The story so far

Saro's Gyda
Derrick Thorrington
Sun 12 Sep 2010 14:43

We set sail on our voyage from Christchurch on the evening of Sunday 6th June. Prior to setting off many friends came onboard to wish us well, and by the time we came to leave we had both “Mums,” daughter Josie, and friends Brian, Sharon and their girls to see us off. Once we left the quay at Christchurch SC we were given hearty waves and best wishes from many of our other friends sailing dinghies and other craft as we progressed down the harbour, and as we passed through “The Run” we received a final wave and send off. Setting sail, we headed south westwards in a WNW force four under clear skies. We passed Portland in the early hours and were well into Lyme Bay by dawn. The wind failed us in the early morning, forcing us to motor sail but slowed filled in again from the south as we approached Start Point in the early afternoon. The freshening wind soon had us to the Eddystone as the skies became gradually darker under increasing cloud. We expected some fresh wind but didn’t expect the 30 to 35 knots that swept in heavy rain and poor visibility once we had reached the Dodman. The seas soon built steep and short and we took as much green water over the deck as we have ever experienced in Green Flash. Clawing to windward to get more sea room we were pleased when the rain eventually cleared to leave us at least able to see the entrance to Falmouth, for which we were grateful to shape up and enter in the last of the light.


Pleased to have reached the shelter we spent the best part of a week in Falmouth catching up with old friends. We moved to anchor off St Mawes early in the week to get better shelter from the strong northerly winds, which gradually reduced by Saturday to give us good conditions for sailing south. Weighing anchor under sail we quickly left the harbour behind in the fresh to strong northerly, and it wasn’t many hours before we lost the coast of the UK. By first light on Sunday we had reached Ushant, but the forecast didn’t look too promising for a relaxed crossing of Biscay, so we altered course down the Chenal du Four on the early south going tide arriving at Camaret by mid morning.


We stayed at Camaret for 5 days, which wasn’t a chore since as a port it is one of our favourites. Apart from the walks along the coast, which are spectacular, one of the highlights was to meet fellow cruisers Brian and Dorothy aboard “Caithlin of Argyll.” Like Ali, Dorothy is a keen fiddle player so one very special evening was spent aboard Caithlin enjoying excellent food and a traditional musical session.


Thursday morning finally saw a welcome reduction in wind strength which saw us taking a gusty north easterly out through the approaches to Brest, leaving the outlying rocks off the Ile de Sein safely to port. After a boisterous day of running downwind the wind slowly moderated while “The Goat,” our trusty Aries wind vane gear took care of the hard work. The wind stayed aft the whole time so we just sat back and enjoyed the ride! We were quite surprised by the lack of birds and boats in the middle of the bay and began to appreciate how Noah must have felt! We arrived in Viviero on the NW corner of Spain after what turned out to be a most relaxing passage of 320m, which took 2 nights and 3 days at sea.

Vivero was fantastic, mainly on account of the fact that the marina had just reportedly gone bankrupt, so there was  no one to take any money and people could just come and go as they pleased. We had a very happy couple of days here.


Sailing westwards we took a fresh north easterly under clear skies, surfing down the building waves as the wind freshened to 30 knots over the deck (with boat speed of 9 knots I guess this means a gale!) The sailing was great and the green cliffs stunning. A solitary dolphin played in the waves inshore of us, kicking up glistening spray as it jumped in the waves. The quiet returned as we made the entrance to the Ria de Cedeira, a most beautiful ria with beautiful shelter.


Our next stop was La Coruna, and we stumbled upon the annual Sardine festival, where by evening time large street BBQs had been set up and the smell of BBQd sardines lingered everywhere. The atmosphere was wonderful, and the band that set up on the quay wall just a few yards from us carried on until the early hours. Continuing westwards we stopped briefly at Corme before making Camarinas, where we were treated to a fine group of playful dolphins that accompanied us well inside the ria. We stayed here for a few days and enjoyed the company in the well friendly and inexpensive marina. On our last day we moved out to anchor off one of the rivers that feed the ria, taking a pleasant trip with the tide upstream in the dinghy as far as the old town of Puente del Puerto.


