May 2002 – Inside Biscay

April is over and here in Portugal May 1st, is the second national holiday in a week. Last Thursday’s (April 25th) celebrated the 1974 revolution when they overthrew the dictatorship and this one is May Day. As we�ve mentioned before everything closes on national holidays so we enjoyed the sun. Kevin oiled a bit more teak deck (one of those �Forth Road Bridge� tasks) but little else was achieved. The following day Temptress�s waterline lowered by about a dozen bottles of wine, twice that quantity of beer and a good many tins following a jumbo-sized shopping trip to the appropriately named hypermarket � Jumbo. More exercise was had on Friday with a trip into Lisbon. We walked miles � Lisbon is built on several hills along the River Tejo. The elavadors (trams cum funicular railways that run up narrow cobbled streets so steep that walking would be impossible) take you up the steep bits but even the top is not flat. Old Lisbon on the hill is a maze of little streets but fortunately the locals are more than willing to help lost tourists. Lisbon in the valley was rebuilt after the 1755 earthquake (as was most of Southern Portugal) in an elegant grid pattern. We spent a couple of hours in the hot houses of the Eduardo VII park before we realised that Portugal never had an Edward as King – the park was named after Edward VII of England but why?

Finally we escaped � plan A had been to leave at around 5am as the wind was forecast as light for then. The enter-card and electricity adaptor were once more returned to the office before 8pm (closing time) and our deposit of 32.5 euros retrieved. We then went to bed early with the wind howling in the rigging�when the alarm went off at 4am it was still howling so we stayed in our bunks. Later having paid for the night�s mooring (on May 1 Summer prices started and moorings now cost almost three times the price we paid in previously) and got ourselves a replacement enter-card and another electricity adaptor the wind seemed to lull. Delos decided it was time to go so Temptress followed her out (via the office to return card & plug and get our 32.5 euros back again). Suffice to say that it was a hard trip. The wind and waves were easier than before in terms of their combined directions but it blew 30 knots from the north most of the day and the waves were over 3 metres. Initially we headed out and out � well out to the west of the dreaded Cabo.  Sixteen miles out from Cascais we finally tacked northwards and then slogged on to Peniche arriving soon after 8pm. Just short of 60 nautical miles but it felt like twice that distance.

Peniche is apparently a pleasant town but we didn�t even leave the pontoon! Too tired when we arrived to do more than eat and sleep, the relief of having managed to successfully leave Cascais drove us onwards on Sunday. At 8am it was grey and overcast � typical British weather in fact.  As we motored out of Peniche the rain began to fall but at least the wind was light. A classical example of a cold front was passing over us heading southwards and by the afternoon both boats were once more motoring in the sunshine. On queue at noon, the sea breeze kicked in and slowly the seas built again but by now we were enjoying ourselves and reached into Figuiera De Foz in plenty of time for supper. The following day we decided to have a bit of a rest. Temptress�s crew desperately needed some clean laundry � how can three people generate two sailing bags full of dirty clothes and bedding in such a short space of time? Once again we were to discover how much more difficult even basic tasks can be when you live on a boat. The Marina Office directed us to a couple of laundries � the closest a good 15 minute walk away proved to be a dry cleaners (they were willing to do our cleaning on a price per piece basis � goodness knows how much that would have cost). The second, on the other side of town were happy to wash our clothes but couldn�t do it today � they were to be ready, clean, dry and neatly folded at 5pm the following day. We trekked back to the marina and had a beer with Lady V�s crew who had finally escaped Cascais and arrived via Nazare. Barry�s mind was made up � please would we deliver Lady V back to the UK for him?

The following morning Delos headed off north. Kevin & Susie were invited for coffee on Perfect Lady � the Westerly that featured in the company�s last adverts before succumbing to yet another bankruptcy. Her proud owners, Tim & June, spend a few summer months each year sailing her a little bit further south before returning to the UK and work.

Eventually we had our clean clothes and could leave by which time it was raining! We sailed through the evening with some useful (I jest) wind instruments � something must have sat on them whilst we were in F. Da Foz as we now registered a F7 when it was blowing F2 or 3! Kevin & Will tried to re-calibrate them but eventually had to settle for the dial to show the apparent wind angle correctly and everything else wildly wrong. It was just before 4 am when we arrived in Leixeos (the port part of Oporto) yet there was an elderly Marinaro on hand to help us tie up. In the morning Kevin made arrangements to leave Temptress for ten days or so � paying berthing fees in advance. She was then moved to a safer berth close to the root of the pontoon, tucked up in the corner of the basin and we tripled up the mooring warps.

