Saturday, 30 August 2014

Local colors of Laredo

A few years ago, Laredo expanded its small fishing port to create one of the largest yacht marinas on the north coast of Spain.  Located only 20 miles from Santander and Bilbao, each with large marinas, it’s not clear why Laredo believed this would be a good idea.  But practicality aside, it is a beautiful marina nestled in one of the most picturesque bays and largest beaches along the coast, and we're very glad we visited.

Laredo marina and beach area

Lots of room !
The town is small but not without charm, and we happened to arrive on the eve of the “Battle of the Flower Floats”, a spectacle unique in the world (they say) consisting of a parade of floats created entirely with flowers.  Some of the floats were created using more than 100,000 flowers.  

The evening closed with a fireworks display, shot off from the jetty just south of the marina.  Fortunately for us, the wind was in the right direction to not get ash fallout, and we had front row seats.

Tomorrow we’re off to Bilbao, returning full circle to our original landing spot in Spain.  The winds won’t permit us to head north for the next week, so the strategy will be to keep slowly drifting east until either we reach the French border at Hendaye or the weather turns more cooperative for a hop north.  
Posted on Saturday, August 30, 2014 | Categories:

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

The waiting game begins

We’ve made it to Santander, our “hop-off” point along the Spanish coast, and are waiting for a weather window to head to Port Medoc in France, a 36-hour crossing.  The weather, however, seems intent on keeping us a while longer with a series of depressions blasting up from the Atlantic.  Here in our little corner, however, the weather is a wonderful 25 C and sunny, and it finally feels like summer.  But we’re not keen on sitting in a marina for a week or more, and we’ve already taken all the local excursions we care to (including an overnight trip into the Picos de Europa).   

Santander, Sardinero Beach

A beautiful mooring at Los Peligros beach.

The anchorage at Los Peligros
We’ve decided to keep heading east ever-so-slowly until ….Laredo?  Bilbao?  We’ve been warned that, East of Bilbao, you start getting too far towards the end of the Bay and the predominant wind and swell from the west / northwest make it difficult to head north. (We seem to be having a helluva lot of easterly winds lately, though…).  But we’ve also been told by people who routinely cross from Hendaye at the far end of the Bay to Medoc that it’s not a problem as long as you’re patient and wait for the weather.  I want to be patient but I have to admit that it doesn’t come naturally to me!

The Picos de Europa (crestline above 2500 meters)
Picos de Europa

Picos de Europa
In any case, we’re beginning to feel like migrating birds that overslept and missed the departure date.  The marinas are empty and we’re now the only visitors in the huge marina in Santander, and I anticipate we’ll also be alone in the new port of Laredo.  Patrick keeps reminding me, and he is correct, that the end of August is often quite perturbed while September settles down into some of the best sailing weather of the year.  I hope this holds true this year, too!
Posted on Wednesday, August 27, 2014 | Categories:

Monday, 25 August 2014

Are we there yet?

As we started our return route towards Santander, we had the feeling of being on a very long car trip, with the catchphrase “are we there yet?” repeating in our heads.  We would be sailing around areas we left only a month or two ago, with little sense of discovery.  This dread led us to the decision to try to squeeze into all those small fishing ports that we skipped over the first time for lack of information and fear of not finding an adequate place to tie up for the night.  It’s funny how boredom wins out over fear after awhile. 

That decision has made all the difference.  We’ve enjoyed some of the most beautiful scenery in northern Spain.  The photos (taken with my increasingly scratched lens) were taken in the small ports of Luarca, Cudillero, Lastres, and Llanes.

Luarca coastline

Luarca anchorage, buoy + line to shore with the dinghy

Luarca harbor

Cudillero.  We managed to squeeze onto the end of a pontoon rather than pick up a mooring buoy.

The entrance to Cudillero at low tide.  Even the slightest swell makes this a "rodeo".

Cantabria coastal scenes

Cantabria coastal scenes

Cantabria coastal scenes
Entering Lastres

Lastres Harbor
One of the few visitor's berths in Lastres.

Lastres Town
Night scenes in Lastres.  Caution: there are more fisherman around this port than anywhere we've ever been.  Be prepared to feel like you are in an amphitheatre with nearly 100 local fishermen peering down at you !

When the motor is on, one of us is out front WATCHING (after our misadventures from last month).
Llanes and its multicolored seawall

Entering Llanes, rennovated 3 years ago (entrance dragged to about 1.5 m).
Llanes visitors berth, just to the left on entering.

Llanes port
Llanes town is a charming maze of pedestrian streets, quite touristy.

Leaving Llanes
Ribadesella.  We didn't pull in here because of the tides (would have had to leave at 3 am !)

And now we're nestled in the big city of Santander as a series of depressions roll in off the Atlantic.  We will head up into the Picos de Europa for a few days (no, not with the boat) for a change of scenery.

Posted on Monday, August 25, 2014 | Categories:

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Dodging bullets in Viveiro

The story is getting to be all-too familiar on this bloody coastline:  the weather forecasts agreed on 10 to 15 knots of wind with an occasional afternoon gust to 20; we had 20-25 knot sustained winds with gusts to 32, and a nasty crossed swell just to make things more interesting.   It’s so frustratingly common now that it hardly merits mention.  Just Grrr!

Ria de Viveiro

But we did learn something new, or rather, gained a new appreciation of something we thought we understood.  Stiff winds and steep headlands make for strange bedfellows.  It’s very difficult to predict how the winds will behave in these areas, since the winds go both around and up-and-over the headlands, leaving strange swirls of both calm and accelerations where you would least expect them, even up to a mile offshore.  The situation calls for extreme caution and for avoiding any rash behavior such as, for example, deciding that all is well and shaking out your reefs prematurely, leaving you with full sail up whilst 32 knots of wind blast up your behind. 

