Fairwinds Goes South . . .
Adventures in a small boat on a big sea

Albin Vega 27
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Waking up in Spain and realising that we can now relax for a bit . . . we told all those people we were going to sail across the Bay of Biscay, but we had never spent more than a night at sea on Fairwinds before. Well, we did it and it wasn't even too scary . . .

Suddenly too there are all these other yachties who speak to you . . . a little expat community all doing the same thing, with different boats but similar mindsets. Now it's time to chill out for a bit and really unwind from all that pre-departure stress.

Kathy makes a friend
Kathy with one of the locals

Thurs 24th August - La Coruna

Fixed the starboard side settee back with glue and panel pins, then off to wander round this dramatic city. VIsited an art gallery where the most spectacular exhibit was the building itself - all overhanging chrome and steel with glass lifts up the outside. Went to a supermarket and did some shopping, then discovered the Maestro card wouldn't work - but luckily we just had enough cash. Bart later told us that this seems to be quite normal - the swipe machines in supermarkets here often can't read newer cards for some reason.

Staggered back to the boat with rucksacks laden with beer and food . . . had a drink on board Orca (Bart's yacht) then went back to start cooking tea (meatballs we had bought). While it was simmering we ended up on board Achievement, a massively constructed Spray-based motor sailor from Wales with an itinerant crew of three just in from the Azores. We gave them a present of some Welsh cheese we had on board.

Apres meatballs David and Kathy from Roamer came on board Fairwinds, and we drank and talked into the small hours. Kathy and I were drinking vino tinto out of litre cartons at 53 cents a litre . . . surprisingly nice too.

Fri 25th August - La Coruna

Suffering from some form of food poisoning all day - will never look a meatball in the eye again. Still managed to stagger out of my bunk and go for a wander in the afternoon. We eventually found a bookshop and got a small dictionary, then wandered over to the huge beach on the North side of the city. (La Coruna is built on a peninsular, with the sea on three sides). Ice creams and then a (very crowded) tram ride back to the marina.

Went out in the evening to see a classical concert - full orchestra - on the open air stage in the square. An Imodium and so to bed.

Sat 26th August - La Coruna

Woke up feeling much better. Bart came over looking for an M10 nut and 17mm socket to fix his Windpilot - a massively over-engineered piece of kit compared to the apparent flimsiness of the Navik - typifying, Bart reckoned, the difference between the Fench and German approaches to engineering.

Wandered around the city and watched a lunatic motorcyclist performing stunts in the main street. There is a huge motorcycle rally on here at the moment.

La Coruna Waterfront
La Coruna Waterfront

In the evening we went out for a meal - parillada de pescados, a big plate of cod, hake, sole and squid with salad and potatoes. The streets were absolutely mobbed at midnight, and we sat at a pavement cafe watching the world go by until after one o'clock.

Sun 27th August - La Coruna

Tried to get online at a WiFi hotspot in a nearby cafe and failed - connected, but no internet connection - failure by the network to allocate an IP address or something along those lines. Recorded the problem and decide to e-mail the expedition's WiFi advisor, the Laird of Drumtochty.

So - I now needed to top up the Spanish Vodaphone SIM. Tried online at the marina office - it appeared I coldn;t top up with a credit or debit card until I'd doneikt via a hole in the wall. Tried several HITW with no success. Tried phoning - but my Spanish was not up to it. Project postponed until tomorrow, when the Vodaphone shop will be open. Planning to move on from here Tuesday, weather permitting - time to look at some charts.

Mon 28th August - La Coruna

'Roamer of Carrickfergus' left this morning at 10 o'clock. We need to get gas and do a few other things then head out of here early tomorrow - probably for Ria de Corme, about 35 miles SW of here.

Finally managed to get my phone topped up at a Vodaphone shop . . . not easy, and mobile phones seem to be the one thing that is not cheaper than the UK - looks like a totally sewn up scene worldwide, the bastards - I hate mobile phones, the most unnecessary narcissistic masturbatory pieceo of technology ever foisted on an unsuspecting public.

