Saturday, 28 September 2013

Rabat/Sale - Bouregreg Marina

Somewhere down there is Temptress!
It appears we’ve arrived in the Moroccan equivalent of Dubai – a marina set alongside a development of yet to be completed luxury flats, sound familiar? It is all a complete contrast to the run down, rather ramshackle buildings of the amazing Salé medina two minutes’ walk away. The marina though is well appointed except, for reasons the management won’t give, the wifi (this is a French speaking country so they cutely call it "whiffy" not why-fie) has limited functionality. Anything using https (ie email, banking, Facebook etc) or Google is inaccessible. It may be sometime before I can actually publish this blog!

The pontoon where we are moored is full of a different type of boat to those of Europe; long haulers forty feet or more equipped like us with solar panels, wind generators, biminis and a vast range of other appendages Temptress has not yet acquired. These aren’t boats heading to the Med for some winter sun but boats either just starting a circumnavigation or in the case of the half a dozen or so American boats, heading home via the Caribbean at the end of several years of world girdling. One or two boats are heading north to Europe but most are biding their time in Morocco until the ARC (a big trans-atlantic sailing rally) leaves the Canaries in November freeing up anchorages and marina berths in the islands.

Rabat Khasbah from the river
Everyone is extremely friendly. This is the first time we’ve really got to meet a lot of fellow cruisers, partly because we’ve mostly been at anchor and partly because everyone in Spain and Portugal was is a rush to get south before the chills of Autumn caught up with them. Invites to other boats for tea, coffee or something stronger are legion, any boat jobs take ages or get delayed to another day by chatting on the pontoon. We’ve met a lovely couple from Turkey whose sturdy steel Van der Stat (for land lubbers this is a well known Dutch boat builder) is called “Istanbul” and its port of registry also painted on the hull is Istanbul so it reads “Istanbul Istanbul” which we found amusing with its play on “New York, New York”. Then there is the one permanent marina resident next door to us, a young Belgian guy who is married to a Moroccan, though they are leaving for Gibraltar shortly as you can only keep a boat in Morocco for one year without paying import duty. He has been an extremely useful source of local knowledge like where the supermarkets are, which trams to get and more whilst in turn asking us lots of questions about life in Dubai which is somewhere he is thinking of moving to.

Traditional Morocco
Rabat and Salé are divided by the river Bouregreg, hence the name of the marina “Bouregreg”. The pronunciation of which has been impossible to pin down; the yachties call it Boo-reg-reg whilst the locals seem to say Bore-hrgh with the second syllable coming from somewhere in the back of their Arab-French speaking throats – we’ve tried but failed to reproduce the sound. Calling up for a boat to guide us in when we reached the port entrance was interesting but they understood our feeble attempt to pronounce their marina name and a friendly pair quickly turned up. Without them we’d have probably run aground, the dredged channel is perilously close to waves breaking on rocks on the port hand side a short distance inside the harbour walls. It was a spectacular entrance with the ancient fortified medina walls of Rabat on the cliffs to our right and further up the river lots of small open fishing boats gaily painted white and blue moored fore and aft along the Rabat bank. On the northern Salé bank is salt marsh (mosquitoes are rife). Temptress was doing eight knots over the ground on the incoming tide – not a place for the faint hearted nor an entrance to undertake if there was any swell outside.
Research about the port prior to our arrival implied that some baksheesh would be asked for by officials to oil our way through the endless form filling and that small gifts in the shape of ciggies or alcohol (neither of which we felt comfortable with giving partly because we don’t smoke ourselves and partly because many Muslims don’t drink) would be needed but that has not been the case. A simple "salaam alaykum" before introducing ourselves, a smattering of French conversation to follow and plenty of smiles has been all that we needed.  That plus plenty of ink as we filled in forms asking for the same information several times over! I’m sure that once we’ve checked in and out of a few more ports down this coast both our passport numbers and the boat registry details will be as easy to recall as our shoe size and date of birth. Then it was off to our appointed berth, a very short pair of finger pontoons with French style end-loops rather than cleats that we are securely fastened to on either side, stern to for ease of boarding. After that a final round of form filling at the marina office and we could relax.

