The Straits of Messina was, according to our calculations, the forth place along our journey, where we had to carefully time our passage with the tides. The others were Alderney Race and Chenal du Four in France, and the Straits of Gibraltar. Messina is the only place in the Mediterranean that has significant tidal currents. The height difference is less than a foot, and it’s really surprising how it can cause such strong currents. In Brittany the tidal range was as much as 12 metres in places, so the currents were understandable. But perhaps the Mediterranean has a logic of its own, when it comes to tides, much as it seems to have its own logic with the winds and weather.
As we approached the Sicilian coast on August the 10th, we chose – quite at random, as the sun would go down soon – to stop at the Trapani harbour. We knew nothing about the place, except that there was a free anchorage within the port. But the next morning’s googling revealed an ancient town by the name of Erice on top of a hill close by, and that definitely got us interested! The easiest way to get there would be by a cableway.
We sat under the scorching sun in the Almerimar Marina, waiting for the strong winds to calm down, so we could continue our journey east. In Almerimar there was no sign of any winds, so it felt funny to think there could be 30 knot winds blowing on the other side of the cape. When the forecast showed only 15 knots, gusting to 25, we left.
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.
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.
The weather in the northwestern end of Spain continued warm and settled. We left Muxia and motored in the calm. Of course, we could have waited for the winds to appear for a day or two, but in these parts you can often have too much wind. It’s very changeable in the Finisterre area, so we didn’t think it a bad idea to take advantage of the calm.
A Coruña turned out to be a good place to enjoy city life for a few days. A successful crossing of the Bay of Biscay was reason enough to celebrate, and the friendly prices of the tapas restaurants were another good reason.
The spring in Brittany turned out to be long. Because of the blooming flowers and warm days we had experienced in February we had expected to be on our way much earlier, but it seems the phenomenon called the “second winter” is not entirely unknown beyond Scandinavia. April came and went before we felt ready to leave.
Our friends from Finland spent a couple of unforgettable spring weeks with us in Brittany. March was the perfect time to do a little roadtripping, as it was nice to see some of the most popular attractions outside the busy tourist season, and enjoy the wonderful, historical places in somewhat more peace and quiet. Last time I wrote about our visit to the island monastery of Mont-Saint-Michel in Normandy. Now we will continue our trip to a delightful medieval town of Dinan.