Monday, September 25, 2017

Crossing Biscay

Weighing anchor by moonlight
We crept out of Crookhaven under the light of the full moon. We set sail at dawn in 10-12 knots of wind out of the W, ideal conditions for setting out into the Celtic Sea. The sunrise was lovely and bright, and just as promised, the wind had started to fill in. On a heading of 186 degrees M, we were doing 8 knots - 505 MTG and 75 hours at this speed, not that we expected it to last. Dolphins feeding came by to see us off.

Heading out as the day dawns

The beauty of not being on a schedule is that you can afford to wait for the right conditions. We had our first 200+ mile day -- 202 mi in the 24 hours since 6 am. Dawn arrived and the night had rushed past. On my first 4-hour watch, we were doing 9.5-10.5 knots the entire time under reefed main. Yeehaw!

Adjusting the Monitor windvane
It was like Aleria had been chomping at the bit to break out of the gate and run free. We hadn't done serous blue miles for a couple of years.  It felt like she had turned green with envy as we hadn't allowed her to fly across the seas much. After all, she is a white seahorse and needs to stretch her legs and wings from time to time. She was galloping at full tilt.

There's the sun...good morning world. 
It was cool and cloudy. The night was a bit squally but with a little assist from us on trim of the main sail, Jolly Mon, our self-steering Monitor wind vane, and Aleria were a good team.

The next night we were 2/3 of the way there already. It was very dark when I came on watch, but shortly I looked up and saw the Big Dipper. The, the still full moon broke through the clouds and lit a silvery trail to our midships. I tried to take pictures but all three cameras failed to capture the magic.

Glorious conditions across the Celtic Sea 
Jolly Mon held a true course for 4 hours straight - good man. We were on a beam reach, Aleria's favourite point of sail. The AIS alarm sounded briefly and I was alert but couldn't sight any ships. Alex had seen two the night before. For the Bay of Biscay, these were pretty good conditions. The last time we made this trip, we had been hammered by unpredicted storms and big seas.

A little damp and boisterous in the Bay of Biscay

After Alex took the watch, the wind shifted South and we were on a course for A Coruna. We had to decide, keep sailing and make landfall there or furl the headsail and motorsail to Finisterre. We chose the latter. Fog closed in around us as we approached the shipping separation zones. It was great to have AIS. Several ships passed exactly 3 miles astern. The radar was on for corroboration and to pick up any vessels without AIS. The seas got a little more boisterous and every once in a while a big wave crashed over us and things got a mite damp.

Ship passing astern

Fishing vessel trawling

Making our way among the fishing fleet close to Spain

It got noticeably warmer as we approached Spain. Things were going well, so instead of stopping in Finisterre or Corcubion, we elected to continue on to Portosin in the Ria Muros y Noia. I had the final watch approaching the Ria just before dawn. I spotted a fishing boat with no AIS on and managed to figure out that the strobe lights I was seeing were marking a giant net he was trawling with. Just then he turned on his AIS and I was able to discern which way he was heading -- directly across our path. I turned hard to port to avoid the net. He kept the AIS on until we were clear, then turned it off again. I wondered why.

Moonlight over the yard arm

Space invaders 

As we turned into the Ria, it seemed the entire fishing fleet was coming in with us. On AIS it looked like we were being attacked by an intergalatic invading force. We dropped anchor just outside the breakwater, took a shower and had a lovely breakfast. Invigorated, I didn't want a nap any more, I wanted shore leave in Spain.

Before heading ashore, Alex decided to check one more time to see if he could get the fridge working. He lifted the floorboards and the entire underbelly was covered in thick greasy soot. Some time in the final few hours, the exhaust had clearly failed. Our idyllic cruise in Spain was starting off with a bang.
Land ho! 

Uh oh, it's disappearing. Radar on.

Getting a little better and lighter inside the Ria. 
Fog is lifting, day is dawning, and we spot Portosin. 

The breakwater at Portosin. 

Dropped anchor at 6 am, 3 days exactly after departing Ireland.

Where we anchored. 

Pretty day after all. 

At the marina in Portosin. 

