Everlasting summer

It’s the 7th of November and I’m finding it hard to believe that here in Aguadulce the temperature is still mid-20°C every day. Though the mornings and evenings are cooler now, I’m still wearing short sleeves and sandals, and summer just goes on and on. I wasn’t completely convinced by our winter choice of Aguadulce when we first arrived, but now that we’ve settled in, it’s quite grown on me.

So here we are in early November and the sky every day is of the deepest blue, and the great hulking orange rocky hill that rises up behind the marina is like a cardboard cut-out from a Western movie set against the impossibly blue sky.

Off I go to work...

Off to work I go…

Hardly a day goes by without a visit to the beach, only a brief two-minute walk from Carina. We don our swimwear, walk to the beach and plunge into the warm Mediterranean water without hesitation. It’s invariably warm. The water is crystal clear and most days is as still as a mill pond and, as I swim, I see small fish swimming beneath me.

I have to remind myself it's November

I have to remind myself it’s November

At night we sleep under a flimsy sheet and until a couple of nights ago, we kept the cabin hatch wide open all night. Some locals have told me it’s unusually warm for the time of year, others have told me it’s perfectly normal. Irrespective of who to believe, I’m certainly enjoying this extended summer.

Our lives revolve around this little patch of beach beside the marina.

Our lives revolve around this little patch of beach beside the marina.

Hallowe’en this year was a long way from the Hallowe’ens of my childhood. Growing up in Ireland, we did the rounds of all the neighbouring houses, then went to town to visit my Nana’s neighbour’s too. I remember adults and children dressed in home-made Hallowe’en costumes, performing on doorsteps, for sweets and money. We sang, told jokes, played musical instruments, often in the rain or the cold October wind. Then we would return home and play messy Hallowe’en games in the kitchen.

Cute little witches

Cute little witches

This year, we attempted to recreate those Hallowe’ens of my childhood. All week, we crafted ghosts and spiders and other festive decorations to hang around the boat. The girls dressed in the costumes Grandma gave them last year. Before leaving Carina we practiced some songs, accompanied by Julian on the recorder. Then we went around to visit some other boats in the marina, and entertained our neighbours with songs and some rather bad jokes. Our neighbours weren’t expecting Hallowe’en visitors, but they found rewards for our efforts nonetheless. Afterwards, back home on Carina, I introduced the girls to the various crazy and messy games that were such a huge part of my childhood Hallowe’ens.

What was strange was that Julian and I undertook our Hallowe’en visiting dressed in shorts and t-shirts! I’m not expecting to celebrate Christmas similarly attired!

PS…my latest published article ‘Learning by doing: Lessons from my Inuit teachers’ can now be viewed here on this blog.

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Blowing in the wind

By Julian

‘An Englishman, an Irishman and an American go to a football match.’ This may sound like the start of a bad joke but it happened on Saturday. Many things have occurred to us as a result of coming to Aguadulce. The chain of events that has put us here seems both random and fateful. There we were, sitting in L’Aber Wrac’h, northern France, making plans to investigate various French rivers where we might spend the winter, when I looked at the weather forecast and the tides that would carry us out of the channel to sea. It was as if some greater power was saying “Here it is. You have the perfect conditions to go to northwest Spain. Go across Biscay, do it now or you should forget it, the stars will not align for you in this way again.” Those conditions sped us to Galicia and, with all our inexperience, we rattled along. Even as we approached Spain and a thunderstorm raged around us a little patch of stars stayed above our heads and the sea was calm. The fog which followed lifted at dawn to let us into the sweet smelling Ria. The memory of that herbal smell off the land is stronger than both the sights and the sounds, as beautiful as they were.

