Yacht Retreat - Passage Reports 1998
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Passage Report Number 1
Moored in the
Saturday 4th April
ON OUR WAY AT LAST
At 1330 on Tuesday 31st March we motored out of Brighton
Marina and turned west towards the
“We have just left Brighton Marina bound for
We had been in two minds about leaving as the Farming
Forecast at lunchtime on Sunday had forecast a major depression crossing the
country during Thursday, Friday and Saturday with gales in the
As we left
We are likely to remain opposite the Folly at least until Monday, perhaps longer, depending upon the weather. However, a nicer place to sit out a gale would be difficult to find. We are firmly secured to a pontoon, right in the middle of the countryside with pleasant views and very well sheltered from the gales.
Where shall we be this time next week? We really have no idea! If the weather moderates sufficiently we
shall have crossed the channel to
Passage Report Number 2
Moored in St Peter Port,
Good Friday, 10th April
ACROSS THE CHANNEL
As you will realise from our ‘address’ the weather moderated
sufficiently for us to reach the
We left the River Medina on Monday and motor-sailed the
short distance to Lymington where we spent the night. Wind-over-tide in the
On Tuesday 7th April we motored the 63 miles from Lymington
On Wednesday we motored and sailed the 20 miles from
We shall stay here in St Peter Port until at least Monday as
the weather is wet, windy and cold.
However, having watched the pictures on the news of floods in
Passage Report Number 3
Thursday 16th April
ANTIFOULING AND ANAESTHETIC
As planned we went to the parish church in St Peter Port on Easter
Sunday. After the service we dried out
against the marina wall in order to scrub the bottom and put some more
antifouling on the rudder and around the waterline. That all went to plan. What did not go to plan was changing the
anode - a small lump of zinc on the bottom of the boat that protects the
under-water metal from what is called ‘galvanic corrosion’. Whilst cleaning the metal studs on which the
new anode was to be mounted, I got some metal filings in my left eye. I share a
family weakness in which the cornea is unusually thin and particularly prone to
injury. Two hours later I was collected
from the quayside by ambulance and whisked off to casualty somewhere on
As Easter Monday looked as if it would be the only good day
of the week we faced a bit of a dilemma.
If we did not move to
I have been to the hospital in
Passage Report Number 4
Moored mid-river at Paluden, L’Aber Vrac’h,
Thursday 23rd April
FOREIGN YET STILL FAMILIAR WATERS
We are lying to fore-and-aft mooring buoys at Paluden, the
inland limit of navigation on L’Aber Vrac’h, a pretty river towards the western
end of the
We crossed from
The next morning we continued on our way with a 39-mile passage to our favourite marina, Trébeurden. With the wind now only SE3/4, less than half of this passage was under sail, but there was only a slight sea so the going was easy. We arrived at the marina in a down-pour near low water and picked up a waiting buoy until there was enough water to gain entry. We calculated that this would be at about 1930. The allotted time came and went, but the three red lights still barred our entry. At 2000, 2030, and 2100 there were still three red lights! Had Canute held back the tide or was something wrong? We slipped our buoy and nosed gingerly in to have a look. The marina entrance was roped off! What to do? We could stay on a waiting buoy but life there was a little rolly. We could make a night passage to the next port but we did not fancy that and, anyway, we like Trébeurden and wanted to stay. Fortunately, a local appeared on the scene and Pat used her best French to find out what was happening. The gate was being repaired but we could get in over the fixed cill after 2130. By 2145 we were moored alongside.
We remained in Trébeurden for two nights making use of the very reasonable 95FF charge per night including electricity, well under half the price we were charged at Lymington. Whilst there we visited the bank to change our 200FF notes left over from last year into new ones as the old ones are no longer valid.
On Tuesday we had a ‘memorable’ passage from Trébeurden to L’Aber Vrac’h. Memorable? What, might you ask, does that mean? Well, that depends upon how honest we are being. We could say ‘we had a really cracking sail down to L’Aber Vrac’h - sailed all the way in winds up to force 7 - really enjoyed it!’ But then again, if we did, we would be being somewhat selective with the truth! We did sail virtually all the way and the winds did reach 29 knots at times - force 7. We did enjoy the first third of the journey and the second third could well have been called exhilarating at times. However, during the final third, if we are honest, when we were reefed down with 10 rolls in the genoa, over half the main rolled away and with the wind at its strongest, the word ‘enjoyment’ would not have been the first to trip off our tongues! Still, as first stated, it was ‘memorable’ and most certainly useful as it brought our total distance logged to just over 300 miles, well above the average of 75 miles per week we need to keep up if we are to make Gibraltar by November.
After lunch yesterday we slipped our buoy at L’Aber Vrac’h village and headed out to sea once more. However, within 10 minutes the gentle breeze that we had felt in the anchorage was spinning our anemometer up to 18 knots. With quite sufficient memories for one week we turned tail and motored up-stream to the peaceful little haven where now we lie.
Passage Report Number 5
On Passage from Audierne to Concarneau
Thursday 30th April
As I type this Passage Report we are sailing very
comfortably at 7.1 knots with the lee rail under on a beam reach in a Force 5
wind in the
We made a second abortive attempt to leave Paluden on Sunday 26th April. We set the alarm at 0515 French Summer Time (that’s 0415 BST) and cast off our moorings at 0620. When we reached the entrance to the river the swell was very high and our progress was uncomfortable. Furthermore, we had a problem with our charging system: nothing was going into our main batteries yet we had an acidic ‘cooked battery’ smell. Once again we turned tail and headed back to the moorings at Paluden. The morning was spent fixing the charging problem (it was a burnt-out blocking diode) and went for a walk in the afternoon. The luxury of having enough time to be able to pick and choose when to make our passages is a real boon!
On Monday we made it! We had a very pleasant passage from Paluden to Camaret in good weather, mainly under sail. We spent two nights at Camaret and then made our landmark sail through Le Raz de Sein to Audierne. There were several other landmarks that day too: first day on which the suncream came out, first new port (all previous ports have been old haunts) and first evening warm enough for a sundowner (an evening drink) sitting in the cockpit. A good day!
Our current passage to Concarneau has now slowed down to almost a snail’s pace. We have had to turn into the wind for the final leg and we are motoring into a lumpy head sea. Pat is keeping watch from the chart table and I am sitting typing. How grateful we are that we can con the boat from below and keep warm and dry out of the spray.
We shall stay in Concarneau for at least two nights - it is a very interesting old town. From there, until we arrive in Spain, we shall be heading south and east instead of south and west until we are back on a line due south of Gosport, our first port of call on 31st March.
As our first month away came to an end our totals were as follows:
Distance logged: 423.1 nautical miles in 31 days
Time spent at sea: 77.8 hours
Time spent under sail: 24.0 hours
Time spent under power: 53.8 hours
Average distance travelled per week: 95.5 nautical miles
Average speed: 5.4 knots
Proportion of time sailing: 31 %
Passage Report Number 6
Moored at La Turballe,
Wednesday 6th May
STRONG WINDS AND OFFSHORE
We left Concarneau on Saturday 2nd May and made the 27-mile passage to Port Tudy on Île de Groix in 5 ½ hours, mainly under sail. The next day was cloudy and very windy but we never-the-less enjoyed a long walk around the central part of the island. That’s one thing that we do a great deal of whilst cruising - walking. We enjoy it very much and, no doubt, it does us good too.
Monday 4th May is marked in our log as ‘A perfect day - the one to beat so far!’ We made the 21-mile passage from Île de Groix to Belle Île in near-perfect conditions. The navigation between the two islands was interesting and we sailed the whole way, much of it under our multi-coloured spinnaker. The sun shone for the whole journey as it did for the rest of the day. By the end of the afternoon it was definitely suncream and short-sleeved shirts! We spent a couple of hours just soaking up the sun and watching the world go by.
