Gladlee of Guernsey
July 1992 – August 1992
19th – 21st July 1992
A more or less uneventful journey down to Royan, during which we sailed for one hour in nearly ten – a foretaste of things to come. The only lively bit was the approach to the main channel into the Gironde, past the well named Banc de la Mauvaise, where we encountered some formidable swell – with virtually no wind, and that from the west, we should have had a rough time if the engine had chosen to pack up on us… Nigel passed a couple of hours putting an elegant splice into one of our warps (still holding a month later). Royan was crowded, but we were given a pontoon berth and passed a pleasant evening wandering along the waterfront among the throngs of holidaymakers (those who weren’t eating at the dozens of restaurants along the promenade).
Next afternoon we motored up a rather grey and misty Gironde as far as Pauillac, surging up on a tide reaching about 3 knots, with glimpses of the odd château and vineyards on the gentle slopes of the south bank – quite an attractive landscape, with occasional fishermen’s huts built out over the river on stilts that gave the scene an oddly Oriental touch. Arrived at Pauillac we found ourselves an end of pontoon in the little marina after an interesting entry across the tide – a yacht that followed us in proved to be crewed by a friendly Breton family. Nobody else in evidence, though a dredger was working noisily between us and the shore.
The plan was to stay three nights at Pauilliac, the third evening being devoted to Julie’s birthday dinner. So we spent an unhurried morning on the unpleasant but necessary job of dismantling and cleaning the loo and holding tank pumps. The mid-afternoon weather forecast (possible thunderstorms in 48 hours) brought a rapid reassessment – we decided we should leave a day early. We hastily got out the bikes for a quick tour of the vineyards in the direction of St. Julien, but in spite of seeing the outside of not a few famous châteaux (Latour amongst them) we failed to find anyone offering tastings. At least we dined well – artichokes, whiting in breadcrumbs with mushrooms and herbs, raspberries and cream to follow. In the morning a visit to the information centre along the road gave us the chance to select from several dozen clarets at “vente directe” prices – and we finally identified the harbourmaster, who declined to charge us for our second night because of the dredger noise.
22nd – 26th July 1992 - So shortly after midday we headed back down the Gironde on the ebb tide – a much brighter and clearer day than on our way up. Half way down we were overtaken by a Turkish freighter, the skipper of which was clearly surprised to be called up in Turkish on the radio, particularly from a British yacht! The wind had been freshening from the west as we cleared the mouth of the river, but it was not until 17.30 that we cleared the Passe Sud and could bear away and sail south. The wind stayed steady at the top end of F3, veering steadily from WNW to NE by the middle of the night, as we sped somewhat incredulously on and on past the almost featureless coastline of low sand-dunes. The very occasional lighthouse or village was a welcome break to the monotony, particularly after dark, when otherwise the only visible lights were odd mysterious flashing orange ones, which we concluded must have something to do with the firing-range that extends the length of this coast. By 03.00 we were making such fast progress that Julie felt obliged to put a couple of reefs in the main to slow us down – we weren’t going to attempt the Arcachon channel at low water – which, considering the number of miles we’d travelled without any decent wind, was mildly frustrating (to say the least)!
By the time Nigel emerged from his watch below at 06.30, Julie had hove-to off what proved to be a northern channel into the Bassin d’Arcachon that hadn’t yet made it into our pilot books. An hour later we made it over the bar without incident and headed north inside Cap Ferret towards Arcachon. At this early hour nobody was about except a dolphin, which surfaced and blew into Nigel’s ear as he was securing the main halyard! We headed for the marina, being “buzzed” rudely by a power-boat on the way, but the only space available in this vast enclosure seemed to be an end of pontoon subject to every passing boat’s wash – so after a visit to a rather seedy shopping area some distance away we set off to find an anchorage elsewhere. At half tide the Basin is a bit like the Norfolk Broads, and after cruising the main channels for a while we settled on a creek which led towards Andernos on the eastern shore. There we settled for the weekend, relatively undisturbed, with birds to watch at low water and a large expanse of deserted water when the tide came in : we dinghied ashore for a pleasant walk through woods to Andernos village, where we found an excellent supermarket and an oyster festival in progress. On the Sunday afternoon we moved to an anchorage off the southern entrance channel, overlooked by the spectacular Pyla dune (the highest in Europe).
