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Leaving Sunny Spain

Misty Biscay

Misty Biscay

 

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Pippin Gets a Wiggle on

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Isle d’ Ouessant to the North

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Phare de Kereon and the Reefs to the South

I wrote in haste at sea off the Isle d’ Ouessant, so I will return to that bleak, rocky outcrop along whose eastern side Pippin had sailed a few days ago up the Passage du Fromveur (heading NE past the Phare de Kereon).  Unlike the Channel Islands, the British have let the French keep this particular island and I can see why.  Incredibly around 800 people still share the island with the indigenous sheep, though the population has been falling for centuries.  It is the most westerly point of France and, quite understandably given that 50,000 ships pass by each year, the graveyard of many a fine vessel and sailor.

The most famous wreck was the steamship Drummond Castle, lost in 1896 when it was approaching Ushant, known to mariners as among the most dangerous reefs in the world, due to the strong currents.  The ship’s skipper,  Captain Pierce, had not realised the ship was being swept east – indeed he had just turned in when she struck the reef known as the Pierres Vertes between Ushant and an island to the south at speed, ripping her hull open from keel to waterline.  Within a few minutes she had gone to the bottom, leaving only 3 survivors; 243 people perished, including two Willis’ though unlikely to be relatives.

See the source image

See the source image

I wasn’t surprised that Ushant – or Ouessant – had been witness even at a distance to various assorted dust ups between British and French fleets, one of the most notable being the first battle of Ushant in 1778, which took place the very same day Pippin was passing this deadly outcrop, 240 years later.  Of course government and public attention was probably diverted more to the American War of Independence in progress at that time, but nevertheless it was a significant engagement and though I would like to claim a British victory, I am not sure I can as the British suffered 1,200 casualties, the French a mere 539; history records the engagement as inconclusive, so I’ll leave it there.  The drama continued after the battle, with a major spat between the fleet commander Admiral Viscount Keppel and his number 2, Admiral Baron Palliser.

“You will need to get a wiggle on if you want to miss the bad weather” said the First Mate wisely, by text.  Pippin wiggles between 4 and 6 knots, 7 when things get boistrous and right then I was motor sailing in light winds, running with the tide just as fast as Pippin could wiggle.  Nothing more I could do, I thought rifling through the Army Ration pack and deciding to keep stew with dumplings for later.

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They Knew I was Watching

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Biscay Dolphins

By early afternoon Pippin was sailing nicely, if slowly against the tide and on into a lovely evening as the Brittany coast slipped past.  As I rested below, nose stuck in a book, radar alarm on, I heard a slithering sound down the hull sides and shot on deck.  Pippin had sailed through a football field sized island of weed and was trailing tendrils from her rudder and wind vane steering blade.  It didn’t seem to affect affect anything.

I normally set the boat up for the night before dark to avoid nocturnal deck work, but stupidly hadn’t that evening so found myself up on the cabin top in darkness, having decided to tuck the third reef in to the main sail, for the first time ever, and open the staysail in preparation for strong winds.  The 3rd reef line had only been fitted by the boat yard days before I left Guernsey and I was surprised that it seemed to jam, making the raising of the main sail now impossible.  Looking astern from my position on deck strapped to the mast, I saw why; much of the reefing line was trailing out astern, not ideal.  So with much cussing, something I am pretty good at, I strapped the sail to the boom, retrieved the reefing line, set up the autopilot and motor sailed into the darkness, as sailing speed had dropped without the push of the big main sail.

Soon after the hydraulic system dumped its life blood into the bilge with an exhausted sigh and went AWOL, producing a beep and an officious accusatory notice of termination of labour on the chart plotter screen, leaving me with  no autopilot.  I knew that to hand steer for any prolonged period would, in my tired state, be impossible.  Think Willis, there are always options …. then I remembered I had got Hercule to steer, whilst motor sailing in the Celtic Sea last year and so he did again, uncomplaining, unyielding, ever reliable.  His only weak link was his boss and all he needed from me was decent boat handling, which I promised faithfully I would provide.

The seas and wind began to build but Pippin moved in harmony in a smooth, lady like way completely unfazed.  Even so the motion was getting lively I noted, as I perched on my pilot seat in the wheelhouse to scribble my position in the log, when Pippin suddenly dipped sharply to port and both I and the pilot seat collapsed the same way.  OK, it was me who fitted the pilot seat and I have the DIY skills of an Armadillo, so I couldn’t lash out at anyone but me in my frustration.  Time for a cup of rosy lee.