Carpets, Rue de Consuls, Rabat
A modern bridge crosses the river just upstream of the marina and there are two tram lines which we have yet to explore. One key fact we were quickly acquainted with by our Belgian neighbour is that the two cities have separate taxi systems and they won’t cross the river bridge so trying to get back from the supermarket on the other side of the bridge with any sizeable shop is not easy! The advice was to take the tram or a taxi to the Carrefour out of town on our side of the river ie Salé. We plan to try this out later today as supplies are running short. A trip round Salé
Tour Hassan, Rabat
Medina yesterday turned up coffee, dates and lots of fruit and veg stalls plus the skipper finally got his planks (more on those in a later blog when he’s finished constructing his diesel can racks) for the grand sum of 470 dirhams (about 35 quid) but we didn’t fancy the meat on offer what with the lack of refrigeration and the flies.

How long will we be here? Like the rest of the boats we are in no hurry to get to the Canaries, berthing here is relatively cheap at 17 dh per metre per night (there are 13 Moroccan dirhams to the GB pound), less for longer stays and very safe so we might leave the boat and take the train to Marrakesh for a couple of days and or a day trip to Casablanca. Then there is historic Rabat to explore across the river.

Night Watch

Rolly Seas on Sunday
05:00 Monday 23 September.  Been on deck for an hour or so, the grey gloom of dawn is all around. What wind there is has gone around to the west Temptress is motoring with a scrap of jib to steady her course through the sloppy seas left over from yesterday’s easterly F4. The skies have clouded over since my last watch which finished at 2 am so there is no moon to write by.

The skipper went to his bunk leaving the first mate with the only ship for miles. It uneventfully passed ahead from right to left on its way north. Now there is a single white light just ahead an off to port, probably a yacht. It is not on the AIS and the sea is way too deep at over 2000m for a small fishing vessel to be laying pots or nets. Wonder who they are? It seems to be on the same course as us. Two hundred and twenty nautical miles down, less than sixty to go to reach our destination of Rabat, Morocco. Is the yacht heading there too?

Sunday Evening Sunset
Despite crossing some of the world’s major shipping tracks to and from the Straits of Gibraltar some hundred miles or so to our left (east of the boat) we’ve seen very few ships except on the AIS which at times has had a continuous trail of overlapping triangular green icons. The VHF has been busy with radio operators calling one another to arrange starboard to starboard passing/overtaking or the like. We also realised tonight that the AIS is not always the miracle tool it seems, one large passenger ship turned out to be an enormous tanker when it finally appeared over the horizon confusing the skipper somewhat – one watch officer presumably didn’t check which ship type they were selecting when configuring their set.

Yesterday the skipper informed me that we had had a net net day in terms of power – amps consumed equaled amps generated thanks to plenty of wind and sun. The water tanks are full despite the skipper forgetting to push the lever over to direct the water made into the tank the day before yesterday after we left Sines, Portugal. As we’ve been motoring at intervals overnight we’ll have ample hot water for showers too, it will be nice to arrive clean and fresh. Looking forward to when we arrive as I’ll be able to charge my toothbrush. Having one of those little rings you balance it on to charge may be neat but it is difficult to keep it there at sea and I forgot to do it whilst we were at anchor. Cleaning your teeth with a “dead” electric toothbrush is not the most efficient of processes.

Approaching Rabat Entrance, Monday afternoon
There has been little wildlife since we sailed south of Cabo Sao Vincent, only the occasional bird. The first day as we headed south off the remainder of Portuguese coast there had been lots of dolphins and gannets to keep us company. Now though I can smell the hot musky scent of land a bit like damp wood on the breeze. This westerly probably came across the Sahara and over the mountains of northern Morocco to reach my cosy corner of a rather dewy cockpit. It has been great not to need oilies and thermals at night. A long sleeved t-shirt, light trousers and thin fleece is all that is needed to ward off the relative chill once the sun has set. Keeping the cushions dry is though a necessity; fold it over when not actually sitting on it otherwise you quickly get a damp behind.

I’m signing off to do a scan of the horizon and make some coffee. It will soon be light and at 08:00, time for the skippers watch.

Log: Sines, Portugal to Rabat, Morocco - 284nm

Saturday, 21 September 2013

A Day Sail

Clouds over the mountains behind Cascais   
Just for a change Temptress made a day sail from Cascais to Sines (Sin-esh) almost 60nm down the coast.  We'd come in search of a quieter anchorage and got it apart from the engineering work going on to stabilise the cliffs below the town, landscape gardening with a large digger! Looks like the 100m high earth and rock collapsed recently, now the banks below the town are being reinforced with concrete bulwarks and a new lift and staircase installed. 

