Monday 30 September

Vigo – a Lego/Meccano cityscape

Ready to make a move at last, we motored back through the debris-strewn and diesel-slicked waters of this Southern-most ria, the most ‘developed’ of them all.  A questionable use of the word, considering the destruction mankind wreaks on our beautiful world. There was no wind, and a misty drizzle accompanied us for the whole 15 Miles to Bayona, where we found a comfortable anchorage off the beach outside the marina, among yachts of many nations, including one from Alaska.

Ria de Vigo

Thursday 19 – Sunday 29 September

On Thursday afternoon we set off out of the Ria de Pontevedra in sun and haze, again spotting dolphins between us and the ubiquitous viveros.  Less than three hours later, out at sea and rounding the Peninsula del Morrazo, all was flat calm and thick fog/sea mist, so with visibility of less than half a mile, we employed radar to help us keep a lookout for the many local vessels not transmitting AIS, thereby invisible on our chart plotter screen.  The log records 23 miles of “a long, foggy, tedious motor” that was also cold and damp; indeed, winter/night passage thermals and waterproofs were deployed.  At least once the mist lifted a little, the view was different, and at dusk we anchored just outside Moaña marina.

After a reasonably quiet and comfortable night, on Friday morning we called the marina manager, who welcomed us into a somewhat tricky berth at the inside end of the central pontoon. Skipper managed a neat three-point turn in a space just longer than the boat, to bring us stern to the walkway, so it was easy to chat to everybody and his dog as they paused to gaze in curiosity.  We met a Welsh couple on an ‘Airbnb’ break, who live within 10 miles of our ‘home town’, and a couple of Irish guys taking their Westerly Oceanlord back to Howth, near Dublin, after a trip to the Mediterranean…of 14 years.

We can only hope they’ve had weather more favourable for their passage North than we are currently experiencing.  Now in the last, Southernmost of the Rias Baixas, and only around 20M from the Portuguese border, all kinds of weather systems out in the Atlantic are causing swell that would be uncomfortable and winds that locally are either non-existent or from the wrong direction for us to continue our journey South.  It is the time of the Autumn Equinox, when unsettled conditions are to be expected, and we knew, when we began our cruising season as late as the end of May from the far Southwest of the UK, that we would be likely to run out of easy Northerlies before we’d reached the Algarve, but it’s still a little frustrating.  However, on the good side, it is much warmer this far South, and Mate’s just unearthed a Spanish phrase book, so she has something to fill spare time – for when we’re back in Spanish waters, after Portugal…

Moana’s Neptune

So, what to say about Moaña?  Well, the tourist websites only mention it in passing, as a possible base from which to explore the interesting towns and sights of the area, which is not a promising beginning.  The pilot book indicates a Sunday market on the waterfront…which there wasn’t, but we ended up there long enough to find a small market along the quay on Wednesday.  Among the stallholders were a number of older ladies with a few items from their own gardens, and we had an interesting time trying to persuade them we didn’t need large quantities, but couldn’t understand their prices.  Eventually, holding out a handful of mixed coins allowed them to take the right money – never more than a few cents and all very good-natured.

Skipper found an excellent artisan bakery; at least the “one for you, Señor, no charge” Florentine biscuit offered by an attractive young señorita seemed to go down well.  Behind the pleasant sea-facing promenade of bars, restaurants, a bandstand and a large children’s playground, the rest of the town is sadly run-down: many shops are empty, graffiti adorns every available surface, and the Carrefour supermarket was the scruffiest and most chaotic we have encountered.  Meanwhile, back at the marina, just the other side of the inadequate breakwater, the passenger ferry to Vigo (€2.25 per person per journey) comes in at a quarter to each hour between 0700 and 2200 Monday – Saturday (except for some unexplained reason at 1100 on Saturday), initiating a period of snatching ropes and lurching of every vessel in the marina, until it blows its horn lustily on departure on the hour and a collective sigh of relief is breathed all around.

