The Spanish Rias

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been in Spain for three weeks already, so I’ll keep this blog entry brief and let the photos do the talking.

After crossing Biscay and arriving in Ria de Vivero, we stopped overnight at Ria de Cedeira as we travelled west back along the coast to La Coruna, our originally intended port of arrival in Spain. I’d been to La Coruna earlier in the year as part of a delivery crew, so it was nice to be able to spend a few days getting to know the city rather than dashing straight off to the airport to catch a flight back to the UK.

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From La Coruna, we rounded Cape Finisterre, and headed down towards the southern rias. Finisterre is another feared headland which has claimed many ships in the past but the conditions were ideal when we passed it:

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Heading south we visited Corme, Camarinas, Muros and Portisin. On the sail from Muros to Portisin we fished for mackerel and managed to get our supper for the evening.

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This area of Spain is where the Spanish spend their holidays and I’ve not heard a word of English spoken anywhere – they’ve managed to keep  this charming area a well guarded secret. One of the highlights for us was the old town in Combarro, a beautifully preserved traditional fishing village:

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From Combarro, we stopped at Ria Alden (a lovely anchorage) before heading down to The Atlantic Islands of Galicia National Park where we spent a few days anchored off a white sand beach, and took long walks through forested hills:

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We are now in Bayona, yet another charming Spanish city and just a few miles north of the national park, enjoying more Albarino wines and great seafood. We will depart to cross the border into Portugal later today.

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Crossing Biscay

We set off from Trebeurden in northern France on Wednesday morning and managed to sail most of the day under light winds. We rounded Ushant at the most north western tip of France just as the sun was setting that evening, then turned left and aimed the boat towards La Coruna in Spain. From there, the crossing took another two days.

On the first day there was very little wind and we motored all day in the company of dolphins. That evening, as Maarten was lighting the oven to prepare dinner, there was a deafening scream of airplane engines and we were buzzed by a twin engined plane that had dived down to take a (much) closer look at us. I don’t know a lot about planes, but it looked to me like the plane from Raiders of the Lost Ark except that it was grey, not silver, and had ‘Marines’ painted along the side. I don’t know whether it was in active service or if it was an older restored plane, but it was a pretty spectacular sight either way.

We were expecting about 20 knots of wind from WSW on the final day of the crossing so motored out as far west as possible whilst keeping clear of the traffic lanes and the big ships. Positioning ourselves this way would allow us to sail into the wind at a fair enough angle to reach La Coruna.

The next morning when the wind arrived it was stronger and more southerly than forecast. Under heavily reduced sails and battling confused seas in excess of 3 meters, we beat our way on to Spain. Our original destination of La Coruna was no longer an option unless we wanted to motor directly into the wind, so we made course for Ria de Viveiro instead – a wide natural harbour that we could enter safely in the dark. Feeling exhausted, we arrived there and set the anchor for the night just after 0100hrs the following morning.

We’d like to say thanks to Maarten, who joined us for this trip. He has sailed with us many times before with his family. It’s always nice to see him, and having the extra hands on deck proved invaluable given the conditions this week.

If you’d like to see more photos and movies from our journey, then take a look at our Facebook page.

Port hopping along the north French coast

It feels like we’ve been on the move for ages already, but I’ve not found the time to sit and write anything. Now that we’re just about ready to set off on the longest leg of our trip this summer it feels right to mark the occasion with a blog update. Tomorrow we will spend our last night in France before setting off across Biscay for Spain. If the winds are kind to us, we will be there after three days, in time for the weekend.

After arriving at Boulogne last week, we’ve moved westward along the French coast stopping at Dieppe and Fecamp before arriving at our favourite stop: Honfleur.

Living in Kent, we are used to pretty medieval towns, but have never seen anywhere quite as well preserved as Honfleur. Street after street of pretty buildings and alleyways.

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We arrived on the 21st June, the summer solstice, and moored up alongside the town quay (that’s us there in the middle):

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That night we joined our friends Robin and Claire, who have sailed along with us in their boat from Ramsgate, and enjoyed good food, live music (it turns out the French know how to play blues rock pretty well) and packed streets:

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We have spent the past few days exploring the Channel Islands, and are now in Jersey where we have picked up Maarten who will be crewing with us across Biscay.

Leaving England

We’re finally under way on our summer cruise to Portugal!

