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 trials and tribulations of Puertos de Andalucia marinas!

Over the past four months we have stayed in our fair share of marinas, as we’ve travelled through the west of England, Brittany, Galicia and all of the Portuguese coast. Some marinas were expensive (Muros €35 per night for our 11 metre yacht), some extremely cheap (Camariñas €16 per night). Some had wonderful facilities (Muros), some more limited (Camariñas). In every marina we have been to, staff have been friendly and helpful. Staff at Peniche showed unexpected generosity; a member of staff at Doca de Alcantara, near Lisbon, generously loaned us his own electricity connector, when ours didn’t match the fitting; and at Albufeira staff listened when we complained that the services offered didn’t match those advertised in the 2014 nautical almanac, and they gave us a night for free. Though every marina is different, each with its own quirks and curiosities, they all cater to the particular needs of sailors. They understand that in order to catch the best winds or currents, tidal heights or tidal streams, we often arrive late or depart early. And though many have limited office hours, every marina we have been to makes provision for the strange hours kept by sailors.

Here’s what typically happens. As you arrive at the entrance to the marina you radio or telephone the marina office. Whether someone answers depends on how well staffed the marina is, and the time of day. If you get an answer, you are directed to a particular pontoon; if you don’t get an answer, you find a pontoon suitable to your size boat. If it is during office hours, a member of staff will meet you (and maybe help with ropes), and will ask you to bring your passports and the ships papers to the office in order to check in. Appreciating that a crew might just have crossed the Atlantic, or sailed overnight, or be tired or hungry, you are told to take your time and come to the office at your own convenience. Increasingly, as we have travelled south, we have encountered reception pontoons. Rather than contact the marina in advance, you come alongside the reception pontoon and await further instruction. The reception pontoons we encountered in Portugal had electricity and water, so an after-hours arrival still ensures the full comforts of the marina.

All well so far. Until we arrived in Andalucia, that is, where we have stayed in three Puerto de Andalucia marinas. These government-run marinas at Magazon, Puerto America in Cadiz, and Barbate, are expensive, soulless places, where sailors are treated like some great inconvenience. All three look the same, with identical grey concrete-box office buildings and shower blocks. To give them their due, they have laundry facilities, something we have found lacking in many marinas along the way. But that is where our praise of them ends.

Though they are still charging summer prices in late September (€27 per night for us), they have reverted to winter office hours. Though the marinas are half empty, the staff are inflexible, and the particular needs of sailors are not catered to. They answer neither the radio nor telephone when called during office hours, and each one follows the same inflexible procedures.

Upon arrival you are directed to a reception pontoon. These have neither water nor electricity. You must IMMEDIATELY present your passports and ships’ papers to a member of staff whose day you appear to have completely ruined by showing up at their otherwise empty marina. Drawing any information out of these people is like drawing blood from a stone. Rather than advising me of facilities, I had to ask ‘Where are the showers?’, ‘Do you have Wifi?’ (the answer is absolutely NO), ‘Where are the laundry facilities?’.

In Cadiz, the reception pontoon was 10 metres away from the pontoon to which we were directed once we had checked in. The staff member watched us come in starboard to on the reception pontoon, but now had us switch our fenders and ropes to come in port to, under his very exasperated and impatient eye, as he stood on the pontoon waiting to take our ropes. He could so easily have sent us to this pontoon in the first place (rather than the reception pontoon) or sent us two berths down so we could come on starboard to. In Barbate, we arrived to discover the police boat taking up the entire reception pontoon. We berthed at the nearest pontoon we could find, only to discover that access to the land from that pontoon was blocked. We then went to another pontoon, one that we thought would be suitable for us, but when Julian went up to the office with our papers, we were told to move to a different berth, about five spaces down, as the pontoon we had gone on was apparently for larger boats. The marina was, however, more than half empty.

At each one we had to pay a €15 deposit for each key card to enter the marina buildings and access the pontoons. This is not unusual. But at Cadiz we also had to pay a €50 deposit for an electricity connector cable as the marina only had large fittings, even for small boats like ours. A €50 deposit in order to access the electricity we are paying for and a €30 deposit for two key cards to access the facilities we are paying for. And these deposits can only be paid for in cash! So, for the whole time we’ve been in Andalucia, the marinas have been holding €30 or €80 of our money, while we’re left with a 2km walk into the nearest town we’ve just arrived to, in order to find a cash machine.

At Mazagon I had to beg to be allowed to have a shower at 7.30am, and was told that the showers didn’t open until 8am. We were leaving at 8am, and I wanted a shower. I begged and pleaded in my poor Spanish and finally was told I would be allowed to have a quick shower! It’s not like it was some strange hour of the day – 7.30am is a pretty normal time of day for people to shower, isn’t it?

Departing these miserable places is no less awful. With their limited winter opening hours, actually being able to pay for our stay and get our deposits back has been a trial. With offices closed between 4pm and 10am, in order to make an early morning start, we would have to settle up the evening before, thus leaving us without electricity or access to the facilities, but yet having to pay €27 per night for the privilege.

All in all, we have had miserable service from these marinas for the privilege of tying up to pieces of wood with more than half the spaces around us empty. We would anchor or go elsewhere if we could, but along this stretch of the Andalucian coast there are few other choices. We are glad to be leaving these marinas behind.