Ensenada de San Simon

For a modest mooring fee, we were able to take advantage of water and power to work through some of the jobs list, the persistent mist making a lie of the old adage that cruising is boat maintenance amidst attractive scenery, but soon it was time for another new view, and on Wednesday evening we wove our way out of the marina, much easier facing the direction of departure, even in a light cross-wind.  Turning Northeast once clear of the viveros, we motored in pleasant late sunshine under the 38.8m-high Rande suspension bridge that spans the narrowest point of the Ria de Vigo, up into the Ensenada de San Simon, where we found an attractive anchorage in the SW corner, whose main entertainment was a railway line running along the bank, a group of colourful kite surfers across the bay, and a family of seven swans-a-swimming, or eight the second morning.  We enjoyed a peaceful few days of mellow mists and warm sunshine in calm waters, amidst lovely scenery… without ever venturing ashore.


Tuesday 17 – Wednesday 18 September

The pilot book says it would be a pity to explore this area of Galicia and miss Combarro, so on a hazy, sunny morning we weighed anchor to motor five miles further up the Northern shore of the ria, amidst masses of dolphins.  We anchored neatly alongside a large American-flagged catamaran, off the tiny beach on the Southern edge of the marina, and paddled the dinghy to land on the sand and lug the laundry up to a public launderette.  As elsewhere in Spain, it was scrupulously clean, and the washing machines were ‘pre-plumbed’ with detergent and softener.  This makes them reasonable value, except for specialist technical clothing or those with sensitive skin.

On the Wednesday, we went ashore again to do the tourist thing and wander the narrow granite-paved streets of this quaint fishing village that dates from the 1700s.  Apart from coachloads of daytrippers (get there early, before they’re up), the village features three distinctly Galician pieces of architecture:

horrero – lavanderia (alternative) – street scene – casas marineras with solanas
village square with cruceiro – passage to the bay (low water) – village from the beach

casas marineras are the fishermen’s houses, with balconies known as solanas that are bathed in sunshine, to sit and drink in the sea views; these jut out on the first floor, the living quarters above the storage areas for fishing nets and equipment

hórreos are small buildings in wood, stone or a combination, raised on stilts that are often topped with mushroom capstones; these are used to dry and store grain or fish

cruceiros are stone crosses, positioned at junctions or crossroads, where evil may otherwise enter the community; unique to Combarro, the figures adorning the crosses are usually Christ facing inland, and the Virgin facing the sea.

An elderly lady standing in a doorway encouraged us to sample her locally-produced white wine, Albariño: it was excellent, and a reasonable price.  Opposite the row of tourist-tat shops are shoulder-to-shoulder restaurants, with delicious smells of freshly caught seafood tempting passers-by.

On returning to the boat, we discovered the lines of our lobster pot had apparently been cut, and the pot lost beneath too many metres of water to be retrieved – as if we were seriously threatening the livelihoods of the locals?  During the afternoon the mist came down thickly, but we were able to see a little egret on the beach, and more dolphins right beside us in the anchorage.

Isla Ons

Sunday 15 – Monday 16 September

Having completely missed the second National Park, the Islas Cortegada in the Northeast corner of the Ria de Arousa, we motored among the dolphins and through the viveros to Vilanova, where the very helpful harbour master allowed us to fill up our water tanks free of charge.  Meanwhile, Mate prepared lunch to eat underway, and we were soon enjoying sailing at 6+ knots under full main and genoa.  As we continued Southwest, the wind died to nothing and by 1900 we were comfortably settled at anchor in the lee of Isla Ons, the third National Park.  Well-researched as ever, Skipper had previously applied for and obtained permits both to sail in these restricted waters, and to anchor here overnight.

Playa de Melide – Looking South towards Isla Onza
Facing the Atlantic – The Burato do Inferno

Bright and early on Monday morning, picnics were prepared and walking boots donned to explore this stunning island.  It was warm and sunny, and until the trip boats brought the first tourists four kilometres from the mainland late morning, we had the place to ourselves.  The tracks are well-marked and follow the perimeter of the island, through a surprising variety of scenery for an area only about three miles long and half a mile wide, a total area of 414 hectares.  The Atlantic National Parks represent the peaks of what was a mountain range consisting of schist, granite and gneiss.  The lighthouse stands at the highest point, 128 metres above sea level.

