Buenos Dias - Bermeo to Bilbao, North Spain, 43 25.2N 02 42.9W
Charles & Maggie Bevis
Mon 15 Jul 2013 19:54
We had just over three days at Isle D'Oleron and absolutely loved it. It's been several decades since we had several successful family holidays here camping when the boys were small and it was lovely to return and reacquaint ourselves with this really delightful island. The marina at St Denis was very much to our liking, not busy or crowded and offering a three days stay for the price of two, as well as providing good hot clean showers and laundry facilities. Their diesel was cheap too at Euro1.3/litre but we had just filled at La Rochelle!
We finally left St Denis on Saturday morning knowing we had our longest passage to date ahead of us, the Bay of Biscay. Charlie wanted to try out the other self steering system we had and within minutes of leaving, he had the hydrovane system up and working. Of course we never thought we'd be able to sail all the way to Spain and fully expected to be motoring at least half the time and I was certainly expecting it to be lumpy and uncomfortable.
In the event, we had north easterly winds all the way and good sailing - perfect. During the day we enjoyed clear blue skies and at night, fabulous star spangled skies plus it was warm too. The hydrovane worked perfectly the whole time and made "running" before the wind relaxing with no fear of an accidental gybe.
We took it in turns to do the night watches which worked out well, still using the hydrovane much to our surprise and Charlie's delight. Ann just didn't understand how we sailed using a piece of string to set the course. The autopilot enjoyed a good break. Several times we saw dolphins and on day two, we were temporarily joined by four very tired and lost racing pigeons. Three failed to make successful landings and so, although exhausted and thirsty, they had to continue to wherever? However, one little chap had more sense, made a safe landing and came sailing with us for several hours. I should add at this point that we named him "Nelson" although we'd no way of knowing what his gender was! After walking around the decks three or four times to acquaint himself with all the various obstacles on the board, checking us out to be sure he was safe, he proceeded to drink a full bowl of water which was then followed by a good siesta in the shelter of one of the pushpit seats. He declined our food offerings, clearly a fussy eater! Shortly before dusk on Sunday evening he took off, heading in a southerly direction with land just some 40 miles away. We just hope he managed to re-orientate and find his way home, but have been left wondering if his mates made it or not?
On Sunday evening Maggie took the 10pm-1am watch, followed by Ann, who was joined by Charlie at 2am as land was sighted. We arrived off Hondarribia at 6am and anchored in the bay until about 9am, at which point, we made our way into the marina on the Spanish side. France being just across the river.
It looked really pleasant and it was not difficult to decide we should spend at least three nights here, giving us time to catch up on sleep and enjoy the place. The marina charges were somewhat high at 40 euros and no deals to be had, but on the plus side the laundry was free ... we did lots!!! We seemed to be the only visiting foreign boat as far as we could tell.
We can highly recommend a restaurant/bar in the old town called Ainere where we had a delicious cooked to order selection of tapas for lunch. Another evening we had a fantastic meal in a restaurant recommended by the marina staff called Arroki Berri, situated in the hills at the back of the port. The food was superb and served with several complimentary dishes and drinks and great service. I had the best steak I have EVER tasted and Charlie's fish soup was simply to die for and a meal in itself. Great value for money and we walked down hill back to the boat very happy and satisfied.
The old town of Hondarribia is stunning, with glorious old buildings, really lovely streets to wander along, lots of restaurants, a town full of character and very friendly people.
I haven't used my limited knowledge of Spanish for more years than I care to remember, but was relieved when everyone I attempted to speak to, not only seemed to get the gist of what I was trying to say, but answered me. That I even understood a little was even more of a surprise. This being Basque county and it having a very specific language of its own, I really had expected to be at a loss, but my fears were mostly unfounded. Everywhere we went the locals were welcoming and friendly. Maggie even managed to secure an appointment at the hairdressers and came away with a very good haircut.
After three full days days and several expeditions ashore to explore the area, eat out, stock up on provisions and enjoy the glorious weather, it was time to leave.
We now have a target date to get to Bilbao for Wednesday 17th July as Ann has booked a flight and must go home. Not bad for what was originally a two week holiday! We are so going to miss her work in the galley and her duties as second in command of the Alkira ladies shopping task force, not to mention her skill in diverting Maggie's wrath as Charlie blunders again!
