Reliving the past

Last night I completed the first draft of my book. It’s a nice feeling, but I know that the hard work lies ahead, as I set about re-writing, editing, and filling all those ‘xxx’ gaps that litter the text with meaningful facts and figures. The book is about our journey so far. I dislike the misuse and abuse of the word ‘journey’. But in our case, it really is a journey. Not some figurative ‘journey’ to personal growth and wisdom, but a literal journey from Cambridgeshire to the Mediterranean, via Devon, Cornwall, Ireland, France, Spain Portugal and Gibraltar.

In the past couple of weeks of frenetic writing I’ve delved into my diaries and blog posts to help recall the quickly-fading images of the places we visited in Spain and Portugal in 2014. Reading those accounts has left me with an intense sense of natsukashii, that Japanese feeling of nostalgia and longing brought on by memories of the past.

DSCI4213How I long to revisit some of those wonderful places we had the privilege to explore last year. As I read my accounts of As Piscinas I could see the glistening water on the smooth rocks again, feel the warm fresh water on my body as I swam in the river’s pools, hear the wind rustling through the trees that lined the banks of the river. The thought that we had spent two days at in this small piece of paradise but may never go there again brought on a strong sense of natsukashii.

DSCI4425Our two days exploring Porto will remain with me for a long time, but reading my accounts written at the time have brought back minute details that I had forgotten and which have reignited in my mind images of gentrified apartments amongst the port warehouses, an old woman’s underwear hanging out to dry between two trendy restaurants on the north bank of the Douro, and the narrow streets, each with its own unique and delightful idiosyncrasies. Porto is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited – it rates only slightly behind Rome in my estimation. And, unlike an obscure river up in the northwest of Spain, there’s a good likelihood I’ll visit Porto again some day.

DSCI4573Nine days anchored off Ilha da Culatra on the Algarve was not enough, which is why we are toying with the possibility of going back there again this summer. It reminded me of my other home, Arviat, on the west coast of Hudson Bay. The island is a sand bar, populated by a couple of hundred people. There are no roads, no vehicles apart from a couple of tractors and a few golf buggies. Reading my diaries led me to reminisce about the clam picking old women, the communal outdoor shower where we got to know other live-aboards while waiting our turn to wash or refill water bottles, the octopus hanging up to dry on a clothesline, and the friendships Lily and Katie made with local and sailing children.

It’s less than six months since we had these wonderful experiences, but already my memories are dimming. The intense sensual pleasures of these places – the swimming, the sun on our bodies, the foods we ate, the birdsong, the trees and the wind and the ocean – are fading. Reading my diaries and blog posts have brought them rushing back into my life again. I’m reading about things we did that I had completely forgotten about. Julian has a better memory for these things than I do. Maybe that’s why I need to write it all down.

This is not the first time that reading diaries or blog posts or research field notes have swept me away to another time or place. It is one of the great joys of writing that any time you desire, your senses can be reawakened, places, people and experiences can be brought back to life, and that bittersweet sense of natsukashii can envelop you.

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My top destinations

by Julian

It is the end of the year and since we started out in 2012 we have covered 3000 miles in Carina. I have already reviewed when things go wrong, so for balance I thought I would highlight some of the best places we have been to. I have chosen one destination in each country we have visited, though there are many other fabulous places in all five countries.

Tresco – Isles of Scilly, Cornwall, England

TrescoCollageWe moored on either side of Tresco. In New Grimsby Sound on passage to Ireland and in Old Grimsby Sound on the way back. I’ve heard people be a bit sniffy about Tresco because the south end of the island is so well tended. But in fact this is one of the most stunning things about it. It is an island of two extremely different halves. Of course the views everywhere are incredible. When the sun is out the beaches have the feel of a south pacific island. The moorings are a bit pricey but it is possible to anchor. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there. See the blog posts: Hungry sailors in Tresco and Falmouth to the Isles of Scilly.

