Argentina had just escaped from 2018 World Cup ignominy as the barque Belem weighed anchor and slipped out of the Ria under sail, the setting sun igniting her canvas in a blaze of white. So gentle was the evening breeze that I am sure her John Deere diesels were chuntering quietly below decks, probably as her 48 trainees ate their dinners
Despite various trials, I have concluded that finger nails are best for waterline weed removal, a job I performed before breakfast and a leisurely start for Muros under sail. Adhering to the KISS principle I decided on a course of 172 Magnetic, departing early afternoon to catch whatever wind was destined for us, as it usually comes after a lengthy morning siesta.
Masts are pretty important for Yachts and usually they are of aluminium, held up by stainless steel wires, or they are of composite materials held up by high tech ropes if you have very deep pockets and are concerned about that extra fraction of a knot.
Robin Knox Johnson didn’t bother with convention when he entered his yacht Suhali in the original Golden Globe solo round the World race in 1967 – his masts (Suhali was a ketch) were telegraph poles held up by galvanized wires. But then RKJ is RKJ, not a mere mortal. Deep in the Southern Ocean where no sane person wants to be in any kind of vessel, he found himself in a Force 12 storm, the wind blowing faster than the motorway speed limit. Feeling he had done all he could and not being one to worry unduly, he set to below on the preparation of a curry and a whisky. Incredible.
I mention all this because on this trip I have come across types of mast I had not seen before. Raz’s boat Noa sports a stainless steel lattice mast, cheap, strong, great for climbing aloft and you can attach anything anywhere – even your washing. You can also make a jury rig relatively easily.
In A Coruna was a very serious little ship, a tiny pram bowed mini-transat, designed to race in long distance solo races fast, if horrendously uncomfortably. It was French of course for they are the best sailors, probably because they are all mad. What to me was interesting was that she sported a tripod mast with two fore sails and no mainsail. My grand father, who raced most unsuccessfully out of St. Peter Port in his gaff rigged cutter Banshee would have been amazed, not to say confused. Mind you, he could have done with a few cheeky mods, to move from tail end Charlie to leader of the pack.
Mr Rocna appeared on cue caped in multi layers of weed and Pippin sniffed the wind before elegantly setting off across flat seas watched by steep intimidating hills, black in the overcast light. Wind generators stuck out of the hill tops, like hairs on a gooseberry and I guess in winter, Galician houses will be ablaze with power from these windmills blasted by winter gales.
A 50 foot Amel ketch hugged the coastline, as Pippin took a more seaward route, soon overhauling the much bigger yacht. Winds were between 5 and 11 knots out of the NW quadrant, quite enough for Pippin to stretch her wings. Just as the wind speaks through the rigging, the wake under the stern tells it’s own story, beginning with a tinkle, then a chuckle before becoming an insistent gurgle. Once it’s foaming and hissing, I am well reefed, cowering inside and thinking of home.
Pippin passed neatly between two reefs off Punta Lens and tacked inshore up the mouth of Ria Muros at a canter in the late afternoon, as Germany lost against South Korea in the World Cup. Hercule the iron soldier kept a dead straight track as the wind began to ruffle the sea, like a parent’s fingers through a childs hair and Pippin charged on a reach up the Ria in winds that briefly touched 16 knots. Great sailing but there are enough rocky dangers tucked in the mouths of the Rias to prevent complacency, and there is always the worry of a dragging anchor or lurking undersea debris, that might imprison the Rocna.
News on the radio of the Army being called to help fire fighters with the heath fires near Manchester reminded me of my time during the first firemen’s strike. Based in a disused maternity hospital in Bootle, we did our best after a fortnights training with already outdated Green Goddess fire engines. We fought fires well enough, though the Police vehicle escorts sometimes suffered. A Green Goddess full of water easily overwhelms it’s brakes and we modified the rears of quite a few Police cars at roundabouts and junctions. Relationships between us were very close however, for we shared much, and our REME Workshop would slave long into the night rectifying damage.
