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The North West corner of Spain (between Ribadeo and Bayona), is Galicia, a wonderful cruising ground (8/10) comprising about 180nm of granite coastline deeply indented with steep sided ‘Rias’, each just a day sail from the next. There is lots of sheltered sailing with good beaches, many anchorages, some interesting pilotage. Yacht support is good, with enough marinas, and some good layup and live aboard locations. Allow four weeks for a good explore. There are year round scheduled flights from Santiago do Compostela, easily accessible from anywhere in the area, while Vueling (low cost Spanish airline) flies London Heathrow to Vigo and A Coruña.
Unmarked rocks and shoals lie up to 4nm offshore in the more westerly rias, and northerly summer winds in the west are often strong. Swell from distant heavy weather creates breaking seas over many banks, some 10m or more deep. Landfalls and coastal navigation must therefore be planned, especially bearing in mind that low cloud and poor visibility are quite frequent (10%) in summer. The whole area is dense with fishing floats and crab pot markers. Areas are set aside within many rias for mussel rafts. These are mostly unlit, so stay in the fairways at night.
It is reasonable to work north against the strong winds by making relatively short passages from Ria to Ria, departing early in the morning. Hence, a good cruise pattern for a summer month would be to landfall in the NE, potter round to A Coruña, take a long hop to Bayona, then work north in a series of short hops from Ria to Ria until setting off back north. Different, of course, if your destination is further south, or you're laying up in the region. Each of the Rias offers a variety of anchorages, harbours, marinas and places to visit. This page gives a thumbnail sketch of each ria in turn, noting some of the highlights, traveling west along the Rias Altas, then south through the Rias Bajas.
The Rias north of Finisterre (Altas) are generally easy to approach from the sea, but quieter and less developed than the more southern Rias Baias; fishermen's ports, rather than yachting ports. They're less affected by the Portuguese trade winds, but receive more rainfall.
Ribadeo. 3/10. More a shallow river mouth than a ria. Can be entered in all but N storms by keeping to leading lines (both lit). The Ria is mostly shallow sand banks. Tie alongside in the well-sheltered harbour of Ribadeo town, which has its own faded beauty once you bypass the modern blocks. Cheap berths, with a good Italian restaurant near the marina office.
Puerto San Ciprian. 2/10. A large harbour (1km square), safe to enter in all weathers. The east quay handles bulk aluminium ores, with industrial plant to the south. Nice beach to the west and three anchoring zones. Exposed to NE swell.
Ría de Viviero. 6/10. A quiet, attractive ria with an easy entrance, exposed to the north. Several light weather anchorages and a sheltered deep-water fishing port at Cillero. Or, much better, go to the good value full service marina up the river at Viviero (hard, suitable for wintering). Good nearby shopping, handy supermarket, and an attractive old town (7/10) with narrow streets hidden behind the rather grotty (mostly destroyed) city walls. Good bars and restaurants in the old city.
Ría del Barquero. 5/10. Easy entrance to attractive, quiet ria with several small beaches. Anchor off beaches, or the village of Puerto de Bares. High water access to Puerto Barquera.
Ensenada de Santa Marta. 4/10. Wide bay, easily entered. Good landfall after crossing Biscay. Anchor off Ensenada de Espasante (on the E), or tie alongside a pontoon in Cariño (an unattractive fishing and commercial port with canning factories). Consider taking a pilot to Santa Marta de Ortiguera, a lovely river trip.
Cedeira. 7/10. An attractive ria with lovely beaches, easy access in any weather, and a fairly crowded but well sheltered anchorage. When there's not a big swell, best anchoring is beyond the main mooring area, at the south end of the main town beach. Holiday town, busy in season. Excellent first landfall after crossing Biscay. Get into the rhythm of Spain at Kilowatio, an excellent little tapas bar on the north side of the anchorage, and sample Spanish seafood at 'Las Brisas', a little further east. A 350 berth marina has been planned for some time - watch this space.
Ría de El Ferrol 4/10. Attractive Ria, sadly dominated by busy naval base. Moor alongside in commercial harbour, or several pleasant anchorages, subject to naval tolerance. Close to A Coruña.
Ría de Betanzos y Ares 6/10. Easy entrances, part of large sailing area around A Coruña. Many beaches, also many anchorages in both Rias off small towns and fishing harbours. Choose one to suit the winds. Sada marina is good and modern with a boatyard and chandlery, reasonably priced. Also a smaller marina in Ares.
Ría de A Coruña 9/10. Easy entry; keep to west entrance leading marks to avoid breakers in strong onshore winds. Big commercial port, also centre of a large sailing area. Fascinating town and favoured port of call for yachts on passage. Spacious anchoring area behind breakwater east of the very conspicuous port office towers (10–15m but patches of foul ground). Marina Coruña is close to the root of the main breakwater, with a fueling berth. Further in, near the centre of town, is Darsena de Marina - the old fishing port, centered around the grand 'Old Yacht Club' a magnificently snooty place (dress well to enter!). Very good yacht support in the area, with a comprehensive service at Marina Seca in the south of the Ria, including an under cover boatyard. Chandlers in town. Quieter anchorages off beaches to east and south of the main harbour.
A Coruña is a superb old Galician City. Spend at least three nights here to get the feel of it. Lively markets (a good fish market well into the town). Sit in a café on Maria Pita square in the early evening. Later that night eat in the tapas bars in the streets just west of the Maria Pita, then go east to the old city and whoop it up in the late bars. If that's your thing. Take a long walk around the coastline to the Torre de Hercules, or go by tram if you feel lazy.