The East coast, looking towards the Ria de Pontevedra, is lower-lying with a series of beaches.  There is a small semi-permanent community near the ferry landing, and a campsite well hidden in the trees.  Every building carried a banner declaring “World Heritage Site – No; Island Rights – Yes”.  Facing the Atlantic Ocean, the West coast is rugged with vertical cliffs, jagged rocks and sea caves, known as furnas.  Of these, the roof of the ‘Burato do Inferno’ has long since fallen in, and is said to echo the cries of the dead who remain trapped between Heaven and Hell.

The island has a plateau-like relief, with several flat peaks that form scrubby moorland of heather, gorse, blackthorn, ferns and an endemic Retama broom, Cytisus insularis, that is unique to this and Salvora island, that lies just Northwest.  On the more sheltered East coast are small stands of bay (laurel), Pyrenean oak, willow and elder (alder) trees, as well as some eucalyptus and pine, deliciously fragrant in the warm sunshine.

Flora must be able to survive the harsh environment of salt wind and dry sunshine, and these include European beachgrass, Portuguese crowberry, field pennycress, mallow bindweed, sand couch-grass, Linaria arenaria and curry plant, also wafting on the breeze.  Also present are sea fennel, Calendula suffruticosa (subespecies algarbiensis), sea thrift and garden angelica, where the cormorants build their nests.

The tidal waters around the island contain sea urchins and anemones, a wide variety of shellfish, including winkles and crabs, and the local delicacies of goose barnacles and octopus.  On sandy bottoms are found razor clams, cuttlefish and hermit crabs.  The abundance of marine organisms make the island a perfect nesting site and transit point for many species of birds.  It hosts the largest concentration of yellow-legged gulls and common shags in the world, whose neighbours include Caspian gulls, the red-billed chough and Alpine swift.  There are smaller numbers of common guillemot, lesser black-backed gull and European storm petrel.

Seasonal visitors include great cormorants and Northern gannets in Winter, Sandwich terns and Balearic shearwaters in Summer.  On the coastal fringes, plovers, common sandpipers, herons, egrets, turnstones, curlews and other waders are common.  Nesting among the trees are colonies of birds of prey: northern goshawk, common buzzard, common kestrel, European nightjar, and peregrine falcon; and small birds: tits, warblers, blackbirds, woodpigeons, finches, turtledoves and greenfinches.

Nailed to treetrunks in one area are a number of bat boxes, offering prime real estate to the common pipistrelle, serotine bat and greater horseshoe bat.  We saw evidence: scrapes, scat and corpse, of wild rabbit, and other small mammals recorded here include hedgehog, shrew, mole, house and wood mouse, brown and black rat, and otter.  Creatures introduced by humans and posing a real threat to native species include wildcat and American mink.

Being a warm, soft summer’s day, many butterflies flitted around us; the guide notes Old World swallowtail and Harlequin species, of which I think we saw the latter, as well as small and large white and something akin to Meadow Brown.  We also Orthoptera – grasshoppers and crickets, among the insect species recorded.  Along the tracks were information boards, where we saw (thankfully the only) examples of ladder snake, southern smooth snake and viperine water snake, but we did spot an ocellated lizard, the largest European lizard, and many Iberian wall lizards.

Tiny, pretty, blue – Ocellated lizard, well camouflaged – The only bats we saw

In the waters around the island have been spotted short-beaked and bottlenose common dolphin, sperm and fin whales, loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles.

A well-earned beer slaked the thirst before we paddled back home and made our way into the Ria de Pontevedra, where we tucked behind a headland between Puerto Novo and Sanxenxo marinas for a quiet night in spite of the built-up nature of this area, very popular with Spanish holidaymakers in the season.