Met Joe off 'Ruddles' - a sad story. Everything sold to buy the boat, total commitment, then something happened half way across Biscay. Joe had a minor stroke - although he didn't realise it immediately - and life became weird. They have been in La Coruna since last October, and Joe has just come out of hospital after a month. Finally his own (he is an ex-paramedic) diagnosis was confirmed. They are going to spend a second winter in La Coruna then leave in the Spring for S. America and the Pacific via the Straits of Magellan - I hope they do, but they have definitely had the stuffing knocked out of them a bit. They know where to find everything in La Coruna . . . wish we had met them sooner, we leave tomorrow. Joe found four perfect replacement scres for the leaking trim attachment screws on the starboard cabin side.

Kathy made paella with tinned mussels and scallops (suoer-cheap here) and we had a relatively early night.

Tues 29th August - La Coruna - La Corme (36nm)

Well, we actually got away at ten o' clock . . .

Very little wind, and the little there was less than 30 degrees off our track, so we motored all the way with the main barely drawing. Anchored in 11 metres well away from the only other boat there, a French yacht . . . took several attempts to get the Spade to set in hard sand, but eventually it held at 2000 rpm . . . then in comes a jolly old Blue Ensign . . . and would you believe it, only three boats in a huge anchorage and we are going to have to think about putting out fenders. I would rather see a skull and crossbones bearing down on me than a jolly old blue ensign what?? Actually, he was having trouble with his main and was probably distracted while anchoring, and he did move when he realised how close to us he was. I thikn the bottom is very rocky in parts - certainly felt like the Spade was bouncing over pavement when we were tryng to get it to set. It will be interesting to see how well it sets in hard sand when we get somewhere we can actually see it / swim down to it.

Had a wander round Corme - very traditional, tiny winding streets with houses of every shape and size strewn around seemingly randomly. Planners in Galicia definitley have a more laid back attitude than they do in Argyll. Went back to the boat to eat then ashore for another free concert - some sort of Abba types, not too bad but I wouldn;t have paid to see them. It didn't start until well after eleven. I am not sure how the Spanish economy functions - no-one seems to go to bed until the small hours of the morning. Got back at half past one and thte music was still going strong.

Weds 30th August - La Corme - Camarinas (20nm)

Off at ten o'clock again, feeling somewhat the worse for wear. Full main and genoa, but not enough wind to stop the sails slatting so motor-sailed a bit, then finally got sailing down towards Cape Villano. As we began to navigate our way past the various dangers into the Ria using C-Map the wind got up to a robust F6, and was fairly howling by the time we got the main down. We managed to come alongside in the marina at Camarinas without incident however, and were soon drinking beers with Bruce and Alison, a South African couple from Hartlepool oon their way back to Africa in a big steel boat with a Jack Russel and a Staffie.

Carne and some kind of potato tart for tea at a tapas bar up the street, then onto Clive's Albin Ballad 'Portia' moored on the next finger. He's taking her down to Gibralter in stages, leaving tomorrow for Vigo then flying back to the UK from there. Portia is in beautiful condition - absolutely immaculate.

Finished up on 'Kath', Bruce and Alison's boat, for bullsit, beers and chorizo.

Thurs 31st August - Camarinas

Lazy, sunny day. Orca arrived 18.30, had a beer with Bart. Wandered around the town. Watched the fish. Went out for tapas and beers with Bart, Bruce and Alison, then back to the yacht club for more beers. Discovered Bruce had been the infamous Das Boot on Scuttlebutt, so posted a thread (the club has internet access) asking if anyone remembered him. To Bruce's astonishment there were five replies within ten minutes, including a picture of his boat.

Fri 1st September - Camarinas

Still here as a SW was forecast. It didn't happen though. Started making a surround for the Silva compass - Bart lent me a jigsaw. Now I need to make some sort of arch over the hatchway to mount it . . . that might have to wait a while though. Downloaded the camera and got some pictures ready to upload to the Gallery and did the new BlueMoment calendar for September while Kathy went to the supermercado, then after lunch we went across the ria with Bart and Alison and Bruce in their dinghy (a mini-rib) for a few bears on a quiet beach and a first snorkel.

Apparently there is a fiesta on here today, so the town might be quite lively tonight.

Beers on the beach across the ria
Bruce, Alison, Bart and Kathy

Sat 2nd September - Camarinas

Lazy day in Camarinas after a late night last night - we watched two bands and got back to the boat at tow. The music from SL Americal was still going strong when we fell asleep at three.