Ria de Corme & Laxe 6/10. A quiet and friendly ria. Two small holiday towns with fishing harbours and good beaches. Easy to enter and open to NW. Anchor behind the breakwaters off Corme or Laxe, depending on the winds. Here you're just beginning to feel the stronger NE winds of the Portuguese trades, and more so as you go south.
Ría de Camariñas 6/10. An attractive small ria with two quite busy harbours. Easy to enter. Muxia, on the south side, has marina - Club Nautico de Muxia (in use from 2013 May). Sailboats may find pontoon berths available in Camariñas, more a fishing village. Or anchor behind breakwaters or off one of the many good beaches around the Ria, depending on the winds. In Camariñas, seek out the traditional lacemakers and watch their nimble fingers. If a siren blows, a fishing boat is coming in, and it's a call for the fish sorters, who arrive at the Lonja (fish quay) with their long tables and many trays to unload, sort and ice the catch at any time of day or night. One night at 3am the sixth siren blew - sure enough, a sixth team arrived 15 minutes later as yet another vessel pulled in to the quay. Grandmothers, children, they were all still at it at 7am as the big refridgerated lorries started to turn up. No gaurantees you'll get this entertainment here . . . but you'll bump into it somewhere on these coasts.
The southern Rias (Bajas) are much sunnier, and more popular with Spanish holiday makers and sailors. The area is well connected by rail and bus to Santiago airport, good for a crew change. Visit Santiago de Compostela (9/10), a wonderful old granite pilgrimage city, proud of its high rainfall.
Pilotage. The Rias Bayas are sheltered by rocky archipelagos, interesting for rock dodgers. Small tidal ranges and weak streams mean that pilotage is not too demanding. South of Finisterre, strong northerly winds (part of the Portuguese trade winds) blow in summer. These locally reach gale force in the afternoons - channelled down valleys or accelerated over ridges. The Bajas are well served with marinas, not all recorded in pilot books. Large grids of mussel rafts are common. It's OK to weave through these, but they're not lit at night.
Offshore Islands 9/10. These include the lovely remote islands of Islas Cies and Islas Ons. No anchoring. Apply a week ahead to use buoys through the links on the National Parks web site. Well worth it.
Ría de Corcubión/Finisterre 4/10. The wide bay behind cape Finisterre contains several anchorages, although in northerlies, it can be very windy. Anchor well into the shore for shelter. Open to the south. Worth exploring in settled weather. A large-scale chart should be used to avoid unmarked rocky plateaux and shallows. Finisterre breakwater provides limited shelter in southerlies.
Ría de Muros 7/10. 4nm wide and 7nm long this is a larger ria — a mini cruising area. Unmarked rocks and shoals lie off the coasts and there are mussel rafts in some bays. There are anchorages off several villages or towns. There's a good full service marina and yard at Portosin, run by the yacht club, whose very good restaurant upstairs is worth a visit. This is a quiet place to leave the boat for a period. Portosin itself is a tiny resort with a good beach. Muros (8/10) is a complete contrast, a lively old town, with some lovely buildings, good restaurants, and nice atmosphere. Just east of the old fishing port is a marina with lift and hard, sheltered from the north by a wave break, a little cheaper than Portosin but with limited facilities. The anchorage off the town is rather deep. Big stones have trapped some anchors. Not very comfy in stronger winds.
Ria de Arosa. 8/10. 8nm wide and 15nm long this is the largest of the rias and an interesting cruising ground. There are dangerous unmarked rocks 3nm off coast en route to Ria de Arosa from Muros. And plenty of reefs and passages to test seasoned rock dodgers who want to take a short cut in from the north. The main fairway is straightforward and well marked, easy to enter day and night under sail. But at night make sure you've worked out your safety bearings to avoid the large farms of unlit mussel rafts! Off the fairway there are several rocky channels to pilot, leading to lovely island anchorages. It's easy to spend a week or more here with so many anchorages, beaches, islands and small towns. The Ria is well served with marinas and pontoons. Vilagarcia marina serves the principal town, which has a convenient rail station. It's a work-a-day place with a good neighouring yard suitable for winter layup ashore.
Ría de Pontevedra. 7/10. An easily entered ria whose north shore is busy with holiday resorts. There is a marina at Aguete on south shore. In settled weather try the quiet anchorage off the beach at Islas Ons, which shelters the ria. Combarro marina (9/10, in spite of the crowds) is a great visit for the nearby extraordinary old town full of Horreos (granaries on stilts, suggesting a past rat problem). The place is very busy with (Spanish) tourists. On the coast side of the main walking circuit around the town is a tiny café/tapas bar dug into rock. Hunt it down. It serves ham, cheese, and barrel wine out of great saucers. Sit here and watch the crowds flit through — a wonderful education in local social habits.
Ría de Vigo (6/10) is an easily entered ria with many marinas, dominated by Vigo city, large and lively with good shipyards. Astillero Lagos is often recommended for wintering and repairs.The Islas Cies (controlled access - 9/10 for peace and quiet - posidonia reserve) shelter the Ria.
Bayona (9/10) just to the south of Ria de Vigo, is a much praised shore run, a lovely old town, favourite with voyaging yachtsmen. The Yacht Club has moorings, pontoons and a very good club house under the old Parador Hotel. It's not always easy to get a berth here. The Parador is well worth a visit; they do a fine gourmet meal at a reasonable price. Puerto Deportivo Marina (just SE of the yacht club) is expensive for the area, but has good shore hards. There's loads of anchoring space around the marinas (no charge)..
Portugal comes next. Don't forget to put your clocks back to English time as you cross the border; Portugal is GMT, or GMT + 1 for summer.
It's quite a short hop to pretty Viana do Costelo, which has some of the characteristics of many rias, but a completely different culture. If you have time . . . see the West Portugal page.
Reviewed Oct 2016