Muros – Ria de Muros, Galicia, Spain

MurosCollageThe town is absolutely lovely with its old narrow streets overlooking a nice bay. The marina is pricey, but probably the best I have ever stayed in, with the office, lounge and laundry all set in an old converted cottage. It has a great family feel about it. If you love fish Muros is certainly a top destination too and we were there for the fabulous Virgin del Carmen fiesta with its waterborne parade. Despite the comments in the pilot guide about anchoring difficulties plenty of yachts anchored in the bay with no major issues. However, our best time was away from the town, when we anchored off a beach around the corner. I could walk into Muros and we could swim or row to the beach to play for the afternoon. We even collected delicious mussels at low water, whilst some locals were picking the razor clams. See the blog posts: Ria de Muros – a little bit of heaven, Fiesta de Virgin del Carmen and Beach Interlude.

Culatra – Algarve, Portugal

CultraCollagePeople just anchor here and stay for the whole summer and I can see why. What a fantastic place. Away from the traffic children can run around in relative safety, they cannot go far because it is a small island. Many people just seem to hang around barbequing fish that have been collected by the fleet of small, often single person boats. There is also the community of catamarans in the lagoon, some of which are permanent inhabitants. Ferries to Olhao and Faro mean that you can get everything you might need, but it is fun to just stay on the island and meet the people, including sailors from all over Europe. See the blog posts: Have you heard the one about the Inuit family, Old cats and Arviat on the Algarve.

L’Aber Wrac’h – Brittany, France

LaberwracCollageI just love the many faces of L’Aber Wrac’h. You can moor upriver at Paluden, away from the bustling marina of La Palue, or hang out and meet the many interesting sailors (and rowers), from all over the world, passing through on their adventures. There are beautiful walks in the woods, the hills and along the beaches, with their cockle picking opportunities. Nice towns you can walk to (or catch the bus), and of course the chance to sample the delicious food of Brittany. But probably the most spectacular thing is the entrance itself with impressive granite rocks and a giant imposing lighthouse in the backdrop (Possibly the tallest in the world). It is a great staging post for an adventure. See the blog post: Brittany.

Derrynane – County Kerry, Ireland

filename-derrynane-harbourDerrynane has a tight entrance, only to be attempted in good weather, but once in you are safe at anchor, in a beautiful cove. If the weather turns bad you’ll have to stay there and wait it out though. The sort of place where you can swim from the boat to the beach, explore all around the fantastic dunes and rocks, finding a variety of interesting places to play and chill out. It has a great pub too. What more do you want? See the blog post: Dolphins divers and Derrynane.

Conclusion

Well that’s it for now, except to say that I would feel bad without at least a mention of some other places which could have made this list.

Falmouth, Fowey, Penzance, The Yealm and Mevagissey – England.

Horseshoe Harbour – Sherkin Island, Glandore, Crookhaven and Lawrence Cove – Bere Island – Ireland.

Camaret sur Mer – France.

Porto – Portugal.

Ria de Viveiro, La Coruña, Rianxo, Bayona (all of Galicia really) – Spain.

3000 miles but not all plain sailing

by Julian

Over the last three years, we have sailed 3000 miles in Carina. Almost all of this has been just the four of us. It is the end of the year, so time for reflection and where better to start than with the things that went wrong.
JulianSailingWhen we set out, our open water sailing experience was about 1600 miles for me and 600 miles for Martina. But this is meaningless. Martina’s 600 miles were 50% as crew and 50% as a passenger. She had completed her RYA yachtmaster theory and her RYA dayskipper practical, but she wasn’t even close to sailing a boat independently. I had lots of experience sailing small boats inland, I had completed my RYA coastal skipper practical course but not attempted the exam, and I had skippered a yacht a couple of times but  always with someone more experienced on board. So we were bound to make some mistakes when we set out.

WHERE IT ALL WENT WRONG!

1. Don’t assume there isn’t a gas rig there

Our first major crossing to Ireland two years ago involved a black night with very thick fog. We were still many miles off the Irish coast when we started to hear a strange signal. What was it? I woke Martina and we both went up on deck. It wasn’t a ship. There was nothing marked on the paper chart and we were just about to check the electronic chart plotter when a voice came over the radio “This is the stand-off boat for the Head of Kinsale gas rig. Your present course will take you into a restricted area. Please alter course.” A quick zoom in on the chart plotter revealed that we were a mile away from the restricted area. We altered course and ten minutes later the thick fog lifted to reveal two giant gas rigs lit up like Christmas trees. In fact they reminded me of the flying saucer in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

