Monday, 27 May 2013

Wendy’s Diary 25 May - 135 Miles, expensive waves, and places revisited.

I have been thinking for a couple of days that I must write my diary as so much has happened since my last entry. I was astonished to discover on opening my last entry that it was only 9 days ago. It feels more like twice that – in a good way as we have packed so much in – as you can see from my header 135 miles apart from anything else. We route plan at 4 miles per hour, although we have done most of these recent legs at over 5.

On 17 May we left Vegadeo for a previous favourite of San Esteban de Pravia. Once we got out of the estuary for the first 10 miles or so we managed to sail without motors at a cracking speed. Typically though, the wind dropped and we had to add motor power for the remaining 40 miles. It was a long haul and we were glad to reach the safety of San Esteban, where we anchored in the basin. The thing I particularly like about this port is that it is completely sheltered and with the swell that prevails out at sea, a sheltered anchorage is always very welcome.

We went in search of the wifi bar that we had frequented last year to find it looking decidedly closed, so after a short walk along the quayside returned to the boat for an early night. The following morning we went back ashore and the local shop keeper informed us that the bar had merely moved into the premises next door. We went into the new bar building and recognised the same waitress from a year before. Astonishingly she not only recognised us but she also remembered our names – we could have only been in there 2 or 3 times before, a year earlier. We checked the weather report and decided that an early start the following day would set us in good stead for our continuing journey East.

We do all of the boat navigation on Central European Time, which is one hour behind local time. I had got confused with the times and so miscalculated the departure time and we rose bright and early the next morning, an hour before we needed to. This gave us plenty of time to walk out to the end of the sea wall to see the state of the waves rather than just rely on the weather forecast. Whilst the swell in the entrance to the river was on the lumpy side we thought it looked calmer once out at sea so decided to set sail as planned.

The exit was even lumpier than we had anticipated and it did not settle once clear of the estuary head. The sea was “confused”, in that swell and waves were heading all over the place and they were not insignificant in size. I was feeling queasy after a very short period of time, but it continued to look more promising once we got a bit further out, so we decided to stick with it rather than head back to San Esteban.  When the sea is in this state it is necessary to hold on even if you are sitting down, and even then it was hard to stay put.

There was a clattering noise of something not right and by the time it happened a third time, each time coinciding with a particularly big slam of the boat between waves we started investigating. Bearing in mind I was feeling very queasy by this stage, looking around for something not properly strapped down was not something I relished doing. We thought it was one of the folding bikes, so I tightened the straps on those so they wouldn’t budge, then another loud and damaging sounding clatter and I observed that it definitely wasn’t the bikes. Another crash and John worked out it was the wind generator blades hitting the shrouds that support the pole it is fixed to. The boat was flexing so much as we slammed that the gap was compromised and the blades hit the wires. After donning his lifejacket he crawled out to the stern to assess the situation.  He watched as two of the blades snapped off and we made the call to head into Aviles to sort it out. Within a few minutes the remaining blades had hit several more times and John was concerned the entire generator could be lost. He headed back out again and somehow managed to lasso the remaining blades and tie them down, thus preventing any further damage. Once he was safely back in the wheel house we changed course again back to our original plan and after another half an hour the sea state did finally settle and the journey became easier.

My only real fear during this event was not that the boat was unsafe, would capsize or anything like that, but that John may lose his hold and be thrown overboard. The likelihood of my being able to turn the boat round and find him again in those conditions, never mind get him back on board are rather slim. We have a general rule not to leave the wheel house in rough seas unless essential and we discussed all the possibilities in detail later that day to make sure we had learned everything we could from it.

The boat on the wall in Ribadesella
10 hours after setting sail that morning we finally made it into Ribadesella, with a swell larger than desirable for making an entrance but despite the traumas of the journey John handled the boat very well and steered us into the safety of the river.  When John switched the engines off, an alarm beeped and on investigation he discovered that during one of those particularly big slams, an electrical fault had occurred resulting in the loss of one of the alternators (something that charges the battery when the motor is on).

