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#1 2018-10-24 17:36:50

From: Dublin Bay
Registered: 2011-02-24
Posts: 333

‘Pippin’ Heads South until the Fruit Cake Runs Out

‘Pippin’ Heads South until the Fruit Cake Runs Out
by John Willis

This is not really a log, rather it is an abridged copy from the blog I wrote for family as I sailed solo across Biscay, down the Spanish Atlantic coast to meet family and back. 

I left Guernsey with the very first cake I have ever made, a fruit cake to Mrs Woodman’s recipe, found in Paul Heiney’s book.  I don’t mind admitting, it was rather good while it lasted.

Departure and Penzance Rumination

Fog added a frisson of excitement in the shipping lanes during the 23 hour Channel from Guernsey to Penzance, which was as I last found it – eccentrically delightful.  I felt like a native - even the pub’s Wi-Fi remembered me from last time.


You can have a full size pair of chocolate stilettos in various hues with your coffee at Café Maria Chica, though I preferred a gooey Portuguese chocolate cake, known for being zero calories at weekends.  Back in the dock I realised it was the first time visiting since 2004 that I had managed to connect to the power and water points, though my hose ended 2 boats away.  Still, buckets and a little cussing won the day.

Finally it was time to visit Tesco Express for UHT milk and emergency water.  Rosie filled my bags and clearly did not know where Guernsey was – but to be fair to her, she didn’t want to know either.  Penzance was quite enough for her.



Compared to the intricacies of tide rips, headlands, narrows and rocks, passage planning to cross a wide expanse of blank chart is relatively easy, even if the execution is not.  There also comes a point where turning back is no longer an option. 

I shall write no more about that, but will meet you at the other end, wherever that might be; I might be tempting fate, but I do feel lady luck owes me ……

Biscay Hop

Let’s face it, there never is a best time to go and do, particularly at 0307 as it was then, so you just have to go and do.  No wind until late morning meant the oily purr of the Yanmar soothed for tedious hours as ships whizzed this way and that and ‘Pippin’ began to stick her nose out into the Atlantic.

Midday was notable for 4 things; 1, sunshine began to arrive, 2, we passed the point where I could easily bottle out and head for home 135 nautical miles to port, 3, Army powdered grapefruit drink was actually ok and 4 – well I had forgotten that one by the time I came to record it.  The wind came as I sat down to an excellent sausage casserole with cabbage.

I had aboard 3 x 24 hour Army ration packs which would ensure I consumed the right things.  40 years ago they contained weighty tins of chicken supreme, suet puddings, ‘cheese possessed’, and hard tack, not forgetting delectable tubes of condensed milk and Aztec chocolate bars, which I have hunted for ever since.  Now it’s all flat pack and instant, like something from Ikea – it just didn’t seem quite right, but I was keen to give them a go.

Anyway, tea with Mrs Woodman’s fruit cake went down well before sunset as ‘Pippin’ sliced the tops of the waves at sometimes better than 5 knots in 8-10 knots of wind (!), 140° off port quarter, Hercule the Hydrovane at the helm.  As Day 1 closed 125 miles out I found it easier to rest than sleep, more from excitement than worry.

By Day 2 I had my sea legs for what went down stayed down and I was just fine, no sea sickness at all; I had even slept a couple of hours during the night, whilst the radar stood guard.  Hercule steered ‘Pippin’ from Sea Areas Plymouth, past Sole and into Fitzroy, names I had only previously heard on weather forecasts, words which soothed my senses and heightened anticipation.

Today was Army Rations day, though I mutinied at the thought of ‘Fruitful Muesli with Milk’, settling instead for toast and First Mate’s marmalade, with palpitatingly strong Americano for breakfast.

I have an obsession with sea state – that is the state of the sea around me as evidenced by the motion of the boat and my own state, rather than the terse official descriptions.  Today the sea was officially ‘Moderate’, but I was inclined to call it ‘Sloppily Moderate’, like a badly dressed soldier on parade, with no idea which way to go or what to do next.

Sunshine arrived later and the seas were bigger, but once again I was amazed by ‘Pippin’s’ performance.  True Pete Goss, her previous owner, would have had her screeching south under a bulging spinnaker all muscle and balls, but we weren’t doing badly with full main and un-poled Yankee, touching 8 knots (honest guv!) off a big ‘ocean daddy’ and consistently beating 6 knots.  ‘Pippin’ was 150 nautical miles from the nearest land by midday, heading in the general direction of A Coruna, as I sampled an Army tropical fruit drink and cereal bar, whilst looking out over a grey sea, with nothing visible by mark one eyeball or Quantum radar.  Lunch of Army bean and pasta salad was fine, and at Latitude 9° I took advantage of a wind shift to point ‘Pippin’ in the general direction of northern Spain through the night. 

Day 3 came and I helmed for an hour with coffee in a 3 metre swell and a good wind.  By now I was used to sleeping 3,600 metres above the sea bed and standing at 40° to the galley, legs springing like shock absorbers, hanging on with one hand whilst working in the galley.
By midday, the mizzle had stopped though visibility remained poor and ‘Pippin’ continued to ride the seas with grace and ease.  I saw nothing in this vast grey wasteland except jelly fish like semi deflated party balloons and now, on the radar screen, the French Meteo buoy, which on the chart looked close enough to ram.

I reefed before dark as usual.  I try to avoid going upstairs at night, especially in strong winds and big sloppy seas.  Now the winds pushed 21 knots at times and the seas became irritatingly contrary as ‘Pippin’ ploughed across the shipping route (a line off NW Spain to Ushant TSS) in darkness, before I could snug her down with a reefed main sail in deep empty water, post the radar sentry and head below leaving Hercule and Hastings (electronic autopilot) working together.

A few hours later, ‘Pippin’ stormed along under full sail as the warmer Spanish sun tried to join us though I still wore 2 thermals, gloves, neck scarf and woolly Shetland hat.  90 miles from Spain I finally gave the ‘Army Fruitful Muesli with Milk’ as the ugly black greyness overhead slipped off to play with the French and the sea calmed, as 4 dolphins arrived to play in the bow wave.


Later, comfortably prostrated by the contents of an Army ration pack, I grudgingly admitted they were pretty good especially the squidgy packs of peanut butter and sesame sticks.  Meanwhile the Spanish coast was now only 20 miles off, though I was nowhere near A Coruna – but that’s the thing when passage making; you don’t sail ‘To’ a destination, you sail in the direction ‘Of’.

My options were Gijon to the east and Ribadeo out west, the latter where I was now headed.  ‘Pippin’ slipped south at over 4 knots in lighter winds during the night, through the Spanish fishing fleet, more visible on radar than by mark one eyeball, as I approached this unfamiliar coast on a pitch black night completely knackered. 

At 0330 British time I came alongside a Ribadeo marina pontoon, 502 miles and 4 days from Penzance.  Job done: I didn’t even stay awake long enough to drink my coffee with a dram.

Winds had been from east of north for the first 2 days, backing west of north blowing from 3 – 21 knots, though mainly 10 – 16 knots.  It hadn’t been particularly challenging, but quite enough for my first Biscay attempt.




Ribadeo Bridge and Pippin

I try not to start an international incident on arrival in another country, but found myself unintentionally doing so next day.  Stepping ashore to complete my ablutions, I headed for the yacht club outside which stood 3 little immaculate older Alpha males, busy eying each other up.  Being an unimpressive looking sort, at least to Alpha males, I was ignored until I squeezed quickly past into the private club with urgency.  The Ladies’ toilet upstairs was my only refuge, so I had to ignore the loud shouts of my pursuer.  Departure was a tense affair watched by shocked female staff.

Oddly an alarm went off in the yacht club as I strolled past to the showers next day.  As I came out, one of the Alpha males was hovering protectively outside the yacht club, but smiled as I greeted him in my excruciating Spanish.


Ribadeo is a pretty little town, with all a yachtsman might want – except a sliced white loaf, essential to the art of making toast aboard my little ship.  Bread has been around for 30,000 years and toasting it made it last in the desert heat, though today’s sliced bread is so full of stuff it lasts as long as it’s not eaten.  Anyway the Romans were bonkers about toast, the word coming from the Latin “tostum”, to scorch or burn, an art I have perfected over the years.


This little lateen rigged fishing boat was sailed in last evening, by someone who very much knew what he was doing; utterly gorgeous. 
Up river, warehouses on a quay piled with logs spoke of industry, and on the river little boats floated upstream weekend fishing, or perhaps for no reason at all, except for the pleasure of simply being on the water.  Sandbanks appeared at low tide.
I am keeping a low profile here (though I always wave at the marina ladies), easy enough as it’s a listless do-nothing sort of day and I have loads of boaty stuff to do – like deciding where/when I am going next.

I shall bore you no more, until I pop up somewhere else.

