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.

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Irish Abroad

Early on Monday morning, with the girls still sleeping, we motored down the river to La Palue to take on fuel and water, and to prepare for a longer passage, although we as yet hadn’t decided where. There was laundry to be done and showers to be had so, as soon as breakfast was over, I stepped onto the pontoon to go make use of the marina facilities. I immediately saw a boat arriving, flying an Irish flag.
‘Do ye want a hand with the ropes?’ I shouted, as I dropped the laundry and washing bags. It was then I realised I was being filmed by a cameraman standing in the bow, slightly in front of the man holding the bow line. I tied them on to a shout of ‘Good girl’, and off I went to have my shower.

IMG_20140617_144306Twenty minutes later as I returned to the boat, I looked out over the sea and, to my surprise, saw four men rowing a curragh into port, it too bearing an Irish flag. A curragh is a traditional Irish four-man row boat, made of wood covered in tarred canvas, and rowed using flat blade oars. The men from the Irish yacht were all standing on the pontoon, shouting directions to the rowers as to where best to land the curragh along the pontoon, while the cameraman and sound man recorded proceedings for RTE, the national Irish broadcaster.

For the next two days we got to know these men a little bit, and they got to know us. They had departed St. James Gate in Dublin in May, and were following the Camino de Santiago by curragh! Dublin, Ireland to Santiago de Compostella, Spain in the Naomh Gobnait. The voyage may take up to three summers to complete, but already this summer they have advanced farther than expected. An Seachrán is their support vessel, and everywhere they go the crew of both vessels bring traditional Irish music with them, and the hostelries of La Palue were treated to music and song as the crew waited for some fair weather and light winds to complete the next leg of their journey.

It was a real treat for us to meet them, and it reminded me of some other crazy places where I’ve met fellow Irish people. I’ve met the niece of my Nana’s parish priest in Japan, bumped into an old university friend in a pub on the Isle of Skye, hung out with an interesting Cork woman in Bangkok. The oddest such meeting was in 2003 in Arviat in the Canadian Arctic. One day someone told me that a couple of Irish men were staying at the B&B. So I wandered over to The Bayside and discovered that not only were they Irish, but they were from the same county as me – Kildare – and one of them was a postman who delivered the post to Mammy at her place of work. The two were brothers, and had travelled to Arviat to see the northern lights.

I knew at least one person in common with the crew of An Seachrán. I hail from a small island with a relatively small population, some of whom are crazy dreamers who do things like rowing to Spain, just because they can. It’s always fun to meet people from home. Who knows where we’ll next meet the Irish abroad!

Aber Wrac’h

Brittany is familiar and strange. Bilingual signposts, as well as place names, house names, and words in Breton remind me of home and of Scotland. I recognise certain words – ty, aber, and so on. Though spelled differently, I know their Gaelic counterparts. And only a short hop across the Channel from Cornwall, the landscape, the trees, and the rocks are reminiscent of the West Country. Culturally and geographically, we haven’t travelled far.

And yet we are, without doubt, in a different country. My schoolgirl French doesn’t get me far, but I’m picking up words and phrases every day – remembering those long forgotten, and learning new ones with the help of my trusty dictionary, and having to answer Lily’s constant question of ‘How do you say such-and-such in French?’.

DSCI3693It’s the little things that put a smile on my face. The commonplace architecture of houses and shops, the lilt of French women saying ‘Bonjour’ (I fear my ‘bonjour’ sounds gruff and masculine in comparison), the remarkable taste of coffee, the middle of the day closure of shops and businesses, an oyster shell midden outside a farmhouse.

DSCI3691We are moored up the Aber Wrac’h at the little port of Paluden. To call it a port is a generosity. A collection of mooring buoys – some for visitors (of which we appear to be the only ones) and others for local fishermen – lead to the small slipway and jetty. These bring the visitor onto a quiet country road, that leads to a somewhat larger road, that leads to the town of Lannilis.

I sat in the square in Lannilis late last week, drinking coffee and feeling incongruous in my shorts, t-shirt, trainers and baseball cap, amidst the elegant French women lunching at the tables around me. Still, the waitress was friendly and patient with my first hesitant attempts to speak her language.

Later, I sat in the cool of the church and was carried back to my first ever visit to France, twenty-four years ago when, as a sixteen-year old, I spent a few weeks working as an au pair for a family near Perigeaux. Being a good Catholic girl back then I insisted, much to the family’s amusement, on being driven to Mass in the nearest town every Sunday. The wicker-seated chairs in the church in Lannilis brought me back to that time, and I had to smile when I thought about that holier-than-thou sixteen-year old and wondered how appalled she’d be by her older self!

The colours are breath-taking. The blue of the sky, the green of the tree-lined river banks, the white-gold beaches and the azure sea. There is no half-heartedness in the colours of nature here. Everything demands to be looked at and held in awe. And the birds fill the summer air with their song. There are songs I recognise and others that stop me in my tracks for their strangeness to my ears.

The girls and I have been swimming in the deliciously warm waters at the beaches at La Palue. Swimming in the sea is one of my greatest summer pleasures, but it is a delightful change to slip into the water without a moment’s hesitation or a psychological preparation for the cold. A dip in the sea off the Irish or English coast requires mental resolve; here in Brittany the early summer sea is like a warm bath.

