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
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
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
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.
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
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
In the waters around the island have been spotted short-beaked and
bottlenose common dolphin, sperm and fin whales, loggerhead and leatherback sea
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
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].
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
We passed a restful week in this interesting city, making
new friends at the marina and completing our version of the Santiago pilgrimage
in Spanish – like the falcon?).
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.
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.
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.
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
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.