Portugal to The Canaries

After two false starts we stowed Lilly ready for our longest passage so far, 600 odd miles to The Canaries. Heading South adjacent to The Moroccan coast felt like the first step towards lands truly exotic. The prospect of sailing to a volcanic archipelago far away where bananas, mangoes and avocados grow aplenty struck a romantic internal chord. What will it feel like to not see land for five days plus? Portugal had begun to feel cold as Autumnal weather had turned wintery for the third stopover of the trip.

The forecast wasn’t ideal but with light winds expected rather than anything too strong so thoughts were towards whether it might be a long frustrating passage as opposed to an uncomfortable or overly boisterous one.

As it was, Lilly did well to slowly move us roughly in the right direction most of the time. With different auxiliary sail arrangements Lilly was most fabulously decorated with the square sail, up for the first time since leaving Wales. She was a picture gently tickling down wind climbing and descending majestic, massive slow swell from the north west; distant echoes from a storm at that moment thumping UK shores.

One hiccup from the gods were some headwinds for an afternoon that pushed us onto a bad course such that a ferry bound for The Canaries crossed our course at a perfect 90 degree angle. Time to heave to and have tea.

The sparse passing wildlife was evidence of warmer waters with turtles and flying fish the latest to delight the crew lucky enough to be on deck at the time. Dolphins remain regular visitors, most enchantingly at night when leaving a trail of phosphorescent sparkles behind them as they dart round the boat. Who screams louder on these occasions, Rowena or the girls?

Twice we were completely becalmed. No wind, no movement in any direction just magic. Beautiful oily contoured water undulating and pitting in the swell. Nothing to do but appreciate the beauty, then swim, then chat and laugh and eat. The tranquility changes only when a breath of wind returns and Lilly begins to glide again. On both occasions it felt too early to leave this suspended reality where thoughts of reaching our destination or moving towards the ‘goal’ dissolve. Concerns of a long passage don’t exist in this state and all the meditative qualities of sailing are present just without the need to actually sail. Truly memorable moments.

No wind provides a rare opportunity to view Lilly from afar under sail on the kayak….with 4,000 metres of water below

On the fifth day, when becalmed, we no longer had a long range wind forecast. so we entered a different mode. One where the barometer is scrutinised more carefully and senses are heightened towards changes in the winds and clouds. An interesting mental exercise in letting go of expectations and allowing things to unfold as they will. A tiny insight into the more fatalistic experience of sailing before the days of accessible forecasts and passageweather.com!

As it was that evening, 100 miles from Graciosa, an increasingly firm wind had us heading 7 knots in the right direction by sunrise. All was well until the wind strengthened and we begun to get headed. Momentary concern. Would we be prevented from making landfall a teasing 30 miles off shore? Fortunately not and Lilly, well heeled, thrust us in to the lee of Lanzarote where we anchored and dived into the noticeably warmer waters. Time to start processing arriving in this humbling dramatic landscape. The hypnotic spell of the 3 hours on and 6 hours off watch rota broken.

Seren guiding us all towards the gap between Lanzarote and Graciosa
Our first Canarian sunset, hazed by Saharan dust blown in by the Easterly winds

Portugal

Reflecting on the past three and a half months since leaving Wales to sitting here, rolling at anchor off Sagres at the South West corner of mainland Europe, there are 2 overriding features of the trip which come to mind. Namely the forced slow pace of travel, and secondly the significance of our diverse social interactions.

The predominant winds down this coast should generally be Northerly – therefore we imagined a brief stop, if at all in Galicia before nipping down the coast to the Algarve to stock up before continuing onto the Canaries… but it wasn’t to be, We spent over a month in this beautiful part of Spain, the last 9 days in the Ria Aldan, off ‘Praia de Castinieras’, a lovely little sandy beach behind a wooded headland and behind an expansive mussel farm – wooden crisscross rafts about 20m by 20m with hundreds of hanging ropes on which the mussels grow.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

With no favourable winds on the forecast, Rowena, Fi and Chris continued their shore adventures with some friends of Rowena, helping them with renovating a large house inland where they hoped to make a eco holiday lodge place… Jean-Marc, Nick and we 4 enjoyed a very relaxed 9 days on board, these times where theres a safe anchorage and nothing too pressing on the agenda, I find blissful, this is what I’ve missed!

