Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Dodging bullets in Viveiro

The story is getting to be all-too familiar on this bloody coastline:  the weather forecasts agreed on 10 to 15 knots of wind with an occasional afternoon gust to 20; we had 20-25 knot sustained winds with gusts to 32, and a nasty crossed swell just to make things more interesting.   It’s so frustratingly common now that it hardly merits mention.  Just Grrr!

Ria de Viveiro

But we did learn something new, or rather, gained a new appreciation of something we thought we understood.  Stiff winds and steep headlands make for strange bedfellows.  It’s very difficult to predict how the winds will behave in these areas, since the winds go both around and up-and-over the headlands, leaving strange swirls of both calm and accelerations where you would least expect them, even up to a mile offshore.  The situation calls for extreme caution and for avoiding any rash behavior such as, for example, deciding that all is well and shaking out your reefs prematurely, leaving you with full sail up whilst 32 knots of wind blast up your behind. 

The other thing Patrick learned (which I had learned years ago) was not to offer up your fingers to the mainsail traveler cam cleat while jibing vigorously in 32 knots of wind.  The flesh that was ripped off was, he insists, superficial, but blood in the cockpit does nothing to diffuse an already stressful situation.  Gloves, people.  Gloves. 

Since we were only 3 miles from the entrance to the Ria de Viveiro, we decided to treat ourselves and take down all sail to motor in.  Just as we entered the ria, the motor shuddered and started making a screeching, grinding noise.  We put the motor in neutral and the noise stopped.  We put it back in gear and the noise was still there, and getting worse.  For good measure, Patrick put it in reverse and the noise was different but still alarming.  A quick look at the motor revealed nothing.  The winds were calm once inside the ria, so we quickly rolled out the genoa and glided easily down the estuary, while Patrick looked up the telephone number for the port office.  Fortunately for us, the harbor master, a man of innumerable talents named Fernando, speaks fluent French and was still at work at 6pm on a Friday night.  We told them we would come up to the port under sail but needed a tow into the port. 
When all was settled, I went down and looked at the back of the motor from a compartment under the rear cabin berths.  The sight made my blood run cold.  There were metal shavings all over the floor and what looked like a cracked propeller shaft coupling.

A loose shaft and metal shavings
When we were safely in a slip, the harbor master came aboard to look at the motor.  The whistle he gave is, I’m convinced, instantly recognizable in any language as a combination of “bad” and “wow”. He started talking about having to pull the boat out of the water, or in the very least, pull the motor out of the compartment to re-weld the shaft.  Later (e.g., after a big and well-deserved whiskey) Patrick started poking around and discovered that it wasn’t as bad as it looked.  For some mysterious reason, the bolts that connect the shaft to the propeller shaft coupling had come loose.  One of the bolts had slid back far enough that it was scraping against the clutch housing as the shaft turned, cutting little ribbons of metal as it spun.  (See my homemade diagram for more information and, if you know anything about motors and/or mechanical drawing, a good laugh.)

Fully decoupled, but no other apparent damage

1. Clutch housing.  2. Shaft.  3. Offending bolts that loosened, slid back and scraped against the clutch housing.   4. Propeller shaft coupling.  5. Propeller shaft.

The mechanic confirmed the diagnosis, and simply replaced and tightened the bolts with generous doses of Loctite.  He also reduced the idle speed to 800 rpms so that when the motor is put into gear it doesn’t make that horrible Ka-LUNK noise (or not as badly anyway).  He was here and gone within one hour.  We haven’t received the bill yet, but we both agree that this incident clearly falls into the “bullets dodged” file.

Everything back in place.
Despite everything, Patrick smiled at me later that night and said “it’s a beautiful life, isn’t it?”  I gave him the “not amused” look, but then realized he wasn’t joking, and that it probably wasn’t the whiskey or finger pain fogging his brain.  “No, I’m serious.  I wouldn’t want a life with no excitement, no thrills, no danger.  I could never feel this alive by golfing or gardening.”   We realized that this was our 3rd tow and our 3rd surprise gale (the lightest) in only 2 years.  I hate to think we’re getting used to it, but when the motor went down this time, I had none of the regular cement-in-the-stomach sensations.  There’s no education like experience.   Keep calm and sail on…

But wait!  There’s more!  After only one night at anchor and a very windy day sail where the wind turbine should have been charging at maximum strength, the batteries still managed to dip down to 11.6 volts and shut down the GPS.  They are only 4 years old, but they were probably cooked when the shore power charger malfunctioned and died just before we left home.  Our trusty Fernando has found us some top quality batteries for cheaper than we would pay in France, and they will be installed tomorrow.  Now we just have to sit tight and wait for a 2-3 day storm system to pass over us and we’ll be good to go on to the next adventure.  Ah, la belle vie.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Santiago Surprise

When the early disciples of Christ divided up the known world for evangelism, James got Spain.   According to legend, the remains of Saint James were transported and buried here by his followers after his martyrdom in Jerusalem.  When the crusades made pilgrimages to Rome and Jerusalem too perilous, the indulgence-seeking faithful flocked to Santiago de Compostela, making it the 3rd most holy pilgrimage in Christendom. 