2. My ‘Open Water 2 : Adrift’ moment

We had just put the sails on Carina for the first time and were out for our first ever sail when we anchored in a cove near Torquay. We were sitting happily in the cockpit when Lily decided to throw the winch handle overboard. I am a strong swimmer and have some experience as a diver. We were in a sheltered cove, near a beach and the water was about 5 metres deep. I reckoned I stood a chance of retrieving the winch handle, so I jumped in. The water was too murky to find it. I then realised that, unlike the charter yachts I’d been on previously, I couldn’t get back on board Carina! Of course at that time I hadn’t yet made my rope ladder and the dinghy was deflated and stowed on deck. After several attempts and great difficulty I eventually managed to pull myself on board with the help of a rope chucked over the side, but I know I looked pretty stupid.

3. Headlands on a lee shore

It took me two years of sailing Carina and three similar situations, for me to learn a valuable lesson about rounding headlands. If you are sailing close hauled, never assume the tack you are on will get you around a headland. First, the wind is blowing you onto shore. Second, no matter how insignificant the headland, there will often be a change in wind direction, usually strengthening as well, along with worsening sea conditions. Effectively sailing single handed in 2012, with Martina taking care of the kids (one reason why I probably hadn’t attempted to change tack), I was thankfully able to react before things got out of hand. Heart in mouth I usually don’t bother to tell anyone, I’m sure I’d only worry them. Now I know why my dad was never happy sailing like that!

4. Slipping the anchor

Twice this year we have slipped the anchor. The first time was near Truro, Cornwall, England. For various reasons, I didn’t have enough chain out. The wind got up and steadily built to a fierce onshore near gale. The bay shallowed gently and we were about to go aground. Martina tried to turn the engine on and the throttle didn’t work. We went aground. I quickly got into the dinghy and motored out to throw in an extra anchor upwind of Carina. The extra anchor held us and as the rising tide re-floated us I had time to look at the engine. Somehow the throttle cable had popped out of the new control lever we had only just had fitted by Dicky B Marine in Plymouth. This was only the second day of using it since it was fitted. Luckily it didn’t cost us our boat or our lives.

The second time was in Ria de Arousa, Spain. This time a less dangerous but equally strong offshore breeze got up, and the next thing I knew we were bumping up to a large buoy of one of the mussel rafts (the raft itself was thankfully on the beach). A little epoxy filler was needed and I pulled up the greenest stretch of anchor chain I have ever seen.

5. We’re not where we thought we were!

We had already successfully sailed through the Chenal du Four in Brittany once, so maybe I was a bit too casual on the return trip north last year. I completely misidentified a mark. We don’t have a chart plotter in the cockpit so it is necessary to pop down to the chart table to see the electronic chart. Thankfully things looked wrong enough that I did just that. We were out at sea but had I not altered course things could have been messy as rocks were not far from the surface. On another occasion I entered the Ria de Arousa through the wrong channel. Not that this wasn’t possible, given the relatively good conditions of the day, it was just not what I had planned. I could see the marks and they looked fine but the rocks looked awfully close together. I popped down and had a look at the plotter. We were fine but I was sure my passage plan of the morning didn’t look quite like this. It wasn’t until after the sail I realised what had happened.

6. When the wind blows

In 2013, my friend John joined us for a trip to France. He had been on boats before but had never done any sea sailing. Heading from Fowey to Roscoff the forecast gave west-southwest to southwesterly winds which would give us at least 50 degrees sailing off the wind. Force 4 to 5, occasional showers (some thundery) didn’t sound too bad. At 12 tonnes, Carina is a heavy boat for her 36ft, and she doesn’t have a large sail area. Nevertheless, given the crew and the night crossing, I put a reef in the mainsail and reefed in some of the headsail, reducing their area, and we travelled along a little slower than we could have done. Then I spotted the thunderstorm. I thought it would miss us but it didn’t. I should have reacted in precaution but I didn’t and the storm hit us relatively quickly. The next 30 minutes were accompanied by force 7 to 8 winds, with two gusts just tipping over to force 9. This was made even more spectacular by the continual lightning flashing all around, the earsplitting thunder and the violent horizontal hailstorm making it nearly impossible to see anything. Somehow we got through it without anything breaking (apart from the toilet seat). What a ride for a first time sailor! I can only say John proved himself to be a pretty tough cookie. He didn’t abandon us the moment we got to France and he proved very useful on the helm for someone with so little experience.