Ria de Arousa

Wednesday 11 – Saturday 14 September

We left the Ria de Muros with almost no wind but in lovely sunshine.  Once out in open water, we were able to set the gennaker with the wind behind us, but after a couple of hours it became too strong, and the beautiful red sail was furled away again, and replaced by the staysail alone [if the wind is far enough to our stern, the mainsail blankets the foresail, and sometimes just a foresail can move us along very comfortably at a reasonable speed].

Islas Salvoras

It became a day of sail changes: at lunchtime the wind veered a little into the NNE, and was blowing 23 knots, a good F5, so the mainsail went up with two reefs, and within the hour the wind eased so one reef was shaken out.  At the mouth of the Ria de Arousa we enjoyed a lovely sail through the first of the National Parks, the Islas Sálvoras, with white sand beaches and beautiful pink granite rocky islands – just like parts of Brittany.  We’d picked out a nice-looking anchorage off a pretty beach near Palmeira, on the NW coast of the ria.  As we approached, a horse and foal were being given a workout through the surf, and the fragrance of warm pine and eucalyptus wafted tantalisingly across the water.

Palmeira’s monument to emigrants – all points West

It was so lovely, we stayed a couple of nights, enjoying peace and quiet (after the locals buzzed off in their noisy motorboats – why do they have to anchor so close to us?).  We motored the dinghy into the tiny harbour, where she tried to look inconspicuous amongst the traditional fishing craft, and wandered in the heat of siesta time around the desultorily vacant small town.

Can you see her?

The next day we paddled the dinghy to the beach, to stroll along the water’s edge, and even swim along the shoreline.

On Saturday morning we decided we needed to replenish the fridge, so we pottered a couple of miles further into the ria to another anchorage off the beach at Pobra do Caraminal, just outside the marina which lies behind a small but noisy and smelly commercial quay.  Again, we paddled ashore and pulled the dinghy well up above the high-water line, crossed the road and were in the supermarket – how convenient!  Having stocked up, we moved a few miles away from civilisation to anchor again off Playa de Carregeros.

Beyond the end of the world – again

Sunday 8 – Tuesday 10 September

Adios A Coruna

By now very ready to continue our own journey Southwards, we slipped our lines and crawled out into the bay against the incoming tide, until we cleared the Torre de Hercules, majestic in the evening light.  We were keen to sail out beyond the 100m contour, into water deep enough to minimise the risk of snagging unseen fishing pot marks overnight.  With the barometer high and a fresh North-Nor’Easterly behind us, we made good progress in spite of a slightly contrary swell, keeping the first reef in the main and balancing it with the staysail.  As ever, after a week in port resulting in the usual harbour rot and loss of sea legs, Mate enjoyed the first watch rather less than her Skipper, but things did settle down in the early hours of the morning.

On the plus side, she does love night sailing; the waxing half moon was very bright until it set around 0230, clear skies meant a canopy of stars, and good visibility to shore gave her favourite views of land, frequently punctuated by reassuring beams from the lighthouses along the coast.

After some cosy warm rest, things looked a lot better when she came back on watch at daybreak on Monday morning, enhanced enormously by a personal performance by numerous groups of dolphins, and a brief visit by what she thinks was a minke whale.  Typically, after too much wind at the beginning, it died completely for the last ten miles, enabling her to change up from staysail to genoa, as we rounded Cabo Finisterra, the end of the pilgrimage for the most dedicated peregrinas/os, and the point furthest West on the Spanish mainland.  As usual, a marked drop in wind speed often means a considerable change of direction, and sure enough it soon filled in, from the North Nor’west.

Ensenada de San Francisco,
Ria de Muros

By lunchtime, we were comfortably anchored in the Ria de Muros, just South of the town that gives this ria its name, on the North shore in the Ensenada de San Francisco.  The scenery was beautiful: rolling green hills with rocky outcrops behind red-tiled roofs and white sandy beaches.

A Coruña, Galicia, NW Spain

Sunday 1 – Saturday 7 September

We passed a restful week in this interesting city, making new friends at the marina and completing our version of the Santiago pilgrimage (peregrinación in Spanish – like the falcon?).