Covid times were becoming more evident – apart from wearing masks ashore all has been pretty normal for us, here though town was especially quiet, bars were closed as was the local playpark much to the girls dismay! Though Morla couldn’t quite see the problem as the safety tape shutting off the park was too high… she could simply walk under it!

On one of Jean-Marcs walks ashore he noticed a wee field brimming with pumpkins and on a second visit with abit of loitering around the nearby house, the owner emerged with warm greetings – “Of course, help yourselves, shame you dont have a car to take more!”

On the last day we returned with a Nick baked cake and were showered with yet more pumpkins, after laughs, smiles and Nono understanding most of what they said, we returned to our beach.

Just as we jumped in Shelduck to row back to Lilly, a guy came running down the beach waving a sheet of paper and a bag, we turned back to the beach to see what he wanted and were given the note which read:

“Hello, I love to see your boat from the window of my house. I would like to give me and my family a gift so that you can celebrate your stay in this Ria of Aldan, Galicia. If you still do not leave I will bring it to the beach another day you collect”

obviously from some translate app as he spoke no English… In the bag were 2 T-shirts for Seren and Morla. He was sad to hear we were leaving the next morning but made us promise to meet him on the beach 8am before leaving… This time he came with his sister who’d baked an amazing traditional Galician cake plus bottles of wine and apple juice.

Its hard to describe the feeling of being recipients of these kinds of such random acts of kindness, from people who had no care for what type of people we were or where we were from… but they are profound! One immediate sensation is that you want to recipricate – to find the oppertunity to give someone the same pleasure, you feel happiness, enriched – it seems so easy to make the world a better place yet so easily forgotten, and the desire to recipricate exemplifies so clearly the ripple effect of being kind and how important it is.

It was just 3 days sailing down the Portuguese coast before winds dictated that we stop in at Sines, 50 miles South of Lisbon and the last good harbour before Cap St, Vincent on the Souwest corner of Portugal. Despite the mass of industry surrounding in harbour, the anchorage and small marina off the picturesque town and beach were nice and the industry soon forgotten. With no ideal winds on the horizon we decided to base ourselves here while missioning and exploring ashore.

Chris once again realized he had friends living nearby so he and Fi were soon whisked away while we set too researching car hire, flour mills, olive oil producers and vineyards.

The flour was an early success, Chris’ friends directed us to a small mill which only 2 years previous had stopped using wind power, at the end of a rough track were 2 old boys with floury aprons, happy to sell us 60kg of excellent flour.

We thought we’d lucked out with the olive oil too when on enquiring at a lovely veggie cafe in town were told we could tag onto their order which was coming a few days later, it lacked a little adventure but at 12 euros per 5 litres was too good to be true. We started seeing dollar signs… olive oil cargo by sail…! We ordered 100litres.

Close scrutiny of the label a few days later revealed it was indeed too good to be true, in fact it was mostly sunflower oil with mushed up olive residue added, it tastes great but its not olive oil, ‘Rodney you plonker!’

Jean-Marc and Nick had better success a few days later when they found a producer selling the real deal so got another 30 litres – we won’t be short of oil for a while! Plus they found a vineyard selling delicious boxed wine!

They also returned with Amber, a great bubbly friend of Nono’s from Cornwall who had spent the last fortnight walking with 3 horses, a mule and a friend from North Portugal heading for the south coast; she was keen to join us to the Canaries and is onboard as I write.

Before sailing down this coast of Portugal we were receiving alot of messages, many with news articles attached, regarding Orca whales attacking sailing boats. It was of mild concern, mixed with the appeal of seeing these beautiful creatures; instead, nearing Sines where the most recent attacks had been , we were surrounded by what must have been a hundred or so playful dolphins. In the boat yard in Sines however was a german boat without a rudder and another 28 footer in the marina. We befriended these 3 young French guys – who were pretty blasé about what must have been a pretty traumatic experience – 3 Orcas visited them at night nudging their small, light boat, they thought they’d got off O.K. til 20mins later they returned, this time targeting the rudder til it broke, Max describes wrestling over the rudder blade so as not to lose it completely, with an Orca… he accepted defeat! They also describe being spun 360 degrees by the playful mammals and seeing the thin hull flexing as the whales nudged it. It sounded terrifying, but seeing how light their boat was and how small the rudder fixings, I felt encouraged that big heavy Lilly B would be absolutely fine, plus that our rudder is a strong extension of our long keel. They continued at the first oppertunity and Rowena bravely went along for their overnight trip to the Algarve, then hitched back to join us.