Vigo Slowly – 1

Mature marina señorita was all smiles today and even giggled when I again apologised for my earlier indiscretion.  I was there to pay my dues before departure next morning, but maths was not her strongest suit, so I borrowed her calculator and glasses to help out.  Ambling back to ‘Pippin’ I was halted by a very loud torrent of Spanish, which translated something like “HEY!!! You’ve nicked my glasses!”  This wasn’t unreasonable, given that they were perched on my nose; I don’t think I will be forgotten here for a while.

Today I failed to buy ship’s stores it being a Sunday, but it was a pleasant walk and uplifting to note that graffiti is not solely a British thing – indeed certain words in the English language have a universal resonance, as the rough scrawl of “F..k the police” on a gable indicated.  It is said that modern graffiti originated in Philadelphia in the 1960s, though I can’t believe that our cave


men ancestors didn’t have a go on long winter nights.  I’ve even discovered graffiti aboard ‘Pippin’ behind a panel in the fore cabin; “Andi was here!” it reads, and I have a bone to pick with him as that is exactly where it leaks.

Whilst doing my pre departure boaty checks, I spotted my limp, wet yellow Q flag dangling from the yard arm, a pathetic invitation to the local Excise to check me out.  No one showed the slightest interest, and it wasn’t until I reached Vigo that officialdom caught up with me and registered my entrance into the country.

It was pouring at 0830 this morning and thunder accompanied me upstream and under the road bridge, the faintest breath of wind defying all forecasts and coming in from the south, so I handed responsibility for forward motion to the Yanmar and Hastings, who grumbled gently away.  ‘Pippin’ chugged on through the little fleet of ships anchored off Puerto Alumina Espanola, whose factory chimneys belched smoke, which presumably contributed to the weather gathered above the town, black clouds that later burst into rain.
Typically I found the only yacht anchored behind the breakwater at Viveiro in the exact spot I had selected.  The skipper raised his mug in salute as I sent the Rocna 3.5 metres down to explore the Spanish mud.  I had arrived in my very first Ria and as I write this, warm Spanish rain falls lightly through the still air.

Vigo Slowly – 2

Viveiro, in the province of Lugo in Galicia, is a very nice spot and others understandably think so too.  Around 16,000 people live here though this number probably triples in summer when holidaymakers come down to rent a flat of which there are many.  It is reckoned to have some of Spain’s best beaches and stands at the estuary into which the Landro River flows.  Its medieval walls, of which bits remain, apparently saw much action including assault by pirates.

Along the fish quay is a line of fresh, modern lockups, which I imagine were built with EU money for the fishing and general cargo (aggregate?) industries, though the small number of trawlers here suggests times have changed.  It’s so nice, that ‘Pippin’ and I are in no hurry to rush onwards to our July family rendezvous in Vigo.

The boat moored to seaward of ‘Pippin’ is a swanky new 54 foot Amel Maru ketch, which probably has a bath, a maid, carpet and a washing machine on board.  Back aboard ‘Pippin’ with no bath, maid or washing machine, I found I still had a pack of Army spiced sausage with potato slices left from my Biscay crossing, which went down a treat, as the sun sank below the yardarm on my first day in a Spanish Ria. Thankfully the bay remained at peace, so very


Approaching Viveiro top picture and Viveiro from ‘Pippin’ different from my experience of the north British Isles.

Rain squalls came next day, as I got the dinghy inflated and the little Suzuki outboard going at the second pull, after 12 months idleness, though not before I had to fit a plastic clothes peg to replace the kill cord which had slipped into the depths.   Still I can now tell my dinghy from others, as it is the only one with a yellow clothes peg.

Looking downstream from Viveiro

It was grey and overcast, but warm as was my reception at Gadis Hypermarket, where I practiced a little of my excruciating Spanish.  I learned fast not to use the word ‘Excusado’ for excuse me, as it is a euphemism for toilet.  Happily I found sliced white bread for toast though Spanish artisan bread makes even more brilliant toast.

The Tourist Information office remained steadfastly closed on my first 3 visits - perhaps I needed to check out Spanish for “Open when we feel like it. So I’ll try and take it by surprise next time.

Organised chaos aboard ‘Pippin’

Discipline - that’s what was needed I reckoned, and it had to beginwith a tidy up and a list, so that I could work out what to be disciplined about.  Big list done, a postponement of outdoor tasks was agreed, as rain had inconveniently stopped play; which was fine as I still had 350 tea bags to get through, but eventually most of the initial jobs got done in my usual forgetful, disorganised way.



I rewarded myself with a trip ashore next morning at the same time my German neighbour was enjoying a strip wash, he a real Viking lookalike, his boat ‘Noa’, a no nonsense workhorse designed for playing with albatross in the Southern Oceans.  We would meet later and become friends.

It was raining again as I headed to town, but hey! It’s only water and I don’t mind being the only shopper in full, dripping oilies and squelchy shoes.  Back at ‘Pippin’, my neighbour came for tea.

My current plan is to remain here until the sun arrives sometime next week, as a blow is threatened over the weekend and I am not in ocean bashing mood.  I decided on Ria Cedeira, 25 nautical miles west but like all plans, mine especially, they are but the intentions of the moment.

Vigo Slowly – 3

You Misbehave at your Peril

Being a restless sort, I usually have the urge to move on, as I did on days 1&2 in Viveiro, a little on day 3, ambivalent on day 4 and then – new feelings of happily staying put, like Renee, my new Belgian friend who arrived 31\2 years ago and shows no signs of moving on.  Indeed, days have become a blur.  The sun did occasionally visit me in Viveiro and it is amazing how your view of a place or situation is shaped by weather & friends met.  Oh well, manana - perhaps.

One evening Raz and I squelched back from a tapas bar to my rain filled dinghy, and puttered most of the way home in darkness and pouring rain.  True my little Suzuki outboard has visited the bottom of the sea (skipper’s error arguably the cause), so I was not surprised when it spluttered to a stop in the darkness: I was quite sober once I had sweated back to ‘Pippin’, having dropped Raz at Noa.  Suffice to say that even a Suzuki needs fuel to run, as I discovered next morning.

I have never met anyone with a washing machine on board, but Raz has one for use in harbour; nothing fancy, just a hose stuck in the back when in use.  He has an engine room I can stand up in too and a chest freezer which I can almost stand up in, but then ‘Noa’, all 14 tons of her, is his home.  We are an unlikely pair, with all the advantages on his side it peeves me to say, but a nicer, more modest person you could not meet and we enjoyed many laughs over tapas together.  He is heading East before wintering in Vigo, though
he is clearly a bottle short of a six pack for his plans include sailing in Patagonia.  In my humble opinion, you don’t sail in Patagonia – you get beaten up by monstrous seas and weather and probably don’t survive.  No, I don’t want to sail in Patagonia, or play with Albatross in the Southern Ocean.

Raz’s Ocean Going Home

Raz has a Washing Machine!!!

I have to run ‘Pippin’s’ little Yanmar for a couple of hours a day at anchor for the fridge, to recharge the batteries, something I need to sort before the next long trip.  This of course is a good reason to stick with Rioja Tinto, rather than a chilled Blanco, at least for now.
From the Viveiro anchorage, there is little evidence of the pretty little town with its steep streets leading up to an old Church, but persevere and step through the ancient arched remains of the old town wall and walk up the ancient narrow streets.  Catch your breath as you look up at the nondescript frontage of the Church, then step inside and you’ll find real beauty and peace – and respite from the rain.  A little beer in a small bar off the square rounds off a visit perfectly.

There were lots of healthy looking power walkers, male and female in Viveiro.  My top prize went to the bronzed gentleman of a certain age on the beach, whose Speedo swimming trunks struggled to do their job.  On each arm was a white weighted cuff, which he swung vigorously as he marched along.  Meanwhile I continued unsuccessfully to try and take the Tourist Information Office by surprise during opening hours; maybe another time.

Farewell from Viveiro in the sunshine!!!!!

‘Pippin’ Takes on Power and Water in the Marina


Raz stands Guard at the Viveiro old Town Wall


Pictures above are of the Little Fishing Port, Celeiro, next to Viveiro.  The Church is in Viveiro

Viveiro Anchorage & Breakwater.

Vigo Slowly – 4

Spanish weather finally arrived in my last 2 days at Viveiro, the wind peaking mid-afternoon mainly from the north, before reducing around bedtime tinged with delicious warmth.  I left on the early high tide, just as a front brought rain with wind and visibility of barely a mile.  But hey!! ‘Pippin’s’ batteries were flushed with excess and every tank and locker was crammed full because – well, you never know.  I might be imprisoned aboard for a month, shipwrecked on a desert island, or need to barter with natives.
I bade farewell to Viveiro with sadness – after all, I had almost become a permanent fixture and I left new friends behind – Raz heading east and Renee staying put forever. 

