Monday 30 June 2008

No-name cove to Riumar

Maybe finishing OB’s birthday wine had something to do with it but I slept well and late, then, eager for the sea again, I immediately set to my daily tasks. A deal of time ashore involves stowing gear and rearranging lines, many of OB’s ropes having one function at sea and another on land, and this morning was no different. At last with everything shipshape and after a quantity of fruit for breakfast, to offset a wine-thick head, we launched into flat water and a whispering southerly–forecast to strengthen throughout the day. Barely making 2 knots we took several long beats down to l’Ampolla, quickly looking into the harbour mouth before gybing and heading east for El Port del Fangar.

A large flat expanse of water protected by a great, low sandy spit on the north of the Ebro delta,
el Fangar was a place I’d been longing to visit with OB, considering it exactly the sort of sheltered water for which the Light Trow had been designed. And so it proved. We spent a fantastic few hours cruising about on all points of sail, going wherever we pleased, weaving among the mussel beds in the growing wind. I discovered that OB can take a lot more breeze if the water is flat, though when powered up and sailing off the wind the tiller becomes very heavy indicating that I might still have too large a rudder. At one point we ran aground, Onawind Blue’s clearly defined shadow on the soft sandy bottom alerting me to the shallow depth just seconds before the centreboard touched and OB turned head to wind in a mighty flap. I raised the board clear, the sand had been cotton-soft and we’d sustained no damage. Soon I got wise to the changing bottom and we sped on, occasionally at 6 or 7 knots and sometimes skidding diagonally in thin water with the centreboard raised.

Sailing on flat water, note the duct tape boot on the mast.

Then I spotted what I’d been looking for, one of the traditional boats that used to ply these waters. I’m convinced these craft are similar to the Fleet Trow, which inspired Gavin’s Light Trow. I’ve only ever seen one close up and that after wading half an hour through mud and weed without a camera to discover the boat in an advanced stage of decay. I remembered a slender, though heavily built craft, about 16 feet long, with a plumb bow, a narrow, raked transom, some half decking and a flat bottom with minimal rocker.

This present example was in shallow water and to windward. Centreboard-less I sat hard on the stern hoping to dig the skeg in more deeply and gain some lateral resistance but then we ran into weed and slowed to a stop as the rudder became ensnared. I raised it and tried to row into clearer water but with the first pull the oar became impossibly tangled in long green locks of mermaid's hair.

There was nothing for it but to back the mainsail and let the wind push us round then glide away downwind, the old boat annoyingly out of reach. Of course the shallow draft boats of the delta were propelled with quants and as such weed would not have been a problem. But luckily some snapper had been here before me and taken this photo. I put a reef in the sails, we’d been sailing over-powered for a while, and sped off to round el Fangar lighthouse and so on to Riumar.

I stopped for a quick lunch in inch thick water and got going again on the increasing breeze. Soon dramatically over-pressed, I stopped to shorten sail, anxiously aware that even double reefed the conditions would be challenging. We were in flat water in the lee of low land—no more than desolate dunes, and the sand laden breeze came brisker than we’d ever seen. 25 knots at least.

Lunch with a windsurfer.

Sandy wind coming off the land under the Fangar light.

Our destination lay slightly upwind and I trimmed to pinch. At one point, after a particularly savage gust had pressed on us relentlessly until we luffed and sat with loosened sheets and the sails shrilly flapping, I considered striking the mainsail and rigging the mizzen on the fore mast. Had there been more of a sea running I would have taken this option but I saw that safe sailing lay in staying close to the land and beat in keeping as near to the wind as I could.

It was long sail down to Riumar and after a while I became more accustomed to the conditions. We weren’t going to capsize on this point of sail, though at times it felt like it, and I was learning that OB could go further onto her beam before getting into trouble. As my confidence grew I bore away in the lulls until we were sailing close hauled and touching five knots. But it was a wet, wet sail despite the flat water, the short chop boarding with ease over the windward bow.

And so the afternoon wore on, the breeze holding steady and OB and I lapping up the challenging sailing until at last in the evening we reached Riumar soaked and cold but thirsting for beer all the same having covered 35 nautical miles at an average of 4.5 knots, and the first couple of hours spent trickling along at 2 knots.

Drying out in the evening calm at Riumar

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