Friday, August 25, 2006

Beyond the end of the earth

We have made it past Finisterre to the first of the Rias Bajas (low rias) – we are in the Ria de Muros in a marina at Portosin. It’s a great relief to have passed Finisterre which is notorious for gales and also for fog – probably not at the same time. In the event we had calm from 7.30, when we left Camariñas, until about 11am, and then a good northerly breeze and brilliant sunshine for most of the rest of the day.

We got the cruising chute up for the second time. We experimented with a slightly different rig – not to get too technical, setting it like a foresail instead of flying it right at the front of the boat. This worked reasonably well, but in the course of our experiments we managed to get the spinnaker halyard wrapped several times very tightly around the foresail itself. Once we turned east into the ria, we couldn’t get out all the foresail – quite a good thing in the strengthening wind – and then, having hurtled up the ria at between 6 and 7 knots (at one point we hit 7.8 knots with Ben helming), we got to the shallow bit at the top end of the ria and realised we couldn’t put the foresail away either. The wind was too strong for us to tie it up with sail ties, it wouldn’t roll up because of the tangled spinnaker halyard, and it wouldn’t unroll so we could lower the whole thing. In the end we shot into the marina under a combination of tangled sail-power and engine going astern, tied up to a hammerhead pontoon, and Ben, bless him, went right to the top of the mast in the bosun’s chair to untangle the ropes. After that we squeezed Kalessin into a berth barely big enough for her and Ben had a cup of tea with Spanish brandy and lots of sugar (he said it tasted like hot brandy butter).

Our other technical problem is with our autopilot, which is now refusing to turn the boat to port, having made unpleasant noises for a few days. Sam has dismantled it and can see what the problem is (the little toothed belt comes off the drive) but not why it’s happening. We’ve spoken to Raymarine in the UK who were not very helpful (their stock response is “send it back to us for servicing”), and to Phil, our electronics engineer, who thoughtfully dismantled a slightly different Raymarine tiller pilot to see if he could identify the problem but couldn’t work out an answer either. We may have to buy a new autopilot which will cost us around £400. Our very good friends at Seamark Nunn in Felixstowe, where we buy all our boats (Kalessin used to belong to Mike Nunn, and we’ve also bought a Topper and our Honda outboard motor from them, not to mention thousands of pounds’ worth of other kit) can get us one in two days. Otherwise we have to find a Raymarine agent here with whom we can communicate to see if the problem is actually a £2 washer. Tiller pilots notoriously have quite a short life but they do save a great deal of hard work – after helming all the way for 45 miles yesterday, not to mention mast-climbing etc., we all slept extremely well.

Wednesday 23 August
Windy corner

Today is our third day in Camariñas and we’re going off it a bit. There is a powerful smell of fish wafting across the town – we haven’t identified the source but it smells like a sardine-canning factory. The noise of the wind blowing across the boat is making everyone bad-tempered. The sun came out for a few brilliant hours this afternoon, but now it seems to be clouding over again. And Ben and I have had a row because it transpired that his journal was at least a week behind, although he told me it was up to date.

We were all set to leave this morning, making the most of the early-morning lull in the wind. Unfortunately there was no lull this morning – when we woke at 6am the wind was blowing at 15 to 18 knots in the marina, it was cold, cloudy and of course dark, and we went back to bed. Our next passage is almost 50 miles and we have to get around Cape Finisterre so we wanted good weather. Tomorrow looks quieter, but I’ve now read that thick fogs can form out of nowhere here, if there’s less wind fog is more likely to form, and I really don’t want to be sailing down the Costa da Morte in thick fog either. Oh b*m. I wish we had left on Monday. Or at 10am today.

We met a chap from Essex, who arrived here a year ago in a converted Scottish survey ship, towing a catamaran which had got into trouble out in Biscay. They weren’t even aiming for Camariñas but came in here to get out of a gale. Now he and his partner have three boats, two horses, and an English ice-cream van. There’s no accounting for tastes.

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