Living the Dream, part 4
Foreign thoughts from abroad
From Kinsale to Galicia
What a pure adrenalin rush and adventurous derring-do for both of us, to launch ourselves into the Atlantic in a very sound craft, fully stocked with food and drinks (non-alcoholic, as I run a dry boat when we are sailing—oh yes I do!). Everything is working and we are ready for the challenge. We had watched the weather forecasts and watched and waited. Then I telephoned and spoke to a Met-Office forecaster, explained our route and that we were prepared to leave that week and wanted to do so by 14 September. He provided us with a very good 5-day forecast, which didn’t go above force 5 and although it contained southerly and south-westerly winds also provided some leeway for change. We decided to go.
Let us not forget that this is our first ocean voyage and so we are deliriously happy about it. As it is our first voyage of this magnitude, then we are naturally wide-eyed and open-minded (and terrified) about all that we see, hear, feel and experience. We do not apologise to those more worldly wise than us for enjoying such simple pleasures as I will describe in our update. Ocean sailing is calculated to keep one occupied with one’s present and future fate on a 24-hour basis. Sailing, eating, sleeping and personal welfare and hygiene take up one’s whole time until one settles into a regime and can relax. We found on our first day that we were getting accustomed to the motion of the Atlantic swell, but only after Siobhán had dosed us with Stugeron. Since then we have been well balanced.
I will not describe every moment of every day as it would be boring for you, but during the five and half days it took us to travel 616 miles from Kinsale to Portosin in Galicia, NW Spain, we were delighted with the new ocean world that we discovered.
Day 1 — 119 miles (winds SW, W, NW and NNW force 3-5)
We set off under a beautifully clear blue sky at 0900 to catch the favourable tides west of the Old Head of Kinsale, as I had planned that for the first two days we would head off in a SW direction to give us some westing when we finally descended to the area of Biscay. It was a strange feeling to be sailing at a large angle away from where we really wanted to head, but it had been one of my passage planning decisions and in the long run, it actually helped, because it gave some flexibility in our sailing set up and in sailing area. In other words, we weren’t worried as long as we travelled south.
We decided that whatever the wind direction, we would use it to push our way forward. Hal (Hallelujah) (our Hydrovane steering) was put into action straight away and worked almost perfectly throughout the voyage.
We were accompanied for a few miles by a single dolphin playing around in our bow wave, which we both found very fortuitous. We saw so many of these friendly creatures along the way in groups of three, four and more. I remember hearing them described in “Blue Planet” as a formidable killing machine, when they operate in schools, but it was difficult to place them in that category as they gambolled, splashed and dived alongside us. Sometimes the dolphins stayed with us for an hour or more, shooting out of the sides of the ocean swell in perfectly choreographed groups. The night we arrived on the Spanish coast, we were sailing from Cape Finisterre to Portosin, running for shelter before the hurricane struck. With phosphorescence rushing out from behind “Light Blue” like some atomic jet stream, a dolphin dashed from one side of the boat to the other and then along the port side, completely encased in phosphorescence, like a marine wraith. It was far better than any firework display; nature at its most spectacular.
Day 2 (winds NW 2/3 and SW 4)
The sea state was calm for most of the day, so I was able to fix the alternator, so we can now charge the batteries, on which so much depends. Although the sea was calm, the swell was still colossal, with its width that of a football pitch and its height that of an elephant. Nevertheless, visibility was clear and so when I saw what looked like a lump of wood floating in the water in the distance, I decided to motor over and have a look. The object was a large crate or pallet of wood panels about 5 metres long by I metre square. Needless to say we didn’t go too close and reported the position of this dangerous object.
Later in the day, we spotted a white abandoned fender, which was encrusted with muscles and sheltering a large fish (1/2 metre long – cod?). The sea temperature has risen from 16º to 19º.
Siobhán had a close encounter with a large fishing boat, which came up fast behind our starboard quarter, steered alongside and then veered off in the opposite direction. This happened to us before but on that occasion the crew had all waved cheerily to us.
Day 3/4 (winds W, WSW, SSW, S force 4/5)
We literally creamed through the water at 6-7 knots, with two reefs in the main and working jib. The weather became atrocious and we had rain, rain and more rain. However, it had to end sometime and as I was sailing along during the night, we entered between two dark clouds and the night sky opened up above me, revealing the milky way and all the well-known constellations. What a splendid sight after all the rain!
Day 5 (wind S 3)
We had been oscillating between just east of the 10ºW and 11ºW lines in our southerly track down the Atlantic and as we approached Cape Finisterre, we had the choice of tracking inside or outside the traffic separation zone, so I decided on the inside track and we crossed to the inside before we reached the zone in fog with radar on. We encountered only half a dozen boats on radar and a couple visually, before we reached the relative safety of the inshore traffic zone.
By this time we were motoring to keep up speed as the wind had died to virtually nil. It is always necessary to maintain a steady speed when in the vicinity of traffic separation zones, as the ships that are passing through the system are travelling closely together and much faster than a yacht.
We then headed down the coast and decided that instead of continuing to Vigo, which was still some 60 miles further, we decided to change course and head into the bays behind Cape Finisterre. The Inmarsat weather forecast had been most forceful about the approach of hurricane Gordon on the eastern side of the Atlantic and the Spanish authorities were warning everyone to prepare for a disaster along the Galician coast. The Spanish fishing fleet was ordered to harbour. Winds of force 11+ were promised.