MAX AND FRANCIS WITH THEIR BROKEN RUDDER

We spoke to a marine biologist who had been following these attacks and she had no clear explanation but it seemed it was the same 3 young Orcas, they feed on tuna in this area which are heavily fished here… is this payback? She did mention that their wasnt so much evidence of them being underfed unlike in Hawai where 80 odd had died recently, of hunger…!

Finally the forecast looked good to head South, we rounded the Cape St Vincent one sunny afternoon, deciding to stop in at Sagres, 3 miles East of the Cape, just for a couple of days to let a strong blow with massive swells pass over (look at nov/dec surf at Nazare on youtube!)

CAPE ST VINCENT

Finally on the 5th Dec. We were ready to go to the Canaries, on starting the engine I thought it sounded a little strange (we’d had problems with the starter motor a week or so previous with it getting stuck engaged) I went to start it again…click! Nothing. It was another 12 days in Sagres before we got a new one sent out from the U.K. having had no luck trapsing round scrappies and stores in Lagos and Portimao.

By now I was becoming quite philosophical about thes delays and the unplanned slow nature of our travels, we had no fixed date when we had to be anywhere in particular, it was just a fabricated plan, but a plan in my mind none the less… so it took a concious effort to be at peace with these factors out of our control, and enjoy where we were at… and what was also becoming evident was that our lingering in places was bring us into richer interactions with others – the community of friends in Brittany, visiting friends of Chris and Fi and others of Nono in Galicia, the pumpkin lady, the very kind brother and sister on the beach, and now in Sagres we befriended Chris who ran a dive centre there – he helped us alot with lifts, info and postal address for the starter motor, Nick and others went and helped him with some patio work, it was a great interaction, plus a fisherman who gave us 2 big Octopi… many of these meetings wouldnt have happened or would’ve been too brief if we’d just passed through.

It was the 17th Dec. that we fitted the new starter motor and left mainland Europe behind, On board were Nick, Rowena, Amber, Fi, Jean-Marc, Nono, Seren and Morla and me, Chris sadly left us in Sagres as he was missing winter in Cornwall too much!

Galicia: an extended stay..

A beautiful morning to leave the Vilaine River with intentions to cross Biscay
Full mainsail dealing with a fresh breeze

The time had come to leave Brittany as the winds became (sort of) favourable to go south across the Bay of Biscay heading to either Spain or Portugal. Despite beautiful sunshine we found the wind not as hoped and with a worsening forecast the decision was made to instead anchor after 8 hours of sailing on the island of Hoedic 20 miles off the Brittany coast.

A few hours off the Brittany coast
The girls left mum and dad onboard to go exploring the sandy beaches of Hoedic before we all met up for a picnic taking shelter under Shelduck
Looking back towards Lilly with Spain 300 miles beyond

After 2 nights at Hoedic and much deliberating the decision was made to cross Biscay now and prepare for an uncomfortable crossing rather than wait at least ten days for another chance. The boat was prepared and we left in torrential rain.

Quick progress south with no Main, just a reefed Foresail (150 miles in a 24 period with this arrangement)
13 kg tuna caught on a line just as we crossed the Atlantic shelf where the depth drops from 130m to over 4,000m

After three nights the winds seemed dicey to round Cape Finistere so landfall was instead made in Cedeira on the north Galician coast.

Things starting to feel more tropical, apart from the icey water
Shelduck (bit of a poser) a world away from the muddy Estuary
Day sailing from Cedeira to Camineras
Very strong winds and huge swells meant we had over a week to enjoy Camineras and Muxia
A good day to be walking not sailing
Seren and Morla hiked the 10miles to see the Capo Vilano lighthouse on the Costa da Morte

After rounding Finisterre the weather improved and we continued to take small hops down the Galician coast. With consistent Southerly winds we have been unable to consider going further South. The benefit has been some beautiful experiences and adventures in Galicia, a region that we nearly sailed right past.

