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 Pedreña (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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