Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Portugal - Here we come

Day 1 was a short hop down the coast but we had forgotten about the big Atlantic swell (after 4 weeks in the Rias) and the journey felt like a lifetime with neither of us feeling great.  But we had a good sail just over 30 miles, light winds so we had the Spinnaker out and we were whizzing along, well when it was finally up and set.  We had an interesting entrance into Viana Do Costelo where Amanda (yes me!) expertly manoeuvred (under sail) around the wind and kite surfers!

Our first Portuguese stop off was a lovely little town, people (particularly at Marina) we extra nice and helpful which was great since we only have 2 words of Portuguese! One of the funniest things was arriving during some local activity, looked like volleyball contest and there was a large stage and all we heard for the entire evening was 80’s pop, we couldn’t help ourselves but sing-along to Karina and the Waves, Rick Astley, Fergal Sharkey but we did draw the line at Buck Fizz!

The town had an absolutely lovely church on top of a hill, worth the walk for the view, neither of us really thinking that it was Sunday morning and there would be hordes of people doing the same. We popped our head in the church to find Sunday service in full swing!

We also visited the ruins of an iron age settlement; this obviously wasn’t something the Portuguese found of any interest as we were the only people there!

We decided to stay an extra day than planned and headed into Porto, which is the 2nd biggest city in Portugal.  It did mean another early morning to catch the train but really worth a visit.  Amazing old and ornate buildings, the old town by the river is a maze of little streets, even the train station was in a fantastic old cloister.

Train Station - No idea who is in photo!

The next day we sailed to Leixoes which is the commercial port for Porto, but having already visited Porto we were just using it for an overnight pit stop. Shortish journey but took an age as the wind was light. We spent most of the day with our big Spinaker sail flying but could still only manage about 4 knts of boat speed. I think we flew the spinaker for about 6 hours in the end, a record for us.

Leixoes to Fig
After a good nights sleep we left for Figueira da foz (we called it finger of fudge as no idea how to pronounce it correctly) Today we had wind from the offset only about 12 knots but it built throughout the day to around 20 so we had a cracking sail. Covered the 75nm at an average of about 6.5 knots pretty good as we had a slow start and we are carrying the weight of a small African country in Amanda’s wardrobe !!  

Interesting arrival at F da F as the pilot book warns that all these west coast ports get closed if the swell is too big, which makes it dangerous to enter the harbours. As the swell had built and built during the day we were pretty nervous about the approach, we were also praying it was open as our closest safe haven was about 60 miles south!
They signal harbour closures by hoisting a black ball on a mast near the entrance, 2 problems with this
1.     you cant see the bloody mast until you are almost in the harbour
2.     they don’t hoist anything if it is safe so you are never sure that you are looking at the correct mast anyway !!
We couldn’t see any balls so we bit the bullet and went in with sweaty palms gripping the helm. As the water shallowed near shore the swell got steeper and steeper until we reached the shallow entrance and the water changed to a nasty brown colour as the waves churned the bottom up. The depth on the chart only showed 5m and as the 7m swell sucked back I was convinced that I was going to be looking at the bottom any second.
At the last minute we surfed down a swell at 9 knots executed a perfect bottom turn and arrived in the tranquil waters behind the breakwater. I expected an ovation from the fishermen on the wall but they seemed unimpressed, so we dropped sail and went to find the marina.
We arrived at the marina and were eying an empty berth when the customs official came out and signaled that he wanted a word, it soon became clear that we needed to tie up to the wall near him first and despite it being a difficult place to “park” strong wind blowing us off etc his gun and body language meant that we complied meekly.
Finger of fudge is a holiday resort with high rise accommodation, marina was expensive and generally we were pretty unimpressed with the place. There was a festival while we were there which sounded quite exciting so we wandered along the prom that evening only to find a small travelling fair, the usual array of tat for sale from street sellers and hundreds of people milling around expectantly, it never did seem to get going so we wandered off to bed and left the next day. 

Next off to Peniche
60 miles at an average of 7.4 knots excellent days sail, blue seas good winds and blazing sunshine.
Arrived mid afternoon and anchored in the bay as we weren’t stopping. Amazing clear water 8m deep and I could watch as the anchor sat on the bottom.
A sunny day sailing
Had a quick visit from customs in a dingy, all very civilized except yet again Amanda was in the buff showering when they arrived. I think they know and time their arrival perfectly !!!