Once we were across Biscay it became almost a certainty that we would try to get to the Algarve but, beyond that, our heads were filled with numerous options. Several places in Portugal, southern Spain, Gibraltar, Morocco and even further afield, east and west, were considered. Then another random, or fateful, occurrence: Martina’s cousin Sean and his wife Yvonne moved from Ireland to Almeria to teach English for a couple of years. This completely unconnected event changed everything. Aguadulce, near Almeria, was always going to be on our list of places we would consider, but so long was the list it was unlikely to be where we would end up; it needed an extra something to stand out. However, the chain of events and experiences seemed to suck us towards here as though we had crossed the event horizon of a black hole; someone had turned on a giant cosmic vacuum cleaner; the Death Star had us in its tractor beam and Chewbacca was growling hopelessly at the controls. Still, when we stepped from Carina in Aguadulce, instead of Darth Vader we found a friendly marina, a nice town and we were next door to a beach; perfect for swimming, with a lovely children’s playground.

The football match was Almeria versus Athletic Bilbao. I am the Englishman, Sean is the Irishman and Joe, Sean’s boss, is the American. It will not surprise many people that three blokes went to a football match but it sure as hell surprised me. I have spent 40 years on this Earth without managing to trouble the gates of a football stadium. I was a match-day virgin, a true 40 year old virgin. Thanks to Sean’s season tickets we sat behind the goal as a fast paced La Liga match unfolded. It was quite a first match to witness with Bilbao in the Champion’s League this season. To hold onto the analogy, it was like bypassing the girl next door and going straight for Penelope Cruz.

Another thing has happened that will no doubt amuse many of those who know me. I am a large hairy bloke, not the sort of person you would expect to find spending an hour on a Wednesday and Thursday morning sitting in an apartment with two young Spanish ladies, aged 26 and 28, discussing clothes and shopping, a copy of ‘Vanity Fair’ open on the table between us whilst we sip cold mineral water. However, that is exactly what I was doing last week. Thanks to Sean and Yvonne, Martina has fallen into a job teaching English, so she has passed these two eager students on to me. I am really enjoying the experience. Would this have happened given a prevailing southwesterly four months ago? We have been truly blown in on the wind.

Now for the most amazing thing: my dad has said that if the girls and I fly to England in January he will take the ferry and drive back to Aguadulce with us. Since meeting Martina over ten years ago dad has come to our wedding in Edinburgh and on a sailing trip to Cherbourg, France; but both those events were nine years ago. My brother persuades him to drive to Cornwall from time to time. If things work out and my dad leaves England to stay with us on the Costa del Sol that will truly be an unexpected highlight of this strange chain of events.

Fish, palm trees and…work

Rather unexpectedly, Julian and I have both found part-time jobs. Julian works a couple of mornings a week, and I work evenings. We had hoped we might find winter work, but never suspected it would happen so quickly or with so little effort on our part. It’s the sort of work we hoped to get, where our working hours are limited and our time with the girls isn’t compromised.

The new routine goes something like this: I spend my mornings with the girls. Reading, writing and maths practice for an hour after breakfast, followed by whatever educational opportunities crop up. For example, on Wednesday we took the washing to the Laundromat and went for juice/coffee and churros at a cafe around the corner while we waited. Lily asked if we could bring the drinking straws home so she could use them as flag poles. She wanted to make flags. So we had an impromptu geography and history lesson, as they made Irish and British flags and learned the symbolism of each flag’s colours and pattern. The evening before, the girls and Julian enjoyed an hour of looking at an atlas together, talking about where we had sailed from, the route we had taken, and much more besides.

Most days, either before or after lunch, the girls and I go to the beach for a quick swim. The water is crystal clear and, standing waist-deep (my waist) we are surrounded by multitudes of stripy and spotty fish. The girls and I are enthralled by these gorgeous creatures swimming so close to us and, one day, I took turns carrying Lily and Katie into water too deep for them to stand in, so they could observe the fish up close. Yesterday we found a dead sea cucumber, brown and spotty with rubbery appendages all over its body that looked like spikes. I scooped it up in a bucket for closer examination before Katie returned it to the sea.

Now I want two things – a Mediterranean fish recognition book and a book about palm trees and other trees that grow here. As with the beach, the marina is filled with a variety of beautiful fish. It’s like floating on top of an aquarium. I want to know the names of all those fish, and whether or how they are related to each other. The streets and beaches are lined with palm trees, about which I know nothing. I have quickly come to realise that there are as many different species as there are species of deciduous tree back home. Every day I look up at palm trees with different frond sizes and shapes, trees bearing all sorts of different shaped and coloured fruits, and trees with very different trunk patterns. Besides the palms, there are numerous evergreen trees, some with wispy delicate leaves, others with leaves bigger than my head. I want to know all about them. So, it’s time to get online and see if I can order some books.