The trip was fairly uneventful we'd been unable to get water whilst topping up the diesel tank in Cascais - the marina have insisted that the petrol station can't provide water meaning you'd have to pay for the marina if you needed to top up! We weren't too bothered despite having only a few litres left - we simply ran the watermaker for most of the trip. The wind was light and behind us so it was not so much sailing as motoring for six and a half hours.

We towed a lure all the way but caught no fish though we do have to confess to having to rescue a young gannet who somehow got caught in the line about half way between rod and lure. No idea how it managed it but we stopped the boat then reeled the bird in then cut the line either side of the wing it was caught on.  Unfortunately we couldn't get close enough in the swell to actually cut the line at the wing so the young bird flapped off with a bit still snared around his longest wing feathers. We can only hope the last bit of line would shake free now the pressure was off. The bird was not at all grateful trying to peck and struggle away all the time.

Sines from the sea
Sines is the hometown of Vaco Da Gama who if you remember your history discovered the sea route to India and effectively established Portugal as a maritime trading power. Today it is flanked on either side by a large oil refinery and oil terminal and a container port but once in the old fishing harbour below the town with its curving sandy beach and a small marina the heavy industry is out of sight.

Lots of narrow cobbled streets of  little houses painted white and blue with washing hanging below the upper windows, some interesting little shops including a musical instrument maker and a clock repairer both of whom had intriguing workshops opening onto the street and many little bars. A pleasant town to while away a few hours. The old fort which dominates the harbour skyline has been restored since we were last here and we took a walk round its walls to get a good view of Temptress lying to her anchor.

After a quiet couple of nights the crew are now well fortified for the 250 or so nautical mile trip south east across some of the busiest shipping lanes (traffic to and from the Straits of Gibralter) to Rabat, the capital of Morocco. If there is any wind it'll take around 42 hours. We need apparently to arrive at high water with little or no swell entering the river as it is a tricky entrance so we're timing our departure accordingly. The weather forecast looks ok though we may encounter some easterlies blowing strongly through the Strait but hopefully our course is far enough out to the west to avoid the worst of them.

Both of us are looking forward to Morocco, a bit of Arabic culture and food together perhaps with some exploring inland. Oh and we have also sorted out the insurance whilst we've been here so Temptress is now insured as far as the Cape Verdes with a further installment to pay to add in the Atlantic and Brazil. We simply in the end had to bite the bullet and go with the only option we had, expensive but we hope worth it.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Cascais 11 Years On

Doing the supermarket run
Fishing boats and beyond yachts at anchor
Sitting here in the bay at Cascais it appears that ten years on little has changed except for a few new buildings along the beach. In town the shopping centre and bus station that was under construction causing a huge detour to pedestrian access to the Jumbo supermarket has been completed but the traffic jams are much the same. Cascais is a wealthy suburb of Lisbon and unlike many towns across Europe appears to have suffered little from the current economic crisis; restaurants and bars are thriving though shopping is restricted to tourist trinkets, upmarket handbags, Zara (Susie: I’ve has resisted the temptation to go in so far), mobile phone shops and two supermarkets. There seem to be few empty premises, except in the marina which was relatively new in 2001/2 and it seems a lot of the units there have never been used. There are a few small chandleries mostly offering other technical yacht services, though one is also a small but well stocked “corner shop” and the remainder of the units in use are bars or cafes.  One good thing a walkway now exists linking the castle wall path into town and the marina on the seaward side removing the need for the lengthy clockwise detour round the fort.

One thing does remain unchanged the marina’s reputation for being one of the most expensive places to moor in Europe, it was so when it opened in 1999 and remains today’s price of four euros and thirty cents per metre on a par with some of the more select places in Poole Harbour, UK for overnight berthing. Little wonder then that over an early morning coffee in the cockpit one could count over thirty boats at anchor in the bay, more at the weekend. And it’s not just your average cruising yachtie that is avoiding the expense, a fifty foot UK flagged “gin palace” and a similarly sized local catamaran dropped the hook too. In our few days here small cruising boats and large super yachts alike have eschewed the marina’s facilities. A walk round there for some chandlery shows many empty berths and few foreign boats. With solar panels, wind generator, a solar shower and the dinghy for trips ashore Temptress has been quite self-sufficient.