Conclusion

It’s not all plain sailing. However, incidents are getting fewer. I don’t sail close to lee shores unless I am coming into port and absolutely have to (generally the engine will be running even if still under sail). I check every inch of the passage on the most up to date detailed chart I possess and always work on the assumption that there is going to be something unexpected out there, I just don’t know about it yet. Starting out as relative amateurs we have sailed 3000 miles aboard Carina and, whilst neither of us are great sailors, we are getting a lot better. One thing for certain is that things do go wrong. We just have to work at reducing the risks and making sure we know how to deal with problems when they occur.

Celtic skin, GAA and kite surfing

Carina and Katie dwarfed by the huge beach

Carina and Katie dwarfed by the huge beach

‘Mum, they’re speaking English’. I hear this from Lily five or six times an hour every time we step off Carina. We are in the Algarve and, for the first time since leaving the UK, we are not the lone British-Irish family amongst the majority local Spanish and Portuguese. Even in Nazaré, the first tourist town we came to on the Portuguese coast, most of the tourists were Portuguese. But here on the Algarve we are surrounded by Irish and, to a lesser extent, British holiday-makers. Everything is geared towards tourism here – waiters, shop assistants and tour operators all speak English (indeed many are English or Irish); menus and signs are written in English; and the shops sell a jaw dropping array of tourist tat. In Alvor, on Saturday evening, I was drawn trance-like into an Irish pub, by the sounds of Gaelic football on the television, and watched ten minutes of the Mayo-Kerry replay before I had to leave. Football, especially at this time of year, chokes me up.

And because we are in a tourist region, prices for everyday food items are staggeringly high. Julian came home earlier today with a few bags of basics, with his wallet 45 euro lighter! If it weren’t for his foraging we would all have to go on crash diets! Earlier this week he found a roadside tree laden with ripe figs – my hero!!

Delicious sweet ripe figs

Delicious sweet ripe figs

Each day we meet other families who assume that we too are holiday-makers and we find ourselves living in a strange liminal zone of not being holiday-makers but not quite being not tourists either. To Portuguese we are indistinguishable from the hordes of other short-term visitors, and gone are the pleasant conversations with locals, and the special treatment shown to Lily and Katie. We meet Irish families who have just arrived, skin white as sheets, and those about to depart, skin red as lobsters. I hadn’t realised how tanned I had become until I compared myself to my compatriots!

In Alvor, just along the coast from the large resort town of Lagos, we anchored amidst kite surfers, dreaded jet-skiers (grrrrr), and boat loads of tourists on hour-long trips along the coastline. As we came into the marina at Albufeira, we ran the gauntlet of RIBs packed to capacity with holiday-makings, speeding in and out of the harbour at a rate of one every thirty seconds.

Today, I discovered the greatest thing about Albufeira – between the marina and the town is Rua de Sir Cliff Richard!!! Seemingly, he lives here, though whether he lives on the street bearing his name, I don’t know.

The spectacular cliffs go on for miles....

The spectacular cliffs go on for miles….

...and miles

…and miles

The Algarve is beautiful, and it’s easy to see why it is so popular with holiday-makers. The yellow cliffs with their profusion of sea stacks and caves, the seemingly endless golden sandy beaches, the warm sea water, and the great weather – who wouldn’t want to come here. But I miss the quiet remote beaches of Galicia. Like I said before, crowds of people overwhelm me, and the noise of these overly-busy town centres quickly make me want to retreat to the quiet of Carina. Bars blaring pop music from MTV (or whatever it is people watch these days), vendors selling noisy battery operated children’s toys on the streets, drunk young tourists. I’m not turning into an old curmudgeon – I always abhorred this stuff.

Thankfully, winter is on its way and the tourists will be in decline for a few months. Maybe I should just stay home with a good book until then!

Revisiting Columbus

DSCI4217After twenty days we finally left the Ria de Arousa and sailed 37 miles south to Baiona. It was a misty drizzly day with poor visibility, but about ten miles out from Baiona the sky cleared and we were treated to the sight of green mountains and high majestic islands with overhanging clouds. As we sailed into Baiona over the swell rolling in off the Atlantic it was easy to imagine Martin Pinzón and the crew of La Pinta looking on exactly the same sight (minus the high rises of Vigo) 522 years ago as they returned with the first news of having discovered land to the west. It was a few more days before Columbus reached Lisbon, and by then news of the success of the voyage had been dispatched to Ferdinand and Isabella.