‘Pippin’ was rolling heavily off Ria Viveiro and I was too busy to notice the intimate embrace between main halyard and radar reflector, at the top of the mast.  Both are essential members of the team, but they are not meant for each other.  This was skipper error, but it was not the time to sort it, so I motor sailed ‘downhill’ with just the Yankee pulling, pushed by whatever tide was out there.

The Spanish coastline here is not friendly; it’s all ominous cliffs falling straight into the sea with few bolt holes and it did not look welcoming now, in the mizzle and big confused seas.  Fortunately pretty little Cedeira looked much more welcoming, a tree lined little cove tucked behind a little fishing harbour, where I joined 6 other yachts rolling gently at anchor, after 6 hours at sea.

Cedeira is a municipality of A Coruna, and its population of around 7,500 has been in slow decline since the 1960s, but as with Viveiro, it has become a resort so numbers probably double during summer holiday months.

Cedeira Bound & Looking for the Sun



At Anchor in Cedeira

“Time offers its fruits to those who know how to take their time”

I don’t believe every homily I read, but this one must be true as it is written on my Rioja (half!) bottle label. 

I failed miserably to retrieve the main halyard failed on my first day in Cedeira – there was nothing for it, I would have to climb the mast.  I used to be pretty hot at pull ups and push ups but now I am much better at sit downs and I had long forgotten how to use the Top Climber that I eventually squeezed myself into on Day 2.  I hate heights, but I was eventually swinging around 35 feet up, as ‘Pippin’ rolled gently – until I realised I hadn’t slackened off the main halyard.  Well you can imagine the cussing as down I went, but second time up went much more smoothly, though the increasing wind meant I got bashed around more.  ‘Pippin’ didn’t even notice my 80kgs hanging from near the top of her mast, as I waved at my audience, which speaks volumes for her stability.  Job done and it was good to know I could get up there if needs be.

Tomorrow I shall explore properly, until then “Adiós”.

I HATE Heights!

A Long Way Down!

Cedeira Beach

Vigo Slowly – 5

Water economy is crucial aboard, so I wash up al fresco, using a bucket and water from the Ria but you do need to retrieve the utensils, before emptying said bucket over the side after washing up.  It hasn’t been too bad thus far – just a galley knife, spoon and cup.  Going ashore has its potential hazards too, such as ensuring enough rope on your dinghy so it doesn’t submerge on a rising tide, or get left hanging down the sea wall – or weed covered steps down which I slid very neatly into the water and under the dinghy, with barely a splash.


Cedeira Riverside

An ancient pilgrimage route passes south of here, headed for Santiago de Compostela (more on this later), where St. Francis of Assisi founded the Franciscan Order in 1214.  A phrase attributed to St. Francis struck me; “The journey is essential to the dream”.  Even if that dream is as simple as crossing Biscay or arriving safely at the chosen Ria, or something much more significant, you cannot achieve it without journeying.  Oddly, legend has it that the Milky Way ended near Cedeira and the people here were descended from whales and fish – and no, that wasn’t written on a Rioja label.

I thought Again of Granddaughter Izzy Here!

At the weekend youngsters on jet skis shot noisily around the Ria and I have to hand it to those young jet skiers – doing 30 knots whilst operating a mobile phone is no mean feat.

Cedeira is reported as being a gusty Ria, and I found it so for it gusted well ‘north’ of 20 knots on occasion, which never troubled the Rocna, though I don’t like leaving ‘Pippin’ at anchor for long.  It was a little rougher than Viveiro, perhaps because being smaller and roughly circular, waves bounce off the sides.

Next morning I puttered across to help the crew of a very large French catamaran who couldn’t raise their anchor, though I was entirely superfluous and did little more than drink their coffee and make encouraging noises in school boy French.  The skipper eventually succeeded and I learned that their anchor had also caught in a submerged boat at their previous anchorage.  My joke in bad French that things happen in threes wasn’t rapturously received and they quickly left for Finisterre. 

Boat checks revealed no nasty surprises, all was in good order.  Now if that is the sort of stuff I am reporting to you from pretty Cedeira, it’s time to move on very soon!  The Willis master plan – simple as always – is to drop the hook in Ria El Ferrol, 30 nautical miles or so to the south.

Hasta la vista

‘Pippin’ is in the Background

Vigo Slowly – 6

Cedeira – Found the Sun

There are many inshore dangers along the coastline between Cedeira and El Ferrol, including reefs, headlands and shoals, the latter 2 being particular dislikes of mine – particularly if located in the Irish Sea.  Here, at least, you can feel warm whilst you struggle with the elements, though best stay out to sea on a bad day as I chose to do today.  I chose the quiet of early morning for my fight with the anchor, but it appeared without struggle and a belly full of mud.

Outside the Ria a sloppy beam sea annoyed as I headed seawards to clear all dangers.  ‘Pippin’ was rolling so heavily that the oranges broke loose one by one and the mushrooms poured off the work surface to join them, like lemmings off a cliff.

Cedeira, Cute

Cedeira up River

Cedeira Bridge

Mushrooms Suitably Restrained

‘Pippin’ gets a Wiggle on

George Clooney Aboard

A lady at A Coruna told me on VHF Channel 10, to expect NE Force 5/6 and a moderate sea – I think.  So I was glad to have headed a little offshore as ‘Pippin’ charged off in the high 5s pulled only by the Yankee, lifting her skirts to slide neatly down the 2 metre waves.  I call her ‘Teflon Girl’ now, for she just slips along whatever the wind strength and the inadequacies of her skipper.

I adjusted course off the entrance to El Ferrol, to close the new breakwater in between the hazards of Bajos Tarracidos to port and Banco de las Laixinas to starboard, both marked by fishing boats.  We’d covered the best part of 30 nautical miles at 6 knots; I was happy with that.

‘Pippin’ head-butted 1.5 knots of ebb tide as she puttered up the Ria to Mugardos, opposite the commercial harbour, where I sent the Rocna down 6.5 metres to take hold. 
Below are Three Pictures Taken in Mugardos, where ‘Pippin’ is at Anchor




EI Ferrol doesn’t have many good write ups, which perversely is partly why I headed here.  Franco liked the place too; he was born here, though I suspect that may not be an attraction for some. 

Anyway, I am anchored off Mugardos, a mile or so across the Ria from El Ferrol in a tight picturesque spot, and I’ll see how it goes.  Officialdom remains refreshingly absent and there are no signs of any other visitors.  In fact, it is so quiet I suspect everyone is on lunch break at 1530.

Adiós from SV ‘Pippin’


Vigo – Slowly 7

Somehow the wind always seems to keen louder in the rigging at anchor alone in the dark.  ‘Pippin’ has a lot of rigging, so the hum starts at 10 knots, keens at 15, moans at 20 and I put the pillow over my head after that.  In the morning off Mugardos the wind was rising, so I put out more chain to relieve my stress.

The Rocna anchor, was the brain child of New Zealander Peter Smith (a friend of Raz), who sold up and went cruising in his boat.  100,000 nautical miles later, he decided no anchor was good enough, so designed his own, the Rocna, and after it had successfully held his boat in 70 knots of wind for weeks, he shared it with the world.  I am grateful, though I will hang up my life jacket for good if I ever have to face and survive winds like that!!

By mid-morning on Day 2, my anchorage (Mugardos) was untenable and dangerous.  I had been on anchor watch most of the night and my lee shore was a dangerous stone breakwater, off which waves were bouncing with ever greater force, as the wind gusts funnelling down the Ria rose into the mid-20s (knots).  With engine slow ahead, I raised anchor and set off down the Ria towing the dinghy which I NEVER normally do at sea.  As I entered open water, the wind and the waves caught us and the dinghy took off and inverted, so lashed it tight along the leeward quarter, and went off to find a safe bolt hole.  The wind was gusting Force 6 with big confused seas in from the Atlantic, but I managed to grab some lunch and a cup of tea and a few hours later anchored in 7.5 metres off pretty sheltered Ensenada de Mera, across from A Coruna.  Mrs Woodman’s fruit cake was a perfect treat, for it had been a challenging few hours, made harder by lack of sleep.

I was experiencing the notorious ‘noreste’, though the forecast is for better times now.  “Challenging sailing and occasionally daunting” – not my words, but an informed opinion on these parts, and I’ll agree with that.  I haven’t even reached the Costa da Morte yet, which stretches from here to Finisterre.


Raz had described battling this noreste for 3 days and nights out at sea, a wind he said blew for 3, 6 or 9 days; I’ve lost count but suspect the latter this time. 

This lovely Ria is guarded by the Tower of Hercules, built by the Romans in the 2nd Century AD.  It stands 55 metres high and is the oldest lighthouse in use today, though I guess the lighting technology has moved on a bit since then.  An amazing landmark.
I had lost my discipline list, so worked on another, which began with a check of the little Yanmar, which looked quite happy.  Another task was the composition of an email in Willis Spanish to arrange a long stay berth in a Ria Vigo marina.