Much coming and going, inevitably until the evening, but things were quieter on Monday morning when we went “ashore” on the sandbank to our west to see an interesting little exhibit on the birdlife of the estuary and the cyclic movement of its various sandbanks and channels. Just before midday we weighed anchor and started south again…. [But first, a note on the birds of Arcachon: the visit to the exhibition confirmed the sighting of Turnstones and Kentish Plover off the Îles Glénan and Whimbrel, Curlew and sandwich Terns (in great numbers) at Arcachon, also spotted were Black Kites, Buzzards and a couple of Hoopoe. The prettiest and most prominent birds at low water were the little egrets with the odd grey heron amongst them] ….. continuing south, we motored out of the south channel and turned south with virtually no wind. Quite a few power boats were coming back from a rally to Capbreton but we didn’t see any signs of the race. After about 20 miles the wind came round to NNW and increased a little so we set the cruising ‘chute and drifted slowly down the coast for the next six hours until a sudden wind shift just before dusk. We motored the next couple of hours in a freshening wind and arrived at the entrance to the Port just after midnight, and were tied up alongside the reception pontoon of Port d’Anglet marina half an hour later.
27th July – 9th August 1992 - The next day was busy, as we got out the bikes to go into Bayonne, find the railway station, get misdirected to Budget car rental, cross the city to find its new location and discover the Géant Casino hypermarket – what with nearly getting lost on the way back to Port d’Anglet it was a long trek. Before we left for U.K. on 29th we were able to move “Gladlee” to a proper berth instead of leaving her rafted on an outside pontoon, and so we parted company for a few days, with over 1000 miles logged since we’d left St. Katherine Haven.
After Nigel’s Mum’s 75th birthday celebrations, we were back on board for the nights of 4th and 5th August ( a couple of nights in Calais on the way to and from UK seemed strange without “Gladlee” there to go back to!) before setting off for Phil and Alison Smart’s cottage near Cahors for a couple of days. Back to Bayonne on the 8th, a second big shop at Géant Casino, and we were ready to move on to Spain : on our final day in Bayonne it poured with rain, but we had enjoyed our stay there.
10th – 12th August 1992 - Starting out on part two of the Odyssey wasn’t very promising though the weather was reasonable, the heavy rain of the previous two days had deposited an enormous amount of debris (large tree trunks, for instance) and a lot of mud for miles offshore. Together with a sharp swell this didn’t make for a comfortable first couple of hours. Suddenly, though, we came to the sharply defined edge of the outflow – the water changed colour from brown to blue, and the sea settled down a bit. At 11.50 we exchanged our French courtesy ensign for a Spanish one, and just past San Sebastian a little wind shift to north of west allowed us a pleasant couple of hours’ sail to the port of Guetaria, where we found a raft outside a fishing boat to tag on to.
Try as we might we found nobody interested in checking us in to Spain, so we settled for a drink at the yacht club after a brief wander up and down the two main streets – rather disconcerting to find most signs in Basque! Next morning Nigel went ashore in search of bread and gas, his half-hour wait while someone went off to a depot for a gas bottle causing Julie not a little alarm – had he been kidnapped by ETA? We were able to set off a little before 1000 hrs, however, in sunshine and a very light wind, which led us to the fateful decision to tow the dinghy behind us. By the time we reached the little harbour of Elanchove, some 3½ hours later, the dinghy was no longer there : the painter had come undone from its bow. Sure that we had only to retrace our course a little way to pick it up we did just that, but by 17.30 we were back in Elanchove after a fruitless search. Friendly French neighbours lent us their dinghies to get a mooring line to a buoy and to go ashore, but we were reduced to a rather miserable packet pasta for dinner when we found no shops within convenient reach. After much deliberation we decided that we would have to go back as far as Guetaria the following day, which at least favoured us with good visibility and a flat calm. We set off just after 09.00, concentrating our search on the shoreline, and called in to Lequetio, Montrico and Ondaroa, the three fishing harbours on the way, before arriving at Guetaria at 1400 hrs. No news of our dinghy anywhere, but we were at least able to leave word with a friendly member of the yacht club at Guetaria, who promised to contact us via Santander or La Corũna yacht clubs if anything turned up. Back to Elanchove, where we picked up a vacant buoy and drew a line under another very disheartening day. We decided we’d done all we could locally and that the best thing to do was to press on as quickly as possible to Santander, where at least we should be able to buy a new dinghy – without that we really were stuck!