Peniche to Cascais
Had to happen poor visibility and no wind, we motored most of the day but then luckily picked up a good breeze for the last couple of hours. Arrived at Cascais and came into the bay to anchor and were amazed by the number of boats already there. We have generally had places to ourselves but here on a Saturday evening the whole of boat owning Lisbon had come to play. We managed to sneak in very close to other boats but as usual night closed in and most people headed back to the marina.
Cascais looked pretty impressive as a playground for Lisbons rich and famous and we thoroughly enjoyed the banging disco that went on till about 5 in the morning!!!!!
Lighthouse at Cascais

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Spanish Rias - & there is more!

Quick hop to Combarro and made the most of the rest of the day relaxing on board, Amanda shattered after busy week.  The next day with great anticipation we went ashore and it was all slightly disappointing. Quite pretty but felt a bit touristy and the main attraction was small building on stilts or saddle stalls as my dad later informed me, these were to keep corn and wheat in to protect from rats but we had already seen this elsewhere in the Rias and although nice enough was not as special as had been made out by customs or on a yachtie website, must just be good at marketing.

Next day sailing round to Ria Vigo, scenery spectacular with background of Isla Cies for most of the journey.

Isla Cies

The islands are part of a nature reserve so our first stop was into Vigo to pick up some sailing permits which we had ordered a week earlier, thankfully they were ready to go and only 1 night in the pricey but luxury marina! Was a surprise in the morning when we woke up to see Independence of the Seas pulling into Vigo, sort of felt like home seeing a cruise ship ! As we left for Isla Cies Independence also left and we established its next Port of Call was Southampton about 36 hours later – we both sailed down the Ria together in different directions for our next stops.

Independence of the Sea on route for Southampton

Isla Cies are part of Atlantic Islands Nature Reserve and 2 of the main islands are located at the entrance to Ria de Vigo.  Rolly night at anchor, but amazing location and we felt lucky to be there.  We managed to get our lazy butts out of bed before 8.30am as we were desperate to get over to the islands before the boat loads of tourists arrived.  Day 1 we walked to the highest lighthouse on the island – Faro de Cies.

But here are some of the views along the way and where you can see a little boat happily sat at anchor that is Magnum.

Magnum at anchor

Views from the lighthouse – it was worth the walk.

We failed to captured the volume of seagulls everywhere which was really nice in one respect as we saw tiny seagull chicks but on the other hand not so great when a seagulls decided to drop it’s load all over Amanda’s head, mmmmmmmmmm not feeling very lucky and Mark not feeling to lucky when he had the job of cleaning from her hair.  Actually not too many people around as still a week day. Weather held out for the entire day and we both even managed a solar warmed shower although as the northly wind was blowing this was still pretty chilly!  Couple of other boats joined us in anchorage for another rolly night, not too surprising when on edge of the Atlantic.

Next day after beaching Daisy dingy on Playa De Rodas (has previously been voted one of the world best beaches by the Guardian) we headed in the opposite direction from the day before; the northern end is more wooded with pines and eucalyptus trees just as stunning. 

First time we had come across any other Brits in some time and looked like boatload of them had been dropped off possibly from cruiseship – quite strange so many speaking English and not Spanish, we have only been away for 6 weeks!  Stunning views again this time from the other side of the island.

We had a third day on the island and another good walk but we were joined with the Spanish weekenders, loads of them! What was really lovely was we saw loads of Seagull chicks, so cute and fluffy! With over 30,000 nesting pairs on the island there were quite a few around.

Ah Seagull chick

We moved over to another island for our final night at the islands the color of the sea was stunning.

Whist in Vigo we have seen some spectacular boats around and although we are more than happy with lovely Magnum we have been thinking about our options …………

We headed up to the marina in Vigo for a couple of nights, first time with the experience of stern to mooring! Not the easiest with only two of us aboard but some friendly French yachties came over to help us out.  Another afternoon of walking!! The old town is really pretty and there are lots of local sculptures which make it really interesting.  On arrival we thought it was really exciting to be in the centre of the town but shortly after we realised we were moored by a busy walkway and we had quite a few spectators! Oh and another cruiseship in port! 

