Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Combarro, Pontevedra Ria

We left Muros doing an effortless 6.5 knots on a beam reach through our first bout of the famous Galician fog.  The visibility was about 2 miles, good enough to see other boats, so we weren’t too anxious about it.  The wind slowly died as the morning progressed and the cool fog settled in for the rest of the day.  The gennaker worked its magic for an hour or so and then the motor had to be called on to push us along in an oily flat sea.  We glided past O Grove, which seemed to be a very chic peninsula with a lovely little beach, but we had no motivation for an anchorage in the fog.  A call on the vhf from some new friends drew us on down to the Pontevedra Ria.

Tambo Island, Pontevedra
We pulled into Porto Novo in the late afternoon as the sun finally pierced through the fog and the wind picked up.  This was the beginning of our first major wind event along the Iberian coast.  All of the standard climate clich├ęs were tossed around among sailors we met: “either too much wind or not enough” or “it always blows in multiples of 3 days.  We’re in for a 6 this time.”  No matter, we were happy to be here and exploring what we think is one of the more beautiful of the ria baixas.  It doesn’t hurt that it’s the home of our favorite Galician white wines, the Albarino.  After signing in at Porto Novo, we were given a chilled bottle as a welcome gift.  We’re wondering if we’ll get another if we go back… 

Our IMRAY nautical guide pointed us to a small marina at the head of the ria called Combarro, saying it was “not to be missed.”  While it’s blowing a steady 30 knots along the Atlantic coast, the rias and their steep hills on either side offer good protection from the worst of the blows, so we braved the building winds to work our way around the 6 miles of mussel farms separating Porto Novo from Combarro. 

The start of Main Street in Combarro
The town is unlike anything we’ve ever seen.  The old town of the village is built around a waterfront that seems to have been carved out of the stone ledge of the water’s edge, and traditional stone granaries once used as store houses for grains and vegetables traded along the ria communities have been preserved and integrated into the more-or-less modern life of the village.  

Sadly, the historical and geological charm couldn’t protect the village from the line of restaurants with terraces looking over the bay and the mind-boggling number of trinket shops niched in old stone homes and warehouses.  Casting snobbery aside, we enjoyed a wonderful meal of pulpo (octopus) washed down with a lovely Albarino wine while admiring the view over the bay (but I’m pleased to say we didn’t put a foot into any of the trinket shops.)

Octopus and potatoes for dinner !
This weekend is the festival of St John.  It’s a bit like many of the other Christian holidays, set on top of old pagan holidays situated around astronomical events.  This is the weekend closest to the summer solstice, and while there may be some special masses being said, it’s clear that the festival is all about celebrating the beginning of summer.  The festivities are like America’s Memorial Day weekend holiday on steroids.  Bonfires and open-pit barbeques are dotted around the village, and firecrackers and roman candles are set off at odd times throughout the day and night.  The nights pulsate with music and the firecrackers start again around sunrise to re-start the cycle during this 4-day weekend. 

Sunset over cockpit, Combarro
Our friends are starting to get restless, tired of being laid up by the weather.  Patrick and I are pretty happy to enjoy this relative down-time.  There are always little things to fix on the boat, and we’ve got good books, good movies, good sea stories with new friends, and the Euro football (soccer) matches to keep us entertained when the village starts to feel too small.  We’ll move back down the ria tomorrow to check out Sanxenxo, the 3rd and final port that we’ll visit before leaving this ria.  The weather looks like it will allow us to leave on Thursday, and we’ll head down to the Vigo ria, the last ria before the Portuguese border.  We’re on schedule, in as much as we have one, but we have missed a lot of areas we thought we might like to visit.  The Arousa ria was a complete miss and I don’t think we’ll make it to the Cies islands since the permit takes a week or so to get in order.  And yet we don’t feel any sense of loss or frustration.  We’re both eager to continue our journey and we know that we can always come back to Galicia later, since it’s a destination that can be visited during a single sailing season from Brittany.
Posted on Tuesday, June 28, 2016 | Categories:

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Muxia and Muros

The 48 miles from Coruna to Muxia were relatively calm, close-hauled with lightish winds, then a beam reach and motor sailing until the afternoon thermic breeze kicked in and we could cut off the motor for the last leg into the Ria de Camarinas.  This ria marks our most southerly descent on our last trip down to Spain.  Muxia is also the end-of-the-line for pilgrims following the trail of St James of Compostelle.  We only stayed 1 day, revisiting some of the local sites before heading off down the coast to Terra Incognita; more specifically, Muros, 38 miles south. 