Our new home for the next week or so was to be Lady V. Barry and Richard caught the afternoon flight back to the UK and we carried our sailing bags and perishable food stores along the pontoon. It was odd to be leaving our home for the first time since our brief trip back to the UK last December. What of our temporary lodgings � Lady Veronica is 36 feet long but for the most part just as beamy (wide) as Temptress. Someone Her sprayhood, cockpit cushions, upholstery and bedding are all green as are the pans, kettle and table mats. Aft there was a huge cabin with double bunk and a long curved sofa. Her centre cockpit means that down below on either side of it runs a long �corridor�. To port this is a well appointed galley with far more storage than Temptress and an electric toaster (green). Kevin is now determined that this is an essential piece of kit. To starboard is the heads � long and thin with loads of room. Unfortunately the shower pump wasn�t working and Kevin had to spend an hour or so in Viana do Castello a couple of days later unblocking the loo. We had a smashing evening in V. do C � fortunately we didn�t bring Temptress in for our first visit as there simply wouldn�t have been room for her but Lady V fitted snugly bows-to on a crowded pontoon just a boat or two away from an old acquaintance from the Autumn. At first we couldn�t remember where we had met before but when Graham mentioned his Polish girl friend was back in the UK taking her exams, we placed each other in Baiona last October! After supper and a few beers together we had an early night before heading north for Baiona.

Talk about whistle-stops, we tied up at the diesel pontoon shortly before lunch and by three fifteen were underway once more. Before we departed we held a weather conference with Steve and Chris from Delos. The various forecasts (Met Office animated outlook, American Navy 84 hour predictions, the European Centre for Medium Range Forecasts and WeatherOnline) seemed to agree. There was a large low tracking in the Atlantic which would give us strong south-westerlies in the latter part of the Biscay crossing but after that the next low was even deeper and would give storm force winds for several days. We were agreed if we didn�t leave now then it would be too late � so it was now or wait probably a fortnight or more for another weather window. Lady V set off that afternoon with Delos following her out the next morning.

Friday afternoon and Saturday were fair and sunny with little wind � sunbathing in the cockpit as we motored northwards. Kevin had already calculated that even with a full tank of diesel and the extra canisters Lady V carried we would need to sail at least 100 nautical miles of the trip. He needn�t have worried � we sailed all of the rest. By the early hours of Sunday it was blowing south-westerly as predicted and full sail was set. Gradually the swell increased, the rain began to pour down (it rained almost solidly for the next 36 hours). Coming off watch with wet oilies there was nowhere to hang them. They fell off the shallow hooks in the heads so we just piled them on the floor before falling into a bunk � resigned to putting on dripping wet clothes four hours later. We were beginning to realise that Lady V was not our ideal boat for a stormy Biscay crossing � down below the one bunk with a lee cloth was the windward one and it was so short and narrow that Susie had difficulty sleeping in it, Will and Kevin simply didn�t fit. Will tried sleeping in the forward cabin but it was too noisy so he retreated to the leeward bunk � relying on the cockpit cushions to wedge himself in. This proved the best place to sleep off watch and was very cosy wrapped up sleeping bag-style in a double duvet. The vast aft cabin was OK but occasionally you were shot across the double bunk and onto the floor! As the wind increased the sails were decreased until eventually just tiny storm sails were set. One of the good and bad things was that Lady V has a furling main as well as a furling genoa � good because shortening sail was easily achieved by simply pulling on a rope to roll it away but bad because the un-battened main didn�t set very well � Kevin likened it to sailing with two genoa�s.

By the early hours of Monday our route began to converge with the big ships heading for Ushant (Ouessant). The swell was enormous, one minute we were up some 5 metres above the water and the next Lady V was sliding down the back of the onward rushing wave. The effect was heightened by being in a centre cockpit which elevates its occupants far higher than Temptress�s aft cockpit. At the top of the wave we could see huge supertankers, at the bottom walls of water surrounded us. The force 7-8 wind from behind meant that it was a very fast Biscay crossing � making up for the five days or so we spent at sea last Autumn. By Monday evening we were eating supper in the Styvel Hotel in Cameret. Delos arrived a couple of hours after us having made an even faster trip across the bay.