Portugal though is still cheaper than Spain for food and as long as you stick to locally produced wines and beers they are cheaper too. There is no market in Cascais except Wednesdays so most of the shopping has to be at Jumbo, though there is a Pingo Douce (Portugal’s equivalent to Waitrose) in the new shopping centre. We love the way that any local supermarket reflects the national diet or food obsessions; the cheese and cooked meat shelves in Jumbo are expansive with a bewildering choice on offer whilst instant coffee and tea choices are limited. And you can buy any wine you like as long as it is Portuguese.

An odd thing that has struck us as a complete contrast to Baiona; there you could get free wifi almost anywhere for the price of a coffee and both marinas happily proved anyone who asked for their free to use service too, here MacDonald’s offers the only wifi in town! We think the answer lies in the mobile data tariffs but unless you are here for a longer stay the hassle of purchasing a local dongle (it can take two days for the connection to be set up) means we’ll stick to MacD’s AC’d premises for now.

Somethings are definitely the same - Jardim do Frangos still does chargrilled half chicken with fries and a mixed salad for a reasonable price with friendly service and the meat was as tasty and moist as we remembered it. People parked their cars almost but not quite on the pedestrian crossing outside to run in and collect their takeaway orders. The waiters engaged in banter between themselves or with regular customers and patiently explained some of the Portuguese specialties to a group of elderly Norwegian women who had little English but did recognise the word “Bacalhau”. 

Bacalhau (back-allow) is dried salted cod – the salt came from Portugal, was traded by the Brits for the cod in Norway then shipped back to Portugal to be traded for more salt – a trading triangle that led to a unique relationship between Portugal and the UK, they are Europe’s oldest allies. You see the stiff creamy coloured pieces in smelly piles in most supermarkets. To become edible once more it needs lots of soaking and rinsing (not something you can do easily with the limited water supply of a boat) but once restored it is almost like fresh cod though to our mind it needs a good sauce to make up for the dryness of the flesh.  The Portuguese bake it and serve with lots of potatoes and a veg like broccoli or cabbage.

Salted cod aside we’ve dug out our Portuguese cookbook and are determined to restore to our own diet some of the dishes we loved before we headed to the Middle East and found new cuisine to explore. Calde Verde (green cabbage soup), Portuguese Steak (steak baked in the oven surrounded by potato slices with a piece of dried ham on top, Acorda Alentejana (a kind of stale bread soup with garlic, fresh coriander boiling water and poached eggs, very simple, extremely quick and very tasty for lunch) and finally one that has never been lost from our repertoire of suppers, Portuguese Roast Beef – large chunks (10cm cubes minimum) of stewing beef (don’t use best topside if you want it to remain carvable at the end!) steeped in red wine and a drop of vinegar for a few hours then baked layered with plenty of onion, smoked bacon, butter, allspice and a cinnamon stick.

Narrow pavement!
Clear blue skies

Everywhere you find tiled signs

Moorish tiles in the O'Neil house cloisters

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Lumina - A Blast from the Past

Cascais Swim Challenge
 So far since reaching the Iberian Pennisula the entertainment ashore has been good value. One Saturday in Baiona we were rudely awoken early by sound tests from across the bay, we soon forgot our annoyance as couple of dozen small planes and microlights landed on the beach. Kevin was able to provide a translation of the commentary; the pilots had apparently flown all night to get there. The following morning around 8am it was by contrast completely quiet no traffic along the usually busy main road that traverses Baiona’s seafront at all. There was a bike race coming through the town and by nine normal service was resumed.
Cascais Water Polo

Here in Cascais there has been no shortage of free entertainment. Saturday saw the setting up of a Swim Challenge off the closest beach to Temptress and a water polo pitch. No idea what the commentary was all about but it appeared to be some sort of triathalon in the morning followed by longer distance swimming events in the afternoon. And we have discovered the pretty O’Neil house in the park with its cloisters and Moorish tiles, now a museum. It seems quite a few Irish families emigrated to Lisbon in the 18th century as the O’Neils counted O’Byrnes and others in their family tree.

Nearly thirty years ago the First Mate lived in the tourist hotspot of Matlock Bath in Derbyshire. There in the early autumn they had their “lights” and still do. Attracting crowds from the nearby cities of Sheffield, Derby and Nottingham it was an inland version of Blackpool’s favourite - a variety of twee tableau illuminated by coloured bulbs through the riverside gardens and a pageant of boats down the Derwent with yet more illuminations. Well it seems Cascais has brought the whole idea up to date with the Lumina Festival over this past weekend – lots of LEDs, fibre optic cable, colour changing lighting, computer controlled installations and projected light fantasies plus a lot of plastic items and a collection of cars filled with silk flowers! We have been fascinated by some of the pieces near the beach over the last few evenings and last night being the final night decided to “follow the blue lamps” (altered street lights) through the town along with it seemed most of the local population, the streets were crowded.

