The first fretful day passed with empty horizons. My comforters were prayer and tinned Sauerkraut – which has the advantage of tasting roughly the same on the way up as the way down.
Biscay Abyssal Plain, morning 2
On the second night, I went over ‘the shelf’ as a new weather front blew in. Awaking from a doze, everything was suddenly calm. Climbing up into the cockpit – alone 150 miles from land and not a single light under the constellations (oops! Better turn the tricolour on!) – the slack sails whispered slightly as Granny rolled on the smooth, inky, Biscay Abyssal Plain. The silence lasted for about ten minutes before the next front blew in. Sheets tightened and Granny headed off on her second, more southerly bearing, towards Spain.
Biscay Abyssal Plain, evening 3
Another two days passed before the radio crackled into life, in Spanish, as the distant lights of Galicia winked on the horizon.
‘Land ho!’ I screamed to myself, smelling the wild mountain herbs. Night fell as I glided into a rocky cove on a tongue of pale moonfire. The classical facades of a small Galician town emerged in tungsten light.
Docking in Viveiro’s marina, I discovered half a cup of tea where I had left it on the foredeck while checking the shrouds in L’Aber-Ildut. Somehow it had remained there undisturbed for the entire Biscay crossing – although, alas, it had gone cold.
“Land Ho!” (though there was nobody to hear it)
Wandering the town’s narrow streets, cool in the Iberian night, the adrenaline gradually left my system. Diving into a Tapas bar, the clatter of Spanish voices, the scarlet of sliced chorizo, the sheen of greasy olives and the freezing matte condensation on a glass of white Gomariz were overwhelming. The bar closed. I returned to Granny, pulled off one boot and awoke eighteen hours later with a shard of hot evening sun across my face.
A few days later, a girl strode down the pier in riding boots – a one-way ticket stub from Cardiff stuffed in the pocket of her blue dungarees.
“Let’s go!” she exclaimed. “You’ve wasted enough time getting this far!”
Finally, I had crew.
Evening drew in as we headed West on a close reach. The lighthouses blazed off the shoulder of Cap Finisterre as she slept and I kept watch through the balmy night. We reached A Coruña at 4am and sailed directly onto a pontoon – which satisfied her that we were indeed pirates. In town, we bumped into a mutual friend in a local bar who we invited back to the boat for a party. Finding a few others, we set up a choir and sung Russian folk songs.
Granny Knot in A Coruña harbour
Next was Laxe, we spent a few days rafted up to a fishing boat, whose captain, Davide, gave us fish and invitations to local fiestas. The architecture on Cap Finistère is awful, but the rugged coastline and rock pools are brilliant for walking and swimming, and the Celtic influence on the language and music is unmistakable. Galician bagpipes are not the same as my grandfather’s Scots bagpipes, and the Galician language isn’t quite Welsh – but we listened to echoes of our own origins while Davide pushed more wine down to our end of the table.
Walking round the bay back to Granny in the morning twilight, we planned the books we would write about our adventure – a sort of ‘Swallows and Amazons Midlife Crisis’ series.
River estuaries in this area are remote enough to avoid the attention of yachties – so we were able to drop anchor by arboreal shores and marvel at how brightly the bioluminescence shone.
Letting her out to run on beaches had a calming effect
Out at sea, Flora filled the agate August skies with patriotic Welsh choral music and Tchaikovsky symphonies, as she worked out the stereo. She threw a tantrum when I failed to appreciate Dvorjak’s cello concerto, but soon cheered up when a pod of Dolphins gave chase.
Nobody answered the radio as we approached Vigo’s yacht club. We ended up berthing in a section reserved for people who own banks and small countries. All yachts are toys, but Granny looked like she came with a choking hazard warning – our mast barely reaching up to our neighbours’ first set of spreaders. However The mistake was generously overlooked by the club and, for a nominal fee, we were allowed to bask in the Bossa Nova luxury of their billionaires’ paradise.replete with a Hollywood Regency cafe, bicycles to borrow and a general sense that, despite our feckless and irresponsible existence, we’d ‘made it’.
Usually, Flora would sleep and I would helm through the small hours, and we would swap at daybreak. But her university term was looming, so, on the last passage (from the ramparts of Baiona to Porto), we spent the night together under the stars. This meant we fell asleep and failed to keep watch – but our luck held. It is possible, by the way, for two people to sleep on the cockpit floor of a Westerley GK-29 racing sloop while under sail, but only if you take turns to breathe.
In Porto, we found the Orthodox Church, where we sang the Vespers on Saturday and the liturgy on Sunday. After thisFather Piskunov invited us to lunch. We explored the city’s Cathedral with its terracotta murals of biblical scenes in the Armitage Shanks colour scheme. Along the surging praças and thoroughfares, buildings moulted every shade of pastel stucco. The life of steep alleys and terraces announced itself with scales from a piano upstairs here, or there, with the miaow of a stray cat. Amidst the genteel dilapidation of the Ribeira neighbourhood, we found restaurants crammed with locals, and waiters who more or less took charge of foreign guests’ decisions.
Dropping Flora at the airport, I unfolded my bike and glided back through the sleeping slums at the north of the city to the dock, ready to set sail for Lisbon.