The Coruna Waterfront with its traditional bay windows.
The Tower of Hercules guarding the bay of La Coruna, the oldest functioning lighthouse in the world and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Monolith at Muxia

Muxia coast, Cape Vilano and St Maria of the Sea in the background.
The weather has turned progressively summer-like, and the maritime weather is settling into a “Mediterranean” pattern of light winds in the mornings followed by force 5-6 in the afternoons.  We had 23-knot winds from astern in the early afternoon and put 2 reefs in the main to make the lurching swell more comfortable.  Despite what some would call drastic measures, the 2 reefs didn’t slow our speed down at all: 7-8 knots surfing.  While there was no drama involved, I would prefer to follow the advice of Med sailors and leave earlier in the day to arrive at the destination before the middle of the afternoon when the worst of the winds kick in.  Patrick’s not much of an early-departure kind of guy, so some negotiations will be in order for future sails.

Finisterre, Spain: End of the Earth.
Muros oozes with small fishing village charm with an active waterfront area and a labyrinth of old stone passages behind it.  As if on schedule, the first day of summer brought us 29 °C (84 °F) temps and ushered us to the little near-by beach for our first swim of the year.  It was a bit like diving into a gin-and-tonic (or Brittany-like), but I appreciated the growing potential of being able to swim in the sea once again without a wetsuit.  We even broke down and bought a beach umbrella.

Muros Waterfront from Fishing Port.

Muros also has a wonderful modern port with the best internet we’ve had anywhere in Spain.  We decided to stay an extra day to enjoy the weather, the town, the food (octopus, razor clams, tuna steaks, cod steaks, jumbo shrimp, mussels), the internet, and the arrival of new friends from the last port.  Tonight is the Festival of St John, which, we’re told, will end with a massive bonfire on the beach and “lots of drinking” (…always a great combination, eh?)  We checked with the port office to make sure there were no fireworks planned.  Fireworks are the bane of boaters everywhere, since fireworks are almost always fired towards the sea.  Depending on the wind direction, much of the cinders and ash fall back on the port area and boats can get turned black overnight or even have canvas and sails singed.  We were assured there were no fireworks and the wind direction for tonight should keep us out of harm’s way.

Mareda nestled down in Muros Marina

Muros Razor Clams.  Yum !

Ahhh.... summer !  Shady cockpit, local shellfish, local wine, great weather.

Tomorrow will be a carefully negotiated semi-early departure with calm winds foreseen throughout the day (15 kts max).  We’ll either head down to the Arousa Ria to an anchorage south of O Grove (home of Julio Iglesias), or we’ll continue on down to Pontevedra Ria and its 2 major ports where we can sit out the next 4 days of bad weather blowing in off the Atlantic.  
Posted on Wednesday, June 22, 2016 | Categories:

Friday, 17 June 2016

Crossing Biscay

We left Vannes with the 9:30 bridge and motored in non-existent winds out of the Morbihan gulf.  As we left the gulf and headed into the Quiberon bay, Patrick suggested we pull into the port of Crouesty to top up the tanks, since it was clear we would be motoring quite a bit the first day.  I didn’t think it was necessary since the gas gauge read 90% (about 120 liters) and we had 2 jerry cans of 20 liters in the lazarette.  Little did we know that this spur-of-the-moment idea would save the day.

We calculated that we could add 10 to 15 liters, max.  The rapidly dispensed 10 liters, then slowly pumped out 15 … then 20 … and then 30 litres.  “Stop!” I went below to look and smell for leaks.  Nothing.  We continued: 40, 50, and finally 65 liters before it was full.  I felt sick to my stomach.  The fuel gauge was clearly not working, and on a whim, we had just avoided heading off across the Bay of Biscay with only half a tank of gas. 

While we were in Crouesty, we heard friends chatting on the vhf radio who we thought had already started their crossing.  A quick call confirmed that three other boats from Vannes headed out only 4 hours ahead of us, heading for Viveiro, Spain and we stayed in radio contact most of the way down.  Always comforting. 

The gas-tank delay and light winds put us behind schedule and we had to punch our way out of the Quiberon bay against a 1-2 knot current - not a great way to start the cruise, but the detour to Crouesty was worth it.

