As the land disappeared out of sight, I must admit to a mild terror somewhere deep inside. However, I hid it away and put on a show of bravado, just in case Biscay was watching me and thinking of picking a fight. I knew hurricane Christabelle was on her way east, and was forecast to pass well north of Biscay, but i couldn’t help wondering if she might instead take a fancy to Southern Europe and come south to savour the cheese and wine and rip small boats to pieces.
But no, hurricanes follow predictable tracks, and Christabelle passed safely over the UK, where I’m sure she pissed off 60 million Brits, and I was of course very sympathetic and sorry for them all. AHEM
A night passed, and another day, and another night, and so on, fairly uneventfully. I ate, drank, slept (but not for long!) chatted to a friendly french chap on a passing ferry (from Santander I guess), took a few sun sights on my fisher price “my first sextant” (which kinda works but not terribly accurately – so if anyone out there has a proper one looking for a good home….!) and watched my pencil marks progress slowly over that large bay.
The last night the wind got really quite fresh, and I was down to three reefs for a while, with quite a confused sea, the westerly swell rolling into the north easterly chop. But despite looking like some kind of abstract modern art, my home made self steering kept Lorema straight and true, surfing towards La Coruña with a bone in her teeth. Finally within spitting distance of the city, and the wind abated suddenly to nothing at all, and then just as suddenly blew up from the south west! Strange local meteorology indeed! I sailed in though, and alighted at the marina for just long enough to get a forecast and be told to leave if I didn’t intend to pay. Which I didn’t. And so I found a great spot to anchor just out of the fairway between the two marinas, right in the centre of town. I had been advised that I wouldn’t be allowed to stay there and expected to get hassled, but in fact i stayed several days and it was fine – in fact some other boats turned up too, one of which belonged to Tai, a young Chinese guy who had left his recruitment office job in London, bought this tiny boat, and headed south.
In Ile de Re I had found a bicycle abandoned on some rocks by a beach – it was bent, broken, seized and clearly not going to be missed, so I took it squeezed it into my forepeak and had kinda forgotten about it across biscay, but now I was very becalmed in La Coruña, so I set about buying cables and inner tubes and a saddle and various other parts and attacking the thing with a spanner. Lots of WD40 and a bit of swearing later, and I was tearing around town on two wheels, more often than not on the wrong side of the road, but seemingly excused because I was wearing such a big grin! What a pleasure to cycle! Of all the things I hadn’t bought with me (apart from all my friends, which would have been tricky), I realised I had missed nothing more than my bicycle.
That done, and still becalmed, I replaced a few metres of cap-rail on a Norweigen boat, which kept me busy for a morning and paid for some of the drinking that occurred with some completely mad Scandinavians that evening. I had met them earlier that day – whilst rowing ashore I was hailed by an excited young Swede – “Hello sir!” came the cry – “you come drink something with us now!” – and he yelled something else about his boat being full of alcohol and not arriving too late, and disappeared. A while later I walked over with Tie and arrived to a Norweigen in a suit tumbling over the guard rail and struggling to crawl across the gap to the pontoon, probably because of the several bottles in his hands. “Don’t worry!” he shouted at the sea, “this it is how we make do it in Norway!”. Some violent attempts at conversation later, and Steffan’s visiting father returned, and we were all witness to an argument in Swedish which i think was about what level of noise is acceptable at night in a marina, or possibly about whether there were any beers left. “I was ride your bicycle naked I am hoping you don’t mind!”, shouted one of the Norwegians at me, and into the town we went, to rape and to pillage, Viking style. Those guys make British binge-drinking look quite civilised, it’s impressive.
Finally a little wind, and though it was in the wrong direction, I set sail, only to be becalmed again half way to the nearest port. Drifting and some occasional breeze got me within 2 miles of Malpica, a small fishing port, at three in the morning, but I had to scull the last bit, against a tide that was setting towards a narrow channel between some rocks to the west. The current wasn’t so strong though, and I finally dropped the hook and slept like a baby. When I woke I explored the town, but found it dead and depressing (it’s probably lovely, but it was a rainy and grey sunday morning) so when the breeze picked up in the afternoon I headed off again, only to be becalmed once more. Another long night sail in light and variable winds, dodging fishing boats, but I arrived at Laxe, a beautiful spot in Rio de Corme, just in time for sunrise, which was spectacular, and immediately set off for a walk along the rugged Atlantic Coast before returning and sleeping like a baby. Again.
A couple of days in and around Laxe, exploring by bicycle, eating cuttlefish (at least I think that’s what they were – anyway they were excellent cooked in white wine by some french sailors), and celebrating the Chinese moon festival with Tai, who had arrived in the same spot. And away again to the next river south, Rio de Camarinas, and I managed to get there before nightfall this time, though there were continuous southerly winds and swell (very unusual in this season on this coast, but it seems the Azores high is an Azores low this year, typically). Camarinas is a great little town, cheap, cheerful, and pretty. The Swedes had caught up – “HELLO SIR!” – Good old Steffan, in his super short denim shorts, and his visiting friend who insisted on being called Don Juan and quickly became infamous among the locals for trying to chat up every female between 14 and 80 in the town.
As I left Camarinas, bound around Cape Finisterre for Rio de Muros, I found that my GPS on my phone was not working (my other old GPS had packed up a few weeks before). I had a moment of panic before realising I had been talking about not using the GPS for a while, and not having one at all was probably the only way I would actually navigate in the way that I wanted to. So on I went, into those confounded southerlies, and tacked way off the coast to get out of a foul tide. As I dead reckoned my way back to the land on starboard tack, it was with some nervousness that I watched an evening fog settle over that ‘costa del morte’ (the local name – coast of death). But as night fell, Finisterre lighthouse was visible through the haze, so I continued towards the Ria, picking out some other lighthouses and watching lightning in the south. I was only a couple of miles off the entrance to the river, almost becalmed, when all the weather came down upon me at once – thick fog, heavy rain, sudden squally wind, and lightning too. I hove to and put two reefs in, happy that I hadn’t put my spinnaker up, and tried to work out which way to go! There were hazards all around, so I headed towards the well lit point on the north entrance to the river, sure that I would see the powerful light before hitting it. See it I did, and before I knew it the lightening and wind had passed, leaving me drifting again. And although the fog was lifting a little now, dawn had broken and I knew the lights would soon be switched off. Oh, for a steady breeze and something to steer by! I was considering hanging off a lobster pot bouy for a while when a little breeze picked up and I was able to tack into the river, staying roughly where I thought the middle of the channel was. A bit of drifting, a bit of sculling, and finally arrival in the town of Muros. Slightly nerve-racking through the journey was, and the conditions unhelpful, I never felt in immediate danger, and I felt immense satisfaction having arrived without the aid of satellites – or anything electronic actually, other than my torch and tricolour (and speakers of course – what’s a crisis without some obnoxious dance music to help you through it?!).
So, that’s it – I’m not going to replace my GPS – I have a perfectly good hand bearing compass, a sextant that cost less than a decent meal, a great sculling oar, a keen eye and a little common sense, so you can keep your satellites, thank you very much.