northern Spain

Carino has a pontoon with small fingers, but I couldn’t be bothered to make my way through all the moorings to get there, or dig out my fenders for that matter. A larger boat should not even consider berthing there.

In the morning mist and drizzle I made my way to what must be the northern most headland of Spain, Punta Estaca de Bares, and set my course for Ribadeo, covering approximately 45NM (motor sailing) by late afternoon.

Wet ride in a J-boat

I found myself moored next to the same Dutch racer (a J-boat) that had overtaken me leaving La Coruna, and judging from the foul weather gear hanging out to dry, they had had a very wet ride. Smugly dry, I made my traditional offering of fish pate (this time mixed with avocado), and we sat down to exchange travel adventures over drinks.

I didn’t really get to see much of Ribadeo, which is a shame because from what I’ve read it’s a picturesque town. But at the time I had more pressing concerns. I’d forgotten to return my gate/shower key before the office closed and that meant I’d have a late start (if I wanted my deposit back) for my next and longest leg to Gijon (almost 70NM away).

Resigned to arriving well after dark, I set a relaxed pace (still motor sailing), and passed the time solving complex algebraic equations…

If you believe that last remark, I have some fine real estate for sale in Nigeria… :) The only algebra I do while cruising is something along the lines of: If x=relaxing, and z=sleep find y… hmmm y bother about it…

I spend most of my time just watching the world go by and daydreaming. :)

Rope caught on the propeller

Obviously not much happened on this leg. Apart from a 30 second skinny dip to remove another propeller entanglement, which I don’t really mind doing provided the sea is relatively tranquil. Mind you, I do dread the day it happens at night and in boisterous seas.

The toughest part of this passage was rounding Cabo Penas at sunset. I had to battle a west flowing current in freshening Force 5 north easterlies. At just 1.5kts SOG, it took quite a while. It even prompted a looking over by the Aduanas (customs) boat. I gave them a wave and they left me to continue my game of hobby horse around the cape.

My approach to Gijon was also somewhat noteworthy. My hand-held GPS plotter didn’t show a newly built breakwater which obscured half the lights off Banco las Amosucas and the inner breakwater. Adding to the confusion were a series of green lights that would flash and then turn red. What kind of sectored lights do that when I’m simply maintaining my course? The answer? Pedestrian traffic lights that just happen to be on the recommended track to the marina.

Never mind… I still made it to the visitors pontoon (by 1:30am), which was just in time to have a celebratory drink at one of the numerous waterfront nightclubs. My 30 minutes of nightlife at the Habana club left my ears ringing and did much to renew my latent agoraphobic tendencies.

Sheltering in La Coruna

Leche Frita at Noray cafe, La Coruna

I’ve had a walk around town, found the Gadis supermarket for stocking up on provisions, and visited the only two premises opposite the marina offering Wi-Fi (one a gelato bar where the owner only grudgingly let me have the password, and the other, a cafeteria called Noray.

The later is the friendlier by far.

Oh, and if you happen to be in the neighborhood, be sure to try their ‘leche frita’ with your coffee!

The market above Gadis turned out to be an especially fortunate find, because I was finally able to identify my latest haul of free seafood with an expert, i.e. the local fishmonger.


Market, La Coruna

The literal translation of ‘pretty’ or ‘nice’ wasn’t much help, but after a little investigation, I was able to arrive at ‘striped tunny’ which, not surprisingly, is just a small type of tuna.

After handing out more fresh fish pate to the other cruisers at port and gorging myself on new provisions of fruit and vegetables (ah, things that go crunch when you eat them, such a luxury), I wandered off again to explore my new stomping ground.

What follows are a few photos taken while rambling in La Coruna  (click on them for a larger version):

La Voz de Galicia

The quaint little news stand pictured here briefly caught my attention. I wonder why? ;)

Galician fisherwoman

I had a brief conversation (mostly about the weather, though boat engines also featured prominently), with a female fisherman (fisherwoman?), as she mended the nets of her family’s thirty year old wooden boat.