Floating lights
The strawberry coloured igloo
Starting right by where we moor the dinghy there is an installation of lit “balloons” floating in amongst the small open fishing boats off Praia Ribereira, whose colour changes through the spectrum randomly – the explanatory sign says it is by a UK group called Atmosphere, very pretty. Ashore on the beach is an igloo made of red jerry cans (looks like a giant strawberry when lit at night), the signage has something pretentious or may be it’s tongue in cheek, about global warming and alternative housing for Inuit. Up the hill above the marina there was more including a collection of pastel coloured watering cans with fibre optic water which small children loved to sit among, a huge Dutch light show on the end wall of a church that looked at first like angular graffiti but soon became more as it writhed about and produced butterflies and flowers. Then we found the cars, we’d seen one in daylight stuffed full of fur fabric and silk house plants. At night it had green neon lighting odd but fun, there were more scattered in the streets nearby with respectively pink orchids, white daisies and yellow sunflowers – hugely silly and attracting crowds. On past giant sized “paper boats” placed over street lights, a street full of smaller paper boats being made by children and suspended on LED bulldog clips above the pavement, large white mounds (snow or an alien life form?) apparently falling off roof tops and then we were back down at the seafront…

Finally our favourite, Key Frames a French piece from Lyon. It filled the large square with a group of matchstick figures made out of florescent tubing. Each figure is suspended in various running poses on a post, looking for all the world like one of those flip books that animate a figure but in this case by means of synchronised lighting a line of six “competitors” run a race to kick things off. This “urban installation” is incredibly well executed with an accompanying sound track of snippets of classical and disco music as well as voice. There is plenty of humour too; one of the racing figures apparently trips then on being invited to try again performs somersaults down the course. Later two of the stickmen fight when one announces to the other “connaissez Bruce Lee?.  After a sombre funeral march enacted by other figures the fallen loser decides revive and celebrate with a disco! Every performance got a round of applause, round the square even elderly couples indulged in a little waltzing or jiving depending on the music whilst little girls simply stood amongst the figures jigging up and down to the music or staring up at the animation. Brilliant entertainment, well done Cascais!

Sorry so few photo’s, it was too dark and too busy but hopefully you can find more here.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

A Fast Passage to Portugal

Securing the dinghy the night before
Tuesday 10 September 08:00 Temptress departed Baiona for Cascais, Portugal (Cas-quay-sh). That is 08:00 BST, we tried but failed dismally to adjust to Spanish time and, knowing that Portugal and most of our other destinations this side of the Atlantic are UT/GMT, we basically ignored UT+1 for the week or so we were in Spain except when heading out for shopping, bars or eating! The sun was just coming up (another benefit of ignoring the Spanish clock is that it is actually daylight at 08:00 BST) and the wind in the anchorage was a worrying south easterly though not a lot of it. There were 218 nautical miles ahead of us on the by now familiar heading of 190 degrees (much the same angle of the dangle that had brought us to Spain from Ireland) and motoring the whole way against a light head wind wouldn’t be much fun.

A final Spanish sunset
Once out beyond the bay though things perked up. The true wind was a lively north easterly as per the forecast. Temptress kicked up her heels with a full genoa (no mainsail) and headed south at seven knots. Dolphins came to play in our bow wave throughout almost the whole voyage, we’ve never seen so many sometimes several dozen were prancing around us leaping out of the water side by side in fours! The Portuguese Trade Winds and the related Portuguese current sped us south through the morning, we were making better than planned progress. Temptress was soon crossing the International border meaning a change in courtesy flags. HMS Penzance passed us heading for Porto around noon (without the AIS we’d have just put her down as a local warship). By early evening we’d had nibbles, a boat risotto was in progress (mince, peppers, courgette, tinned toms, herbs and rice) and the sun was still shining.

The Skipper ready for his watch

Sunsets at sea are wonderful
It didn’t last; soon after Susie went off watch (three hours on three hours off through the night) the wind died and on went the engine for the rest of the passage. The night was cold, presumably the northerly wind had come from the Artic and it was damp with a heavy dew – oilies were de rigueur. At nine am the skipper woke the first mate just an hour into her latest spell in her bunk – thick fog and Temptress was fast approaching the gap between Peniche, a busy fishing port on the mainland and Ilha da Berlinga five miles offshore. We could divert and go round but with another set of islands further out again it would add miles to the trip. Radar on and almost constantly watched by one of us, AIS regularly checked and we managed to not get run down or to run down any of the small fishing boats around us (vessels under 20m don’t have to fit AIS but fortunately they do show up on the radar).