The next morning was ideal for another walk, this time on
Belle Île. One of the many things that
we talked about whilst planning this cruise was our wish to see wild spring
flowers. We always seemed to miss the
spring whilst working at
Yesterday we had a rather wild and windy passage from Belle Île to La Turballe in a westerly force 5. The passage involved some intricate navigation around the north of Île de Houat and a nail-biting entrance into what was an unknown harbour for us. The entrance faces south, but the harbour is approached from the west, so the way in remains hidden until the very last moment. With 20 knots of wind behind us and a 2 to 3 metre swell, the odd prayer was handy alongside our trust in the chart! My tactic in such situations is to read the chart and every pilot book on board over and over again before arrival in order to build as clear a mental picture as possible. This time it all worked according to plan; we arrived safely and moored up without a hitch. I will, however, confess to a well-earned drink to calm my nerves as we sat down to recover.
We are staying in La Turballe for a second night as the wind
has been blowing hard again all day.
Tomorrow, or perhaps the next day, we hope to make the 25-mile passage
to yet another island, Île de Noirmoutier.
However, this will be an island with a difference. Our 25-mile passage will take us across the
mouth of the
Passage Report Number 7
Moored at Port Joinville, Île d’Yeu, Vendée
Tuesday 12th May
RED ROOFS IN THE SUNSET
We did make the 25-mile passage to Île de Noirmoutier on Thursday 7th May as planned. It was a very pleasant passage in warm sun with gentle winds and plenty of interest. We tacked across the Loire Estuary until we met the procession of big ships coming in and out when we decided that a quick, straight path across the shipping lane under power would be prudent. The red tiles of L’Herbaudière on Île de Noirmoutier greeted us at the end of our passage confirming our arrival in Vendée.
When we went ashore for the first of several long walks on Île de Noirmoutier we felt as if we had arrived in a different country altogether. The houses are all low-rise, mainly single storey and all have white painted walls and red tile roofs. The weather too seemed different - warmer and brighter - but no doubt that was just coincidence. We saw acres of potatoes, for which Noirmoutier is famous, and walked around some of the salt pans where the locals evaporate seawater to produce salt.
On Saturday we motored the 21 miles from Île de Noirmoutier
to Port Joinville on Île d’Yeu, our first passage made entirely under power for
several weeks. Despite dire warnings of
over-crowding in all the pilot books there was plenty of room in the marina
when we arrived. Yesterday we hired
bikes and cycled to the rugged south-west of the island to enjoy the
spectacular coastal scenery there. We do
have folding bikes of our own but left them behind in the loft at
Passage Report Number 8
Moored at Boyardville on Île d’Oléron,
Monday 18th May
SUNSHINE AND FLOWERS
As I type this Passage Report I am sitting out in the
cockpit in brilliant sunshine in shorts and a T-shirt. This has become our way of life and mode of
dress since leaving
On Tuesday 12th May we motored from Île d’Yeu to Bourgenay,
back on the mainland. The only down side
of all this fine weather is the lack of sufficient wind to sail. We have always said that Trébeurden in
From Bourgenay we motored (again!) to Ars-en-Ré on Île de
Ré. Le Fier de Ré is a very large inlet
that almost cuts the island in half. It
is very shallow and entry to the harbour can only be made close to High
Water. Whilst at Ars-en-Ré we succumbed
to the heat and put up our sun awning for the first time. This is in two sections, a fixed part over
the aft end of the boat and a section that we can roll out over the rest of the
cockpit and most of the main saloon when in port. We had the stainless framework made in
On Saturday 16th May we had a delightful passage from Île de
Ré to our current port of call, Boyardville on Île d’Oléron. The passage brought us under the splendid,
curved Île de Ré Bridge and then gave us a very leisurely down-wind sail using
only our brightly-coloured light-weather genoa.
We only made 2 knots through the water in 5 knots of wind, but at least
we were sailing. We anchored for lunch
off Île d’Aix, the island where Napoleon last stood on French soil before being
We have suffered a little from ‘Harbour Rot’ here in
Boyardville, the condition brought on by being in such a pleasant spot that it
creates in sailors a reluctance to put to sea again. However, put to sea again we must. We plan to go tomorrow to
Passage Report Number 9
Anchored at Guetaría, The Basque
Wednesday 27th May
A RACE HOME FOR SOME – A NEW COUNTRY FOR US
In the past seven days we have witnessed the start of the final leg of the Whitbread Race, made our longest passage to date and arrived in what is for us, a new cruising country. This has been an eventful week!
On Tuesday 19th May we sailed from Boyardville to
We spent three nights at
The start of the final leg of the Whitbread Round the World Race was an unforgettable experience. We motored out of Port Minimes just as the fleet was coming out of the river. We manoeuvred alongside the British Boat, Silk Cut, or Shark Bite as she was named for this leg, close enough to wish the contestants well. We then positioned ourselves right next to the start-line from where we had a perfect view of the most exciting part of the race: 9 thoroughbred racing boats all doing in excess of 20 knots and all trying to squeeze between two buoys just ahead of the others. Because of their speed it was all over in the blink of an eye, but it was non-the-less exciting for that. A couple of miles down-course there was a buoy to round after which they were on their own to find the best way back to Southampton. The change of course took them from a close reach to a broad reach so, one by one, in quick succession, nine gigantic, brightly-coloured spinnakers filled the skyline. An awe-inspiring sight!
I sometimes wonder why we should take such an interest in the Whitbread Race. Their type of sailing is so far removed from ours that it hardly seems reasonable to use the same verb to describe it. I think my final phrase above really answers the question: it is awe-inspiring. How they can keep their huge boats sailing at break-neck speeds in sometimes appalling conditions is totally beyond our comprehension. Yet they do. No doubt too there is something of the ‘brotherhood of the sea’ that gives us an empathy with them whilst at sea, even if we would have little in common to talk about in the clubhouse. In a similar way, fishermen the world over will curse at a yachtsman who gets in their way yet, when the yachtsman gets into trouble at sea, who is the first to risk his life manning the lifeboat? The fisherman, of course.
As the Whitbread fleet disappeared over the horizon we continued on our way to St Denis on Île d’Oléron. After two nights there we finally left the area which we have visited before and sailed for eight of the ten hours it took us to get from Île d’ Oléron to Royan in the Gironde Estuary. The Whitbread boats would have covered the distance in two! Royan was bombed flat in the war as it was thought to be a German base. Unlike St Malo, which was rebuilt in the original style, Royan was rebuilt in what we usually call ‘Fifties Style’. Interesting, but a bit touristy with the French equivalents of kiss-me-quick hats and candy-floss.
On the morning of Monday 25th May we had intended to visit
the modern Cathedral at Royan, but the weather intervened. The forecast showed a depression crossing
Biscay later in the week and an end to the northerly winds that we had enjoyed
for several weeks. We stowed ship
hastily, paid our dues and motored out of the Gironde Estuary on the last of
the tide towards
Our experience of
Passage Report Number 10
Anchored in the Ría de Santoña, Cantabria,
Wednesday 3rd June
THE RAIN IN
As I write the sun is setting over the
We have had a fairly lazy week covering only 70 miles but
taking in the sights and sounds of a new country. After three nights in Guetaría we motored to
The pilot books are fairly damning about
In contrast to Guetaría we found the people in
Castro Urdiales is a delightful old town with a magnificent church on top of a section of cliff. We enjoyed several long walks around the harbour and did not even get too upset when we discovered that our dinghy had been requisitioned in our absence by two young lads intent on a fishing trip! Despite our lack of Spanish, our combined 60 years experience of dealing with young miscreants came to the fore and the two lads returned our dinghy without a fuss! We would have stayed for longer but the anchorage was exposed to the north-east and guess which way the wind was coming from!
A further 10 miles has brought us into Ría de Santoña where we have anchored just outside the moorings of a local yacht club. The anchorage is well protected and in good holding ground, so we may well stay for a day or so. Protecting us from the east is a long, sandy peninsula, the Punta del Pasaje on part of which is built a new town comprised entirely of apartment blocks, no doubt to take advantage of the extensive sands. It is a ghost town! We walked through it to find it deserted - block after block after block, all shuttered up. I am not sure when the holiday season starts here, but it must bring a dramatic change when it does!