We set off at 7am from Ramsgate to catch the ebb tide in the English Channel, expecting strong wind and currents to take us south past Dover and Calais to our first destination: Boulogne Sur Mer.

And what a great day’s sailing we enjoyed. A solid F5 the whole way with wind speeds of around 20 kts and a current of almost 3 kts helping us along as we dodged the ferries outside of Dover harbour.

Our guests clearly enjoyed the trip. Patrice and his son, Ariel, were on board and at one point I though I might need a crow bar to get them off the helm. The autopilot didn’t get used at all but I expect this will change now that it’s just me and Helena on board again.

Patrice treated us all to some fabulous French cuisine at La Matelote which overlooks the beach in the evening. This morning he and Ariel left to catch a train back to Calais, and from there on to home in London.

Today, Helena and I have explored Boulogne. The heart of the town is a pretty medieval walled city with tight cobbled streets:

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Some of the shops were of particular interest for Helena:

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Tomorrow we will set off towards Dieppe where we hope to meet up with friends who are travelling towards the Channel Islands in their boat.

Superstar Mog

This summer, our ship’s cat caused a minor media stir when he decided to abscond for a few days and take some unauthorised shore leave in Scotland.

He was lost for six days in total, and we were naturally very worried that we might never see him again. To help find him we did everything possible to raise awareness of his disappearance, contacting newspapers, radio stations and posting notices on Facebook and Twitter. Eventually it was the posters we stuck to the lamp posts in the town that aided his return. In the meantime though, our pleas were noticed by more mainstream media. What follows is a selection of the articles that we know about, if you know of any more then please let us know.

Metro, the free daily newspaper in London, ran this article (click on the articles to read them):

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Rather bizarrely, some Russian friends then pointed out that the Russian newspaper “Lenta” had picked up on the story:

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We subsequently found this article published by the Scottish Express:

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And Yachting Monthly ran this in the news section of their October issue:

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We were then contacted by Real People magazine who offered to make a donation to our fund raising page in return for an interview. They ran the article on their cover page (see the banner at the top) and wrote it in the first person from Helena’s perspective.

I love the way they’ve used a little creative license and have phrased her voice to suit their readership. I’ve never hear her call him “Bux” in real life!

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Today, while lamenting the end of the summer and wondering if we’ll manage to get out for a sail on the weekend, this arrived in the post:

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The final leg home

There are grey skies outside today and it would appear that our luck with the weather has held out just long enough to get us back home safely. This morning, the BBC weatherman said that the first autumn storm will strike on Sunday bringing with it 60 miles per hour winds. So as much as we’d love to still be out there on our journey, the elements seem to have decided that its about time to leave Amalia in the harbour and to return to our land based lives for a while.

This last week has really been a long slow wind-down for us. We spent a couple of days in the Solent getting jobs done on the boat and then headed back fairly quickly along the south coast to Ramsgate where we’ll keep Amalia for the winter.

We passed the needles under threatening skies and arrived in Cowes last Saturday, the 7th September, meeting up with my son Ed and his girlfriend Jenny who are both studying at the university there.

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We were in early and moored up in Shepards Quay marina. There were three end of season regattas in the Solent that weekend so after a few hours we were well and truly pinned in by the other boats that had rafted alongside us:

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The next day we crossed the Solent and moored up in Hamble, an overpriced marina in the arse-end of nowhere but with excellent facilities and workshops that we could employ to get the boat back into tip-top shape. Two days later, all jobs completed, we set off again with Ed on board, passing the old Solent fortresses on our way:

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We spent that night at anchor in Chichester harbour and set off the following morning, passing Beachy Head and planning to stop for the night in Eastbourne marina.

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There are a number of different tides in play along the south coast and the timing of their currents changes as you round each major headland. When travelling from west to east, as we were, it is possible to catch one favourable tide after another if you get your timing right.

Eastbourne was in sight as we rounded Beachy Head, but it was also clear that we’d timed it just about right to catch a good tide from there to Dungeness if we wanted to. Taking this option meant that we’d be able to pass Dungeness and arrive in Dover some seven hours later, at about 9pm. Arriving anywhere (let alone Dover) in the dark can be tricky and was something that we’d avoided doing anywhere on this trip, but it would put us a day ahead of schedule with deteriorating weather forecasts.