Catholic church of
Colexiata Santa María do Campo

The Cidade Vella, the old walled city is but a short climb from the marina, and is full of attractive architecture and ancient religious buildings; monasteries, convents and theological colleges, as well as Catholic churches.  Narrow streets wind among overhanging balconies and upper floors, with bars and restaurants propping up many a corner.  A peaceful formal garden shelters the imposing tomb of Lieutenant-General Sir John Moore KB, a Scot who rose through the ranks of the British army, and died here in 1809 having led his troops in a successful defence against the invading French during the Peninsular War.

Maria Pita

Wandering downhill towards the port and the ‘inner’ city marina, we found ourselves in Maria Pita Plaza (Praza in Galician).  In 1589, on the orders of Queen Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Drake led English troops to lay siege to the city.  Following the death of her husband during the attack, Maria Pita tore the English standard from a lance and killed Drake’s brother with it, with the cry “Let all honourable men and women follow me”.  So fierce was her rage, the 4000 inhabitants fought off three times that number of fearful Englishmen.  She has come to represent the strength and determination that characterise the women of A Coruña.

La Ciudad de cristal

Maria Pita’s statue faces the imposing edifice of the City Hall.  As we emerged onto the waterfront, we discovered why the city is known as the ‘Ciudad de cristal’ – glass city.  Originally fishermen’s houses, the buildings that line the Avenidas de Montouto and da Mariña are completely glazed on the façades of their upper floors.  The windows enclose balconies, and each is slightly different in design.  Forming a terrace, they are spectacular.  Looking closer, one notices a plethora of Modernist and Art Nouveau styles of architecture, including stonework, moulding and wrought iron.

San Anton Fort, that guards the port
The Flintstones

We took in a little culture at the Fine Arts Museum, and sampled several local specialities, including Estrella beer, octopus and empanada – a savoury filled pastry.  There was masses more we didn’t find time for, including a ride on the tram along the longest promenade in Europe, from which we’d have enjoyed close ups of the Torre de Hercules, originally a Roman lighthouse and still in operation, the Japanese-designed Domus Museum of Mankind, and a spherical glass funicular to the Mirador San Pedro.  We were surprised to discover in the Plaza del Humor that some well-known heroes of comedy have transcended borders to become popular abroad: Shakespeare, Laurel and Hardy, Fred and Barney from The Flintstones, and Asterix the Gaul among them.  [Note to self-catering visitors: the Mercado, market hall, on the North edge of the Plaza del Humor, has a good selection of produce, butchery, fish and delicatessen stalls; below it is a Gadis supermarket that will deliver free when you spend €60 – just find the right checkout and the helpful assistants do it all for you].

Our daughter made this same trip some years ago, whilst waiting for the right weather to set off on John Laing, an OYT South tall ship, across the Bay of Biscay to Dublin.  She told us it was a must-do.  Skipper’s parents have ‘done’ the Camino twice, and another friend of ours has also walked one of the pilgrimage routes, discovering the wonderful Galician white wine, Albariño, along the way.  We were lucky with a lovely sunny day, and followed a route Mate found on a website to take in all the key sights of this ancient city, the third most important in Christendom, after Jerusalem and Rome.

Of course, we had some boat jobs to attend to as well as ‘touristing’, whilst waiting for the right weather to ‘go around the corner’ to start heading South again.  But while we were here, we took advantage of a straightforward train journey a little way inland, to Santiago de Compostela.

Once again we selected just one museum, deciding on the Museum of Pilgrimage, which triggered a lively conversation about religion versus tourism, and their relative financial impact.  Refreshed by wonderful hot chocolate con churros at Café Metate, a former chocolate factory where they still make their own chocolate, we strolled through the covered market, a series of domed-roofed halls each specialising in different foods: butchery, fish, fresh fruit and vegetables.

Disappointed by our visit to the mighty Cathedral itself, currently an enormous building site with almost the entire interior clad in scaffolding and plastic, we nonetheless enjoyed the grand finale of the Praza do Obradoiro, the square that fronts the West façade in all its Romanesque glory.  Cynical as we may be, it was still moving to experience the triumph and elation of pilgrims realising they had finally reached the pinnacle of their journeys.