October 2001 – Heading South

On October 5 our house sale was finally completed and two new deep cycle batteries were installed on the boat – hopefully these would solve the problem with the auto-pilot which had been regularly complaining of low batteries after only a few hours work. We also had to re-seal a dorade vent in a forward hatch after it leaked in all the rain we had!!

Nearly a month later we finally recorded in our log that we were eventually heading for a port in the direction of our planned destination of Portugal!  The weather was awful throughout October – gale after gale swept through from the Atlantic and some hung around for days before giving way to yet another low. We left Wales on October 8 motoring in a F2 heading for Benodet in France. Around 5 pm the log records us as sailing with no reefs and our no 1 genoa up in a F4 westerly. The log is then empty until almost 20 hours later – we were too busy during the night managing the boat and sorting ourselves out to record anything more than a quick plot on the chart! At around 2 am the on-watch, Susie & Will heard a thud and the main came rattling down seconds later. It had split some 18 inches below the head leaving a small white flag flying at the masthead. We quickly sorted ourselves out and put the engine on – it was a good job the batteries had been replaced as the seas were now big meaning a lot of work for the autopilot but what a waste of a good north-westerly motoring southwards! We headed for Falmouth some 40 miles or south of us. The first mate succumbed to mal-de-mare on this trip and the cabin boy was promoted to stand watches on his own after a sterling performance.

The local sailmakers couldn’t start a repair for us for nearly a week but fortunately at the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club they recommended a sail maker in Penryn who not only collected the sail immediately but returned it the following day. On October 12 we finally made it away from the UK with a good forecast but a bit light on wind – what there was came from the east.

We left shortly after 9:00 am motoring south to Cameret on the Brittany coast. During the night we recorded 6 hours of sailing out of a total passage time of 23.5 hours (144 nautical miles). The sun was shining and it and the succeeding days in Cameret were mostly warm sunshine. However Cameret is a very open harbour and with heavy winds once more forecast the following day we made the trip up the Rade De Brest past the city to the shelter of the marina there. Big mistake… firstly the shops in Cameret were a pleasant walk past the cafes and bars on the seafront – in Brest it took a 30 minute bus ride into the city to find food. Secondly there was little room on the visitors pontoon so we were sandwiched between two fishing boats and a 100 foot grockle boat – one fishing boat left at 4am or so to work, returning around 9am! The final and biggest mistake became clearer later!

As Brest was wet, windy and not particularly interesting we returned to Cameret  – at least there were people to speak to and a choice of reasonably priced restaurants. One sunny afternoon the crew walked over the headland between the showers passing a French TV film crew at the top of the sand dunes. The Atlantic facing sandy beach has large notices forbidding swimming (dated June 2001!) and the dunes behind are a nature reserve.   On the top are the ruins of a house that was obviously used to house a couple of tanks during the war…according to the sign it has been in ruins since. The ground all over the headland is pockmarked with craters and gun emplacements are on every corner of the cliffs.

There were many boats in the harbour waiting to go south and the weather forecasts grew worse and worse. Eventually Oct 19th looked like offering a 24 hour window in which we could make a good way south towards Spain. We had contemplated heading around the Bay following the coast but realised that the distance to La Corunna or Baiona from the south-east corner were much the same as from Cameret! So we headed out – motoring again… by now it must have become apparent that we either have too much wind or not enough! It stayed that way until early November!! The log records that we managed to sail for an hour or so the following morning and again for a few hours during the afternoon but mostly we motored with a couple of reefs in to enable whoever was on watch to cope with the frequent thunderstorms without having to wake up the others. For the first time in his life the Skipper was sick – now all three of us have suffered during a passage and since then everyone has been fine. He put it down to stress!! By late evening on October 20 we had completed around half of the miles – our celebration quickly came to an end when at 1:30 on Oct 21 our biggest mistake in Brest came home to roost… we’d taken on board very wet diesel ….14 litres of water in 160 litres of fuel – as the engineer who helped us sort it out later said ” Yanmar engines are very reliable but even they won’t burn water”.

We sailed whilst Kevin struggled through the night with the engine – the filters were clean, the water separator showed no division between water and diesel. It turned out later that the separator was actually full of water! Hours were spent beating up and down off La Corunna – it always seemed to be 27 miles to go according to the chart plotter. At one point Temptress was doing 3 knots through the water against a 2 knot current. Everyone was frustrated – the land east of La C appeared and then disappeared again as we tacked west until eventually the wind moved round and we were able to head straight in to the harbour. With the help of a Yacht Club Bosun we picked up a mooing buoy under sail – Will dropping the main at just the right moment otherwise boat and buoy would have danced off across the bay! We had covered 464 nautical miles – almost 120 more than the direct route!! The bosun was just the right person to meet – he rapidly organised for a Yanmar qualified engineer to visit and two days later the engine was fixed – a small hole in the exhaust was also welded. Meanwhile we explored La Corunna’s narrow streets and the Sedov, the worlds largest tallship, which just happened to be in town on her way to Seville and we met up with some of the boats from Cameret. We also began to adjust to Spanish time – not just one hour ahead of the UK but a completely different time table. Hearing 2pm described as ‘this morning’ about sums it up… lunch is from 2-3 pm, restaurants and bars don’t start to open until around 9pm. The main square in La Corunna in the evenings though was full of people (families) walking and chatting to one another – promenading I suppose. Don’t expect to pop to the shop for milk or another forgotten essential between 12:30 and 3pm as they are firmly shut – even the local Spar!   After a full Spanish lunch in the Yacht Club (3 courses plus a glass of wine or beer and coffee around £5.00) at 8pm on Oct 24 we headed round Cabo Finnesterre for Baiona – the King of Spains Yacht Club.