Thursday 11 July - From Hondarribia we had just a ten mile passage to San Sebastián. We had no idea what to expect here and the entrance gave little indication as to what it would be like once inside the bay. The only down side that day was that we had to motor as again there was no wind and what there was came from the west, on the nose!
Entering the bay at San Sebastián was a sight to behold. This city is considered a jewel in the Basque crown. With a huge statue of Christ situated at the top of the headland of Monte Urgull to port as you enter, a huge crescent of a bay opens before you with two very large beaches and all surrounded by some incredible and beautiful old buildings, but also, alas, too many modern ones as well, but all facing this incredible bay. On the starboard hand is the island of Santa Carla, providing shelter and respite from the swell entering the bay. The area shown as an anchorage on the chart is now filled with moorings. we found a vacant buoy up close to the island and stayed the night undisturbed and without charge. San Sebastián is a primary holiday resort for the Spanish so the beaches were packed full and the noise coming from the thousands of people enjoying the water was hard to describe. Lots of people canoeing, swimming, teams out practicing for the all important "gig type" boat races, a few other yachts coming and going, small pleasure boats, boards, etcetera, there was certainly plenty for us to watch. Also a first opportunity for Ann to voluntarily take to the waters, of her own choosing this time, and for Charlie to have a go at seeing if he could get his "flopper stopper" to work! I'm not going to attempt to explain that here, but when we meet up, feel free to ask if you're at all curious.
It seemed like downright bad planning for us not to have taken more time out to visit this splendid city, but when we saw how crowded everywhere was, staying on board and watching everyone play from the comfort of the boat won over. Some other time maybe.
Dusk arrived and the crowds gradually left, peace and quiet descended. Lights came on everywhere, including floodlights on the nearby island of Santa Clara, and we enjoyed a glorious sunset with a beautiful red sky.
There's so much one could say about San Sebastián, however, I must recommend you to look it up and should you ever decide to visit, I promise, you will not be disappointed.
Friday 12 July - Another hot sunny day and we dropped our mooring at 9am to sail (motor) to Lekeitio, except we didn't sail, as once again there was no wind. The engine is getting in quite a few running hours that's for sure. We arrived around lunch time.
A small entrance with a small beach and some houses visible, a large harbour wall to starboard but not much evidence of where we could stop. It was low tide as we approached the entrance and a trifle disconcerting seeing bathers standing in the water close ahead as we approached the entrance. Once around the harbour we saw the old town and several fishing boats against the wall, a few boats in a very small marina type location to port but nowhere for us and were quickly advised we couldn't enter there. Fortunately a fisherman pointed us over to the harbour wall in between the fishing boats and a place alongside a visiting French yacht. We spent the day under the bimini sheltering from the sun and praying for a breeze, but we are most definitely not complaining, after weeks of cold weather, this is just fine. Once it cooled down, we had showers on board before going ashore to explore the town and hopefully discover somewhere to have a traditional Basque dinner. An amazing place as it turned out, with almost every building being a bar/cafe serving wine and tapas.
We had thought of staying for 3 days and hiring a car as we'd have liked to explore a little further inland. It's such a beautiful coastline and we really wanted to see what lay beyond.
Sunday 14 July - today we decided to catch the local train and go wherever it went, we found ourselves in Bilbao. Very nice to have a wander around just one small area of this historic city. Our wanderings took us into a fabulous plaza with restaurants, street traders, musicians and a great place to people watch. Found ourselves in a magnificent tapas bar for a light lunch and then after some more wandering, another ice cream parlour beckoned us. With so many varieties to choose from, we are spoiled for choice, but we're trying to work our way through them all, after all, we need to know which one is our favourite!
We caught the train back to Bermeo shortly after 3 o'clock and are now back on board enjoying a large cold glass of lemonade. It's another hot day and for entertainment, we are watching a large group of local kids jumping into the sea from the top of the harbour wall, not surprisingly some are more daring than others.
Dinner on board this evening. Ann beat me at backgammon 2-1 last night, I've taught her too well, so tonight is revenge play off.
Monday 15 July - departed Bermeo 09:00 hrs for Bilbao.