On the mornings when Julian’s not working, he goes grocery shopping, or we all hang out together. Each day, in the late afternoon, I kiss everyone goodbye and head off to work for the evening, returning shortly after the girls have gone to bed. After a late dinner I try to get some writing done. I’m having to adjust to Spanish time – eating late and then working for a couple of hours before I go to bed. It’s taking some getting used to – I work best in the mornings and have never been very good at motivating myself after supper! But I’ll get used to it I’m sure.

Have you heard the one about the Inuit family?

There’s a joke – it probably exists in one form or another in every over-studied community in the world – that an Inuit family consists of the mum, dad, kids and the anthropologist! Well, in a community like the village on Ilha da Culatra, it was only a matter of time before I bumped into the anthropologist. There was bound to be one – this place has certainly got my anthropological juices flowing.

DSCI4591After a day on the beach we went for a beer. A woman with a dog asked if she could sit with us. She told us that she is conducting research on tourism on the island and is particularly interested in the relationship between the islanders and the yacht-owners. ‘Oh’, I said, my ears pricking up at the idea of doing research here. ‘What research methods do you use?’
‘I’m an anthropologist’, she replied.
‘No way! Me too!’ I exclaimed.
And that was the start of a conversation that was alas cut short by her having to run for the last ferry to the mainland. She’s got winter fieldwork planned and was in Culatra trying to find cheap accommodation for a few months. But she knew the island well, having been a teacher here a few years ago.

I too had wondered about the relationship between the islanders and the yachties and I’d be intrigued to read her findings. When we first arrived we were surprised by the number of boats at anchor close to the island. This was before I discovered the catamaran community around the corner. Each day we bump into the same sailors, from Britain, Ireland, Holland and elsewhere. I even met a South African who I first met in Brixham in 2012 when we did our VHF radio course together. Like many others, he is drawn back to Culatra every year, and finds it hard to leave.

DSCI4608There are a few at anchor like ourselves and our Dutch friends – people passing through on their way to someplace else. But the larger, semi-resident population at anchor spend every summer here – and summer is long – living on their boats and coming ashore late each afternoon to gather in one particular bar (the one closest to the harbour), where they sit together, conversing in English. And of course many in the catamaran community are permanently resident.

The anthropologist suggested, and we witnessed, some antagonism between the resident yachties and the locals. As happens all over the world, whether in tiny villages or large cities, there are those locals who embrace the outsiders, those who ignore them, and those who are antagonistic towards them. Similarly, there are the outsiders – the yachties in this instance – who make the effort to speak the local language and get to know the locals, and there are those who ignore the life of the village going on around them. Though all the locals we have met have been very friendly towards us (it’s like being back in Galicia again – the grandmothers grab Lily and Katie and plant big kisses on their cheeks), we felt there was some annoyance amongst the fisherman because of the little yachting dinghies clogging up the spaces in the fishing harbour. There’s also graffiti on the only public shower in town that says ‘Locals only’.

The appeals of returning to Culatra year after year are multiple. It is beautiful. There are no cars, and Lily and Katie have more freedom and independence here than ever before. In the past week they have made friends with local children. It reminds me of Arviat, or of Ireland when I was a child – doors are open, everyone knows everyone, life moves at a more relaxed pace. I like the quirkiness and uniqueness of island life; the wry jokes I’ve shared with a few locals (and how I wish I spoke Portuguese so I could talk to more people). If I was here for longer I would want to get involved in community life – I can’t help myself; it’s an occupational hazard of being an anthropologist. So while there is an appeal in returning to the same anchorage year after year, I wouldn’t want to do so to sit in the same bar, with the same other cruisers, and remain apart from the life of the community going on around me.

