Molluscs and pooches

In chest-high waders or loose shorts and t-shirts, men and women wallowed out to their waists, their tanned skin wearing the growing morning sun. In their hands each carried a long vertical stick which protruded from the surface, widening underneath to a digging and sifting mechanism, and a bucket. For a few hours they rocked back and forth hard against their sticks, rhythmically, like grinding disco podium dancers, turning over the sandy sea bed and prising up the sh­ellfish who sought safety there. At lunchtime they returned to the shore to weigh their winnings.

From our boat, a little further out from Muros’ beach, we wondered that there’s any sea life left after the armies of diggers, fishers, divers and pot-droppers have had their way. But in Galicia their work seems never ending and the restaurants are always stacked. The most visibly sustainable seafood gatherers are those who manage the wide “viveros” that float between most anchorages in the rias. From each beam in each great wooden or plastic lattice, long branching ropes are draped down to the sea bed, laden with mussels who have latched on and expanded like heavy fruit. When they’re fully grown it takes a crane to lift the ropes out.

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Entering the Arosa Ria

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Vivero, complete with cormorants and gulls

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The best cafe in Caraminal. I like the tiles, Rich likes the weird mushroom.

We steer our way between viveros if we can, or change our passages to avoid them completely when the wind is low or in front of us. We sail off the anchor (always a joy) and carry on for a day or half a day, choosing our next destination by referring to an out of date pilot guide, a more recent but brief cruisers’ guide that Rich downloaded, and the recommendations of those we’ve met along the way. Sometimes we’re unlucky – our last anchorage off the charming town of A Pobra do Caraminal (where Rich climbed a massive hill with a fold up bike strapped to his back, and I ate a lot of biscuits while pushing through my design work) was within hearing range of the monstrous creaking whirr of a shipyard. Then a strong wind came and made it choppy and even noisier, so we used it the next morning to escape.

Planning only means so much. On yesterday’s trip we simply decided we’d had enough of sailing for the day and avoided the tight vivero slalom towards our original destination by plonking ourselves near an island that looked interesting. The anchor went down, the sails got tied up, and I had a much needed bucket shower that included an even more needed saucepan underwear wash. In no time we’d rowed to Interesting Island (Isla Cortegada) and were walking beneath huge pines in open bracken and brush one moment and into the cover of dense laurels another, spotting lizards and eating apples and chatting quietly so as not to scare the many birds we could hear but struggled to see.

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Shade and greenery: the two greatest luxuries of land

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Drying on deck. The answer to the question on the bottom left is, according to the film posters we’ve seen, “CASAFANTASMAS!”

In the afternoon we read, grazed and rested on Gwen. Andrew, who we met in Camarinas and bump into from time to time, motored past with a plastic bag offered in his outstretched arm, full of vegetables from his Portugese girlfriend’s garden, and we hooked it on board gratefully. Andrew’s a gem who tells me off for using the wrong boat words and digresses into tales of history and legend. Of the many sailing folk Rich gets chatting to I find those like him, with a good yarn and a wicked smile, the most fun. Rich, on the other hand, can talk for hours to anybody providing boats are the subject.

Last night we went ashore in Carril, found internet, and forayed miserably in to the world of work and duty. Coir for the composting toilet was laboriously ordered to a post office in Bayona, where we must soon sail to retrieve it. Clients were contacted and changes to documents promised. Our conversation turned to sorting out our CVs and portfolios – the rigmarole that hints that the glory days of sailing, sunbathing and exploration are almost up. We have enough money to survive until the end of October, but we don’t want to leave it to the last minute to find our next income, so the job hunt begins at our next stop. We left the cafe before midnight and strolled down a wide and busy promenade to dance to a rock covers group that were blasting out in a children’s playpark. Enough with the sensible.

Tonight we’ll be walking a little further, to Villagarcia de Arosa, because it’s “Noite das Meigas”. This has something to do with witches, and that’s about all I can tell you. We’ve narrowly missed a fiesta in almost every place we’ve stopped so we’re going to seize this opportunity to celebrate, whatever it may be for. No doubt there will be fireworks, as Spain seems obsessed with the things and sets them off day and night. The picture on the poster featured a dog on a broomstick, perhaps something to do with the insanely yappy doglets attached to almost everybody on the promenade. Perhaps we’ll boil them in a cauldron. Or perhaps they’ll devour their human overlords. I’ll post a picture or two when we’ve found out.

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The sun isn’t just beating down, it is searing relentlessly into our skin and boiling our sweaty brains. Rich has fastened the wind scoop, a curve of fabric that funnels cold air through the boat, on to the forehatch. This has earned the dark cavern below a noticeable hint of freshness. He then cut a diamond piece of our cheap sail-cover tarp and fashioned a shade over the boom to give the cockpit a small oasis of cool. He’s supposed to be napping there but he’s never been very good at stopping. He’s in the aft cabin, on my phone, Googling how to catch razor clams.

We’re anchored in Muros, the prettiest town we’ve visited in Spain so far, and though it’s siesta time I’m below decks cursing this computer. Two very welcome bits of graphics work have come in, but my first attempt at this logo was rejected and now it turns out that reference files haven’t downloaded, which means another trip ashore with the laptop tonight to get it right. I am imagining payment not in pounds or euros but in paella. We haven’t had any paella yet. This logo is four nights of paella. Persevere.