The other thing Patrick learned (which I had learned years ago) was not to offer up your fingers to the mainsail traveler cam cleat while jibing vigorously in 32 knots of wind.  The flesh that was ripped off was, he insists, superficial, but blood in the cockpit does nothing to diffuse an already stressful situation.  Gloves, people.  Gloves. 

Since we were only 3 miles from the entrance to the Ria de Viveiro, we decided to treat ourselves and take down all sail to motor in.  Just as we entered the ria, the motor shuddered and started making a screeching, grinding noise.  We put the motor in neutral and the noise stopped.  We put it back in gear and the noise was still there, and getting worse.  For good measure, Patrick put it in reverse and the noise was different but still alarming.  A quick look at the motor revealed nothing.  The winds were calm once inside the ria, so we quickly rolled out the genoa and glided easily down the estuary, while Patrick looked up the telephone number for the port office.  Fortunately for us, the harbor master, a man of innumerable talents named Fernando, speaks fluent French and was still at work at 6pm on a Friday night.  We told them we would come up to the port under sail but needed a tow into the port. 
When all was settled, I went down and looked at the back of the motor from a compartment under the rear cabin berths.  The sight made my blood run cold.  There were metal shavings all over the floor and what looked like a cracked propeller shaft coupling.

A loose shaft and metal shavings
When we were safely in a slip, the harbor master came aboard to look at the motor.  The whistle he gave is, I’m convinced, instantly recognizable in any language as a combination of “bad” and “wow”. He started talking about having to pull the boat out of the water, or in the very least, pull the motor out of the compartment to re-weld the shaft.  Later (e.g., after a big and well-deserved whiskey) Patrick started poking around and discovered that it wasn’t as bad as it looked.  For some mysterious reason, the bolts that connect the shaft to the propeller shaft coupling had come loose.  One of the bolts had slid back far enough that it was scraping against the clutch housing as the shaft turned, cutting little ribbons of metal as it spun.  (See my homemade diagram for more information and, if you know anything about motors and/or mechanical drawing, a good laugh.)

Fully decoupled, but no other apparent damage

1. Clutch housing.  2. Shaft.  3. Offending bolts that loosened, slid back and scraped against the clutch housing.   4. Propeller shaft coupling.  5. Propeller shaft.

The mechanic confirmed the diagnosis, and simply replaced and tightened the bolts with generous doses of Loctite.  He also reduced the idle speed to 800 rpms so that when the motor is put into gear it doesn’t make that horrible Ka-LUNK noise (or not as badly anyway).  He was here and gone within one hour.  We haven’t received the bill yet, but we both agree that this incident clearly falls into the “bullets dodged” file.

Everything back in place.
Despite everything, Patrick smiled at me later that night and said “it’s a beautiful life, isn’t it?”  I gave him the “not amused” look, but then realized he wasn’t joking, and that it probably wasn’t the whiskey or finger pain fogging his brain.  “No, I’m serious.  I wouldn’t want a life with no excitement, no thrills, no danger.  I could never feel this alive by golfing or gardening.”   We realized that this was our 3rd tow and our 3rd surprise gale (the lightest) in only 2 years.  I hate to think we’re getting used to it, but when the motor went down this time, I had none of the regular cement-in-the-stomach sensations.  There’s no education like experience.   Keep calm and sail on…

But wait!  There’s more!  After only one night at anchor and a very windy day sail where the wind turbine should have been charging at maximum strength, the batteries still managed to dip down to 11.6 volts and shut down the GPS.  They are only 4 years old, but they were probably cooked when the shore power charger malfunctioned and died just before we left home.  Our trusty Fernando has found us some top quality batteries for cheaper than we would pay in France, and they will be installed tomorrow.  Now we just have to sit tight and wait for a 2-3 day storm system to pass over us and we’ll be good to go on to the next adventure.  Ah, la belle vie.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Santiago Surprise

When the early disciples of Christ divided up the known world for evangelism, James got Spain.   According to legend, the remains of Saint James were transported and buried here by his followers after his martyrdom in Jerusalem.  When the crusades made pilgrimages to Rome and Jerusalem too perilous, the indulgence-seeking faithful flocked to Santiago de Compostela, making it the 3rd most holy pilgrimage in Christendom. 

Some provocative on-lookers on the balconies (modern art ?)

The town is so grandiose and the cathedral is so decked out with reflective sparkly things that my photos could only be disappointing (also not helped by a big scratch in the lens.)  The biggest and best surprise of our visit, however, was running into a friend from Stockholm at the museum - small world, indeed, especially considering all our thwarted attempts to reach Santiago earlier!  After hugs and squeals and being shushed by the museum staff, we spent a lovely evening together catching up on more than 15 years of relative absence. 

St James himself...

Surprise reunion

After the bright lights and big city, we left the port of Coruna for an idyllic anchorage in the Cedeira estuary.  Since the winds were from the west and southwest, we moored off the Laira beach, across from the port area and other better-known moorings.  I’m not sure we were supposed to be there (the chart said something about “reserve integral”) but we treaded lightly and left the next morning… for an adventure that has now left us stranded in Viveiro.

Cedeira light
Mooring near Laira Beach

Laira Beach mooring (yes, there is a beach to the left, but it was not easy to photograph...)

Posted on Saturday, August 09, 2014 | Categories: