Up the Guadalquivir river, all the way to Sevilla

Caramor - sailing around the world
Franco Ferrero / Kath Mcnulty
Wed 27 Aug 2014 14:27
We set off early to catch the flooding tide as we had 55 nautical miles to motor, all the way to Sevilla. We were excited, despite the Pilot describing the journey as 'tedious at times', to be following in the wake of the early navigators and explorers, whilst aware of their often difficult to justify impact on the world and other peoples.

Christopher Columbus, of Genoa, sponsored by the Catholic monarchs of Spain set off from Sevilla in 1492 across the Atlantic Ocean, hoping to reach Japan. Instead he landed on the island of Hispaniola and 'discovered' a new continent. He returned a further three times, his voyages led to the first lasting European contact with the Americas, inaugurating a period of European exploration, conquest, colonisation and exploitation that lasted for several centuries.

Sevilla was granted the monopoly of trade with the new world, all Spanish ships returning with goods were obliged to sell their wares in Sevilla (and pay tax).

There wasn't a puff of wind and the hot August sun beat down on Caramor. Franco rigged a tarpaulin and at least we were able to escape the direct rays though the temperature was stifling and getting hotter each mile we headed inland. The landscape was alien to us, so flat. The first 10NM of flatness on the left bank were low level sand dunes, followed by 15NM of marshland, succeeded by extensive cereal crops and strips of Eucalyptus along the river.

Guadalquivir means 'big river' in Arabic

Travelling under motor it was going to take us 9 hours, how long would it have taken the navigators of 1500? In Bayona we visited a replica of La Pinta, the smallest caravelle in Columbus' fleet (see diary 14/7/14), these ships only really sailed well downwind and the predominant wind would have been against them. After months at sea, those crews (often depleted) that made it back to Spain had to evade the pirates that controlled the coastline and then still had to travel all the way up the river, with nothing but flatness to look at.

The wildlife along the way was exotic; we saw wild boar digging for food on the muddy bank, pink flamingos (they always look so synchronised), storks and their huge nests, herons, egrets, spoonbills, black ibis (or is it ibises), terns, an osprey, colourful dragonflies, common bottle-nosed dolphins (swimming up the river!) and a big red cargo boat (which overtook us).

Cargo ship en route to Sevilla

Bend after bend we motored on. We were surprised at how sparsely populated this part of Andalucia is, apart from the odd house, there are no villages or towns all the way up the river to the outskirts of Sevilla.

On 20 September 1519 Ferdinand Magellan with 241 men and a fleet of five ships set sail from Sanlúcar having sailed down the river a few weeks prior. Their goal was to sail round the world by a route somewhat similar to the one we will be taking. Although everyone has heard of Magellan, very few know much about this man.

Juan Sebastián de Elcano 

Magellan never made it back to Spain, he was killed in a inter-tribal battle in the Philippines after his crew took (the wrong) side.

The surviving members of the expedition could not decide who should succeed Magellan. The men finally voted on a joint command but both the new leaders were murdered a few days later by Philippine tribesmen. Their successor João Lopes de Carvalho took command of the two remaining ships and they sailed on through the Philippines archipelago. Elcano's stature grew as the men became disillusioned with the weak leadership of Carvalho. Eventually they reached the Moluccas and were able to resupply and fill their holds with cloves and spices (very valuable at the time). One of the ships sprung a leak and Carvalho stayed behind along with 52 others hoping to return later. Elcano along with 17 other survivors returned to Spain in the Victoria, thus completing the first successful circumnavigation of the earth.

It took them two days to sail up the river from Sanlúcar to Sevilla arriving on 8 September 1522.

Over the next century, the Guadalquivir mouth started silting up making the journey to Sevilla more treacherous, in addition several waves of the plague struck Sevilla, making the city a less desirable destination. Eventually in 1680 the centre for trade with the new world moved to Cadiz, 25 NM down the coast.

We arrived at Puerto Gelves, 37:20.43N 6:01:39W on the outskirts of Sevilla with tide still running with us and tied up alongside a pontoon in the main river as the small port itself has silted up badly.

Caramor at Puerto Gelves 

Sevilla was very hot, 40+ degrees Celsius and Franco simply melted. 

Franco melting

We rigged our new wind funnel, this contraption 'catches' wind and funnels it into the boat through the front hatch.

We visited the fabulous Alcazar Palace where we hoped to take a siesta in the gardens during the hottest part only to be moved on every time we tried to lie down!


My favourite building is next to the towering cathedral which used to be a mosque, it now houses the Spanish New World archives: 7 km of corridors containing box-files from floor to ceiling. It was built in the late 1500s by the merchants of Sevilla, here goods were sold and expeditions organised. After 1680 when New World trade moved to Cadiz, it fell into disrepair and families moved in and squatted. It was renovated in the 1800s.