I sent Mr Rocna down to do his bit, 120 metres off the southern end of Muros Marina breakwater and got to work with Mr D to prepare dinner, whilst checking for anchor drag. It was sunny, peaceful and Germany were out of the World Cup, though I wasn’t crowing. As you know, sailing plans are shaped by many factors, but right now there is an unusual but important extra one. England play Belgium in the World Cup, so my plans will ensure I am huddled safely over my radio at the appropriate time.
Seventy four years before HMS Captain turned turtle off Finisterre, Captain Maitland, RN, in command of the frigate Loire was approaching Muros near where Pippin lay. It was the same month of a naval engagement off Finisterre between British and French Spanish fleets, and Maitland had received information that a French privateer was fitting out in Muros. A French corvette and a brig were also there, as he soon discovered. The coastal fort opened fire on Maitland’s ship as it entered the Ria, fire which was returned and seemed to put off the defenders.
Anchoring, Maitland despatched a raiding party under his First Lt. to take the fort, which they duly did, whilst he took over the French vessels. Maitland then agreed with the local bishop to allow him to take the provisions stored ashore for the French vessels, in return for which he would not interfere with the local people. Sailors and locals parted on good terms and Capt Maitland was understandably much praised for this action and later was promoted Rear Admiral. His First Lt. was promoted Master and Commander and further rewarded with command of the captured French corvette, the smallest ship of the line, below a frigate. I discovered that 10 years later, Maitland took the surrendered Napolean aboard the 74 gun HMS Bellerophon and took him to Berry Head in July 1815; an exciting and distinguished naval career by any standards.
By contrast, I was not fired on and took no ships or prisoners in Muros. Fifty metres from Pippin, as Mr D slow cooked my dinner, a little old fisherman in a wide brimmed hat cast his line from a tiny rowing boat. As the familiar grunts and cries of a female rowing crew carried across the Ria, he rowed a few yards before retrieving his line and repeating the motion. I guess he would return home with supper.
Mussel farming is big business in the Galician Rias and I found Muros much more crowded with ‘bateas’ than the Pilot Book indicated. To my eyes the seried ranks of the mussel rafts looked like a mini Spithead Naval review of low slung immaculately positioned dreadnoughts. I discovered that a raft can produce over 40 tons of these bivalve molluscs in a year. Ropes are seeded, hung from the rafts and thinned perhaps 3 times during the year between June and October. 3 1/2 ounces of mussels provides a person’s daily protein needs, so that enormous bowl of mussels in white wine and cream sauce commonly served is a tad over the top – nice though. Other molluscs and fish are also increasingly being farmed, including Turbot.
It was tricky to find ungated access to the quayside (as on previous occasions), but providing you don’t mind shinning up mussel encrusted ladders with your rucksack and rubbish, you will manage. People stop before you step onto pedestrian crossings here and everyone is very friendly in an understated laid back way. Muros I found to be a quaint little village, with all the basics for cruiser or tourist and preparations were in hand for a festival; four musicians strolled the streets playing their goat skin Galician Gaitas, very much like small bagpipes, as I pottered about.
Out in Ensenada Muros, people young and old in wetsuits towing rubber rings worked busily with what looked like shrimp nets, the water up to their chests. I guessed they were after razor clams, or navajas de afeitar, which I have yet to try.
Back aboard I looked across at the derelict stone boathouse and slipway and idly wondered about its past. Whilst in this reflective mood I again reached for Wickipedia to understand what the name ‘A Esmorga’ was about, for it is the name of the Restaurante above the boathouse.
It was a novel by the prolific Galician author Eduardo Amor about the 24 hour drinking spree of 3 friends, a busy day of celebration, fire, a brothel visit and violence. Back on planet Earth, and just in case you thought I was a clever dick, my inadequacies were again revealed by the absence of the sausages in my shopping bag that I had gone ashore to get. Oh and I lost a vital piece of a rowlock, so if the outboard cuts out, its overboard and swim back with the dinghy.
Meanwhile, as England complete final preparations for this evening’s clash with Belgium, several yachts have arrived to anchor beyond the little harbour, no doubt to e
njoy the festivities in Muros this weekend. Instead, Pippin and I will, God and Mr Rocna willing, be heading 40 nautical miles south to Ria Vigo, our turn round point and journey’s end for the outward voyage.