My log entries are sparse from then on, but by now there was a cap full of wind allowing Pippin to progress nicely with just the yankee flying, but what surprised me was the size and ferocity of the rising seas.  Running before a strong wind, now against the tide and having built up strength out in the Atlantic, the waves charged unhindered up the English Channel, perhaps funnelling between Ushant and the main land and quite possibly also ricocheting off the Brittany coast.  As time went on, the tops of the bigger ones would curl over and collapse with a roar in a torrent of foam, sometimes slamming hard up against Pippin in an explosion of white water, slewing her off course and blasting spray and water into the cockpit.  Down in the cabin, where I was working up an appetite for dinner with a DCI Banks story, it seemed much less dramatic.

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A Rough Morning

It was a soldier’s wind, SW hard up Pippin’s chuff and blowing hard enough to have some fun.  It was by no means excessive ranging between 18 and 27 knots with gusts to 35, and the heavy rain heralded the passage of the front and a sensible time to be below preparing beef stew with dumplings.  I got some dinner and rest, but no sleep so 4 hours before dawn, I kitted myself up in my offshore foul weather gear and harness, grabbed a bottle of water and some chocolate and headed into the cockpit where I strapped on to a hook on the bulkhead.  Optimistically I brought my book in a sandwich bag with me.  I didn’t read it.

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Pippin Climbs a Wave

I needed to adjust Pippin’s course as Guernsey isn’t so big you can’t miss it, and I didn’t want to be trapped against a lee shore, so I took over from Hercule, guiding Pippin up and down the backs of some truly impressive waves.  It is hard to paint the scene and photos invariably make light of sea state, so I will resort to science.  The laws of physics and hydro dynamics dictate that Pippin has a hull speed of around 7.4 knots – i.e. that is as fast as you can make her go in normal circumstances, whatever you do.  Well, I can tell you that Pippin touched 13.4 knots off the back of at least one big daddy, with just a yankee sail raised, which had me whooping like an idiot and high fiving the sky in the pre-dawn rain.  Pippin averaged well over 6 knots for the last 10 hours, with just a single reefed yankee flying – that is amazing.

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Pippin Surfs off a Big Daddy

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Salty Playground

For 5 hours I stood at the wheel, gulping water, munching chocolate whilst trying to keep Pippin straight and true to the waves, with occasional lapses as a big daddy slammed against a quarter, slewing Pippin into a near broach.  OK, she is my boat and I would say this wouldn’t I, but she handled those conditions without a single word of complaint and astonished me with her sea kindliness, for I had never taken her out into such conditions before.

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Dawn Beaks – Guernsey Somewhere Ahead

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Shooting for the Sun

As we closed St. Martins Point on the SE tip of Guernsey, where the seas began to reduce, a P&O cruise ship changed course to pass close alongside and I could just imagine the commentary … “and out to starboard you will see some idiot in a little yacht, probably a demented local wishing he was elsewhere“, though they couldn’t see the grin on said idiot’s face or sense the pride in his breast.  I knew I had almost arrived, when I saw the first bobber and its baby slide by uncomfortably close to starboard.

Ushant to Biscay

I am a neat Navigator

God had been generous for he had given me favourable tides at just the right moments off Ushant and now Guernsey, so I was able to steer Pippin tiredly straight into her marina berth with just an hour to spare; we came alongside at 0941 on 28th July, rather well I thought thought, though there only gulls to applaud.  Job done.

 

Pippin had taken me 1,400 nautical miles solo, across Biscay and back and up and down the Spanish Atlantic coast but at that moment I did not know whether to laugh or cry – I was a jumble of exhaustion and emotion after 6 days out at sea.   As I walked down the pontoon to meet the First Mate on wobbly legs, like a drunk on a Friday night, I found myself looking at boats and wondering whether I would be happy to have gone through what we just had in them …. “nah, not that one, or that one, or that one – maybe that one.”  Pippin will do me just fine thank you.

We’ll be off again soon.

P.S.  As I keep saying, the vagaries and science of weather remain largely a black art to me, but there are some excellent internet weather sites and the one I used particularly was PassageWeather.com.  I kept the 5 day report up to 28th June open on my ten bob tablet, as we bashed on to Guernsey and sure there were local anomalies, like perhaps the sea sate I encountered and wind gusts, but I found it astonishingly accurate overall.  It makes life so much safer and more predictable, especially for the solo sailor.  Without the fantastic router, supplied by Third Mate son Sam, I would not have had such ready access to that or any other site, so to him I extend a very sincere thank you.