Leaving Camarinas we rounded Finisterre in conditions that became more boisterous as the day progressed, which (as usual) ended up with reefs in as the wind built to a steady 25 knots from the north. A few common dolphins came to play on the bow briefly and it was a thoroughly enjoyable sail to Ria de Muros.


The first of the Rias Baixas, we stayed for a few days enjoying several different anchorages with good swimming spots in relatively warm water. On our first evening, as we settled down we heard a band “sound checking”. From previous experience we expected that it would start in earnest at 10.30 pm and probably finish at about 2.00pm. We went to bed quite early and with the wind howling outside could only hear snatches of music. However at midnight the most spectacular firework display that we had ever seen commenced. It carried on for over half an hour and every time we thought that the finale had come, it continued even more spectacularly. After this the band recommenced and could be heard extremely clearly as the wind had dropped and the volume was increased, even D couldn’t sleep through it! It was excellent, very Spanish with a mixture of modern and traditional sounds. Had we realised that it was going to continue until 5.30am, we would have gone ashore to watch and enjoy the atmosphere!

Going ashore the following morning(ish) we discovered that it was one of the local fiestas and we were subsequently treated to a traditionally dressed group of musicians playing the local bagpipes, tambourines and drums - very happy music.

Whilst in this ria we anchored in deep water at the head of the ria where we were able to dinghy ashore and enjoy the delights of the ancient town of Noia. With a day of poor weather forecast we then left the boat in the clean an efficient marina of Portosin whilst we journeyed by bus to the historic Christian pilgrimage of Santiago de Compostela, a city well worth seeing.


We seem to have a habit of coming across local events, and in our final anchorage off the charming village of Esteiro, the following evening we enjoyed the spectacle of a triathlon. We were relieved that we hadn’t anchored further into the bay or we would have been in the middle of the swimming course!


 The following day we had a quiet sail to the Ria de Arosa, a very large area with increased feel of a holiday destination with more development along the ever present white sandy beaches. Once inside the ria the wind slowly freshened from the NE and we had an exhilarating beat inland in the company of the large Dutch yacht “Abel T.” We found a quiet spot to anchor at the top of the Ria – Puerto de Cruz where we exchanged photographs with the crew of the Abel T, Marius, Linda and their children. Their photographs had captured Green Flash at her best. We then moved on to the small port of San Vincente,  which for those fellow explorers who read this, is a must for the superb board walk, as recommended in the pilot.


We spent a lovely day anchored off an unspoilt island, the Islas Ons, (recommended only in quiet weather). The anchorage was next to a beautiful little beach, which on closer inspection through the binoculars revealed more than expected, (it was a nudist beach!) We went for an exploration and Ali enjoyed the swimming in crystal clear water. Later in the evening after a very hot day, we went ashore for a little stroll and commented on the complete stillness of the air and the glassiness of the water. Even the boat showed her reflection. There wasn’t a ripple of wind. Heaving the dinghy aboard we settled down to a lovely quiet night but almost immediately the wind began to howl and gust viciously and we had to check several times that it was still blowing from a safe direction. As it died down after a couple of hours we were then aware of the noises of engines, and another look out revealed lots of fishing boats working around us within very close proximity. This continued for a few hours until that noise was lost in the next episode of howling winds and gusts. Looking out again we noticed huge flashes of distant lightning in the south. 4.00 am saw us drinking tea in the cockpit in the howling wind, waiting for a bit more light to leave for a safer anchorage and to be able to dodge the fishing boats which were not always very visible. We left at 4.30 am and were caught up by the biggest ever thunderstorm. Lightning, both sheet and forked was constant, there were huge gusts of wind and when the rain came it was so heavy that we could only just see the bow. We were pleased to reach Combarro in the Ria de Pontevedra and after an abortive attempt at anchoring (the wind soon started to blow strong from the south west leaving us very exposed) entered the marina.