Did a couple of double braid eye splices in what will be the bridle for our series drogue. Drank beers and spoke rubbish on the pontoon in hot sunshine. Kathy caught a small black bream off the pontoon and Bruce gave us a couple he caught, so we had them for tea - delicious. (Caught with a mussel on a plain hook). Bruce and Alison came on board for a couple of beers, then a relatively early night (i.e. in bed at midnight).

Sun 3rd September - Camarinas - Muros (52nm)

Left just before ten and by the time we got to our first waypoint at the end of the ria we were in thick fog. By the time we were half way to our second waypoint off Cabo Torinana visibility was down to well under 100m and we decided to retrace our steps back to Camarinas rather than spend a day blind off the Costa del Morte going round Finisterre. Had a couple of scary close encounters with trawlers coming back into Camarinas, and by now the fog was so thick we didn't see the breakwater until we were almost at it. Just as we saw the breakwater we got a call from Yacht Kathy (Alison and Bruce) to ask if we were still in fog - they had passed us without seeing us and were half way to Torinana.

We had the warps and fenders all ready to go back into the marina, but the fog suddenly seemed to be retreating down the ria and out to sea. Dithered about for ages and had lunch, then finally decided to make another attempt at quarter to two.

Round about Cabo Torinana the fog came back, but it was that sunny fog that only goes up as far as the crosstrees, so it wasn't so scary. By Finisterre it had completely cleared, and a decent breeze sprung up so we could stop motor sailing and surf downwind under genoa in the fresh Northerly, which gradually built to 25 knots as we rushed down the inshore passage known as the Canal de Mexiodes at six and a half knots.

Anchored in Muros at half past eight, only half an hour after Kath. Weedy rubbish-strewn anchorage right in town, but the holding seemed good. Dinghied ashore for raciones and canas.

Mon 4th September - Muros - Enseinada de San Francisco (4nm)

Went ashore in the morning for a wander around Muros - lots of quaint narrow twisting streets, old churches etc - very picturesque in parts. Went into one church where you could put ten cents into a slot and light an electronic candle. Got beer and other useful stuff at the supermercado, back to the boat for lunch then upped anchor and sailed around to anchor off the beach at Enseinada de San Francisco, a beautiful beach we had noticed on the way in yesterday. Yacht Kath was already at anchor when we arrived. I swam ashore and Kathy dinghied in. Wandered up and down the beach then had a couple of beers at a beachside cerveceria - then a couple more when Bruce and Alison appeared from a shopping expedition. Swam back to the boat for chicken curry - made by Kathy from real chicken. Anchorage a bit rolly, but we can't be bothered going back to Muros - easy enough to up anchor and find our way back there if it does blow up from the SW (which would leave this anchorage very exposed).

Tues 5th September - Ria Muros - Ria Arosa (31nm)

Left at midday with a view to sailing down to the bottom of Ria Arosa and then spending Wednesday exploring the Ria, ending up in the marina at Villagarcia so we can use the 'passport' we got in La Coruna (10% off berthing fees) - plus we fancy taking a bus or train inland to Santiago de Compostela on Thursday.

Had to motor for a couple of hours. We took the inshore route, rock-dodging using the GPS and binoculars. You can see why this is known as the Costa del Morte - dangerous unmarked rocks way offshore everywhere, plus really shallow banks where the Atlantic swell breaks. Anyway, we chickened out of using one of the Northern channels into the Ria, and went round the bottom of Isla Salvadore. As we turned up into the Ria the teatime Northerly blew up and we were soon reaching up the Ria at 6.5 knots, abandoning our original tentative plan of anchoring off Salvadore's E. coast . . . we were now heading for an anchorage somewhere on the N. shore where we could find some shelter. An hour later the wind went round to the SW, still blowing as hard, necessitating a change of plan, so we headed for Isla de Arosa on another fantastic broad reach in smooth water and anchored off the NW corner in an attractive small bay with a beautiful and obviously popular beach. Over 1000 miles now clocked up since leaving Balvicar, with 88 hours on the new engine.

Weds 6th September - St. Martin - Vilagarcia (scenic route - 14nm)

Very foggy in the morning so hung around reading books and generally chilling out. Kathy tried fishing, but with no success. The fog lifted a bit after midday, but it was too cold to go swimming. At two o'clock we got the anchor and went for a tour of the ria. We had a good sail under headsail across to Carminal. On the way the fog cleared a bit and we could see Carminal and trhe surrounding beachwes, but as we headed back across the ria it came down again, and much of the afternoon was spent threading our way thourgh an eerie landscape of endless viveros (mussel rafts) in the mist.