The biggest vote of thanks goes to the First Mate though, not only for her unstinting support but also for the best fat boys I have had in years, enjoyed on my return.  I shall clearly have to raise the bar in the kitchen department.  I know – I’ll get some Army ration packs ……..

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By ajay290

Hard Tack Biscuits off Ushant

”Biscuits Brown – S” is modern day speak for good old fashioned hard tack found in Army ration packs 40 years ago.  I know this because it’s what I am munching 20 miles past Ushant, with Army issue peanut butter.  Anyway, this story begins 450 nautical miles south.

Mist reduced Spain to a smudge before darkness could steal it as I tried to work Pippin north.  I consoled myself with the thought that Horatio Hornblower’s ship would have struggled more as Spain lay disappointingly close off starboard beam while Pippin ran just north of east for the night.  Still it was a good sail and I managed a sleep, though a review of my red position marks on the chart, scattered around like the holes in the target during my annual personal weapons test as a soldier, spoke of the blood, sweat and tears of the previous 24 hours.  I felt I had lost a day and it seem we were  doomed to remain stuck in Biscay for eternity.

During the night the radar screen had been alive with the shadows of Spanish trawlers, as if the entire fleet was out to say farewell.  Grey clouds and mizzle provided the opening salvo of day 2 as the wind shifted east of north, all 3 knots of it so on went the little diesel with an oily chuckle.  The rain squall set off the radar alarm, which might be what attracted the dolphins, as with little sailing to think about, I deliberated on the menu choice for the day.

It is important to establish a routine of little tasks and activities to keep on top of things and to maintain morale.  No point in sitting around in a funk, no matter how miserable you might feel.  I decided on the luxury of a fresh shirt, shave and options for rounding Ushant, albeit some days ahead – and to kill that cabin fly that continued to drive me crazy.  Every time I got one, his mate would appear and I had to control myself from becoming fly crazy.

By coffee time the wind was NNE 15 knots, so I let Pippin loose though not really where I wanted to go, the plan founded on KISS and flexible as ever – sometimes because I forget what the current plan is.  Finally I was able to snug Pippin down heading NE for the night.  I make light of what until then had been a hugely frustrating struggle to get north.

 

At 0430 on Day 3 I sleepily took advantage of a windcshift and got Pippin doing what she does best AND IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION!  I felt only now had we really crossed the start line.  Few vessels were about, so I managed a little more sleep.

Positive thought requires positive action so I burst into the sunny cockpit with mug of tea and the paraphenalia for a strip wash, a satisfying if not pretty event.  Pippin ignored me and dug down her shoulder in the general direction of Ushant.  Looking later at the set of the sails, it was tempting to do a tweak here and there in pursuit of speed as I hoped, but not so loud the Devil would here me, that the wind would remain thisxway for a day …  or 2.  The wind built during the morning, teasing white foam off wave tops as Pippin crashed on guided as ever by that iron soldier, Hercule the wind vane.  He followed the wind of course, so s a good indicator of what the wind is doing at any moment.  I keep a hand bearing compass by my bed so as to check the course without leaving my sleeping bag, though at present it is lost somewhere within its ripe folds.

By late afternoon Spain lay 105 nautical miles astern, though I was disappointed to have made a mere 60 miles in the previous 24 hours, but hey!! The sky was blue, the sun was shining and I had just seen two whales slap their tail flukes.  As I topped up the fuel tank, I realised Pippin floated 4,800 metres above the Abyssal Plain, which didn’t bear thinking about.  I had to motor through the serene night and into a diamond morning on Day 4, made perfect by a decent fat boys breakfast.  It is at times like this that I think about what lies ahead and ponder fuel consumption figures, for I don’t carry enough to get home under engine.  “How much fuel is in the tank?”, “How much in cans?” “What if this and what if that?” and I was glad I had bought three extra cans and laboriously filled them one by one at the garage 3/4 a mile away.  Pippin doesn’t need much wind to get going, so I was happy that resources were adequate – the rations wouldn’t run out for sure.

It is frustrating when there is nothing more you can do and the wind is AWOL, your destination far over the horizon and you are knackered.  It is time then to put trust in machinery and electronics and reach for yet another good book, as I did for the next 12 hours.    A change in the boats attitude alerted me downstairs and I popped up to see the wind now was more south and west, though it had as much oomph as an overweight jogger, but I loved him anyway and Hercule soon took charge pointing Pippin for that busy corner of the sea called Ushant.

Progress became pleasingly good, time for maintenance and an hour with my head up the engine and down in the bilges.  A half litre of oil for the old Yanmar, some fresh diesel in the tank, wise with the threat of bad weather later.

