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.
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.
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.
There are certain things in life that you anticipate with such fear and anxiety, you feel quite surprised afterwards to have survived them. Things like the first day of school, driving test, first date, wedding day – and crossing the Bay of Biscay!
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.
When our friends came to visit us from Finland, it was time to shake off the winter slumber and get to know our surroundings for real. Of course, we had completed a few boat projects every now and then, and taken our folding bikes on dozens of tours around the neighbouring villages and countryside – not to mention spending those socially packed weeks in Finland at the darkest time of the year. Still, life in our winter base had been pretty quiet compared to the fireworks of these couple of weeks that the four of us toured around Brittany! I wrote previously about our visits to Mont-Saint-Michel and the city of Dinan, and now the journey continues!
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.
The pretty fortress town of Willemstad was now behind us, as we were nearing our last opening bridge in the inland waters of Holland. We had gotten pretty good at this – once again our timing was perfect, the bridge opened and we just motored through without stopping. A few hours later we reached the last locks at Stellendam, and just like that, we were out in the North Sea again. The sun went down, and we could see the bright lights of Hoek van Holland’s large port behind us, to the north.
We spent a week in Amsterdam. During that time it again became evident we don’t like big cities, however joyful, pretty and original. Big cities never rest – they are filled with hoards of people, cars, and bicycles by day, and by night they’re still not quiet – the sounds may be muffled but there’s a constant hum that never ceases.