Gennaker !  ...and a little motor.
Around 6:30 pm we finally got a bit of wind and could sail with the gennaker until sundown, then continued under sail until 3 a.m. when the wind completely died and the motor was fired up.  As the sun rose, we put the gennaker back up but we couldn’t maintain more than 3 knots under sail alone.  Before leaving, we suspected we would be motoring a fair bit, and I’d hoped we could fly the gennaker with the light winds, but I never suspected that we would perfect the “gennaker with motor” manoeuver.  It works pretty well!

By late morning after the 1st night, we decided that the light winds were worse than we had expected and decided to cut a day off our crossing by heading to Viveiro with the others.  That would avoid a 4th night of sailing and many hours of motoring.

In the middle of the 2nd day of light winds, we heard one of our buddy boats call to another that was closest to his position and ask if he could “borrow” some gas. (!!) He hadn’t counted on so much motoring and had left with only about 70 liters and wasn’t sure to make it to Viveiro.  Later we learned that the boats got close enough to each other to throw a line to recuperate a small 10-liter jerry can of gas (fortunately water-tight).  We congratulated ourselves (mostly Patrick) on his last-minute foresight.

One nice thing about flat calm seas is that you can see marine life easier…and they can see you.  By the time I could call down “dolphins!” to Patrick, the dolphins were squeaking out “Sailboat!” amongst themselves as they bounded over like to litter of excited puppies to play in our bow wake.  They stayed, as is strangely almost always the case, for 20 minutes before getting bored or hungry or both.  We also saw a whale (most likely a pilot whale).  They are stuck up and never come to play. I also saw a shark (probably a small basking shark) skimming the surface at a distance from the boat, unperturbed and uninterested by our presence.

Dolphins zipping around under the boat show up on the echo sounder.
During the calm period and at least 100 miles from the nearest coast, we picked up a hitchhiking dove.  I was on watch at 4 a.m. and the dove landed on the solar panel arch.  The flapping from out of nowhere just above my head in the wee hours of the morning scared the pee out of me, so I jumped up and promptly scared the poo out of the bird.  The dove took a couple of turns around the boat and decided that it would be more prudent to settle on the mast spreaders, where it sat and shat for the next 36 hours.  Despite the mess, I didn’t have the heart to chase it away.  We migrating species have to stick together.

Hitchhiking dove on the spreader.
On the morning of the 3rd day, the wind picked up and turned rapidly, building to 17-20 knots in the nose with 2 meters of swell.  The forecast had been for 15 knots on a beam reach.  We put 2 reefs in the main and rolled the genoa down until things were more comfortable and maintained 5 to 6 knots of speed despite the “speed bumps” of the swell.  We weren’t too concerned since I still had some confidence in the weather grib files that said the wind event wouldn’t last more than half a day.  By 9 p.m., the wind died down to a more manageable 16-18 knots and by midnight was an agreeable 15 knots and falling.  The last 6 hours heading into Viveiro were fabulous sailing, still on a close reach but only 12 knots of wind and smooth seas.  The sun shining on the emerald mountains of the Spanish coast was a welcomed site and we even slowed down our approach in the ria to savor the last few hours of our crossing.  Friends were waiting in the marina to help us tie up, and by evening, we had 8 compadres in the cockpit for sundowners.

Cooking while heeled over...

Viva l'Espagna !

Cruise stats:  340 nautical miles in ~78 hours (average speed 4.5 knots), with 37 hours of motoring (47% of cruise), where 24 of those motor hours were at 1500 rpms or less.  I calculated the gas consumption based on our latest fill-up, and it seems that we only used 1.5 liters / hour with the low rpm motoring. 