Delos� crew decided to head from there to Falmouth as Steve had need a couple of weeks in one place to make some conference calls. First though Kevin had to give them an initiation into tides in this part of the world. Tides along the Channel coasts are amongst the most notorious anywhere. No wonder the Brits and the French have been so successful at seafaring �cos if you can make it out of the area then anywhere else is a doddle. Delos had spent the last two years in the Med where there are no tides and prior to that they had sailed in California. Lesson number one � don�t leave Cameret to head north when the tide is going out even if it seems the most logical thing to do. The Chenal Du Four (which provides a neat 30 mile or more short cut avoiding Ushant) flows at over 5 knots south with the ebbing tide! �So when should we leave?�. �Well�, came Kevin�s reply as he looked at his watch, �probably about eleven o�clock ie about now!� �Can we navigate the Chenal Du Four on this?� asked Steve waving an Admiralty chart of the Western Approaches? Nope � lesson number two � the French do some wonderfully detailed charts (they are ornate too with line drawings of the major transits actually on the chart). Steve set off to the bookshop (another lesson � you can buy charts much more easily in France than in Spain and Portugal � more on this later) clutching our copy. Unfortunately, this being France they had shut for lunch. We swapped our chart for some torch batteries and later bought ourselves another copy from the Fisherman�s Co-operative.

The following morning after a bit of a diversion for diesel we motored up the Chenal du Four. The diesel pump in the marina had broken down so the helpful marina staff took Kevin, Will and Lady V�s cans by car to a garage. All night we motored � after the wind and rain of the days before this was frustrating. What wind there was came from the North East � just where we were heading�Guernsey. We tied up on the diesel pontoon an hour of so before �Boat-X� purveyors of chandlery and diesel, opened. By the time the staff arrived for work there was quite a queue including another Beneteau Oceanis 36CC (green and white) identical to Lady V � the man at the top of the wall working the pump took a double look thinking he was serving the same boat twice. We left the pontoon and headed into the marina. The berthing master shouted down to us as we crossed the sill � back already, do you want the same berth? We laughed and pointed out that we were not the Oceanis that left an hour or so before. A quick tidal calculation had shown that there would be enough water over the sill soon after 7pm so we could leave St Peter Port that evening (as we weren�t staying over night we were not charged for our stay either). Meanwhile we spent a quiet day enjoying the sun and followed a fish and chip lunch with a pint of real beer in the Yacht Club. Marks and Spencer provided gammon steaks for supper and then we motored across the Channel to Chichester.

This was probably the hardest part of the trip with shipping lanes and the Bar at Chichester to be crossed. Could Susie do a secondary port calculation and work out when Lady V�s 1.5 metre draft could get into Chichester Harbour� it was the first for many a month but with a quick check in the relevant section at the start of MacMillans Almanac it was worked out that we couldn�t get over the Bar until 11am so had to hang around for a couple of hours in company with a dredger that had turned up early for work. It was blowing hard and drizzling by the time we motored up past Hayling Island Sailing Club � the Bank�s sailing regatta that our friend Paul Seaman was organizing there had abandoned plans for another days racing. Another Paul (March) had been about to drive to Port Solent when we phoned so he met us on the pontoon at the marina lock and promptly dropped his glasses out of his shirt pocket into the muddy harbour waters. Lunch was the first of a series of meals in Chichester Yacht Club � excellent food. Later in the afternoon there was a �Coo-ee, anyone home?� Susie left her galley cleaning tasks and went on deck � Rita and Alan introduced themselves as good friends of the couple who were buying Lady V. We invited them on board for a cup of tea and later they were instructed by the new owner to take us out for supper (meal number two in the yacht Club). The following day after handing over Lady V to Barry and yet another yacht club lunch, Noel (Kevin�s Father) and Maddy drove us up to Richmond via Alton where we stopped in on Kevin�s Gran (Polly) to wish her a Happy 93rd Birthday.

