I have a stark warning to anyone who sails to the Galician Rías. There is a very real risk that you may never leave.
Some would argue this is not a risk at all but something to welcome with open arms.
Simply befriend some locals, set up shop and you’ll no doubt pass a very pleasant few decades as a bona fide Galician.
However, if you have a journey to complete in a timely fashion, Galicia’s almost irresistible lure can be dangerous.
We met a couple who had set off from Southern Ireland bound for the Mediterranean two years ago. Yet there they were, entirely content living aboard in the Ría de Arousa, by this time so friendly with the boatyard owner they were off to his grandson’s christening. But more of them later.
The Rías Baixas – low estuaries – which are sandwiched between Portugal and Cape Finisterre, offer that perfect blend of beauty, history, fabulous food and of course, great sailing. There is both tranquillity and bustle, depending on your preference, with lively fishing towns such as Pobra do Caramiñal and Villagarcia hemmed in by the stunning countryside of dramatic green hills and countless quiet coves and inlets.
Famed for its seafood, the region is also home to Spain’s delicious Albariño wine. More specifically, Cambados, a lovely old town on the shores of the Ria de Arousa is where the wine originates from and is encircled by small vineyards on every side. We spent a happy afternoon there tasting the local tipple and replenishing N’Tiana’s cellar.
In the Rías, there is no need to pay out for expensive marinas. Whatever the weather, you will be able to find an anchorage to keep you safe and snug.
We moved north from the Ría Vigo up to the quieter Ría Pontevedra to visit the historic fishing village of Combarro for a night. Combarro is famous for its impressive collection of ‘horreos’ – these structures are synonymous with this region of Spain and look like miniature houses standing on four legs. They were originally designed for grain storage. By holding the grain above the ground, they had the double advantage of keeping it dry in the damp Galician climate and warding off rats. Horreos vary greatly in size and style as their grandeur traditionally reflected the owners’ status. Combarro has a fine collection of historic horreos lining its waterfront. But as a result it’s higgledy-piggledy granite alleys also suffer a bad case of tourist congestion so after a quick walk along the Rua do Mar to admire the town’s rocky eccentricities, we turned tail and beelined to a local tapas bar with our newly acquired Norwegian friend Marius.
Marius’s boat was stuck in Combarro marina indefinitely while he waited for new sails that never seemed to materialise. It was thought they were now stuck in a Spanish customs office somewhere. He took it all in good spirit and appeared to pass the time by befriending whoever passed his way. He was heading north having reached southern Spain then decided there was more interest and fun to be had in colder waters.
He regaled us with tales of his misadventures during national service in the Norwegian navy which saw us through several ‘gin y toniques’ and much moreish tapas.
We stumbled home giggling in the darkness and awoke with sore heads to cloudy skies and a force six rattling through our rigging.
But we were keen to get into the next Ria – Arousa – and the Porto do Xufre, for reasons I will soon explain, before taking on Biscay so we swigged some water, shook ourselves down, donned our waterproofs and headed out.
An amazing fact about the Ría de Arousa – the biggest of the Spanish Rías – is that it is responsible for about 50 per cent of the entire world’s mussel production.
And this is evident when sailing because the estuary is heaving with ‘viveiros’ – huge floating rafts from which the mussel ropes hang. These are easy to spot during the day so present little hazard but I would not wish to try and navigate any of the Rías at night.
Second amazing fact about the Ría de Arousa – it was, for a short time, home to three, yes three Oyster 435s. Since there are only 60 or so of these boats dotted all over the globe, to get three sailing in unison in one small Spanish Ría is quite an unlikely achievement.
We were enticed to Xufre by fellow Oyster 435 owner and enthusiast Bob and his wife Maureen, who were living on their boat Modus Vivendi and had made Xufre their home for several months.
Bob, being in touch with another Oyster 435 called Speedwell that was also making its way north back to the UK from Portugal spotted an opportunity. A photo: three Oyster 435s sailing alongside with the Galician countryside as their backdrop. Whether the timings would work, who knew.
Being Irish, Bob lured us there with promises of abundant booze and great craic, and being English we swallowed the bait unhesitatingly, set our sails towards Xufre and allowed him to reel us in… the words ‘the Albariño is waiting…’ ringing in our ears.
Well, Bob and Maureen lived up to every promise. Much G&T, Albariño, Rioja and Port was consumed, stomachs left aching with laughter and heads just left aching. Through the melee we did also manage to swap some invaluable cruising tips.
Happily Pete was able to repay their generosity with the virgin flight of his drone at sea.
Pete’s drone is a ‘no messing about’ drone. It’s a DJI Mavic Pro, if that means anything to you.
Basically, it’s pretty good and thus, pretty expensive. And we hadn’t tested the theory but we were fairly confident it wouldn’t like being dunked in seawater.
The difficulty of flying the drone while sailing – or more precisely, trying to land the drone on a sailing boat – is that the drone wants to be static according to its GPS controls, but you are trying land it on a moving target.
We talked at first about me catching it but I was a little averse to having all my fingers chopped off just before sailing across the Bay of Biscay. Even more importantly, I was damned if I was going to take responsibility for dropping the thing in the sea. I’d have had to make Pete sign a disclaimer accepting blame for any drowned drones ahead of such a plan.
Then when discussing the whereabouts of an old net hammock we used to have on board, Pete alighted on the idea of a drone net.
Bob kindly offered some old green garden netting he had to hand and so, landing strategy in place, off we set.
Airborne the drone captured some beautiful shots and footage of N’Tiana and Modus Vivendi wending their way down an otherwise empty Ria de Arousa, despite an almost total absence of wind which is apparent in the images from our sagging sails.
Three days later, in the nick of time as we were departing that day to cross Biscay, Speedwell* made her stately appearance.
Owners Helen and Andy sailed her across the Ria to meet Modus and ourselves so N’Tiana had a grand escort of two fellow Oyster 435s to see her off on her 400-mile journey to Brittany. And we finally managed to achieve the photo Bob had first dreamt of at least five weeks before: three Oyster 435s under full sail, lit by the sun, cutting through the water alongside one another, surrounded by the deep blue of the Galician ría.
Drone landed safely.
Then a whoop, a wave, a shouted farewell and on we sailed alone.
*Speedwell’s owners Andy and Helen, who we first met when moored up in Lagos, run a fantastically informative website – oceansail.co.uk – which is well worth a look for anyone wishing to know more about Oyster 435s and pick up helpful sailing tips.