The Coast of Death
or 'La Costa del Muerte' is not to be lightly or wantonly
sailed. It stretches for 90 nm south west from La Coruna and it has
earned its name. If the sea gods offer you the
opportunity to sail it in safety, it should be promptly seized
with gratitude. Thus it was that, despite arriving on board Voltair
at 21:00 hrs on a sultry Friday night, her crew worked hard to
provision her, the shops remaining open till 22:00 - and get
her ready for sea the next day.
Hot and weary they repaired to a taverna in the old town for a couple of jugs of the cold sweet local beer. The music club of the University had chosen the same place for their annual evening out and dressed mostly in their uniform of dark blue knee breeches and loose jackets they were serenading each other in extravagant fashion. We squeezed into the one available space and joined in, whilst devouring langoustines that melted in the mouth, Atlantic scallops piping hot with slivers of garlic and slices of thick tortilla. We finished with local cheese eaten with marmalade and a couple of glasses of Rioja.
The party was still going strong when we left at 02:00 hrs in a state which somewhat damaged the captain's plans for a dawn departure. So it was 11:30 that we said farewell to the generous and gorgeous Maria and the competent Pedro of the Club Real Nautico de La Corunna and set all sails for the long reach out to the West.
By 16:00 we had reached the Ilas Gigardas where we dropped anchor for a late lunch, some seabird watching and a little siesta, before sailing on to Corme for a dinner of roast vegetables. We anchored in sand just west of the town beneath a pleasant promontory.
The following morning Helen swam to the beach only to be repulsed by a young dog whose short experience of life had not prepared him for such an apparition emerging from the sea so early in the day. The wind being fair from the North we set out motor sailing, now going South. A family of dolphins came to as emissaries of the gods. They welcomed us to their world and stayed awhile to play.
In the early afternoon we passed Capo de Nave, the most westerly point of continental Europe and turned to sail east of south. Tightening our sheets we hauled in close beneath the towering cliffs of the place that the Romans considered to be the end of the world and named it 'Finis Terra'. Behind the headland there is a delightful bay just east of Sardiniero and here we anchored just off a beach washed by a fresh stream, where beautiful young gods and goddesses played in the late Sunday sun. The waters were as chilled as the beers served in the beach restaurant with which the crew refreshed themselves as sunset gathered a pink glow upon the hills behind.
In the morning slim black human forms plunged around our boat gathering St Jacques. Fistera being just a short sail and a wet dinghy ride away, we went ashore for provisions and lunch. Some hikers choose to add a pagan extension to their pilgrimage to Santiago de la Compostela and these could be found walking the town with their St Jacques shells on their rucksacks and a weary smile on their faces (only one more hill to climb).
From a first floor balcony overlooking the harbour we swooned over the food the gods provided, in this case "chiperones en su tinta" and Albarona (little squids cooked in their ink with the local wine). Back on board we raised the genoa and mizzen to run south towards the Ria Baixas (pronounced 'Bar'kas') before 20 knots of Northerly wind, That day we lived to leave the Costa del Muerte and anchored in the lee of the Isla de San Anton.
In the morning we awoke to find the squid fishers casting and hauling their circling nets just off our bows and stern. "Olla Signor, how long you stay?" Taking the hint, we left for the, as yet unfinished, marina in Muros. We had coffee ashore with an unbelievable gifted tapas of three types of Marisco in fine noodles and a delicious orange source, walked through the covered walkways of the old town and visited its ancient church.
After lunch (razor clams, scallops and pimientos de Padron) we sailed up the river to Noya, picked up a buoy and went up the silted channel by dinghy. Noya was once very wealthy and traces remain in the colonnaded streets around the main church. But we had to get back to Voltair before the tide fell and left us with no way out.
On the south bank of the Ria is the ancient settlement of Castro de Baronna, spectacularly sited on a promontory almost cut off at high tide. It is one of a number of ancient camps which date from around 1000 BCE but continued in existence well into Roman times perhaps till 500 CE. They consisted of clusters of mainly round stone houses with thatched roofs behind three layers of defensive walls. Castro is, to this day, a prominent Galician surname and the family background to Cuba's great leader.
The bus taking us back to Voltair, who was recharging her batteries in Portosin, failed to turn up, so we dined locally on a simple salad and mixed fried fish before calling for a taxi. All the while we sere serenaded by a singer whose repertoire of sad soulful songs would have brought tears to all our eyes - had we been able to understand Galeto.
Back to Muros for the fish market. Copying the adventurous fisherwomen, Dick tried various mariscos raw and we finished up buying red mullet, sardines and perecedes (goose necked barnacles) These latter live by clinging to storm-washed rocks where lesser barnacles cannot survive. They are therefore dangerous to collect, but are prized as an expensive delicacy (75 Euros per Kg in restaurants) You throw away the claws and suck out the inner parts of the goose neck. Delicious!
Then the south-westerlies came in and the mist came down. It took us a day to beat south into Ria Arousa, eventually approaching, under radar, a sheltered bay on the NE corner of the Isla Salvara a recommended anchorage on all charts and in the cruising guides. We were just settling down to the Gins and Tonicas when a motor boat approached and explained that 'you cant do that there here' of similar import. Chased way, we anchored in the dark off Ribiera a few miles to the North. From Robiero we drifted up towards Isla Arousa under light airs, finding our way between intricate arrangements of massed 'vivieros' the tarred wooden structures from which ropes are hung on which mussels grow. There are estimated to be 20 million ropes of mussels in these Rias!