Thursday 24th May found us back in Oporto � the airport was almost within walking distance to the marina with only an oil refinery separating the two. It was good to be back home but now there were only two of us. Will had decided to stay in the UK to pursue his desire to join the Police. After doing a bit of shopping in Leica del Palmereira, Temptress headed north sailing along the miles of beach that make up most of Western Portugal. It was predictably raining as we left but soon cleared and we were surprised to be sailing nicely, downwind. After supper the wind dropped and the rest of the trip to Baiona was under engine. More rain and a marvellous rainbow to landward (east) as the sun set. The smell after the rain was amazing a peppery mix of pine, eucalyptus and wet earth. The departing rain clouds above the rocky hills turned purple as darkness fell.

As we drifted around off the harbour tying on fenders and warps and trying to remember how to do stern-to mooring when there are only two of you, a faintly lit dory appeared alongside.  The elderly marinaro had one of those wide beam torches face down in his boat giving everything a ghostly gleam. He pulled ahead of us waving the torch from side to side to illuminate vacant mooring buoys, small sailing boats and so forth. His speed was such that Temptress nearly ran him down as he dodged back and forth under our bow � we have to keep quite a lot of way on otherwise Temptress looses steerage, not something to be desired when manoeuvring amongst moored boats. There was another elderly figure on the pontoon � tall and thin, strangely clad in a blue boiler suit and a long flapping overcoat, closer inspection revealed him to have a huge bushy beard. He and his ancient companion who had abandoned the dory further along the pontoon, took our stern lines and handed over the mooring line for the bow. All in almost complete silence � weird. This being Spain where people don�t eat until after ten in the evening, it was easy at 11:30 pm, to find paella for two just a short walk into the old part of the town.

When we were planning the next stages of our journey during the previous week, we had reluctantly decided to make a push on towards A Corruna, missing out the Rias of Galicia. However the weather forecast in Baiona made us think again. Saturday found us sailing in amongst the rocks of Ria Muros just south of Finnistere, towards Portosin and the Yacht Club there gave us a warm welcome. After Southern Spain everything is so green. The wind was from the North so according to the local weather-lore it should be dry but unfortunately northerlies were of no help for us trying to get to A Corruna. (Wind from the south – apparently the only other they get – means it will be wet). Galicia is the wild, wet corner of Spain, a cross between the Lake District and Cornwall with the rocky outcrops making pilotage just a little less demanding than Brittany. There are fewer hard bits to hit here but unlike Brittany or the UK almost all are unmarked so you have to concentrate. Also, unlike further south, the Spanish are not tired of tourists and are so very friendly and welcoming that it is tempting to stay longer. Sunday evening we had to move � the yacht club had sent 12 boats to a regatta in the next ria (Ria Arosa) and now �Gundian� wanted her berth back. The marinaro pointed the route to an alternative berth � round the motorboat on the end, passing the large lit buoy about four metres from her bows on the inside�.�are you sure about that� yelled the Skipper over the wind. He was � there was a tiny buoy about two feet from the motorboat�s bow and just enough room between the buoys for Temptress. Time for another beer in the yacht club before supper.

The next morning we set off in the early morning rain and northerly winds to round Finnesterre for A Corruna (so the local lore doesn�t always hold true). We attempted a shortcut inshore through the Canal de Meixeodades (just don�t ask us how to pronounce it) but the wind and waves were on the nose. After an hour or so we had made little northerly progress and had to retrace our steps to the headland off Ria Muros. Temptress motored westwards out to sea leaving the waves breaking on rocks to the north of us. By late morning we were bowling along under full sail until, 30 miles later, the breeze died and we were motoring again. A liner leaving A Corruna passed us � heading for the Canaries or Maderia we wondered? Then the Torre de Hercules hove into view. This tall, square lighthouse is the symbol of the city and a light on this spot has marked the harbour entrance since Roman times. By 8pm we were rafted up alongside �The Great Escape� in the old fish dock. What a transformation since last October. Most of the fishing boats had gone and the dock was full of brand new pontoons � so new that they weren�t yet connected to any services or to the land but at least next time we visit there should be comfortable pontoon berthing at long last (they�ve been threatening it for over 20 years). As for our neighbour, she was over 18m long, built of steel and according to her owner a very famous English boat! Apparently she won trophies in a London-Sydney-London race in the seventies and also in a Round Britain Race. Now Dutch registered and German owned she is currently being restored whilst they sail south � Thailand is their ultimate destination where the owner said he was going to build a marina!

