Saturday, August 22, 2009

Goodbye Spain

Big news is that Macsen has taken 5 independent steps! It happened in a little café in a lovely town called Baiona, the most southern harbour that we visited in Spain. He was leaning casually against Seb’s legs when suddenly he just pushed-off and walked into Luise’s arms. I guess he can’t resist a pretty girl.

We’d sailed down to Baiona from Isla Ons, a small craggy rock about five miles off the coast that is part of the 5 separate archipelagos that make up the Isla Atlanticus nature reservation. We’d anchored in a beautiful little inlet and (after I swam ashore) had a great walk up and over the other side of the island – fabulous views of the Spanish coast and gazing on one side and the Atlantic on the other. Masses of birds flying over head, roosting in every nook and cranny in the rocky cliffs and peering out cheekily at us.

Back on the mainland, we were standing on a hill next to the castle overlooking the harbour in Baiona when we noticed a dark blue Breehorn-shaped boat pulling up to the dock - it was the original Pjotters! Kees and Martha Slager are the previous owners of our Pjotter and sailed with great pleasure with her for 11 years, and were thus quite attached. They are travelling around the Atlantic for 2 years with their new Breehorn 44, also appropriately named Pjotter. The Breehorn 44 is a bigger version of our Breehorn 37 with similar long beautiful lines thus it is one of our favourite boats - apart from the fact that we are fond of her owners. We walked quickly back to the marina and stepped on board to catch up. Macsen did some expert climbing up the big Pjotter stairs and Emma was thrilled to get a bubble blower and a colouring puzzle from Martha. It was fantastic to see them here – looking happy and tanned and we look forward to seeing them again along the way.

We spent much of our last week in Spain either anchored or in the marina in Baiona. We had some ‘klusjes’ to do on the boat and the chandleries in the area were well stocked. Seb finally found a Mastervolt charger for our solar panels and worked away at the installation and…they work! With slightly less power than expected but Booh assures us that this is to be expected. We are now quite independent and can recharge our own batteries thus need only to come into marinas to refill our water tanks (and other water related activities such as big laundry and long showers).

Our last overnight in Spain was on Isla Cies, another island in the Isla Atlanticas reputed to have the most beautiful beach in Europe. It was extremely touristy and the famous beach was full of people, a surprise after the seclusion of the other islands in the group. A twisty hike up to the lighthouse on top of the mountain in the middle rewarded us with incredible views out across the infinity of the Atlantic. You can really imagine why people used to think you could fall off the edge of the earth gazing out across that expanse of water.

The 35 mile trip from Isla Cies to Viana do Castelo, our first stop in Portugal, was a great sail. Shooting along at an average of 7,5 knots and surfing over the waves (hitting an all time high of 9,8 knots!) with solid 25 knots wind on our beam, heavier winds that we generally like but the Pjotter performed beautifully. Seb had an amazing view of a group of dolphins surfing side by side off of a wave breaking just next to him. The further south we go the less swell we have experienced and only northerly winds – in short absolutely fantastic weather for sailing.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Friday, August 07, 2009


Sitting enjoying lunch in a plaza in Pontevedra with the Mjolner crew and Adam when the café owner approached us with a flyer for a bull fight. After some discussion we convinced ourselves to go…I’m still not sure how we justified it but in the end I guess we were just curious and intrigued by the idea. As we approached the arena I admit to having butterflies in my stomach – the kind of butterflies that you have when you know you are doing something very wrong but you know that you are going to do it anyway. The arena was a big round stone building with uncomfortable but very authentic feeling stone steps for seats. There was a thick and infectious buzz of anticipation as the stadium filled – sold out for José Tomas, the most famous matador in Spain. I actually enjoyed the ceremony of the entrance of the matadors, picadors and banderilleros ushered in by a huge marching band. I didn’t have a feel for what it really was until the first bull was released into the ring – then I felt sick, disgusted, very sad, and as though I’d been kicked in the stomach. There followed a slow ritual slaughter of the bull in which it was gradually teased and weakened. I can still clearly picture the panting sides and the confusion and sheer terror in its eyes. I tried to look at the matadors and appreciate their skill and bravery – they were very elegant and as graceful as dancers and they came very close to the enormous horns. But in the end the whole show was one of the most horrifyingly cruel and saddest things I have ever seen.

Pobra de Caraminal

Headed into shore in Pobra de Caraminal at a relatively early hour. We visited the tourist information centre for directions to the natural pools and waterfalls the area is famed for and were helped by a very nice girl who explained that they were approximately ½ hour walk from the car park and ‘very far’ away from where we were. She was right. We walked and walked for two hours up a very windy road. I was carrying Macsen in the knapsack and Emma was on her bike. She had some difficulty riding up the hill so Seb attached a sail-tie to the front of the bike and she balanced while he pulled – a very effective way to travel with a 3-year old and much less work than carrying her. Seb pretended to be the Pjotter and Emma was thus our dinghy, the Spikkel. Since then they have coined a new verb and when she needs to bike up a hill she now asks “Papa, will you Spikkel me please?”