By six o'clock we had seen enough mussel rafts, so we headed for Vilagarcia and tied up on the visitors pontoon at about seven next to a huge Wharram cat. The woman in the office had obviously been about to go home, and gave us a hard time for not calling up on the VHF - although I think she would just have told us they were full up if we had. The guy though was very helpful and found us a berth - alleedly the only one - after we explained in our only mutual language, French, that we would prefer not to stay on the visitors pontoon and roll madly all night. It was our first med mooring - pick up a line from the pontoon which is connected to anchor lines at the back, while simultaneously connecting two bow lines to the pontoon. We had it easy for our first attempt - a willing helper, no wind and a well fendered boat either side - and it all went very smoothly.

Ate out again - it;s just so cheap it seems a shame not to. Total bill for both of us E15 including two large beers. The marina is very reasonable too - less than E8 a night for us, with excellent free showers and good security. It is mostly full of locals though, with probably a majority of mobos.

Thurs 7th September - Santiago de Compostela (by train)

Took the train from Vilagarcia to Santiago de Compostela today. The city is centred round an enormous ancient cathedral holding the shrine of St. James, and has been a place of pilgrimage for over a thousand years. The number of churches is incredible, the architecture spectacujlar - all built with money given by the pilgrims no doubt - and the place is definitely well worth a visit if you are in the area. It is also the seat of the Galician parliament. Bought a twenty cent postcard for 60 cents at the plaza at the back of the cathedral - so they are still ripping off the pilgrims. Lunch on the other hand was a bargain at nine euros each for three courses plus beer and coffee.

On the way back on the train we saw two 'water bomber' firefighting planes scooping up water from the river to drop on the nearby burning forests. Everywhere here and in the previous two rias we can see patches or whole hillsides of burnt forest. We met a fellow Brit on the train who told us that a lot of the fire is arson by some Galician liberation movement, who have vowed to keep burning their own country until they get what they want. I have no idea how much truth there is in this, but it is disturbing to see so many dead trees. Today you could smell the smoke hanging in the air.

Fri 8th September - Vilagarcia - Eugenia de Riveira (Non-scenic route - 24nm)

Left the marina at one o'clock - still a few fogbanks hanging around, but mostly clear until we got to the mouth of the ria at the Peninsula de Grove. Unable to see our proposed destination, Isla Ons, but carried on until we were in thick fog. Turned round and headed back for Eugenia as the nearest safe anchorage. The fog was worse inside the ria than when we had left, and visibility remained below a quarter of a mile until we were within about a mile of Eugenia. Anchored off the beach. A small fisheries protection launch mysteriously chugged up and down until quite late on, but otherwise a fairly tranquil anchorage.

Sat 9th September - Eugenia de Riveira - Combarro via Isla Ons (24nm)

When we woke inteh morning we couldn;t see the beach or the other yachts anchored beside us. The fog cleared about one o'clock and we got the anchor and motored out towards Isla Ons again. After just over an hour the wind picked up and we enjoyed a broad reach under all plain sail out towards Isla Ons in improving visibility. As we ran down the East coast of the island past the anchorage off the beach the wind picked up to a gusty F6, and allthough it was an offshore wind we decided to forgo anchoring there and instead instigated plan B, which was to head up the Ria Pontevedra all the way to the top to Combarro, a place that had a good write-up as an interesting place to visit.

Needless to say, by the time we were three miles away from the island the wind had dropped enough to necessitate motor-sailing, but by five o'clock we were half way up the ria and the wind picked up again, so we sailed the last six miles. By the time we got to Combarro it was blowing 15-20 knots from the SW< making it a very exposed anchorage, but we decided to wait a while and see how things developed. By half past seven the wind had veered and dropped to 12 knots, so we blew the dinghy up and went ashore.