We enjoyed Combarro immensely. The old fishing village is delightful and is built on rocks sloping down to the shore. It is made up of tiny narrow granite streets with rocks bursting out in the middle. There are numerous “horreos”, granite sheds held up on large granite “mushrooms,” to keep out the rats. Very picturesque but better in the early morning before the tourists arrive.

D satisfied his craving for seafood with tapas in the evening consisting of, among other things, baby octopus, about 8cm long, tentacles and all! They were quite nice! Ria de Aldan was explored the next day. We found a beautiful little bay and dropped the hook looking forward to a quiet lunch and a stroll ashore. This was not to be. It was Sarurday and the little anchorage got busier and busier, one big boat ending up just a few feet from us. Studland in Galicia!” The offending capitan reassured us that he was only staying for lunch but by 5.30 he was still there and we decided to move on. Remember that this is Spanish time!


We moved around into the entrance of our next ria, the Ria de Vigo and made for the first bay – the Ensenada de Barra. It was beautiful – steep cliffs on one side, dunes and heath land behind a very long sandy beach with a little village at the other end about a mile away. The following morning we set off in the dinghy to walk around the high headland. As we approached the beach we noticed that as usual, the Spaniards were parading along in the shallows, but again, not a scrap of clothing was to be seen except for one man who was wearing socks, sandals and a rucksack!! That evening we tuned into the BBC World Service and listened to the World Cup Final. We were of course supporting Spain. Fireworks exploded from all the surrounding towns across the Ria when they won!


We like islands best of all so headed the following day across to Isla Cies, a steep, rocky and eucalyptus covered island in 2 parts, the I de Norte, and the I del Faro. We anchored off the Playa Arena das Rodas, a sickle shaped sandy beach that joins the 2 parts together and had 2 lovely days exploring. The highlight was a walk up to the lighthouse at almost 200m in height.


Our last few days in Galicia were spent anchored off the town of Baiona. Initially this appeared very busy, but as usual we found it a lovely place with lots of little streets, very ornate churches, a spectacular headland with an old fort and a HUGE statue of Our Lady dominating the town. We walked up to this statue following the crosses alongside the path. The statue was so large that it was possible to go up a flight of stairs inside and emerge into a boat that she was holding in her right hand.


Finally we said our farewells to Galicia and the mountains have now receded into the background and the coast is straight and sandy. For the next leg we have seen few anchorages and havens are located further apart, usually on a river estuary with it’s accompanying port and fishing harbour.


Our first introduction to Portugal was the old port of Viana do Castelo. We thought that the marina would be noisy as it had a double-decked road and rail bridge crossing over at one end. Our fears were unfounded and it was in fact very attractive, as was the whole town. The dominating feature was a prominent basilica built on the highest hill above the town and approached either from a very circuitous road, a funicular or a hard slog up many steps! We (Ali) chose the latter (of course) and was thankful that most of the steps were in the shade. We were well rewarded however with a superb view at the very top of the tower. Our Portuguese phrase book seems worthless as many of the words are similar to Spanish but pronounced so differently from the spelling that no-one understands us. We have concluded that whereas to speak Spanish a lisp is useful, to speak Portuguese, much “whooshing” is required. Luckily most speak very good English but are keen for us to practice our Portuguese in a friendly, helpful and good humoured way.


We then moved on to Povoa de Varzim which was to be a brief stop before continuing south before leaving the boat for August. However, the metro connecting to Porto and the airport had recently been extended to here, and having used it to check out the next marina we decided to stay. There was lots to do and see and we have made good use of the metro to explore Porto (highly recommended) and the beautiful little town of Ville do Conde which was just two miles away. There was a very good social scene at the marina with several “long stayers” and a weekly Sunday barbeque and weekly Tues eve meal out. We went for both whilst awaiting our departure date back to the UK.

We brought our instruments to the BBQ and were urged to play. We got going and to our delight a Scotsman jumped up and pulled people up to dance. He was a barn dance caller! We had our own personal ceilidh in the corner of the marina on a sunny Sunday eve.


We left the boat on 29th August to return home for the weddings of Eleanor and Matthew (14th) and Katie and Bobby (28th), looking forward to those and to our return on 31st to resume our voyage.