Arviat on the Algarve

DSCI4595This is more like it. This is my kind of place. We left Albufeira early in the morning to enter the channel that leads to Faro and Olhão at high water. Our plan was to anchor behind the barrier islands in the Rio Formosa. We had no idea what the place would be like, but the pilot book said that Olhão itself was far less tourist-orientated than other places along the Algarve. We anchored behind Ilha da Culatra, hoping to stay for a couple of days. We’ve been here for over a week and are loathe to leave!

The red Algarve cliffs end a few miles before Faro, replaced by an incredibly flat low-lying sandy coastline. Ilha da Culatra is one of a few barrier islands sheltering the sandbank littered waters on its northern shore from the breaking waves of the Atlantic. As soon as we entered the channel leading to the lee side of the islands, I exclaimed ‘It’s Arviat on the Algarve’, while Julian simultaneously said, ‘It’s the Mississippi’.

Even Arviat isn't this flat!

Even Arviat isn’t this flat!

The small village of Culatra lies only a couple of miles from two other villages, accessible across the sand at low water, but considered to be on separate islands. Ilha da Culatra is flat and mostly treeless, and from the sea it is a tiny thread of land separating the blue sea from the huge blue sky. It is the vastness of the sky, the flatness of the land, the lack of trees, and the profusion of small boats resting on the shore in front of the cluster of low houses that first reminded me so much of Arviat, my beloved ‘other home’ in the Canadian Arctic.

We anchored a short distance from the tiny village, and I couldn’t wait to get ashore.

Culatra's 'lively' town centre!

Culatra’s ‘lively’ town centre!

There are no cars; just a few small tractors to transport goods and people. The village is built on soft sand, with paved footpaths (with street names recalling local history and celebrated local fishermen) leading between houses, to the harbour, the shops, post office, library, the little school and the community hall. Very little grows here, but outside many of the small white-washed houses, in plots protected by fishing nets from the multitude of large and free-roaming island dogs, the villagers grow vegetables and fruits in the unforgiving sand. Brassicas are ubiquitous, and there’s the occasional sad-looking tomato plant. Lime trees are scattered around the village and we found a pomegranate tree growing outside one house (it’s safe from me…pomegranate is the one fruit I dislike). None of the plants or trees looked particularly fertile – indeed they looked like a lot of effort for very little return.

A typical vegetable patch

A typical vegetable patch

The island relies on fishing and tourism. Indeed, it was fishermen from the mainland who first settled the island in the 19th Century, attracted by its rich marine life, and eventually building homes and founding a community. These days the island men fish for sea bass and sea bream and cultivate mussels, and if the activity around the harbour is anything to go by, fishing is thriving. The island’s women gather clams from the beaches at low water, and we met clam-pickers carrying buckets and baskets and nets heavy with clams at each low tide. I was thrilled to see two octopuses hanging out to dry on the clothes line of one home!

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You thought I was joking, didn't you!

You thought I was joking, didn’t you!

The island also takes advantage of the many day-tripping tourists who arrive by ferry. There are a surprising number of cafes and bars, some of which appear to be people’s homes, converted for the long summer into hostelries. Service is simple and informal – uncapping a bottle of cold beer pulled from the fridge is the extent of it!

On 19th July 1987, the village en masse refused to participate in the national elections. They were protesting against the lack of assistance they received from the Portuguese government, feeling they were being forgotten and left behind. Their protest caught the government’s attention and since then the islanders have seen many improvements to their lives – the island got electricity in 1993, a health centre in 2006, water supply and sanitation in 2009, and a scheduled ferry service to Faro in 2010.

A typical 'street' in the village

A typical ‘street’ in the village

The island is a nature reserve, so no further development is allowed to take place. As a result, the newest houses look at least 30 or 40 years old, with only a few community buildings, such as the school, dating from more recently.

We arrived onshore late in the afternoon of our first day here. We quickly surveyed the village and then walked across the island to the expansive beach on the south side, where the Atlantic rolls in and crashes on the shore in waves just the perfect size for the children to play in. Since then, we have visited the beach every day, where the swimming is excellent!

Fun on the beach

Fun on the beach

In an effort to protect the delicate sand dunes and salt marshes from the constant train of visitors each day, a raised walk-way runs from the village to the beach.