13th – 16th August 1992 - Leaving Elanchove in a westerly direction at least seemed more positive, though our journey to Santander was quite unmemorable – we had the genoa out for a total of 10 minutes before such wind as there was died and settled into WSW veering WNW later. We resigned ourselves to motoring for the best part of ten hours, eventually passing the waterfront of Santander and finding a virtually deserted pontoon in the marina two miles further on. Nice marina, but few facilities and (as we soon discovered) a daunting and expensive distance from the city. No option but to spend £16-odd on taxis for the round trip to downtown Santander, where we hoped to locate Neil Jacobsen on the penultimate day of his language immersion stint. After a wander round (underwhelming) and a reasonable supper we found Neil and went out for a beer or two – he very unimpressed by Santander and about to leave a day earlier than planned…. Next day we bought a new dinghy : not what we’d have chosen in other circumstances, but we had to settle for what was available (one possible alternative was being loaded on to the top of his Range Rover by none other than Seve Ballesteros when we arrived at the chandlers!) After a bike ride across to a local suburban hypermarket we settled in for what proved to be quite a lively weekend – a very pleasant assortment of French families on neighbouring boats gave us helpful advice on the coast ahead and fixed our ailing outboard motor ; a bizarre collection of people on a British boat with whom we sat up till the small hours on Sunday morning drinking an assortment of liquors; and dozens of Spanish weekend sailors who came in and out of the marina, mostly excessively fast but waving cheerfully, and occasionally slowing down when asked. 9Seve, incidentally, drove his modest motor cruiser indecently quickly out of the marina – worse, we saw one of his crewmen dump a plastic bag of rubbish in the fairway…) in spite of its limitations we enjoyed the marina for a weekend, getting over the real trauma of losing the dinghy and looking ahead to the next stretch of our journey.
17th – 19th August 1992 - We left Santander at lunchtime after a leisurely progress down stream, first to the fishing harbour to refuel (15 gallons used in less than five days…) and then to anchor off the yacht club and put Nigel ashore for a couple of last-minute errands. A fine, hazy day, but again a very light wind which, though from NE, allowed us only an hour or so’s gentle sail on the way down to San Vicente de la Barquera. Here a tip from one of our friendly Frenchmen at Santander allowed us to bypass a bunch of (French) yachts lying to stern anchors off a mooring buoy – instead Julie brought us impeccably alongside a temporarily out-of-service fishing-boat moored just below the bridge, earning admiring applause from the deck of our nearest neighbour!
We had time for an early evening stroll round S. Vicente – a pleasant enough place, certainly seeming a good deal more civilised than the villages we had seen the other side of Santander. The only thing missing was the view of the mountains behind, which mostly eluded us throughout the following day as we headed another 40 miles west to Lastres, occasionally rolling the genoa out in the hope of sailing a bit ( we actually put in a couple of tacks at one point!) We did get the odd glimpse of the Picos de Europa in mid-afternoon, but our attention was mostly diverted to a series of huge oil slicks through which our track took us – a couple of specialist ships were engaged in spraying the surface to disperse the oil, but it was very unpleasant to be stuck in the middle of the slick, not knowing which way to turn to avoid the next bit. In rather dreary conditions we rounded the huge outer wall of Lastres harbour soon after 16.30 and tied up reasonably comfortably inside.
A stroll up the hill behind the harbour signally failed to live up to the rave rating Lastres had been given in “South Biscay Pilot” : the harbour itself is ugly, made more so for our visit by the disruption associated with an improvement programme – concrete mixers running a shuttle service up the quay above us, and a dredger operating noisily nearby. Next morning we surfaced to find a fishing-boat manoeuvring erratically in a gusty crosswind nearby – as a precaution we cast off our own lines and headed for the harbour entrance, only then really noticing the heavy clouds over the mountains and the high 20s on the anemometer. We had taken the precaution of peeking over the sea wall earlier to establish that there was relative calm outside, so it was quite disconcerting to turn seaward out of the harbour and register 35+ knots astern, as we made 5 knots with the engine idling and only the windscreen up! After 20 minutes or so the squalls eased a little, and we came round on to a westerly course with a bit of genoa out – within a further 20 minutes we had 20+ knots on the nose. 45 minutes after taking the genoa in it was out again, now in a S/F4, which over the next two hours turned WSW, then S again. Just before 1300 hrs the south breeze finally died, and we hauled the genoa in for the third time – five minutes later we had a fresh NW wind as we pushed into Gijon bay, with fog closing in the seaward. It was something of a relief to find a comfortable pontoon in Gijon’s municipal marina and to relax with a late lunch. Pleasant wander round town later, and we enjoyed the spectacle of the “pasco” along the quayside in the evening sunshine.