Some provocative on-lookers on the balconies (modern art ?)

The town is so grandiose and the cathedral is so decked out with reflective sparkly things that my photos could only be disappointing (also not helped by a big scratch in the lens.)  The biggest and best surprise of our visit, however, was running into a friend from Stockholm at the museum - small world, indeed, especially considering all our thwarted attempts to reach Santiago earlier!  After hugs and squeals and being shushed by the museum staff, we spent a lovely evening together catching up on more than 15 years of relative absence. 

St James himself...

Surprise reunion

After the bright lights and big city, we left the port of Coruna for an idyllic anchorage in the Cedeira estuary.  Since the winds were from the west and southwest, we moored off the Laira beach, across from the port area and other better-known moorings.  I’m not sure we were supposed to be there (the chart said something about “reserve integral”) but we treaded lightly and left the next morning… for an adventure that has now left us stranded in Viveiro.

Cedeira light
Mooring near Laira Beach

Laira Beach mooring (yes, there is a beach to the left, but it was not easy to photograph...)

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Pilgrims' (Slow) Progress

Our pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela was thwarted because the buses from Camarinas only run during the school year.  With the weather still preventing us from continuing our travels, we decided to make a smaller pilgrimage across the bay to Muxia, one of the holy sites along the Way of Saint James.  Legends from the middle ages say that after Jesus’ death, his mother Mary arrived in Muxia in a stone boat to encourage the evangelical work of Saint James here.  (There’s a similar legend that says Mary and her mother Anne arrived on the Mediterranean coast of France and traveled from there to Brittany, where Anne died, stimulating centuries of Anne devotion there.)  The site of the church, Our Lady of the Boat, is a beautiful mix of Christian devotion to Mary and earlier pre-christian worship of stones.

Our Lady of the Boat, Muxia

A more modern version of ancient stone worship.
Hillside of Muxia facing the sea,
Patrick communing with the stones.

The port at Muxia has only been operational for a few years, and most coastal pilot guide books say that it is still under construction.  It is, however, fully functioning, and we had the place almost entirely to ourselves.  

The new port at Muxia.
View of the town from the port.

Since this is the half-way point of our journey, it was time for a few things to start breaking down.  We first noticed ice forming around the gas lines leading from the refrigerator compressor to the cold plate.  A few photos sent to our electricians back home turned up nothing.  The refrigerator is still working well and the cold plate is uniformly cool all over (thus not a problem of low gas levels).  It’s not really a problem but does create an annoying mess of water under the sink when the ice melts. We’ll have to wait and have it checked out when we get home in mid September.  

I suppose we could chip it off and use it in our gin and tonics.
The second problem was a bit more serious.  It has been said that behind every great man is a surprised woman.  My Patrick has turned into quite a handy-man on the boat and has managed to fix things I thought were doomed.  The shore power electricity in Muxia port required an adapter for our cable, which we had.  When we plugged it in, our circuit breaker promptly shut down and refused to be reset.  Patrick opened up the adapter plug and found a wire that had become disconnected.  We suppose that this caused the surge that shut down the circuit breaker.  He rewired the plug and then we set off to find a new circuit breaker, without much hope.  After 2 visits to hardware stores, we were told that the only electricians in town were self-employed, and that we should look around the streets for their vans.  Strangely enough, we found one such van parked along the street near the port.  Patrick asked at a nearby restaurant if they knew where the electrician might be, and they suggested we check the bar next door.  Sure enough, he was there, and surprisingly, he had exactly what we needed.  It took the whole afternoon, but when all the pieces were put together, it worked!

Loose wires (in blue plug on the right).

A new circuit breaker saves the day.
We’re now back in the big city of Coruna, where a train will finally carry us to Santiago de Compostela tomorrow.  We hope. 

Monday, 28 July 2014

From the Heart of the Coast of Death

This is what the small fishing town of Camarinas calls itself (“The Heart of the Coast of Death”).  The Camarinas estuary, considered by our guide book to be one of the most beautiful, is home to two ports and several nice anchorages, and it looks like we will have time to try them all before we get an appropriate weather window to leave.

Lighthouse and one of the largest European wind turbine fields at Cape Vilan on the Coast of Death.
While at anchor, I finally had a chance to get into the water and clean the hull at the waterline.  Despite air temperatures in the low 80s, slipping into the water was like plunging into a gin and tonic, even with a wet suit.  But we got to use one of our favorite boat toys: the solar shower, with fresh water heated to about 40 degrees C (100 F). 

Preparing to clean Spray's waterline in Camarinas

Solar shower at 40 C !  (100 F)
But the weather here changes rapidly and the next morning we were surrounded by heavy fog that didn’t lift until late in the afternoon, which only inspired us to spend another lazy day at anchor.  The next morning and the same foggy surroundings convinced us that is was time to visit the port and town of Camarinas. 

Fogged in.  It lasted all day and part of the next.

