Archive for September, 2011

Kernow a’gas Dynnergh

Posted in Fun, Music, Photographs, Sailing, the English Channel, Walking with tags , , on September 26, 2011 by maidofmettle

Or welcome to Cornwall. Just when I thought I’d run out of tricky foreign languages to try and learn..

I did say I’d try and catch up on what I’ve been up to since I got back as well as carrying on with the story through the Azores and back to here. You can use the tags and categories to get things to appear in a more sensible order if it gets too confusing.

So, my first stop in England, sorry, Cornwall – many would say there’s definitely a difference – was Mullion Cove. It’s a little bay to the west of the Lizard, looking back across Mount’s Bay to Penzance and Mousehole, provided with a very little shelter by Mullion Island just offshore.

It was idyllic in the afternoon – I paddled ashore to the beach visible just astern of Maid..

and also said hello to some locals out for a days fishing, who very kindly provided me with a very fresh fish for dinner.

Unfortunately it didn’t stay this idyllic – the wind got up rather more than forecast and when the tide was going the opposite way to it the shelter of the island wasn’t really enough to make it all that uncomfortable. I’d been just about to enjoy a celebratory drink of honey rum & lemon juice but decided I’d better leave it for the next day in case I had to make a hasty exit.

The next morning was much less pleasant – grey and wet, and the sea still quite lumpy. I left straight after the early morning forecast with the aim of tacking around the Lizard while the tide was still favourable.

At this point, the wind promptly dropped away to nothing, so I ended up motor-sailing for an hour or so into a rather lumpy sea, in the rain..

Happily, that only lasted an hour or so – then the wind returned, I was able to turn eastwards and ride the waves rather than plunging into them, and the tide was helping to rush Maid eastwards around the point rather than trying to take her northwards into the bay.

Time for the sushi I’d made with some of the fish yesterday…

The sun even came out later, providing a lovely sail around to the Helford River on the opposite side of the peninsula, just south of Falmouth. The wind got lighter again, but with some additional sail and flat water it wasn’t a problem this time.

In fact the opposite was the case when the wind suddenly increased again just as I was approaching a lot of moored boats – cue a rapid removal as all sail as I didn’t fancy storming through them at that speed since I’d only visited the river by land before..

I did at least have verbal instructions, as there was a good anchorage just upstream from Mike & Carolyn’s Phantom Lady – I’d been planning on on stopping here since saying goodbye to them several months before in Las Palmas on Gran Canaria.

This is the view looking downstream from there. It’s certainly a beautiful and sheltered spot, and it was great to see them both again over the next few days.

I ended up staying a bit longer than I’d planned to see the Helford regatta, and did quite a bit of exploring round the local area in the portabote, the kayak and on foot.

The banks of the Helford are home to some lovely woodland

– and some very nice little villages.

and have inspired at least one novel – Daphne du Maurier’s Frenchmans Creek, the bottom of which you can see below.

A lot of people seem to have been grumbling about the summer weather this year, but it was mostly pretty nice there, though some mornings were rather misty, almost like those French canals…

Definitely porridge weather..

Fortunately the evening before the regatta was beautiful, as the village stores in Helford was hosting a paella night. Didn’t I leave Spain a while ago? I think about 300 people were there, and very well catered for – below you can see just one of the three dishes…

I think this is pretty much the final fling of the village social calendar before all the second-home owners disappear for the winter – it was certainly a good party

and an excellent adventure finding my way back out of the village and through the woods to the dinghy afterwards, with a long line of us winding our way down muddy paths having forgotten to take torches..

The regatta day itself looked like it might turn out rather wet, but fortunately it cleared again by the time the tide had risen enough to allow all the races to be held in the creek in front of the pub. The one-oar paddling race and backwards rowing competitions were definite highlights.

The most gruelling event was probably a two-man effort – rowing to one place, dropping off a runner who had to go up a steep hill and back through Helford to get to another landing spot in the other direction before being rowed back to the finish.

Afterwards most people moved up to a cafe near the sailing club for refreshments and music before the fireworks display.

Mike had said the fireworks would probably be very good, and he was definitely right. It might not have been quite on the scale of some of the Portuguese displays, but for a spectacular 8 or 9 minutes it was pretty close.

The next day I went ashore to pick a few more blackberries and then set sail about an hour before low water. That meant I had the tide with me to get down to the bottom of the Helford River, and slack water and then tide with me to take me up Carrick Roads and the Truro River to an Ocean Cruising Club gathering.

I did make a bit of a spectacle of myself on arrival with a couple of aborted approaches to the pontoon before deciding I definitely needed to approach from the other direction, at which point Maid pretty much berthed herself while I moved the fenders around.