Our next stop will be
Our totals for May were as follows:
Distance logged: 493.9 nautical miles in 31 days
Time spent at sea: 99.0 hours
Time spent under sail: 44.0 hours
Time spent under power: 55.0 hours
Average distance travelled per week: 111.5 nautical miles
Average speed: 5.0 knots
Proportion of time sailing: 44.4 %
Total distance logged from
Passage Report Number 11
Sunday 21st June
OUR FIRST VISITOR
Much has happened since my last Passage Report. We did indeed stay for several days in the
Ría de Santoña enjoying the very peaceful surroundings and appreciating the
outstanding views. On Sunday 7th June we
motored the 22 miles around the coast to
The next day we walked around
On Thursday 11th June we drove the 50 miles or so to
During the week that followed my mother swam in the sea every day and Pat and I paddled occasionally! When not on the beach we used the car to travel to some of the local attractions.
Santillana del Mar is a beautifully preserved mediaeval town still in daily use.
Parque de la Naturaleza is a large Safari Park situated in
old ironstone workings in the foothills outside
Fuente Dé is in the Picos de Europa, a high mountain range inland from San Vincente de la Barquera some 50 miles to the west of Santander. Our visit there was undoubtedly the highlight of the week. We reached Fuente Dé through the spectacular gorge of the Río Deva and then Pat and I took the cable car to the top leaving my mother sitting on a carpet of brightly coloured alpine flowers at the base. The scenery at the top was quite breath-taking in every respect. We were able to walk for a mile or so across a plateau beneath outrageously pointed crags towering above us. By the time we had counted 5 eagles soaring around our heads we began to feel we must be dreaming! The silence was almost tangible and made speech seem both intrusive and superfluous. It was difficult to tear ourselves away.
We took my mother back to
As you will be able to conclude from my description, my
mother’s stay went very well. The two
essential ingredients were a safe marina (to keep us happy) and a good hotel
right next to a beach (to keep her happy).
We found both in
We spent the following morning replacing two drive belts on
the engine having discovered during a routine check that one was badly
cracked. We then set sail on an 85 mile
Our pupils at Battle Abbey would have loved to have seen us
yesterday. So far, we have found no
As I finish this letter the British Navy have just arrived in force. Three Naval Reserve Boats are mooring up just behind us with every order shouted out by the Watch Leader and repeated by the Crew: Check Back Spring...check back spring. Make Up Bow Breast Rope...make up bow breast rope etc. All very entertaining!
[P.S. Shortly after writing this Passage Report
there was a little tap on our window and a casually dressed but smartly spoken
(if you can have such a thing!) young man asked us if we would care to join the
CO for drinks aboard HMS Biter, one of the three Naval Vessels. We accepted, of course, and after a hasty
wash and brush up, duly presented ourselves on board. It turned out that the vessels are three of
fifteen that make up the ‘1st Patrol Boat Squadron’. Each is assigned to a small group of
Universities to act as the training vessel for the University Naval
Attachments. Participants receive a grant
from the Navy whilst at University in return for agreeing to serve for 27 days
per year plus a drill night each week.
There is no commitment to join the Navy later. Apparently the Squadron performs a number of
ceremonial duties, thus freeing genuine warships to do whatever genuine
warships do. On one such mission, HMS
Biter and the other two vessels will escort Prince Charles to Expo 98 in
Passage Report Number 12
Anchored in the
Monday 29th June
THE FIRST OF THE RÍAS ALTAS
On Tuesday 23rd June we enjoyed a perfect sailing
day taking us from Cudillero to Ría de Ribadeo.
With the spinnaker up for six hours we made excellent progress and made
the most of the warm sunshine that is by no means ubiquitous on this
coast. Ría de Ribadeo is the first of
the Rías Altas, the fjord-like estuaries around the north-west corner of
After a wet day on Wednesday we sailed on Thursday from Ría de Ribadeo to Ría de Vivero, bringing up behind the long, protective harbour wall at Celeiro. Although there were several prettier anchorages in the Ría, they were too open to the sea and, in particular, to the swell that is ever-present along this coast. During the evening we walked into Vivero, a rather uninspiring town with little to offer. Still, no doubt the exercise was good for us.
On Friday we weighed anchor with great difficulty as both
chain and anchor were covered with thick, black, sticky mud. We then motored the short distance to Puerto
de Bares in the neighbouring Ría del Barquero and dropped anchor once
again. This was more like it. A very pretty, quiet little anchorage with
some outstanding views. Unfortunately,
however, the swell crept in making our stay a little mobile, but we stayed
overnight never-the-less. Also in the
anchorage were a couple in Elizabeth of
York, a Nauticat 43 registered in
On Saturday morning we weighed anchor (quickly - it was clean!) and set off on a 25-mile passage to Ría de Cedeira. It wasn’t to be. Although we left Puerto de Bares in a gentle southerly force 2, once clear of the protection of the land we were faced with a north-westerly force five and a three metre swell. Not nice! We quickly reverted to plan B and altered heading towards Cariño, safely tucked in the lee of the massive headland of Punta de los Aquillones. The pilot book is quite dismissive of Cariño as a port, but to us that day it was magical! We dropped anchor in a fully-protected bay behind the long harbour arm and enjoyed the rest of the day at peace. Judging the right time to sail is an important part of cruising, and being willing to give up on a planned passage when you get it wrong is essential if life is to be enjoyed rather than endured. On Sunday we completed the passage to Ría de Cedeira, this time in a gentle, following wind. What a difference a day makes!
Today is wet again, and very windy. As I type, Pat is playing tunes on the electric organ we managed to find room for on board. Ashore, an interesting looking walk along the cliff top beckons for when the weather clears. For how long that takes, look out for Passage Report Number 13!
Passage Report Number 13
Anchored in Lage (Laxe) Harbour, Ría de Corme y Lage,
Sunday 5th July
TO BE A PILGRIM
We never did get to go on that interesting looking walk
along the cliff top in the Ría de Cedeira so I cannot tell you how long it
took. The need for more food took
priority and we walked the other way instead to the nearby village. However, later on that day, the last in June,
we enjoyed a superb sail in perfect conditions from the Ría de Cedeira to Ría
de Ares, just north-east of
July began with yet another wet and windy day that we spent on board, at anchor in the Ría de Ares. During the evening the wind got up to Force 7 making the anchorage rather choppy though fortunately, still protected from swell. We sat up until about 0400 keeping an anchor watch with our eyes glued to transits ashore to make sure that we didn’t drag. The anchor held as solid as a rock and eventually the wind abated a little to allow us a few hours sleep.
The next morning was still very windy and cloudy though now with frequent heavy showers rather than continuous rain. As we had only 8 miles to go, we braved the conditions and motored rather uncomfortably around the coast to La Coruña. Making fast our bows to the yacht club pontoons just inside the harbour we found ourselves in the company of boats from France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Sweden, Canada, Spain (not many!) and the UK. La Coruña is very much a crossroads for long-distance cruisers and it was an experience simply to be there amongst the other boats.
We enjoyed our stay in La Coruña very much. It is a university town with a lively atmosphere and plenty to see. We enjoyed our walks into the old town and around the inevitable new Paseo (yet more Euros!) to the Torre de Hercules, said to be the oldest working lighthouse in the world. It is claimed that it dates back to Roman times, though the claim would seem to be on a par with that of the proverbial 30 year old hammer that’s had three new heads and six new handles!
Saturday 4th July was most definitely a ‘Gold Star’ day. We went by train to Santiago de Compostella, the capital town of Galicia and the Cathedral City of St James. The train journey was an experience in itself: we travelled on the new TRD service, a fast diesel train on which every seat is individually booked no matter where you buy your ticket. It travelled high across the hills through some magnificent scenery coping with the steep gradients with ease.
We arrived at the Cathedral just as a service was about to start so we joined the congregation. It turned out to be a Mass to celebrate a local Saint, though just who we are not sure. However, as it was a special service, the famous incense burner was swung after the sharing of the bread. It was truly amazing. The burner stands as high as a choirboy and must weigh very considerably more. It is suspended from a huge rope that goes over a pulley way, way up inside the central tower. Eight monks take its weight on the other end of the rope and a priest gives it a push to set it swinging. By timing their pulls, the monks swing it higher and higher until the rope touches the arches that support the roof and the burner is swinging across the full length of the two transepts. Meanwhile, the organ is building up to an ear-shattering crescendo. We have never before experienced anything even remotely like it - it was, in every way, sensational.