Fishermans pots, La Coruna

Here is a boatload of trouble, and why I can’t easily do night passages.

Roman Lighthouse, La Coruna

The compulsory snapshot of the Roman lighthouse minus the throngs of tourists which normally congregate about its base.

HMS Kent leaving La Coruna

Approximately every second day a new cruise ship would berth against the outer wall of the marina and disgorge a swarm of German tourists. This morning I woke to find a war ship instead. The HMS Kent to be precise. For those wanting to know more about this vessel, I’ve dug up the following link:


Later that evening I bumped into some of her crew at a local “watering hole” (synonym for Irish Pub), and was able to establish that the ships last port of call was Gibraltar and that (with a cruising speed of 30kts) it had taken just two days to reach La Coruna. Apparently it was quite a rough ride, deck hatches were closed and my informant confessed to having been violently seasick on route. At least my month of indolent travel to cover the same distance was vomitus free. :P

Lupin stealing my corona in La Coruna

This demonic fur-less feline belongs to the English crew (or perhaps it is the other way around?) of Riviera Magic A.K.A “the fat yellow boat”. They spent the week berthed opposite Eileen wallowing in counterpoint as wash and surge rolled our vessels.

On occasion I had the opportunity to borrow their fridge (and heater for that matter, but that’s another story…) to cool my beer, so that our frequent commiserating over weather had suitable alcoholic accompaniment.

The "Fat Yellow Boat" leaves port

Nine days after arriving we took advantage of a small improvement in the weather to go our separate ways.

I wish them good winds, flat seas and lots of Bonito!

More weather by SMS

Despite writing software for my own SMS weather service covering the East Atlantic, I still found myself checking sites such as windfinder and windguru whenever I was in port.

This was because I was sailing along the coast and the GRIB data used for my system produces data points for the high seas. Along the coast of Portugal and the Rias of Spain the data started at about 10 degrees longitude west. Good enough, but not perfect.

My solution was to make windguru coastal data available via sms.

Here is how to obtain it. Send a text message in the format:


to the usual Belgian number +32498327494

This will return approximately two days worth of wind and wave data as two separate text messages for the city of La Coruna. Due to the limits of text messaging, precipitation and cloud cover are not included.

The list of data points that can be used is currently as follows (I’ll add more soon):

  • gibraltar
  • tarifa
  • meca
  • rota
  • mazagon
  • canela
  • faro
  • vilamoura
  • praia
  • sagres
  • sines
  • cascais
  • peniche
  • nazare
  • figueira
  • aveiro
  • espinho
  • viana
  • patos
  • rostro
  • laxe
  • coruna
  • cedeira
  • navia
  • salinas
  • gijon
  • moris
  • vicente
  • santander
  • orinon
  • laida
  • sebastian
  • hondarribia
  • mimizan
  • soulac
  • diamond
  • houat
  • glenan
  • trepasses
  • brittany
  • sablons
  • vierge
  • dossen
  • rose
  • malo
  • jersey
  • guernsey
  • becquet
  • salcombe
  • exmouth
  • lyme
  • weymouth
  • swanage
  • compton

Obviously you replace coruna (in the example given above) with the data point from this list that interests you. Note that only lower case letters are used.

The data returned looks like this (but with many lines):

Su20 11.6 15 2.3 13

  • The first two letters are the day of the week
  • The next two digits are the time for the forecast (in 24hr format)
  • Wind speed in knots to 1 decimal point
  • Wind direction compass rose. 0 is north 4 is East 8 is South and 12 West
  • Wave height in meters to 1 decimal point
  • Wave direction compass rose

So for Sunday at 20:00 hours the wind will be 11.6kts from the NNW. Wave height will be 2.3m and the swell will be from the WNW.

Hope it helps!

If it does and you care to help me pay for the SMS bills, be sure to press the donate button on my homepage at www.ifno.info