Next day, a Saturday, I rescued a young swimmer and his dinghy and towed him back to his father’s beautiful old 48 foot Swan (called, interestingly, ‘Gesture’) to join him, his topless girlfriend and tiny dog ‘Chicco Flacca’, for a cold San Miguel.  I suspect my reputation in these parts is somewhat better than it had been at Ribadeo!  Tiny ‘Flacca’ wanted to demonstrate how tough she was, by removing as many of my fingers as she could, but we were pals by the time I left. 

When I told them my name, they told me that the festival of St Juan was the next day, so an appropriate day for me to be in A Coruna.  It is to do with jumping in and out of rings of fire to ward off evil spirits and ugly witches, and is celebrated widely and noisily by families, I was told.

My yellow clothes peg on my outboard required explanation and with zero Spanish, a demonstration had to suffice.  It will be nice to meet again, though I can’t remember their names.




It was an idyllic afternoon to begin reading Laurence Rees seminal work on the Holocaust I thought, as the bay filled with visiting boats.  It was very early by local standards, but even so I began to think of supper and wondered if it might be a Fray Bentos night tonight.  I suspect I’ll be in touch next from A Coruna (Real Club Nautico Marina), but you never know.

As my Fray Bentos sizzled enticingly, a rescue boat arrived to tow a small motor cruiser with 9 aboard (!) home.  Never dull at sea!

Vigo Slowly – Pause in A Coruna

It was a priceless morning when I re-joined the World, even better after a bacon sarnie and pint of rosy lea and ‘Pippin’ was soon rolling gently across Ria Coruna, as I called on VHF Channel 09 to the marina office, to no avail.

Across Coruna Ria to Ensenada de Mera

Coruna Docks

Coruna Docks, and the final Approach to Real Nautica Marina (red cube shaped building is the yacht club)

One Willis skipper’s error is to occasionally throw my mooring line to a helper before connecting it to the boat.  Despite this little faux pas, ‘Pippin’ was soon snugly alongside a waiting pontoon in Real Nautica Marina.  The cheerful over worked marina official claimed his English was ‘catastrophic’, to which I had to say my Spanish was ‘apocalyptic’ which had him chuckling.

I managed to last until 1300 before diving into a cafe for a spot of luncheon, just as a band and procession passed by, a group of very pretty witches at the rear.  Quite why anyone should feel like jumping through fire during the Festival of St. Juan (today) to ward them off, I couldn’t imagine. 

I learned painfully that you don’t need the fish soup as well as the calamari house special for lunch, unless you haven’t eaten for a week.  I had an audience throughout, for the cafe was full and my meal was first to be served, probably by an hour.  My neighbours indicated vigorously that it would be delicious, which it was though I could barely move on leaving.  Everyone here is so friendly and first impressions are that Coruna is a beautiful city, even in 31° of almost windless sun blasted heat.

Determined to enter into the spirit of things and make the most of the festival of St. Juan, I went on a 2 hour hike GoPro in hand that evening.  Back aboard with sore feet and a feeling I had been at the festival’s epicentre, I was just tucking in to smoked salmon on artisan bread, with a squirt of lemon, when I was interrupted by a loud “HOLA!!!”  Standing on the dockside was the young man whom I had rescued in Ensenada de Mera and his lovely girlfriend.

Thirty minutes later I was in A Coruna’s poshest yacht club, feasting on sardines, blistered padron peppers, sausage and spicy potato, with a decent glass of red. 

Evening on Coruna sea front

Peaceful Coruna evening

My host was a sharp lawyer in the property business, and clearly still embarrassed at being rescued.  I used my chart to explain where Guernsey was; it looked tiny and descriptions of 60,000 people clinging to a rock like limpets, battered by 6 knot races and 10 metre tides had my hosts wondering why anyone would want to live there.  He explained that his father’s Swan 48 had been bought as a shell, after it had been abandoned and robbed after being involved in a swash buckling drug smuggling story.  He had lovingly refurbished it and still sailed her at the age of 75.

We strolled through the seafront part of town, watching the fireworks and swapping anecdotes.  They told me the beach is of imported sand, refreshed each year, and every square foot was occupied by families and couples, who had built bonfires ready for when the moment arrived.  They explained that this still, hot weather was not normal for these parts; it was usually wet, cold and windy though I did get the impression that what I would class as a good sailing breeze they might describe as ‘storm’.  Certainly they thought I would be heading out into one, though every forecast suggests otherwise.

As the night progressed, little paper air balloons with candles suspended below were sent skywards, as people thronged the streets.  At a predefined time, after the main fireworks display, all the beach bonfires were lit and my hosts and I leapt three times over a fire on the beach.  This was fine for my agile hosts, who cleared the fire with ease, less so for me, as my shoes met embers at each leap and my Calvin Klein’s were all but smoking.  But I tried, and those lovely witches are now well and truly scared away for the year.


Coruna yacht club, and Coruna Sea Front, Late Evening

Sometime before dawn my hosts found another bar, and we relaxed again, this time with humongous rum and Coke Spanish style – a hint of Coke, ice cubes and as much rum as the bar tender could get into the glass.  We agreed we had things in common, such as a Guernseyman is different from an Englishman, just as being Galician is different from being Spanish. I was not allowed to pay for anything, a hefty price paid for a simple rescue and I hobbled back to the boat after fond farewells in mellow mood.  Great place A Coruna, even if I will long remember my Spanish hangover.

Vigo Slowly - Costa da Morte

A wish to press on now overwhelmed me, so I decided to put some miles under ‘Pippin’s’ keel and head towards Cape Finisterre.  Passage planning revealed the Costa da Morte has plenty of terrifying stuff written about it and that Finisterre is derived from the Latin ‘finis terrae’, the ‘end of the World’.  It is studded with shipwrecks, such as HMS Captain, a revolutionary steam and sail powered British naval gun ship turned turtle in a gale in 1870 whilst on naval manoeuvres, about 15 nautical miles south of Finisterre, the same distance out to sea.  480 out of her 500 crew perished, more than the total killed at the battle of Trafalgar.

HMS Captain

This coast is barnacle collecting country and many ‘percebeiros’ (barnacle hunters) foraging at the water’s edge have been scooped out to sea over the centuries by that unexpected ‘7th wave’, a rogue often double the height of its predecessors.  You can only harvest barnacles legally if you are licensed, though there are restrictions depending on barnacle numbers.  Recent hard times have meant many unlicensed percebeiros taking their share illegally out of necessity.  Having said all that it is profitable work, 50 barnacles going for around 60 Euros. 

Back in 2018, I discovered that a merchant ship had lost 30–40 containers overboard off Finisterre in January, not great news. 
Ria Coruna was quiet at dawn, the wind still abed as ‘Pippin’ slipped out to sea and into a thick blanket of fog common around here.  But at least it was calm and peaceful, my instruments assured me that the coast was where I wanted it to be, the radar displayed any boats in range, and the bacon sarnie was just the job before my espresso.  At 1130, the VHF DSC alarm went off and I received a man overboard message from Coruna/Finisterre coast guard radio.

‘X’ Above Marks the MOB and the Date/Time of it

It had happened the day before when a sailor fell from a yacht almost exactly at my next waypoint.  It took me 4 hours to get there, and it was no surprise to see other yachts converging on the spot.  I was pleased not to find a body.

With very light headwinds I motor sailed 69 nautical miles to Finisterre, which was resting as ‘Pippin’ approached, and I said a prayer for the 480 sailors from HMS Captain who lie on the sea bed in their iron tomb not far from ‘Pippin’s’ track.  The fog had lifted and the Cape was clear when I anchored in 7 metres at low tide in Ensenada de Llagosteira, in the Cape’s lee.  I shared this lovely spot with 3 other yachts with no urgency to move on, as Vigo is an easy hop south.

My thoughts returned to the tragedy of HMS Captain next morning as I looked across to Corcubion, the Ria in which the 18 survivors came ashore after 12 long hours on their battered steam pinnace during that stormy night in September 1870.  Naval officers travelled through nearby villages and combed the rugged coastline in a futile search for more survivors or bodies, and understandably there was outcry about the loss of life.  Widows were to be paid a year’s salary equivalent immediately.  Extraordinarily, history returned to Corcubion as I stood there, when the beautiful French barque Belem, dropped anchor opposite.

Cabo Finisterre

‘Pippin’ off Finisterre


Built in 1896 as a cargo ship, she had also served as a private yacht for the Duke of Westminster and Sir Arthur Guinness.  Now a sail training ship, she is 190 feet long and I can think of no worse an experience than reefing her topsails 100 feet up in a gale! 

