We enjoyed A Coruña, Spain, and were well taken care of there. We are members of the Ocean Cruising Club, a sort of floating yacht club, complete with its own burgee. There are “Port Captains” for the OCC scattered around the world, and they have been a great help to us in dealing with the logistical challenges sometimes faced when coming to a new port or country. In A Coruña, the Port Captain is Antón Pellejero.
Antón came to boat the first morning after our arrival, and thereafter took wonderful care of us, including ensuring that all of our immigration and customs concerns were addressed.
We left A Coruña on Oct 8, and did an overnight sail to Baiona, about 100 miles down the Spanish coast. The day part of the sail was good. There was a swell, but there was a great distance between crests. At one point, the spread was hundreds of yards and the period half a minute or so between crests. We couldn’t remember a sea like that before. The perspective over our surroundings was like to what you’d see when doing a leisurely hike over rolling hills and dales. First, you’d be on a crest with a distant and smoothly sloping valley stretching out in front of you, with a clear view to other ships and the Spanish coast on the horizon. You’d then ease down to the lower part of the valley, very slowly, losing sight of everything but a half-mile of valley-like sea. Back up you’d slowly climb, and the world would return. It was not unpleasant.
Other than the dolphins, the night was less fun. Neither the sea nor the wind were a problem, but there were a lot of commercial fishing boats working in close quarters, and their movements had our navigation alarms working overtime. Here’s why:
Our radar alarm sounds if a “target” appears within a certain sector, the size of which we can control. At night-time, we typically “draw” a big doughnut around the boat, with the outer ring being at about 1.5 miles away, and the inner ring being at 0.5 miles. If a ship enters that zone, the alarm sounds. “WAHN, WAHN, WAHN!”
AIS is a little more complex. All commercial boats, and many pleasure vessels, now come equipped with something called an “Automatic Identification System.” It continually broadcasts vessel information via VHF, including location, size, speed, heading, and course. Other boats in the area can receive this transmission, and, via a cable that runs to a chartplotter, can “translate” this information to a ship-like icon that appears on-screen (it’s a triangle, actually), showing the location of the vessel and monitoring its course. The AIS system comes with an alarm too, such that, if we choose, we can be notified anytime a vessel’s course is to take it within, say, one mile of Leander. You can set the alarm to be notified when the offending vessel’s “Closest Point of Approach” is two minutes away or up to 20 minutes away. Given that a vessel just three miles away can close on Leander within about three and a half minutes, we set it at 20 minutes to give us ample time to react. But at 20 minutes, that means our alarm is sometimes sounding before you can even see the ship that might cause the problem.
On this night, the fishing vessels swarmed like bees along the Spanish Coast. They were about 60 feet in length, and were typically dragging nets along the ocean floor. They’d turn this way and that way with their nets. They were, almost without exception, extremely courteous, such that they would make no effort to interfere with our sailing path once they noticed us. But by turning this way and that, even when they were ten miles off, our AIS alarm would say “Hey, that ship is heading right for you!” “Oh, wait, no, he’s not.” “But now that one is! And this one too!” The radar situation was just as bad. You’d pass a ship, and he’d turn around and follow behind you, at about the same speed, for ten miles or so. Or maybe the ship would be off to the side. This led to long periods of fiddling with the alarms and their set up, in addition to keeping an eye on the boats themselves, in case one skipper was actually not paying attention. It was a challenge keeping up.
We have also addressed a stray-current corrosion problem aboard, and others might learn from our efforts. Two years ago, when we sailed from Orkney to Norway, we discovered substantial corrosion at the base of one of the stanchions on deck and an enormous rust stain that ran from that area down the entire length of the boat. I had thought the problem was that the metal part of a passarelle stored on deck had made an electrical connection between the stanchion, which is not grounded, and the chain plate, which is grounded. I moved the passarelle, cleaned up the rust, and the problem did not return.
But the problem DID return on the trip across the Bay of Biscay, in spades.
Once again, we had substantial corrosion and rust lines all along the port side of the boat, but much more significant than before.
The passerelle could no longer be blamed. So we began to try to figure out what was the common denominator between this trip and the one from Orkney to Norway. Eventually, we did.
We don’t use the navigation lights on the bow of the boat, because we put in a mast-head unit when we purchased the boat. But they HAD been turned on during the crossing from Norway and again across the Bay of Biscay. And on both trips, with rough weather and large seas, there was continuously a good amount of sea water on deck.
I got out the multi-meter and was able to track down the problem. Stray current!
One of the running lights at the bow of the ship was grounding itself to the stainless steel bowsprit (what an incredibly stupid design flaw!).
The electrical current is supposed to go down the ground wire to the common earth at the engine. Instead, the current, once in the bowsprit, now began searching to see if there were an easier path to ground. It started on that path by traveling down the stainless steel cored lifelines. The lifelines have a protective white coating on them, but the coating just happened to have chafed through to the wire where it passed through a hole in the stanchion amid ship, close to where the grounded chainplate sits on deck.
And so, Mr. Current, amiably trying to find its way home, simply moved from the lifeline to the stanchion, down onto the deck, across the salt water pooled there, down the chain plate, and thence into the boat’s grounding system.
The electrical current’s trip from the stanchion to the chain plate did not come without event. Amid the pooling and rushing sea water on deck, the metal on the base of the stanchion served as an anode to the chainplate’s cathode, and began to shed surface metal particulate on the surface at an incredibly fast rate. (Both parts are stainless steel, but they are apparently not of the same grade.) There was a remarkable amount of corrosion after just one day. This was not good, but we are thankful that we caught it before it could do any structural damage. Another lesson learned.
We have set up shop at the Monte Real Club de Yates de Baiona. Once again, we have met up with the local OCC Port Captain, here Alfredo Lagos. Alfredo has been the Port Captain in Baiona for more than forty years, and so has hosted his share of sail boats en route to the Caribbean. Sima and I pulled out our best Spanish, and listened to him tell stories of his families boat building outfit, Astilleros Lagos, which has been operating for over a hundred years and has helped outfit the Spanish royal family.
Alfredo too brought us gifts, a sack full of local fruit called feijoas that grows in his yard. They are scrumptious. One could grow to like Spain.