So, with Eastbourne in our wake and a new route to Dover plotted, we pressed on. Avoiding the busy traffic lanes and the ferries, we arrived dead on 9pm and crept into the marina for the night. Here we are passing the huge nuclear power station at the tip of Dungeness along the way:

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The next day was a short hop on to Ramsgate where we completed our circumnavigation, and were greeted home by Alan and Vanessa with their son Alfie. Once tied up on the visitors pontoon, we celebrated in the local cafe with bacon rolls and champagne, a combination I can highly recommend:

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Completing the circumnavigation has given us a big confidence boost in regard to our seamanship. It’s a huge achievement for us and I suspect spells the start of a more permanent lifestyle for us a little further down the line.

As ever, if you’d like to see more photos of our journey, then take a look at the albums on our Facebook page.

The Cornish Coast

We arrived in Penzance from the Scilly Isles on the 29th August and from there we sailed the next day around Lizard Point to meet my Dad in Falmouth. We spent a lovely evening there sampling yet more fish and chips and later, the delicious local beers.

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The next day turned out to be a day for reacquainting with old friends from Uni. We shared tea and biscuits on board with John Salter and his parter Claire before setting sail for Fowey.  After a windy sail, we arrived in Fowey, and I received a FB message from Ian Utting and Sally Fincher who spotted us arriving in the harbour from the flat they rent there each summer. We joined them for drinks later in the evening, and they showed us around. It was a pretty impressive place, and even had its own landing jetty for us to moor the dinghy on.

We then set off for Cawsand Bay, in the entrance to Plymouth harbour, a major naval base. Along the way we tried our luck at fishing and once again, caught a couple of great looking pollock for the pot.

We spent the evening on anchor in the bay watching the warships coming and going, before settling in for the night.

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My Dad had seemed to bring the wind with him, as we enjoyed a third successive day sailing on to Salcombe. Helena and I came here when we first chartered a yacht years ago. It was lovely to return to somewhere that we had great memories of only to have them reinforced the second time around. The mooring fees were reasonable, the harbour staff friendly, and as we were nearer the end of the season than on our last visit, the place was just a little less crowded and all the better for it too.

Our second guest for the week, Rob, joined us in Salcombe and we continued on to Dartmouth the next day. Rob, spurred on by my dad’s success with fishing, spent a fruitless day trying to catch us something for dinner – luckily we had meatballs on board so we didn’t go hungry. I guess he could have tried blaming it on the sunstroke that had caused him to collapse exhausted on the sofa that evening but I have proof that this was all faked:

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After being teased endlessly by my dad for being a crap fisherman, Rob gave it another go the next day as we headed for Lyme Regis. This time, with a change of lures, he managed to hook in nine small mackerel that we fried and ate with a fresh salad for dinner that night. Even Buxton seemed impressed:

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The last day’s sailing for this week was around Portland Bill and The Portland Race, a notorious stretch of water – this comment is straight out of the Shell Channel Pilot book and had what I expect is the intended effect on this reader:

Portland Race is the most dangerous extended area of broken water in the English Channel. Quite substantial vessels drawn in to it have been known to disappear without a trace.

After a lengthy study of the area’s tidal charts, some very careful planning, a full crew briefing, and a dose of seasickness tablets for all on board we set off to round Portland Bill. It would take us around four hours to get there, which should coincide with slack water. Our plan was to head further offshore if the conditions looked too rough. As it turned out, we needn’t have worried as the waters were benign enough for us to head much closer inshore than we had initially expected and we had a great view of Portland Bill as we rounded its southernmost point:

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I’m currently sat in what seems like a much bigger, and a significantly quieter boat writing this blog. I ferried Rob and my dad ashore in the dinghy earlier this morning, and they’ll make their respective ways home from there.

Helena and I are now planning the remaining week or so of our journey. We will be in the Solent area getting a few maintenance jobs completed on the boat for the next few days. We will then head on along the south coast to our home port of Ramsgate to complete our circumnavigation some time towards the end of next week.

I think we both have quite mixed emotions right now. It’s a great feeling to be on the home straight, but its equally sad to think that this fantastic journey must soon come to an end.

Learning to fish, and the Isles of Scilly

We left Ireland on Sunday the 25th August and took on our last long passage of our circumnavigation, across the Irish Sea. The forecast was for a decent breeze, but the sea conditions were set to be moderate/rough.