Beautiful Barque Bemel off Finisterre

The little fishing harbour at Finisterre looked business-like, with a large modern warehouse and busy little fishing boats.  On the hillsides the buildings seemed more for locals than visitors.  In the Ensenada it was still, overcast and peaceful, which suited me just fine for I prefer my excitement in small doses, and not too often these days.  A run ashore revealed Finisterre to be a down to earth sort of place favoured by walnut faced knurled legged hikers with ski poles, little back packs and sub 20 BMIs, earnestly tracking the old pilgrimage route.  It’s Spain’s Land’s End, a place where the road to nowhere ends and the lighthouse keeps guard over endless ocean.

Titanic Pub Finisterre

Searching for a store, I passed the Titanic Pub (great place to sink a Cerveza - gedit!!??) close to the London Pub and not an estate agent, tattoo parlour, legal or accounting practice in sight.  If you like walking, want a bed in a pension, a plateful of calamari with a glass of Cerveza for not a lot and won’t miss designer shops, or night clubs, Finisterre is for you.  I liked it.  It’s peaceful here right now and my embryonic plan for the leg to Vigo lies on my chart table, but supper is the next thing on my list so until next time, Adiós familia y amigos.

Finisterre Town Square

Vigo Slowly – South to Muros

Approaching Ria Muros

Belem weighed anchor that evening and so gentle was the breeze that I am sure her John Deere diesels were chuntering quietly below decks, probably as her 48 trainees ate their dinners.

Next morning I scraped off the waterline weed before breakfast and a

late start for Muros under sail.  Adhering to the KISS principle I decided on a course of 172° M, departing early afternoon to catch
whatever wind was destined for us, as it usually comes after a lunchtime siesta.


The Rocna appeared on cue caped in multi layers of weed and ‘Pippin’ sniffed the wind before setting off across flat seas overlooked by steep intimidating hills, black in the overcast light.  Wind generators stuck out of the hill tops, like hairs on a gooseberry. 

Winds were between 5 and 11 knots out of the NW quadrant, quite enough for ‘Pippin’ to stretch her wings.  Just as the wind speaks through the rigging, the wake under the stern tells its own story, beginning with a tinkle, then a chuckle before becoming an insistent gurgle.  Once it’s foaming and hissing I am well reefed, cowering inside and thinking of home.

‘Pippin’ passed neatly between two reefs off Punta Lens and tacked inshore through the mouth of Ria Muros at a canter in the late afternoon, as Germany lost against South Korea in the World Cu (yippee!!).  Hercule kept a dead straight track as the wind began to ruffle the sea, and ‘Pippin’ charged on a reach up the Ria in winds that briefly touched 16 knots.  Great sailing but there are enough rocky dangers tucked in the mouths of the Rias to prevent complacency, and there is always the worry of a dragging anchor or lurking undersea debris, that might imprison the Rocna.

I anchored 100 metres off the southern end of Muros Marina breakwater in sand and weed and prepared dinner, whilst checking for anchor drag in the sunny, peaceful evening.

Seventy four years before HMS Captain turned turtle off Finisterre, Captain Maitland RN, commanding the frigate Loire was approaching Muros near where ‘Pippin’ lay.  It was the same month as a naval engagement off Finisterre between British and French Spanish fleets, and Maitland had received information that a French privateer was fitting out in Muros.  A French corvette and a brig were also there, he soon discovered.  The coastal fort opened fire on Maitland’s ship as it entered the Ria, fire which was returned and seemed to put off the defenders.

Muros Front

Muros Out towards Mussel Farms

Anchoring, Maitland despatched a raiding party under his First Lt. to take the fort, which they duly did, whilst he took over the French vessels.  Maitland then agreed with the local bishop to allow him to take the provisions stored ashore for the French vessels, in return for which he would not interfere with the local people. Sailors and locals parted on good terms and Capt. Maitland was understandably much praised for this action and later was promoted Rear Admiral.  I discovered that 10 years later, Maitland took the surrendered Napoleon aboard the 74 gun HMS Bellerophon and took him to Berry Head in July 1815; an exciting and distinguished naval career by any standards.
By contrast, I was not fired on and took no ships or prisoners in Muros.  Fifty metres from ‘Pippin’, as my dinner cooked, a little old fisherman in a wide brimmed hat cast his line from a tiny rowing boat.  As the familiar grunts and cries of a female rowing crew carried across the Ria, he rowed a few yards before retrieving his line and repeating the motion for hours.

Mussel farming is big business in the Galician Rias and I found Muros much more crowded with ‘bateas’ (mussel rafts) than the Pilot Books indicate.  Their serried ranks resembled a mini Spithead Naval review of low slung mini naval ships.  I discovered one batea can produce over 40 tons of these bivalve molluscs in a year.  Ropes are seeded, hung from the rafts and thinned perhaps 3 times between June and October.  31/2 ounces of mussels provides a person’s daily protein needs, so that enormous bowl of mussels in white wine and cream sauce commonly served is a tad over the top – nice though.  Other molluscs and fish are also increasingly being farmed, including Turbot.
People stop before you step onto pedestrian crossings here and everyone is very friendly in an understated laid back way.  Muros I found to be a quaint little village, with all the basics for cruiser or tourist and preparations were in hand for yet another festival; four musicians wandered the streets playing their goat skin Galician Gaitas, very much like small bagpipes, as I pottered about.


Out in Ensenada Muros, people young and old in wetsuits towing rubber rings worked busily with what looked like shrimp nets, the water up to their chests probably hunting razor clams, or ‘navajas de afeitar’.  Back aboard I looked across at the derelict stone boathouse and slipway and idly wondered about its past.  ‘A Esmorga’ is the name of the Restaurante above the boathouse, and was a novel by the prolific Galician author Eduardo Amor.  It tells of the 24 hour drinking spree of 3 friends, a busy day of celebration, fire, a brothel visit and violence.  Back on planet Earth, my inadequacies were again revealed by the absence of the sausages that I had gone ashore to get.  Oh and I lost a vital piece of a rowlock.

Several yachts have arrived to anchor beyond the little harbour, no doubt to enjoy the festivities in Muros this weekend.  ‘Pippin’ and I will, God and Mr Rocna willing, be heading 40 nautical miles south to Ria Vigo, our turn round point and journey’s end for the outward voyage.

Muros Memorial to Sailors

Muros Town Hall


Muros Chapel

Muros Party Time

Ria Vigo at Last

Leaving my Muros Anchorage

With internet access, I was spoilt for choice when it came to weather forecasts, a science I know little of.  Maitland had to rely on experience and probably a crude mercury barometer, though other liquids could be used; Pascal, a Frenchman, had predictably made one with red wine inside.  Being less dense than mercury created a minor problem, as it had to be 13 metres long – and thirsty sailors drank the wine.  It wasn’t until Fitzroy, a naval officer, scientist and depressive, set up effectively the forerunner of the Met Office some 50 years later, that skippers had access to what had become known as ‘forecasts’.  Much undervalued, underfunded and under recognized (in my opinion), Rear Admiral Fitzroy took his own life in 1865.

It was the Festival of St. Pedro in Muros, though lying at anchor off the town I was undisturbed.  Amazingly all trace of the festival, including staging, had disappeared before breakfast, when I decided to head into Muros Marina for a break and to sort out my Vigo berth.  As I suspected, the anchor appeared completely entombed in multi layers of weed, shells and a grain or two of sand, so a move would have been necessary anyway when the forecast wind picked up.

Pedro the marina official was clearly having an extended lie in, though by 1130 he couldn’t have still been asleep, as explosive maroons were fired skywards for 30 minutes and Church bells tried to keep up with the noise.  My neighbour was a friendly Galician from Muros, who had worked for many years in Falmouth as a marine consultant.  In perfect English, he told me to check out ‘Sail the Way’, a cruise in company from La Rochelle following the pilgrimage route of St James.  Worth a look.

Rocky Mountain from Muros

Star of the show asleep in Muros

I finally caught up with Pedro, who was stressed through singlehandedly managing marina pontoon and office matters.  I discovered he was assisted by a German sailor, moored in the marina, an unofficial arrangement I was sure – certainly it seemed to allow Pedro to be elsewhere at festival time.  Timings I am discovering are flexible and like everywhere else I have sailed, people have ‘never known weather like it’.  Here in Muros, that meant fog and overcast.

Tonight is the third consecutive Muros party night and it is clearly a popular place, judging by the coachloads of visitors that flowed into the town and the over flowing car parks.  Running between June 27th and 30th, the festival of St Pedro is a Rioja soaked battle I learned with some excitement.