Back to earth, or rather, back to sea, we have today sailed the 34 miles around the coast to Lage (Laxe) Harbour in the Ría de Corme y Lage. (Laxe is the Gallician spelling) The journey was nearly all under sail and very fast broad reaching in a north-easterly force six. Unfortunately, as we turned down wind for the final leg, despite having rigged a preventer, an accidental gybe in the heavy swell caused the casting on the end of the boom to break leaving the boom unattached and free to gybe again at will. We turned quickly upwind, topped the boom up out of harms way and rolled the main away. Robbed of its power, the boom was caught and made fast and we continued on our way under genoa alone. Was it good seamanship that enabled us to recover from a potentially dangerous situation without a scratch? Possibly, though the concept of a Good Fairy hovering over us is probably more plausible!
After three months at sea our GPS tells us, rather disconcertingly, that we are only 581 miles from Brighton. However, we have taken the scenic route! Once we round Cape Finisterre, every mile sailed (well, almost every mile!) will take us a mile further south and a mile further from home. In the process we hope to be able to report that the Cape does not live up to its name and that there is, indeed, land beyond.
Our totals for June were as follows:
Distance logged: 291.3 nautical miles in 30 days
Time spent at sea: 57.5 hours
Time spent under sail: 16.5 hours
Time spent under power: 41.0 hours
Average distance travelled per week: 68.0 nautical miles
Average speed: 5.1 knots
Proportion of time sailing: 28.7 %
Total distance logged from Brighton: 1,208.3 nautical miles in 92 days
Passage Report Number 14
Anchored off Rianjo, Ría de Arosa, Galicia,
Sunday 12th July
THE END OF THE WORLD IS NIGH!
This week has seen a change in both weather and scenery. The Rías have become broader, longer and much more indented and the cloudy, wet and windy weather has given way to clear blue skies with powerful sunshine. It is still windy though, with a gusty Force 4 to 5 from the North for much of the time. The books tell us that this is the ‘normal weather’ for this time of the year with the Azores High extending well north off the west coast and a ‘Heat Low’ centred over Iberia. These conditions produce the so-called Portuguese Trade Winds, which would take us southwards to the Canaries and beyond if were minded to go that way. We are content to make good use of the conditions to take us southwards along the coast with plenty of time to enjoy the scenery.
On Monday 6th July we motored from Ría de Corme y Lage to Ría de Camariñas in less than ideal conditions. There was little or no wind but there was still some residual swell from the north-east making the sea very sloppy. The visibility was poor which was a shame as the coastline here is very beautiful. Still, despite the conditions, we arrived safely and made fast bows-to at the very friendly marina run by the Club Nautico de Camariñas.
The next day was very reminiscent of my youth hostelling days in the Peak District. We walked for three miles to Cabo Villano and then back, much of the time in cloud and drizzle. It did clear enough for us to see close up one of the very many ‘Wind Farms’ to be found in this area; hill-tops covered with huge wind-driven generators. They are not very attractive and they make quite a noise when you are within a half a mile of them. Keen as we are on harnessing the power of the wind, they do not appear to represent the perfect source of alternative energy.
By contrast to our previous passage, Wednesday brought us one of those perfect passages that dreams are made of. We sailed the 41 miles from Ría de Camariñas to Ría de Muros around Cabo Finisterre in near-perfect conditions, nearly all down wind over a slight sea in a steady force 5 – the ideal way to round such a significant headland. Ría de Muros is the first of the Rías Bajas and is very beautiful indeed. We anchored off a secluded little beach miles from anywhere and stayed there for two nights captivated by the majesty of the surroundings. High ridges run along both sides of the Ría with conifers planted on the lower slopes and heather and gorse growing higher up. The pink granite showing through the thin covering of soil gives the upper slopes a very unusual speckled appearance that adds much to their charm.
Friday brought us yet another perfect sail, down-wind in a force 4 under a clear blue sky, this time from Ría de Muros to Ría de Arosa, a huge Ría winding its way deep into the Spanish countryside. It is from the head of this Ría that the body of St James is said to have been brought from Jaffa before being taken over land to Santiago. We moored for the night to the Yacht Club pontoons in the harbour at Puebla del Camariñal.
Yesterday, after a walk along the headland in the morning, we ghosted across the Ría in very light winds to our present anchorage off Rianjo. The journey would have merited very little comment but for one thing - dolphins. We had seen a school of dolphins offshore during our morning walk and lamented our fate of being in the wrong place to see them, as they were sure to have moved on by the afternoon. They hadn’t. No sooner had we unfurled our sails and stopped the engine than we found ourselves surrounded by them. We sailed back and forth for half an hour or more captivated by the antics of these most magnificent of sea creatures. There were seven or eight in the school, some fully-grown, some quite young. They swam beneath and around Retreat surfacing so close that we could almost touch them. It was magical.
Passage Report Number 15
Anchored in the Ensenada de Barra, Ría de Vigo, Galicia,
Saturday 18th July
Some sail the Atlantic in search of Paradise in the Caribbean. Others sail half way round the world to the islands of the South Pacific. Some find it; some don’t. As I write, we are just settling down for our fifth night at anchor in the Ensenada de Barra in the Ría de Vigo, the longest that we have stayed in one place other than by press of weather, since we left Brighton. So have we found Paradise?
After sending our last Passage Report we went ashore to explore Rianjo. The harbour area was unfinished and untidy but the town was pleasant enough. In the afternoon we enjoyed yet another gentle sail in the protected waters of Ría de Arosa, this time to an anchorage off Puerto de Cruz. The passage took us through several areas of ‘Viveros’, vast wooden rafts used for the ‘farming’ of muscles. The fishermen of Ría de Arosa claim that it is the largest area in Europe for farming muscles but we met some muscle-growers in southern Ireland a few years back who might well dispute that!
Our stay off Puerto de Cruz was to be short, about three hours in fact, as the wind started to get up and we felt it wise to cross the bay to the marina at Puebla del Camariñal that we had visited just two days before. No sooner had we moved than the wind dropped again and we had a quiet night. Such is the fickleness of the wind in Spain - teenage wind we call it! Closer to the heat engine that drives them, the winds here can blow hot then cold and change their direction by 180 degrees all in the space of a few minutes. They can also become livelier at night as they start sliding down the mountain sides at a time when any self-respecting adult wind would be dying down. Not at all like the middle-aged winds we have in England - well-seasoned ocean travellers that are dependable and easy to predict, if a little depressing at times!
We spent the morning of Monday 13th July dealing with some routine maintenance: we serviced three of our winches and Pat cut my hair. The Good Life has nothing on us when it comes to self-sufficiency! In the afternoon we motored 24 miles to anchor off Combarro in the Ría de Pontevedra. This proved to be a most interesting stop. The whole of Combarro is subject to a preservation order, though it is still in normal daily use, as it is said to be a perfect example of a traditional Galician village. It is full of narrow, winding passages, stone balconies, Calvaries and traditional ‘Horreos’. The latter are rather like stone garden sheds built on stilts shaped like mushrooms to stop the rats climbing up into them. They are used for drying and storing maize.
On Tuesday we enjoyed a splendid sail from Ría de Pontevedra to Ría de Vigo, the most southerly of the Rías Bajas. We anchored near the mouth of the Ría behind a large headland that protected us from the prevailing northerly winds and the Atlantic swell. The anchorage, off the beach in the Ensenada de Barra, is the most delightful spot that we have ever encountered. It is well protected, the views are stunning, there is a superb beach and there are some delightful walks ashore. It is also only a few miles from the offshore islands that protect the Ría de Vigo from the worst of the Atlantic weather, Islas Cies. We have visited these once and may well do so again before we leave. The islands are mountainous, wooded and very attractive and are designated as a Nature Park.
So have we found Paradise in the Ensenada de Barra? In a way yes, but then again, no. Paradise is a state of mind, not a place. Certainly, this anchorage is idyllic and, indeed, it has been paradise to be here. However, tomorrow (or perhaps the day after!) we shall move on and, hopefully, find that paradise moves with us.