The sea bed here rises 3,000 metres to 200 in less than 20 miles and Pippin was over the top of the slope as the afternoon closed to the sound of rasping sheets, hissing wake and a gentle cream from the boom the wind 125 off the quarter.  You can imagine what sort of sea could get up here.

Morning on Day 5 was disappointingly wet and grey, a flabby non day with insufficient wind to make way under sail, as I mulled over plans for rounding Ushant deciding to take the Passage de Fromveur along the east side of the island of Ouessant.  I was tired, but had achieved some more sleep so I was functioning ok – no hallucinations, seasickness or dehydration I thought as Pippin progressed agonisingly slowly.  Time for the Yanmar again.

It’s funny how trawlers always converge on your bit of the ocean, as happened today in the final run in to Ushant.  To give them their due they altered their courses to stay just outside mine, for which I was grateful.

I had picked up the forecast, which promised a rough and tumble later so decided it was time for the last Army ration pack … which is back wich is back where I started.

See you in Guernsey

 

 

By ajay290

The Dolphin Chapter

Two posts in one day may seem unecessarily prolific, but soon dear reader(s?) I will be out of range so here goes

The Finisterre pod of dolphins  came for coffee and stayed awhile in the dying SW breeze, as Pippin slowed to a sail flapping walk.  Of course I have a million pictures of white dolphin bellies, dorsal fins and graceful arched backs in the bow wave …. or have I?  We will see.

The thing I have still to learn is to go with the flow.  No deadline means 2.5 knots is just fine, using the engine to help thereafter is not failure, every inch north is a triumph.  Just don’t expect me home for tea anytime soon.

Fishing boats passed either side of me, unseen throbbing engines, a purple blob on my radar though I suspect they had not seen Pippin 1 mile away.  I had set myself the target of passing Finisterre without engine, knowing it would take hours, the loudest sound Pippin’s gentle wake and tugging ropes as we did so

Finally it was a moment of triumph to set Pippin north on the veering wind, farewell Finisterre, the fog began to lift revealing the dark mass of the Cote de Mort to starboard, as gannets dive bombed a shoal, dolphins came to check out Pippin’s new bow wave and the enormous boom of a ship’s fog horn carried across from out to sea.

My next target is to get north to a point around the NW tip of Spain, my start line for Biscay, but it is impossible to make sensible forecasts for I have no idea what direction or speed I will be able to make.  I also have to rest and will ensure I am safely seaward to do so, though rest is the easy bit, sleep more difficult.  I will be only too happy to join Gollum in his deep dark cave!

As the afternoon closed, Pippin was unbelievably able to manage a northerly course as the wind has stayed in the south and west close inshore all day, albeit progress has at times been a crawl.  I still expect north easterlies, but for now all was good.

Cabo  la Boltra, basking in the sunshine, was for me – apart from being very close and formidable looking – famous for only 2 recent events.  The first was it was here that the death of Mrs Woodman’s fruit cake occurred, the last morsal slipping down a treat with a half pint of tea.  The second was that I was passed by the only gin palace I had seen at sea  since I left Guernsey.  I felt a certain smugness knowing that I wwas burning perpsas progressing without the expensive assistance of an internal combustion engine whilst he was perhaps burning £13 of diesel per mile!  I also discovered another fly, which rather soured my smugness.

Pretty Camarinas lies astern now as we head out towards Biscay in the evening sun at a stately 3 knots in the dying breeze and as I don’t know where we will be tomorrow, I’ll post this and pop up again when next in range.

Adios

 

 

By ajay290

The Long Road Home

It isn’t really uphill all the way home from Vigo, though it feels that way because it’s a fight to gain ground against the wishes of the stubbornly prevailing north wind.  But let’s start on a positive note, always best at the beginning of a very long solo journey.

As I looked back at Moaña in the early morning light, I saw the beauty of Ria Vigo as if for the first time.  Just to reinforce my feelings, a pod of feeding dolphins cruised lazily across Pippin’s bows, cue for more empty film and much cussing .

Having slept well and done all I could to prepare, I felt I had little to do now but pilot Pippin safely through the narrows at the mouth of the Ria.  As we left the Islas Cias behind, a huge foreign ocean going trawler came in from the ocean, deep with fish and a pilot leaped aboard from the scurrying pilot boat.

