Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Wendy’s Diary 30 May 2012 – Westward bound again

After filling up with water at the tiny marina (just a couple of pontoons for the locals, not for visitors), a quick bit of laundry (by foot not hand) and a chat with a local retired fisherman re our destination we were ready to set off. The sail from San V de la B to LLanes was a little over 16 miles, so around 4 hours – not a long haul and fingers crossed for a flat sea. We had the wind behind us and for a while managed to sail, but as has often happened, the wind dropped and on went the motor again. The sea became short and I was seasick again! There is something about the swell around here that really disagrees with me.

Anyway, my chosen port of call is a tiny place, where a local artist had been commissioned to paint the concrete blocks that formed the outer harbour wall, and the town itself is described as charming. The aforementioned fisherman advised us not to go into the marina as it was pricey, but hang a right as soon as we entered the river and ask to tie up in the fishing harbour.  This was perhaps the smallest entrance yet, and with our fingers crossed for a safe entry we nudged into the fishing harbour, where we were told under no uncertain terms to go to the marina.  We decided to head back out to sea and to the next ria, a further 4 or so miles west.

The entry to Llanes with the painted stones - the entry is on the left.
Niembro was hard to spot along the coastline, but with only a few hundred yards to go we could finally make out where the gap in the cliffs was. It was almost high tide so we reckoned we would be ok depth wise as this was a drying harbour. So for the second time that afternoon we crossed our fingers as we crossed the bar. The swell disappeared and we were in a beautiful crystal clear river with a sandy bottom, giving the water a lovely turquoise colour. We passed the little quay and the river opened up with views of the mountains in the background a church, a restaurant and fields.

That's me on the right...trying to work out how we managed to sail in here!

We dropped anchor and had just the sound of birds and cow bells in the way of noise. I keep running out of descriptive words for beautiful places, but this was another one of those spots. And, unbelievably we had wifi on the boat. Having gone for a drink in the one restaurant in the bay, which just happened to be of the same name as a password protected hotspot, we collected the said password and the proprietor even suggested that we see if it worked from the boat. We did go back for another beer there before we left as a token of thanks for the use of the signal.

I have mentioned before that I am in the process of making a cover for the dinghy to protect it from the sun which as we head south will deteriorate more quickly (the dinghy not the sun). We picked up a discarded sun shade (the sort that comes out on a roll off a building) in St Jean de Luz, which seemed to be in good condition and was obviously a good material to use as it was designed for the same purpose.

Anyway, this time I waited for the tide to go out and sat on the beach in my deckchair next to the dinghy and attached the elastic clips that attach the cover in place. By the time I had finished my fingers had more holes than a sieve, though thankfully not too many of them drew blood. I got through at least 6 needles and all the pins we had left. I was determined to finish this stage so that it could start to be used.  The following day I sewed round the slits for the ropes that attach it to the davits, so the cover can remain in place in transit and just before the tide came back in it was in a state ready to be used.

The anchorage at Niembro with the tide out
And with the tide in
Sewing has never been one of my strong points, I don’t have enough patience usually for the slow progress, and tend to take short cuts and finish up with something not particularly attractive. Now that I have swapped my life around and am time rich and money poor, I was happy to take the time and do the best job I could, and I must say, that it has turned out better than I expected it to. It still needs a few finishing touches, but it does at least now do the job it was designed for and has cost us less than 20 euros in the process.  I am impressed with myself and have awarded myself a gold star!

Me walking on the beach at Niembro.
Between Llanes and Niembro is a small town with an unusual name (to the English anyway). As soon as I saw the name on the map I told John we had to go there, I wanted my photo taken next to the sign. The primary reason being to send the said photo to my sister in law in Cyprus as I knew it would amuse her. She and I play a form of scrabble over the internet, the games often take several days to complete as it depends on who is on line when, in order to play in turn. We use the game as something to talk around; it isn’t about winning, and hold written conversations alongside the games. Placing a word that would be considered rude/funny by a five year old amuses us both far more than it should and you will see from the photo why this one was of such importance.  It was only about a 3 mile cycle ride away and the effort was much appreciated in Cyprus!
The town with the interesting name
The cycle ride was useful in that we passed the nearest shop, about 2 miles away, and a fab little roadside stall selling a mixture of home-grown and brought in fruit and veg, situated directly in front of their poly tunnels. I stocked up as it all looked good quality and not too pricey. The anchorage is an idyllic spot, but without the bikes it would not be possible to do any provisioning (there is of course the restaurant).