Replica Pinta in the harbour in Baiona

Replica Pinta in Baiona harbour

The landing of La Pinta suffuses Baiona. There are monuments, statues and street names, and a replica of La Pinta in the harbour. The first Native American to die on European soil is buried here (he died within days of La Pinta’s arrival), and monuments around town celebrate the ‘meeting of worlds’ and the importance of Columbus’ accomplishments. Indeed, it would appear that Baiona is currently seeking UNESCO world heritage status due to its link with the first Columbus voyage.

DSCI4233I find all of this celebration strangely lacking in context or reflection. I looked forward to the audio-guide that accompanied the visit to La Pinta. But while it recounted in great detail the difficulties of seafaring at the time, life aboard for the crew, and all the wonderful and exotic products they introduced to Europe (peppers, cotton, maize, tobacco, from that first voyage), there was little historical or cultural context. Why had Columbus sailed west in the first place? What impact did the discovery have on Europe? And crucially, what impact did the discovery have on the Americas? There was no mention of the forced labour, enslavement, disease and genocide that ultimately led to the deaths, according to some estimates, of 200 million original inhabitants of the ‘New World’. Nor is there mention of the African slave trade that became established a mere decade after that first voyage.

So, while enthralled by the presence of this reminder of a crucial moment in world history, we are also aware of the lack of reflection on what it meant, what it led to, and how this late medieval event reverberates down to the present day.

DSCI4236When Julian and I had exhausted our own knowledge of Columbus’ voyages, we turned to our onboard reference books and then to the Internet. We have taken advantage of this piece of history in our midst to have ‘Columbus days’ with the girls. We have explored La Pinta and have visited the various monuments, all the time talking about who these historical figures were, why they did what they did, and what the repercussions have been. I’m not sure if the girls appreciate that before the ‘discovery’, Europeans didn’t have potatoes, tomatoes, maize, cotton, tobacco, coffee, and much more besides. Indeed, I find it hard to imagine Europe without those, or to get my head around how recently my own country, Ireland, had become dependent on the potato before the Great Famine.

‘Columbus days’ have also led to conversations about trade winds, sailing directions, hurricanes, animals native to the Americas, animals introduced by Europeans, and much more besides.

The human history of contact between the Old and New Worlds is too horrific to delve too deeply into with small children. But what we can talk about are the vast and varied cultures of the Americas, the technologies unknown to Europeans, how people utilised the land and animals, spiritual and artistic culture. I guess what we’re trying to instil in them is that what Columbus ‘discovered’ was already home to millions of people.

Seamlessly fitting in….by Julian

I am in the rather strange position of having by far the best Spanish on the boat. This is nothing to boast about and is due simply to having done a year of Spanish at school. I also spent some time in my 20s travelling in Bolivia and Chile, when the phrase “Lava ropa?”* often came in handy. However, it has been 6 years since I have had to say “Hola” to anyone and the sad little bit of Spanish I once had now largely eludes me. Everyday words and phrases like “Wife”, “Too much” and “Are you sure you’re not completely fleecing me because I’m a foreigner?” have me reaching for the diccionario. I dearly look forward to the day when I can talk to people here without the cumbersome ‘Spanglish’ interspersed with grunts and hand gestures (largely mine). Here in Galicia regional Galego is widely spoken so the locals have already managed two languages before they think about English. Portugese and French are also common third languages. Everyone else on board is doing their best, learning from our recently acquired ‘Spanish for beginners’ book. The girls really try hard with “hola”, “me llamo Lily” etc. But we just have to accept that it is going to take a lot of work and time to get into this.

It is not only the language but the culture and environment to get used to. Martina and I have spent many afternoons getting slightly sun or heat stroked along with near dehydration for little practical benefit. Chores on deck and scouting the local area can always wait until it cools a bit. There is a reason nothing is open here between 2:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon, and many businesses are closed between 1:00 and 5:30. The locals have a relaxed shady lunch and then go to sleep, while we have often found ourselves wobbling about, completely exhausted and sun-frazzled at 5 or 6 o’clock simply through our inability to observe the local custom and take a siesta. The trouble is that we have mastered the staying up late, dinner at 9pm and so on, but in our true British or Irish fashion we have adjusted to this late bedtime by getting up later in the morning. Therefore we miss the morning markets, the post office, cool walks, fresh bread and finally emerge into the heat of the day baking ourselves crispy whilst everything around us remains shut until 5:30!!

