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We are not particularly used to being too much in the spot-light, but about a month ago the folk from the magazine “blue” flew to Ireland to interview us and take our pictures. Mind you … While talking of our adventures we also managed to have a few on the way. If you look closely at the cover photo of the article you’ll notice that we both have a rather distracted look … bear in mind that after hours of make-up, primping and posing the shot that made it to press was snapped quickly as a security guard bore down on us screaming “GET AWAY FROM THAT CLIFF!!!!”. For those interested, the article can be viewed online at https://www.vontobel.com/INT/EN/blue (also available in German).
We keep meaning to continue our headlong rush south … but the Portuguese weather has been basking us in sunlight that has proved irresistible after the long Arctic summer. While we are still moving a little further south each day (tomorrow we plan to cross the 40 degree mark which is the halfway point between our furthest North – 80 degrees – and the equator!) we have been adopting a more relaxed pace to fit in with the locals. Thus we have opted to spend at least a few of these beautiful days enjoying the endless beaches, tawny sunsets and sparkling waters of the Atlantic coast rather than rushing forward blindly.
Mind you, the relaxed pace of life on land does not seem to extend to the ocean itself… Lazy days on the beach are a little too much to hope for when you are a fisherman struggling to feed your family, and with less fish in the ocean the Portuguese solution seems to be to simply lay as many nets as possible to ensure a better catch. Sailing from these Atlantic ports is quite a challenge simply due to the constant dodging and duckling and weaving required to avoid the hundreds of buoys and other fishing paraphernalia which are often hard to see during the day and invisible at night. Running the gauntlet as we head for deep water I start to feel a little like a fish myself as we struggle to move more than a few minutes without a close call with yet another net. For us a close shave would be a nuisance at worse, but the fish seem to be facing a maze of invisible nets that can only spell doom. Even the dolphins which occasionally keep us company are not immune to these death-traps and the sight of a drowned short-beaked common dolphin bobbing just below the surface was one of the most horrific sights of our journey thus far.
We love our seafood – but surely we need a little more restraint if we hope to be able to feed our children from the bounty of the ocean?
Finally we have made it around the notorious Cabo Finesttere and into the Promised Land of Portugal. Here the air is redolent with the sweet nectar of Southern flowers and the warm breezes fan our bare legs as we stroll in shorts and t-shirts through the narrow winding streets of Viana do Castelo. Mind you … having recently read of the confirmation of the Higgs Particle’s existence in 2012 we have another suggestion … apparently bare feet and hairy legs (both of ours) are very heavy in Higgs Particles (a unit that stands as a proxy to gravitational potential) – simply let loose an ugly pair of Australian hoofs clad in thongs (flip-flops to the Yanks and Poms) and suddenly eyes are dipping down to the force of these errant particles and lips and eye brows droops into uncontrollable frowns.
But as we dodge the occasional disgruntled local (clad in several layers of wool) we have both been amazed by this part of the world. Perched on the hill above us is the temple of the Santa Luzia which looks very grand from afar (though the festoons of Christmas lights lend it a slightly comical air at night) but is spectacular once you clamber up the several hundred step that lead the way from the town centre. Of course you could take a cable car, but where’s the fun in that? From the high eerie of the temple you can see the land of Portugal unfold to the south over the river that wends its way through the city. The city itself is composed of grand sandstone structures that echo a past age of discovery and nautical dominance, with statues holding model ships aloft as testimony to the Portuguese power over Poseidon’s realm.
Our own nautical dominance is somewhat circumspect after the pirate Poseidon stole our cherished inflatable … we are also set to venture forth into unknown territory. A short voyage to Lisbon is ahead and from there we launch south towards unexplored shores and the mystique of Africa…
With Christmas behind and the New Year looming around the corner Leonie and I are sitting in a bar in the Spanish town of Cariño reflecting on our adventures of the past six months … and also dreaming of the adventures to come. Also around the corner (in a geographic sense) is the infamous Cabo Finisterre which is standing between us and the tropical seas beckoning us in the low latitudes. Finisterre has already sent us back with our tails between our legs after one attempt … contrary winds and big swell left us battered and bruised and back where we started when we made the attempt a couple of days ago … it also posed the perfect opportunity for the second, and also this time successful, escape attempt of our inflatable rubber tender “Brad”.
Those of you following from the start might recall that Brad made his first attempt for freedom while we were towing him around a headland in the south coast of Norway. On this attempt the bright red boat ended up bobbing free in three meter waves after the tow rope snapped – but after an epic battle with a boat hook we managed to shackle our wayward boar again (though in the process we got the snapped rope wrapped around the propeller and were forced to limp back into harbour.
Alas sometimes lessons learned are lost … again we were towing Brad around a headland in the north of Spain when raising winds and waves served to shear the shackles that tied the rascal. This time however he made his dash while our backs were turned. Given the strong Southerly winds that have been plaguing us of late we figure Brad is well on his way back to Iceland by now (Margrét and Guðni, watch out!). If anyone sees a bright red boat bobbing around the Atlantic please give it a kick from me!
Despite this seeming calamity, the laid back atmosphere of the Galician coast of Spain seems to forbid us from being too distressed. There is always “mañana” to worry about such things and for now there are clean beaches, palm trees and a dazzling array of cafes offering wine to sooth the nerves and “menu del dia’s” to turn the walk home into a waddle. There are certainly worse places to spend Christmas and the friendly locals have given us a warm welcome (along with some odd looks at the crazy tourists wandering on their beach in shorts and thongs while they huddle in their winter jackets!).
