September 2010 : Ile de Yeu to Viveiro, Galicia



Hola from Aremiti in Galicia, northern Spain - we made it across the Bay of Biscay after all! Having made the decision at the end of last month to stay in France rather than moving on to Spain, in increasingly autumnal conditions for the Biscay crossing, two things then happened. First, after an initial relief at not pushing ourselves onwards, we then felt a bit flat and in need of something new. Second, the weather, which had consisted of strong adverse winds in France, or gales off the northwest Spanish coast, suddenly became totally benign. So from the Ile de Yeu, we suddenly decided to go for it. A bit embarrassing really - to cross Biscay, with its fearsome reputation, in quite such benign conditions. We should stress that we weren't actively looking for them - just trying to avoid being trashed - a good sailing breeze in not too terrible a direction would have been wonderful. However, what we got was almost calms, in which we managed to sail only just over a third of the 265 mile passage. We could have sailed more if we'd been content with a speed of 2-3 knots, but it seemed slightly imprudent to hang around like sitting ducks for longer than necessary, so apart from a lovely 8 hour sail on the first night, we enjoyed only the odd hour of sailing here and there. Lucky we have such a reliable engine!

So it was a relaxed and lovely passage - a wonderfully clear first night. It is easy to forget how astoundingly numerous and beautiful the stars appear without light pollution. The moon, when it came up was also very lovely. We didn't encounter much wildlife - a few pods of leaping dolphins some way off and a whale which dived as we approached. The only dolphins to visit and play around the boat came at night, leaving dazzling trails of bio-luminescence as they zoomed around us.

It is some years since our last offshore passage, so we had to get used to night watches again. Our usual routine is a schedule of 3 hour watches. Chris goes off to bed after an evening drink and meal, leaving Julia with the sunset watch, before returning at around 11pm. Julia then comes on duty again at around 2am and finally Chris again at 5am for the sunrise watch. We didn't slip into this routine very easily in only two nights - but that was only to be expected. We were surprised to see virtually no shipping - a few ships approaching and leaving Santander, but no fishing activity at all.

The loom of Spanish lighthouses appeared during Julia's 2nd watch on the second night - very reassuring - though we didn't actually sight the coast until around 11am, in very hazy visibility. When we did, it was to a very different coastline of dramatic cliffs backed by the high mountains of the Picos de Europa - in complete contrast to the low-lying coastline of western France. Our planned landfall was Luarca, about 120 miles east of the far north-western tip of Spain. This was written up as a particularly picturesque little town with a sheltered spot for yachts to moor. However, as we approached the view was somewhat more industrial than we had expected, an impression reinforced by the mighty concrete blocks of the breakwater, graffiti covered wall and nearby '60s hotel. Four huge metal buoys looked more suitable for commercial vessels than for us. All in all, not quite the landfall we had looked forward to. When we realised that, contrary to the information in our pilot book, depth would be an issue, we decided to move on straightaway. We finally arrived properly on Spanish soil at 8pm 20 miles to the west in Ribadeo, on the boundary between Asturias and Galicia - our first Ria.

Initially the transition from the France we had just left and this area of Spain was quite a culture shock. The west coast of France is populated by literally thousands of yachts plying between numerous charming and well-kempt islands and ports, with all facilities a yacht might need never far away. In Spain we immediately felt on our own and needing to fend for ourselves. The fact that we speak virtually no Spanish certainly adding to the challenge! Having said that, Ribadeo had a nice little marina run by the local yacht club - with probably the best showers of the whole trip! We have also found that, perhaps because there are so few yachts around, we have made more friends among those that are here, doing longer distance cruising.

Ribadeo was a good spot to wait out 2 or 3 days of westerly gales. The town itself contained what turns out to be a typical mix of dilapidation, new buildings and the restrained grey stone Galician architecture characterised by white galleried balconies. We were lucky enough to be around for the local fiesta - involving days of fireworks of the all sound and no sight variety, culminating in a magnificent display at midnight, before the procession of the virgin's statue and locals in traditional costume around the town the following day. We also took a bus trip to Lugo 65 k inland, to see the only complete Roman city walls still standing - a World Heritage site. Fascinating enough in itself, the part of town now contained within the wall was a slightly disappointing mix of standard city centre edged by dilapidation - some medieval, some modern concrete - going way beyond picturesque.

From Ribadeo we moved on another 32 miles to Viveiro. Cabo Ortegal Gorgeous ria with beautiful anchorages, the town itself timeless and tranquil - perhaps almost too restrained - at first acquaintance anyway. Then on again westwards, passing Punta Estaca de Bares - the most northerly point in Spain - to anchor off the small village of Espasante. This turned out to be a horribly rolly location, mitigated partly by the magnificent view of Cabo Ortegal - a mighty version of the Needles - and more so by our second meeting with the crew of 'Stella' - who we had met previously on the Ile de Yeu, just before setting off across Biscay. On their way to join the ARC in November, they had unknown to us been checking our progress from Chris' web track and been following in our footsteps. They keep a blog and by a strange co-incidence, we had read their news only the previous evening and realised they were in the area.

The following day both yachts headed for Cedeira Cedeira - another 20 miles on - a reasonable downwind sail. More drinks with 'Stella' that evening! Cedeira was probably our favourite place on this coast - extremely pretty anchorage off the fishing port - almost landlocked, so no rolling at all - and friendly town a short walk away. We spent 3 nights there in a period of magically lovely weather - the final throw of summer - with deep blue skies over the view of yellow beaches and dark green pines on one side and the colourful fishing port on the other. Having heard that the fleet here fish in the North Sea and Irish waters, we wanted to check out the 'opposition'. However, the magnificent facilities of this purpose built port in 2005, seemed very under-used.

We finally turned eastwards again - rather than west to La Coruna as we had originally planned. Our final sail of the season was a hard thrash to windward in 20-25 knots back to Viveiro. Ria ViveiroAfter a final night at anchor in the ria - idyllic spot protected by a tiny island off a beach - we are now in the marina, preparing to leave Aremiti here for the winter. She is currently sitting on the hard, well protected from south west winds by a large building - and we are about to fly home. Viveiro seems a good place for Aremiti, not just because of its relative cheapness, but more because we have made some wonderful friends here who will be able to check her every now and then so that we can feel she is not on her own.

So another cruising season comes to an end. We are not in Seville as planned, but the 1,155 miles we have travelled from London have given us some memorable experiences of waters closer to home before we head south to more exotic climes.