Now I realise that nothing I have written is in any way original. Indeed I cringe at my lack of profound observation. Brit after Brit has noted exactly the same things. It is worth stating them again as we always fail to heed our own good advice, myself especially. The advice is simple, learn some more of the lingo and get a siesta whilst the sun fries the earth like the fires of Hades.

Tomorrow you should not be in the least surprised to find me wandering about half dazed, the colour of a freshly cooked lobster, knotted handkerchief on my head, sweat pouring down my face like Niagara, slowly shouting at some local the immortal line “DO YOU SPEAK ANY ENGLISH?” I think I deserve to be fleeced, don’t you?

*Martina: Julian tells me this means ‘clothes washing’, or something close. Given that we hand wash most of our laundry on board, the phrase isn’t getting much use!

The world’s greatest swimming pool

We are anchored on the west side of the Ria de Arousa, just off the beach of the pretty town Pobra do Caramiñal. After a few days of intense, oppressive heat, the clouds came over, offering us a welcome respite and a chance, at last, to go walking in the hills. The woman at the tourist office recommended As Piscinas on the Rio Pedras and we figured the 6km round trip wouldn’t be too much for the girls to undertake.

IMG_20140801_134011We walked out of town on a gradual incline, soon getting away from the main road and onto a walking track through the woods. Since arriving in Galicia, we have been struck by the profusion of eucalyptus trees and were so confused by their presence (and not trusting ourselves that that’s what they were, despite all evidence they were) that we turned to the Internet for answers. We discovered eucalyptus trees were introduced to the region from Australia only 150 years ago, for pulp and charcoal production, but quickly became a problematic invasive species, rapidly spreading over the hills and blocking natural wildlife corridors. Yet, despite the harm they cause, it is impossible to not be impressed by their beauty and aroma. Their slender silver trunks, stripped of bark, and dusky leaves cast a grey-blue glow on the land. Their soft swooshing as they sway in the breeze, and their unmistakable eucalyptus aroma, makes walking through these woods a joy to the senses. I can’t help but wonder what these hills were like before they took over.

IMG_20140801_135516We walked up the beautiful river valley – at times along a path than ran beside the boulder strewn river, at other times alongside small fields of vines or maize, the tinkling sound of the river always in our ears.

Katie contemplating the vines

Katie contemplating the vines

Upwards we went until the sound of teenagers alerted us to the proximity of the first pool on the upper reaches of the river. We climbed down the bank to a pool in the river where a family with four teenagers swam and ate their lunch. We ate our picnic lunch sitting on the rocks with our feet dipped in the fast flowing river, but then decided to search for more pools farther upstream.

DSCI4212We walked for another fifteen minutes until we reached the last of the pools, one of the most magical places I have ever been. The bedrock was smooth underfoot as we stepped into the warm river water, shallow enough in places for Lily and Katie to stand up, but deep enough elsewhere for Julian and me to enjoy a swim. A little higher up, a waterfall fell into a smaller pool. Julian and I took turns sitting on a rock underneath the waterfall. It was a natural Jacuzzi and we sat there with the water foaming and bubbling around us, massaging our bodies and roaring in our ears.

DSCI4195A natural water slide led from our pool to the next one downriver, lined with slick moss, and Julian entertained himself for ages by repeatedly sliding down. I tried it once and laughed so hard my sides ached. That first day we failed to convince the girls to have a go, but when we returned the next day, Lily eagerly went down the slide sitting on Julian’s lap.

DSCI4206Katie found a little pool all to herself and, holding on to a ledge, splashed and kicked her legs and had a glorious time. When not in the water, the girls foraged for juicy blackberries in the brambles.

My own little bit of paradise

My own little bit of paradise

The most wonderful thing, however, was that we had the place all to ourselves. Our own private piece of paradise. All along the 3km walk back home the girls asked if we could go back again. So we did, two days later. This time we shared ‘our’ pool with some other families, and later moved down the river to another pool that we had all to ourselves. What a treat!