20th – 25th August 1992 - Another unmemorable drive (we did cover 2 miles in 50 minutes under sail!) took us to the attractive fishing harbour of Cudillero, where another French tip (from a neighbour at Gijon) took us alongside another out-of-service fishing-boat; in this case equipped with such substantial fenders that we didn’t even need to use our own.
Despite dullish weather Cudillero charmed where Lastres hadn’t, and we at last succeeded in finding some decent postcards and some fish for sale! Next day we decided on a longish hop to the Ría de Ribadeo, and after several abortive attempts to sail during the morning we got enough of an angle on a NNW 3/4 to make ground with the occasional tack out to seaward. Pleasantly green hills inland, but dull weather didn’t flatter the view. By 17.30 we were approaching the bridge over the entrance to the ría with an ominous knocking from the prop shaft (turned out subsequently to be a plastic bag) – we explored the west side of the estuary without finding a viable anchorage (nearly running aground off Ribadeo quay) and eventually felt our way very cautiously across to the recommended anchorage off Castropol. This was doubtless OK before the advent of power boats, but we found ourselves frequently disturbed by wash for comfort. With apparently very limited room to move within the ría we saw little point in lingering, so decided to push on to Vivero or Barquero the following morning – sad to see such an attractive area in the process of being spoiled.
As usual we had a mixed bag of wind on our next passage, though for the first time in a long while we actually made more ground under sail than motoring. The wind was very gusty again, and around midday we had two reefs in the main with squalls of up to 32 knots from SSW. Eventually, though we found ourselves heading into a fresh wind with the weather closing in and an uncomfortable swell, so we headed for the nearer ría of Vivero – by 15.30, with drizzle in the air, we had rounded the long breakwater at the end of the steep wooded valley and had found a vacant berth alongside a stretch of wall in the harbour of Cillero. A couple of yachts were anchored in the harbour, but otherwise the place seemed almost deserted (it turned out that it was a local holiday weekend) – later, though, a party returning from a fishing trip clambered over us to get ashore (taking such care as they could, amidst general merriment, not to dirty our decks), and we did find a shop open to provide us with basic supplies for the rest of the weekend. The ría looked quite attractive, in spite of the foul weather, and it was nice also to be able to record some substantial changes to the harbour layout for our report to the CA.
The following day was back to normal – either no wind or (by early afternoon) a foul one – and we didn’t bother getting even the main up. The weather steadily improved, though, and by the time we reached the Ría de Cedeira we had good visibility and fair weather cumulus cloud. The bay off Cedeira is very attractive and well sheltered from wind and swell, and after one misconceived attempt to anchor too shallow on the north side we moved further SE to lie off the main beach. Ashore for shopping we found a good impression of the town – nothing very remarkable, but clean and well kept (as was the beach, with its copious litter-bins).
Waking up to sunshine and a cloudless sky, it didn’t take us long to decide to take a day off. We investigated an anchorage round the corner at the south end of the ría, but there was too much swell for comfort and we returned to our original spot. Spent the day pottering about and topping up the neglected sun-tans, with a brief run ashore in the late afternoon for a walk into the woods to the south – delicious roast chicken for dinner; a good day all round.
And so on to La Corũna, on a windless, grey and rather misty day – again we didn’t bother with the sails, and we pulled into a fuel berth at the yacht club marina at 13.30. We were refuelled, watered and shown to a pontoon mooring within half an hour, which was a good start – finding nobody in the YC reception to whom to pay a mooring fee we set off towards the old town to find food and a new gas bottle. First stop was the tomb of Sir John Moore, in a garden on the battlements just up the road, then a long walk round various iron-monger-type shops in search of gas (eventually we found it in a wholesaler of bathroom furniture!), and an abortive search for either a serious food store or the covered market. In the process, though, we saw a good deal of the charming old quarter of La Corũna – the view from a distance suggested that the rest of it would be less worthwhile, though given more time we might have walked out to the Torre de Hercules (the oldest functioning lighthouse in the world, but currently under repair).
