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.
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.
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.
After our visit to the island of Bréhat we finally began to understand, that to see extraordinary sights in Brittany, you don’t have to travel far. You can find yourself in amazing places just by getting lost in the narrow alleys of your “home town”, but if that’s not quite enough, find a camera symbol on Google Maps, that marks an interesting viewpoint, and go check it out. That’s what we decided to do one morning, having already visited some of the more popular touristic sights of our area. We got in the car and headed for the northern tip of Brittany again. We chose to visit a peninsula north of Plougrescant and a small town called Tréguier, a little further west from Ile de Bréhat.
We raised the sails as soon as we were out of the Helgoland harbour. Our destination, the island of Borkum, happened to be exactly where the wind was blowing from. The opposing current was right there to greet us. The current would naturally change direction every six hours or so, but even when flowing with us, it didn’t seem to affect our speed very much.
During the long, dark winter evenings we planned our great journey south. We would cast off on the 1st of June, make a quick stop at Gdansk, and by July we would be through the Kiel Canal and well on our way down the English Channel – in time to cross the Bay of Biscay before the summer was over.
Can you imagine what seafaring was like in the the year 1500?