Back in the village, Lily and Katie played with some local children at the playground, while Julian and I sat and drank a beer at a nearby bar. Large dogs roamed freely, in and out of the playground, ignoring the children, minding their own business.

I long to see the island in winter, when the tourists have departed. I suggested to Lily that she and Katie go to school here, and we could live in one of these tiny houses, pick clams and send Julian out bass fishing! My little fantasy!

Making friends

One of the things people often commented on as we prepared to set sail was the potential lack of children for Lily and Katie to play with. This didn’t concern me too much, as every book and blog I have read about sailing with children has reassured me there are plenty of other sailing parents out there, all eager to find play mates for their children at every opportunity.

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Before we even left Plymouth, Lily and Katie played with the three boys aboard Tarquilla, who had recently returned from a couple of years on the north coast of Spain. Despite the fact that the older two boys were twice Lily’s age, all five children played together with great enthusiasm.

In La Coruña we met the Dutch family aboard Tofino and our paths continued to cross as we sailed the Galician Rias. Though that little boy and girl were slightly too young for Lily and Katie to properly play with, the girls really enjoyed having them on board Carina and sharing their toys.

In Baiona we found ourselves anchored beside Tallulah May and, before our families had officially met, our girls and their 4-year old and 6-year old girls were shouting over to each other and bringing their toys into the cockpit for a show and tell. Over the past couple of weeks the four girls have played together at every opportunity – on each other’s boats, in parks, on beaches. This family from Somerset has also lived in one of the Plymouth marinas so the girls (and their parents) have much in common. The older of the two taught Lily and Katie to draw trees and animals and that one lesson has revolutionised the girls’ drawing abilities!

In Peniche we met three Swiss children aboard Lucy. They played aboard Carina and we briefly visited Lucy. The middle child was exactly Lily’s age and his sister only a couple of years older. Together the children talked and played and read stories.

And then there are the local children that Lily and Katie meet and play with on beaches and in playgrounds. Some children, like the amazing 9-year old we met at Louro, speak English, but most don’t. It doesn’t seem to matter. I’ve seen my girls play hide-and-seek and tag with Spanish girls and boys, somehow working out the rules even though they don’t share a common language.

While the girls don’t have opportunities to play with other children on a daily basis, they make friends quickly when they have the chance. It is delightful to see the confidence with which they engage with other children (and their parents) and to see the impact those brief encounters have on their abilities and on the way they play with each other.

Food wonders

Percebes - goose barnacles

Percebes – goose barnacles

We’re in mollusc heaven or mollusc hell, depending on your perspective. Mussels, clams, razor clams, cockles, and others we have yet to identify, are all on the menu here in Galicia. Our Irish/English sensibilities are still coming to terms with the sheer profusion of rubbery be-shelled creatures so beloved by Galicians and, while we’ve embraced some (in a purely culinary sense), there are others for which we lack the courage to take even a single bite.

To the north of Fisterre it was percebes (goose barnacles). Corme even had a statue in honour of the critters in the town square, and in the museum at Muros we were delighted by the percebes-inspired surreal paintings and sculptures of a local artist. Collecting percebes is dangerous, as they live in hazardous locations where waves lash against craggy shores. Fishermen tie themselves to rocks to avoid being washed into the sea by the waves, and these days they wear wetsuits for some scanty protection.

We arrived in San Julian de Illa de Arousa in time for the Fiesta de Navajas – the razor clam festival. We were thrilled to discover that this town is so enamored of the razor clam that it has its very own festival, complete with Spongebob Squarepants fairground rides, and more razor clams to eat than frankly I care to think about!

Ria de Arousa is Spain’s mussel capital. Let me share some statistics that made my eyes pop: The Galician Rias produce 95% of all mussels grown in Spain, and Spain itself produces 60% of the world’s mussels! There are 3,500 licensed bateas – mussel rafts – in the Rias, half of which are in Ria de Arousa. Beneath each raft hang 20-metre ropes on which the mussels grow. The more mathematically minded Julian assured me that this works out at 28.something percent of the world’s mussels are probably produced in the Ria de Arousa alone.