I know I boringly repeat my maxim that no plan survives first contact, but once again mine soon crashed for I could barely make headway to the north whatever I tried.  It was, I felt, too early to head deep out to sea so I persevered for 2 hours before motorsailing.  Time to take stock and recalibrate, so I rewrote the plan and made sailing a prority over gaining ground for now and off we went.  As if to encourage me, a whale (!) slapped his fluke (definitely a bloke for it was an aggressive slap!) and arched his back, as long as Pippin.  Awesome.

As the afternoon closed, I sent Mr Rocna down to explore the sand of Ensenada de San Francisco, in sight of Finisterre, serenaded by the happy squeals of hundreds of children on the beach and watched by the crews of a dozen yachts pretending not to watch.  Some I recognised as fellow wanderers and the last to arrive was the tough solo Polish skipper I had last seen in La Coruna in his dreadnought of a ketch.  I had won too few miles, burned 2 gallons of diesel and allowed disappointment to germinate, but I had also enjoyed a blue sky sail and a perfect anchorage.

The morning got off to a positive start as I exterminated the 2 flies that had driven me quietly insane in my little cabin.   Good omens continued as Pippin flew out of the starting blocks and powered under sail towards the open ocean.  I saw noone on the anchored yachts, but sensed many eyes on me, unlike those of the wizzened old fishermen in their tiny dorys all around.  These guys are amazing in their tiny boats, each perhaps 4 metres long, bobbing around a mile from shore.  I guess they are catching supper, or escaping wives, but either way, their concentration is absolute, their contentment palpable.

At the mouth of Ria Muros, inshore trawlers scurried busily checking pots and doing their stuff.  Heaven is made of many things, including sailing at 6.7 knots with bacon sandwiches though Hell threw in a bank of thick fog for fun.  Spanish bacon isn’t a patch on British of course, but even so, crispy with Ketchup – a must – and just a hint of diesel from sailing gloves – optional – it is just fine.  Frankly it’s pretty cool sailing through thick fog towards one of the World’s scariest capes, munching bacon sarnies with iron man Hercule in charge.

Knowing tiredness would be an issue, I have pinned a menu plan up in the galley and just know I shall have to be strong not to consume my one remaining Army ration pack too soon.  Anyway right now I don’t actually know where it is, so that’s fine

I knew the SW wind wouldn’t last of course but think positive and make the most of things, particularly when gloom threatens as for me it does.  My current plan has only two words on it – sail north, which is true to my KISS principle so that’s what I am doing.  Where I will be or what I will be doing in 24 hours is a mystery, but right know Pippin is running 130 to the wind at a sedate 4 knots guided by the inscrutable Hercule.

If I was off  St Martin’s Point in fog, I would be deafened by the fog horn.  Here I am 5 miles off Finisterre and I can hear nothing but my tinitus and worried skippers on British yachts calling each other.  Anyway, another positive – I continue to be amazed at how well Pippin sails; God bless her.

I shall leave you now as a. I have discovered another fly and b. I don’t know when I will be out off range.  So from the middle of a pea souper off Finisterre, cheeri as we Guerns are wont to say.

By ajay290

Farewell to the Pilgrims’ Way

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Daughter Sarah ARRIVED, followed by son Sam with his family to join Angie my wife and I, to make my spell ashore special and to be frank, I was ready to leave the sea for a break.  But thoughts soon returned to Pippin via the Pilgrims’ way …….

James the Apostle died in the 1st Century AD, and his body was transported by a boat guided by angels to what is now known as Padron in Galicia.  It was discovered by a shepherd 800 years later, buried in a Galician field and King Alfonso 2 had a church  built to attract pilgrims to Santiago to visit the Holy relics of St James.  A sound plan, for you needed an attractive USP, to top the many other Christian centres which were also trying to attract pilgrims.

One doesn’t need to spoil a good story by asking questions such as; “how did they know these remains were those of St. James?” and the more cynical might note that large numbers of Christian pilgrims in the area, were a useful counter to Moorish invasion, not to mention the income that might be generated for the Church.

Pilgrims would have had means, for no peasant farmer, blacksmith, farrier or peasant could spare the time for such a lengthy stroll.  Pilgrims must have been fair game for bandits, though they probably travelled with protection, and it was in King Alfonso’s interests to see pilgrims safely through to the collection boxes.  Anyway in those days pilgrims already travelled to the end of the World at Finisterre, so now they could just keep walking.

Back at journey’s end in Santiago de Compostel, hostel accommodation was built for weary footsore pilgrims and today, providing you are doing it as a Christian pilgrimage and have had your pilgrim’s passport stamped en route, you earn your pilgrimage certificate providing you have ‘hoofed’ at least 100kms.  Over 260,000  people of all ages achieve this worthy feat each year and it is a wonderful way to bring people together in a common endeavour.

