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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The time being returns

In June we set sail from L’Aber Wrac’h in northwest Brittany. For three days we sailed south across the Bay of Biscay. The north wind sped us along, the sky was clear, and dolphins accompanied us day and night.

DSCI4802On the first day of our Biscay passage I started reading Ruth Ozeki’s novel A tale for the time being. It is a story about the ocean, about Zen Buddhism, and about the unexpected flotsam that finds its way into our lives and our hearts. In true Ozeki style, the lines between fact and fiction are blurred. Ozeki and her husband are in the story, and half of the story is set on the small Pacific Northwest island where they live. The protagonist, Ruth, finds a battered Hello Kitty lunch box on the beach near her home. She brings the box home and opens it at her kitchen table. Inside she finds a diary, mildewed and water damaged, written by a teenage Japanese girl. The girl’s story unfolds as Ruth slowly translates the diary and begins to make sense of the other items in the lunchbox. The two stories are separated by the vast Pacific Ocean and by the time it has taken the lunchbox to drift from Japan to the US. Yet they are also bound together, as Ruth believes the story of the Japanese girl cannot reach a satisfactory conclusion without her careful reading of the diary.

By the time we reached Ria de Viveiro on the northwest coast of Spain, I was more than half way through the novel. I packed the book in my backpack for our first trip ashore from our anchorage. I hoped to read a few pages while the girls played on the huge empty beach where we landed the dinghy. Julian left us to explore the town and the girls and I had fun on the beach until the sky turned black. The thunder crashed loudly around us and spectacular lightning filled the sky. There was no shelter to be found on the beach and for twenty minutes we huddled miserably in the lee of a sand dune. By the time the sky cleared the girls and I were soaked to the skin, and we soggily slopped off to find Julian.

When we returned to Carina I discovered that the contents of my backpack, including A tale for the time being, had also suffered in the thunder storm. For the next couple of days I dried the contents of my purse, my notebook, pens and, of course, my book, in the cockpit. When it had dried, I gingerly read the last quarter of the book. It was waterlogged, the spine wilting under the now fluffy pages. In the Galician humidity, mould quickly took hold, and black spiral patterns spread across the pages that I carefully turned, willing the book to stay intact until I reached the end.

I finished the book and considered throwing it in the bin, due to its poor condition. But when we arrived at the marina in A Coruña I decided to leave the book in the marina lounge. One of the joys of being at marinas is browsing through the books left behind by other sailors and I like to donate my books when I’ve finished reading them. Amidst the novels in German, Swedish, Dutch, and so on, that one finds at these marina book swaps, there are always a selection of English books. And amidst the Danielle Steeles and the Harlan Corbins, I occasionally find a book or two to add to Carina’s library. Only yesterday, when I deposited my beloved copies of The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt) and Americanah (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie), I was delighted to pick up Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence. Oh, what delights.

But I digress. I deposited A tale for the time being, tatty, waterlogged, mouldy, at the marina lounge in A Coruña. It’s fragile state reminded me of the diary at the centre of the story. So you can imagine my surprise when, last week, I wandered into the marina office here in Aguadulce to find my very own copy of A tale for the time being sitting on top of the book swap pile! It was instantly recognisable – the mildewed, water stained and swollen pages. It’s dried out since I last saw it, and the pages are now brittle and yellowed. But it was unmistakably my book. A book about a diary that floats across an ocean had followed me in the hands of another sailor (or maybe more than one) all the way from the Atlantic coast of northwest Spain into the Mediterranean (over 850 nautical miles, passing the entire coast of Portugal, west Galicia and Andalucia)! Discovering that my own copy of the book had followed me here made some of the more surreal and improbable elements of the novel seem spookily more plausible!

The sailor who picked it up in A Coruña could have gone anywhere with it. A Coruña is a major stopping off point for yachts heading south to the Canaries and the Caribbean and it is a landfall for sailors sailing east across the Atlantic and making their way to northern Europe. Between A Coruña and Aguadulce there are probably fifty marinas, many of them far more substantial and along more significant passage-making routes than Aguadulce. So for the book to travel over 850 nautical miles to the out-of-the-way marina where we have chosen to spend the winter is remarkable. What a thrill I experienced on seeing the book again.

PS…I had a goldfinch experience a couple of days ago, but that’s a blog for another day!

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.

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.

Brittany

DSCI0274 Our friend John joined us on Wednesday morning, and on Thursday we set sail for Fowey. With calm seas we had time to get in a spot of fishing on the seven hour sail, and caught eight mackerel for supper. Lily, Katie and I spent the next morning playing on the beach, and at 5pm we set sail for France. It was a memorable trip, which began with a huge thunder storm, and the winds kept us on our toes for the entire 22 hours of hard leaning to port. The girls were great, sleeping through the night and enjoying the storm.DSCI0314

We arrived in Roscoff tired but very happy with our accomplishment. We spent two nights in Roscoff, enjoying good food and wine, and catching up on lost sleep. We departed Roscoff yesterday for L’Aber Wrac’h farther to the west. It was a slow trip, battling wind and tide, and we didn’t reach our destination until after dark.DSCI0332

We’ve had a lovely day today, wandering along country lanes, swimming in the sea, and searching  for cockles at low tide. If my writing seems stilted then this French key board I am using is to blame. The is so much I wanted to write, but it has taken me half an hour to get this far, with half the letters in the wrong place for me. I’ll leave you with some photos….

DSCI0342Cockle pickers near Landera this afternoon.DSCI0344

 

 

 

 

 

Julian amidst the cockle pickers.DSCI0347

 

 

 

 

 

Julian and the girls searching for cockles.DSCI0351

 

 

 

Katie, Lily and Uncle Cockney having some thinking time on the beach.