Friday, 22 June 2012

Wendy’s Diary 22 June – Caves and waves

A Swedish couple arrived in Ribadesella and tied up alongside the quay next to us and we had an interesting couple of days chatting with them. They have spent the last 5 years sailing and are on their way back to Sweden for a winter of repairs before sailing off again. They have so much experience and it was lovely to be able to pick their brains on what they had encountered.

A typical granary close to the caves.

Sven was keen to see the local historic caves with some 30,000 year old paintings and asked if we would like to join him. The cave entrance was blocked by a landslip around 5000 years ago and the cave was rediscovered in 1968 by some pot-holers. Hence it has been remarkably well-preserved and visits are restricted in both numbers and time as just people breathing changes the atmosphere and can cause deterioration of the paintings. There was an excellent museum alongside the entrance to the cave, and if anyone is likely to visit I would recommend doing the museum first, as the whistle stop tour of the cave with the narration in Spanish meant it was difficult to work out what we were supposed to be looking at some of the time.

The sketch of the boat, including the new dinghy cover!
Whilst I was finishing sewing the sun cover for the dinghy I noticed a mother and son standing close by. The boy was sketching the boat and after a couple of minutes he finished and I asked to see the sketch. It was a very good outline drawing of the boat and in my very broken Spanish I complemented the boy on his skill. A couple of hours later, the boy with both parents this time returned and presented me with the sketch which he had taken away and added in much of the detail. It was now instantly recognisable as Freya Frey and I was very touched by the gesture. We invited them on board for a cuppa and discovered that he is 12 years old and attends an art college. Maybe one day he will become famous and the sketch will be worth a lot of money!? Not that we would part with it anyway.

It was 4th June before we finally left, setting sail for 18 miles to Villaviciosa, a place I am still trying to get my tongue around how to pronounce. We motored again as there was very little wind, our thoughts of sailing along this coast appear to be misconstrued! There is not a lot apart from scenery and birdlife, so just our sort of place. We found a deep part of the channel albeit with a very fast current, but with our hefty anchor and plenty of chain we weren’t going anywhere. It seemed strange to be at anchor again after just over a week tied to a wall but lovely and peaceful. The top of the estuary further up was covered in weed, some of which worked its way loose with each tide, and we watched clumps of it drift past the boat on a regular basis. When it came to lift the anchor, it made a rather interesting sight:

There is an anchor in there somewhere!!

We thought this made a lovely photo..our anchorage at low water.
On our second day here we decided to take the boat as far as possible upstream on the rising tide and made it to a huge cider bottling plant just outside the town with the unpronounceable name. A pretty river with mountain views, although no sign of snow now, I guess too late in the season for that on the lower slopes. Having established that there really wasn’t anything else around apart from one bar and a campsite we made plans to set sail for somewhere that maybe had a shop – not a big ask, although I do try and keep the boat well-provisioned, and fresh bread is always at the top of the shopping list.

A very common sign of the times, a half built building left for years since the property bubble burst
As we exited the river mouth I spotted another yacht – a rare sight on this coast, pointed it out to John who said.. “It’s a cat(amaran)..., it’s a Catalac...  it’s British!...  I think it is Horizons!” He picked up the radio...”Calling the Catalac Catamaran off of Tazones... Is that you, Jeff?” We think Jeff must have jumped somewhat at this as he hadn’t spotted us before John made the call.   We know the previous owners of the boat well (Bev and Mary), but had only met Jeff once before at the TMA (Tamar Multihull Association) annual(ish) Paella gathering, at which John cooks the food (last year for the second time at Bev and Mary’s house). Small world stuff going on here!! Had we been 10 minutes earlier or later we would have missed him. Anyway, we came alongside each other, had a quick chat, took the obligatory photos of each other and discussed destinations. Jeff was heading to Gijon to meet up with another English boat owner (Roy), whilst we were heading for Aviles 34 miles away.