Muros Old Gaffers Join the Party

‘La Batalla del Vino de Haro’ (150kms NE, where 40% of Rioja is made) means literally a wine-drenched celebration of the Feast of San Pedro, though apparently you’d be lucky to find a local who could tell you so.  Each year thousands of thirsty locals and a handful of lucky tourists climb a mountain in La Rioja, and throw the red liquid all over each other, which seems a real waste to me.  After the wine throwing, everyone descends to the town to consume food, drink and to dance with, no doubt, Spanish hangovers next morning such as I had endured in thanks to generous hosts in A Coruna.

Typically I now engaged in a mildly manic programme of positive activities and ‘Pippin’ sparkled, though annoyingly I later spotted a single weed on her waterline.  The Yanmar was also suffering stress from too much amateur attention, my washing was nearly threadbare from the pummelling I gave it, and I had again pounded round the town, triumphantly discovering that Galician baguette is better than French – with Irish butter.


Muros Racing Rowers at St Pedros Festival and a Muros Fishing Heavyweight

My activities included careful passage planning, for it is a tricky 45 nautical mile inshore route from Muros to Ria Vigo and the hazards a sailor will face include myriad bobbers mainly over shoals and reefs, fog and outlying rocks.  As you close Ria Vigo, you also enter the National Park of Isla Del Norte and Isla de St. Martin (Islas Cies) which straddle the mouth of Ria Vigo.  You must follow the buoyed Canal de Norte if approaching from the north, or risk the wrath of the wardens I was told.

I was headed for Marina Moana on the north side of Ria Vigo, whilst family visit for 10 days or so.  Winds were likely to be very light from the south until afternoon accompanied by rain, so little prospect of a decent sail – but you never know.  Tonight its heavy metal on the sea front here, groan, so from a pulsating Muros,


Vigo Through the Rain

Pedro looked at my handwriting and asked if I was a doctor but he was too stressed for Willis witty repartee at that moment, so I paid and returned to the boat.

Next morning was dark as I cast off very early in Muros, to the sound of the last surviving remnant of last night’s party.  Those were the days, in my case of bell bottoms, cheesecloth shirts, platform boots and acne.

Mission Control

Today, the Golden Globe Racers started from Les Sables d’ Lonne in boats about the size of ‘Pippin’, solid and basic – no electronics.  As they crossed the start line, ‘Pippin’ was plugging through the rain, motor sailing 2 miles off the entrance to Ria Vigo, me wondering where the Spanish sunshine had gone.

The wind teased during the journey, tempting me out of my snug wheelhouse to set full sail, only to hide playing peek-a-boo, as I cussed and cursed refurling the Yankee for the ‘nth’ time.  On the plus side, just enough wind to fill the close-hauled main sail meant a marginally better speed.  Rain reduced visibility to less than 2 miles at times, though it later improved.

You can’t miss the National Park islands (Islas Cies) that straddle the entrance to Ria Vigo, as they tower like guardsmen at the trooping of the Colour, imposing in a dark menacing way.  The next little front arrived, sending wind tobogganing down the hillsides at 21 knots, helping push ’Pippin’ at a good lick through the heavy rain.  The Norte channel was a little narrow for short tacking and anyway I had to meet the marina staff before they knocked off, it being Sunday.

As I bore off up the Ria through frequent brief rain squalls, I discovered that Vigo itself is the biggest fishing port in Europe and it was the Vigo fishermen who inspired Ernest Hemingway to write ‘the old man and the sea’, a favourite of mine.  Vigo was also the scene of a bloody naval engagement in 1702, during the war of Spanish Succession, between an Anglo Dutch fleet and a French Spanish fleet, the latter having taken refuge with its huge haul of treasure in the Ria.  Whilst the Anglo Dutch fleet searched for their enemy, much of the treasure was carted inland (or was it??!), whilst defences were prepared.  Eventually a spy gave Admiral Sir George Rooke the English naval commander, details of the enemy’s location, and battle was eventually joined up in the narrows of

Norte Channel off Islas Cies – Raining & Gusting 21 Knots

Pacing an Amel Yacht, Ria Vigo

the Ria, resulting in 2,000 Spanish/French deaths and 800 Anglo/Dutch.  It was a resounding victory for the latter, who captured 7 warships and 6 galleons & destroyed the remaining 18 enemy vessels.

The final approach to the marina was alongside rows of mussel bateas that looked from afar like a long, rocky reef.  9 hours from Muros I docked in a rain squall in Moaña Marina, a laid back town that doesn’t really cater for visitors but looked my kind of place.


Bateas outside Moaña Marina

Moaña Ferry & Vivero Boats

I have never really got fishing.  I have watched anglers young and old on pier heads and quayside, from St Peter Port to Vigo and all places between, in all weathers at all times and two things strike me.  First they always look determinedly content and second, I have rarely seen them catch anything except an occasional tiddler.  Eating my corned beef sarnie in the cockpit in Moaña, I watched a grandfather and grandson, fishing off the back of a tatty Vivero boat 50 yards away.  Mullet jumped all round ‘Pippin’, but the fishermen never got a bite.  But then I finally got it – it really didn’t matter, for the fun was in the doing and in the sharing of time together.  The rain drove me inside, but not the fishermen, young and old.

Moaña is a town of about 19,000 people perched on the peninsula of Marrazo, known for its beaches and shell fish farming – mussels and oysters, an industry employing 25% of the population.  Other industries here include canning (since the 17th century) and ship building which together employ 39%.  The remainder of the working population work in the services sector.  Babies and weather are universal topics for ‘breaking the ice’ and Bea, the marina administrator went on to tell me the weather was the same last year – it had poured all night and is set to precipitate for another at least 3 more days.

Mussels have been consumed for thousands of years, but it wasn’t until 1945 that the first mussel raft was set up in a Ria and there are now numerous mussel festivals – any excuse for a festival if you ask me.  Mussels eat by filtering tiny plankton from the sea through their gills and astonishingly, can filter up to 8 litres an hour.  The male casts his contribution into the sea for females to take on board, which if the sheer number of mussels around here is anything to go by, is pretty effective.  The tiny babies are then released and attach themselves to fish, until ready to drop off and carry on the cycle.  If left alone, mussels could live for a century, like a lobster.

Hops (?) in Moaña

Ancient Moaña Grain Silo

View from Moaña towards the Narrows

The only nearby supermarket that opens all day is the ‘Eroski Center’, which seemed more upmarket than Gadis AND, I could buy baked beans and tinned meat, rather than just seafood/fish!

Here for a few days before family arrive, my plans can gestate slowly, subject to variation or cancellation as mood dictates for I had underestimated how tired I had got since leaving home.

Adiós amigos

Pausing in Vigo

Moaña isn’t a pretty town, but its people are as friendly as ever and up to now, I have upset no-one here that I am aware of.


Moaña Viveros Boats

The ferry to Vigo across the Ria is 50 metres from ‘Pippin’, goes every hour, costs a pittance and gets you to Vigo in 15 minutes.  I had come to Vigo to get my train ticket to Santiago de Compostela and in typical fashion achieved that, plus lunch and back to Moaña in 2 hours.  I had drawn a route plan to the station, with a boaty doodle for Vigo harbour and a train doodle at Vigo-Urzáiz Station, which I showed the taxi driver, having apologised for not speaking Spanish.  This worked brilliantly and became my standard operating procedure.
The lady at the Vigo-Urzáiz Station ticket counter looked ferocious, but also liked my scribbles, producing a ticket to Santiago de Compostela with a smile.  I lingered in triumph over lunch at the station café, and chatted to the Galician taxi driver back to the harbour.  It went something like this – driver hits Google translate button on his IPhone and says “speak now”.  I say what I was going to say and he says “Aghh!” and talks to the phone in Spanish.  The phone speaks to me in English.  We covered weather, reason for visit, where I was going on the train and did I like mussels ….

So I was a tad late for the return ferry, but the skipper saw me waving on the quay and amazingly turned back, tied up again and waited until I had huffed and puffed aboard.  That’s the Galicians for you, though I suspect it might also have been the ‘man bag’ slung over my shoulder, the sun glasses askew on my nose and the hairy white matchstick legs that labelled me as a lowlife ‘Turística’, but just worthy of help.

Vivero off Moaña, looking up Ria Vigo from the Ferry

Ria Vigo’s shoreline isn’t pretty, crowded with buildings and with many bateas scattered in the Ria, but the town itself seems quaint and well equipped for the marathon shopper.

I have been privileged to share time, food and laughter – surely the oxygen of life – in Moaña with new friends, and now it is time to go and join family, starting at the end of the pilgrim’s way, in beautiful Santiago de Compostela (see 3 pictures below).
After which it will be time to turn ‘Pippin’s’ bows north for the long, lonely 750 nautical mile uphill trek home.

Hasta mañana



Images of Santiago de Campostela, the End of the Pilgrim’s Way, Taken During our Stay there

Daughter Sarah’s Car Fresh from Guernsey

Back at our rented place near Moaña daughter Sarah ARRIVED, followed by son Sam with his family to join Angie my wife and I, to make my spell ashore special and to be frank, I was ready to leave the sea for a break.