Provisioning conveniently in Muros, the first traditionally picturesque Spanish town we’d visited
Despite hours of hassle from Spanish officialdom we were permitted to anchor off the island of Salvora, a national park
With our own private harbour and beach…..
Yes the water is still too cold…time to go further south….

To the Land of Friends and Fromage

25th September

We’ve just dropped anchor a little up the river L’Aulne leading inland from the Rade de Brest after winding our way down from our tranquille spot in the Brest – Nantes canal where we’ve been moored up alongside Yanic on his barge Patricia. Just ahead was Agge on ‘Norfolk County’ a 28m 1908 Steam Drifter which he’s restoring with remarkable energy and spirit. We didn’t get to spend enough time with Agge before he was off to the Mediterranean where he was helping Sea Watch as an engineer aboard a ship rescuing migrants trying to cross the sea to Europe. Yanic was a fantastic host, happy to share his time whether it be showing us his various projects, like rebuilding an old river ferry to do a cross country trip to Istanbul, or restoring beautiful old diesel engines, or spending hours fishing with Seren and Morla.

Port Launay with Yanic and Agge

Our sail across ‘La Manche’, arrogantly named by the British ‘The English Channel’, was without incident, leaving Falmouth early afternoon after taking on a 30l barrel of Rum – Thanks Elle!!! and filling with water, we had some perfect beam reach sailing until the early hours the next morning when the wind died and we motored the last stretch towards the Brittany coast. Our Companion from former times – Tramp was onboard and being familiar with the entrance to L’Aber Wrach was a great help piloting us through the rocky entrance and up the river to a safe anchorage just in front of ‘Rose of Argyll’ who visited us in Wales last year, and off the sailing and boatbuilding school AGD where they are building a new tall ship The ‘Belle Espoir’. The older original wooden Belle Espoir which blew over off the wall at low tide and was damaged beyond repair, lies alongside, anything reusable is transferred to the new steel ship. This school is the only ‘Association’ of its kind in France with no government aid, existing solely off donations and plenty of good will, It tries to take students who might benefit the most from such an experience whether it be that they’ve been the wrong side of the law or had trouble with drugs… a fantastic and inspiring place!

L’Aber Wrach

The anchor wasn’t down for long before the welcoming committee arrived, it was fantastic to see Jean-Marc, Mama, Pascal, Dede, Cathy, who’d driven since the early hours from Dijon then Elora, Benjemin, Benoid, Bluen, Davide and others. Sitting on the bank under the huge gnarly Pines the first evening, with a crackling Fire, Tramp serenading us with shrootybox and harmonica, plenty of cheese and wine, abundant laughter (in French of course) and merriment, Seren and Morla playing happily with new friends Olive and Magma it felt like another step of our adventure, a new country, new friends and reunited with old, it was a feeling of humbling contentment, satisfaction and joy.

We stayed around L’Aber Wrach about a week, mostly socialising, eating fine food and visiting Benoit and Bluens workshop – a very inspiring, well equipped, beautifully decored place in the middle of which lay the mast, ready to be shaped for Genora, a 65 ft ….. brought over from Penryn about 8 years previously and almost completely rebuilt by Benoit and many helpers.

The design loft in Bluen and Benoit, workshop
Bens skulling oars – on returning to ‘Plumbob’ one day we found one of these beauties with ‘For Lili Bolero’ scribed on!

After loading up with diesel from Jean Marc, water and supplies at the Paluden Quay where we had unloaded nearly a ton of Caribbean sugar 6 years before we headed West and South through the Chenal du Four and into the big sheltered bay, the Rade de Brest. With Elora and Benjamin along for the ride and Jean Marc and Davide now part of the Lilly crew once again, we tied up in the Canal a few days later.

heading upriver to the canal
With young friends

This wasn’t far from where Davide lived on a piece of land with about 12 others, a mix of shelters, caravans with elaborate extensions, a yurt, a stone cottage common house and other wood frame buildings in progress. There was always something going on there and we were made to feel very welcome, our tent pitched in the middle was used a couple of nights, the second after a few hours digging potatoes followed by a tartiflette feast, enjoyed by about 30 around the long outdoor table under the trees.