Some caravans we passed which had been er..extended??

We spent 4 or 5 days there before I got itchy feet again, the sea looked calm and we up anchored and headed 12 miles along the coast to Ribadesella, a fishing port along a very long quayside, with places for the likes of us “yachties” to tie up alongside for free. I managed the entire journey without even a hint of seasickness, but with a very slight wind on the nose it was necessary to motor all the way. The forecast easterly arrived just after we tied up to the wall.

We are tied up on the far wall opposite the marina...see next photo
Tied along the wall at Ribadesella

Looking out of the estuary at Ribadesella
The quayside is where the locals and tourists promenade, the sea wall is high and so the view of the boat is slightly from above. Our renewable energy system has attracted huge interest amongst the passers, with many stopping to ask questions. John of course is delighted to speak in which ever language is required (Spanish French and English) to explain how it all works.
The valley we cycled up

Today we took the bikes up the valley for about 10km and on bikes with small wheels that is a reasonable distance. The road followed the river so was relatively flat; it was amazing to be cycling with big mountains all around us. My camera isn’t good enough to take decent shots of the views, but John took one with his.

We have met some more lovely people and are happy to spend the next few days exploring the area before continuing further west.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Wendy’s Diary 21 May 2012 – Santander, Suances & San V de la B

As many of you will know, about 25 years ago John spent some time studying Spanish literature at the Universidad Menedez Pelayo in Santander. He fell in love with the city and Spain and everything Spanish, particularly the food (Chocolate Con Churros being top of the list)!! For many years he has dreamed of sailing his own boat into this harbour and that dream finally came true early this month. Whilst I was trying to sleep off the latest bout of sea sickness (the swell down here really doesn’t agree with me), John spotted El Palicio on the headland, sobbed his socks off and then cooked some Churros to celebrate.

Cycling at El Palicio

In a very prominent place along the sea front is the Real Club Maritimo Santander, a very plush yacht club. On the Saturday when we arrived a regatta was taking place and yachts both large and small (but all rather fast) were buzzing round in circles either waiting their turn to start or participating in a race. We anchored in front of the club, and were made very welcome as visiting “yachties” and were offered the use of their facilities whilst we were there. We headed off for a stroll around the town, in particular John wanted to find the bar he frequented all those years ago to see if the same couple still ran it. We did find it but the present owners had taken over from his former acquaintance and it was closed at the time. 
Bronze statues of boys on the quayside (being used by a fisherman) overlooking the RMCS
Anchored off the RMCS with one of the "wash generators" passing close by
Back at the RCMS with wifi on offer we shipped the laptops and headed for the bar, with a clear view of Freya Frey bobbing around in the water.  We were quite close to a ferry stop and the ferries were very regular and created large amounts of wash. Sitting in the bar was far preferable to sitting on the boat in this state! Eventually the ferries quit for the night and we headed back to the boat for what turned out to be a very uncomfortable night.

The splendid interior of the club, with a little more than half of me typing
We spent a week mooching around the river in search of places away from swell and wash, and in between exploring the city, a cycle ride around the grounds of El Palicio, taking advantage of the superb surroundings of the sailing club (thankfully not expensive) and catching up with jobs on the boat. For a couple of days the weather broke the record for high temperature in May and we basked in around 38 degrees. I am in the process of making a cover for the dinghy to protect it from sunlight and in this heat sat out on deck with my sewing.  

