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!

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