We were beginning to get a sense of the community here, its aspects, some of which seemed unique, special, particularly French. Pretty much everyone we were meeting and mentioned above knew each other or were connected pretty closely in some way, a lot of them had been helping each other on building , boatbuilding or gardening projects, almost all had no regular full time work but were rarely idle. Some of the fruits of their labours were nothing but extraordinary, massive old boats, warm and welcoming funky dwellings, polytunnels, breweries, workshops, along with playing music and so much done with a beautiful aesthetic, whether it be the candle lighting on an old ship playing gypsy klesma music at 2am on squeeze box and clarinet, Benoits stunning art and half models scattered around his design loft, an old Breton fishing boat converted into a breakfast verandah under hop vines. Spending a day going ‘Peche au pied’ scrabbling around the weedy rocks on an equinox low tide to collect Abaloni, crab, shrimps seaweed and the like, who cares if it takes a day out to get a mouthful of delectable fresh seafood for dinner. If you don’t have to go out to work you also have time to collect, grow and produce your food, or as some of the crew did, spend a day making 50kg of pasta at a neighbouring friends workshop using a donated industrial pasta machine (every community should get one!) And to share your time! We’ve been given so much of peoples time and welcome attention here.

2 October 2020

We had a cracking sail out of the Rade de Brest and a great trip south, anchoring under cliffs, then a fast 60 mile onto the low – Isles de Glenan nicknamed the Caribbean of Brittany, then off at sunrise and onto the Isle of Houat for a night before heading inland again. This time into the Villain river through another lock to where we are now anchored near La Roche Bernard in Fresh water.

Pauline and Ishmael sailed on Lilly about 10 years ago from Darwin to Bali then from Thailand to the Andamans, meeting up with them on the dock with their 3 children brought a tear to the eye, a feeling our lives had moved in such a similar direction but on distant though adjacent paths.

Pauline, Ishmael, Kaouri, Willow and Naoum

We are keeping a close eye on the weather, looking for a window of favourable winds to sail Southwards towards Spain and Portugal, so far there’s been a lot of wind and rain and last night soon after the barometer plumeted a sharp gale, sounds of crashing branches put us on edge then at around 2am Lilly started thrashing around, glasses falling off the side woke Seren though all hands were already on deck, replacing the broken snubber line on the anchor chain and hauling in the 3 dinghies on deck, little ‘Pink Turtle’ was bucking so violently she threatened to somersault, Plumbob and Shellduck were also threatening to fill with water and were brought on and lashed to the deck.

Anchor watches were set but after Nono then Rowena had done 45mins each, the storm subsided and we all slept til late morning when a sparkling sun was breaking through the trees above.

We later heard that out at La Belle Isle 30 miles away gusts of 183km were recorded!

8th October…

And so the weather looks favourable to be heading across the Bay of Biscay in a couple of days time, a high pressure is moving in from the Atlantic, on the front of which is a prolonged period of Northerlies. It’s 390 Nautical miles to Cape Finisterre which we estimate to take about 4 days and if the weather looks suitable we will stop in the Rivieras just South of the cape, if the weather doesn’t look so good we will continue South another 400 miles around to the South coast of Portugal.

The first hop South….

3/9/20

As the tide identified to move Lilly from The Quarry drew nearer, the preparations intensified and the reality of leaving Pembrokeshire, and our beautiful community of friends, dawned on the crew. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, friends and family were invited down to enjoy one last party on and around Lilly. Gifts of rum and whiskey overwhelmed the boat’s normal liquor stores and with hazy heads on Sunday morning the time had come to slip the mooring lines.

After tearful goodbyes, we headed downriver to be met with significant swell churned up by the shallows around the mouth of The Cleddau. The ocean was greeting us and testing our stowage. Plates and mugs thrown across the boat revealed our shortfalls before we settled for a peaceful night at anchor by Dale.

Lilly then needed to retreat up river to sit out a storm and we were afforded a few more days of final prep during which Iona (a community refurbishment project of an 18 foot Plymouth Pilot) was completed and we foraged bounty one more time from the community garden. Oh how we will miss that place!

Friday 28th August we once again set off down river, this time for the last time, with a full boat including stowaways Tess and Tess, Tom and Abi, all close friends from Pembs that we were delighted to be able to share the passage to Cornwall with.

