17 July in the Ria de Arousa
So, with further repairs to the outboard in mind, we left San Francisco bay on Thursday lunchtime and made a fast passage, mainly under full genoa, south to the Ria de Arousa and then into Vilagarcia.
We enjoyed the sail down: a good Force 5 from behind and some interesting offlying rocks to negotiate meant that we followed a slalom course downwind to maximise boatspeed and progress towards our destination. The rocks were guarded by fishing boats with sometimes nothing more than a breaking swell to indicate the danger. To our left, miles of glorious beaches marked an equally dangerous lee shore and the chart shows a number of wrecks of poor souls who were less fortunate. Around Punta de Falcoeiro we hardened up and took the inshore route through the rocks: warm sunshine, a fresh breeze, excellent visibility and an opportunity to conduct some intricate pilotage provided some very enjoyable sailing and we burst into the Ria at 8 knots, still with just the genoa up, dressed in ‘swimmers’! How unlike the north shore of the Western Solent on a wet Wednesday in Cowes Week!
Ria de Arousa is a fine stretch of water 15 miles long and 8 miles across at its widest point – so a broadly similar sailing area to the Solent. There are several small towns dedicated to fishing, tourism or viniculture (see my ‘backroads and beaches’ blog), islands and a hundred or more ‘viveiros’ – fish farming platforms moored in water between 10-20m deep, mostly dedicated to mussels and other shellfish. They are mostly unlit, not marked on charts and look from any distance like the invasion fleet off the beaches at Arromanches. You can sail between them though, and they are thoughtfully laid out in rows!
We made our way towards the top end of the Ria and the commercial port of Vilagarcia. Not a touristy choice, but it has a marina run by the local council, a couple of decent chandleries, the usual array of retail outlets and, most importantly, Alberto at Ria Nautica, the Mariner agent!
Alberto was onboard within half an hour. He listened carefully to what we had to say; he took the pipework apart and found a couple of pinholes in the sections not replaced by the chap in Camarinas (who had no hose on him). He took the carburettor and fuel pump away to pressure test them and brought them back at 8pm to refit them and replace some pipework. Confident of success, he asked us to monitor the sickly thing overnight. We then went ashore and found a well-stocked supermarket where we restocked long life items and brought it all back to the boat by taxi. It was now 2245 and rather late to start cooking, so we went ashore again to find a takeaway. What a delight: a couple of streets back from the waterfront we found a delightful old town with cobbled streets and a small square full of restaurants complete with a live band playing as part of a mini-festival organised by the restauranteurs themselves. The usual mix of squid, Padron peppers and Raxo (pan fried pork escalopes with pimento-based seasoning) and local beer and before we knew it, it was 0100.
You can just about see the Galician blend of Bob Dylan and Bob Geldof (blue jeans x 2)…
After a blowy night with winds gusting regularly over 25 knots, Alberto was onboard at 0900 the next morning. The outboard was still dripping like a three-badge stoker, but we found what looked like a leak from the fuel pump. He took it away to replace what he could and came back later with a patched up pump that has finally stopped leaking. He agreed with me that this is not a long term solution – it needs a replacement set of seals - so the bits are now on order, he has the outboard at his workshop and we plan to collect it by car this week when we pick up Anna from the airport.
We have become friends – despite the trivial financial value of the work he’s doing for us. As his confidence in speaking English grew (helped by Julie’s good colloquial Spanish) his views on the Spanish economy were illuminating: as a small company, it’s uneconomical to try to expand his workforce, even if he could hire decent mechanics. For too many people, it’s more cost-effective to remain unemployed than try to get a job. Small businesses are stifled by layers of bureaucracy which provide ‘jobs for the boys’ for too many people who contribute little to the economy. An interesting perspective, borne out by what we’ve seen, but less optimistic than a recent article in the Economist which highlighted growth in the Spanish economy and the success of reforms under the current Government. There’s clearly much more to do: there are unfinished construction projects blighting the landscape; empty factories abound and whilst the streets are clean, I sense plenty of people with not much to do and very little money to spend in the shops.
So, with the outboard off our hands and the weather forecast promising lighter winds, we left Vilagarcia to explore the Ria. We nosed around the northern part and eventually decided to anchor off a lovely beach at Punta de Chazo, just across the water from Vilagarcia. There were a number of Spanish boats there enjoying the sunshine and a classic Saturday afternoon and the temperatures soared into the 30s.
That’s Escapade just in front of the viveiros
The sea remained pretty cold though and the wind didn’t drop much. One result was the rather unlikely sight of an inverted umbrella scooting across the surface of the water at about 10 knots, pursued a short time later by a big motor cruiser determined to rescue it. They caught up with it after a valiant dash for freedom, but it then decided to dive to evade as their enormous wake tipped it up. Some young crewman, keen to impress, then dived in to retrieve it and we waited to see if he would be mown down by Mr Toad who was driving the parent vessel as though he’d stolen it. Happily, all ended well and the umbrella was seen a short time later restored to full plumage on the sun deck of said vessel.
Three useless things in a boat: a Naval Officer, a lawnmower and an umbrella!
Overnight, everyone else left us to ourselves in the anchorage and we celebrated Saturday Night at Sea with a movie – Amadeus. The wind strengthened at around midnight and veered more into the east, so I stayed up to ensure that we did not drag onto the nearby rocks. The anchor was well dug in though and I turned in at 0400 having run out of battery on my Kindle.
Sunday was gloriously sunny too, though the wind eventually backed round to the south west and the afternoon wasn’t quite as hot. We ventured ashore and had an interesting walk: the shoreline offered abandoned fish processing factories on the left and the armada of viveiros on the right, but further on we found a very pretty little farming village, signs of more affluence and some great views over the ria. Returning to the shore, the beach is great: mullet swimming just a couple of yards offshore, clean sand and dunes and a delightfully ramshackle beach bar, not overcrowded despite the numbers of people.
Further offshore, we could see the annual Festival of Virgin Carmen taking place. This remembers lost fishermen and involves the usual blend of noisy fireworks, flags and a procession of fishing boats with hundreds of family and friends embarked. Quite a spectacle, which went on at least until the more colourful fireworks display at midnight (and then a procession of high-speed craft racing past us on their way home!). The Spanish do love their firecracker daytime fireworks: the soundtrack to Sunday suggested we were surrounded by a low level war zone – an interesting reflection on a nation that has not participated in serious warfighting since its own Civil War…
This morning, we awoke to thick fog and the sound of thirty clam fishing boats surrounding the boat…