After a two hour walk past several very vicious sounding dogs we finally arrived at the car park described. The long windy road was full of very clear signs to the pools but as soon as we reached the woods, the signs stopped and we stood before several paths with absolutely no idea which way to go further. After several attempts along various paths we finally found one that continued up the river and after approximately two hours we finally arrived at the pools. They were worth it. It was raining a little and we were completely alone with a waterfall falling down into a series of deep pools of clear fresh water. Stupendous! I don’t think it is possible to feel cleaner. After a good swim we headed back along the long path home. This time it took us the expected ½ hour to get back to the car park but we still had the two hour walk down the windy road and the rain was coming down a little more steadily that was comfortable. After approximately ½ hour a car stopped next to us and out stepped the girl from the tourist office and her boyfriend and they very kindly offered us a ride back to the boat. What a relief! At the bottom of the hill, we stopped for a coffee and well-deserved ice-cream before heading back to the boat. Emma had biked about 6 km over the course of seven hours without any complaints!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The best made plans of mice and men…

Left Ria Muros behind and headed out for Ria Arousa, a short trip of 20 nautical miles. As soon as we were outside the protection of the bay we experienced the familiar ocean swells – tedious, swinging, uncomfortable waves that make it difficult to do anything productive underway. These are a nasty drawback to cruising along the Spanish coast. We were hoping to anchor close to the Castro Barona, an old Celtic fortress settlement and head in the dinghies to explore. Unfortunately, due to the swell and the lee shore we didn’t think anchoring was a good idea. We didn’t want to come back to find that our sailboats had joined the dinghies on the beach (please do not interpret this as a statement of disrespect for our Rocna anchor).

Instead, we dropped the anchor in a small bay on the edge of the Ria Arousa called Correbedo. The Mjolner crew invited us for dinner to help them to enjoy the two mackerels and the very long funny-nosed fish (we are still researching the official name) that Jeroen had just landed. Both types of fish were delicious.
The following morning’s plan was to head out to explore the lagoon on the other side of the bay where the pilot suggested that wild orchids grow. Unfortunately there was too much swell again to land the dinghies on the beach so we opted instead for a walk to the lighthouse. It was a beautiful walk, up through the village and back along the cliffs with some impressive views of the waves crashing in. We then pulled up our anchor and headed for Isla Salvora, a island nature reserve in the middle of the bay.

Following some careful rock dodging we approached an idyllic island covered in birds, huge jutting rock formations and (to our great excitement) feral horses! As we prepared to drop anchor we saw a figure waving madly at us from the shore. After some careful (and friendly) back and forth he was able to make it clear to us that we were not allowed to anchor without a permit. It turns out that we should have ordered this at least 24 hours in advance… something that the neither of our pilot books chose to mention. Grrrr. Sadly we motored away and headed for a nice but significantly less picturesque anchorage.

Santiago de Compostela

Our trip to Santiago de Compostela did not begin well. After rising early and rushing madly for the bus we ended up taking a taxi from Portosin 40km to Santiago de Compostela because the buses did not run until 10am on fiesta days and we wanted to arrive for the procession at noon. Just as we were approaching the city, Macsen threw up what seemed like three litres of milk all over Seb and himself. Fortunately, we’d thought to bring an extra set of clothes for him so we cleaned him up upon arrival and he was perfectly happy. Seb, however, spent the day in sticky clothes smelling strongly of sour milk.

It was July 25th and the feast of Saint James in Santiago so the town was chock full of tourists and pilgrims. There were small troops of musicians clad in traditional dress wandering through the streets and huge six meter high puppets dancing along in the plaza outside the cathedral. Santiago de Compostela is a beautiful town with little stone streets, cosy café’s and a very impressive plaza alongside an even more impressive cathedral. For 1000 years there has been a tradition of pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint James located in this cathedral. More than 100,000 people per year make the pilgrimage along the Way of Saint James. The city issues certificates to those pilgrims who can prove that they have travelled at least 100km by foot or 200km by bike or on horseback to the shrine. Seb was able to convince the authorities that although we had not come by foot, bike or horse we had travelled 1200 nautical miles (~2220km) to be there. After some discussion amongst themselves they were kind enough to issue a certificate in the name of the Davies-Ambtman family. In addition to the sheer beauty of Santiago de Compostela city and the opulence of the cathedral there is a very special feeling in the air even for the non-believer. The fact that my grandfather made the pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago gave it an even more special feel for me.