Fleet of mussel boats in San Julian

Fleet of mussel boats in San Julian

We’ve met many a yachtsman who has bemoaned the presence of these bateas, taking up their precious tacking space. I like them. They seem to be the least invasive or environmentally damaging form of aquaculture that I’ve come across, and the towns in the region seem to be prospering, despite Spain’s recent economic hardships. Horray for the lowly mussel.

In every tourist office in every town we are presented with a local mussel recipe booklet, containing some bizarre combinations from people trying too hard to make the most of mussels. Garlic, white wine and a crusty loaf of bread is all I need to dress up my mejillones. We’ve gathered enough from the rocks for a few dinners, but it’ll be a while before I try them a la pineapple!

Besides the ubiquitous mussels, there are 1,143 other shellfish farms in the Rias, mostly growing clams (I’ve been doing my homework). Julian and the girls have taken to joining the locals here in Cabo Cruz, where we are currently anchored, in digging for clams at each low water. Last night I added them to a paella; I’ve yet to decide what to do this evening.

Old cans at the cannery in San Julian

Old cans at the cannery in San Julian

From churches when we first arrived in Galicia, our cultural explorations now revolve around old canneries. There is a profusion of them along this coast, turned into museums celebrating each town’s canning history!! Who woulda thunk it? Those canned mussels, clams, cockles, not to mention sardines and other fishy wonders have found their way to all corners to the planet.

The cannery museum at San Julian

The cannery museum at San Julian

I wouldn’t choose molluscs for my last meal, and likely not my second last meal either. But I’m thoroughly enjoying the high esteem in which they are held here in Galicia. They are impossible to avoid, and given that they have inspired art and poetry and celebration, we at least can give them their due respect and eat a few. One of these days I’ll build up the courage to try a razor clam!

Fiesta de Virgen del Carmen

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Our sailing decisions are dictated by the weather. So, when the weather outlook suggested poor southerly sailing conditions after July 15th, we considered lifting anchor and departing the Ria de Muros, and sailing farther south while we had the opportunity. But that would mean missing out on the Fiesta de Virgen del Carmen in Muros on July 16th. Not convinced that we had made the right decision, we decided to hang around for the festival and leave sailing south for another time.

On the morning of the 16th we motored from our anchorage in Ensenada de San Francisco to the marina at Muros. Spanish flags hung from the balconies along the waterfront and fishing and pleasure boats were dressed in a carnival of flags. A huge fun fair had been set up along the seafront, as well as two huge stages and stalls selling everything from candy floss to handbags.

We met my friend Katie, who was joining us from the UK for a few days, and we all settled in for a day of fiesta fun. Throughout the afternoon the town was a hive of activity. A group dressed in traditional Galician dress played Galician pipes and drums in the square in front of the town hall. Families strolled the streets, and the cafes were all doing roaring business. Children were dressed beautifully in their best clothes – cute outfits and shoes that remind me of the formal dress that our parents and grandparents wore. The police and local civilian police were out in force, directing traffic as cars squeezed into every available parking space no matter how unsuitable. Towards high water, in later afternoon, we saw one car parked on the slipway with waves washing around the wheels!

At 6.30pm the ceremony began at the Catholic Church, however we didn’t attend due to our inappropriate dress. At around the same time, brightly bedecked boats – yachts, speed boats, fishing vessels large and small, dredgers – moved out of the harbour and around to the beach on the other side of the marina, where they jostled for space. One cruising family we know even decided to join the melee in their dinghy!

Some of us were more appropriately dressed than others!

Some of us were more appropriately dressed than others!

Shortly after 7pm the procession of the Virgen del Carmen departed the church and made its way through the town to the beach, accompanied by a mournful brass band. The Virgen, resplendent in gold dress and crown, and carrying the Child, stood atop a coffin representing all the fishermen who have lost their lives at sea, and was carried on the shoulders of men dressed in crisp white shirts and walking slowly in precise step with each other. Hundreds and hundreds of people followed the procession, many dressed in their best. The procession was accompanied by a deafening cacophony of noise from fireworks and the town siren sounding continuously. The brass band struggled to be heard above it all. The siren and fireworks grew louder and more persistent the closer the procession got to the waterfront where the boats, overloaded with passengers, awaited the arrival of the Virgen.