I was also decidedly late, so it was a dramatic entrance all round! It had been a very nice sail though, and all the people I knew (Liz, Mark & Chloe on Lone Rival, the boat ahead of Maid) or knew by association and occasional correspondence about pilot book revisions (Anne on Wrestler, moored outside Lone Rival) were planning on staying overnight.

Although they’d pretty much finished lunch this did have it’s advantages, as the food and drinks tables were moved down alongside Maid a few minutes after tying up.

Everyone staying for the night met up again later on for dinner with some additional guests helping themselves to Chloe’s very tasty punch.

Mum made all of these three at various times, and they’ve done a fair bit of sailing between them – Scubus (left) racing across the Atlantic with Liz and Anne, and lots more cruising since, Cornelius going all round Africa in Lone Rival, and Josh having accompanied me down to the Canaries and back.

The next day I rather remarkably managed to establish mobile contact with Si & Cat who we’d met last year in France, and sailed back down the Fal and went past St Mawes to a beautifully peaceful and sheltered anchorage at Percuil

before joining them for a trip to the famous ‘Plume of Feathers’ in Portscatho. It was quite strange to see them again on land, with both our boats having their masts up and everything, but another very good evening.

The next day I dropped down to St Mawes in the evening to catch up with Nick on Wylo II, who I’d last seen in the Canaries (and before that in Penryn not long after we’d bought the boat), and marvel at his photos of classic boats racing in Antigua this summer. He designed the boat himself, and has since sailed her around the world three or four times at least. Falmouth harbour is another crossroads similar to Horta – I’d seen one of the boats in the last photo there as well though I’d never spoken to the owners.

St Mawes itself is a very picturesque little town, still with a couple of working fishing boats though it is largely a rather genteel seaside resort now.

From the other side of the Percuil it’s a short and very scenic walk around the coast

to St Antony’s Head, which eighties kids’ TV aficionados may be excited to learn was the home of the Fraggles.

The water is beautifully clear, if a little chilly. In fact the first time I went swimming it felt like I’d imagine rolling in broken glass would be, but much nicer once you stopped, though after that it’s seemed much more pleasant.


The cliffs are also a great place for watching boats racing in the harbour, especially the traditional working boats which set a huge area of sail.

I sailed across and anchored off Falmouth for a few days (Maid is on the left). It was quite strange approaching Custom House Quay from the sea when I could really only remember it from the land – it is tucked right round the corner near the docks, almost in the shadow of the warhips. I suspect anchoring there would have been banned by now if it wasn’t such a long-standing tradition.

From there I got a rather early bus to Helston to see the Cornish Gorsedh, or ‘Gathering of the Bards’ – hence my use of Cornish in the title. This is the equivalent of the Welsh Eisteddfod, and was attended by guests from Wales and Brittany as well as the surprisingly numerous Cornish bards.

The weather was unfortunately living up to Celtic tradition, with some additions to the ceremonies required – well done for your poem in Cornish, efforts in schools or promoting Cornish culture, we’ll just tip the rainwater out of your cup; sit down here, I’ll just tip the water off it..

The music and singing was unsurprisingly very good, though it did come as something of a relief to enjoy it indoors out of the drizzle after the main ceremony had ended.

Thankfully the weather didn’t stay like that… This is Gyllngvase beach on the southern side of Falmouth after a walk around the castle.

It’s not all that cheap to stay off Falmouth even anchoring, but it was handy to have hot showers and things, and I did a lot of washing and a little shopping before sailing back to Percuil to check it would be a good place to leave the boat for a few days. It was certainly a good test of it, with near gale force winds roaring up the river. It was certainly noisy, but not really rough, and none of the four of us anchored there shifted.

I felt pretty happy things would be fine with the weather calming down as I left to go for a job interview and meet up with friends from my old office, before before meeting Mum in London and coming back down again. I did get a bit more tense on the way back to the boat, but she was still happily just where I’d left her when we got back.

It was another very misty morning the next day when we’d planned to sail to Falmouth…

We dropped the anchor off St Mawes first for lunch in the hope it would clear, but ended up going for a very slow and gentle sail with lots of practice on the foghorn (not sure it’ll help much with the harmonica though). It was quite strange as being able to see something would’ve been the only sense that really told you the boat was moving!

Still, we made it across to Falmouth, and tied up ahead of the boat I’d crossed paths with in mid-ocean on the way back from the Azores. Having chatted with Richard via VHF radio and satellite phone it was nice to finally see him at closer range than half a mile!

We had a lovely meal with Liz, Chloe and Anne, and a few days later welcomed Mark, Liz and Chloe onto Maid for an evening.