What a glorious trip – yes again we were under engine as it was F2 from the south or south west all the way but when the sun came up on Oct 25 there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Temptress headed in between the Ilas Cies and the mainland as we approached the Ria de Vigo. The scenery is rocky and high with pine trees on the tops and golden beaches below- if you ignore the waves it is very like the Italian Lakes!   Baiona is a fairy tale location – the castle walls around the headland, the yacht club building just to the left of these but part of the grounds and then to the left again the town curves around, complete with a replica of the Pinta (the boat that accompanied Christopher Columbus and brought back news of the discovery of the New World).   Behind the more modern seafront buildings are a myriad of narrow cobbled streets and old granite buildings. Most of the town used to be inside the walls until for ‘defence purposes’ in the 17th century it was rebuilt half a mile of so away in its present position – apparently whole buildings were taken down, moved and rebuilt!

Once again the weather forecast was not good so we bided our time so******ing with the other crews, walking the castle walls, climbing up inside the Virgen De La Roca to stand in the boat she holds in her hand. It supposedly takes 7 but was uncomfortably crowded with 4 adults and small dog! The statue is not high – only 15 metres but it stands on the headland 100 metres above sea level so the views out over the Ria are unrivalled. In amongst the pine trees on the ground below are an odd mixture of crosses, an altar table of granite and picnic tables!! We and the crew of Autumn Breeze then walked the length of the seafront in search of a roman bridge which we never did find – a look at the map later indicated we turned around just 200 yards short of it! However we did have a good lunch in a seafront restaurant.

Finally on October 30th Temptress of Down and Autumn Breeze ‘sailed’ south to Portugal at long last – but yet again asking ourselves why we either have gale force winds or nothing. Autumn Breeze is the first boat Pat(rick) and Angie have owned. She was built in the 1970’s as a wooden racing yacht but around 15 years of so ago was converted into a gentlemans cruising yacht with oak linen-fold panelling in her saloon and a complete dinner service from a Dartmouth pottery. The only amenity is a baby-blue Baby Blake (for the uninitiated this is the Rolls Royce of boat loos with chrome levers and valves and a full sized porcelain bowl) standing like a throne in the middle of the forepeak!  On deck Autumn B has a myriad of fittings some of which Pat has no idea what they could be used for – Kevin managed to solve one of them – the 2 foot long highfield levers are to tension the runners that hold up the mast when going downwind! The boat has an interesting history – the previous owner bought a bigger boat but couldn’t bear to part with her so built a boathouse on a creek up the Dart from which, with her more than 8 foot draught, she could only leave on an Equinoxial Spring tide!! Hence Angie and Pat having purchased her at Christmas had to wait until March to actually get her home to Suffolk.

We spent a couple of nights in what must rank as one of the world’s dirtiest marinas – the port of Leixeos – the second largest port in Portugal but you won’t find it on a map. The local towns have different names  – the one outside the marina entrance is Leica de Palmeira. A 45 minute bus ride to the wonderful old city of Oporto, it was good to escape the sight and smell of the marina (fishing boats and oil jetties guarantee that the air is foul). For some reason Will decided not to come – he missed a treat. Narrow “streets” cling to the sides of the valley and tumble down towards the smelly river Duoro. Everywhere is dusty, in need of a good coat of paint. Designer shops rub shoulders with those whose goods and fittings seem to have changed little since the early 20th century. Many of the tall narrow buildings are covered in traditional yellow and blue coloured tiles. It’s a jumble of wholesalers, retailers, tourist shops and workers cafes. Lunch was 2 courses plus coffee and wine and port (of course) – excellent quality for a little over £3.50! As we turned each corner convinced there could be no more down hill there was the river way down below… eventually we made it in the hot afternoon sun across the lower bridge (several of Oporto’s bridges are two storied). We sat outside Sandemans Port House in Vila Nova de Gaia with cooling drinks, enjoying the view of Oporto as it climbs dizzily up the hills opposite like a crazy multi-coloured patchwork. Then off to a Port House where you didn’t have to pay for a tour and we wandered around enjoying the cool, dank air past barrels of 40 year old port before tasting some of the produce and purchasing a bottle or two.

It was a long climb back up the hills to the square by the University to catch the bus – the queues here were like those in London at rush hour as everyone seems to travel by bus. In the morning Temptress left her new friends as they wanted to explore the city some more and we wanted to head south once again.