A fog-bow
What about pot buoy markers? Just as Kevin maintains they are taken in at night (most are rarely spotted until the steaming light high up the mast picks them out) we decided that they weren’t there in the fog either. Off every small port there were squillions of them some a polystyrene block with a bamboo flag pole others simply large grey containers. With visibility mostly less than a few boat lengths we simply had to ignore the danger until a marker hove into view when a quick press of the autopilot key ensured a rapid temporary course change if needed.

Cascais lighthouse
The fog continued almost pea souper-like until just north of the infamous Cabo Roca (last time Temptress was here in 2002 it took us five attempts to round it to head north as wind and waves conspired against tired sails and even with a heavy fixed prop we couldn’t motor sail round it despite being five or more miles offshore). What a contrast the fog cleared revealing a scorching hot day. Fortunately it had cos off the marina wall there must have been several hundred small pot buoys, a small forest of tiny blue flags you’d never spot in the dark and we had to weave course through them like a drunk after closing time to reach the red port hand marker that was our final waypoint before exploring the anchorage for a suitable spot. The tidal rise and fall here on neaps is two metres and it was half tide on its way in by Susie’s rough and ready secondary port calculation, six metres of water would be more than enough. By five pm the anchor was down with exactly 218 miles covered and an hour ahead of our passage plan, almost unheard of when sailing anywhere, both of us were chuffed though tired after the mental exertions of the fog. We’d returned to the pretty seaside resort of Cascais just a few miles west of Lisbon, from the water everything seems familiar with the exception of a few additional buildings.

An ugly addition to the Cascais seafront

This is how we remember Cascais
 Enroute the pair of us have had lots of debate on our next move. An unexpected problem we’ve found ourselves facing is one of insurance, our current supplier does not offer cover beyond the Canaries to any boat and we knew we’d have to look elsewhere before we left. Research has shown that whilst a handful of companies will insure us across the Atlantic provided there are at least three on board (we’re planning to have four of us), many won’t even consider that and only one will insure us for Brazilian cruising. The latter is at a huge premium of fourteen hundred pounds sterling, way beyond our budget. But almost anyone who covers the Atlantic also includes the Caribbean in the policy, presumably this is due to commercial demand of rallies like the ARC.

So do we change to third party only in which case almost anyone will insure us where ever we go (presumably the risks are low).  And what would that mean if something happened to our home and sole asset Temptress? Or do we change our long held cruising plans? Meanwhile we still have to investigate insurance costs for routes south of Brazil (we have read of some issues with UK registered boats in Argentina which might put insurers off). Then there is South Africa where recent reports of the overzealous application of regulations meant for commercial shipping to yachts has resulted in large fines a couple of months into a six month permit together with demands for temporary import duties of 14% of the value of the boat (the latter is supposed to be refunded prior to departure from the country) make us wonder whether we’ll be able to afford a whole cruising season there visiting Maddy, Marais and the grandchildren. Finally whilst we are pondering on where next… we are also considering exploring the Moroccan coast on the way down to the Canaries rather than a 500 mile passage out to Madeira.

Lots to think about over the next week or two, meanwhile we are enjoying the glorious warmth of a Portuguese Autumn (think the best of a UK summers day with a warm breeze and scarcely a cloud in the sky). By lunchtime on Thursday the boat was clean inside and out, a few repairs sorted (both our Spanish flag and the ensign needed a few stitches) and the laundry drying. After lunch we plan a run ashore to revisit old haunts – does the Jardim do Frango (chicken garden restaurant – much better than Nando’s) still exist, has the shopping centre construction been completed and is the council bike hire still free?

Friday, 6 September 2013

Dolphins, Shearwaters and Stars

Royal Cork
Storm Sail Practise

The Cork 1720 we towed out of the harbour
Bye Bye Ireland!
Temptress left Royal Cork’s diesel pontoon at 09:40 on Saturday 31 August with Susie at the helm. A little down the channel and a Cork 1720 kept sailing across our path, the skipper became nervous, not so much of us mowing them down but more that we may run aground out of the channel. Temptress was put in full reverse and came to a stop feet from their stern. The 1720 took its chance and shouted a request for a tow to their regatta start out in the bay beyond the harbour entrance. We responded that we were heading for Spain and typically Irish they said that would do! The next half an hour or so was spent musing on how we’d feed six extra crew for the crossing and the practicalities of towing a small racing boat 600 nautical miles across Biscay, on balance we decided it wasn’t going to work so released the tow line once they sufficient wind to fill their sails.