Mum and I also did some walking – both on the Roseland peninsula

along St Just creek

to the beautiful little waterside (well, at high tide anyway..) church

and around Pendennis Point at the entrance to the harbour

as well as having a look in the impressive National Maritime Museum.

When Mum went back home I went with her a few stops up the branch line to visit Penryn, where Chris & I had first bought Maid several years ago. It looked fairly similar

though most of the people who’d been there had moved on, though I did find one of our further neighbours, and further down the bank another acquaintance I’d made in the Canaries.

Back in Falmouth I met up with Si and Cat again, who’d sailed over in Planet for a quick stop

before we both sailed back over to St Mawes. Since this was the first time we’d actually seen each others’ boats under sail after meeting a couple of years ago we obviously took a few photos..

Here are Maid just leaving Falmouth…

and Planet setting out across Carrick Roads.

We met up again a few days later for lunch after I’d walked over to Portscatho – a slightly odd experience as it’s not that long after leaving the banks of the Percuil that you can see the sea on the other side of the high ground –

and then again for dinner on Maid the following day. I’d made a bit of an expedition of getting blackberries for dessert, walking up over the fields around the Percuil

to Place Creek

and along to St Anthony’s Head before taking the other path along the coast back to the dinghy via Towan Beach.

It’s not that convenient a place to keep the boat, which is something I’ve been spending a while considering, but it’s a very nice place to holiday.

If all roads lead to Rome, all sailing routes lead to Horta

Posted in Photographs, Sailing, the Azores, Walking with tags , , on September 15, 2011 by maidofmettle

Surprisingly, it’s proving rather harder to write blog entries in a regular fashion in England than while cruising remote islands. But then I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at possible job opportunities and places to keep the boat.

Hopefully this will have been the longest gap, and I’ll probably start alternating between catching up on the time in the Azores and trip back (which I know is what you’re all waiting for..) and what I’ve been doing lately.

Historically Angra do Heroismo on Terceira was probably the more important harbour in the Azores – it was the calling point for Vasco da Gama returning from the first rounding of the Cape of Storms (later to be renamed the Cape of Good Hope) and for vast numbers of trading ships following the same route.

But more recently Horta on Faial has taken over as the main cross-roads for sailing boats, with well over 1,000 passing through every year. I planned on going there myself, but first I thought I’d take a look at it from the far end of Sao Jorge. Faial is the island on the right; Pico is to the left.

That end of Sao Jorge is also home to a big lighthouse and numerous outbuildings, all now abandoned since it was damaged in an earthquake.

Quite eerie.

The first photo was taken from near an old whaling look-out point – here’s the view from inside it looking the other way, north towards Graciosa.

The road away from the lighthouse was remarkably straight..

Having got very used to winding my way around a volcanic landscape it came as quite a surprise. Perhaps a Roman ship got blown out into the Atlantic at some point? The locals seemed a bit bemused by that theory though.

The countryside is largely open pasture (Sao Jorge cheese is very well known…), but near the end of my walk I passed through a woodland recreation area – also very beautiful, and a pleasant change to have some shade.

I stopped off for a gal√£o

– a milky coffee similar to a latte, before getting the bus back down from Rosais to Velas.

After a bit of re-stocking the galley cupboards (definitely not forgetting some of the local cheese) I couldn’t help noticing there was still a rather nice wind blowing, though none was forecast for the next few days.

Having got rather frustrated in Angra I decided to take the opposite approach here and just go for it. Even if it did die before dark I ought to be able to get most of the way to Horta before then.

So, this is Velas disappearing into the background..

…and this is Faial appearing.

Horta is on the far left of the picture above, on the slightly lower ground just to the right of two hills. It was a beautiful sail, with the mainsail and one of the biggest jibs up..

… but the wind was dropping, and not long after I’d finished making a cheesecake (note – must check if this is unlucky at sea) it ded away fairly completely.

So I finished dinner (curry night, finishing off the final jar of mango chutney! and a raita made using wild mint I picked while out walking)..

..and then got the engine on to motor the last hour or so to Horta. It was taking a bit longer than I’d hoped as the tidal current in the channel between Horta and Pico didn’t seem to be changing as quickly as I’d expected, but it wasn’t too long past midnight when I got into the harbour and tied up alongside another boat with the help of the night watchmen.

Even at that hour I could see the paintings covering the breakwaters were impressive, but I thought I’d wait to take a photo till the morning. Time to help a Canadian couple who’d just arrived from the other side of the Atlantic tie their boat up, and then to go to bed.

I was looking forward to looking around in the morning, and hopefully finding at least one prior acquaintance. It’s nice to seek out isolated places like the beautiful anchorage off the Ilheu de Vila, but there’s definitely something exciting about being at a big crossroads as well.