Day 2 in Vigo (still like goldfish in bowl) was a cultured day with 3 art galleries in a day, the first was a bit of a let down as you were not able to go into the gallery but they had 2000 old photos of Vigo on a PC, turn out to actually be quite interesting but not what we thought.  The 2nd  Marco - The Vigo Art Gallery of Contemporary Art was just bizarre, the main installation was the entire ground floor of huge art gallery with various rooms filled with bright blue balloons, we had great fun hitting balloons at each other but quite unexpected. 3rd was the Galician Cultural Centre which was only open in the evening but worth a look.

Amanda resisted shopping – lots of lovely, lovely shops!

Final couple of days in Vigo were spent in Bayona, the theme of the week had been rain and it continued! Bayona was actually a really interesting place, fantastic castle with beautiful gardens, they have now built a very nice hotel in the ground but still lovely to take a walk around.

Bayona is supposedly a holiday resort for the Spanish, lots of nice little restaurants and bars. We also went on a replica of the Pinta which is one of the boats that was in a Columbus voyage across the Atlantic, quite nice way to spend 2 minutes in the rain! Rest of the day spent tucked up on Magnum watching a dvd whilst the rain hammered down!


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Spanish Rias continued.......

Our sunnniest sail yet leaving Muros and heading for Ria De Arousa, we are finally gaining patience with the wind and were happy moving along for 3knots for at least part of the day whilst the wind was building. The scenery entering the Ria was stunning, there is a small nature reserve island at the entrance which meant there were a whole variety of seabirds, not that we are experts but just nice to see. As it was the weekend there were actually other sailing boats in the Ria, navigation was a bit trickier than normal but nice to have something to challenge us and only because of the amazing scenery.

The Ria is much larger than the others we have visited so there are a various ports which we can visit so almost 10nm up the river to Pobra Du Caraminal (41nm total) and we anchored opposite a lively beach, it was after 6pm and absolutely baking hot.  Even though the Ria had been reasonably busy with boats we were the only ones anchored and obviously most were local boats and heading back the marinas. 

When we set off to explore on Sunday morning we were a bit early for the Spanish and the town (almost a large village) was very quiet but we did stumble across a passing cycling race obviously quite a big event as lots of police closing the roads and all fully branded Spanish teams with support cars, etc, Mark was cheering them on!  By lunch time there were lovely old squares and parks filled with people, the Spanish know how to lunch.  Magnum was still all on here lonesome in the anchorage even though we were right next to the marina.

We were so lucky that the weather was settled and we had two peaceful nights at anchor and a couple of days to explore by which time we had seen the town twice!

As the wind picked up in the afternoon we headed off across the river to anchor close to the largest town in the Ria, Vilagarcia.  We managed to sneak in close to a nature reserve island – Isla Cortegada. After dinner we decided to explore the island (we have now found out you need a permit and should not have been on the island!), well I (Amanda) was happily sat in her PJs but Mark decided I needed to get up, The Island had huge variety of trees, pines, firs and eucalyptus it was all very pretty and we had it all to ourselves – surprising since we were not supposed to have been there! We had about an hour walking around and felt like real adventurers! Very privileged and lucky to miss the thunderstorms which were happening the other side of the Ria.
Your taxi awaits Madam

Amanda amazed by trees

Our beautiful boat from the Island

Leaving our beautiful Island

Next day we were into marina at Vilagarcia, more really lovely locals, the marina guy spoke great English so he helped us sort out our permits for sailing around Islas Cies which is nature reserve we are hoping to get to within the week, he copied, faxed and emailed everything that was needed – what a star! He even gave us his card and told us to get in contact if we needed anything at all whilst still in Rias.   Marina not too pricey since it was the largest town in the Ria, good news!  Had really pretty old town and lovely beach with big long promenade so at least it was nice to get some exercise. Shame we were only there for the 1 night and then off we went.

