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.