Passage Report Number 16
On Passage from Viana do Castelo to Leixões
Sunday 26th July
Yes, we did stay in the Ensenada de Barra for one more night though not for the reasons you may have thought. The morning of Sunday 19th July dawned still and foggy; we could not even see the beach off which we were anchored. We spent the morning on board and, in the afternoon when the fog cleared, I donned my wetsuit and diving gear to clean off some of the growth on the under-water surface of the hull. As we did not paint the entire under-water surface with antifouling when we dried out in St Peter Port, some parts needed more scrubbing than others did. The effort has proved worthwhile, as our slippery bottom is now half a knot faster through the water both when sailing and motoring.
On Monday morning a wind shift caused by a front going over made our idyllic anchorage untenable. We weighed anchor and motored for 8 miles across the Ría de Vigo to Bayona. Here we took on diesel for the first time since Gijon. We have had to pay the fully-taxed rate for diesel since leaving England, over double the tax-free cost at home. The UK still allows yachtsmen to buy the tax-free ‘red diesel’ that most other EC countries reserve for fishermen.
We spent 4 nights in the very pleasant town of Bayona. On most evenings whilst we were there we walked around Monterreal, the headland that protects the harbour; a very pleasant way to round off the day. We also completed many of the ‘chores’ that are necessary when living aboard as opposed to taking a holiday. The washing was done by hand again (still no laundrettes) and we carried out an oil change on the engine. We also made some progress in our construction of a passerelle, a boarding platform that we shall need when we reach the Mediterranean.
Whilst in Bayona we met up with several couples whom we had met at previous harbours: John and Janice on Aditi, Dave and Sheila on Pomone, Pat and Chris on Stella Nova. One of the joys of cruising is meeting up with friends made in an earlier port and swapping stories about the intervening days. Like us, Aditi and Pomone are both heading south so we are bound to meet up with them again on more than one occasion.
Friday 24th July was a notable day for, not only did we start a new Logbook, the first being full, but we also arrived in a new country. We sailed the 35 miles from Bayona in Spain to Viana do Castelo in Portugal in fine style making full use of the prevailing northerlies of the Portuguese Trades. We arrived to find ourselves alongside Aditi with Pomone and Stella Nova both arriving a day later. Viana is a beautiful town with narrow streets and fine old buildings coupled with an air of affluence and good taste. We felt more at home in the streets than we had in Spain and the locals were very hospitable.
As I write we are at sea motoring the 30 miles south from Viana to Leixões, the nearest harbour to Porto, Portugal’s Second City. Much as we have enjoyed the company of others, it is nice to be on our own again. Unusually, the Trade Winds have failed to materialise so far and we are motoring on a smooth sea in flat calm in brilliant blue sunshine. Whilst in Leixões we shall visit Porto and, very possibly, one of the Wine Lodges where they produce Portugal’s most famous export.
Passage Report Number 17
Monday 3rd August
PORT & PADDY FIELDS AND A VISIT TO BATTLE ABBEY
We arrived safely in Leixões (pronounced Lè-shoy-shh) and spent two nights there. As planned, we travelled to Porto by bus; a most memorable visit. Porto is a fascinating old town made up of tall, red-roofed houses on very narrow streets perched on the steep banks of the Rio Douro. Many of the houses are quite dilapidated and occupied by very poor people. Thus, although tourism is obviously important to the local economy, walking around the city felt somewhat intrusive and uncomfortable. Our visit to the Grahams Port Wine Lodge had no such contradictions - we sampled a range of different ports and came away with a bottle of white. We didn’t even know you could get white port - it is very tasty!
On Thursday 28th July we made the 65-mile passage to Figueira da Foz, mainly under power as the Trade Winds had another day off! During our three days there we went on an interesting trip by train to the old university town of Coimbra. The journey there was particularly interesting, passing as it did through acre upon acre of paddy fields in the valley of the Rio Mondego. Did you know they grow rice in Portugal?
On Saturday we made the relatively-short 35-mile passage to Nazaré in style, entirely under sail in 20 to 25 knots of wind under the safe rig of genoa alone. In winds like this the sailing is the easy bit - it is coming alongside at the end of the passage that is difficult! However, knowing the problems everyone ashore lends a hand: we had 10 fellow sailors lining the pontoon to help us with our lines as we ‘touched down’.
Yesterday we made a pilgrimage that we have been planning for some weeks now, to Battle Abbey. Confused? Let me explain. Situated 20 km inland from Nazaré is a beautiful XIV century Abbey in the town of Batalha - Battle Abbey. Just like our own Battle Abbey, it was built in fulfilment of a pledge made just before the battle began. On 14th August, 1385, João I, Grand Master of the Order of Avis met in battle with Juan I of Castile. Both claimed to be the rightful successor to the throne of Portugal. João, heavily outnumbered, prayed for assistance from the Virgin Mary and vowed to build ‘a superb church in her honour’ if he were to win. He did, and like William before him, he kept his word and the Abbey was built.
Unlike the Abbey at Battle, Batalha Abbey is beautifully preserved and the church is still in use. The Abbey Church, the Cloisters, the Chapter House, all as they were so many years ago. As we walked around, the feeling that we were walking around our own Battle Abbey, just as it once must have been, was overwhelming. What a lot Henry VIII has to answer for!
From here we have but one more port before reaching Lisboa (Lisbon) and meeting up with our daughter Katy. More about that in our next Passage Report.
Our totals for July were as follows:
Distance logged: 356.8 nautical miles in 31 days
Time spent at sea: 76.3 hours
Time spent under sail: 32.0 hours
Time spent under power: 44.3 hours
Average distance travelled per week: 80.6 nautical miles
Average speed: 4.7 knots
Proportion of time sailing: 42.0 %
Total distance logged from Brighton: 1,565.1 nautical miles in 123 days
Passage Report Number 18
On passage from Sesimbra to Sines,
Saturday 15th August
FOG AND FIREWORKS
On Monday 3rd August we travelled up on the Funicular to Sítio, the old town on the top of the cliff above Nazaré. Some of the buildings and the roads are built on massive plates of rock that overhang the edge of the cliff - not a place for the feint-hearted! We enjoyed the views and, in particular, the atmosphere which we found much more agreeable than that in Nazaré itself.
The next day was spent aboard completing essential tasks. Pat cleaned the cooker (very exciting!) and I made a platform to fit on the pulpit to assist in berthing bows-to when we get to the Mediterranean.
On Wednesday we made a very interesting passage from Nazaré to Peniche albeit under power. En route, as there was no wind and the sea was flat, we were able to motor into the land-locked bay of São Martinho do Porto, the entrance of which is normally made untenable by swell. The bay is almost semi-circular with a very narrow entrance, very much like Lulworth Cove in Dorset. Similarly, we were able to motor close in to Ilha da Berlenga, an island off Cabo Carvoeiro, much of which is a bird sanctuary. Finally, as if to prove that even a day with no wind can be exciting, we found ourselves on the route of the Tall Ships motoring from Lisboa to Vigo. Despite the lack of wind they were a magnificent sight.
We spent four nights at Peniche, not because it had a great deal to offer, it didn’t, but because we could not see to leave. The lack of wind coupled with the low sea temperature had produced the sailor’s greatest enemy - fog. Thick, dank and impenetrable, it kept the whole fleet of yachts tied firmly to the shore. Those with tight time schedules began to despair and some, which had crew with flights to catch, had to resort to public transport to make up the missing miles.
The morning of Sunday 9th August dawned much clearer than the previous few days though visibility was still poor. We set off in company with another boat, Oyster Love, which was fitted with radar. We stayed within sight of them and in constant radio contact for the whole of the 40-mile passage to Cascais at the mouth of the Rio Tejo. Once again, the camaraderie of the fleet helped us along our way. As we approached land the fog cleared and we anchored in brilliant sunshine and enjoyed a drink on board Oyster Love with our guides for the day, Bob and Brenda.
The following afternoon we motored up the Rio Tejo on the flood tide, through the very heart of Lisboa, under the huge suspension bridge and on to the new marina on the edge of Expo 98. What a great way to see one of Europe’s capital cities with a new sight of interest at every turn.
On Tuesday 11th August we met Katy at the airport, only 30 minutes from the town centre by bus and within sight of Expo 98. It was great to see her again and there was so much to talk about, even though we had been in regular contact by e-mail.