Sunset through the red ensign
Snowy mountains in the background
Another "wash generator" sneaking up on us in the mist
If you are likely to follow suit and sail into Santander I can only say from my experience that whilst the city is certainly worth visiting, the difficulty in finding a smooth anchorage made the stay less pleasant. The wind changed direction more times a day than I drink tea (those who know me well will appreciate that one) and as the bay is wide the fetch soon picks up.  The river is not particularly interesting, mainly industrial and the areas at the head of the accessible part of the river (before a low bridge) were taken up with moorings and a small marina. One anchorage was at the end of the runway – the airport is not overly busy, so it wasn’t a problem and watching planes take off and land at such close proximity was a novelty. One last thing, there is an excellently stocked chandlery (ferreteria) at PedreƱa (next to the fishing harbour not the one in the small marina) if you need one – big, well organised and not too expensive.

How close??
John’s memories of the city from his university days made him reluctant to leave, but after a week we finally headed out to our next port of call, Suances. Whilst the wind remained relatively light (motoring again) the swell was much bigger than we had anticipated (2-3M) resulting in me feeling ill again and so John did most of the helming. Our pilot book advised that the narrow river entrance should not be entered in heavy swell – “what is the definition of heavy swell” I pondered. Both feeling a little uneasy on the basis that it wasn’t yet half way up the tide, we decided to give it a go as I was feeling rough. This may easily have been a bad decision, as a particularly large wave came past just as we were going over the bar, but thankfully didn’t ground us. With both engines blasting we made our way through and into the calm of the river.

Our very old pilot book (1985) said it was possible to go a couple of miles up the canalised river – we thought that in the intervening years someone would probably have built a bridge but thought it was worth a look, and with no bridge in the way followed the river until it became too shallow. We headed slightly back down river and dropped the anchor for the night in strangely dark water. A bit like the brown water than you get in peaty areas but blacker! 
Grateful for a very peaceful night and well rested, in the morning we headed back down almost to the entrance and entered the harbour. This is split in two with pontoons for pleasure craft on one side and fishing boats on the other. We were too big and besides which there were no spaces available on the pontoons, so we headed for the side of the slipway. I was at the helm and brought the boat alongside, a challenging feat for me – John usually does this sort of thing, and I was petrified of hitting the wall, with half a dozen friendly locals spectating.  We were assured that it was no problem to tie up there and the boat would be safe.
The wall in the fishing port of Suances

Suances is a town split into two, with a beach resort running along a wide sandy bay and up a very steep hill is the main town, somewhere we didn’t venture due to the said hill. There was an excellent cycle path to Torrelevega 10km in land which followed the river and so was relatively flat. David, one of the spectators when we arrived, offered to drive us to Santillana del Mar one evening and we had a lovely couple of hours wandering around the cobbled streets of this medieval town, largely unchanged for centuries.
John posing in the square at Santillana
The church in Santillana - on the pilgram route Camino de Santiago
Another short hop with little sail but smaller swell brought us to San Vicente de la Barquera, where we have spent the last few days chilling out, catching up on washing and trying to avoid the rain which has returned with vengeance. This is a very pretty bay with ample choice of anchorage spots, both drying and not. We have found a spot in a small channel a couple of hundred yards from the shore which is well protected from the winds from the west and we touch bottom for a couple of hours each tide. Rather conveniently it has, if was sporadic, free wifi available, which we believe comes from the town hall. 
One of our anchorages in San V de la B. Note the washing on the line and the snow on the mountains in the background
The old part of the walled town is well preserved in parts and has a fort overlooking the bay at one end and a church at the other, with a narrow street between the two. We visited the fort yesterday, the highlight for me being the view from (nearly) the top.
The fort above the town at San V de la B

We are currently sitting out the latest wind and rain blowing through watching the weather and looking for the next opportunity to move further west. However as you will see from the photos, it is not exactly a bad place to have to wait!  
An aerial view of San V (not taken by us)
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Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Wendy’s Diary 4 May 2012 – The rain in Spain falls mainly in April!

We stayed in the marina at Hondarribia for 10 days and with WIFI included on board. It was very nice, and not expensive at 11 euros per night, but still took another chunk out of our budget that we were hoping to avoid, but anchoring anywhere really would have been miserable. We spent the time exploring the area by bike, despite the persistent rain. I am not quite sure what the locals thought to us cycling around in our full sailing gear, but we enjoyed it despite the weather.