We’ve been in Galicia for a fortnight now, gradually making our way from Cedeira, where we first landed, to this fishing town on the west coast. The culture here is gloriously different from what we know, and we’ve had plenty of opportunity to marvel that:

  • You are given a small piece of tapas – omelette, pastry or crisps – every time you go for a coffee or beer
  • A beer (the omnipresent Galicia Estrella) is a third of the price of one in France, so we can go out for one most evenings.
  • There is no butter, and fruit squash does not exist.
  • Nobody, even in the cities, does anything in the afternoons except go to the beach. The shops are shut. The day starts early, stops at lunchtime, starts again at about 9pm, and goes on all night.
  • Because of this there are children’s events at midnight and the pubs sell ice creams for them as well as booze for their adults.

The huge pine-filled bumps and cliffs continue to roll down the coastline, topped with wind farms and edged out to the sea with scraggy fingers of rock. In towns and villages alike, white buildings with teracotta roofs that glow orange in the sun are scattered over verdant hillsides, below which yellow beaches are raked overnight to be pristine for the afternoon’s crowds. The most faded and delapidated houses are always the prettiest, and in some gardens strange stone granaries stand high on pillars like doghouses for a pet you don’t ever want to come out.

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Cruising by the dribbling monster man rock at the entrance to Camarinas

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Gwen in Camarinas

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My scribbled impression of Corme from the beach opposite

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Beach life in a bay near A Coruna

We stock up on bread, eggs, tomatoes, onions and biscuits between day sailing trips and hope they will keep us full enough. Every fishing town has its own specialities, and every sea front has enough cafe bars to make popping out for a quick drink an exercise in containing food envy. When we can afford a tapas treat we are not disappointed: here in Muros the speciality is chiperones, which is the best squid I have ever tasted drenched in oil, peppers and onion.

A couple of low-wind motorsails tested Rich’s patience, as did my attempts at tact when suggesting turning on the dreaded engine. It’s quite frustrating to be so close to the famous blasts of Finisterre in a silent sea, while redundant outstretched arms of windmills ashore remind you of the field of crosses in Life of Brian (or, you know, the Bible). Any problems we’ve had have usually been caused by overtiredness. I grumbled into a huge strop when we left Cedeira to go tacking painfully up the river towards Ferrol, so much so that Rich and I ended up touring San Felipe’s beautiful castle separately, at the same time. A week later he had his own tantrum day, best shown in our log book entry for 5pm:

(Richard’s handwriting) 1.5 knots. FUCKING WIND!! WHERE ARE YOU??
(My handwriting) Richard needs sleep

These have been mercifully brief blips in a fortnight of fun. Near A Coruna we took our sleeping bags and a paraffin stove for a wander and ended up sleeping in a cave on a cliff face, struggling to stay awake long enough to watch the perseid meteor shower draw swift dashes of light in the sky. In Camarinas we sailed our dinghies up a fine river that revealed itself with the tide, and we watched our first otter fishing from the beach at its mouth. In Corme we picked mussels from the beach rocks and cooked them up in the watered down carton wine we’ve come to rely upon (70c a litre – what can you do?). In A Coruna we changed our focus to a full day in the city and found ourselves in a comics convention, a terrible public concert and, on our next sail, a tall ships parade. We’ve tried to balance out work time with afternoons on beaches and sailing time with gentle evenings beneath the stars.

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The view near our one night cave hotel

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Dolphins in the bay at Corme

Dinghy sailing towards a river near Camarinas

A roadside camping stove dinner at the other end

That’s all of A Coruna. I got a bit snap happy that day.

The sailing is good when the wind is up, so by the time we got around Finisterre we were overjoyed to welcome back the weather for which it is best known. The “Costa de Morta” has individual graveyards set aside for the people of different nations who perished against its rocks in the days before GPS. Flying downwind puts the pair of us in a good mood, and I start wondering at the strange physics of sailing – not just at the propulsion of our 16 tonne beast but also at the smaller effects on her – the vibration of the fishing reel on the back of the pushpit, the blowing back of sails waiting for the next downwind gust, the judders and noises that emerge from the battles between tide, wind, shape, wave and weight. I often say to Rich that driving a boat must be easy if I can do it – I can’t drive a car. He then reminds me that roads don’t move.

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Passing Finisterre

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Goose-winged downwind, with the aid of an oar on a pole

Our Spanish has improved slightly, and I can now rely on more than reciting the intro from “Pretty Fly (for a white guy)” when trying to remember numbers. The Chard has insisted that I learn to say “I like rowing” after some fishermen in Cedeira shouted at us from the slipway, telling him off for letting me (a woman, of all things) row him back to Gwen. If it happens again I can’t decide whether to deliver it with a cartoon girlish giggle or in my best Tom Waits growl, and how many fingers to stick up against my oars. Most people seem nice, and if you can’t speak the same language then you can usually figure everything out with gesturing. “Two beers please”, “can I have the bill please”, “how do you say that?” and “how much is this?” have become almost natural, although I miss the ease with which I could converse in France.

It is a big big sea on a small world. Every sailor we meet, Northern, Welsh, Portugese or Bulgarian, has heard of or spent some time in Millbrook. One cruiser, who was very kind with advice and hand drawn charts for a Portugese approach, had even hung out on our boat when she was first made. We continue to be blessed with sunshine, and we can’t complain. And that’s probably not very interesting, so I’ll leave you there and get back to making us some paella.

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If you think this cockpit sun shade is good…

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…you should see what Rich has just rigged himself up. “I’m fishing” he insists.