Over the previous few weeks we had heard many scathing remarks about Expo 98 from those who had already been, particularly about the massive queues for the major exhibits. It was, therefore, with some trepidation that we bought our tickets and went in through the turnstiles the following afternoon. We need not have worried. The queues were there alright, but we thoroughly enjoyed our visit and stayed until the small hours of the next morning. We were particularly impressed with the huge aquarium in which we saw sharks, sea otters and countless fish, all in superb re-creations of their natural environments. Finally, just before midnight there was an outdoor ‘multi-media spectacular’ to round off the day. What an understatement! Spectacular does not even come close - it was breath-taking! With lights, music, video images projected onto a huge inflated sphere, flaming gas jets, huge moving sculptures and synchronised fireworks it was like nothing that any of us had ever seen before. It was worth the 5,000 escudos entrance fee all on its own.
As I write this report we are under way again, this time with Katy on board. Unfortunately, the poor visibility and lack of wind that plagued us at Peniche has not improved much. We motored yesterday to Sesimbra and we are now on our way to Sines. We very much hope that the wind returns before our long passage around Cabo de São Vincente to the Algarve, though not too much of course. Very particular we sailors you know! Look out for our next Passage Report to find out if our prayers were answered.
Passage Report Number 19
On passage from Portugal to
Monday 24th August
DOLPHINS AND PALM TREES
Yes, our prayers were answered, and in abundance. After two nights in Sines we cast off at 0440 on Monday 17th August for our epic voyage around Cabo de São Vicente, the very corner of the continent. It was still dark as we motored out of the harbour, but visibility was over 5 miles. Unfortunately, as the sun came up the fog came down and we had an uncomfortable few hours straining our eyes as we peered through the gloom. However, by 1000 the fog had gone and we could see the coastline a mile or so off our port beam. We still had no wind but were making good progress under power. Not a very exciting way to round one of the world’s great capes, we were thinking, but then it came, just as we had hoped for, an excited cry from Katy - ‘Dolphins!’ And not just one or two, but a whole school of dolphins, perhaps 20 or more in number, travelling north-west across our path. They stayed with us for a while, swimming alongside and riding on our bow wave and then, just as quickly as they had appeared, they were gone. What a privilege it is to share a little time and space with these magnificent animals in their own environment rather than in a pool at a theme park. No words can explain the thrill - it is quite overwhelming.
To come across such a large school of dolphins is a rare event, but we were in for a much larger treat that day. Over the next three hours, five or six more schools crossed our track, each ten or more in number and each swimming with us for a while before moving on. The excitement was so intense that we almost forgot to turn left when we reached Cabo de São Vicente! Almost, but not quite. As we rounded the great cape we dipped our ensign in customary salute to St Vincent who, according to legend, keeps a watchful eye on the sailors who pass.
Within an hour of rounding Cabo de São Vicente we were in a different world. The swell that had been a constant feature of our lives for the past three months disappeared and the water temperature rose rapidly from 14 to 18 Celsius. Even better, a north-westerly breeze filled in allowing us to hoist the spinnaker and proceed under sail for the first time since Katy arrived. Indeed, so quickly did the wind increase that the spinnaker was soon down to be replaced by a less-boisterous full main and genoa.
As we approached Lagos (pronounced Là-gosh), our first port of call on the Algarve coast, we could see and feel from a distance that we were in a different world. It was warmer, much warmer, and there were palm trees growing along the shore. The sea was flat and the wind was warm. This was what we had sailed south to find!
After two nights in Lagos we spent an eventful day making haste slowly towards Vilamoura. First, we anchored off Ponta da Piedade, the headland just south of Lagos, and explored the caves there in our dinghy. This made an interesting diversion from big-boat sailing though the flotilla of fast open boats conveying tourists along, what was to their helmsmen, a known route, caused us rather more than a few heart-stopping moments! We were pleased, therefore, to weigh anchor and motor the short distance across the bay to Alvôr where we anchored long enough for Katy to have a swim and for all three of us to have lunch. A pleasant sail through the afternoon rounded off a super day and took us safely to Vilamoura.
After spending the next day in Vilamoura we sadly had to say goodbye to Katy. She caught an express coach to Lisboa at 0805 and was safely back home by 2130. Meanwhile, we had moved on to an anchorage behind Ilha da Culatra, one of a string of off-lying islands fringing the coast from Faro in Portugal eastwards to Huelva in Spain. These islands are little more than sand banks, but they all have large areas of marsh land behind them cut through with channels, some of which are navigable. The shoal waters and extensive mud flats make them a haven for wading birds of all kinds. We have seen both storks and flamingos along with herons and a myriad of smaller birds. The whole area is truly a ‘twitchers’ paradise.
After two nights in Tavira, another inlet behind one of the off-shore islands, we are now on our way to Mazagón, an artificial harbour near the mouth of the Ría de Huelva. Our Spanish courtesy flag flutters at our starboard cross-trees once more as we passed out of Portuguese waters about an hour ago. We are not expecting much of Mazagón other than as a useful over-night stay for us en route for Cádiz, our next major port of call. More on that in our next Passage Report.
Passage Report Number 20
Moored in Marina Bay,
Monday 31st August
We arrived at Mazagón safely at 1400 on Monday 24th August and promptly advanced our clocks to 1500: we were back in Spain. As expected, it was not an over exciting port, but it did provide us with a useful refuge for the night. From Mazagón we enjoyed a gentle sail the next day using our brightly-coloured Light Weather Genoa for the first time this season. This is a very large (160%) hanked-on genoa made of lightweight spinnaker nylon that we set on a removable inner-forestay. It is designed for close reaching in light airs - exactly the conditions we had on our way to the next in the chain of modern marinas constructed by the Junta of Andalucía - Chipiona.
The marina at Chipiona is built on the edge of the town of that name which we explored the next morning. For those of you who have been there, it was rather like Cleethorpes but warmer - much warmer. For those of you who have not had the privilege of visiting that Mecca of the north-east, we will leave the description to your imagination. Suffice to say we left in the afternoon and sailed to Puerto de Santa Maria in the Bay of Cádiz. We had heard many glowing reports of the Yacht Club marina in this particular port but, unfortunately, when we arrived they were just getting ready to receive a flotilla of visiting yachts for a major regatta and they had no room for us. Undeterred, we motored back across the bay to the new marina on the outskirts of Cádiz itself where we were welcomed with open arms.
We explored Cádiz the next day and particularly enjoyed the walk around the old ramparts. It is a very old city with many tiny, narrow streets and a strange mixture of high-class shops and very run-down housing. The cathedral is undergoing a major multi-million-peseta restoration that must have caused some difficult heart-searching for the city elders. The cathedral is undeniably beautiful, but the extent to which it is crumbling away is difficult to imagine, particularly when you know it is only 18th century.
From Cádiz we made a short passage to a beautiful anchorage in the mouth of a river just a few miles south at Sancti-Petri. We would have liked to stay for a day or so but we were anxious to make good use of the relatively rare westerly wind blowing through the Straits of Gibraltar at that time. Sure enough, a telephone call to the Met office at Gibraltar confirmed that the westerlies would last only one more day. So it was that at 0730 on Friday 28th August, we set sail for Gibraltar.
The one certainty about sailing is that nothing is ever certain. We have dreamed of sailing into Gibraltar for so many years that the potential for anti-climax was very high indeed. We told ourselves not to expect too much - it would probably be an uninspiring passage rather like sailing into any other port. We needn’t have wasted our time with the subterfuge. The passage was everything that we have ever dreamed of, and more.
Despite the forecaster’s prediction of light winds we managed to sail for the majority of the passage, much of the time under spinnaker. The first major headland was Cabo Trafalgar, scene of Nelson’s famous victory, which we rounded at 1117. The next entry in our log was for 1156: ‘Dolphins sighted to port and Africa to starboard.’ Soon we had rounded Tarifa and within a few more miles The Rock came slowly into view. To look from side to side - Europe, Africa and back to Europe - was a thrill beyond our expectations. Yet still there was more! As we rounded Punta Carnero for the final leg the wind filled in again and we enjoyed an exhilarating broad reach across Gibraltar Bay at speeds of up to 7.7 knots with, once again, the added pleasure of dolphins to keep us company. The dream was complete but not, of course, unique: Robert Browning had been this way before us:
Nobly, nobly Cape Saint Vincent to the north-west dies away;
Sunset ran, one glorious blood-red, reeking into Cádiz Bay;
Bluish ’mid the burning water, full in face Trafalgar lay;
In the dimmest north-east distance dawned Gibraltar, grand and gray;
‘Here and here did England help me: how can I help England?’ - say,
Whoso turns as I, this evening, turn to God to praise and pray,
While Jove’s planet rises yonder, silent over Africa.