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.

Wonderful Galicia

We have been in Galicia since the 21st of June. Prior to this, I had only spent limited time in Spain. In 2006, I went on a road trip with Julian and some of his friends in a U around the Iberian Peninsula, starting in Santiago de Compostella, south through Portugal, attending a friend’s wedding in Jerez, and then on through the Sierra Nevada to Valencia. It was a wonderful trip that gave us a great taste for all things Spanish (and I mean ‘taste’ in the most literal sense!). A year later I was back in Valencia for a conference at the aquarium, but spent more time hanging out with Inuit and other Canadians. And I’ve had a couple of resort holidays in the Spanish-owned Canary Islands off the west coast of Africa.

A street in Muros

A street in Muros

All told, I have precious little experience of Spain, and so it is a new and wonderful place to me. So far, we are all finding the experience rewarding! As an anthropologist, I know I shouldn’t be too hasty to make any pronouncements about a place. As I experience and learn more over the coming weeks and months I know my impressions will change or, at the very least, become more meaningful. But here are my initial impressions from the past few weeks:
1. Old people lead healthy lives! During our first few days on the beach in Ria de Viveiro I watched people walking up and down, up and down the more-than mile long beach. They were adults of all ages, but predominantly people over 70. Wearing only swimming trunks or bikinis, couples, groups of five or six men or women, mixed groups, strolled along the beach all afternoon long, exercising in the sunshine, which in itself is great. But they were also talking – couples and groups of friends, talking and laughing as they strolled along. If you’re doing that when you’re 70 or 80 years old, then you’re doing something right. Since then I’ve observed many older people enjoying life, walking, talking, sitting in the sun outside their homes and engaging with the world at it goes by.

Old people strolling the beach in Ria de Viveiro

Old people strolling the beach in Ria de Viveiro

2. Grow food not grass! I’ve seen a profusion of food growing in gardens big and small. Potatoes, onions, lettuces, sweet corn, and peach, pear, apple, and lemon trees. I’ve always been drawn to the idea of growing one’s own food – it’s great for the planet, it’s great for your health, and it’s great for the little mini-ecosystem of your back yard. In Japan and in the Fens of the United Kingdom (and no doubt elsewhere), people put excess produce outside their gates with an honesty box. I haven’t seen this yet in Spain, but I have seen old men and women, sitting in the shade of awnings in town squares, with small selections of produce for sale, that I can only imagine comes from their own gardens.
3. It’s cheap 1! Man, food is inexpensive here! For Julian and me, one of our favourite meals to cook is paella, but the ingredients are so expensive in the UK that it’s a rate treat. Here in Spain the mussels, fish, wine, chorizo, rice and other ingredients are dirt cheap! Even the saffron is less expensive. Of course they are all local ingredients, but even so we are astounded at how cheap the food is. The foods that we consider luxuries back in the UK are a third or a quarter of the price here. Our shopping basket overflows with olive oil, olives, chorizo, a smorgasbord of fruit and vegetables, cheeses and wine. We are in gastronomic heaven.
4. It’s cheap 2! While we spend most of our time at anchor, we occasionally spend a night in a marina, to fill our water tank, get speedy internet access and take advantage of hot showers! Marinas too, are inexpensive, working out at about 25-30% cheaper than in the UK, but with free electricity and Wifi included. And in places on our itinerary to visit over the coming weeks and months, they appear to be even less expensive.

Local fare

Local fare

5. Would you like a squid with your beer, sir?! To our Irish and British sensibilities, the foods in Spain are exotic and wonderful and sometimes highly amusing. I wanted to do some writing after the girls had gone to bed recently, so Julian popped out for a beer. He came home with a big grin on his face (possibly caused by the beer) to tell me about his experience. He ordered a beer and was given the smallest beer he’d ever seen in his life. Then the barman came around and asked him if he’d like a squid with it!! He was tickled pink by the idea of having a squid with his beer! In every bar, staff walk around with trays of tapas – bread with chorizo, tortilla, etc –to offer to the customers. In Julian’s case the other night, it was a deep-fried baby squid!
6. Small-scale fishing: I mentioned in a previous blog post how the clusters of fishermen reminded me of the west coast of Hudson Bay in summertime. Off the coast of every little town we anchor amongst small local boats, owned by local fishermen. These men go out alone or in pairs, and appear to quite often meet up with others at sea, clustering together and engaging in very small scale fishing. There are larger commercial fishing boats too, but the small scale subsistence fishermen predominate.
7. Less work, more play! The working day is very different to what we are accustomed to and it has taken some adjusting to. But we have embraced it now, and our sleeping, eating and shopping patterns have changed. Shops and businesses open for a few hours every morning and then close around noon or 1pm. They don’t re-open until 5.30 in the evening, and remain open until 9.30 or 10pm. It feels strange to us to go to the butcher or the greengrocer at 9 o’clock at night! Restaurants and cafes don’t get going until after 9.30, and people of all ages eat late into the night.
8. I was going to write about shellfish, but it deserves a blog post all of its own!

Yes, indeed, we are enjoying life in Spain. People are generous and kind, and (usually) patient with our inability to speak more than a few Spanish words. We are enjoying the endless sunshine and the golden sandy beaches at every anchorage. Life is good!