Monday, 22 October 2012

A Coruna to Cascais

Our blog has us still in A Coruna, yet here we are are in Porto Santo...I can only explain that there are plenty of other things to do! 

We left A Coruna with little wind, what there was filling in from the west, so it was more motor-sailing for us.  It was another fine day, and we were thrilled to have (at least) nine dolphins playing around the bow wave within an hour or two of leaving.  They stayed for a while, rolling over as if to look up at us. We had planned an overnight passage, but on rounding the cape and heading south there was an uncomfortable chop which slowed us right down.  We didn't fancy a night of that (although there was no way of telling whether it was just a local effect) and Corme, a small fishing village with a concrete breakwater sheltering the anchorage, was just an hour or so away.  We arrived just before dark and stayed there for the night, definitely a good decision.

From Corme it was a long day's sail (okay, motor..) to Muros, where we anchored across from the white-housed town.  It was a pleasant place to wander around for a day or two, with old buildings spreading up the hill, but there wasn't too much to detain us.

The weather was turning, the wind increasing one afternoon until the water between us on shore and Limbo was filled with steep-looking waves.  We set out in the dinghy, thinking it would be okay.  It wasn't. Almost as soon as we were out of the shelter of the breakwater, the first wavecrest broke over us and we were soaked.  At this point I should probably have thought better of it, but we were making progress, and we had to get back somehow.  A few minutes later the engine faltered and died, then restarted..and faltered and died again. The wind was onshore, so at worst we'd be blown back to the harbour, but things weren't good. I got the outboard restarted and we drew very gradually nearer to Limbo, but taking water on with each wave. By now we, and our shopping, were completely soaked through with cold seawater, and the inflatable was alarmingly full. Fortunately inflatables don't sink. It was a real relief to get on board and dry ourselves off.  We resolved not to find ourselves in the same position again.

The anchorage was sheltered from the waves, but not the northerly wind, and we sheered about and heeled with some of the stronger gusts. Although the anchor held well this was hardly soporific, so we motored across to Portosin marina, an hour or so across the Ria.  The beach was about ten minutes walk away, and we enjoyed the sun there for an afternoon (we swum, the water freezing again).

Town beach, Portosin
We were a bit disappointed to be berthed separately from the four or so other visiting boats, being rather smaller.  It was a shame that we hadn't met many people so far, always one of the highlights of this kind of trip.  We were at the tail-end of the fleet heading south, so everywhere we visited was quiet.  In some ways this was a good thing, but at this stage we felt we were missing out slightly.  Where was everyone?  

We headed inland on the bus to Santiago de Compostela, which is probably best described as a sort of Portuguese Oxford.  It wasn't quite the amazing spectacle we'd seen described, but we're glad we went to have a look. We also spent a day in Noia, at the head of the Ria, which was again slightly oversold.  We wondered whether we'd missed the interesting bit - then found out that was all there was..  

Natalie at Santiago de Compostela

The remains of tropical storm Nadine did their worst over the next few days. Strategically placed in the marina, this wasn't a concern; but we had several days of very strong winds and rain, gusting - at an estimate - to 50 knots at times. Limbo doesn't feel cramped as long as you can use the cockpit, but otherwise things do start to feel somewhat confined.  We were starting to wonder when the sun, which we'd started to take so much for granted, was returning.

The wind stopped, but the forecast indicated a swell of 3 or 4 metres for a couple of days, so there was more delay before we could leave.  After about 8 days in the marina, things were looking up, so  we set off once more.  The swell was still much in evidence, perhaps 3 metres high, but we were beginning to take big waves as a fact of life. Limbo rode over them quite happily and we even had a good sail in a following force 5-6 coming through the narrow channel into Ria de Pontevedra.  We anchored off the busy town beach at Porto Novo for an evening (one other boat there!) and enjoyed  a great sunset.  It was good to be on our way. The next day saw us heading through the Canal de Norte into Ria de Vigo.  This could be a bleak place in rough weather, with steep cliffs on one side and the Isla Cies on the other, and we had a slightly rolly time sailing down under just the genoa.  

The Isla Cies are part of an Atlantic nature reserve, and  in A Coruna we'd arranged a permit to visit. I was glad we'd gone to the trouble. The islands shelter the entrance of Ria de Vigo, rising steeply from the sea on the eastern side but with beaches on the west.  We closed with the coast to have a look, and dropped the anchor in clear water.  The beach was dazzling, the water - at last! - much the colour of the picture at the top of this website. We lunched on smoked salmon (not our normal practice, but I think it was on offer..), blew up the dinghy, and went ashore. The presence of a school exchange group from Dudley aside, things were idyllic. They soon departed on the inevitable tourist ferry, and we followed a well-marked trail southwards to a lighthouse, then up to a rocky peak with fantastic views of the seaward cliffs and the anchorage. 