The one day the sun shone we naively took a marked hiking route as somewhere new to explore. This took us up to a tiny hamlet named Guadaloupe (yes really), up being the operative word, as it was perched rather spectacularly on half way up the mountainside. The route started on a nice bit of tarmac road, only wide enough for one vehicle, but remote enough that not many cars used it anyway. I commented that it was how I like cycling, on a nice smooth surface but without traffic.

After a couple of miles of more up than down, the road veered sharply round to the left, but the hiking route was marked as straight on up a footpath. OK, it was another hill so we decided to give it a go, and pushed the bikes until we came out on a small plateau with a fabulous view of the area. The signpost pointed up another hill which became steeper and steeper, with more ruts and rocks than you find climbing a path up Snowden. With John persuading me that the road was only another couple of hundred meters we plodded on for another half mile pushing the bikes – John even finished up carrying his at one point but I couldn’t quite manage that.

When we finally emerged at Guadaloupe the view truly was spectacular - all the way up the coast Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne and the start of a certain sand-dune that I took a disliking to a few weeks before on our way down the French coast.  A beer was top of my priority list after such a challenging climb and we found the local revelry, more by chance than anything as it didn’t have any signs outside. We treated ourselves to the menu of the day, a typical Spanish 3 course meal plus coffee, marvelling at the drop in prices compared to France (which we could still see!). Apparently they are so well known that they have sufficient customers so don’t bother with a sign.

John on the terrace at Guadaloupe
 The view, the meal and the ride down made the trek up the hill worthwhile. Since the car accident 3 years ago and then breaking my ankle last year I have become far more aware and scared of danger. Riding downhill on small folding bikes normally keeps my hands on the brake handles for fear of falling off on a bend. However it was a sunny day, the road was dry (a proper tarmac one on the way down) and I whizzed down the hill with a silly smile on my face and got a rush of adrenalin that my children would probably need to skydive to achieve. It was a fantastic day out.

 We finally decided that the level of swell and wind direction was suitable to leave on 27 April. We set off just after lunch with a target destination of Motriko (30 miles away) programmed into the chart plotter, with options to drop out at a couple of nearer ports if the conditions became unfriendly. Despite having taken a sea-sickness tablet before we left, it became another voyage on which I fed the fishes and consoled myself with the thought that it was good for waistline! John helmed for almost the entire trip and around 10.30 we entered the river that led to the harbour to discover that the channel was unmarked, and not where our chart plotter thought it was. We found some very shallow water decided to quit whilst we were ahead and made a quick exit through some breaking waves that had not been there on the way in and headed to Bermeo instead.

Bermeo is a large harbour, the outer parts of which is full of huge fishing boats and from the smell, obviously housed a fish factory.  The swell was still quite uncomfortable here and I really wanted somewhere a bit flatter to settle for the night. We continued on through a second basin, again full of fishing boats and behind a large mole John spotted the inner basin with pontoons and no swell. I may have kicked him in the shins if he wanted to avoid paying at this stage, it was late, I was tired and I wasn’t feeling very well. We found what appeared to be the only free berth big enough for us and tied up at approaching midnight. John went in search of the capitainerie on the off chance there was a night watchman (or should that be watchperson?) on duty to find that the gate at the top of the pontoon was locked. We did a quick tide/weather check and agreed that a 7am start was necessary to continue to the next river where we thought we would be able to anchor.

The river at Plentzia
A few hours of uninterrupted sleep and we headed out as planned toward Plentzia, a mere 16 miles along the coast. I took the helm once we were out of the harbour and whilst the sun wasn’t exactly putting in an appearance, it was at least starting to get light. It rained and rained but 5 hours later we entered the bay, and found our way into the river which was hidden from view until almost upon it. There wasn’t any space to anchor but quite a few free mooring buoys, so we picked up a pair fore and aft and breathed a sigh of relief that we had found somewhere calm that hopefully wouldn’t cost very much.

It wasn’t long before we met one of the neighbouring boat owners who informed us that the owner of the mooring we were using only used it in the summer and we would be ok to stay there for up to a week if we wanted, no charge. Oh, and by the way, it is a really strong set of moorings, and here is my phone number if you need anything! That set the tone for the place and we met quite a few locals over the next few days, all of whom were very welcoming and friendly. Most of whom were bailing out their tenders as we had had so much rain!