At about 2000 hours, we entered a beautiful inlet just behind Cape Finisterre, which was well sheltered and we anchored about 200 metres from the beach, very snugly. I then called the Finisterre coastguard and informed him that we had just arrived from Ireland and that we were safely at anchor in Ensanada de Sardiniera. He took advice and informed us that we should seek shelter immediately in Portosin, some 25 miles along the coast, due to the forthcoming hurricane.
We took the advice and five hours later at 0100 hours arrived at Portosin. 24 hours later the hurricane arrived, but by then we had prepared “Light Blue” and ourselves for the onslaught, or so we thought. We removed the mainsail, tied the genoas with bungee, dismantled and tied down the sprayhood, removed everything from the deck and cockpit, doubled and trebled springs and shorelines, put covers over all instruments and tied off the cover of the hydrovane.
During the night the wind built until by 0400 hours it was at 67 knots (hurricane force 12 is 64 knots+). Our neighbours abandoned their boat and were walking from their mooring finger towards the land end of the pontoon, but only reached our bows and were holding on for dear life. The marina manager signalled for them to return to their boat, as the pontoon had severed its moorings at the land end and so they would not have found sanctuary anyway. The wind was blowing directly across our port quarter and with metre-high waves thundering into our stern, the water across to the harbour wall was white with spray blowing across the surface. The noise was just something else, as the wind roared across at us and the flapping of escaped sails on other boats was unearthly. Were we afraid? Yes of course we were, but we felt safe in “Light Blue”. The only damage to her after a night of very severe battering was some scraping of paint from her bow where, at the height of the storm, she rode up the pontoon. We found this very reassuring. Apart from the pontoon’s damage, the sum total of damage to other yachts amounted to a couple of genoas, which had broken free and flogged themselves to ribbons.
Although we had not intended to go to Portosin, we found it to be very efficient, friendly and clean and the marina staff so helpful. Facilities are top class, with bar, restaurant, launderette, immaculate shower block and an internet room. It put Crosshaven to shame for pure cleanliness and facilities and it was no more expensive. We in fact spent a week there as we visited Santiago de Compostella, not on foot, but by bus. We also visited Villa Garcia, to get our mainsail mended (completed in one day), where we had ripped two reefing points coming from Ireland. At the same time we ordered a back-up battery and charger for our computer.
We’re finding it much easier to spend a week in places, as their diverse and unique ethnicity of design and people make them so interesting. We are not in a hurry, whereas, before, we were always in a rush to get going. But what are we missing on this time around. We are aware that we are merely obtaining the spirit of the area visited, much the same as when we visit an ethnic restaurant, thus a mere brushstroke. We don’t actually live the lives of the local people, because their life is exactly the same wherever we are. We work, we live among our friends, family and neighbours, we have the same heartaches as they do, we have the same changes of fortune they do. In fact if they have a life in a sunny climate, we believe that they are more fortunate, which might not actually be the case.
Finally, our computer parts arrived and finally we had no reason to be here, apart from the fact that we have now been a part of the locals’ lives for a week and it might be sad for us to leave them. We top up with diesel and release the lines that tie us to the land and we are free. Down the Ria and out into the open ocean. Give me wind and give it so that I might surge forward, instead of beating into the wind all day. A fair beam or broad reach would give me great pleasure. Luckily on this day, we are only travelling down the coast to Islas Cies, to a truly Caribbeanesque anchorage. In a short space of time, we are there and relaxed, doused by the gentle resonance, into the night of the rollers crashing on the beaches on the other side of the isthmus. But strangely, the swell from the Atlantic seems to transcend the double strand of golden sand and rocks our anchorage, as if we are on the Atlantic shore.
Hard going on the way to Oporto
We are up early in the morning, 0600, but there is no light until at least 0800 and we do not want to move until there is daylight in this rocky coastline. A sign in Europe that autumn beckons and no longer are there those long summer days. We must move south quickly, to endure the short days with warmth. We head for Oporto in Portugal, a mere 60 miles away, leaving the anchorage finally at 0900 and immediately start sailing, but this is short lived and we then head south against the wind and that is the order of the day because we then tack down the coast to Oporto for the next 20 hours and finally end the day anchoring in Leixious harbour (pronounced Leishonsh). A pig of a day!
Having anchored outside the marina this night, we have entered the marina and are comfortably moored alongside similar ocean going yachts, all awaiting the change in the weather: awaiting the disappearance finally of Hurricane Helene, which has travelled its normally course and then set off on a course of its own agenda across the Atlantic to the north of Ireland and then south-east again. The synoptic picture shows a gigantic low in the North Atlantic, which dominates instead of the Azores High. We await a change back to the norm. Watch this space!
In the past weeks, two dear relatives and friends of mine have passed onto the sweetest curling wave in front of me and although I’m out there waiting for the seventh and smoothest roller of them all, they have arrived there first. Dear Betty and dear Gregory, ride those perfect waves forever and if you have the chance to appear in the pipeline alongside me, I will be delighted to ride with you as an eternal crystal voyager. Thinking of you always and missing your lively presences.
Lawry and Siobhán Nunn, 30 September 2006, Oporto, Portugal