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.
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.
By now we were supposed to be in Galicia, Spain. But apparently the Bay of Biscay has decided not to even let us there. The spring winds have been very changeable, and in the notorious bay it means it doesn’t seem to stay in one direction for very long. It will be a 300-360 nautical mile crossing. We are hoping to point our bow towards A Coruña, but are open to other options according to what the weather decides for us. That means we will be out at sea for three, maybe three and a half days, and the weather window should be at least a couple of days longer than that, so we won’t be caught out in something terribly unexpected. So far such a window has not presented itself.
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.
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!
The silhouette of Mont-Saint-Michel must be the most popular image of French travel destinations in tourist guides and magazines. It is spectacular – the three million people who visit the place every year will testify to that!
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.
It was the weather gods of the North Sea that this time conveniently chose the next destination for us. And we obeyed: this late September Saturday seemed like the perfect day to sail to Helgoland instead of beating further southwest. For most sailors popping out of the Kiel canal the island of Helgoland is a natural stop along the way, being a tax free zone with cheap diesel and alcohol. We still had plenty of diesel and were not particularly thirsty either, so we had not planned to stop.