Monday, June 19, 2006

Rias Altas, Galicia

This is Galicia where legend has it that the Rias, or estuaries, are the imprint of the hand of God and were created when he put his hand down between the Atlantic Ocean and Galicia.

We are sailing in the Rias Altas, deep fiord like inlets into the foothills of the high Altas hills. The coastline is rugged but the towns and anchorages of the Rias afford great protection from the ravages of the Bay of Biscay.

We have visited the town of Viveiro at the head of the Ria of similar name. The town is of little interest except for the medieval gates and the pedestrian streets but we enjoyed our stay in their Marina. We sailed along the coast with a following wind to Ria Cedeira. Here we anchored in a cove that could be mistaken for a Scandinavian inlet - high wooded slopes right down to the water’s edge and the smell of pine and eucalyptus.

There was great discussion amongst the skippers of the yachts in Ria Cedeira the following morning as to the meaning of the Spanish word ‘Boa’. None of us could find it in our dictionaries, even our yachting terms translations. Some offered the idea that it may be ‘fog’ and they appeared to be right. The visibility soon closed down to a quarter of a mile or less during our passage from Ria Cedeira to Ria Betanzos and our destination of Sada. Thank goodness for the radar to guide us across the entrance to the busy commercial and naval port of Ferrol.

Sada is not the prettiest or most interesting of places but the Marina is sheltered and well appointed. We have cleaned Bella inside and out and caught up with outstanding maintenance. We have also met a number of Brits who are travelling in our direction. A few glasses of wine have been drunk together on various boats as we chat about our exploits to date and our hopes for the future. We think we have made some good friends, John and Mo aboard ‘Blue Eyes’, Paul and Pauline on ‘Shellseeker’ and Stefan sailing single handed on ‘Artemis’ to name but a few.

We took a bus ride to the town of Betanzos, a medieval hill town bounded by two rivers. It is an interesting place with three rich 13th/14th century churches and typical narrow streets with glazed balconied ( Galeria) houses. The pity is that many of the buildings away from the tourist trail are collapsed, at risk of collapse or in a very poor state of repair. How can it be that a place so rich in tourism can be so neglected? The authorities will have to make an enormous effort soon or part of Spain’s heritage will be lost forever.

We had a lovely sail in sunshine, flat sea and 5 – 10 knots of breeze to anchor off Ares in the Ria of the same name. There were thunderstorms overnight. The weather in this corner of the world seems not to be able to make up its mind what to do. One moment the sun shines, then it pours with rain, then thunderstorms and if none of these it’s foggy!

The origins of Ares are Roman and the town has narrow streets with Galerias and red pantile roofs. The cove in which we anchored was quiet and sheltered except, of course, for the thunder and lightning.

Our trip to La Coruna on the 17th June was uneventful. In fact there was no wind and little visibility so we motored the 10 mile passage. The marina is right in the heart of the city next to the old town and fronting the much photographed Galerias on the promenade. The town, which dates back to the Celts, is famous for its Galerias and, of course, as the place from which the fated Armada sailed. It is strange to be in such a place with a quarter of a million population having been used to the relative peace of smaller urbanisation or none at all.

We missed the hourly tourist tram so we had to walk a fair distance to the ‘Torre de Hercules’ which is reputed to be the oldest working lighthouse in the world. As we climbed the first few steps of the internal staircase Neal assured Miggy that the lift was just a few steps more away. The lift never materialised and we climbed the remaining 87 metres to the very top of the tower for great views all round and aching calf muscles the next day. It was fortunate that we visited this monument at this time as only an hour later it was enveloped in fog. We couldn’t even see the base of the tower let alone the top!

Whilst in La Coruna we decided to take a bus trip to Santiago de Compostela some 60 kilometres away. The scheduled bus services in Spain are excellent with comfortable modern coaches running to timetable and clean Stations that look like small versions of airport terminal.