We left Viveiro after only 2 days because the weather was closing in and would have trapped us for a week.  The departure was rougher than expected, with 30 knots and 2 meter seas around the first headland instead of the 15-20 knots forecasted.  A 40-foot yacht that pulled out about 200 meters in front of us turned around and headed back to port as he approached the point.  Never a comforting sign.  I began working on Patrick, saying there was no shame in turning around and heading back in.  Despite having received several waves head on, soaked through and with red eyes, he said he wanted to push past the point and see if things were calmer.  We hunkered down and pushed through as best we could with 2 reefs and only a handkerchief-sized genoa.  After the point was just behind our beam, the winds died down to 20 knots and the swell was less aggressive, more orderly, and the worst was over.  Coruna is only 60 miles from Viviero, but because we had to tack back and forth against a strong headwind, it took us 15 hours.  We arrived in the Real Club Nautico of La Coruna after midnight.  Patrick tried to squeeze Mareda into the same spot we had for Spray several years ago, just under the bar with good internet, only to realize that Mareda is much larger than Spray.  We had a hell of a time getting back out of the small catway area to a more appropriate pontoon for larger boats.  Sorely regretting not having paid the extra money for a bow thruster !!

The weather in Coruna has been terrible with high winds and pouring rain every day, confirming the good idea to leave Viveiro when we did.  Still, we’ve been able to wander through the labyrinth of little stone streets, enjoy the tapas, the ham, the cheese, and the octopus, a Galician specialty.  Filling up with gas, with water, and with food have been major preoccupations, as well as searching for good internet connections (difficult).  With this, dear reader, I inform you that more timely updates of our whereabouts will be posted on Facebook (Sailing Mareda) with only intermittent postings to the blog depending on internet connections.  

We end this first missive with an ode to our new electric wok, which we adore and which saves tremendously on cooking gas when in port.  We are so enamored of our little toy that we just went out and bought an electric toaster.  Those little gas stovetop toasters take forever and burn a lot of gas for such a piddling little piece of toast.
Posted on Friday, June 17, 2016 | Categories:

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Countdown to the Crossing

Wednesday morning (tomorrow!) we’ll leave Vannes by the 9:30 bridge and head out of the Morbihan gulf, out of the Quiberon bay and into the Bay of Biscay for a 350 mile crossing to La Coruna, Spain.  ETA at 5 knots is around 8:30 a.m. Saturday morning.  The weather looks very calm (very very calm) and sunny, with no potential storm activity (CAPE and CIN zero).  We’ll make good use of our gennaker with light winds all the way down and will undoubtedly have long periods of motoring (motor-sailing-fishing).

For those who played along in the betting pool, the winner is Patrick’s pension papers, the last thing to arrive.  They have not and will not arrive before we leave but he was able to get a derogation.  The bike situation was a disaster – the guy couldn’t deliver on time so we canceled.  The gas crisis in France seems to have been resolved, and the Iroko hand railing miraculously arrived the week after it was ordered.  A new problem showed up during our last shakedown cruise.  One of the B&G Triton instrument panels has a button that seems to have a bad connection.  With the Jeanneau guarantee, they’ve decided to replace it but the part won’t arrive until Tuesday.  We had hoped to leave Tuesday with friends heading in the same direction, but we had too many delays.  Besides, Patrick wants to take advantage of the farmer’s market in town on Wednesday morning to get the last of the fresh fruits, veggies, and bread before we go.

The last days are nervous affairs of getting the house ready for abandonment and the boat ready for 6 months of sailing and 5 years away from home port.  We have to think about the stuff we’ll need for the cruise, but also stuff we’ll need for winterizing the boat and winterizing our clothes and other stuff we leave behind from November to April.  But since the boat is only a 5-minute bike from home, we’ve been able to get a lot of work done at a slow steady pace so we’re far from frantic.  With the promise of a very calm crossing, we’re really looking forward to heading off !  Hasta Luego !

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Passage Planning for Biscay

In comparison to what other long-distance cruisers do, a 3 or 4-day passage is peanuts.  It’s not even enough time to get used to a watch schedule or to ease naturally into the rhythms of life at sea.  By the time the first 24 hours of novelty are over, you’ve only got 1 day before you start planning for the actual arrival (“Is the course to steer still good?  Can we make our initial port or do we need to choose a Plan B port?  Are we going to arrive in daylight?  Do we need to slow down for a daytime arrival?  Can we get there before we have to resort to another dinner of spaghetti?”) 

Quiberon Bay to Coruna.  Winds aren't cooperating for a departure before 7 or 8 June.

The Bay of Biscay is a tricky area, but if you get the weather right, it can still be a pleasant ride.  We’ll need to have a good, clear 5-day forecast before heading off, meaning that at least 2 forecast models agree and that the weather forecasted hasn’t changed over the last week.  I’m currently looking at raw grib files (ZyGrib), Passage Weather, Predict Wind, and our local Meteo France offshore forecasts.  Of course, we prefer to have a broad reach (winds a-beam or slightly behind perpendicular to the boat) and I don’t like anything more than 20 knots.  Waiting for all of these conditions to be met early in the season can be nerve-wracking and time-consuming. 