Now it was my turn to retrace my steps down Pippin’s trail, past the end of the World, along the Costa da Morte, across Biscay home to the jewel of les Isles de la Manche.  Or something like that, for plans rarely survive first contact with the enemy.

Pippin was where I had left her, though my sea legs were wobbly and my resolution in need of stiffening, especially as every forecast indicated persistent northerlies, which would hinder homeward progress.  To sit and wait for fair winds might mean a very long sojourn.  Passage planning began with boat checks and a large mug of tea and continued with the KISS principle, always best.  Out of Ria Vigo, turn right and fight the north winds to a sensible point from which to launch Pippin and I into Biscay.  Somewhere along the line, a right turn up Channel for home, with variations on a theme to be played to the tune of the wind.

To Bea and the friendly team at Moaña I owe a hearty gratias, for their patient good humour and very low tariff for Pippin’s stay.  I felt though that I was ‘riaed out’ by the time I left,  and didn’t want to see another razor clam, octopus or sardine but the morning of my departure at least partly changed that.  As  I looked back at Moaña in the still early morning light, I saw the magic of this ria as if for the first time.  To prove it, a pod of feeding dolphins cruised lazily past Pippin’s bows  by as once again I took yards of empty film.

With little wind for now, Pippin was serenaded instead by the oily purr of the Yanmar as my second pint of tea brewed and we chugged up Ria Vigo.  It looked as if the weather will break as we push up out of Biscay and we might even find a gale, but my hope is that it will push us up Channel, not out into the Atlantic.  We shall see.

Meanwhile a sleepy loaded trawler came in from the ocean and flotillas of yachts nestled in Esenada de Barra and off Islas Cias as breakfast cooked.  Through the narrows Pippin head butted 14 knots on the nose – I don’t have fuel for endless motorsailing so I will need to make plans, which as ever are but the intentions of the moment.

Cheeri

By ajay290

Pausing in Vigo

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Muaño Viveros

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Pippin rests in Moaña Marina, across the Ria from Vigo, where she stays until family have left for home.  It isn’t a pretty town, but it’s people are as friendly as ever and, up to now, I have upset no-one – at least, that I am aware of.  I had not appreciated how tired I had got during the journey and, unusually for me, was thus quite happy sleeping, pottering and making lists.

Whilst so doing, I realized that I was not alone in practicing nerdy jobs like hanging over the dinghy, face at water level, scraping the waterline clear with my finger nails.  Today I was relegated to the second division.  Attracted by a yell, I saw a mature gentleman floating in the marina with a face mask, beneath his boat, a very neat Fjord 33.  Although his boat was  shrouded in a tarpaulin, there are signs for those in the know to aid identification … things like the curve of the stern, turn of the hull and the shape of the scuppers.   It isn’t that surprising, for in a previous life, I had been trained to identify a military tank from a single glance at a road wheel, or position of the muzzle break on the gun barrel.  Shouting instructions to his wife, who was scrubbing the tarpaulin with a broom, he eventually passed her up his tool, a 2 metre long garden hoe.  Now I never thought of that!

Stress levels were high aboard the other night though, as I listened to the English football team lurch to a penalty shoot out victory against thuggish Columbia.  One thing we Brits have learned is that every England football performance at a major tournament is agony, an agony that usually ends in defeat.  So rare is success, that when it comes, it sends fans delirious and convinced England could fly to the Moon, before they crash and burn in despondency as England fall over yet again.  But still there is hope.

Talking of sport, the sailors in the 2018 Golden Globe Race have now passed these parts on their way round the World.  I am rather proud that 95% of the boats in the race are old British boats – British designed and British built – which says a lot for their perceived ocean going ability – after all, at around 35 feet long (Pippin is 34), they are all relative toddlers – but then a cork will survive a storm.  There are two British sailors in the race, though I have restricted myself to backing just one, the only female sailor in the race, Suzie Goodall.  Go for it girl!

The ferry to Vigo across the Ria departs 50 metres from Pippin, goes every hour, costs a pittance and gets you to Vigo in 15 minutes.  I had come to Vigo to get my train ticket to Santiago de Compostela and in typical fashion achieved that, plus lunch and back to Moaña in 2 hours.   I had drawn a route plan to the station, with a boaty doodle in my representation of Vigo harbour and a train doodle at Vigo-Urzáiz Station, which I showed the taxi driver, having apologised for not speaking Spanish.  So impressed was he that he opened the car door, ushered me inside and sauntered off with my sketch to show his mates.  This (diagrams) has become standard operating procedure for me now and has always received a very positive reaction – or perhaps I am a complete prat.