From where we were it was 190 degrees to our next waypoint 540 odd miles away at the southern end of the shipping lanes off Finisterre. By 10:20 there was enough wind for us to hoist the main and Temptress large blue and white spinnaker, finally we were sailing downwind and heading south in the sunshine and a sparkling sea. At mid-day any acceleration caused by the hills and cliffs behind us was lost and Temptress resumed motoring though we knew we couldn’t motor all the way. Lunch was tasty chicken curry pies from the deli counter in Crosshaven’s Centra supermarket, highly recommended. And shortly after the genoa was unfurled and Temptress was sailing once more, setting the pattern for the entire passage. With the help of the bird book we identified British Shearwaters, lots of them swooping on wing tips along the face of the waves. 

Joe making tea
Day 1 sunset
The Bay Restaurant served up poached chicken for supper around 8pm. We’d had an afternoon of dolphin spotting, so many we’d sailed almost continuously in their presence. They swim back and forth under Temptress bow, jump through the wash alongside the cockpit and generally enthral all three of us. Poached chicken is not we learnt a dish to serve up at sea, it’s easy to make in the thermal cooker simply place the chicken in stock add the veg and herbs, bring to the boil for 15 minutes then place in the thermal pot for three or four hours. But it was impossible to retrieve from the pot then carve without a mess as Temptress rocked and rolled her way south over the big Atlantic swell coming in from the north west. Still Joe and ourselves thoroughly enjoyed the tender moist chicken with green beans, carrots and potatoes.

Watches started at 21:00 with a two on, four off pattern. Dolphins continued to join us from time to time all night, trails of phosphorescence marking their swoops and dives through the water. The wind which had topped about F4 in the later afternoon was gradually moving round to the North East and decreasing through the evening so that by half eleven the engine was on again with 439 nm to go to the waypoint and just over 100 nm run. With scarcely any cloud and no moon until almost dawn the stars were amazing. Unless you have been at sea or deep in the desert you rarely get a chance to see the Milky Way like this even readily identifiable constellations seem to be painted on a backdrop of stars.

Day two was mostly motoring in a glassy sea sloppy sea which made for a spectacular purple dawn to match the amazing red sunset we had witnessed the night before. Chicken and vegetable soup was the lunch special  at the Bay Restaurant and much enjoyed by all with some soda bread. In the early afternoon the wind finally decided to return with a faint F3 from the North East. We tried sailing but soon gave up then ninety minutes later gave it another shot with just the genoa and bingo our luck was in, Temptress sails faster than she can motor and we were back to our planned passage speed of 6.5 knots and more.

A note of explanation about the Bay Restaurant – you can locate it in one of two ways; either sail down190 degrees from Cork Harbour or alternatively follow the trail of veggie peelings from the same location. It is open for breakfast, lunch and supper serving good hearty crew meals. The three chefs are all well practised in the gentle art of juggling pots and pans on a swaying cooker as the boat bounces off the wave tops and can behave like an octopus when it comes to serving up into several bowls sliding across the worktop. Sunday nights special was fish pie made with a huge piece of smoked hake purchased from Dunns fish counter in Carrickaline, it was topped with mashed potatoes and cheese.

Chef at the Bay Restaurant
Shortly after supper we passed another milestone, 200 nm so far. All three of us had become obsessed with statistics – how far to go, how far have we sailed, at our current speed how long to go etc etc.  During the night the wind picked up a bit and the wave train started to alter in response the stronger winds to our left in Biscay so it became lumpy as this west going lot met the South east heading Atlantic swell.

Day three Monday dawned sunny and bright and late morning we heard our first Spanish broadcast on the VHF radio but couldn’t pick up the actual forecast they were announcing, we were 300 miles down the track with around 300 to go to Baiona. Around lunchtime the barometer started falling, we were moving out below the centre of the high pressure as it tracked more north and Temptress sailed south. We ran the water maker but the tanks could only take about one and a half hours worth of water, a scruffy bunch we’d not showered since leaving Cork! And it was now too rolly a ride to contemplate doing so. Supper was a beef stew pressure cooked by Kevin who bravely volunteered to attempt to fight with rolling veg and sliding pots and pans for an hour or so.