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Once at the waterfront the Virgen was transferred into one large boat, the brass band climbed aboard another, and the procession continued across the water, with all the boats following the lead boat carrying the Virgen as it did a loop across the bay in front of the town before returning, more than half an hour later, to its place close to the beach. The Virgen was then returned to shore and once again, amid sirens, fireworks and the sound of the brass band, processed through the streets once more and returned to her place in the church. It was a rousing and moving experience that appealed to my anthropologist and Catholic sensibilities!

DSCI4087By 9pm the party was in full swing. We strolled along the waterfront and this time, having budgeted some money for the fun fair rides, the girls found amusement. Close to 11pm the first band appeared on stage – a fabulous ensemble of salsa dancers and singers – covering a mixture of Spanish and English songs, and we danced along. Later, after the rest of us had long gone to bed, Julian stayed out and was entertained by a Michael Jackson tribute act! At midnight we were treated to a spectacular fireworks display of a standard that I’ve rarely seen outside Japan.

Shortly after midnight all of us, except Julian, were ready for bed, partied out and senses overwhelmed! Julian came home at 3am, and the next day told us that children of Lily’s and Katie’s ages were still packing out the fun fair rides! My kids are such lightweights!!

We had missed our southerly sailing window, but it was worth it. We (and our guest, Katie) had enjoyed a most spectacular fiesta and a delightful slice of Catholic Spanish culture.

Beach Interlude

For a week we sat at anchor at the Ensenada de San Francisco, around the peninsula from the town of Muros. We had been there for two nights before going to the marina at Muros, and we were so enamoured by the place that we couldn’t wait to get back for a more extended stay.

The sharp rugged peaks on the western side of the bay stood out against the deep blue sky, and the golden beaches glittered in the sun. Each morning we took our time aboard Carina, enjoying leisurely breakfasts, reading, writing and doing maths with the girls, and attending to chores. Julian repaired the genoa furler and made sewing repairs to the sail itself. We thoroughly cleaned the boat, and over the course of the week I caught up on laundry. I hand-washed on deck and the clothes dried in a matter of hours in the scorching sun. I wrote at my leisure and the girls enjoyed some craft activities. Lily sewed a cushion from a kit she had been given as a birthday present and then sewed a handbag from some knitted scraps I had lying around; and together the girls made and wrote birthday cards for Grandad and his twin sister, Aunty Alison.

Busy sewing above....

Busy sewing above….

...and below deck.

…and below deck.

After lunches of salad, chorizo and crusty bread in the cool of the saloon, we headed to shore. On a few of the days, Julian rowed the girls to shore, and I chose to swim. After the heat of the boat the sea was too inviting to resist, so I slipped into the cooling water and swam the 300 or 400 metres to shore.

After mornings in the close confines of the boat, afternoons and evenings on the beach at Louro were sheer joy. The girls and I didn’t venture far from the dinghy – there was no reason to – while Julian went off on long exploratory walks.

From our dinghy base on the soft golden sand we swam in the warm azure water, built sandcastles and played on the rocks. It was such a safe and quiet beach that I was happy to let the girls play in the gently lapping water while I sat close by and read my book, or alternatively, for them to play on the sand or amongst the rocks while I swam lengths parallel to shore where I could keep an eye on them.

Not far from home!

Not far from home!

We met the same people on the beach every day – Spanish holiday-makers of all ages – who were friendly and kind. On our last day the girls befriended a family of three children. The nine year old, Sophia, spoke excellent English from attending an English academy two evenings a week, and the five children played together for hours.

We left the beach around 8.30 each evening and walked along the street to the supermarket to buy the next day’s provisions and to have cold beer (for the adults) and orange (for the kids). By 9.30 we were back on the boat, cooking a quick late supper and in bed by midnight.

Each new day was much the same as the one before. It was a lovely pleasant relaxing interlude amidst our generally shorter visits to places. I could have stayed another week, but the weather changed and we had other places we wanted to be.

Ria de Muros – a little bit of heaven

It feels like a long time has passed since I last wrote about our travels. We’ve been to quite a few places in a short space of time, but have been without Internet access in most of them.