Isla Cies anchorage

View across to Bayona
Beach through the trees
We stayed on the beach for a while, then had supper on board.  The tourists and one solitary yacht had now departed. I was slightly concerned about our position, as the anchorage is far from sheltered from the east. The forecast was for a northeasterly, so after prevaricating for a while we decided not to stay the night.  Fortunately, Ensenada de Barra lies just 3 or 4 miles away and, being well sheltered from the north, would be ideal. It was a rolly motor across the steep swell of the Canal de Norte, but the anchorage was perfect. There was a full moon, and night was just falling. The bay is very wide, with only 4 or 5 other boats at anchor spaced along it.

Ensenada de Barra turned out to be a popular naturist beach, which did not deter us from a visit in the morning.  We had a good walk along the headland to the lighthouse (opposite the Cies light we’d visited the day before), and found another fantastic beach with clear water and very few people.  Arriving back at Ensenada de Barra, eyes suitably averted, we finally met Adger and Carolyne coming ashore from Guia IV, a sleek-looking and distinctive blue yacht we’d seen several times before, and had nearly moored alongside in Portosin.  They are sailing with their two daughters, aged 3 and 4, and we had a great afternoon relaxing on the beach and chatting. It was fantastic to meet people of a similar age and on a similar schedule.  After a swim and supper, we went on board Guia for drinks and talked into the night.  We’re looking forward to doing the same again soon.

Guia IV entering Ria de Vigo

We reluctantly tore ourselves away from the beach the next day and headed to Bayona, a few miles away, where we berthed in the marina. It’s a very well-kept, prosperous feeling town, with an interesting walk around the fort walls overlooking the Ria.  


We found somewhere to do our shopping (which takes up a surprising amount of time on a regular basis, given limited storage space, unfamiliarity with the various shops and brands and lack of transport!) and I explored the (inadequate) chandlery shops. After a couple of nights we moved out to the peaceful anchorage ready to move on in the morning: Portugal beckoned.

Bayona Anchorage


The west coast of Portugal doesn’t have much to recommend it as a cruising ground.  The low-lying coast is broken up chiefly by artificial fishing harbours which can be difficult to enter in any swell. As well as this, I still felt under pressure to get south quickly, so we forego the attractive idea of visiting Porto and opted to do the whole coast between Bayona and Lisbon as quickly as possible.  There was little wind (the Portuguese trades, which are meant to blow from the north at force 5 or 6, seemed to have given up for the year), so we set off under power to see how far we could get – fuel was going to be an issue if the wind didn’t pick up.  We had an uneventful, mainly calm and moonlit passage for the first day and overnight, although there was some excitement: we saw probably 70 or 80 dolphins heading north in one huge group, had more dolphins playing around the bow, and saw an (unidentifiable) whale pass us about 100 feet away.  One dolphin came to visit us on its own, but certainly wanted to be noticed,  repeatedly trying to stand up on its tail before flopping back into the water, shamelessly attention-seeking.

The wind looked briefly as if it was going to pick up, but failed, so we headed for Nazare.  I’d been here on my gap year, and hadn’t planned to do so again: the harbour is bleak and unattractive, and smells strongly of fishing.  We were here for the same reason we came in on Ocean Venture – to refuel – but it would also be good to get a night’s sleep.  There’s now a small marina, but it's still not much of a place.

We didn’t go into Nazare itself – although apparently it’s quite pleasant – and spent the following morning planning our next stage.  The Lisbon marinas sounded okay, and we prevaricated about whether we wanted to go right up the river Tagus to the city, but thought we’d go to Cascais first and see how we felt, particularly having learnt that the marina was now winter rates, it being October.  

We left in the late afternoon, heading between Isla Berlinga and the mainland, another relatively calm and windless passage with a good moon.  The only real event was passing within a metre or so of a fishing pot – I saw a shape in the darkness at the last moment and altered course to avoid it – and was relieved that we hadn’t got close enough to wrap anything round the prop.  On the previous leg we’d headed a few miles offshore to avoid the many pots in the shallower water, but still found them at 100m depth.  They weren’t always easy to spot in the swell, and were impossible to see at night..fortunately we didn’t come across any of the nets that, apparently, can be laid at right angles to the coast extending several miles out to sea!

Evening departure from Nazare for Cascais...

We were making inroads into the Desert Island Discs collection on the iPod, and dawn on my watch was movingly accompanied by the final strains of Mahlers 5th.  We rounded Cascais marina breakwater just before nine, admiring the Mediterranean-like bay with its rocks and sandy beach, and the clean-looking, pastel-coloured houses and palm trees that edged the coast. It felt good to be another 220 miles further south after just three days, and we were looking forward to a few days relaxing before moving on again.

..and arriving the following morning.

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