The marina in Camarinas.
It’s small and mostly without charm, but it does have some good restaurants and a grocery store nearby, as well as a direct bus to Santiago de Compostella (UNESCO World Heritage Site) which we will visit if we get stuck here for several more days (which looks likely:  weather report is for 20-35 knot winds from the north for the next 3 days.)

Fortunately there are some nice hiking and biking trails along the coastline, offering a break from boredom, a chance to burn off excess calories, and spectacular views.

A blessing of the fleet ceremony.  Fishing boats from the next port arrive in Camarinas, horns blasting, firecrackers overhead, take a turn in the port and throw wreaths of flowers into the water, and then head back out to sea.

We think these are drying / storage houses for potatoes, but aren't sure.  They're everywhere !

Great snorkeling area... if you don't mind 15 degree water (60 F).  I lasted 15 minutes with a wet suit.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

The Coruna Crossroads

When you pull into the marina in La Coruna, it becomes immediately clear that you’ve arrived at a cruising crossroads.  No longer solely accompanied by boats from Spain, France or the UK, you tie up amongst a flotilla of boats from Sweden, Norway, Holland, Switzerland (yes, Switzerland), Germany, Belgium, and even Australia and the USA, most making their way south into the Med or to the Canaries in preparation for a fall Atlantic crossing. 

Marina Real Club Nautico, La Coruna

The "Glass City" architecture around the port.

Spainish Air Force team streaming the red and gold of Spain over the port control tower of Marina Coruna.
Many, like us, arrive here by hopping along the coast, working west and south around the rias.  Because the marinas are spread thin in this region and the weather is capricious, there is a sort of gregarious migration underway from port to port whenever the wind is right.  Over the last few weeks, we’ve made friends with several of our fellow drifters and these friendships have added a new and important dimension to our cruising.

A new friend sailing around Cape Ortegal.
Talking to experienced long-distance, live-aboard cruisers is worth any number of how-to books.  Sharing stories (the good and, more often, the bad) has allowed us to place our own experiences in a context we didn’t have before.  All these crazy things that have been happening to us (instrument failures, delayed departures, re-routing, unpredicted storms, fishing nets around the propeller, etc.) are just part of the cruising life; dramatic to us, banal to the seasoned cruiser.  In talking to others, we’ve been able to gain confidence about the things we did right and have some new ideas about things we might try the next time.  (Definitely getting a Jordan series drogue). 

We’ve been inspired by many of these new friends, some of whom have been live-aboard cruising for many years, others who have taken up long-distance cruising with much less experience than we have, some with boats less adapted to long-distance cruising than Spray.  One couple who has crossed the Atlantic and sailed all over Europe and the Mediterranean refers to themselves as cowardly “chicken” cruisers!   Almost everyone we have met has been very humble about their accomplishments and they just seem thrilled to be out here, taking it one day at a time, the good with the not-so-good.

As for us, we’ve come to a new crossroad ourselves.  A few weeks ago, after our surprise storm, we decided to stop long-distance sailing altogether.  We were convinced that we didn’t have what it takes, and our motivation was sinking fast.  Now Patrick says he couldn’t imagine a finer lifestyle than this (at least 6 months of the year anyway).  Of course I agree.  We truly fall into the “chicken cruisers” category with persistent doubt and stress, bumbling our way through each new experience.  But knowing that everyone else has gone through the same thing – and that they still get nervous from time to time - has been a big comfort.

Our biggest regret now is that we will have to turn around to start the trek home in a few days while our merry band of boaters continues to further horizons.  We’ll just have to make new East-bound friends.

Castel San Anton between the two major marinas of Coruna.

The Tower of Hercules, the world's oldest functioning lighthouse (UNESCO World Heritage Site)

A view from the top.

Lovely local beaches.

The fiesta of Vigen del Carmen.

Oh, and La Coruna is a great place to have a twisted ankle x-rayed...  (all's swell.)

Thursday, 17 July 2014

The Rias Altas

We finally made it to our first "high ria", Ribadeo, a UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Reserve and a RAMSAR wetland, noted (according to the brochure translated from Spanish) for its unique slime habitat that attracts thousands of migratory birds every year.   More than a century ago, Ribadeo became an affluent town in the region where wealthy families settled after making their fortunes in Cuba.

The Moreno House, Ribadeo
Yesterday, we planned to leave for the next ria, Viviero, at the end of the outgoing tide.  As we pulled out of our slip, we got stuck on a sand/mud bar, which was curious since the port proudly states it has been dragged to 2 meters.  We pulled back into our slip to wait for another hour as the tide rose.  A second attempt with 30 centimeters of additional water under the keel, we tried again, and again got stuck in the mud.  This time, we decided to stay for another night since the tide was picking up and we didn’t want to have a strong current in the nose.  Patrick went to the office to check in again, and they gave us a free night to make up for our troubles.

But it’s a lovely place to be stuck.

Sailing into Ribadeo

Ribadeo Port

Slime habitats beloved of migratory birds

The Ribadeo Lighthouse

Lighthouse with little mauve flowers everywhere

Churros con chocolate !  A great way to spend an extra afternoon...