Our totals for August were as follows:
Distance logged: 484.2 nautical miles in 31 days
Time spent at sea: 99.3 hours
Time spent under sail: 28.0 hours
Time spent under power: 71.3 hours
Average distance travelled per week: 109.3 nautical miles
Average speed: 4.9 knots
Proportion of time sailing: 28.2 %
Our cumulative totals for the passage from Brighton to Gibraltar were as follows:
Distance logged: 2,049 nautical miles in 151 days
Time spent at sea: 410 hours
Time spent under sail: 145 hours
Time spent under power: 265 hours
Average distance travelled per week: 95 nautical miles
Average speed: 5 knots
Proportion of time sailing: 35 %
Passage Report Number 21
Moored in Sotogrande Marina,
Friday 11th September
We spent 11 nights in Gibraltar; our longest stay in one port since leaving Brighton, though I am not quite sure why. Certainly not for the shops, for Gibraltar is no Oxford Street in the sun. Take away the duty-free jewellers, tobacconists and electrical stores and there would be precious little left other than a small M & S and a large Safeways. For day to day shopping, Stamford would win on points every time! However, we did enjoy shopping in Safeways. After five months away, walking around an English supermarket was a real pleasure!
If not the shopping, then I suspect that the security of being on ‘home ground’ had much to do with our prolonged stay coupled with the feeling of ‘mission accomplished’. Gibraltar was, after all, our original destination for this year. Although, to our surprise, the native language of the majority of Gibraltarians is Spanish, they are all bilingual and one can converse with them in English.
The highlight of our stay was undoubtedly our visit to the top of ‘The Rock’. Rising 423 metres straight up from the sea it is as impressive as it is unlikely. The audio-visual presentation in the museum showed a lump of chalk drifting on its own little tectonic plate across the Mediterranean from Africa and colliding with Europe. By comparison, the story of the Pillars of Hercules sounds eminently reasonable! Still, no matter how it was formed, the walk along the top was not to be missed. With views across the straits to Africa, encounters with Apes, a visit to some spectacular caves and a walk through the Great Siege Tunnels, the cable-car ride up was worth every penny. The tunnels were constructed by the British in the 18th century to help fight off the Spanish who were trying to recapture Gibraltar. They were cut into the solid rock over half way up the sheer face to provide a secure vantage point from which to fire specially constructed, downward-pointing cannon. They were further enlarged during the Second World War to house giant searchlights.
No matter how much one is enjoying a stay, the essence of cruising is moving on to pastures new. So it was that on the morning of Tuesday 8th September we set sail, not just for a new port but for a new continent. The passage was a mere 16.5 miles due south, but in crossing the Straits of Gibraltar we crossed from Europe into Africa. As if to bid us farewell, the dolphins were there in force. Never before have we seen so many at one time - the water was thick with not only the common dolphins that we have seen before, but also with a few much larger ones too.
Our destination was Ceuta, a Spanish enclave at the north-eastern tip of Morocco. (How the Spanish can reconcile holding on to Ceuta and their other enclave, Melilla, whilst at the same time getting so worked up about Gibraltar, I do not know.) In itself, Ceuta has little to offer other than a secure marina, but it is European and consequently makes a familiar and comfortable port of call. We used it as a base for one of the highlights of our cruise, a one-day trip into Morocco. With an air-conditioned coach and a Moroccan guide, we were able to glimpse a totally different culture in comfort and security.
First we visited Tetuan, a traditional market town. Here we saw local produce, herbs and spices on sale in the streets alongside chickens (live) and sheep’s heads (very definitely dead). We also visited a carpet warehouse and had a traditional lunch of lamb kebabs and cous cous. From Tetuan we drove through the mountains to Tangier and then back to Ceuta. Although it is a popular port of call for tourists, Tangier was nothing like as interesting as Tetuan. However, the journey was worthwhile for the drive through the mountains giving us a glimpse of rural life that we would not otherwise have seen.
Although our journey into Africa was short, our memories are vivid. Everywhere there was poverty; at least what we Europeans would call poverty. Women washing clothes at the well and drying them on the cactus plants; men toiling in the fields under the blazing sun with no more than a simple spade; mules laden with onions bound for the market. Everywhere we went we were approached by enthusiastic and persistent men and children trying to sell us trinkets, or just to beg. Yet, despite their poverty and our obvious affluence, we were treated with respect and good humour, even by those whom we waved to one side. Even a half measure of their courtesy would greatly improve a trip on the London underground!
From Ceuta we sailed yesterday to Sotogrande, the first of our ports of call on the Costa del Sol where we are currently riding out a summer gale. The wind is blowing from the west beneath a clear blue sky with only the flags giving away its strength. Over the next few weeks we shall be exploring the 15 or so ports along this coast before meeting up with my mother in Benalmádena during the first week in October.
Passage Report Number 22
Moored in Fuengirola Marina,
Sunday 27th September
INLAND BY CAR
As I write the wind is whistling in the rigging and rain is beating against our windows. Fortunately, we are snugly moored, but there can be no doubting that autumn has arrived. It is still warm, even in the rain, and when the sun comes out it is hot - very hot. However, the weather is distinctly unsettled and far less reliable than even a few weeks ago. We are hopeful that it will improve again in time for my mother’s visit next week.
During our three days at Sotogrande Marina we explored the area thoroughly on foot. It is a fairly up-market development built, like so many of the estates on the Costa del Sol, in the middle of nowhere. It is a quiet, pleasant place to stay, well back from the all-pervasive coast road, but with five architect’s offices and only one small supermarket, shopping for food was uninspiring to say the least! The marina was also subject to swell from the south ruling it out for a prolonged stay.
On Monday 14th September we motored the short distance (five miles) to Duquesa Marina. If we had been looking for somewhere to over-winter afloat, this would have been high on our short-list. Like Sotogrande, the development is in the middle of nowhere, but it has a better selection of shops and restaurants and a more relaxed atmosphere. Furthermore, the marina is far better protected and there are some good walks nearby.
Why these constant references to over-wintering, you might ask? Quite simply, since the beginning of September, it has become the number one obsession amongst the cruising fraternity here. Even if World War Three had broken out, I am quite sure that the first question one would be greeted with upon arrival in a new marina would still be “have you decided where you are over-wintering yet?” It has quite taken us by surprise. We had imagined that we would just keep pottering along until mid-October and only then start to give it some thought. Unfortunately, with reports of the most popular marinas already turning away boats because they are full, it seems that we might have to make our decision a little earlier. Having already learnt how notoriously inaccurate ‘Pontoon Gossip’ can be, we have telephoned a couple of marinas further along the coast only to find that they do still have plenty of places after all. Unfortunately, none of them will take telephone bookings so we must still wait until we get there to be sure.
After two days at Duquesa we made another five-mile passage, this time to the marina at Estepona. This is built on the edge of a medium sized town and thus gave us access to a full range of shops including a very large hypermarket.
Whilst in Estepona the weather forecasts carried dire warnings of a severe gale force 9 Levanter, the name given to strong winds from the east. Strangely, we had no wind at all, but we did experience a huge swell rolling in from the south-east and crashing over the harbour wall. As these were certainly not the conditions for further progress along the coast we decided to hire a car for three days.
On the morning of Tuesday 22nd September we set off in the car towards Cordoba, about 120 miles inland. Once north of Malaga the journey took us through mile after mile of Olive trees followed by equally huge areas of land left bare following the grain harvest. We had always thought of Olives growing in pretty little groves on a hillside outside a village, but this was farming on a grand scale. With rows and rows of trees stretching over the horizon it was difficult to imagine who could possibly consume that many Olives, even if most of them are used for their oil!