Santiago de Compostela is a 9th Century religious town. It was in medieval times and thereafter the third most popular place of pilgrimage after Jerusalem and Rome. The town is beautiful and the Cathedral magnificent. We viewed Sunday mass during which 8 priests swung a large silver incense burner on a rope suspended from a pulley from the roof so that, lit and belching its smoke, it arced like a pendulum nearly beheading the congregation and at the top of its arc almost touching the vaulted roof of the nave either side. A great show for the visitors! A number of priests of different nationalities were gathered behind the altar one of whom was photographing the ritual of the incense burner. Again we perceive lavish church decoration although this time the town appears as rich as the church. The beautiful buildings and stone paved squares were full of flowers and local entertainers and musicians. We had a lovely ‘Tapas’ lunch in a Cervezeria in one of these squares and all seemed right with the world!

Miggy broadcast her latest spot on Radio Solent on Friday unexpectedly. They inserted another spot due to high demand! Her next broadcast is on the 3rd July at 0645 BST.

We expect and are looking forward to seeing Roger and Sue Breese on Thursday the 22nd of June. They are staying with us for a week and will help us take ‘Bella’ round Cape Finisterre (the end of the earth) to the Rias Bajas.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Bay of Biscay conquered

Whilst Neal was posting the last blog in Piriac Miggy was having her hair cut. She was extremely nervous at the thought of a foreign cut and at the thought of the grey growing through some more but it looked great.
Piriac marina has a sill at a certain level to retain the depth of water in the Marina to an acceptable level. We had great amusement at the French endeavouring to pass over the sill when there was insufficient depth and thus stopping abruptly with a resonant bang and startled faces – when will they learn?

We sailed to Pornic some thirty miles away across the River Loire estuary on the 27th of May. It should have been an interesting trip but we saw very little in the mist that prevailed. We had a fair breeze however and good sailing. Pornic is a fairly large holiday town with bustling streets made more boisterous with fairgrounds, clowns and other street performers as it is Ascension Day holiday. So another four days off work for the native population. How does anything ever get done in this Country?
Miggy has friends from UK, Ron and Fran, who have settled in Pornic and we got together with them on board for a drink and next day they kindly invited us to their house for the day. We had a superb day with them walking the countryside and smelling the agricultural smells that go with it, chatting about our respective changes in lifestyle and eating and drinking heartily. Thanks both for your company and hospitality and to Manny and Charlie for the fun you gave us with the water bombs.
L’Herbaudiere on the Ile Noirmutier was our next stop but we were not enamoured with the place so we had a wonderful sail for five hours next day to Port Joinville on the Ile d’Yeu. This is a delightful place and we would have liked to stay longer but the forecast for a crossing of the bay of Biscay seemed settled for a few days so we left after just a day’s stay on the 2nd of June. Our passage plan had changed to end up further west on the north coast of Spain than originally intended and thus in a better position to explore the Rias, which are reputed to be spectacular.
The distance from Ile d’Yeu to our new destination, Viveiro, is 287 miles or about 50 hours sailing. We left in virtually zero wind and had to motor for the first 10 hours. After that we sailed until nightfall on the first night out when the wind died.
Around lunchtime second day out the wind started to pick up and gradually rose to average force 6 with gusts to Force 7/8 overnight with steep and confused seas. It was most uncomfortable but fast – we were making 7.5 knots average with surfs of 9 knots+. The seas were particularly steep where we crossed the continental shelf where the seabed rises from 4000 meters+ to 100 meters in less than a mile! We were pleased to arrive in the Ria Viveiro at 0900 on the 4th of June.
We were privileged to be visited by Dolphins virtually continuously during the trip and we felt that they were our friends and we hoped that they felt similarly. We even played them Andreas Bocelli singing tenor and they seemed to stop their furious playing around the boat and calm down and just swim alongside us – perhaps we imagine things but we believe that these beautiful mammals have feelings and emotions that may be in tune with our own.

We are now meeting likeminded people who are cruising south with similar intentions as our own and we are getting to know some lovely folks – Paul and Pauline aboard ‘Shellseeker’ and John and Mo porter aboard ‘ Blue Eyes’. We hope to catch up with them as we all travel south down the Spanish and Portuguese Atlantic coasts.
Our first impression of the Spanish, or Galician, people and their outlook on life is encouraging. All those that we have met in the way of our business around the dock and in town have been so accommodating.
We have a Spanish SIM in our mobile now and the number including the international code for Spain is +34 636 587 556.
We will move on to Ria Cediera and then La Coruna in the next couple of days.