 

 

Rianxo, oh, Rianxo

I’ve fallen in love with Rianxo – not some hot young Galician clam fisherman, but a delightful town tucked into the northern corner of the Ria de Arousa. We spent two nights on a pontoon at Rianxo’s Club Nautico, the only people aboard one of the few yachts amidst small fishing and power boats. Most of the harbour is taken up by the larger fishing pontoons, home to the town’s many mussel and oyster boats.

DSCI4144Arriving on Monday morning, we ran the gauntlet of a fleet of small cockle-fishing boats across the harbour mouth, taking up the prime cockling sites. In each small open boat one or two fishers used rakes on long extendable poles to rake the seafloor for cockles. We barely had space to squeeze through, but the sight was impressive.

DSCI4150I have a weakness for working boats and boatyards, and having to walk amongst the fishing boats in the boatyard every time I left Carina was sheer delight to my quirky senses.

Is it just my imagination, or are there more tall blond Spaniards here than elsewhere? Well, the Vikings did invade back in the 11th Century, and a festival is held each year to commemorate the invasion, complete with replica long ships and locals dressed as
Vikings. Along the seafront a street sculpture recalls the prows and oars of a long ship.

DSCI4164Rianxo’s public spaces are many and varied. On the seafront, in the centre of town and elsewhere, are large open, but shady tree covered plazas, with benches, sculptures and busts of celebrated locals. They are cafe free, and the largest of them, The Xardina, was and continues to be a public meeting place. One can imagine rousing speeches from the steps of the town hall located at one end of The Xardina. On market day it was filled with market stalls selling clothes, shoes and household wares.

IMG_20140729_161858Rianxo has a housing style known as casas de remo. Remo means ‘oar’ and the tall narrow houses are only the width of an oar. The streets are narrow, some tiled, some cobbled, with cafes, butchers and bakers tucked away down narrow alleyways. The town rises from the seafront and from the streets running parallel to the sea one can catch occasional glimpses of the deep blue sea and the hills rising up on the opposite side of the Ria.

DSCI4168It was one of the most delightful towns I’ve encountered so far, and something about its quirkiness captured my heart.

Julian and I go on a date

My friend Katie kindly offered to look after the girls one evening so Julian and I could go out. I imagined a little moonlit table in a plaza, tapas, a bottle of chilled local wine. We’d relax, make plans, enjoy each other’s company. I put on a light summer dress and Julian his best shirt. We walked hand-in-hand up the pontoon, looking forward to the evening ahead. As we walked through the marina gate, we met the middle-aged English couple from the neighbouring pontoon coming in.

They had been less than friendly towards us earlier, so I was surprised when they now decided to engage us in conversation. Earlier in the day, as I’d been hanging towels to dry on the guard rails, I overheard a conversation between them and the local Garda Civil that could have been mistaken for a Little Britain comedy sketch. The two policemen were visiting each yacht to check passports and boats’ papers.

At our neighbour’s boat, I heard one policeman, speaking Spanish-accented English, ask, ‘Your boat insurance papers, please’. The skipper, sitting on his deck replied, in heavily-English-accented Spanish, ‘No hablo Español’. The policeman repeated the question, the skipper repeated the answer. Then he called to his wife. ‘Your boat insurance papers, please’, the policeman said, once again in English, to Her Below Decks when she appeared in the cockpit. ‘He wants the boat insurance papers’, she told her husband. ‘Oh, the insurance papers’, said the skipper and he sent her back below to fetch them. I almost fell down the companionway in my eagerness to recount the incident to Julian and our guest, Katie.

And now, on our first evening out alone in months, this same couple had stopped us for a chat. Well, at least the skipper wanted to chat. Her Below Decks said next to nothing. He enquired as to our sailing plans…and then informed us that our choices were all wrong. We were choosing the wrong places at the wrong times. He informed us of the right places. He told us that they were sorely disappointed with this town. There was nothing going on, it had nothing of interest. I found this odd, considering they had arrived on the day of the town’s biggest festival, and we ourselves had enjoyed days of wonderful cafes, wonderful walks through the ancient town centre, a wonderful museum, wonderful beaches. Our only complaint was that it was too hot to go exploring the surrounding hills. And in every guide book we read, the town was noted as perhaps the most beautiful in the Rias. But we were WRONG. And the skipper told us why.