The location is stunning with a backdrop of mountains and it was a huge relief to be tied up along the town quay (free) away from the swell and waves. It has an international standard canoe club and there is usually someone paddling past whenever you look out. We spent a couple of days here, then with another feasible forecast we headed back out in a much gentler sea for just over 2 hours to the very peaceful anchorage of Niembru. When we came here last year we were a little unsettled to discover that the entrance is not visible until you are nearly upon it, and it just looks like you are sailing into a cliff face. We expected the entrance to be easier to find this time, but even with the advantage of our track clearly marked from our previous visit on our electronic chart, it remained well hidden again until we were uncomfortably close.
The peace and quiet at Niembru

Once inside, with the additional excitement of riding a wave into this narrow entrance between rocky cliffs, we found our anchorage which is only accessible at high water and even then only around spring tides. This means of course that the boat spends most of the time sitting on the clean white sand rather than afloat, and after all the swell in the last few weeks, a night of complete calm was very welcome. A significant amount of tree felling around the bay had taken place since our last visit and on a walk we discovered that a decision had been made to remove all but one (the largest) of the eucalyptus trees from the area, which are not native and rather take over the vegetation if left unchecked. Picnic areas have been repaired and added to, new signage added and the hillsides generally tidied up of undergrowth, opening up the views out to sea. This remains one of my favourite places despite and/or because of its complete lack of facilities. 

Determined to cover a few more miles eastwards, we set off again after just one night to our current location of San Vicente de la Barquera. This trip was another 22 miles covered in a little over 4 and a half hours. I felt a little fragile again on this leg and took respite in the cabin whilst John happily helmed whilst listening to a collection of podcast on his Ipod. The swell in south Biscay remains an unpleasant fact of life here, even if it is generally going in the same direction as we are. We entered this wide estuary and headed for the eastern channel, being unable to access a previous anchorage due to the low state of tide. We passed a yacht in the process of resetting their anchor, and this being the first British yacht and only about the third yacht in total we have encountered this year, John as you would expect decided to introduce himself. They came over that evening along with a bottle of wine and we had an enjoyable evening swapping stories. They are from the channel isaland of Guernsey and have headed south in search of warmer climes, and as with the UK, the warmer climes have wandered off somewhere else!
One of last years photos from San Vicente - when we could see the snow on the mountains

Yesterday morning we were invited back to their boat for morning coffee during which time John offered to give a Spanish lesson to Penny that afternoon. Our anchorage had turned a little lumpy with quite strong winds at high tide, so I decided to go for a walk whilst John took his class. He dropped me off on the eastern side of the estuary and I walked round across the bridge that was once the longest in Europe, and back along the western side of the estuary out to the headland and sea wall. It was definitely not my sort of sailing weather; the waves were crashing hard into the breakwater and regularly shooting 20 feet or so up into the air and over the wall. I was pleased to be able to walk the couple of miles or so without any discomfort to my ankle, and was glad of the opportunity of the exercise.

Maid of Honor setting sail for Ribadesella
We met up again in the evening and had a lovely meal sharing a selection of “raciones”, plates of food a bit bigger than a tapas but not a meal in their own right. Prawns, sardines, octopus, chicken, cured ham and mussels were amongst the offerings, brought out a few at a time, and we had a most enjoyable evening. We met up again for coffee this morning aboard Maid of Honor and at lunchtime they set sail for Ribadesella.

We took advantage of the incoming tide to move to a hopefully more sheltered anchorage nearer to the town, and dinghied ashore for a quick wifi catch up and shop. Then late afternoon friends form Cornwall, Chris and Richard sailed in on the high tide and anchored a couple of hundred meters away. We last saw them back in February and it was good to catch up on news over wine and nibbles on our foredeck, it being just warm enough to sit outside for a change so long as you wore enough layers! When the clouds clear the snow top mountains reappear, but haven't seen much of them.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Wendy’s Diary 16 May 2013 – Hiding from the waves.

Last time I wrote we were hiding in Foz waiting for the swell to die down enough to continue our sail eastwards. We enjoyed our stay there and explored up the river as far as the dinghy could take us (where a tree had fallen and completely obstructed the river). We also found a nice bar in town which had both excellent WIFI and views overlooking the beach. We moved anchorage a couple of times, but found the one up the river just before the railway bridge (too low to go under) was the most comfortable place to be.
Surf at Foz, stopping us from sailing but looks nice.