Does anyone know where you buy charts? Our extensive collection didn�t give us any detail for the north coast of Spain (we have better info on remote Caribbean islands onboard). In A Corruna no one was able to help and the one chandlery we found seemed to be permanently closed. In Gijon (He-Hon or He-Hong), our next stop we tried again  – the chandlery had two copies of the French equivalent of our Imray Biscay chart (mostly water like the chart in the Hunting of the Snark) and nothing else. How do the Spanish sailors manage to navigate? Or does this explain why you rarely see the Spanish ensign anywhere except Spain?  Or worse, perhaps there are only three ports on this coast: Gijon, Santander and Bilboa?

Gijon is a pretty town or rather city. It is the capital of the Asturias – the kingdom from which modern Spain was conquered. Well off the beaten track as far as tourists are concerned, wealthy with many designer clothes shops and upmarket deli�s and a huge modern port across the bay. The marina has a lovely setting, almost French � in the old port surrounded by stone quays topped with white railings. Close by are the �Termas Romanas del Campo Valdes�. Not many tourists get to this part of Spain, not even the Moors made it thus far north but the Romans did and their huge bath house is now an award winning museum. Even though we could understand little of the commentary or read few of the signs (everything is in Spanish) we appreciated what it was and the dedication of the archaeologists who managed to preserve it despite the ravages of the Civil War on the surrounding city. Apparently the local coal miners bombarded the garrison with sticks of dynamite so the Colonel ordered a navy warship in the harbour to bomb the town! Somehow the Roman ruins survived and today are preserved under a tree-lined square. It�s all very civilised with opening hours from 10am til 14 and then 17:00 til 20:00 and we were surprised how many visitors there were even on a weekday evening.

As the guide book put it, Gijon is a good place to indulge in a bit of shopping. We explored a cavernous deli, Oblanco�s, where the smell of the hams hanging from the ceiling and the cheeses piled behind the counter made us hungry. Up the broad wooden staircase was a bread counter and shelves of wine. We bought some Sidria, the local cider. It was very sharp and almost flat but once used to the tartness very apple-y and quite pleasant. Apparently the local bars make it �fizzy� by pouring it from a great height. Looking for a supermarket to buy shower cleaner we spotted a car park sign for a store-name we recognised, close to the newly refurbished Market de Sur. Laden with our clanking bag of sidria we wandered round outside of the building. Eventually having walked all the way round we found it, just feet from where we had been standing � the store was underneath the market building and was huge. Everything you could have wanted and more. It was obviously brand new. Like the deli the shelves were packed with lovely things to nibble � olives, nuts, boxes of chocolates. There were cheese counters, cooked meats and hams, a butchers, a fish stall, shelves of olive oil and wine and much more. It was nearly an hour later when we emerged with local cheese, a litre of Kefer (a brand of runny plain yoghurt in a jar) and of course, shower cleaner.

The wet, overnight trip to Gijon had exhausted both of us � three hours on and three hours off for watches wasn�t too bad but whilst in the UK we had both managed to acquire bad colds and with little sleep in A Corunna (the few remaining fishing boats in the dock left noisily at intervals starting at around 4:30am) we were now paying the price. Despite sleeping from when we arrived at 10:00am until the afternoon, it was an early night that night. The next morning there was a strange yellow ball in the sky � we hadn�t seen the sun since leaving the UK as the low in Biscay had covered the northern Spanish coasts in cloud for days. Where next?  With no detailed charts exploration of this pretty coast was impossible. The harbour master pointed us in the direction of a nautical bookshop � what we found was an Admiralty Chart Agent! At last we were spoilt for choice, in addition to all of HM�s UKHO offerings for this coast; the lady who served us had Spanish and French charts plus the British Pilot Guides for North and South Biscay. We settled down to coffee and churros (long, thin doughnuts) in a nearby caf� with two new detailed charts and both pilot books only to discover that most of the little coves and rias are inaccessible in strong north-easterlies or a big swell. We currently had both. Still it is an investment for the future, this rather �Cornish� coast has a magnetic appeal and we know we�ll be back one day. Further reading has shown us since that we really need a little boat that can dry out as most harbours are very shallow with not much space� a �trailer sailer� on the ferry to Bilboa then spend a summer month or two exploring this coast � well we can dream!