Some interesting rock formations on the entrance to Aviles
The pilot book says it is possible to anchor at Aviles, but having written off the first anchorage as too exposed, we headed further up river, passing several places that looked suitable for anchoring before reaching the pontoons just before the end of the navigable part of the river.   We had heard of ports that offered 2 nights free berthing, so I thought this would be a good place to ask if this was one of them. It took the harbour guys an hour or so to arrive with info and at the suggestion of 22 euros for the night. The weather forecast for the following day was a little iffy, so the thought of being caught out for 2 or more nights was something we wanted to avoid. “No anchoring within the port is allowed” was the response to our first request and statements starting with “but it says in the pilot book..” got us nowhere.

Our Spinnaker
We did a quick tide/wind/distance check and decided we would head for the next estuary instead, only about 6 miles further west. For the first time this season we did a spinnaker run for the hour’s sail to San Esteban. For non-boaty readers, these are the big, usually brightly-coloured, sails that protrude from the front of sailing boats and are good to use with gentle tail winds. Anyway it was fab to really sail for a change, albeit a short distance and an hour later we were tying up against a wall (free of charge of course) in this former coal exporting town. That is how most of the pilot books describe it, just a “has-been”. The reality was yet another pretty port, surrounded by mountain and sea views, with the most sheltered stretch of water yet. Good move, leaving Aviles behind, although we would have liked to have explored the old town.  

The quayside at San Esteban, with the wall that encloses the anchorage
There were 3 other yachts in the harbour, all French, 2 monohulls and an enormous cat, the owners of the latter kindly took our lines. Over the next couple of days we spent lots of time with Jean-Luc and Katia, swapping notes on where we had been and where we were going. As always the men got onto discussing technical stuff so Katia and I managed to extricate ourselves onto whichever boat the men were not on to discuss things more interesting to women folk. Our list of coincidences includes:
  • 1.       We are the same age. (If you don’t know I am not telling you)
  • 2.       We both have 22 year old daughters.
  • 3.       We both have 20 year old sons.
  • 4.       We are both accountants by trade.
  • 5.       Contrary to what we may have believed possible a few years ago, we are both now sailing around the coast of Northern Spain in catamarans.
  • 6.       We share the view that one can never drink too much tea!

This is a close up of the tree in the foreground in the previous picture - it had some curious birds on a nest in it which took quite a while to work out they were fake!!
Needless to say we got on well, conversing mainly in French (thank you again, Annie), meaning I now understand how John gets confused swapping between languages. Whilst I only have a very small vocabulary of Spanish, the hello, please and thank you had become automatic in Spanish, so reverting back to French was rather complicated. They set off a couple of days later with hopes on both sides of meeting up again soon.
John and Jean Luc deep in conversation overlooking the next bay

Jean Luc and Katia leaving San Esteban
We swapped to anchoring as the fenders rubbing against the wall were taking off a layer of paint. On John’s recommendation Jeff arrived in San Esteban a couple of days later, and joined us for a proper chat and an invitation to stop for dinner. With the conversation going back to when we had met in the UK, and the not so old email trail that had gone around inviting TMA members to a BBQ as John was not available to cook the Paella, the conversation very quickly brought up the question” who was/were in the wrong place – most of the TMA members or the Paella Chef”?? And so we had our own Paella evening on board Freya Frey, with the only other member in the locality very willingly attending!

San Esteban at night

The following day on Jeff’s recommendation Roy arrived and anchored close by. Whilst refuelling at Gijon that morning he had passed on the recommendation for our anchorage to Rick who followed within the hour. So with 4 red ensigns anchored we felt obliged to get together that evening and had a good old natter over a couple of bottles of wine on Roy’s boat. This was followed by gatherings on each boat for teas/coffees over the next two days swapping views on amongst other things “wifi” and of course the latest weather forecasts etc., as we were all looking at moving on West.   

Reasons to stay in port!
On Saturday Jeff headed out in a mild westerly leaving the rest of us behind waiting for the wind to change. Bright and early on Sunday 17 June we up anchored and waved goodbye to Rick and Roy, who were also preparing to depart in the now very gentle Easterly. We had Ribadeo in mind, as it was the next place with guaranteed shelter, albeit a rather long haul of 47 miles. With a favourable sea and wind we had the spinnaker up again and sailed all the way, in the company of 3 French boats to the North, Rick out ahead after he whizzed by us and Roy on our tail. I was NOT seasick at all on this run and it was nice to be back to what I call “normal” sailing, being able to prepare meals on route without either feeling nauseous or in risk of things toppling over in the swell. Maybe I will have to rename “normal” sailing to “what it used to be like” sailing!