Farewell to the Pilgrims’ Way

James the Apostle died in the 1st Century AD, and his body was transported by a boat guided by angels to what is now known as Padron in Galicia.  It was discovered by a shepherd 800 years later, buried in a Galician field and King Alfonso 2 had a church built to attract pilgrims to Santiago to visit the Holy relics of St James.  A sound plan, for you needed an attractive USP to top the many other Christian centres, which were also trying to attract pilgrims.

One doesn’t need to spoil a good story by asking questions such as; “how did they know the remains were those of St. James?” and the more cynical might note that large numbers of Christian pilgrims in the area were a useful counter to Moorish invasion, not to mention the income that might be generated for the Church.

Pilgrims would have had means for no peasant farmer, blacksmith, farrier or peasant had the time or means for such a lengthy stroll.  Pilgrims were fair game for bandits, though they probably travelled with protection for it was in King Alfonso’s interests to see pilgrims safely through to the collection boxes.  Anyway in those days pilgrims already previously travelled to the end of the World at Finisterre, so now they could just had to turn south and keep walking.

Back at journey’s end in Santiago de Compostela, hostel accommodation was built for weary footsore pilgrims and today, providing you are doing it as a Christian pilgrimage and have had your pilgrim’s passport stamped along the way, you earn your pilgrimage certificate providing you have ‘hoofed’ at least 100kms.  Over 260,000 people of all ages achieve this worthy feat each year and it is a wonderful way to bring people together in a common endeavour.  Now it was my turn to retrace my steps down ‘Pippin’s’ trail, past the end of the World, along the Costa da Morte, across Biscay home to the jewel of les Isles de la Manche.

‘Pippin’ was where I had left her, though my sea legs were wobbly and my resolution shaky, especially as every forecast indicated persistent northerlies to hinder homeward progress.  Passage planning adhered to the KISS principle, always best: out of Ria Vigo, turn right and fight the north winds to a sensible point from which to launch ‘Pippin’ and I into Biscay.  Somewhere along the line, a right turn up Channel for home, with variations on a theme to be played to the tune of the wind.

To Bea and the friendly team at Moaña I owe a hearty ‘gratias’, for their patient good humour and very low tariff for ‘Pippin’s’ stay.  But I felt ‘Riaed out’ by the time I left, and didn’t want to see another razor clam, octopus or sardine but the morning of my departure at least partly changed that. 


The Long Road Home

It isn’t really uphill all the way home from Vigo, but it feels that way because it’s a fight to gain ground against the stubbornly prevailing north wind.  Having slept well and done all I could to prepare, I had little to do now but pilot ‘Pippin’ safely through the narrows at the mouth of the Ria, but I could barely make headway north whatever I tried.  It was too early to head deep out to sea so I persevered for 2 hours before motor sailing: time to take stock and recalibrate, so I rewrote the plan and made sailing a priority over gaining ground for now.  As if to encourage me, a whale (!) slapped his fluke (definitely a bloke for it was an aggressive slap!) and arched his back, as long as ‘Pippin’.  Awesome.

As the afternoon closed, I anchored in pretty Ensenada de San Francisco, in sight of Finisterre, serenaded by the happy squeals of hundreds of children on the beach and watched by the crews of a dozen yachts pretending not to watch.  I had won too few miles, burned 2 gallons of diesel and allowed disappointment to germinate, but I had also enjoyed a blue sky sail and a perfect anchorage.
The morning started positively when I exterminated the 2 flies that had driven me quietly insane in my little cabin.  Good omens continued as ‘Pippin’ powered under sail towards the open ocean.  I saw no one on the anchored yachts, but sensed many eyes on me, unlike those of the wizened old fishermen in their tiny dory’s all around.  These guys are amazing in their tiny boats, each perhaps 4 metres long, bobbing around a mile from shore, their concentration absolute, their contentment palpable.

At the mouth of Ria Muros, inshore trawlers scurried busily checking pots and doing their stuff.  Heaven is made of many things, including sailing at 6.7 knots with bacon sandwiches though Hell threw in a bank of thick fog for fun.  If I was off St Martin’s Point (Guernsey) in fog, I would be deafened by the fog horn.  Here I am 5 miles off Finisterre and I can hear nothing but my tinnitus and worried skippers on British yachts calling each other.

Even though the SW wind wouldn’t last, my plan has only two words on it – ‘sail north’, which is true to my KISS principle so that’s what I am doing.  Where I will be or what I will be doing in 24 hours is a mystery, but right now ‘Pippin’ is running 130° to the wind at a sedate 4 knots guided by the inscrutable Hercule - I continue to be amazed at how well ‘Pippin’ sails; God bless her.
I shall leave you now as a. I have discovered another fly and b. I don’t know when I will be out of range, so from the middle of a ‘pea souper’ off Finisterre.


The Dolphin Chapter

The Finisterre pod of dolphins came for coffee and stayed awhile in the dying SW breeze, as ‘Pippin’ slowed to a sail flapping walk. The thing I have still to learn is to go with the flow.  No deadline means 2.5 knots is just fine, using the engine to help thereafter is not failure and every inch gained north is a triumph.  Just don’t expect me home for tea anytime soon.  Fishing boats passed either side of me, unseen throbbing engines, a purple blob on my radar though I suspect they had not seen ‘Pippin’ 1 mile away.  I wanted to clear Finisterre without engine, knowing it would take hours, the loudest sound ‘Pippin’s’ gentle wake and tugging ropes as she did so.

Finally triumph and time to set ‘Pippin’ north on the veering wind, ‘farewell Finisterre’, as the fog began to lift revealing the dark mass of the Cote de Morte to starboard; as gannets dive bombed a shoal, dolphins came to check out ‘Pippin’s’ new bow wave and the enormous boom of a ship’s fog horn carried across from out to sea.

My next target is to get north to a point around the NW tip of Spain, my start line for Biscay, but it is impossible to make sensible forecasts for I have no idea what direction or speed I will be able to make.  I also have to rest.  As the afternoon closed, ‘Pippin’ somehow managed a northerly course as the wind stayed in the south and west close inshore all day.  I still expect north easterlies, but for now all was good.

Cabo la Boltra, basking in the sunshine, was very close and formidable looking and famous for 2 recent events.  First the death of Mrs Woodman’s fruit cake, the last morsel slipping down a treat with a half pint of tea.  The second - I was passed by the only ‘gin palace’ I had seen at sea since I left Guernsey.  I felt a certain superiority knowing that I was progressing without the expensive assistance of an internal combustion engine whilst he was perhaps burning £13 of diesel per mile!

Pretty Camarinas lies astern now as I head out towards Biscay in the evening sun at a stately 3 knots in the dying breeze and as I don’t know where we will be tomorrow, I’ll post this and pop up again when next in range.

Leaving Sunny Spain

Hard Tack Biscuits off Ushant
28/07/2018 – Five days later.

”Biscuits Brown – S” is modern day speak for good old fashioned hard tack found in Army ration packs 40 years ago.  I know this because it’s what I am munching 20 miles past Ushant, with Army issue peanut butter.  Anyway, I left you over 450 nautical miles south, so I will return there.

Mist reduced Spain to a smudge before darkness could steal it and Spain lay disappointingly close off starboard beam as ‘Pippin’ ran NNE for the night of Day 2.  Still it was a good sail and I managed a sleep, though scattered red position marks on the chart spoke of the blood, sweat and tears of the previous 24 hours.  I felt I had lost a day, doomed to remain stuck in Biscay for eternity.
During the night the radar screen had been alive with the shadows of Spanish trawlers, as if the entire fleet was out to say farewell and grey clouds and mizzle provided the opening salvo of Day 3 as the wind shifted east of north, all 3 knots of it so on went the little diesel again with an oily chuckle.  The rain squall set off the radar alarm, which might be what attracted the dolphins, as with little sailing to think about, I deliberated on the menu choice for the day.

It is important to establish a routine of little tasks and activities to keep on top of things and to maintain morale.  No point in sitting around in a funk, no matter how miserable you might feel.  I decided on the luxury of a fresh shirt, shave and options for rounding Ushant, albeit some days ahead – and to kill that cabin fly that continued to drive me crazy.

By coffee time the wind was NNE 15 knots, so I let ‘Pippin’ loose though not quite where I wanted to go, the plan founded on KISS and flexible as ever – sometimes because I forget what the current plan is.  Finally I was able to snug ‘Pippin’ down heading NE for the night.  I make light of what until then had been a hugely frustrating struggle to get north.