Our stay in Viveiro has been very pleasant with the calmest night’s sleep we have had for some time – the marina being situated a short way up the Rio Landro is splendidly sheltered after the previous marinas which have been exposed to a constant swell that has chafed our nerves and our ropes in equal proportions. Despite a cosy mooring and a picturesque town however, Christmas is rapidly drawing nearer and the intention was to be in Lisbon (or even Morocco) for the merry season. Thus we were pleased to note that the wind had died down to a gently breezed today – looks like it’s time to make our way further to the west!
With a series of southerly winds pinning us to the harbour of Ribadeo as we wait to round the notorious Cape Finisterre and head south, we have been forced to explore more of the local region than we thought we would have the chance to. Very arduous it has been … sipping cerveza on the sidewalk cafes, dinning on the local paella (consisting largely of lobster), exploring the wave-wracked beaches of the Atlantic… True, some of the exploration has been conducted in the teeth of gale force winds whipping squalls of rain into our eyes … but at the end of the day it is all rather pleasant!
Today we took a train out to the Playa de las Catedrales where we wended our way past towering cliffs and through natural arches of rock. Our stroll was accompanied by the crash of waves on the white sandy beach that even got the chance to sparkle in the sun during a brief break in the looming grey clouds. The expanse of sand is usually thronging with summer tourists, but since we have landed well into the “off” season we virtually had this magnificent beach to ourselves with only a few other visitors strolling around in awe of this magical place. One of us even went for a swim … well I guess you would more accurately say that our little dog slightly misjudged the depth of a puddle – which turned out to be the Atlantic Ocean…
Well sailing along the coast of Europe has hardly felt quite so much like the wilderness that we set off to find six month ago. That’s not to say it isn’t stunning … the coastline of Spain has slipped gently by as the residents slumber their way through siesta (inevitably just as we arrive in port and need to get things done). The shoreline has transformed from the imposing cliffs of Asturias with its quaint compliment of old towns clinging to the rock, to the gentler green slopes of the Galician coast with warm winds and sparkling clear water thronging with fish.
To add to the holiday feel, the decorations are starting to loudly announce that Christmas is just around the corner. In fact, stumbling across a small thicket of Eucalypt here in Ribadeo we have fallen into the festive spirit and the yacht is now permeated with a happy gum tree smell of home thanks to our choice of Christmas tree. Here on Widdershins we have been a little lulled by this festive atmosphere and heartily admit that the blogs have not been coming quite as quickly as they perhaps should. Thus we have made the commitment to ourselves that as we prepare to make the last dash out of Europe towards the exotic shores of Morocco and western Africa, we shall return to our commitment to the blog …. So stand by for updates!
For other recent news, Leonie has just returned from a quick trip home to Switzerland for a last visit with friends and family before we leave the continent behind … despite the welcome and warm reception she received and the fantastic time sledging down snowy slopes the twenty centimetres of snow was enough to convince her that sailing south is a sound plan.
We have already left many borders behind us on this journey, yet as we head further south from Scotland to Northern Ireland, and then on to the Republic of Ireland and various other EU countries border crossings are beginning to present a different experience. Of course one major change is the fact that reaching a new country can be a matter of a short hop of less than a day as opposed to the tiring progression of dawn and dusk as we grip the tiller in the open ocean. However, here in the heart of Europe the official attitude towards yachts passing between countries has also changed.
Rather than the long held tradition of raising the yellow “Q” flag and inviting customs officers aboard to fill out a pile of paperwork, since arriving in Europe we have found that most of the formalities are completed by a short phone call. Indeed the mention of old fashioned traditions like flags seems to rather amuse the officials who nether-the- less mention that we are welcome to raise the flags for the sake of tradition!
Since it was all running so smoothly we, of course, decided to make our life more complex! The thing is that while the border between European countries seems to be fairly wide open to wanderers on the water, add a little dog to the mix and things get rather more complicated. Despite having spent the past months cultivating wild hair, a bushy beard and a liberal coating of grease and grime designed to instil fear upon the landlubbers we encounter, my best attempt at the scary pirate look merely raises a smile. On the other hand, it seems that a very tiny puppy dog (currently snoozing on my lap) if the stuff of nightmares where immigration officers are concerned.
To assure the powers of authority that this lightly snoring puppy is not, in fact, a threat to national security we have been spending the past few days arranging microchips, vaccinations, pet passports, worming doses and various pieces of paper and promises to ensure that little Sparrow does not set off any alarms as we sail south. So far all looks good so tomorrow we set sail for the green shores of Ireland!
The sun is finally peeking through the turmoil of heavy grey clouds that have been our ceiling for the past few days. Under the dim watery light of these autumn skies, and occasionally through rain, hail and sleet, we have been watching a gradual transition in the landscape around us. Where the isles to the north presented a barren windswept façade hiding small pockets of greenery in the occasional sheltered valley, the sun shining down here in the town of Oban falls upon a riot of green vegetation clinging to the slopes. Strange as it may seem, while winter is looming upon the land around us, for two in the blue it seems almost as if spring has arrived.
And as we feel in a spring mood, we have again given sway to the urge to expand our little family. No …. not quite THAT way! Despite the continued attention of pods of dolphins (short-beaked common dolphins have been our constant companions since we arrived in Scottish waters) we have been craving the companionship of an animal on board. Thus the bed that was briefly occupied by a 25kg Greenland husky from Svalbard has now been commandeered by a 2kg pup that goes by the name of Sparrow. While our little ship mate has some rather large paws to fill, she has already shown that what she lacks in size she makes up for in tenacity and charisma.
So once again as we head towards warmer climes we are “Three on the Sea” …stand by for more images of Sparrow!