The lady at the Vigo-Urzáiz Station ticket counter looked ferocious,  but she understood my scribbles and produced a ticket with a smile.  I lingered in triumph over lunch at the station café, and chatted to the Galician taxi driver back to the harbour.  It went someting like this – driver hits Google translate button on his Iphone and says “speak now”.  I say what I was going to say and he says “Aghh!” and talks to the phone in Spanish.  The phone speaks to me in English.  We covered weather, reason for visit, where I was going on the train and did I like mussels ….

So I was a tad late for the return ferry, but on seeing me waving on the quay, the skipper amazingly turned back, tied up again and waited until I had huffed and puffed aboard.  That’s the Galicians for you, though I suspect it might also have been the ‘man bag’ slung over my shoulder, the sun glasses askew on my nose and the hairy white matchstick legs that labelled me as a lowlife ‘Turística’, but just worthy of help.

 

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Vivero off Moaña, looking up Ria Vogo from the Ferry

Ria Viga’s shoreline is crowded with buildings and its seas with viveros, but the town itself seems quaint and well equipped for the marathon shopper – territory to be explored later, though my endurance on the shopping trail is limited, though I can be redoubtable in a chandlers.

I have been privileged to share time, food and laughter – surely the oxygen of life – in Muaño with new friends, but now it is time to go and join family, starting at the end of the pilgrim’s way, in beautiful Santiago de Compostela.

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After which it will be time to turn Pippin’s bows north for the long, lonely 750 nautical mile uphill trek home, though various preparations and lists will need to be made before I cross the startline.

Adiós

 

 

 

 

 

By ajay290

Vigo through the rain

Pedro looked at my handwriting and asked if I was a doctor.  I thought of clever answers like “a Bursar’s writing is worse”, but Pedro was stressed and not appreciative of Willis witty repartie at that moment.

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Mission Control

I seem to have a thing about pre dawn departures, for it was a very dark and very early morning when I cast off in Muros, to the sound of the last surviving remnant of last night’s party.  Those were the days!  In my case of bell bottoms, cheesecloth shirts, platform boots and acne.

Talking of the past, in July 1968 I was a very gawky 13 year old and wholly entranced by the  first Golden Globe solo round the World race, which started off Plymouth, for a prize of £5,000.  Somewhere down towards South America, Robin Knox Johnston, then somewhere at the back of the field, got fed up with a hull leak and dived over board with a fist full of nails and a hammer; he fixed the leak.  This race was the first time that the medical profession had taken  an interest in the psychological effects of long periods of solitude at sea, and RKJ was assessed before he left as “distressingly normal”.  A year later on his return the verdict was “still distressingly normal”.  Personally I think anyone doing such a race is a bottle short of a six pack, but then the verdict of a psychiatrist assessing me would probably be more like; “excitingly abnormal.”

Today, 1st July 40 years later, the second Golden Globe Race started from Les Sables d’ Lonne in boats that had to be original yachts of the day (around 1968), of similar size to RKJ’s Suhali; in other words ‘small’ (about the size of Pippin), solid and basic – no electronics.  As they crossed the startline, Pippin was plugging through the rain, motorsailing 2 miles off the entrance to Ria Vigo, the skipper wondering where the Spanish sunshine had gone.

The wind had teased during the journey, tempting me out of my snug wheelhouse to set full sail, only to hide playing peek-a-boo, as I cussed and cursed refurling the yankee for the nth time.  On the plus side, just enough wind to fill the close-hauled main sail meant a marginally better speed.  The thing about rain and it’s accompanying low cloud is that it brings  reduced visibility and this lot had stolen my view of the coastline, reducing visibility to little more than 2 miles at times, though it later improved.  Good effort, but the Spanish are minnows when it comes to rain, not like the champions, the Irish.  As an Irishman told me, you can hide behind a wall and it’ll blow straight over your head.

I had pollo de corrall rather on my mind as we chugged along, for I had been perhaps a little heavy handed with chili, onions,  garlic, yoghurt, tropical fruit pieces and Rogan Josh paste the night before.  These Spanish free range chickens must be the size of a Bernard Mathews turkey, and you probably wouldn’t want to meet one on a dark night, but they are delicious.  Not wishing to tempt fate, the portion I had carefully kept for lunch was consigned to the deep with due ceremony off Ria Pontevedra.