Pilot Whale
In the wee small hours of day four Temptress trundled through the 400 nm milestone, only making just over five knots in the big seas – now it was definitely downhill to Spain. The waves were splashing up against the port quarter or beam and catching the unwary in the cockpit whilst yet more was rolling down the decks on both sides from the bow. We were approaching the lines of ships at a fairly oblique angle, hundreds of tankers and cargo ships heading up or down a line from Finisterre to Ushant. The AIS showed them in bunches and provided useful info on the potential of collision courses but more interesting to the crew was knowing the name of the vessel and its destination! One enormous 126m trawler was heading to Montevideo. Every ship that had to, altered course for us, which must be something of a record and proved that their watchkeepers were watching AIS and radar.  It was another amazingly starry night with the moon rising very late like a golden galleon coming up over the low clouds on the horizon; it was in its last quarter.

Susie thought she saw a whale spout in the distance soon after dawn and with the wind easing down from its overnight peak of F5 gusting 6 the sea became flatter. Mid-morning the mainsail was raised again, easy now the Skipper had spent the previous day sorting out the Lazy Jacks that had long languished at the mast (it was probably five years since we last had them in place). Lazy Jacks are long lengths of “string” that hang from high up on the mast and reach out like crows feet to points along either side of the boom to form a cradle into which the mainsail can quickly be dropped without the need for crew to be on deck folding it. Our latest mainsail is now used enough to squash down into a neat pile that can be swiftly tied in place. Kevin has got them sorted so we could drop the sail quickly if need be during the night as there would only be one of us on watch.

After lunch the wind died away to almost nothing so the engine was on once more and with the watermaker running the entire crew treated themselves to luxurious hot showers not worrying too much about being careful with water usage! Clean bodies, clean hair and clean teeth, Temptress was a much more pleasant place to be! Supper got delayed by our first sighting of Pilot Whales and yet more statistical discussions as we reached 500 nm since leaving Cork. All three of us sat in the cockpit watching the trip log flock through from 499 to 500. Little things! Susie completed her second novel and realised that the reason she felt a bit queasy was probably due to reading in the rolly conditions.

The Bay Restaurant served up its final evening meal of Moroccan Lamb, much enjoyed by all. More pilot whales including a baby only a few feet long and a sighting of two minke fortunately the latter were a few hundred metres away rounded off our evening. We were now well into the ITZ off Finisterre, then as the first watch Joe got settled into his spell fog descended. With Kevin up again (he’d taken the first watch) as well and the radar on Temptress motored cautiously south through the pea-souper. At 1 am Susie relieved Kevin. Not only were there fishing boats on the AIS there were also dots on the radar both inshore and out to sea of us, we guessed smaller fishing boats moving erratically as ever. 

The fog cleared as suddenly as it had descended, the light of Finisterre flashing once every five seconds and the street lights of the towns and villages becoming clear. Another starry, almost moonless night. The glow of Vigo making the sky orange to the south east of us. Joe headed off to his bunk whilst Susie sat for another two hours watching the fishing boats but none came close. Shortly after 3am Temptress altered course for the entrance of the Canal De Sud, the channel through the rocks off Baiona, we’d reached the end of the ITZ and had motored or sailed 560 nautical miles so far. We reckoned we’d be tied in time for lunch on Wednesday.

Final Breakfast
One last breakfast from the Bay Restaurant, Joe served up sausage, egg and bacon and we had around 20 nm to go. The high rocky islas with their pine trees and sandy beaches  that occupy the entrance to the vast Rio of Vigo were now abeam of us in the warm morning sunshine, shorts and t-shirts anyone? Finally the entire crew felt they’d reached the sun. Temptress was covered in salt from all the seas she’d taken on board.

After a bit of a kerfuffle with pickup lines a yacht club marinero helped us moor stern to the pontoon in the MRYC marina. It was just after noon so after a quick shower all three of us headed via the office (to register our presence, passport numbers, DOBs and boat registration details required), into town in search of lunch. A huge paella ensured we would not want to eat for the rest of the day!

Approaching Baiona

12 years on - Kevin, Susie & Joe at Virgen De Roca

NB: We managed to cover 596 nautical miles over the ground on passage but some 30 miles more through the water - not very efficient use of the tides and currents!