Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Wind, boats, sardines and high kicks & here be dragons

Wind, boats, sardines and high kicks.

The wind was howling not only through our rigging but also everyone else’s making for a fair bit of noise in the marina and we were all getting a bit frustrated with the weather, having thought that summer had finally arrived, to find ourselves sheltering from the rain and stuck in harbour for a week. We shared the visitors’ pontoon with several other boats from Malta, the Netherlands, Germany and France. We also met a couple of Australians who live locally and a British couple stopped off at the pontoon briefly having been anchored out in the bay.

Getxo looking wet

In between rain storms on various days we had a nice walk out to another river which was pleasant, went to a park, admired the waves and visiting cruise ships and found out more about the local history, geography and buildings. Waiting also gave us the chance to spend some time on jobs around the boat, school work and a couple of projects we have underway. Looking through old photos for some children’s books we are working on was strange but it was good to see so many familiar faces of friends and family and relive old adventures.

Along the river

We had tried unsuccessfully twice before to visit the Euskal museoa (Basque museum) in Bilbao and decided to try again. It was a fantastic museum packed with information and all laid out in the cloisters of the oldest church in Bilbao. There was a special exhibition on regional dance with some really clever video projections of people dancing – including sword dances, lots of leaping and the Fandango! We were also able to go inside the church itself (the iglesia de los Santos Juanes) the interior is stunning and houses an incredible alter piece dedicated to the sacred heart, the only one of its kind in the world.


The atmosphere in the city that day was peculiar, in addition to the steadily falling rain there was a kind of tension due to the 30th March general strike, which we had not been aware of. We try to keep up with the news, watching and decoding the headlines as they go (more interesting ones for people who like to look at the roots of words – terremoto = earthquake for instance) but had missed this one. Nearly all the shops and small businesses were closed, people were walking around with flags and banners and there were posters everywhere. Police vans were waiting discreetly at various points and there were a number of security guards outside open shops. Most of the cash points where we were had been made unusable with realistic looking stickers covering the screens saying ‘system error.’ The metro was also affected running a reduced service so each train was packed like a sardine tin. Feelings about the financial situation are obviously and understandably running high particularly in the Basque region where the politics of independence are entangled with economic policy.


The start of June brought the lifeguards out but not the sunbathers, leaving them perched on their chairs overlooking an empty beach and wrapped up in their bright red tracksuits. The Guardia popped by for a chat one afternoon (negative sticky buns) and once again checked all our documents, as with every other visit from them and the customs they were polite and cheerful, filled out their forms and off they went.

Looking down on the old harbour

We enjoyed the spectacle of the old harbour celebrations at the weekend where a number of traditional fishing boats were sailed in and out of the old harbour to the smell of barbequing sardines and the sound of traditional Basque music – pipes and drums. Most of the sailors were also dressed in traditional costumes of smocks and beret and it made for a colourful sight. There was also a rally of Seat 600 cars which came along the road with horns tooting much to the excitement of the boys, they then all parked along the seafront waiting to be admired whilst their owners went off for a get together.


Finally the weather turned with the wind dropping, swell reducing and the sun making an appearance. We tidied up all our loose ends, got the boat ready for the next move then took the boys to the beach for a couple of hours, next stop hopefully Bermeo.





Here be dragons.


With beautiful weather (as predicted) we set off from Getxo and headed down through the harbour, we got into the bay of Biscay, lined up the wind turbines behind us and set off along the coast. This was going to be a nice morning wander down the coast just 20 miles to Bermeo with some interesting sights on the way, or at least so we thought!


We passed the island of Gaztelugatxe, an icon of the Pais de Vasco  region, where there is a causeway with 200 (ish - numbers vary according to the counter) steps connecting the island to the mainland and sat on top is a tiny hermitage. I’m told this is the most photographed view in the Basque region, it was certainly impressive. The next sight was the off shore gas rig which we passed with the boys excitedly getting out their ‘how things work’ book to look up energy production having seen wind turbines, a nuclear station and gas rig all within a couple of hours of each other.

offshore gas rig

We reached Bermeo and headed on into the harbour, once there we looked in horror at the wall for visitors – it had long ropes stretching out to the big fishing boats moored in the centre of the harbour, reaching the wall would mean going over and through the ropes with a chance of fouling the propeller or rudders. There was a gentleman stood on the quay who waved at us and pointed to the space on the wall, gesticulating wildly that that was where we should moor. Feeling we had no other option we waved politely back, did one of our ‘spin on the spot’ turns and reluctantly headed back out to sea.


The next option was Lequeitio where we had hoped to anchor. The pilot book showed a good size anchorage so off we went. As we neared the harbour the first bit of excitement was getting our line right around the outlying island to avoid rocks then heading towards the sheltered bay missing the underwater rocks in the middle, which are marked by what looks like a rook from a giant chess set. As we got closer to it we spotted what looked like rubbish in the water which as we got closer still turned out to be a diver who cheerfully waved at us then moved out of the main channel. The anchorage was much tighter than it looked on all the plans and very uninviting as we knew it was surrounded by rocks. We headed past all the fishing lines into the inner harbour to see if there was space up against the wall only to find it was full of fishing boats so it was another turn on the spot and off we headed again.
no room at the inn

At this point our paper charts ran out. We had been unable to get any at the last couple of stops, thought we’d be able to get them at Bermeo and although we have electronic navigation (like that used on the big ships) and pilot books for the harbours we like to have a paper back up but as we headed East from Loquieto we may as well have had a large piece of paper on the chart table with the words ‘here be dragons’ written across it. The next possible harbour was Zumaia and as this was a marina it was likely to be able to accommodate us but as they had an office, just to be sure Mark gave them a quick ring in lamentable Spanglish. As this stop was up a river some tidal calculations were needed to make sure there would be enough water for us to get to the marina. We threaded our way through a fleet of small local fishing boats and dodged the larger and faster boats heading to the nearby commercial fishing port.


We spotted the entrance with some difficulty and headed towards it, it was a tight turn into the river entrance and the tide was against us, with a bit of extra oomph to the engines it was safely in and up then just a case of following the river to the marina entrance. The next challenge was finding that a dredger was moored right across the marina entrance which we squeezed past with a bit of a wiggle then were very relieved to see spaces on the visitors pontoon straight in front of us. A bit of fighting the currents and into the finger pontoon we slid, glad to finally get the ropes on 10 hours after we set off for our short hop.

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