Still giving this couple the benefit of the doubt, we gave ourselves more rope to hang by when we informed them of our long-term dream of crossing the Atlantic and one day passing through the Panama Canal. Julian told them that we currently lack the finances to equip the boat with an autopilot or wind-vane steering system. The skipper was incredulous. How could we live in such primitive conditions? ‘You’ll pick up an auto steering system for less than £1000. If you don’t get it you’ll soon stop sailing altogether’. He went on to expertly inform us that our Wifi capabilities are rubbish (we know) and that we could get a decent system for ‘less than £1000’. ‘And you’re sailing with the sheets forward of the cockpit?’ he asked with a smirk. ‘You need to bring them back to the cockpit’, and then informed us how we should rig our sails for easier sailing. This was helpful advice, but given in such a condescending way that I wanted to punch him.

He then enquired about our fridge, and we made the fatal error of telling him that we live fridgeless when at anchor. He was beside himself with joy at the chance to tell us again what we were doing wrong. ‘You need a better array of solar panels. You’d get sorted for (you’ve guessed it) less than £1000. You need to change over to LED lighting’. He informed us that their saloon is lit by 19 LED lights. I imagined something akin to Las Vegas in there.

We have had nothing but positive experiences with Spanish officials – Garda Civil and customs officers – but the skipper told us we should be careful, he didn’t trust them. When we told him we’d cruised in Ireland a couple of years ago, he made some equally disparaging comments that started with ‘Well, knowing the Irish…’ That enamored me to him no end, I can tell you!

All those ‘less than one thousand pounds’ he was so eager for us to spend add up, and when, an hour later, Julian and I eventually escaped this know-it-all, we reflected on what we would do if we had £1000 to spare. A new dinghy maybe, so our feet don’t get wet every time we go the short distance to shore – a dinghy that’s more dinghy and less patches. New anchor chain maybe, to replace the rusty anchor chain we’ve currently got out. LED lights, refrigeration and high-tech communication system are way down our list of priorities.

Almost every day we meet sailors with years and years of experience who are generous with their advice, interesting to talk to, and who help us to develop our sailing skills and improve the way we do things. They give us advice about great places to visit and places to avoid. They are encouraging and inspiring. But this guy got our backs up so much with his know-it-all condescending attitude.

But when he told us he’d been cruising in Spain for the past fifteen years, I wondered how he’d managed to avoid learning enough Spanish even to understand a Spaniard speaking English! We eventually did find that little table in the moonlit plaza, with its tapas and chilled local wine. But I’m sure we did our date all wrong!

The skipper speaks

DSCI4137My tea has nearly been knocked over by a fairy princess ballerina waving a polar bear. Martina is sunbathing on the deck reading her book. She finished one book and has immediately started another. We ate dinner extremely early this evening, 7 o’clock! A meal of stir-fried whatever was left in the fridge, overcooked in the pressure cooker. Really tasty though*. Katie’s dinner has just been finished off by Martina, Katie having left anything that cannot be listed under the heading ‘carbohydrate’.

Today has been hot and sticky. We have been on anchor for 5 days and we have not left the boat today for the first time since I cannot remember when. Rianxo looks lovely, what we can see of it from the south, all tall trees and beautiful buildings. The beach is crowded with colourful parasols; power boats of all kinds race about, usually with a man standing up precariously at the wheel and a slim woman lounging in a bikini. If only our fridge wasn’t the hottest place on the boat, due to power considerations, I could be relaxing with a cold glass of G&T. Well I could if the only alcohol on the boat wasn’t my uncle Ian’s marrow wine.

Tomorrow morning we plan to go into the harbour here. I am quietly bricking myself because none of my sources of information seem to agree with each other. The 2000 Atlantic Spain and Portugal pilot book, the 2007 Galician pilot book, the 2014 Almanac, the paper chart, the electronic chart, the tourist leaflet from Boiro, the bloke in the chandlery in Vilagarcia and, last but not least, the tall blonde Finnish lady in a bikini shouting from her position draped across the front of a yacht as we left our last anchorage. If only I had been bothered to run the gauntlet of speedboats and parasols to recce the harbour by land I would lie easier tonight. Goodness this is a hard life!!

*Editor’s note: I didn’t force him to say it was tasty!