We anchored for the night in a small inlet just beyond the commercial port. Ribadeo is, as with all the others, a lovely estuary surrounded by mountains etc and this time with a decent sized town with a Lidl!!!!! We went into the Marina (alongside Roy) in the morning and asked if we could tie up for a couple of hours to do some shopping and fill up with fuel when we got back. This was warmly accepted by the marina staff and so we headed into town (after setting off i-Tunes to download all the latest podcasts whilst we were out).

We haven’t found a Lidl since arriving in Spain and assuming the same low prices apply here as in France were keen to stock up on favourites like part-baked bread, almost impossible to find anywhere else, and if found, too expensive to consider worth buying. Unfortunately we didn’t find the Lidl but we did find a decent sized Galician-branded supermarket and bought rather more than was practical on the bikes and so rolled back down (thankfully) the hill to the boat fully laden – with the exception of the elusive part-baked bread. After filling up with fuel the marina staff suggested that we may like to stay a while and use the showers etc. Roy asked John for a lesson in Spanish pronunciation and I played on the internet whilst I had the chance.

We then took the opportunity of the rising tide to explore up the river to Vegadeo, where we found nothing of interest except the scenery on the way there and back. We made the call to sail further west again the next day so anchored up again and made preparation for a long sail of 47 miles to Santa Marta de Ortiguiera. I made some vegetable soup and Spanish tortilla (potato and onion omelette but nothing like what the English call Spanish omelette) so that we would have some easy to eat journey food in case the sea was a bit rough.

We snook back into the marina at around 5 in the morning and downloaded the latest weather forecast, all looked good, a decent Easterly along with an Easterly swell for a change. As we exited the estuary there was a large choppy swell which threw the boat in all directions. We are used to river exits being lumpy but this was worse than normal. We continued out in the hope that it would soon settle down, which it did very slightly once we were able to start heading West. After only half an hour I made the call that I couldn’t cope with 10 hours of this kind of sea as I was already feeling rough. We changed direction again to head in for the next estuary of Foz, and I went to bed. John checked out the pilot book and decided that it would not be possible to enter with the swell as it was, so reverted to the original course.

I spent the day feeling very ill and the only time I was out of bed I was feeding the fish (more times than I thought possible).  The sea state did settle a bit and John started to really enjoy the sail, and we blasted along at between 6 and 7 knots for the entire journey, a speed which will amaze some of our fellow cat-owning friends who think we are far too heavy to do so. It was consolation to both of us that the trip would be around 3 hours shorted than originally thought, and on the entry to Ortigueira John deliberately slowed down so that we wouldn’t get there too early for the rising tide.  We passed our French friends with the big cat at the entrance; they were just heading out to Cediera. We made our way up to the innermost anchorage in the pilot book and dropped the hook. John was snoring within seconds of his head hitting the pillow, it had been a long haul to do singlehanded.  

It was still a bit bumpy for me after the day I had had, so 3 hours later when John had recovered we moved again and tied up alongside the old quay, which was completely sheltered from the wind and swell. We went ashore, found the (very nice) club nautico and popped in for a quick drink before heading back for an early night.
Recovering from the long haul - a BBQ on deck in the sunshine

Whilst we have been here we have got the bikes out for a further explore, including to the old windmill above the town and has a 360 degree view. Yesterday we arranged to meet Jean-Luc and Katia roughly halfway between our two anchorages. After a string of misunderstandings we finally met up at a restaurant and had a relaxing afternoon chatting about where we had been since San Esteban. Prices here are so much cheaper than in France and we enjoyed the rare luxury of a meal out, 3 courses, drinks and coffees included for 12 euros each.

John has lost a filling and has an appointment with the dentist here next Tuesday, so we shall be tied up along the wall for a few more days yet.