Next stop Vilanova actually only about 6 miles away down the Ria, small local marina, worth mentioning that not seen any English boats since La Coruna and still no other visiting yachts!  Again fantastic people, we are constantly amazed by how helpful people have been and made such a huge effort to speak English when we can’t speak Spanish.  I thought Estelle the woman at the laundry place was going to ask us to dinner but she just wanted to give us a hug and a kiss!  We had 3 relaxing nights tied up in the marina with the wind howling around us, it gave us our first opportunity to get the bikes out and both our bums suffered!  Couple of miles outside the village and across a 2Km bridge was Isla De Arousa, absolutely stunning little island with beautiful sandy beaches and quaint little fishing villages.  We were treated to 2 sunny days so we made the most of beaches although the sea was freezing!

Beach for lunch on day 1 

Fishing village 

Beach for lunch day 2 

I was desperate to stay for another day but we knew we had to move on.

Next Ria for us to visit was Ria Pontevedra, sail was short only 18 miles, Mark used the time to polish some bits and pieces on the boat, I tried to do some exercise but gave up and took up “twitching” instead. Out with the binoculars and the bird book ! Saw   Weather was baking again! Anchored between two tourist resorts Sanxenxo and Porto Nova beach was absolutely packed as Saturday afternoon.  Sea looked really inviting, Mark dived in only to find it was still freezing!  Popped over to see the sights on Sunday, hugely busy resort lots of people making the most of the beach.  It was also a big day yesterday as Amanda went in the sea, absolutely freezing!!! Nearly died!!  The other big incidence was that we were boarded by customs, not at the best time as Amanda was standing naked washing her hair downstairs! The customs guys were mortified when Mark told them to hang on a sec because his wife was just showering so much so that they took a lot of cajoling to even sit in the cockpit. They calmed down once Amanda popped here head out to say Hola, but they still never ventured below to search for drugs !! They were very pleasant and they made the visit as painless as possible, what was also quiet interesting was they told us that we had been very lucky as the weather was the best they had in last 50 years!! They also recommended the next stop in the Ria.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Spanish Rias

The Spanish Rias

Note; We have finally managed to upload a video to youtube, see link in Biscay post.

With light winds expected before another blowy day we decided to head off west and make our way to the Spanish Rias in search of a pretty sheltered anchorage.

Our first destination was 52nm to Ria De Camerinas, bit of a blow getting in but all pretty easy and anchored first time, close to shore with northerly wind blowing over us.  Not very close to the harbor so we spent relaxing day on boat, caught up on some more sleep and baked some cakes!  A nice surprise was dolphins in the bay, Mark did fancy a swim with them but I think they would have swum a mile after seeing him in full wetsuit and flippers!

After a misty start the next day was one of our best sailing days yet, the dolphins came out to say goodbye and then we had a lovely downwind sail with light breeze (Cheryl – less sailing jargon from me!), 43 miles of drifting along.  It was actually the first day that I was able to sail without full sailing clothes actually managed jeans which is a miracle for me, Mark was baking in shorts.  Scenery was absolutely stunning; we passed round Point Finisterre which had been a worry as notoriously windy but all ok, phew! Beautiful sandy beaches in the distance and even had a couple of passing sail boats give us a wave.  Mark seems to be following the path of the wind turbines, can’t get away from work!  Arrived at Ria De Muros all excited by a new destination and probably the prettiest surroundings yet. Had a lovely evening sunning ourselves in the cockpit.

Then followed a very sleepless nightL, what was forecasted as strong northerly was more easterly than northerly and the bay where we were anchored with 4 other yachts was very very blowy! We spent most the night checking we were still anchored, praying for daylight when everything would seem better. After not a great deal of sleep morning arrived and with it more wind, no chance of leaving the boat and spent most the day dosing and making the boat as safe as possible; no sign of any movement from of our neighbors who had obviously experienced the same night as us.  The only highlight of the day was more dolphins swimming, splashing around about 25ft from the boat! Never have time to get a decent photo but enough to make our day. Thankfully by the following morning (Friday – it is so difficult to keep track of what day it is!!) wind had dropped enough for us to set off on the dingy to venture into Muros.

Muros was lovely village, were able to tie dingy up in harbor and friendly fisherman gave us his access card to get out through security – I thought this was very kind since we had no way of communicating with him! Lovely little church and old Spanish whitewash building all really clean and well maintained.  Even ventured into Spanish market and attempted to get our provisions. Got an absolute soaking on the way back in the dingy.

Lessoned learned that on blowy days we will be stuck on the boat, good news is that wind generator is whirling so we were able to distract ourselves with a dvd J