We finally made our escape late afternoon on Sunday (12 May) having carefully checked the entrance to the river for breaking waves before heading out. At the time we were anchored just inside the sandbar and I found that a quick shin up the mast gave me the perfect place for checking the said surf. The predicted 12 knots of North Westerly wind prompted us to raise the mainsail for the first time this year, in the hope of sailing without engines. However as soon as we were out to sea, the wind dropped to about 3 knots and the swell picked up to at least 2 meters. So an uncomfortable 10 mile passage along the coast to the river Eo, nice short name for a river! We did get to see some fairly spectacular breaking waves en route, crashing into the cliffs, and thankfully the entrance to Ribadeo is an all weather one, so we had no problem getting into the estuary.
Castropol in the late evening sun

With the swell being from the North West we thought that tucked just south of the marina on the west side of the river would be comfortable enough, but after a couple of hours and nearing darkness decided we would be in for a sleepless night if we stayed there. We up anchored and quickly headed across to Figuras, passed a huge ship in for refit in the shipyard there and ran out of water with the outgoing tide just passed the town. Behind the big sandbar we were protected from the swell at least until the tide came back in, so packed ourselves off to be expecting to be woken around 2am with the swell slapping on the underbelly gain. Thankfully it was nearer 4 than 2 so we had at least had some decent sleep, and after waiting until sunrise we then headed up stream passed Castropol on the left bank to a more sheltered anchorage further up the river.
The view from Castropol out to sea. 

Last year when we came into this river we only went ashore at Ribadeo, where after buying diesel for the boat were welcomed to stay on a pontoon during the day to do shopping, showering etc so long as we didn’t stay too long. They even had wifi on the pontoons, but the swell was coming straight in from the sea and it was too uncomfortable to make any use of it. This time, being anchored on the East side of the river we decided to give Castropol a visit. The pilot book describes it as the town where all the wealthy merchants had their houses built. It is perched on a headland within the estuary, the geography giving it river and sea views from 3 sides of the town. The former merchants houses were in general well maintained and there was little evidence of the crisis (recession) which is so blatantly obvious is most Spanish towns. We treated ourselves to a beer in one of the riverside bars (whilst collected the latest weather report) before dinghying back upstream to the boat.
Early morning at our anchorage half way up the river. 

The weather report was not looking good with the swell continuing to build, which was in evidence in our anchorage. So we decided to head even further upstream to Vegedeo, where there is a bend in the river and we were hopeful of a more peaceful anchorage. There is a large old quayside here which has silted badly over the last few years, but the channel in the middle of the river was wide and deep enough to stay afloat. At high water we took the dinghy up into the town (google earth is fab for planning such trips) and sussed out the local amenities. After hitting the bottom a couple of times we thought it best to head back down stream to the boat. The following morning we took the cycles ashore and went back into town (about a mile away) in search of groceries and wifi to check the weather reports again.

Our anchorage at Vegadeo

Lilies growing on the riverbank
The following day as high water approached we took the dinghy up the main branch of the Eo. The river is adorned with lilies, which I have never seen grow in such abundance (I admit to pinching one which is now adorning the saloon table). I was given one of this variety as a moving in present to my first house in Saltash and managed to get about 3 flowers out of it in the 6 or so years that I lived there. As you can see from the photo, in one patch there must have been around 50 flowers! There was also a very cute “harbour”. This had been built on a bend in the river and provided enough shelter for about 3 small boats. It was adjacent to a picnic area in a nature reserve, which had pictures and descriptions of the local wildlife including birds, fish and reptiles. We had seen a furry creature on the river bank on the way up, but neither of us had been able to identify it. Something around the size of an otter, but it was dry and fluffy with a longish tail, and on our approach it ran and hid amongst the weeds on the bank, whereas we would expect an otter would dive under the water for safety. 
The tiny "harbour" on a bend in the river Eo

The swell was reportedly getting larger, predicted to hit 4 meters before subsiding again several days later, so we accepted our fate in that our current anchorage would be home for a few more days yet. We have now been here for 4 days, it now being Thursday and this afternoon are off to check the weather reports again in the hope that the swell is subsiding and we can sail at the weekend. Frustratingly both the swell and wind direction are ideal for sailing East, but neither of us fancy the rough ride it would entail in the current conditions.  

We have had the opportunity of meeting a Paralympics silver medallist who is a member of the local rowing club adjacent to our anchorage. Every evening a selection of 1 and 2 man rowing boats paddle up and down the river past us, training for the next major event. The team has won a multitude of world class medals in both able bodied and disabled events, with photos and extracts from the press blazoned on the rowing club walls.  We have also caught up on the laundry and John as ever has been tinkering with his latest projects, not to mention watching a few episodes of Morse and House – we have the entire collection of both on board in case of such emergencies as this. 