Consistent, firm 20 knot northerlies were forecast and a brisk crossing of the Bristol Channel was anticipated. With suspicions that the ship’s log was over-reading, we were soon ploughing along, apparently at 8/9 knots. It wasn’t long before a pod of dolphins came to say hello, wish happy birthday to Seren (6) and play around the boat. This also signalled the point at which two crew members were forced down below to stoicly sit out 24 hours of sea sickness as the boat pitched and rolled in the short, confused sea.

Particular mention goes to Abi who admirably threw together a delicious pasta in between moments of sickness. It was much appreciated! Night came, the watch rota began. There was no letup in the conditions during darkness so the crew all enjoyed the sunrise as we rounded Land’s End and the sea thankfully became a millpond.

We made landfall up The Helford and enjoyed idyllic river exploring, pasty hunting and a fabulous welcome from new friends Greg and Katie – riverside residents of a wonderfully creative and eccentric nature. We all celebrated Tom’s birthday at a picturesque pub in Helford before more intense goodbyes as friends left to return to Pembs. The ‘hellos’ are a refreshing antidote to the dwindling ‘goodbyes’ as we are warmly welcomed by the Penryn community.

I have had several moments of pinching myself as this adventure begins: how on earth have I ended up on a gaff schooner preparing to sail round the world?! Who’s idea was this?? It’s thrilling, intimidating but also feels oddly natural. Couldn’t have guessed this life path a few years ago… However, it’s one step at a time and our attention is now turning to the 95 mile crossing to Brittany early next week when the winds look fair.

Nick

Welsh Interlude

4th August, 2020

A little over 6 years ago we found Garron Pill, a near abandoned boatyard, it was originally dug out in the quest for mining limestone, more recently oysters were farmed here and more recently still it has gone from being a quiet boatyard to a home, a place full of visitors, campfires, swings, children, creation, bush-baths, parties, laughter, births, mud, and a mid-life refit for Lilly Bolero.

We couldn’t have dreamt up a more idyllic setting to tie up for this period – which would explain why it’s been so hard to get to this point of setting sail once again. Physically the set-up is brilliant – power and water to the deck, alongside a slipway, and 10m to a 60′ long workshop, possibly the most remote spot in Pembrokeshire surrounded by oak woodlands and fields and of course the Cleddau estuary lapping at the keel.

Then there’s been the friends and community we’ve been so lucky to be part of, support, friendship, employment, and the creation of the Pencoed community garden, which, as well as supplying us with delicious veg, has given a framework within which friendships have grown, and principles for life have been explored and discussed.

With help primarily from Jono we’ve built a host of groovy shelters including a shepherd’s hut/palace, a houseboat, a deluxe bog hut, and a modern wheelie-cabin. Nono studied to become a Doula and has attended a number of births and even organised a conference on the topic.

Both Seren and Morla were born here in the quarry on board Lilly and two years ago we celebrated all the love in the air with a fantastical love party, to which all our nearest and dearest friends came and celebrated.

Any other free days, when we weren’t off on van camps, in North Wales, or travelling in France, were filled with working on Lilly B to bring her to the fine state she is in today. All exterior metal has been removed and either remade or re-galvanised, new bulwarks and taffrail, new gaffs, rigging, top of foremast, nav lights, blocks, deadeyes, main sheet track; 2 new dinghies, new galley, engine driven pump/deckwash, bunks, repainted top to bottom…… and so the list goes on…

With the masts back in, in the summer of 2019 we sailed North to Scotland for a couple of months, fantastic sailing, scenery, family and friends! For Nick and Rowena this sealed their desire to sail further afield with us and as I write are busy fitting a new bulkhead in the aft cabin; without Nick’s help over the past year, tirelessly working away on Lilly, we wouldn’t be in the shipshape state we find ourselves today!

And to the here and now… We’d actually chosen today as our deadline to exit the quarry, but hey, what’s a couple of weeks…? And besides Nono has been pretty busy today helping her sister Bebe with the birth of a little girl a few hours ago! So in two weeks with the list sufficiently complete we shall nose out of our little nest and head down stream. Cornwall, Brittany, Southwards and Westward Ho…. Lilly’s next adventure is about to begin.

Lilly in hibernation

Lilly restored

New dinghies

The family

Our haven

Scotland, September 2019

Vanlife

Community garden