Wednesday 25th June 2014
Winds very light, north-westerly F2, peaking at F3 as we sailed in behind Finisterre
Seas, rolling swell of about 1m.
We were seen off the pontoon at Muros by the younger of the two marineros, with a very hearty goodbye. Of all the places we’ve been, Muros has had the best team. A warm welcome, friendly service, and the fabulous assistance of Ana to get us our permits for the national parks. As someone commented somewhere (a yachtie that we met), ‘you just don’t get this service in the Solent!’ We were not expecting much wind, and had the prospect of a motor on our journey north along the Costa de Morte; yes we’re back with the Coast of Death. The calm conditions meant that the Skipper was happy to take an inside route, so we chugged along the coastline a couple of miles out, moving in between the coast and off-shore islands. The wind may have not been around, but neither was the sun. It seems we’ve seen the last of it for a while. The influence of the Azores high has receded, and whilst the pressure is still high (around 1020mb), the maritime effect is giving us cloud. Boo! Already I miss the sun – and the shades of sapphire, azure and turquoise of the sea that it conjures up. The light is flat, and so flattens the colours, so that the coastline fades up and down the spectrum of greys, the same with the sea, so that it’s like looking out in monotone. Occasionally there are bright strips of white, sandy beaches worn by the constant pounding of the ocean.
The one advantage of light winds, and the glassy seas that somehow glow. It makes for easier spotting of you-know-what (ever hopeful every time we set sail that today will be THE day). Off the port bow, about 300m out, I spied a fin. “DOOOLLLLLPPPPPHHHHHHIIIIIIINNNNNN!”, the usual response. Pete slowed up the engine, and we both kept a look out. “It’s too big for a dolphin”, says Pete. “WHALE?!” With one enormous leap, the creature seemed to take a big breath, showing it’s entire length, and disappeared. Just as I went to fetch the camera. I scoured and scoured the seascape, and Pete spotted him, way of the starboard beam of the boat heading to San Francisco Bay. That was that. And we think it was just a very large dolphin.
I love this coastline, it is dramatic and relatively unpopulated. It’s pretty hostile, or you can imagine it being so, but perhaps there’s a clue in the title, as the saying goes. When we travelled south, a month or so ago now, there were few sailing boats around us, but in the short passage today, we saw about a dozen, so the season is certainly picking up. We had passed Cap Finisterre offshore when we came south, hoping that the conditions would mean that we could linger on our way north. We’d stayed in Muros long enough to let some windy weather pass through, to give what we hoped would be a couple of nights inside Finisterre. We’ve long passed the Rias with islands at their mouths giving protection from the swell, but in Finisterre, it is open to the south. People we’d talked to in Muros had tried to come in here, but the south-westerly swell made it uncomfortable, so they’d moved on. The forecasts told us that the swell had moved north-westerly, which Cap Finisterre would offer superb protection from. There was enough swell as we motored up that you needed a hand on the boat to help steady you, and for little boats to bob up and down, but under the protection offered by the headland, the seas flattened out… and a little more wind arrived, so for the last 40 minutes of our passage, we sailed into the bay, fairly close hauled, but the wind was bending around and so Pete reluctantly gave in, as we motored towards a very beautiful long swooping sandy bay. There was a group of people in the middle of the bay, and pilgrims making the last of their passage towards the lighthouse at Finisterre. As we prepared to anchor, we could make out that it was police, onlookers, and then the awful realisation that a body was being recovered from under a large white sheet and placed in a body bag. Costa de Morte, indeed. We’ve been thinking about this a lot – there is no crime scene, and the people left when the body was taken off the beach. Who knows what it was, and we’re not mawkish enough to search for a local paper (a reflection perhaps because where I am in the book I’m reading, Goldfinch), but it was a bit unsettling.
We dropped anchor, and everything set OK, so I suggested that we go ashore and walk to the lighthouse – Pete had thought we might do that tomorrow, but I thought we should take advantage of the calm conditions, because you never know what errors are in forecasts, and we had plenty of daylight left to make the trip. Walking along the headland to the lighthouse was something I said I wanted to do when we came south – after such a beautiful walk at Caraminas to Faro Villan – so it was silly to be so close, and risk not being able to achieve it. The beach is someway (rowing terms) from the little harbour at Finisterre, so we put the outboard on it and zoomed across the bay, picking our way through the fishing boats moored behind the long mole. We spied a set of steps that we could tie up to, and then wandered ashore. Another town where we had no map, but we followed our noses out of the town, eventually picking up the road to the lighthouse. We knew we were right when we saw weary pilgrims making their way to the final destination, another 100km from Santiago. The walk took about an hour from the village, and wasn’t the most attractive, walking along the edge of the road, but it was a satisfying stretch.
Cap Finisterre itself wasn’t all that. It belongs to the pilgrims, and as a visitor, it was another example of tat-central. As Pete says, it’s like Lands End, where milking the tourists has become the enterprise. There were many walkers who were celebrating the end of 900km of walking, and one cyclist who’d passed us, a gold-helmeted chap, with different flags flying from a pole behind him presumably marking the countries he’d come from, with Italy being the furthest by the look of it (via Austria and Switzerland). We chuckled at a couple of dogs, beagles, completely conked out next to their owners, who were buzzing. Beyond the lighthouse, the cliff descends, and this has become the place for the pilgrims to take their photographs and to ‘leave something behind’… or at least, that was the tradition, and there are a collection of boots, flags, scarves. It seems it is more the tradition to burn your something, so there are blackened rocks, charred remains, and an unpleasant air of burning plastic. We’d expected to stop and have a drink at the advertised bar, but we decided we’d leave the pilgrims and the tour bus to it, and headed off back down the hill to the village. Here we sat and took a beer, listening to the chatter of the pilgrims around us, watching a gazillion seagulls mobbing something in the harbour.
I have to say it was lovely to head back across the bay to the solitude of Whinchat. One other boat about 200m away and a handful of people on the beach. Supper on board was a spanish-style stew, with chicken, chorizo and chickpeas, all cooked up in the Remoska. Pete abstained from a glass of Rioja, but I had one after opening the bottle to put a good slug in the stew. With the conditions set to be fairly gentle overnight, we were expecting quiet night, which is exactly what Whinchat delivered.
Today’s haiku (with a nod to Finding Nemo):
a tumble of gulls,
all wings, in an airborne scrap
cries of ‘mine, mine, mine’