Vigo Slowly – Costa da Morte


Bimini, washing and fenders – if you look closely

A feeling that I wanted to press on had overwhelmed me, so I decided to put some miles under Pippin’s keel and head towards Cape Finisterre, with options along the way.  Passage planning often brings unwelcome information from the various guides used and the Costa da Morte, that stretch of coastline between Coruna and Finisterre, has plenty of terrifying stuff written about it.  Finisterre is derived from the Latin ‘finis terrae’, the ‘end of the World’.  It is studded with shipwrecks, but then so are the Channel Islands and it helped a little to remind myself that there are around 300 wrecks scattered around Les Casquettes, off Alderney.

This coast is barnacle collecting country and many ‘percebeiros’ (barnacle hunters) foraging at the water’s edge have been scooped out to sea over the centuries by that unexpected ‘7th wave’, a rogue often double the height of its predecessors.   You can only harvest barnacles legally if you are licensed, though there are restrictions depending on barnacle numbers.   Recent hard times have meant many unlicenced perceiberos taking their share illegally out of necessity.  Having said all that, its profitable work, 50 barnacles going for around 60 Euros and I look forward to trying one.


In 1870, HMS Captain, a revolutionary steam and sail powered British naval gun ship turned turtle in a gale whilst on naval manoeuvres, about 15 nautical miles south of Finisterre, the same distance out to sea.  One year old, she capsized in the heavy seas because she lacked the inherent stability necessary to resist the heeling induced by her sails, not surprising as her freeboard had been reduced by 2 feet to a mere 6.5 feet, and her centre of gravity raised by 10 inches during build.  This meant at 14 degrees heel, her decks were awash and at a mere 21 degrees she was over!  By contrast, HMS Monarch, a similar vessel of the time had 14 feet of freeboard and could tip 40 degrees before capsizing.

Pippin is 330 feet shorter and 7,600 tons lighter, but her maximum freeboard is only 2 feet less, she won’t flood until she is heeled more than 100 degrees and she retains positive righting effort up to about 135 degrees.  I know which boat I would rather be in when the weather blows up.  Very sadly 480 out of her 500 crew perished, more than the total killed at the battle of Trafalgar.

Back in the present, I discovered that a merchant ship had lost 30 – 40 containers overboard off Finisterre in January this year.  These things are longer than Pippin and weigh several times more so no contest in the event of a collision, but fortunately I am not a worrier once at sea.

Encouragingly, Ria Coruna was quiet at dawn, the wind still abed as Pippin slipped out to sea and into a thick blanket of fog, not really what was wanted for I prefer to eyeball the enemy.  Visibility was less than a mile, but at least it was calm and peaceful, my instruments assured me that the coast was where I wanted it to be, the radar displayed any boats in range, and the bacon sarnie was just the job before my espresso.

When the alarm went off in the cabin at 1130, my first thought was of equipment failure, but it was much more serious – a VHF DSC (digital selective call, which allows a prepared message to be sent at the touch of a button) man overboard message from Coruna/Finisterre coast guard  radio.  It had happened the day before when a sailor fell from a yacht almost exactly where my first way point lay.  It took me nigh on 4 hours to get there, and when I did, it was no surprise to see other yachts converging as they passed through.  I was pleased not to find a body, but my thoughts were very much with the other crew members of that yacht, who must be going through Hell.

Sadly it was a day of very light headwinds, despite forecast tail winds,  so we motorsailed the 69 nautical miles to infamous Finisterre – that doesn’t sound so far, but at Pippin’s gentle jogging pace that is the thick end of a 12 hour day.  After that, there was a Ria to navigate and an anchor spot to find.  Strangely every other yacht seemed to be heading the other way, so I did wonder whether perhaps they knew something I didn’t.  Whatever, I always plan an offshore route and only close the coast during the journey if I am happy with the conditions and today I was, so gradually I closed to within a mile as the evening brightened to finally reveal the awe inspiring landscape.

It is quite extraordinary how often I get up to look out to sea and immediately spot a vessel, even though I might not have seen it’s tiny trace on the radar screen – or more likely couldn’t find my glasses before looking at the screen.  It is a sixth sense, no question – what made me look out just in time to avoid 2 bobbers off Bajo Leixon de Juanboy (appropriate name!) at precisely the right moment, even though they were probably the only two for miles around?  I can’t explain it, except to suggest it’s my old mate, lady luck in a good mood, looking out for me.