Back at the yacht club by early evening, and things started to go downhill – the lady at reception informed us that we had to pay for a minimum of two nights (£20-odd), and we started to realise that we were in for a distinctly unsettled time as motor craft of one sort or another bombed through the anchorage, setting up an almost continuous slop which bounced us in all directions. Too late to try to move off and anchor we decided (there wasn’t much room anyway), so in somewhat resentful mood, we settled for an adequate if uninspiring supper on the club terrace and what proved to be an uncomfortable night.
La Corũna put us back on the track of the long-distance cruisers, and the marina and anchorage were full of yachts of all nationalities making their way southwards. As one of the great cruising crossroads, though, we found it disappointing in terms of welcome and facilities, and we were not persuaded to stay for the second night we’d had to pay for!
26th – 28th August 1992 - It was a dull sort of day as we left La Corũna – slightly hazy with a light southerly and an unsettled feel to the weather, we got the sails up once out of the bay, and for a while we went along in company with a Finnish yacht, "Rosamunda", with a French boat or two just behind. The wind freshened steadily, and by lunchtime we were getting the odd rain shower and squall. We reefed at 14.00 with the wind getting up to F5 from SW, so that we were eventually pushed well off track to the north of the Islas Sisargas. Shortly before 15.00 we decided to make good our course with the engine, which meant heading straight into the wind for the next two hours and getting the occasional drenching. Finally, though, we were able to get into the comparative shelter of the Ría de Corme y Lage, and just after 18.00 we anchored off the beach behind the harbour wall at Lage, with some protection, thanks to the hill behind the town, from what was by now a very brisk and gusty SW blow. The Finns turned up a little later, having beat up some of the way, and on closer inspection they turned out to be wearing a CA burgee : the French arrived later, joining a small flotilla already including a Belgian, a Swede and (also seen at La Corũna) a large old wooded motor-sailer called ‘Garmouth’, sporting an outsize Scottish flag.
The wind showed no sign of abating overnight, and with a near-gale forecast for Finisterre there was no question of moving the next day – the rest of our company clearly reached the same conclusion, and apart from the odd dinghy pulling ashore there wasn’t a great deal of activity to be seen. We said hello, from a distance, to the Finns (couple with small child) and "Garmouth"’s crew (Anton, Shona and little Andrew) stopped by for a coffee on their way back from the beach – from which they’d been driven by wind-blown fine sand. We went ashore in the afternoon, picking blackberries on our way up the hill, from which the view looked remarkably peaceful : after a visit to the supermarket and a largely unsuccessful series of attempts to ring Nigel’s mother, we joined Anton and Shona for a beer on the waterfront. A pork stir-fry (rather tough) followed by Blackberry and apple crumble (rather solid!) for dinner. The forecast helpfully clear from Radio 4 and Allouis, suggested calmer conditions for the next day – something of a relief with Cape Finisterre to come!
Morning brought rather damp conditions, but only the lightest of winds from the south – we took a fairly leisurely departure from Lage at 11.30, and an hour later the genoa got a speculative airing for all of eight minutes! We settled down to another day’s motoring, rounding Capes Villano and Toriñana and heading progressively further round to a southerly heading. There were rain showers behind us (where one of the French yachts could be seen following our track) and a large bank of rain clouds out to the west, but fortunately the sky stayed reasonably clear around us as we passed Cabo de la Nave and got out first sight of Finisterre. We thought briefly about the passage inshore of the rocky outcrops of the Centalo de Finisterre, but there was enough of a NW swell rolling in to set up a confused sea there – we took the safer option and went outside. Just before 1800 hours we turned east round the cape, the wind died and we got the main down – an hour later, the wind having come round to NW, we were anchored snugly between the breakwater of Finisterre harbour and the shore (to be followed later, inevitably by the French, the Finns and "Garmouth" (carrying a seasick Anton). Too tired to drink our ‘Finisterre’ champagne (we’d forgotten to put it in the fridge anyway), but a considerable sense of relief and achievement – downhill (i.e. south) from now on!