By late afternoon Spain lay only 105 nautical miles astern and I had made a mere 60 miles north in the previous 24 hours, but hey!! The sky was blue, the sun was shining and I had just seen two whales slap their tail flukes.  I topped up the fuel tank, as I had to motor through the serene night and into a diamond morning on Day 4, made perfect by a decent fat boy’s breakfast.  I was glad I had bought three extra fuel cans and had laboriously filled them one by one at the Moana garage 3/4 a mile away.

At 0430 on Day 4 I sleepily took advantage of a wind shift and got ‘Pippin’ doing what she does best AND IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION!  I felt only now had we really crossed the start line.  Few vessels were about, so I managed a little more sleep.

Positive thought requires positive action so I burst into the sunny cockpit with mug of tea and the paraphernalia for a strip wash, a satisfying if not pretty event.  ‘Pippin’ ignored me and dug down her shoulder in the general direction of Ushant.  The wind built during the morning, teasing white foam off wave tops as ‘Pippin’ crashed on guided as ever by that iron soldier, Hercule the Hydrovane.  He follows the wind of course, so is a good indicator of what the wind is doing at any moment.  To track him I keep a hand bearing compass by my bed to check the course without leaving my ‘green maggot’ (sleeping bag), though at present it is lost somewhere within its ripe folds.

It is frustrating when there is nothing more you can do and the wind is AWOL, your destination far over the horizon and you are knackered.  It is time then to put trust in machinery and electronics and reach for yet another good book, as I did for the next 12 hours.  A change in the boats attitude alerted me downstairs and I popped up to see the wind now was more south and west, though it had as much oomph as an overweight jogger, but I loved him anyway as Hercule kept ‘Pippin’ pointing for that busy corner of the sea called Ushant.
Progress became pleasingly good, so time for maintenance and an hour with my head up the engine and down in the bilges.  I added half a litre of oil into the old Yanmar and some fresh diesel into the tank, wise precautions with the threat of bad weather later.  The sea bed here rises 3,000 metres to 200 in less than 20 miles and ‘Pippin’ was over the top of the slope as evening came to the sound of rasping sheets, hissing wake and a gentle creak from the boom, the wind 125° off the quarter.

Morning on Day 5 was disappointingly wet and grey, a flabby non day with insufficient wind to make way under sail, as I mulled over plans for rounding Ushant deciding to take the Passage de Fromveur along the east side of the island of Ouessant.  I was tired, but had achieved some more sleep so I was functioning ok I thought as ‘Pippin’ slowed to a standstill, so on with the Yanmar again.
My ‘’ forecast promised a rough and tumble later so time to break open the last Army ration pack … which is back where I started.

See you in Guernsey

Misty Biscay

‘Pippin’ Gets a Wiggle on

Isle d’ Ouessant to the North

Phare de Kereon and the Reefs to the South

Surfing Home
30/07/2018 – Written Back Home

I wrote in haste at sea off the Isle d’ Ouessant, so I will return to that bleak, rocky outcrop along whose eastern side ‘Pippin’ had sailed a few days ago up the Passage du Fromveur (heading NE past the Phare de Kereon).  Incredibly around 800 people still share the island with the indigenous sheep, though the population has been falling for centuries.  It is the most westerly point of France and, quite understandably given that 50,000 ships pass by each year, the graveyard of many a fine vessel and sailor.

“You will need to get a wiggle on if you want to miss the bad weather” texted the First Mate wisely.  ‘Pippin’ wiggles between 4 and 6 knots, 7 when things get boisterous and right then I was motor sailing in light winds, running with the tide just as fast as  ‘Pippin’ could wiggle.  Nothing more I could do, I thought rifling through the Army Ration pack and deciding to keep stew with dumplings for later.


They Knew I was Watching

By early afternoon ‘Pippin’ was sailing nicely, if slowly against the tide and on into a lovely evening as the Brittany coast slipped past to starboard.  Resting below, nose stuck in a book, radar alarm on, I heard a slithering sound down the hull sides and shot on deck.  ‘Pippin’ had sailed through a football field sized island of weed and was trailing tendrils from her rudder and wind vane steering blade.  It didn’t seem to affect anything.

I normally set the boat up for the night before dark but this time I hadn’t so was up on the cabin top, trying to tuck the third reef in for the first time ever.  The 3rd reef line had only been fitted by the boat yard days before I left Guernsey and I was surprised that it jammed, but looking astern from my position strapped to the mast, I saw the reefing line trailing out astern, not ideal.  I could no longer raise the main either, so with much cussing, I strapped it to the boom, retrieved the reefing line, set up the autopilot and motor sailed into the darkness.

Then the autopilot went AWOL, producing a beep and an officious accusatory notice of termination of labour on the chart plotter screen, leaving me with no autopilot.  To hand steer for any prolonged period would be impossible in my tired state.  Fortunately Hercule will steer whilst motor sailing gently, his only weak link being me for he needs decent boat handling in return.
The seas and wind began to build and ‘Pippin’ was now sailing fast under just the Yankee, though the motion was lively.  As I perched on my pilot seat in the wheelhouse to scribble my position in the log, she dipped sharply to port depositing both me plus pilot seat into a heap.  I had installed that seat, obviously not well enough.

By now there was a cap full of wind and ‘Pippin’ powered along through the night, though I was surprised at the size and ferocity of the rising seas.  Running before a strong wind, now against the tide and having built up strength out in the Atlantic, the waves charged unhindered up the English Channel, perhaps funnelling between Ushant and the main land and quite possibly also ricocheting off the Brittany coast.  They seemed to come from different directions and as time went on, the tops of the bigger ones collapsed with a hissing roar, sometimes slamming up against ‘Pippin’ in an explosion of white water.  Down in the cabin, where I was working up an appetite for dinner with a DCI Banks story, it seemed much less dramatic.

It was a soldier’s wind, SW hard up ‘Pippin’s’ chuff and blowing hard enough to have some fun.  The wind grew from 18 to 27 knots and on to gusts of 35, and heavy rain heralded the passage of the front - a sensible time to be below preparing beef stew with dumplings.  I got some dinner and rest, but no sleep so 4 hours before dawn on Day 6, I kitted myself up in full offshore foul weather gear and harness, grabbed a bottle of water and some chocolate and headed into the cockpit where I strapped on to a hook on the bulkhead. Optimistically I brought my book in a sandwich bag with me.  I didn’t read it.

A Rough Morning

‘Pippin’ Climbs a Wave

I took over from Hercule and adjusted ‘Pippin’s’ course as Guernsey isn’t so big you can’t miss it, and I didn’t want to be trapped against a lee shore.  Photos never show sea state well, so I will resort to the laws of physics and hydro dynamic, which dictate ‘Pippin’ has a hull speed of around 7.4 knots.  Well, she hit 13.4 knots off the back of at least one big daddy, which had me whooping like an idiot and high fiving the sky in the pre-dawn rain.  She averaged well over 6 knots for the last 10 hours, with just a single reefed Yankee flying.

For 5 hours I stood at the wheel, gulping water, munching chocolate whilst trying to keep ‘Pippin’ straight and true to the waves.  OK, I am biased, but she handled those conditions beautifully and astonished me with her sea kindliness, for I had never taken her out into such conditions before.  As we closed St. Martins Point on the SE tip of Guernsey, where the seas began to reduce, a P&O cruise ship changed course to pass close alongside though not so close they could see the grin on my face or sense the pride in my breast.

God had given me favourable tides at just the right moments off Ushant and did so again now, so I could steer ‘Pippin’ straight into her marina berth with one hour to spare; we came alongside at 0941 on 28th July, rather well I thought, though there were only gulls to applaud.  Job done.

‘Pippin’ Surfs off a Big Daddy

Salty Playground

Dawn Breaks – Guernsey Somewhere Ahead

Shooting for the Sun

I am a neat Navigator!

‘Pippin’ had taken me 1,400 nautical miles across Biscay and back, up and down the Spanish Atlantic coast, but just then I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry – I was a jumble of exhaustion and emotion after 6 days out at sea.  As I walked down the pontoon to meet the First Mate on wobbly legs, like a drunk on a Friday night, I found myself looking at boats and wondering whether I would be happy to have gone through what we just had in them …. “nah, not that one, or that one, or that one – maybe that one.”  ‘Pippin’ will do me just fine thank you.

Frankly this trip was no big deal but still, quite enough adventure for this old codger thank you!


#2 2018-10-28 12:40:07

Registered: 2016-10-21
Posts: 11

Re: ‘Pippin’ Heads South until the Fruit Cake Runs Out

John, where can i find the fruit cake recipe?


#3 2018-10-28 17:38:39

From: Guernsey
Registered: 2017-04-07
Posts: 64

Re: ‘Pippin’ Heads South until the Fruit Cake Runs Out

Appendix 4 to Paul Heiney's book, "Last Man Across the Atlantic".  I am sure he won't mind us using it!

Good luck Keith!


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