In Corme we enjoyed a long walk through a rural landscape very different to any we’ve walked in since our journey began. Just a short distance inland the air grew heavy and oppressive, and the plants, birds and insects were new to us. As the children played at a woodland playground behind a stretch of protected sand dunes we encountered our first lizard – a little lime green fellow basking in the sun on a kerb.

Katie on the beach at Corme

Katie on the beach at Corme

We had fun on the beach at Corme, swimming in the crystal clear water, and one evening we had a barbecue on a huge beach that we had all to ourselves. But we were constantly looking to the sky during our stay at Corme, willing the dark clouds to stay away. Alas, they never complied, and all those wet sandy clothes from days on the beach caused me no small amount of annoyance.

Most of our last twenty-four hours in Corme were bumpy and misty, until the wind changed suddenly, shortly before dawn, and all was calm and clear again.

We had a delightful sail from Corme to Ria de Camariñas, 20 miles farther along the Costa del Morte – the Coast of Death(!) – and spent the night in the Club Nautico de Camariñas – the most inexpensive marina we’ve been to…ever! Arriving into Camariñas the genoa (the large sail at the front of the boat) refused to furl and Julian had to drop it and quickly stow it in the fore cabin (Lily and Katie’s bedroom). A pin had come out of the roller furler, causing the furling mechanism to jam. Our genoa at present is folded and stuffed into the aft heads.

The Club Nautico had that same international feel as Falmouth. It was small and intimate, with yachts from the US, Australia, the UK and, of course, the Dutch and French yachts that are ubiquitous along this coast. With the genoa out of action, we considered staying in Camariñas for a few days. It was cheap, with access to fresh water, electricity, and free Wifi, and the club’s cafe/bar was only 20 metres from our boat! But the forecast suggested that if we didn’t leave the next day then we would be in for an uncomfortable few days with the wind hitting us on the pontoon or at anchor. So, despite the advantages offered by Camariñas, we spent less than 18 hours there, and were once again out on the water.

The last town on the Coast of Death!

The last town on the Coast of Death!

There was no wind anyway on the next leg of our journey, so genoa or no genoa, there was no sailing to be had. We motored for six hours in dead calm, past Fisterra – the most westerly point of mainland Europe – and were, for the first time since departing Plymouth, not on a south westerly course. We were past the Costa del Morte and into the Ria de Muros.

The Ria de Muros is heavenly. The mountains are rugged, the beaches are long, golden and sandy, the water is aquamarine, and the sky is the bluest blue. Picturesque ancient towns and villages are nestled amongst the hills. These collections of white-walled, orange-roofed buildings look pretty from a distance, and once amongst them, they are warrens of narrow cobbled streets, with fountained plazas and ancient stone churches.

The beach at Louro

The beach at Louro

We spent our first two nights at anchor off the beach in Louro, the first very touristy town we have come to. On our first morning we rowed to shore. The girls and I spent the day on the beach, never going more than 20 metres from our dinghy, with its supplies of food, water and sunscreen. We built sandcastles and swam in the warm sea. Lily really got to grips with swimming without any buoyancy aids for the first time. The water was warm enough for her to want to stay in for a long time, and she swam her little heart out. Each time she’d say ‘Just one more try’, and I had to tell her she could keep at it for as long as she wanted. By the time Julian returned from a few hours of exploring the nearby town of Muros she was swimming a few metres (assisted by the incoming waves) and keen to show Dad her new-found skills.

We lifted anchor this morning and motored the couple of miles around the corner to Muros. The marina is lovely, with the office and facilities situated in an old house. I’m currently sitting in a large cool living room with lots of comfy sofas. The showers are beyond luxurious, there’s a shaded garden, and even a coffee machine in the kitchen. For live aboard cruisers – as many of the sailors around here are – this is luxury indeed.

Muros

Muros

Tomorrow we will explore the town some more, as I carry on with getting laundry done. My priority at this marina is getting all the bedding washed. We’re all in sleeping bags tonight, as our duvets, sheets and pillowcases are all in various stages of being washed and dried!!