The ICC and OCC RC burgees. Spanish courtesy flag up. 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Lay day in Crookhaven and bike trip to Mizzen Head Signal Station

Ah, that pint of Franciscan Well Rebel Red went down well at O'Sullivan's on the pier. Just one and back to Aleria for dinner. The forecast was for another 24 hours of zero wind (0) so we had a lay day in Crookhaven. Chance to visit the new Marconi museum and signal station!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Starting in Ireland 1st of July

Dark skies with cracks of hope

We departed on the 1st of July bound for Inishbofin. It was windy. Much windier than it was supposed to be. And choppy, with a big swell. It was SW-erly and we were heading -- SW! I was not feeling great. Lunch was Ritz crackers with peanut butter, yogurt, saltines with Gubeen cheese, apples and strawberries, and water. It was all I could muster. Weather alert - F6 for a time. No kidding. Why knot hailed us to tell us it was pretty hairy off Achill Head. So rather than beating ourselves up, we opted to stop in Clare Island. We tried to anchor but it wouldn't hold - damned shale. We picked up a mooring but it seemed to drag. We picked up another but I misjudged the first time and had to go around. Got it on the second try and it seemed to be holding. Phew. This was the first day? We were exhausted. Damien Cashin delivered a bottle of wine for our trip and things were looking up. We had burgers and a beer in the Sailor's Bar, a good rest and continued on in the morning. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Hurricane Maria pummels tropical paradise Dominica

Our two favorite islands in the Caribbean, Barbuda and Dominica, destroyed. I can only hope that all the friends we made while we were there in 2010 have survived. Dominica they say has been denuded -- no leaves, many trees toppled. Maria made a direct hit as a Category 5 hurricane. It was the most lush garden paradise, with an embarrassment of natural riches. Waterfalls, deep pools, sulfur springs, mangoes and avocados aplenty, and wonderfully gentle people. My heart bleeds for them. How will they and their families fare if people stop coming. They depend so much on tourism. This season is devastating.

My friend Marvin weathered the storm in Puerto Rico. He doesn't know if his boat has survived but from the looks of it, it will have sustained damage.* Puerto Rico is without power, and its aging infrastructure is not going to be easy to rebuild. It could be months before power is restored.

St. Croix, already housing victims evacuated from other Virgin Islands after Irma, sustained massive damage. The Virgin Islands sustained two Cat 5 Hurricanes in two weeks. They haven't begun to assess yet. It will take years to rebuild some of these places.

Turks and Caicos, still reeling from Irma, are in Maria's sights now. Then the Bahamas. All low lying. God help them.

Meanwhile, Jose is now a tropical storm and has been moving so slowly that he's creating massive seas. Waves of 15 feet and tidal surge are being reported from NC to New England. There is a model predicting that Jose and Maria could combine and turn towards Ireland next week. Let's hope not.

We have donated what we can to relief efforts in Dominica and Barbuda. Please help if you can.

*PS His boat, Quantum Star, weathered the storm well.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Hurricane Relief Efforts

I have been working hard for the past few days to week or so to help the people of the Caribbean get the help they need after Hurricane Irma. But putting together those able to assist with those interested in donating and ensuring that the organizations are reputable, I hope to be able to make a small difference. If you are looking for information or ways you can help, please visit the  Ocean Cruising Club  (OCC) website.

So many of the lovely places we visited on our Caribbean cruise in 2009-2010 are devastated. Please do what you can to help. Thanks.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The wrath of Hurricane Irma

My heart goes out to the people in the path of Irma's wrath. Little Barbuda with its 1600 gentle people and miles of gorgeous white sands framed in impossible blues fills my mind with glorious memories of a serene visit at anchor several years back. Today, after Irma's eye passed directly over Barbuda, there is only devastation. If I were able, I would sail over and make fresh water for the people and help them rebuild in any way I could. Instead, I will do my best to share information about their plight and encourage others to pitch in any way they can. Perhaps that's all many of us can do. 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Fireworks in Galicia, Spain

We have just returned from Spain and I will be writing about our experience there Ria by Ria, starting with Ria de Corcubion near Finisterre and ending with Baiona.

August is the month when most Galicians go off on holiday. Everywhere we went in August, there were festivals in villages with carnival rides, games, music concerts, arts & crafts, food, and fireworks. The fireworks started at 9 am to announce the beginning of the festival and get people to come to the village. At noon they would shoot them off again to announce the day's opening of the festival. At night, they would shoot them off in earnest.  A different village would be involved every day. Some of the fistas were in honour of the Virgin Mary, some celebrated sardines, others music. There were no shortages of themes to celebrate.

In the meantime, while I'm compiling sense of my notes, here's a little video (4.5 minutes) of fireworks in Cee as seen from our boat anchored in Corcubion. Delightful.

Here's a sampling of Galician music