As we rounded the NW corner of Spain, we experienced a peculiar sensation for the first time. The fog was very thick and we were negotiating big swells from the Atlantic storms. As we rose to the crest of a swell, the bottom of the next swell was out of sight, completely obscured by the fog. This gave the amazing sensation of sailing off the edge of the World, incredible and rather unnerving!
As a retrospective general observation, local sports fishermen off the Portuguese Atlantic coast seem to go a long way out in the smallest of boats (we saw three people stood up in an inflatable dinghy, well offshore and in fog) and because it becomes so deep, they have no chance of anchoring. We have seen them tied to deep lobster pot marker buoys where they seem to fish away to their hearts content.
We have just seen a Dutch yacht called ‘Surprise’. We chuckled imagining the radio exchange : “Coastguard, Coastguard, Surprise, Surprise”.
Since Cape St.Vincente, our passage north along the Portuguese then Spanish Atlantic coasts has been under engine alone, in very light winds and sometimes in dense fog. However, repeatedly updating the weather charts for the Bay of Biscay and beyond hasn’t improved our prospects of seamlessly continuing our passage back to the UK, in fact the situation has been steadily deteriorating. Such is the pressure to complete our mission and avoid the complication of an extended stay in Northern Spain, that we have been clutching at the flimsiest of straws. The reality is that prudence must win over all other factors. With the deteriorating situation, the undisputable fact is that once we start our crossing of the Bay of Biscay, we are committed to the 350-mile passage and turning back would not be sensible. Not only has the wind strengthened with 30 knots forecast, but the direction has also backed to the north which is another major factor in our decision making. The prospect of slowly bashing away in big seas and winds does not appeal to me or the crew and with the unhelpful weather set in for as long as we can currently see, the imminence of my son, Ollie’s impending wedding is a mounting pressure. So, having discussed all the options with the crew, we have taken the decision to put into A Coruna, leave Hejira there and we have booked flights back to the UK from Santiago de Compostela. (subsequent note: after mooring in A Coruna Marina, a 51ft. yacht arrived having turned back 70 miles into the crossing of Biscay describing terrible conditions. This news made me feel sort of vindicated in the taking of our decision)
Perversely, the cost of leaving Hejira in A Coruna Marina for a month is only a little more than leaving her for 2 weeks, so, a month it is. Let’s hope that a window opens within that time, and I can quickly get on a plane (Covid allowing) and resume the mission. A passage back in south westerly winds would leave a sweeter taste in the mouth than a relentless bash in big seas and head winds.
I have moored Hejira in A Coruna marina before, and it is a famous ‘pit stop’ for those embarking on ocean passages under sail but I had previously barely ventured beyond the marina. This time we have discovered the old town and it is delightful. Being on the north Spanish coast, it is cooler (not a bad thing) than the Costas and with more rainfall, it is verdant as a result. The town has many gardens and parks with historic monuments and legacies from its previously strategic military position. There is very little evidence of tourism, but it is still well served with restaurants and bars. The streets are amazingly free from litter and graffiti which preserves a ‘latter day’ atmosphere enhanced by the cobbled traffic free streets, devoid of parked cars and with striking architecture.
Everyone we have encountered has been friendly and helpful and no one appears to be in a hurry, it must be catching as the relaxed attitude has even permeated the crew. We can’t have that; we have jobs to do before we leave !
Our briefings for the last few days have been dominated by the weather. We have been clinging to the hope of a change, but have finally decided that we will not be able to take on Biscay with 30 knot Easterly winds backing to the North, being forecast. Disappointing but such is sailing.
But we are blessed with the most amazing wine cellar and have been consuming probably six bottles a day between us. Remarkable for a dry boat! But these are, of course, miniatures kindly donated by Andrew Gosling (who is hoping for their safe return – fat chance!). Originally destined for the airline industry, a huge number of these small plastic bottles have smuggled themselves on board Hejira and nestle in every nook and cranny.
Mostly they are really good quality, but our lunchtime sip of Sauvignon Blanc yesterday was more the colour of a badly dehydrated sample! The bottles’ contents were consigned to the deep; but there is plenty more where that came from.
Holding tanks! For the uninitiated, these are special tanks which hold the toilet waste and can only be emptied when you are a certain distance offshore. Imagine what fun it is to be given the job of emptying these tanks! Actually, not so bad as it only entails opening and closing certain valves and pumping like mad, hoping that you’ve opened the right valve and are not about to create a huge and very messy explosion!
Now, having made the decision to fly home, we are having to negotiate the Covid regulation hoops for returning to the UK involving tests, which we’re hoping to have done today, preparing our ‘passenger locator forms’ and all the other bureaucracy associated with travel today.
We’re also trying to use up all the fresh food bought for our crossing, so tonight’s dinner consists of chicken, lots of chicken with, you guessed it, onions, chillies and garlic! A LOT of garlic!
Nick’s also been trying to use up his giant tub of marmite. Not because it needs to be used up but because, like the other passions in his life; garlic, chillies and onions, it has to be done, and to excess. It tends to hang around in his beard, nourishing him for days! Breakfast this morning was unique. Peter, in his usual quest to try eclectic local fare, found octopus pie!!! Not as bad as it sounds; a sort of slightly fishy, slightly chewy pastie! Yum?
A Caruna, the old town, is charming with lively and friendly bars and restaurants filled with locals. We found a small bar that specialises in chiperones (fried baby squid) and tortillas, which were delicious, washed down with the local, ice cold, Estrella Galicia beer. Marvellous.
This voyage has been great fun. Although we’ve been able to do very little sailing, life at sea very quickly settled into a pleasant, relaxed pace with lots of banter and taking the mick. We’ve been to some interesting ports, all new to me, and enjoyed good weather, good sea conditions and good comradeship. And the best thing? It’s not over yet because Hejira still has to get home!