Pippin off Finisterre

Cable Finisterre

Cape Finisterre was resting as Pippin approached, just as Cape Wrath had been on my Shetland journey in 2015, and I said a prayer for the 480 sailors from HMS Captain who lie on the sea bed in their iron tomb not far from Pippin’s track.  The fog had lifted and the Cape was clear when I sent the Rocna down to explore in 7 metres at low tide in Ensenada de Llagosteira, in the Cape’s lee,  my journey’s end.  I shared this lovely spot with 3 other yachts and had no immediate deadlines, as Vigo is now an easy hop south.  Guernsey is an awfully long way north from here though and potentially all up hill.


Pippin off Finisterre

My thoughts returned to the tragedy of HMS Captain next morning as I looked across to Corcubion, the Ria in which the 18 survivors came ashore after 12 long hours on their battered steam pinnace during that stormy night in September 1870.  Naval officers travelled through nearby villages and combed the rugged coastline in a futile search for more survivors or bodies, and understably there was outcry about the loss of life.  Widows were to be paid a year’s salary equivalent immediately.


Barque Bemel off Finisterre

Extraordinarily, history returned to Corcubion as I stood there, in the form of a beautiful French barque which dropped anchor opposite Pippin.  She was the Belem, built in 1896 as a cargo ship, though she had also served as a private yacht for the Duke of  Westminster and on another occasion, Sir Arthur Guinness.  Now a sail training ship, she is 190 feet long and personally I can think  of no worse an experience than reefing her topsails 100 feet up in a gale!  But for now, she lay at peace.


Beautiful Barque Bemel

The little fishing harbour at Finisterre looked more business than leisure, with a large modern warehouse and busy little fishing boats.  On the hillsides the buildings seemed more for locals than visitors.  In the Ensenada it was still, overcast and peaceful, which suited me just fine for I prefer my excitement in small doses, and not too often these days.

A run ashore revealed Finisterre to be also a holiday village afterall, a down to earth sort of place favoured by walnut faced knarled legged hikers with ski poles, little back packs and sub 20  BMIs, earnestly tracking the old pilgrimage routes.  Its Spain’s Land’s End, a place where the road to nowhere ends and the lighthouse keeps guard over endless ocean.


Titanic Pub Finisterre

Searching for a store, I passed the Titanic Pub (great place to sink a cerveza.  Gedit!!??) nearby the London Pub and not an estate agent, tatoo parlour, legal or accounting practice in sight.  If you like walking, want a bed in a pension, a plateful of calamare with a glass of cerveza for not a lot and won’t miss designer shops, or posh hang out spots, Finisterre is for you.  I liked it.

Communications with the outside World have been remarkable on this trip – I could log on to the internet miles out to sea and have missed none of the World Cup.  I also caught the words of my old contemporary, Gen Sir Nick Houghton ex Chief of Defence Staff, with whom I had once shared an office as a young staff officer in 12th Armoured Brigade.  It was clear even then that he was destined for greatness and his subsequent career trajectory was somewhat more vertical than mine.  Anyway, there I was sitting in a Ria listening to him comment on current military issues.  Amazing.

Its been very peaceful since I arrived in A Coruna and partied with my new friends – I hope that doesn’t mean I am due a little excitement tomorrow.  Whatever,  I have an embryonic plan for the continuation of my journey here on my chart table, but supper is the next thing on my list so until next time, adiós familia y amigos.


Finisterre Town Square

By ajay290

5 comments on “Vigo Slowly – Costa da Morte

  1. Hi John,

    We are sat in the woods and have just toasted you having read out your blog to Tracey.

    As ever very well written and we were with you all the way – you are really having a good time aren’t you.

    All well here, been very busy with work and remain so with three trips to Paris and lot of other places.

    The cruising cash sack is looking good and we fly for the US in two weeks time.

    Cheers Pete n Tracey

    Pete Goss MBE Email – Phone – +44 (0)7740 825289 Skype – pete.goss2


    • Cheers from Pippin, my tipple being a 1.5 Euro vino tinto as the sun begins to set over the Ria. I am very glad that the cruising wallet is replenished and I guess excitement at rejoining Pearl will begin to grow from now on in. Best wishes, JMW

  2. Very glad to read Pippins favourable statistics vs HS Captain, you may have sailed to World’s End, but you can sail out of it too. Helping you on your way, a tip from the pro’s, the fenders you refer to are technically known by those of us in the know as Sausages 🤣😂

  3. Here we have been basking in 30 degree sunshine which makes any gardening or painting of kitchen walls a rather slow business between long cool drinks. meanwhile your adventure continues to unfold and I am glad you are finding some unspoiled Spain along you way. Prayers for safe passage Paul and Lindsey.

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