And after the swim? Well, there’s wine to drink, baguettes and cheese to eat, as we plan our next move. At the end of each day, suntanned and heady on fresh air, we find it hard to stay awake past sunset.

River Life

Life on the river moves at a different pace. We’re in the middle of the river, moored fore and aft, using our dinghy to get to shore. Our 60 gallon water tank can supply us with fresh water for three weeks if we are frugal. Our solar panel keeps the domestic batteries topped up to power our cabin lights, and recharge phones and laptop. We have enough cooking gas on board to last a couple of months. We’re self-contained for the time being. We don’t run the fridge when we are at anchor or mooring, as it requires too much energy. And so we adjust our lives so our demands on resources are less and we eat foods that require little or no refrigeration.

Rather than limiting our lives, these resource restrictions provide us with a greater appreciation of how little we actually need to get by each day. Every couple of days we buy fresh fruit, vegetables and dairy products and combine these with our large stocks of rice, pasta, dried pulses and tinned foods. I bake bread every other day, and we forage for greens and shell fish on the sea shore. We eat very well. This evening I made an improvised risotto, from Japanese rice, fresh onions, garlic and green beans, fresh and dried mushrooms, and parmesan. I served it with foraged sea beet and rock samphire lightly cooked in butter, safflower and lime. It was delicious!

Lily and Julian searching for shellfish.

Lily and Julian searching for shellfish.

Each day, we’ve been eating breakfast and dinner on board, under the warm sun at our table in the cockpit, and taking a picnic lunch on our explorations during the day. We can’t afford to enjoy the fine foods and wines at the local restaurants and bistros that dot every town and village. Instead, we buy fresh local produce from boulangeries, charcouteries, and supermarkets, as well as the occasional bottle of cheap but tasty French wine.

For us, life on the river is about long walks, watching the herons on the riverbank, taking the dinghy to a beach at the river mouth, or to a nearby town to explore the town square and practice our French while we buy food and try to learn about the locality.

A walk in the woods

A walk in the woods

We are out of doors almost from the moment we wake up to when we go to bed. We are bathed in fresh air and sunshine, and we bathe in the river and the sea. Our needs are few, and we are more than satisfied with what we have.

Sunset and moonrise; moonset and sunrise

When we looked at the weather forecast on Wednesday we decided to go for it. We’d been hanging around the river between Falmouth and Truro for a week and there was no sign of the southerly winds abating. We’d had a lovely time – multiple visits to the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth, two wonderful days in Truro, and a day exploring the parkland at Trelissick House. But we hadn’t set sail from Plymouth to wile away our summer in mid-Cornwall, no matter how beautiful it is.

Throughout Wednesday we made our preparations and at 5.16pm we slipped our lines and were on our way. I made supper while Julian helmed us out of the river towards open water, and with a dinner of spaghetti bolognaise inside us we were properly on our way.

It was a delightful, pleasant and uneventful crossing. Being almost mid-summer, Julian and the girls were fast asleep long before sunset, while I took the first watch. The almost full moon rose bright to the south-east, as the sun set towards the north-west. With the moon so bright, only the two or three brightest stars shone in the sky, as it never got truly dark.

Moon set

Moon set

We sailed for a while, but when the wind died completely we found ourselves bobbing around going nowhere, and we were forced to motor. Even then, the apparent wind read only two or three knots. I cruised along, feasting on Pringles and Jaffa Cakes and was much relieved to see Julian’s face appear in the companionway shortly after midnight.

I got three hours sleep and was up again at 3.15am and Julian returned to bed. A big mug of strong tea, a toasted buttered cinnamon and raisin bagel, and I was geared up for the next few hours.

In the three hours I had been asleep, the moon had slowly passed over to the south-west and the first glimmer of pinky-purple light was beginning to appear on the horizon to the north-east. Over the next couple of hours, the sky gradually got lighter, the moon set to the west and the sun rose gloriously at 5.13am.

The eastern sky just before sunrise

The eastern sky just before sunrise

As soon as the sun rose the seagulls returned, swooping low and gliding over the sea. When Julian awoke at 6.15am, I was more than ready for sleep. I crawled into bed and slept deeply until Lily woke me at 9.40am to tell me she could see France!!

And there it was, the shimmering white sands of northwest Brittany shining under the bright blue sky. Within an hour we were at the leading line for L’Aber Wrac’h, and gently motored up the river, past La Palue and as far up the river as Carina could go, to Paluden. There we picked up a mooring buoy and I promptly fell asleep in the cockpit, the sun warming me and my sunhat over my face for protection.

We’ve stayed up the river for the past two nights, and like it so much, we might stay a little longer. It is quiet and peaceful, the riverbank lush with foliage, and oyster beds exposed at low water. We’ve been basking in the sunshine, finding it hard to believe that we can be comfortably warm in shorts and t-shirts at all times of the day. We’ve gone exploring in the dinghy. Yesterday, Julian and the girls walked along a woodland path to La Palue for crepes with Nutella, and I walked to Lannili to explore. Today, we’ve taken the dinghy to La Palue. Julian and the girls are on the beach right now, and I’m going to join then in a few minutes. Life is sweet!!

The girls making their Father's Day cards and present yesterday evening.

The girls making their Father’s Day cards and present yesterday evening.