Looking back in Angra

Posted in Photographs, Sailing, the Azores, Walking with tags , , , on September 1, 2011 by maidofmettle

since that’s where we left off in the Azores, and we wouldn’t want to miss anything, would we?

I didn’t actually leave the capital while I was on Terceira, but Angra is well worth exploring. It’s a beautiful city, and especially so considering that it was devastated by an earthquake in 1983, causing many casualties and severe damage to nearly three-quarters of the buildings in some of the central parishes. If a roof looks shiny and new, it was probably replaced..

The title of World Heritage Site was actually granted a little later, while the city was being rebuilt, and presumably the effort towards and achievement of guided the restoration of the many old buildings – there’s certainly not much sign of the destruction now. This is the main street leading up from the harbour…

…and this one of the streets leading off it, clearly in festival mode for something or other.

It’s quite impressive by night as well.

There are some attractive gardens as well as beautiful old buildings..

….yet more mosaic pavements and paths…

..and an unusual drinking fountain.

I also went to one of the main museums on the island, and attempted to get my head around Terceira’s role in Portugal’s long and complicated history. It’s certainly featured quite often – the island was the last part of Portugal to be conquered by the Spanish, and was prominent in later internal Portuguese conflicts. The appellations of Angra do Heroismo (of heroism) and Praia da Vitoria (of victory) were granted after one of these.

It’s claimed the local touradas a corda, or bull-running events, date back to a skirmish when an invading force was repelled from the island by the poorly armed but determined inhabitants driving their cattle down from the hills at the landing party. Whether that’s true or not, it’s an exceedingly popular spectator sport today, with a few events being held in remote villages while I was there.

Rather than a dedicated arena, they take place in the streets , squares or beaches, with the bull being somewhat restrained by a team of men pulling on ropes attached to a harness.

I suspect I’d have gone if one had been handy, to see what it was like, though you can get a fair idea from the videos which are on sale and on display in many shops. And I did like this drawing in the museum, which rather reminded me of a Hogarth print – I’d have been very tempted to label it something like The evils of bull-running in the middle classes.

That and the videos certainly show the best and the worst of it – it’s obviously a popular event with a great atmosphere, but while there’s certainly bravery I couldn’t really say there’s sport in a man lying in one end of an inflatable dinghy tapping a bull on the head with a paddle, while the ropes stop it doing anything more than shoving it’s head into the near end – more depressing than exciting.

And the man who managed to get his foot caught in one of the ropes at the same time as the handlers lost control of the bull got rather more excitement than he bargained for, and I’d guess several broken ribs…ouch.

In between looking around ashore I was also getting a few jobs done on the boat, in particular a routine servicing of the winches. This one has just been cleaned and very lightly greased and oiled again.

And I was spending a while looking at weather forecasts, and at what seemed to be happening locally. There generally was quite a difference – no wind forecast, but a fair amount in the harbour – quite frustrating for trying to work out when to leave for Sao Jorge with the best chance of a good sail, rather than it dying away after a few hours or a mile or two away from the coast.

In the end with no wind forecast for some time I decided to just go for it.

It was a beautiful sail away from Angra at first…

…continuing into the evening.

But unfortunately the wind kept dropping… and dropping…

At least it was a very peaceful night. Even though it was frustrating, it was probably better than more waiting in Angra wondering if there was wind out to sea or not. And it was so calm I could hear dolphins breathing, even if I couldn’t see them. Or they might even have been whales. It’s a nice thought, since I never saw any!

The next morning Sao Jorge wasn’t looking much closer than it had the previous night.

Because it wasn’t. Time to get the engine on then. At least with the sea this flat I had very little steering to do, more just a matter of keeping an eye on things.

This was great, because I could spend most of my time watching dolphins – there were often some around the boat, but even when there weren’t the flat sea meant I could see several different schools within a few hundred yards.

The ones playing under the bow are always the most fun to watch though.

With them to watch, it didn’t actually seem all that long till I was passing down the channel between Sao Jorge and Pico.

I took a glance at Calheta, the first possible place to stop on Sao Jorge, but it looked a very small space to anchor in with some jet skis buzzing around, and there was suddenly a nice breeze.

I decided to continue on to Velas, nearer the western end. The breeze died about 5 minutes later, but I decided to continue. I motored around the anchorage checking depths, but it was very deep – I had enough chain if I combined the lengths for both the main and second anchors, but I didn’t really feel like doing that after the overnight trip and motoring for most of the day, so I headed in and got a very warm welcome in the marina.

By this time the sun had come out – you can see Pico, the highest mountain in Portugal, in the background on the island of the same name.