After leaving Porto, we had two alternatives in mind when trying to decide the next chapter of our journey – to continue south, and spend the winter in the Canary Islands, or to turn left at the corner of Portugal, and sail through the Straits of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean. We had to consider things like finding good anchorages and safe harbours, marina prices, living expenses, places of interest and variety, weather and weather forecasts, and so on. We very nearly had to toss a coin – both have plenty to offer, but both have their own limitations. Now that we’ve made the decision, we can rejoice or regret it every other day, so maybe it’s all in balance. And we can always change our minds later, as the winds surely blow both ways in their turn.
The beautiful Islas Cíes behind us, we crossed the border to Portugal at midnight. The wind was very light at the start of our journey, but there was a big swell. We had the wind with us, a very unusual occurrence indeed. During this year we’ve experienced at least some downwind sailing, but during the first 1700 nautical miles – to our winter base in Brittany – we only sailed downwind for 3 hours. This miracle happened along the inland waterways of Holland, on the lake Markermeer. Now the swell made our boat roll a lot, not very comfortable, but at least we were making good speed.
On the west coast of Galicia, there’s a large national park comprising of many islands and archipelagos, called Parque Nacional de las Islas Atlánticas. The largest of them, starting from the north, are the islands of Sálvora, Ons and Cíes, that provide shelter to the Rías Baixas from the Atlantic wind and swell. Some of the park’s islands can also be found deeper in the rías. To be able to visit any of the islands, you have to apply for a permit through a pretty straight forward online process (form to fill, instructions here). For anchoring, you need an additional anchoring permit – during the high season you can book up to three nights in advance. This is how they keep the number of tourists to a moderate level, so visitors can enjoy the experience in relative peace and quiet – a little bureaucracy is a very reasonable price to pay for a unique experience.
Santiago de Compostela with its cathedral in the north-western corner of Galicia is the major tourist attraction of the area, and of Spain. While in the vicinity, we naturally had to make a small pilgrimage there, even if it was only on wheels, as our Finnish visitor just happened to be in possession of a rental car.
Ría de Arousa is the largest of Rías Baixas, on the western coast of Galicia. It’s surrounded from every side by high hills, and the shores are dotted with lovely sandy beaches, small towns and numerous harbours. In the middle of the ría there’s a large island called Illa de Arousa, with its pine forests and beaches. The most prominent feature on this ría is the incredible number of viveros, mussle and clam cultivation rafts. There are apparently about 3000 of them on this ría alone. All the little bays are full of them, and to get to the different harbours and anchorages you often have to go a long way around the large fields, unless you’re brave enough to weave your way through. It’s possible to do that, because they are anchored vertically downwards, but there are many of them! It’s not recommended to arrive for the first time at night – the biggest fields have light buoys in the corners but the rafts themselves are unlit.