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Norte Channel off Islas Cies – Raining & Gusting 21 Knots

You can’t miss the National Park islands (Islas Cies) that straddle the entrance to Ria Vigo, as they tower like guardsmen at the trooping of the Colour, imposing in a dark menacing way.   As the next little front arrived, the wind taboggoned down their steep slopes, swooping on Pippin at up to 21 knots, helping to push her along at a good lick through the heavy rain, though I had to furl the flogging main sail.  The  Norte channel was a little narrow for short tracking and I lacked the inclination anyway, plus  I also had to meet the marina staff before they knocked off, it being Sunday.

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Pacing an Amel Yacht, Ria Vigo

As I bore off up the Ria, through frequent brief rain squalls, I unfurled the yankee and paced close alongside a big Amel yacht at 6 knots.  I discovered that Vigo itself is the biggest fishing port in Europe and it was the Vigo fishermen who inspired Ernest Hemingway to write ‘the old man and the sea’, a favourite of mine.

Vigo was also the scene of a bloody naval engagement in 1702,  during the war of Spanish Succession, between an Anglo Dutch fleet and a French Spanish fleet, the latter having taken refuge with its huge haul of treasure in the Ria.  Whilst the Anglo Dutch fleet searched for their enemy, much of the treasure was carted inland (or was it…??!), whilst defences were prepared.  Eventually a spy gave Admiral Sir George Rooke, the English naval commander, details of the enemy’s location, and battle was eventually joined up in the narrows of the Ria, resulting in 2,000 Spanish/French deaths and 800 Anglo/Dutch.  It was a resounding victory for the latter, who captured 7 warships and 6 galleons and the remaining 18 enemy  vessels were destroyed.

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Viveros outside Moaña Marina

The final run in towards the marina ran down long rows of mussel viveros that looked from afar like a long, rocky shoal revealed at low tide.  9 hours from Muros, Pippin docked in a rain squall in Moaña Marina, a laid back place that doesn’t really cater for visitors but looked my kind of place.   If your boat is small – around 11 metres or less – they could fit you in and the nearby ferry crosses to Vigo.

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Moaña Ferry & Vivero Boats

I have never really got fishing.  I have watched anglers young and old from pier heads and quayside, from St Peter Port to Vigo and all places between, in all weathers at all times and two things strike me.  First they always look determinedly content and second, I have almost never seen any of them catch anything but an occasional tiddler – probably the same one who does the rounds, as they always chuck him back.  Eating my corned beef sarnie in the cockpit in Ria Vigo, I watched a grandfather and grandson, fishing off the back of a tatty vivero boat 50 yards away.  Mullet were jumping all round Pippin, but the fishermen never got a bite.  But then I got it – it really didn’t matter, for the fun was in the doing and in the sharing of time together.  The rain drove me inside, but not the fishermen, young and old.

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Hops (?) in Moaña

Moaña is a town of about 19,000 people perched on the peninsula of Marrazo,  and is known for it’s beaches and shell fish farming – mussels and oysters, an industry that employs 25% of the population.  Other industries here include canning (since the 17th century) and ship building which together employ 39%.  The remainder of the working population work in the services sector, which includes tourism.  Babies and weather are universal topics for ‘breaking the ice’ and Bea, the marina administrator disappointingly said the weather was the same last year – it had poured all night and is set to precipitate certainly for another 3 days.

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Ancient Moaña Chicken Coop (?) and the view from Moaña towards the Narrows

Mussels have been consumed for thousands of years, but it wasn’t until 1945 that the first mussel raft was set up in a Ria.  I wasn’t surprised to learn that there are numerous mussel festivals – any excuse for a festival round here, if you ask me.  Mussels eat by filtering tiny plankton from the sea through their gills and astonishingly, can filter up to 8 litres an hour.  They reproduce by the male casting it’s contribution into the sea for females to take on board, which if the sheer number of mussels around here is anything to go by, is a pretty effective way to reproduce.  The tiny babies are then released from mum and attach themselves to fish, until ready to drop off and carry on the cycle.  If left alone, mussels could live for a century, like a lobster.

Bea told me to head uphill and turn right at the roundabout for the only nearby supermarket that opened all day, the Eroski Center.  It seemed more upmarket than Gadis, but starred for 2 reasons that appealed to me – I could buy baked beans and tinned meat, rather than just seafood/fish.

Here for a few days before family arrive plans can gestate slowly, subject to variation or cancellation as mood dictates.  Great!

Adiós amigos

 

 

By ajay290