Once we get more than 25 miles off the coast, we won’t have weather updates until we arrive.  We could spring for a satellite phone to get internet, but a $1000+ investment for only a 4-day crossing is a bit much.  Once we’re on the coast, we’ll have access to weather info, and we won’t be doing another multi-night crossing for a while.  If we get surprised with bad weather along the way, we can cut the cruise short by 1 day or so by heading to a closer port and then making our way along the coast as weather permits.

Our crossing strategy for the approximately 350 nautical miles:

Depart as early as the current will permit after sunrise.  Maintaining an average 5 knots of speed means we’ll be sailing about 70 hours and should put us at our destination early in the morning.  I prefer to aim for early morning arrivals, knowing that we will likely have course changes and sailing speeds under 5 knots that will slow us down along the way anyway, which gives us 12 hours of cushion before the sun sets on arrival day.

We have 130 liters of fuel on board plus 2 jerry cans of 20 liters each.  With a fuel consumption of about 2 liters / hour, we have 65 hours of motoring possible with just the on-board fuel.  65 hours at 5 knots (about 2000 rpms) is 325 miles before we have to break open the jerry cans.  If we’re motoring even half that long, we’ve really misread the weather forecast!

We put a reef in the mail sail every night before sundown, even if the weather is calm.  This slows us down, but makes for a smoother and more relaxed ride for the night in case the wind picks up unexpectedly.

Once we are on our initial trajectory, we set a waypoint on the GPS and watch the evolution of our cross-track error.  Depending on the conditions, we’ll allow a 3 to 5- mile error before altering course.  Any course changes at night that require a tack or jibe are done at the change of the watch to avoid waking anyone up needlessly.

For a 3 to 4-day passage, we do not use the refrigerator in order to save on battery power.  We use it as an ice box, with pre-prepared frozen meals serving as blocks of ice.

Our watch system, of course, depends on how many people we have on board.  When it’s just Patrick and me, we use a 2-hour watch system, with the off-watch person sleeping in the saloon berth in view of the person on watch.  The off-watch person stays clothed with appropriate gear at hand to be ready to rush out on deck in case of an emergency.  If conditions are difficult, we go down to 1-hour watches.  (In those situations, no one is sleeping anyway…).  During the day, watches are more relaxed and variable, depending on when someone feels like napping, preparing meals, etc.

Lifejackets are worn at all times while in the cockpit or deck, and tethers are also used from sundown to sunrise.

With the pilot steering, the person on watch can sit behind or underneath the dodger to get out of the wind.  Reading is okay if you’re disciplined enough to look around every 10-15 minutes (look for lights of other ships or land, check sails, check bearing occasionally, make a log entry every hour).  Headphones or anything that affects hearing is frowned upon.

Meals:  we tend to make one-pot meals that can be heated up and served with rice, pasta, or mashed potatoes (here in France, we have wonderful instant mashed potatoes…). Most meals are eaten in the cockpit out of bowls unless the weather is extremely calm.

The draft meal planning looks like this:

Breakfast: Krisp Rolls and/or toast, yogurt, fruit, cereal / muesli, coffee or tea. Eggs if anyone feels like making them.

Lunches:  Quiche (ham, spinach, feta) with salad; sausages with mashed potatoes; Chicken stew with egg noodles; Grilled ham and cheese sandwiches and fruit salad. 

Dinners: Hamburger stroganoff with egg noodles; pork coconut curry with rice; chicken and lamb sausage couscous; spaghetti bolognaise (hoping we’ve arrived by this time…).

Midnight snacks (prepared before sundown or with fixings easily reached):  sandwich roll-ups, hard-boiled eggs, soups, cereal bars, yogurt, fruit, nuts, cookies.

Patrick usually makes his deadly melted chocolate brownie cake served with English cream; I usually make cookies.  Since Patrick is French, cheese is always plentiful.  We tend not to drink any alcohol while we’re sailing. It’s hard on the stomach and dehydration is always an issue anyway.  But oh, that first beer when you reach your destination!

All of this food talk has got me excited to hit the tapas bars in Spain !