Whilst in Cordoba we visited the Alcazar (Palace), the Cathedral, an ancient Synagogue and a restored Moorish house. All were well worth visiting, but the cathedral was in a league of its own. We still have to look at our photographs just to prove that our memory is not playing tricks on us! Even its name fails to describe it properly, for in reality, the majority of its floor area is that of an 8th century mosque complete with orange grove and minaret. The sections that we would all recognise as a cathedral, the choir, nave and chancel, have been built up through the middle of the mosque leaving the rest of it undisturbed. The result is a fascinating blend of the two with contrasts and surprises around every corner.
From Cordoba we drove to Carmona where we booked into a Hostel, our first night ashore since March. It was an experience that made Faulty Towers seem strangely normal! We had a ‘suite’ to ourselves with living room, bedroom and bathroom all for 4,280 pesetas (about £18). The reception area downstairs was full of lamps and lampshades and appeared to double up as a second-hand shop. We had a clear glass window between our bedroom and the main staircase and another between our living room and the hall. The central light fitting contained two 20-watt bulbs and the table light did not have a plug on its lead. The bed was a contender for the ‘most uncomfortable bed in the world’ competition and it squeaked if you more than looked at it. Still, it did provide a place to lay our heads and it did not cost us a fortune!
We spent the next day visiting Seville, widely reported to be the most beautiful city in the area. Once again we visited the Cathedral and the Alcazar. Like Cordoba, the cathedral is built on the site of a former mosque but here, all but the minaret has been pulled down. It is late gothic in style and contains a monument to Christopher Columbus in the form of a coffin born by four Kings. The Alcazar contains three former palaces ranging from the 13th to 16th century and very extensive gardens. We could have spent a day there alone marvelling at the intricate carved stucco decoration said to be one of the purest examples of the Mudéjar style. However, we still had a long journey back to Estepona so we left reluctantly at about 1530. The journey took us over the mountains and through the town of Ronda which we had visited whilst on holiday here in 1997.
On Friday 25th September we sailed from Estepona to Puerto Banús, a very up-market marina catering principally for very large power boats. At well over double the price of anywhere else, one night was enough, but the experience made it worthwhile. The next day we enjoyed a brisk sail, albeit under heavy, leaden clouds, to the marina at Fuengirola where we now lie. From here it is only a few miles to Benalmádena where we shall be spending a week with my mother when she comes out to join us on Saturday
Passage Report Number 23
Moored in Almerimar Marina,
Sunday 18th October
You may recall us saying once before that the one certainty about sailing is that nothing is ever certain! Having ended our last Passage Report confidently saying that we would be spending a week in Benalmádena it was not to be. During our stay in Fuengirola we caught a bus to Benalmádena and checked out the marina whilst we were there. As a result of extensive building works, many of their berths were out of use leaving no room for visitors. A change of plan was needed. Fortunately, the Sunset Beach Club, where my mother was booked in, was on the Fuengirola side of Benalmádena so staying where we were was a viable option. As soon as the bus returned us to Fuengirola we booked ourselves in until the 11th October. Problem solved.
On Saturday 3rd October, we travelled by train to Malaga Airport where we picked up our hire car for the week and met my mother from her plane. The week went well with my mother enjoying a swim in the sea every day. Our journeys in the car took us on some spectacular mountain roads with views across the Alborán Sea to Gibraltar and Morocco. We also visited Torrox and Nerja where we walked through the ‘Cueva de Nerja’, a huge cave that was inhabited in the Palaeolithic era. Our final journey was on Saturday 10th October when we drove my mother back to Malaga Airport and then returned to Fuengirola once more by train.
On Sunday 11th October we cast off our lines and motored out of Fuengirola after our longest stay in one port since leaving Brighton. Much as we had enjoyed our week ashore it was good to be out at sea once again. There was no wind, but the clear blue sky and hot Mediterranean sun gave us a very pleasant 40-mile passage under power to Marina del Este, a delightful small marina in a very beautiful area. We would have liked to stay for a few days but, unfortunately, the forecast was for easterly winds to come. So it was that, on Monday 12th October, we made our final passage of the season, 40 miles under power over flat seas and under a clear blue sky to Almerimar Marina, our chosen resting place for the winter.
The final passage of any cruise is always one of mixed emotions: triumph and elation over dreams turned into realities and sadness at the thought of laying up the boat for winter. Fortunately for us this season, winter will be short as we shall be back on board during February and, with luck, at sea within three to four weeks.
Our totals for September/October were as follows:
Distance logged: 152.2 nautical miles in 42 days
Time spent at sea: 32.3 hours
Time spent under sail: 6.8 hours
Time spent under power: 25.5 hours
Average distance travelled per week: 25.4 nautical miles
Average speed: 4.7 knots
Proportion of time sailing: 20.9 %
Our cumulative totals for the passage from Brighton to Almerimar were as follows:
Distance logged: 2,201 nautical miles in 196 days
Time spent at sea: 442 hours
Time spent under sail: 152 hours
Time spent under power: 290 hours
Average distance travelled per week: 79 nautical miles
Average speed: 5 knots
Proportion of time sailing: 34 %
Passage Report Number 24
Moored in Almerimar Marina,
Saturday 31st October
In the two weeks since our last Passage Report Retreat has remained firmly moored to the quay here in Almerimar. Not so its occupants, for we have been exploring the hinterland by road.
On 21st October, my birthday, we hired a car for the day and drove east through Almería to Cabo de Gata, the prominent headland at which the Costa del Sol ends and the Costa de Almería begins. On our way there we visited several marinas (my favourite land-based occupation!) and passed through some extremely arid, barren land quite different from anything we have encountered before. We also discovered a beautiful deserted bay, which we hope to visit by sea when we are under way again next year.
More recently we hired a car for two days, this time together with friends, Trevor and Shirley from the yacht Concord. On Wednesday 28th we drove inland to Granada to visit the Royal Citadel known as the Alhambra. This vast area, now open to the public, contains the Alcazaba (a 9th century fortress), the Palacios Nazaríes (14th century Moorish palaces) and the Palacio de Carlos V (a 16th century Renaissance-style palace). Just outside the walls (but included in the admission price) is the 14th century Generalife, the summer palace of the Kings of Granada. Our guide book says that if one could only visit one site in Spain, it should be the Alhambra and Generalife. We would not argue with that! The sculptural decoration in the Palacios Nazaríes is exquisite and on a scale that simply defies belief. One can only guess at the thousands upon thousands of hours of work put in by teams of highly-skilled craftsmen to create each and every corner of the palaces, and all for the enjoyment and pleasure of the privileged few. How fortunate we are to be able to share that enjoyment today.
We stayed in Granada for the night and returned to Almerimar the next day through the mountains passing through a ski resort high up on the Sierra Nevada. Seeing the resort before the arrival of the winter snow was quite an education. Rather than the grassy slopes we had all imagined, we found ourselves looking at what was, to all intents and purposes, a quarry! Huge earth-moving machines had created slopes of varying difficulties cut deep into the mountain sides. In this naked state it was quite ugly, but with a little imagination one could see how it would be transformed by a covering of snow.
The final part of our journey home took us through fertile valleys with south-facing slopes that enjoy sunshine throughout the year. Here there were citrus fruits, sugar cane, pomegranates, custard apples, olives and almonds. One of the highlights of the trip was picking almonds from trees growing wild on the roadside. They were delicious!
When not touring the area by car, most of our time has been spent in Almerimar working on Retreat and preparing her for winter. We have removed the sails, washed them in the dinghy, repaired the broken stitches and packed them away. We have also given our dinghy a face-lift by re-painting the floorboards and re-varnishing the oars. Next week we hope to be lifted out when we shall have the rather messy and time-consuming job of cleaning off the bottom and giving it two coats of anti-fouling paint. There is also the engine service to complete.
Did I say we have spent most of out time working on Retreat? We have to confess that is not really true! Most of our time has been spent chatting with friends and neighbours and going for walks along the shore where we have seen pink flamingos. The weather here is still very pleasant indeed with clear blue skies and bright sunshine day after day. Afternoon temperatures are in the mid twenties but evenings and nights are somewhat cooler making sleeping much easier than it was in mid August.
We shall be flying back to the UK on Thursday 19th November bringing our first year of full-time cruising to an end. And what a year it has been! With day after day of sailing under a warm sun, countless new places visited and many new friends made it has exceeded our every expectation. For those of you considering following in our wake, we commend the way of life to you whole-heartedly.