We were two boats upstream from a boat the same as Annie and Philippe’s, and on our second day the owner arrived to check all was ok. When he had finished he came aboard for a coffee and a chat and stayed for the next 4 hours. I can’t think of the equivalent term to golf widow, but get John talking technical stuff to do with the boat and you get the picture! Jon Mikel found everything fascinating and asked if we would still be there the next day as he wanted to bring us something. From that point he sort of adopted us during our stay, making sure we were ok. He returned with a town flag and a bottle of the locally brewed aperitif, which tastes a bit like cough medicine.

John and Jon
We had mentioned cycling or dinghying up to a local castle “Burgos” which is in my “Guide to Northern Spain”, a non sailing book we have on board. He said he would happily take us by car instead, an offer we accepted and found it just as good as the guide book suggested – on the outside. It used to be open to the public, then changed hands and became a restaurant specialising in medieval banquets, went bust and closed about 5 years ago. It is in fantastic condition and to me looked like a fairytale castle from stories like Sleeping Beauty.

The fairytale castle - sadly empty and unused.
On the way back he took us to the Vizcaya Bridge Shuttle in Bilbao, it was the first bridge of its kind in the world and in 2006 was made a world heritage site. Rather than taking the shuttle we took the lift 54 meters up and walked across the top, which of course had spectacular views.
The bridge at Bilbao

We are both internet “anoraks”, whether it be podcasts (we still haven’t missed a single episode of the Archers since we left the UK),  facebook and emails for keeping in touch with family and friends, blogging and in my case, filing online tax returns! Whilst the rest can be fun the latter is not and I successfully submitted mine from Hondarribia and then took on the challenge of John’s which of course included his French income. I know I am an accountant by trade, but I only ever worked in the public sector, so this was a completely new subject to me. I have downloaded more pages from the HMRC website than I care to remember and still don’t know if I have got my head around “foreign tax credit relief” so if anyone reading this has any expertise in this field they would like to share please get in touch!! Anyway, if you happen to be in Plentzia and want a nice bar with WIFI, go to the Socaire Bar, tucked in a square across the road from the east corner of the little marina – it was lovely (apart from the tax returns bit) and John recommends the tapas.

At 6 O’clock this morning (tide and time waits for no man) we left this little haven of flat waters and sailed (actually sailed without the motor most of the way – hooray!) to first Loredo for a nose around. Over 20 miles of calm sea with a friendly wind was luxury after the previous passage.

 John has spotted the marina on google earth with no boats in it. Google earth is another excellent tool for passage planning. I surmised it must be new, but he checked the date on the map and it was over a year old! So to satisfy his curiosity I googled “Why aren’t there any boats in Loredo marina” to discover that for over a year after the marina was completed (and I think at a cost of 23 million euros) there has been an ongoing argument between the local council who own it and the company who won the contract to manage the site, and so it sits empty. Row after row of immaculate pontoons inside an enormous new sea wall (presumably it was this that cost the bulk of the money).

The new sea wall protecting the empty marina - each concrete block is individually numbered, the highest number we spotted was 17 thousand and something.

We then headed across the bay to Santona, and up to the top of the navigable part of the river (for masted boats anyway), looking for a suitable anchorage. The wind had picked up by the afternoon and this inland bit of sea had become choppy so we entered the small harbour just before the road bridge crosses the river in search of somewhere sheltered to stop.  We settled on a pontoon that was separate from the marina part, and out of the way of the big fishing boats. John went off in search of bread whilst I stayed behind in case someone appeared and told us to “get off my land”. I thought, ah, I nice peaceful half hour to relax and chill out. No sooner had John gone than a dredger half the size of the harbour arrived, and began work about 30 yards away. So much for peace and quiet! John came back and took a nap and whilst the dredger did its stuff for a couple of hours, I took the opportunity to write up my diary.  

The pontoon at Collindres before the dredger arrived.
The dredger - far too big and close to get the whole vessel in the picture!