The town is fascinating, tiny narrow streets running randomly, horreos (stone grain stores on stilts) everywhere, views down narrow passages out over the ria - and a plethora of small shops, bars and restaurants all competing for the tourist Euro. We chose a table down by the waterfront and had mussels with local peppers done Galician style, followed by tortilla. I had expected them to bring the tortilla at the same time as the merrilones (mussels) - but that didn,t happen. We have almost got the hang of eating out Spanish style, but I don't think we are quite there yet. Anyway, a very pleasant meal was made, washed down with the local ribeiro tinto. As it got dark the previously uninspiring view of the factory across the ria turned into a vision of Mordor as the tower of one of the factories switched on huge festoons of red lights covering most of the structure in a bizarre rose pattern, satanically wreathed in steam from the various tall chimneys.

By the time we got back to the dinghy it was low water, and we had to manoevre the dinghy past half a dozen women sitting on stools at the bottom of the slipway fishing with luminous lures. Kathy asked them what they were catching, and we were shown a carrier bag full of small squid or chipirones. While we sat in the cockpit enjoying a nightcap the (exceptionally high/low) tide bottomed out at 1.4m under the keel - and us with 33m of chain out and no wind. We slept soundly, but I regretted my extravagance in the morning when I had to clean the stinking mud off 30m of chain. A call of nature at two thirty revealed one lone squid fisher still stationed on the end of the slipway.

Sun 10th September - Combarro - Islas Cies (16nm)

Almost low water when we left Combarro at ten thirty . . . and the anchor chain was covered in the foulest, thickest black mud. Threw buckets of water over the first twenty metres of it, then piled the remaining chain and the anchor in a suppurating heap on the deck and motored out towards deeper water. It was a mile before the echo sounder showed more than four metres under the keel, and once in twenty metres I chucked most of the chain back out, bucketed the decks liberally then hauled it back in again. A couple of miles down the ria I decided randomly to check the bilge, and was alarmed to find it full almost to cabin sole level, but after pumping no more came in - it must have been all those buckets I chucked over the chain finding its way down into the anchor locker. We really must get a sensible windlass cover.

After some good sailing yesterday it was a bit disappointing to have to motor all the way, but it wasn't too far and by half past two we were anchored in the busy anchorage off Playa de Rodas, Islas Cies. A large yacht from Troon sporting a blue ensign came past and patronised us somewhat by telling us we had done 'jolly well' when we replied to their questioning that yes, we were a Scottish boat, from Oban.

This really is a gorgeous spot, but when we went ashore after a spot of lunch the (irritating) fog began to swirl through the gap between the two islands, curtailing thoughts of swimming or walking up to the lighthouse. Eventually I did have a brief dip in the surprisingly cold water - not more than a couple of degrees warmer than the waters off Seil at this time of year - but Kathy declined. Later we walked round to the campsite (the islands are a national park, with very few inhabitants but a lot of trippers and campers shipped in in giant catamarans) and I left Kathy to have a beer while I walked up the path to the lighthouse. It was an excellent walk, and would have been even better if I had enjoyed the views on the way up, but it was foggy most of the way. Although I emerged into sunshine at the light itself there was nothing to see, just the sound of the Atlantic on three sides breaking on the unseen rocks far below me. It is a walk I would like to do again sometime.

Thick fog when we rowed back out in the dinghy - you couldn't see the boat from the beach.

Mon 11th September - Islas Cies - Bayona (7nm)

To misquote Dylan Thomas, it is my fifty-fourth year to heaven . . . and with a light drizzle and temperature in the mid sixties we could be back home. No wind to speak of, so motored to Bayona . . . bravely going through the Canal de la Porta on a low and falling tide with a couple of nervous 3m moments (under engine we can still only see the depth accurately when motoring slow ahead - any faster and the numbers are meaningless. I suppose that is a safety feature though - it would be worse if we could only see the depth when motoring flat out. We might try re-routing the transducer cable - but then again we might just continue to live with it).

Directed to the Transit pontoon, where regular rolling and banging caused by passing fishing boats ignoring the 3knot speed limit by a factor of several is to be expected. Bruce and Alison off Kath are here, as is Bart on Orca. This is an expensive marina compared to others, although not bad if you are only 8m (as Fairwinds now is for marina purposes - no point in mentioning the other .23m, it's just boasting). Rumours of WiFi access are greatly exaggerated, so it's off to the internet cafe with the laptop.

We've booked in for a couple of nights here, then that's it for Spain - off South for our first Portuguese landfall. Total mileage so far 1101 miles from Seil Sound.