The first day went well and we tried out our new fishing gear as we passed the small islands just outside Kilmore Quay. I reeled in the first pollock, and then Helena caught the (marginally more impressive) second:

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Later in the day we were followed by dozens of dolphins. They came racing over to us before playing across our bows. At one point we had three or four groups join us like this all from different directions and, although impossible to count, we estimate that there were between thirty and forty dolphins zipping around the boat all together at one point.

As the evening closed in and we were getting further offshore, the direction of the waves changed entirely and they became much bigger, hitting us across our rear quarter. The wind was also coming from directly behind us which, in combination with the waves made it virtually impossible to sail. To maintain our course we ran the engine through the night and took our three hour watches in turn. The clear skies allowed the bright moon to light the surreal watery landscape around us; it was a beautiful and quite humbling scene.

In the morning, as we approached Scilly, I sailed in slightly calmer seas while Helena slept under Buxton’s watchful eye:

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Scilly is a stunningly beautiful group of islands about 20 miles south west of Cornwall. I took this photo just as we were arriving at the entrance to New Grimsby Sound on the north side of Tresco, it was tricky to make out the entrance between the rocks:

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We’d been joined on deck by a small fish that must have decided that he’d had enough of the Irish Sea and that life on board with us would be better. Buxton wasn’t too impressed and didn’t seem to know what to make of a meal that hadn’t come out of a packet:

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We spent three nights at anchor in the Scillies (there are no marinas), and moved from one stunning location to the next each day. This is us anchored in Old Grimsby Sound, where we spent the second night:

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Sadly there wasn’t enough wind to kitesurf but I did dust off the kites and have a play on the white sandy beach that you can see in the background. Another few knots of wind and this would have been just about the most perfect kitesurf spot imaginable.

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The last night was spent alone in a very remote anchorage. There were no other boats there and absolutely no light pollution which, combined with a perfectly clear sky, meant that the view of the heavens was incredible and we could clearly make out the Milky Way.

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This morning we set off to find another anchorage. As we worked our way around the north side of the islands, we realised that the sea was flat, and that the wind direction was good for a crossing back to the mainland. With Cornwall clearly in sight the temptation to take advantage of the good conditions won us over and we changed course for Penzance. We are now at anchor just outside the harbour there, in sight of St Michaels Mount.

Tomorrow we will round Lizard Point and head for Falmouth where we’ve arranged to collect my Dad. He’ll be joining us for a few day’s as we head along Cornwall’s Jurassic coast.

If you’d like to see more photos from our circumnavigation, then take a look at our Facebook page

Buxton disappears again!

Once again there was panic on board this morning as we couldn’t find Buxton!

We’d spent the night at anchor outside Rosslare, a busy ferry terminal, so there was no pontoon for him to escape on. If he wasn’t on board, it could mean only one thing: he was away with the fishes!

I’d seen him in the night when I’d got up to silence a few things  that were bumping around as the boat rolled in the wake from the ferries, but in the morning when I got up it was just like Lossiemouth all over again and he was nowhere to be seen. We searched in all the cabins, and the heads, and under the table where he generally hides himself away. The port holes were barely open so we couldn’t see how he could have managed to even get out on deck but we still searched the topsides anyway.

Then we thought we heard the jingle of his collar. Sure enough, it led us to him. He’d managed to climb into one of the cupboards I’d opened in the night to fix a rattle. I’d closed it again in the morning inadvertently shutting him inside:

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So, a short panic and a false alarm. Thank goodness.

Republic of Ireland

Last weekend we left Amalia in Dun Laoghaire marina and stayed at an old friend from university's place in Dublin. We packed a light bag for the weekend and a box with a cat in it too.

Nicola was, as ever, a great host and took us on a tour of the city, starting at the Guinness brewery where we took a walk around the exhibitions before enjoying the best ever pint of the black stuff in their sky bar with great views of the city:

We then walked around the Temple Bar area, eating in a food market and enjoying public art installations before retiring to a bar for another round of refreshments.

On Sunday the wind was up so we took Nicola out for a day sail around Dublin bay. She proved to be a natural at the helm. Check out her look of concentration:

Even Buxton seemed relaxed with her sailing skills:

We have now moved south again to Arklow and are assessing the weather for the next leg of our journey.

Finally, these caught my eye in the supermarket this morning – proof if you needed it that we are actually in Ireland: