Monday, 11 June 2018

Pelagia Cruise 2018 part 3

Pat and I had been at La Coruna for a week with poor weather, rain and wind awaiting  both crew to arrive and a suitable window of weather to cross Biscay. Beverley and Ann were due to arrive on 31 st May and indications were that the weather might be suitable on 1 st June. As the seven day forecast unfolded it looked as if  a low pressure system would move into sea area Sole then move south into Fitzroy before filling and dissipating . This would give us light winds on day one followed by southerly winds and rain which would gradually back east and finally north east as the rain cleared. There were no gale or strong wind warnings for the five or six days for a crossing. Beverley and Ann duly arrived to be told we were off early the next day and only had a brief look around La Coruna.
Early on 1 st June it dawned cloudy but with light southerly winds so we set off, clearing the harbour and setting our northerly course for Cork which was calculated as 504 miles away. As we cleared the harbour the swell was two metres, sometimes more and we rolled along with black clouds sitting above the surrounding headlands.

The light wind astern of us was insufficient to sail so we motored as we settled into our pattern of watches with one person on watch for two hours each. By mid morning the sky was clearing and the sun came out so we warmed up a little from the 15 degrees that we had experienced for the past week in Spain. Apart from a few fishing boats we saw little traffic at this time and the watches proved easy to settle into a sea routine with the mainsail set to steady the boat from rolling and the engine thrumming away giving us 6 knots in the right direction. 

That first evening we were treated to the sight of many dolphins leaping and splashing and to our delight there were also whales blowing amongst them. We think they were all feeding on the same mass of fish. The sunset that evening was beautiful and later in the night when the moon came up it threw a silvery moonbeam across the sea behind us. These conditions continued for the first 24 hours during which we had logged 147 miles and the first night at sea had been clear with starry skies. Good progress so far but we all wanted some wind to sail instead of trying to sleep with the engine noise.
Exactly 24 hours after setting off the wind filled in from the south west at force four and we hoisted the Genoa sail and cut the engine. Speed was reduced to only four knots but it was quiet and the sun was shining. 

I tried to steer more easterly of our desired track to allow for the winds later pushing us back westerly but it was difficult to maintain speed if the wind angle was not on the quarter.  We had reached a position where shipping going from north west Spain to or from the corner of the Channel at  Ushant  was crossing our track and we had to watch our speed and course carefully to avoid these juggernauts. At one stage on Beverley’s watch we had three ships abreast overtaking us and it was like crossing the M 25 at rush hour. It was fortunate we crossed this area in daylight and could see more easily the ships track and distance even though we were helped by AIS, automatic identification system. There were two occasions when ships got quite close and I called them on the radio to make sure they had seen us and would stay clear. However,  by midday the sky was darkening and the wind was backing more southerly as the predicted low pressure system approached. The rain started in the afternoon in the form of showers from patches of intensely black sky that we had hoped would miss us. 

Pat cooked a very good lasagne from a preprepared package and since my watch was at supper time I had mine in the cockpit in the rain whilst the others stayed below. The food  certainly warmed us up as it was getting quite cold outside. 

The second night was distinctly different to the first as it was jet black, wet and with flukey winds. We resorted to the engine again to keep us safely on track. Watches were unpleasant to say the least as there was no light at all just inky blackness and cold wet rain. Pat called me to check on the safety  of one passing ship that came close out of the murk. Later , whilst in my bunk, I had a feeling about something whilst Ann was on watch and saw on the AIS that a ship was approaching us from astern fast and was only four miles away. When I joined Ann in the black it was obvious that the ship was not yet visible but just emerged from the gloom a few minutes later. I altered course 20 degrees to be sure he passed down our starboard side which he did just a few minutes later as I took over the watch from Ann.
As dawn broke on our third morning the wind had backed a little further south east and strengthened enough to start sailing again. I hoped that the wind change was consistent with the low passing  us by to the west and the rain would diminish  as forecast. By 0730 we had logged 270 miles and we were sailing in a brisk force five with mainsail and Genoa set which was great and I was still trying to keep east of our track. I had to gybe to get the wind on the starboard side but hoped this would not put me back too close to the shipping route that had given us concerns in the night. Gradually the sky cleared and we ended up sailing in sunny weather again doing six knots or more under sail which was exhilarating. 

The wind was backing gradually all the time towards the east and we sailed well with the wind just forward of the beam trying to steer just east of north. By now we we’re getting  north of the latitude of the Brest peninsular which was about 100 miles to our east so we were entering the western approaches to the Channel. The swell was much reduced and we only had the waves induced by the force five wind. 

The wind across the deck was now touching 22 knots so we reduced sail slightly and still maintained nearly 7 knots of boat speed. 

That evening Pat was serving a cooked chicken with potatoes and peas and the bouncing and the heel on the boat was causing problems for boiling the potatoes on the gimballed cooker. I offered to hove too whilst we cooked the dinner but she was happy that I just eased the main sail out slightly to bring us more upright with only a slight speed reduction and less bouncing. After dinner and as night approached we put a reef in the mainsail to make the night sailing  more comfortable and we sped through the dark hours with few ships to worry about.
The wind by the morning was more north north east  and it was pushing us more westerly which is why we had tried to get east earlier in the trip. Another beautiful morning dawned and we had logged 370 miles and were now back in UK waters. High pressure was building back over the UK and promised to give little wind as we closed the Irish coast. We shook out the reefs in our sails and tacked to make some miles east for a while. However, as the wind reduced we tacked back to a better course north west and tried to make as much mileage as we could before the wind died. As predicted at 1500 hours the wind died and the engine went back on having logged 409 miles. The sea was now flat calm and the sun shone as we motored towards the  shore of Ireland less than 100 miles away. 

One more night at sea and we hoped to enter the estuary at dawn. It was 2200 when the sun set beautifully over the north western sea. We were now past the Isles of Scilly and Lands End and this was emphasised when a Cornish fisherman called us on the radio to tell us what he was doing with the nearby fishing vessel. It was great to hear his rounded Cornish accent making us feel we were nearly home. Sadly whilst Pat was on watch fog began to form in patches above the flat sea and I got everyone up on deck in life jackets and on watch peering out into the gloom looking for other vessels. Ann stayed below scanning the radar and AIS for potential problems. We passed some yachts that were obviously on some race but not making much progress in the almost non existent wind. The fog lasted for four hours and then as the coast became nearer a slight offshore wind cleared it away at 0400 hrs. We now steered for the fairway buoy at the entrance to the Cork harbour basin as the dawn came. We passed the buoy at 0600 hrs and set course for the Royal Cork Yacht Club marina at Crosshaven. This was the best option for our landfall base as it had good facilities rather than go the extra 12 miles to Cork city where there were no facilities. 
Entering Crosshaven at 0700 was beautiful with this charming village ahead of us tucked into this perfectly sheltered inlet on the left hand side of the estuary. The multi coloured houses of the village and the variety of cottages spread around the surrounding fields was enchanting. 

We moored up on the visitors pontoon at the RCYC having logged 496 miles in exactly 96 hours and it felt great to be back in home waters after all the years we have been away. We all went to our bunks to get some much needed sleep after the trip.  The weather routing had proved correct and we had experienced a good crossing  of Biscay. The weather in Crosshaven that day was sunny and warm whilst Spain we had left behind was still languishing in rain and cold!
We all enjoyed the ambience of the RCYC , the food served in their bar and of course the Guinness or Murphy’s! However, we wanted to visit Cork itself and we motored the 12 miles up river on the Thursday to the Cork city marina. 

The trip up was very interesting with some lovely countryside and houses on route interspersed with docks and industry. The city marina was just a pontoon right in the heart of the city and a little bit noisy. We took lunch in a riverside bar sitting out in the glorious sunshine before exploring  the city. 

Cork is a large vibrant city undergoing much building and renovation and it was reminiscent of Amsterdam with the old bridges spanning the river that surrounds the old city. 

The second morning we visited an old convent with beautiful gardens that had been set up in the early 19 th century by Nano Nagle who defied the local authorities to provide education for the poor children of the city. It was a very tranquil end to our city visit before we motored back to Crosshaven. The final day before Beverley and Ann left we visited the fort on the headland over Crosshaven which has been partially restored and is full of exhibits from the Irish past history. Its position over the river estuary is unique and on the beautiful hot day we had it was magic to sit in their tea room enjoying the vista before us.

We had logged a total of 519 miles since leaving Spain , a total of 1023 so far this year and Beverley and Ann left us here to continue our trip up the east coast of Ireland.

Chris and Pat

Monday, 28 May 2018

Pelagia cruise 2018 part two

After our crew had left us in Leixoes near Porto we had to wait another three days before conditions were suitable to leave for our next port of call which would be Viana de Castelo, our last port in Portugal. At last the weather seemed to be warming up on this coast and we set off with a good prospect of fine weather. Leaving early again so we could avoid the strong north westerly afternoon winds, we set off at first light. We experienced variable conditions with some sailing and some pure motoring. Sailing this coast is a nightmare because of all the fishing marks, often small, barely visible but a serious hazard if you picked up a rope on your propeller. You sit with your eyes glued to the water ahead ready to deviate to avoid them and it can be very tiring. We  arrived in Viana after 34.7 miles in hot sunshine and tied onto the waiting pontoon in the river just downstream of the road and rail bridge designed by Eiffel. I eventually found the marina attendant and had a long walk to the office even after he had managed to get the pedestrian footbridge working. He apologised for the bridge but said it was because this was their first hot day of the year and it had stuck! Viana is a picturesque town with many 16 th century buildings. We were fortunate enough to be in the town at the time of their flower festival and every shop was adorned with floral creations in a kaleidoscope of colour, which enhanced the appearance of every street. 

The English first traded here selling fishing nets to the locals and in return buying Portuguese wine, ( sounds like a good deal to me ). It was here that Port wine was first developed but owing to the river silting up, the trade moved to the city of Porto on the Douro river where the Port trade now flourishes.
Another dawn start for us was made slightly more difficult because a French yacht had tied next to us in the night, but they awoke to my knocks and pleasantly moved their boat. We had another 35 miles to go to Bayona in Spain. 

The trip started with the usual 2 metre swell and no wind but as we approached the entrance to the Minho river, the Portuguese Spanish border, a wind off the shore swept out at force six and speeded us on our way. It later faded away again and the sea flattened as we turned into the large sheltered bay in which Bayona sits. We arrived early afternoon having logged  33.1 miles. We had been here twice before and it was good to renew our acquaintance with the attractive town set in the shelter of the old fortress. 

This was the town to which Christopher Columbus returned in 1493 having discovered the new World in the Caribbean and a replica of his ship the Pinta resides here. The weather was warm and sunny and we enjoyed walking the narrow streets off the waterfront. We had also made good progress and could swap our Portuguese courtesy flag for the Spanish one. 
It looked as if we had a forecast weather window for the next four days to get us to La Coruna so we decided as we were both tired to do a shorter leg the next day and start later. It would also be within the more sheltered waters of the Rias, the deep river estuaries on this coast protected by offlying islands. The Marina at Sangenjo was our chosen destination and our course took us winding through the islands and up to the little holiday town and beach on the north coast of one of the Rias. We sailed 18.5 miles on seas with low swell and sunshine to accompany us.  We had been warned that this holiday town was noted for its noisy night clubs and indeed we had been here seven years ago to experience it. It was a huge marina and not very busy although it did fill up later that night as it was a Saturday. The town beach was crowded with sun worshipers enjoying the summer sun at last! It is a fabulous protected sandy beach but the backdrop of unsightly houses ruins the image. 

We went to bed early for another early start the next day and managed to get some hours sleep in before the night club noise woke us and continued until 0500 hours when we got up.
We had spotted in  Reeds nautical almanac that a new marina had opened in Muros town and it was a quaint old town on the north shore of the Muros Ria. This would be our next logical step north before Finisterre and the right distance. The course had to be carefully plotted so as to pass through some narrow channels through the islands. Setting off again at dawn we motored to the first narrow channel and then a good wind came up on our starboard beam at force five to six and we flew along at up to 7.4 knots for half the trip. We managed to keep a favourable breeze almost all the way to Muros where we arrived early afternoon in a lovely, almost empty new marina having logged 32.1 miles. At one point a racing pigeon landed on our stern seat obviously in need of rest and settled down to sleep whilst we carried him further north. He was obviously a nautical pigeon because he had a red tag on his left leg and a green tag on his right leg! 

He stayed there until I disturbed him when getting our fenders out of the stern locker, at which point he reluctantly flew to the shore. There were some fishing marks to avoid but not nearly as many as in Portugal. Muros town looked quaint but upon inspection is was run down and lacking in care. Some lovely old buildings were set amongst newer blocks that spoiled the appearance. 
Another early start to leave the marina at first light was planned to do the next big challenge and get around  Finisterre point, up to the Ria of Camarinas.  Sadly the sky was overcast and it was very cool, but the winds were forecast to be southerly in our favour. Within a short distance of leaving the wind came up in the right direction and we were able to sail towards Finisterre point. This is now the third time we have passed Finisterre and on the last occasion the weather was good enough to anchor behind and walk up to the lighthouse, but not in today’s conditions. 

Having made good time to the point we turned north around the headland and indeed the wind treated us kindly and turned with us. We therefore had a romping sail past Finisterre at up to 8 knots in a rare but welcome south easterly breeze. We made good time to the Ria Camarinas where we docked in the port of Muxia. The marina was virtually empty and almost new which makes you wonder why they put us on a berth as far from the office and facilities as possible! They were very pleasant and helpful and we had time to walk the town and do some shopping. Spain insists on having their siestas and shops close in the afternoon and reopen from five to nine p.m. which is good for us but I would not like to work those hours.

Our final leg of this stage was to be 50 miles around the north west coast of Spain to La Coruna. The forecast was for easterly winds, light and backing to the north as the day progressed. Again we set off at first light and the sky was clear but with low grey cloud gradually spreading in from the sea. We hoped it was not going to be foggy again. We motor sailed in the light winds as we progressed north and then north east. The wind never got above force 2 and the swell was just small and lazy. We passed many yachts making their way south to the sun but only one other going our way. As usual there were many fishing buoys to avoid, most of them little more than a couple of old plastic bottles and hard to spot. We nearly ran into what we thought was a net as it consisted of six small orange floats in a circle very close to one another. Fortunately we saw them and quickly turned to pass them safely. At one time I saw what I thought was a black stick just lifting out of the water occasionally directly in front and after a swift course change we passed alongside it only to see that it was a small sunfish basking on the surface and waving a fin at us. These weird fish can grow up to two metres across and weigh over a ton but this was a small one and the only one we have ever seen. The weather gradually cleared to sunshine and the visibility improved as we coasted along the north coast to the point where the Torres de Hercules lighthouse marks La Coruna bay. This lighthouse was started by the Romans and is the oldest working lighthouse in the World. We had been watching the sea carefully for eight hours and when we docked having logged 49.4 miles we were both pretty tired. 
This ended the second part of our trip home and we wait here for Beverly and Ann to join us for the Biscay crossing to Ireland. We have logged 504 miles so far this trip and apart from getting a few things fixed on the boat we intend to get some rest for a few days.


Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Pelagia cruise; 2018 part 1

Pelagia had wintered in the water in the marina at Lagos, Portugal. Pat and I returned to her late April to ready her for the return trip to the UK. Sailing north up the coast of Portugal is challenging because the prevailing winds are northerly and the swell in the Atlantic water can be huge. It is normally better to start early in  the year before the heat builds in Spain and generates the northerly trade winds. So it was the end of April that we planned to leave. James Dick  joined us as crew for the first two weeks and we prepared to leave on Sunday 30 th April. In spite of a reasonable forecast, we awoke to a cloudy day but still checked out of the marina to leave. Heavy rain started and we held our departure for an hour until it stopped. We do not like sailing the Portuguese coast at night because of a plethora of fishing marks unlit, one of which we fouled last season at night off Faro. Therefore our first leg to the port of Sines was done over two days firstly going to an anchorage just close behind Cape St Vincent, in the bay of Sagres. Then doing the 60 miles to Sines the next day. The 16 miles to Sagres was calm and gradually the sky cleared to sun. At the anchorage we tucked in as close to the beach as possible to avoid the swell rolling around Cape St Vincent and we had a good nights sleep. 

Setting off at first light we rounded the Cape and met the large swell of about 3 metres rolling in from the north west but with some confused cross seas. As we set course northwards the swell settled a little and we sailed in a force four wind for some distance up the coast. The day was partly overcast but cleared to sunshine later. The wind increased to force five then six and finally seven with increasing wave height accordingly. The seas were unpredictable and breaking, many of which broke right over the deck, the water washing up to the windscreen and over the top. One wave washed our starboard bow navigation light off its bracket and it was dangling by its wire, leaping into the air as each successive wave hit it. I thought we would lose the light as the wire chaffed through, but it was too rough to attempt to recover it at this stage. We entered Sines harbour in awful conditions but very relieved after a 12 hour passage. The light was still hanging and when I cleaned it, dried it, and remounted it, the light still worked! What wonderfully strong bulbs they make for these lights!
A good sleep berthed in the sheltered marina was terminated early so we could leave for Cascais, another 50 mile sail. Luckily the wind had died and the swell reduced to manageable proportions. We motored until a light wind enabled us to sail for an hour then motored the rest of the way. The sky was jet black in places with cloud forming into heavy showers and some water spouts forming in the distance. We only caught a short shower and by the time we entered Cascais harbour near Lisbon it was sunny. The weather turned very windy with large swells and we stayed in Cascais for three nights awaiting the next weather window. Cascais is a picturesque town with attractive gardens and buildings so it was no hardship to stay there. It also has good shops to restock supplies for the next legs.
Lighter winds and reduced swell was forecast for the Friday so we again left early for the 45 mile sail to Peniche. Sailing around Cabo Roca was choppy but nothing too bad and we settled into the sail north, motor sailing in light winds. The day was bright and sunny although still far from warm and we managed some sailing as light winds set in. Arriving in Peniche we tied to the long visitors pontoon in the harbour which now seemed to be used more by local boats and fishing trip boats than visiting yachts. The few yachts that did arrive rafted outside us for the night.  The harbour is poor and run down, in spite of which they still managed to charge us 22 euros for nothing other than the pontoon space! 

The morning dawned bright but with a very heavy wet dew and little wind. Some of the boats had already left without paying and the harbour master ranted and raved about this as we left and threatened to have them caught at their next port. We motored north around Cabo Carvoeira and towards Nazare in very light winds and low heaving swell. It was a sunny but cool day and as a light breeze wafted in from the sea we could see that mist was coming on with it. A yacht not too far from us disappeared in the mist and gradually it closed around us, obscuring the view of the coast and everything around. Visibility was only 100 yards and with many fishing marks around we had our work cut out to spot them and avoid catching the ropes. We had about five miles to go to Nazare harbour and using the chart plotter we piloted our way to the harbour piers which appeared thankfully in front of us at about 50 yards after a trip of 23 miles.
Nazare had changed since our previous experience with mad Mike the marina master and the yacht club marina gave us a much improved berth with good facilities and cheaper than Peniche! 
Nazare is World renown for the surfing championships because it has some of the biggest surf rollers in  the World at 30 metres when the conditions are right. Luckily there was no such surf when we arrived. There were more cars parked around the harbour than we believed possible and we wondered why until we learnt that there was intended to be a procession of boats for “Men of the Sea” festival, but it was on hold until the fog cleared. Apparently families draw lots to decide which religious icon they can carry on their boat. The icon is then paraded through town on a float with garlands of flowers, transferred to a decorated fishing boat and taken out to sea for three circuits of the bay. The icons are taken out in strict order following the traditions of centuries. More and more people arrived in the town and thronged the harbour walls, so luckily the fog lifted and the boats put out to sea for the parade accompanied with horns blaring and music playing. We were fortunate to see it all and to see how seriously the locals took this religious festival, a bit like the blessing of the boats in the UK.

When we arose the next morning it was foggy in spite of a forecast for good visibility so we delayed departure to see if it cleared. After about an hour it seemed to lift and we could see the end of the headland so we left the marina bound for Figueira da Foz about 36 miles north. No sooner had we cleared the bay when the fog returned but we motored on with eyes on stalks looking for fishing marks to avoid. Around mid morning the sun started to appear and drove off the mist but it kept returning in banks. Mid afternoon we reached the bay to enter harbour which was shrouded in fog and did not see the harbour walls until we were within their encompassing arms. We crept up the river to the marina hoping no big ships were about to leave the port and berthed safely after 36 miles at sea. Figueira da Foz is a pleasant town with an excellent market and shops so it was no hardship to realise the weather would keep us here for at least the next four days. James Dick was able to visit the nearby city of Coimbra which we visited last time we passed down this coast. Coimbra was the ancient capital of Portugal and is now a beautiful university town. Pat and I walked the expansive beaches which were deserted in this weather but well kept and clean. Several boats had arrived  at Figueira and all waiting for the next weather window to go north. We befriended a couple on a Sadler 34 next to us who were uncertain whether to leave on the Friday which we predicted would be a short weather window. After four nights the Friday forecast was ok for the next 12 hours but was predicted to deteriorate again. We decided we could make Leixoes harbour near Porto, 65 miles north in that time and this would get James Dick to his flight out from Porto on Monday. The Sadler yacht named Locomotion had been reluctant to go because of their slower speed, but decided that morning to do it. The swell was still large at 3 metres as we left and we rolled our way out of the harbour and around the headland in clear but grey skies gradually lightening as the morning progressed. Locomotion had left 20 minutes before us at first light but we could not see their navigation lights anywhere. After one hour we checked with AIS the position of their yacht and noted that it was three miles behind us already and only making three knots. We do not know how we managed to overtake them without seeing them at all. After two hours we checked again and they were seven miles behind us still making three knots which made it unlikely they would get to Leixoes  before dark. As predicted the weather was good, a wind came up from our beam and we sailed well for a while in bright sunshine. We entered harbour exactly 10 hours after leaving having logged 65 miles.

The weather that evening deteriorated to rain and strong north westerly winds not two hours after we arrived. The short weather window was correct but we saw no sign of our friends following yacht and wondered where they could be in the now awful conditions. James Dick would fly out from here on the Monday and we could sit here and await the next weather window after that. Meanwhile we all travelled into the city of Porto on the bus and although the weather was windy and very cool, we enjoyed a day there. We took lunch in the restaurant of Taylor’s port, overlooking the city with fabulous views high above the rooftops. Our long walk to find it was soon forgotten when a fabulous meal was served accompanied with a selection of ports. Pat and I continued to wander the streets of the city after lunch even though the town was packed with tourists many of whom were there to watch some motorcycling event on the river frontage. 

We have sailed or motored 303 miles up the coast to this point and James Dick leaves us here to continue the coast whilst he flies home. We are unlikely to leave here in the next four days as strong northwesterly winds and large swells effect the coast, but a calmer spell is expected after that. We have still seen no sign of our friends yacht Locomotion and can only hope they returned to Figueira or managed to find shelter elsewhere.

Chris and Pat