In the bay of San Xulian Sur we were invited to pick up the warp (10 cms in diameter) of a substantial buoy. When it blew 35 knots in the night, we were grateful we had, for even in the height of the blow, the tension on the warp was barely enough to stop it dangling in the water between us and the buoy.
It was market day and fiesta time. We bought a great chunk of raisin bread, some delicious cheese, and a lemon coloured liquor in an unlabelled bottle which is wonderful as a chilled apperitif. Walking across the isthmus, we found a mussel festival in full swing with bagpipes and barbecues. The Rias produce about half the world output of mussels; the local ones are cheap, plump and succulent. We dined that day for 25 Euros the four of us including a bottle of wine we bought and another we were given. The best Spanish white the Albarino comes from here. Do not buy any other sort!
After mass the next day and lunch and a swim off Playa Bodion, we worked our way to the top of the Ria and picked up a buoy just off Pobra do Caraminal. In the morning we went ashore for bread, but were enticed into the yacht club for a beer, to which was added a tapas of a couple of piping hot fried sardines on local bread. As we left Pobra, a team of twelve big dolphins deployed around us for awhile before going off to hunt. It was good to know that there was enough fish for them and the rest of the world (This part of Spain produces half of all the fish caught in Spanish vessels).
Ria Pontevedra was just to the south. Here the Spanish Navy has a big training school, but our destination was Combarro. What a pretty town! Ancient grain stores covered the waterfront and behind them straggling paths gave vistas into pleasant gardens. We dined that day under a private vine in a courtyard with just four tables. We had by now become used to menus without prices, restaurants without menus, bottles without labels, unordered dishes being served without charge, ordered dishes being replaced with something better and bills being astonishingly small. Lunch that day went on the six pm with three different liquors being left on the table whilst the patron slept within. It was a very happy crew that wound its unsteady route to row back to Voltair. Near the entrance to the Ria Pontevedra is the small wooded Ria Aldan, a pleasant spot for swimming along with the beautiful people.We spent an enjoyable afternoon there, but with the wind backing to the North, it was not a place to stay, so we motored to anchor just East of Punta Cabicastro to the sound of bagpipes. An early night; bed before 01:30 hrs.
The last of the Ria's beckoned and we slipped south under spinnaker taking the passage inside the Islas Cies before rounding up to anchor and swim east of Capo de Home. A wind shift made that less comfortable, so we rounded the next headland and anchored under sail off Limens. As evening gathered we moved on towards Vigo and the Royal Yacht Club there; just a pocket hankerchief of a genoa nothing else at all and still doing seven knots. Till it all stopped and we had to motor in. It was regatta time in Vigo, so there was no room at the club, but a marina a few miles north gave us a berth and a walk to the village uncovered another delightful fish restaurant where we ate Jacalinos a kind of langoustine but with a shell like a scallop and very rare (and 38 Euro per Kilo). More langoustines; sardines, percepes, pimientos, baby squid and so many more delights followed.
At last we reached the Isla San Simon and found shelter around its NE corner from the expected southwesterly. A sunken causeway almost joins the island to the mainland and at one stage of the tide it is possible to create the illusion of walking on water. The island has been in the hands of the Turks, of many religious orders (Benedictines, Templars and Franciscans) and even then English in the 16th century. Galician irregulars fought Napoleon here in 1809 in a battle immortalised by Goya's shocking paintings. It was a hospital in the 19th century and a prison under Franco. No wonder it is said to haunted by the Meigas, the witch-like women who pervade Galician myth.
And so this part of the cruise came to an end with goodbyes to Maggie and Helen who were to return to a strange riot-torn country and hello to Jane and Wendy. We retraced some of the previous passages, enjoyed a soft day in San Simon and a long beach walk to the next village in the evening. We returned by dinghy well after dark eventually finding Voltair roughly where we had left her.
Bright sunshine and a nice breeze from the southwest gave us the opportunity to hone our tacking skills the next day as we worked down the Ria to Baiona at its most southerly point. The other famous boat to arrive here was the Pinto first boat home from Columbus' trip to the 'Indies'. We made fast, bows to, in the Royal Yacht Club which is nicely placed beneath the castle where we lunched the following day. Shopping, eating, sight-seeing and siesta took most of the day.
And so to Portugal. Early mist gave way to light northerlies which strengthened to 25 knots by late afternoon. We passed the border, Rio Minho at around 15:00 hrs and noted that an entry into this difficult river would have been possible at the time, but pressed on nevertheless. Just north of the entrance we had passed a port unmarked on our charts and unmentioned in the cruising guides. Full of fishing boats and with massive harbour walls it was not for us, but we noted it for the cartographer's benefit .
The strengthening wind had brought out the kite-borders in force in the entrance to Castello do Vianna, giving Dick some interesting 'right of way' issues to resolve. One particular one was glad to get a cheery wave from us as he lay on his back not far off our course! The town had put on a fete in honour of Dick's birthday and there was music and stalls galore in the gardens by the Marina. A fine meal with some new wines rounded out with port completed a excellent day.
Just a few more hours and the season will be complete, so for now Best wishes to you all Robin and Dick