Tues 12th September - Bayona

Washed, cleaned dried and ready to go tomorrow - although the weather isn't going to be ideal - winds from the SW or S, right where we want to go, but light - so we'll just motor down the coast a bit to Vianho de Castella, the first port in Portugal.

Weds 13th September - Bayona - Bayona (31nm)

Set off just after 11 o'clock into a South-Easterly which rapidly picked up to over 20 knots - so much for the forecast. Put two reefs in the main and we were able to motor-sail reasonably comfortably only 20 degrees off our course of due S. The seas were growing all the time though, short steep little walls regularly sending sheets of solid water across the decks. It started to rain and the Musto jacket was dug out and pressed into service. Then it rained harder, and the Musto bottoms were donned. The windspeed continued to increase slowly, and we agreed that if it reached a steady 30 knots across the deck we would turn round and run back to Bayona. By quarter to three we were a couple of miles or so North of the Portuguese border, but the boat was now beginning to resemble a submarine for a substantial portion of the time and the wind was a steady 30+ knots over the deck, which with a boat speed of just four knots meant the top end of a F6. We turned the boat round and began to run back to Bayona at 6 knots under double-reefed main and no foresail.

Our sail plan worked well for an hour or so, and we had a pleasant enough high speed run - I stayed on the helm in torrential rain with the washboards in while Kathy made sandwiches down below. By now I was drenched and wearing my Henri Lloyd Ocean jacket, which I had definitely not expected to have to dig out again - but then the rain eased and Kathy took the helm while I dried off below. Back to within a couple of miles of the headland off Bayona the rain had stopped - but the seas were getting really big and steep and the wind was now a constant F7 with stronger gusts. We really needed to take the main down and run under a scrap of headsail, which would have given us a lot more control - but the thought of turning the boat head to wind in those seas then wrestling with the main on the bucking coachroof did not appeal, so we decided to hang on for the last couple of miles.

Heading back to Bayona
Kathy on the helm on
the run back to Bayona

The wind now shifted slightly, meaning we had to gybe to clear the N. Cardinal off Cabo Silleiro - not an enticing prospect, so we went right round the other way and tacked. The seas were so steep that even though we started the manoevre doing seven knots the boat stalled in irons . . . but slowly paid off on the other tack eventually. When I gybed back I started the engine to help get her head round - by this time the headland was having the usual effect headlands do on waves, which were even steeper and more confused. Of course, we gybed back too soon, so had to repeat the manoevre twice more, each time with increasing difficulty. On the final approach to the point I was sufficiently concerned about the possiblility of a serious broach that I got Kathy to assist me into my harness from the companionway while I clung on to the tiller and clipped on. Finally we rounded the mark and could come up into wind a bit and reach across into calmer water.

When we rounded the breakwater the whole marina was rocking in 35 knot gusts. We tied up in the same spot and went for a wander along the pontoon to exchange experiences. Several other boats had also left and turned back, generally a bit sooner than us. All rated the conditions as thoroughly unpleasant on the way down, with an exhilarating run back. I made a vow that next time in similar circumstances I would definitely get the main down before we turned for the dead run back.

Invited for drinks on board a 50 ton Dutch gaffer, then for roast chicken and more drinking on board Kath. Paul and Gerry from the Irish boat Noble Warrior came on board and told interesting tales as a bottle of VAT69 was quaffed (amongst other refreshments). Very late to bed.

Thurs 14th September - Bayona

Up at quarter to eight, a bit rocky but ready to go. Downloaded Corsen from the Navtex - wind sounded OK, F4 - F6 NW, but the swell was predicted at 4m. Decided to wait and get more forecasts when the marina office opened at ten. Daniel told me his forecast was for the same winds, with sea state between agite and fort - which I think corresponds to our 'rough to very rough'. You could hear the surf breaking heavily the other side of the peninsular the fort here stands on. The ten o'clock printouts from the office confirmed the swell height at four metres or more, which could make the entrances to Vianho or Povra de Vadim difficult. Although there was no wind in the marina we could see lines of foam from the surf outside drifting past the end of the breakwater, and a definite scend was making all the boats snatch and tug at their lines.

Shortly afterwards Noble Warrior came back in and reported huge seas and not enought wind to sail, so the decision was made - another day in Bayona. We need to get South - it's getting bit autumnal here.

Next - Portugal