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Wendy’s Diary 9 May 2013 – The start of the journey eastwards

Before I start a reminder that my diary is my perspective of our travels, it includes very little techy talk (John does enough of that for the both of us J) but aims to tell the story of our travels onboard Freya Frey, our 26ft Heavenly Twins catamaran.

Last time I wrote up my diary I was in France with 22 staples holding together my scar from having the plate removed from my ankle. The nurse removed them with only one not wanting to part company with my leg and took more time to remove than all the others put together. With the exception of that one it was not as painful as I had thought. I was pleasantly surprised at how soon I was able to walk again, but decided that a couple of weeks in Cyprus staying with my brother and family would be the perfect recuperation before heading back to the boat. I was right, it was lovely and my scar healed nicely whilst I was there.

Towards the end of April I returned to Spain, where John had finished most of the jobs on the list that were marked as “to do before we sail”. He had of course saved the scrubbing the bottom task for my return and we ran Freya Frey up the beach in Ortigueira (with permission) and pressure washed down her hulls. The benefit of the type of antifouling we have (something called Coppercoat) means a pressure was all that was needed and it doesn’t cause pollution like normal antifouling. Neither does it need replying annually, although after 9 years John thinks it has finally reached the stage of needing replacing so we have already put that on the list of tasks for next winter.

The beach BBQ
John had made many friends during his winter in the town and they were all keen to meet up and share some time with us before we left. This meant that our social life for the last week we were there was pretty hectic, with plenty of visitors to the boat, a final saunter up the ria with some of them, with excellent pasties for lunch provided by local Cornishman Tony. Another day Tony and his wife organised a BBQ for us by the beach at Espasante, where about 10 of us gathered and John entertained all with a borrowed guitar. 

The pipers came out on our last day in town
On Sunday 5th we finally said goodbye to the town and headed down the Ria to an anchorage just inside the entrance so we could get an early start the next morning on the falling tide. Unfortunately the boat swung during the night and we went aground just before we woke up so had to wait for the tide to come back in before leaving. We aborted our first attempt as the waves were too big on the sand bar (John got rather wet when one crashed in over the side) so we went back to the shelter of the anchorage before trying again when the tide was higher. A couple of hours later we had no problem leaving the ria, although this did demonstrate why the port of Carino just up the coast made a much more convenient fishing port being accessible at all states of tide.

Our anchorage at Barquiero
Our route around to the next Ria to the East (we are heading back to Audierne for La Route De L’Amitie) took us in the following directions: North West, West, South West finally South.  For almost the entire journey the wind was on the nose and we were not able to pull the sails out, very frustrating that it followed us round the headland as it did. It was only a short cruise of 4.5 hours, so not too much fuel used and we arrived safely in Barquiero. We had visited this port by car and it reminded us of a little Cornish Fishing Village, nestled in on a hillside. We were surprised to see another yacht anchored in the river and shared a couple of cups of coffee with the French owner. His ability to flip between English, French and Spanish was incredible and he would use all 3 in the same sentence. We decided a new word was called for that expands on the existing Espanglish and Franglais.

The view of Barquiero from our walk.
Some graffitti that made me smile on a shaped stone
We set off for a dinghy trip under the bridges to visit up stream as recommended by the pilot book, but the Ria was quite wide and the wind had picked up so we gave in and went ashore for a walk and a beer instead (not a bad alternative J). Early on Wednesday morning we headed out of Barquiero on the tide to our next destination of Foz. This time we had a gentle swell heading in the same direction as ourselves and a south westerly wind so we hauled the sail and enjoyed the journey. There was only a couple of hours when the wind was strong enough to sail only, with the rest of the time a bit of motor was needed to keep the speed reasonable.

Foz was somewhere we had considered visiting on our way westward last summer but could not do so as the swell was too great on the sand bar. It was a little on the shallow side half way up the tide as we entered, but we had been overtaken by a fishing boat at the entrance so we had a guide up the river to the old fishing quay. Now in summer spending mode marinas are for emergency use only, so we bypassed the tiny visitors’ basin in search of an anchorage. John dropped me and my bike on the quayside and I cycled off for fresh provisions whilst he guarded the boat from his deckchair on the foredeck. Later in the afternoon the wind picked up again and we took advantage of the high tide to head a little up the river and hide under the shelter of a hillside out of the wind, in a very peaceful anchorage. It is in this anchorage that I am writing my diary and hopefully it won’t be too long before we get to a wifi bar to put it on the blog.