Western Andalucia and Rio Guadalquivir

James & Amelia Gould
Thu 5 Jul 2007 16:45

25 – 30 June 2007:  Western Andalucia, Spain


Our first stop back in Spain was Mazagon in Andalucia.  The town doesn’t have much to commend itself, and on a Sunday there was very little to do.  The only shops that were open were selling beach stuff, not the essential beer and food we required…  To top it off, having been told that our berth would cost 20 Euros per day (fairly cheap for this season), when James went to pay the marina staff demanded 80 Euros per day!  It turned out that the initial quote was wrong and did not account for the fact we were on a catamaran (despite the fact that the boat was berthed outside the office window).  The marina therefore decided to base the price on our width (rather than the usual length or square area), which meant we were paying the rate for a 30m boat instead of the little 10m (well nearly 11m, we just don’t tell marinas that if we can help it! J) Rahula is!  James argued the case for an hour, speaking to the manager and just getting “computer says no” back.  Eventually the manager capitulated and we paid the lower price (a coup for the ‘shout-loudly-and-repeatedly-in-a foreign-language-in-front-of-other-customers’ school of diplomacy…J).


We left Mazagon in a real bad mood after the fuss over the fees and headed for Chipiona.  What started as a lovely sail with the wind behind us became a constant trial of sail setting as the wind built and shifted forward to the beam.  Within 2 hours we went from having a full main up through every reef in turn to 3 reefs and a fully reefed Genoa.  With each reef the wind continued to increase and the boat refused to slow down, maintaining 8-9 knots with just scraps of sail up (in Force 6) (cool!…J).  The shallow water meant that the sea had built into a short steep chop that Rahula hates and makes for an uncomfortable ride.  The constant lurching and sail changes didn’t seem to affect our temporary stowaway – a racing pigeon that hitched a ride nearly all the way.  The pigeon just stood on the boat and pooed, constantly eyeing us up.  It was very disconcerting.  We ploughed on, comforted by the fact that we had overtaken 2 monohulls which left Mazagon before us, and that the faster we went, the quicker we would get there.  We arrived at the marina entrance at the same time as 2 other British yachts.  We all lowered our sails at the last minute, and in accordance with our country’s customs formed an orderly queue to enter the harbour.


Ed the Duck discussing racing tactics with a pigeon,
while we slave away keeping the boat sailing comfortably!


Once tucked up in Chipiona we immediately got down to the reason for our stop there – to investigate the possibility of sailing up the Guadalquivir River to Seville.  Our pilot book stated that it was possible (large cargo ships sail up and down all the time), but for yachts there were various bridges and locks to negotiate.  The Chipiona Marina staff were incredibly helpful, finding out all the information we required, and booking a berth for us at the Seville Yacht Club (as well as not charging us stupid money for our stay…J).  It was a welcome change to the disinterested staff in Mazagon.  It turned out that the Bridge only opened 3 days a week at 2200, so we had a couple of days to kill in Chipiona.  It turned out to be quite a nice holiday town, with a long sweeping sandy beach, pretty lighthouse, and lots of restaurants. 

The marina was also quite sociable with so many British boats in, and we became friendly with a couple, Nigel and Sarah, on a steel monohull which was very similar to the kind of boat we planned to buy before we went Cat.  Complete sailing novices (but with a couple of sailing courses under their belts), they had recently bought Steel Appeal which was based in Vila Real in Portugal.  The sail to Chipiona was their first real outing in the boat in strong winds, and they were (rightly) pleased with the boat and themselves.  It was refreshing to talk to a couple new to sailing who were learning how to handle a boat together.  (Normally one of the couple has dragged the other along).  They were also constantly seeking advice and reassurance, which I hope we gave them (old sea dogs that we are!). 


We got up before dawn on 27 June to prepare the boat for the long sail up the river to Seville and to make sure we made the most of the tidal stream.  As the sun rose above the river entrance we motored quietly between the buoys marking the channel only to be overtaken by an armada of fishing boats racing to be first in to market with their catch (and so get the best price).


Sunrise over the Guadalquivir

Fishing boats racing to market


The rest of the journey up the river was very boring and uneventful.  We chugged along under the hot sun, reading and completing Sudokus.  There was no real view as the high riverbanks obscured the flat landscape beyond.  Occasionally the monotony of the flat grassy banks was broken by a row of trees, one of which supported hundreds of birds’ nests.  The river was also full of the oddest fishing boats, which seemed to be based on any old derelict hull (motor cruisers, yachts, anything that floats!) with huge billowing nets (again made from anything suitable) suspended from outriggers.  They looked like bats from a distance, and not much better when we got close.  Unusually most of the riverbank is uninhabited, and we only passed a couple of towns once we neared Seville.  The only sign of other people using the river were the weird fishing boats and the huge tanker that crept up on us from behind and honked its horn to alert us to its presence!  We quickly moved the boat over to one side to let the ship pass!  (We had put up our beach parasols to protect us from the scorching sun and they obscured our vision astern…).


The boring Rio Guadalquivir

Birds’ nests to break the monotony

Guadalquivir Fishing Boats


After 10 hours of boring motoring the suspension bridge in Seville finally came into view.  A tug boat told us to hurry as the lock was just opening, so we raced in behind the tanker which passed us earlier on that day.   As the lock gates shut behind us the lock staff told us to move down the side of the tanker to the front of the lock so that we could get out first.  There was only just room for the big ship and us side by side, and we tried to gently push Rahula along the concrete lock walls to the front.  We made agonisingly slow progress as the fenders kept popping out, and we were concerned about breaking something or getting trapped under the ship.  It didn’t help that the ship suddenly turned its propellers and the wash pinned us against the harsh wall.  The lock keeper obviously lost patience and called us back asking us to now remain behind the big tanker.  This was easier said than done, as once we were out and behind the ship there was nothing to hold on to.  James did his best trying to keep Rahula straight but the wash from the ship and the movement of the water inside the lock made this virtually impossible.  I fended off as best as I could, rushing from side to side as the boat surged forwards or backwards.  By this stage Rahula had turned through 180 deg and we grabbed onto the only thing we could (an escape ladder) and breathed a sigh of relief when the lock gates opened again.  As soon as the big ship was out of the lock, James reversed all the way out and into clear water.  Luckily nothing was damaged and the only things left to mark the episode were some black marks on Rahula’s hull from the hard rubber strips on the lock wall.


We continued for another mile up the canal and under the suspension bridge towards the last obstacle on this long voyage, the lifting bridge.  We’d been told that it will open at 2200 or on request, so as it was only 1700 we tried calling the bridge staff up on the radio.  There was no reply, and no matter how much we hovered by the bridge cars still raced along it oblivious to its opening credentials.  The pontoons of the yacht club lay tantalisingly close just the other side of the bridge – all that was keeping us away from a dip in the club pool and a cold beer was our mast (I went for the bolt-croppers but luckily Amelia slapped a cold beer in my hand to calm me down. J).  There was nowhere nearby to tie up to wait for the bridge to open, so despondently we turned Rahula around and headed back down the canal towards the lock.  There was another small marina just beside the lock that we had turned down because of its distance from the centre of Seville and lack of a pool.  We berthed alongside there, planning to wait there until the bridge opened.  The staff were welcoming and friendly, offering not to charge us for our short stay.  We tidied the boat and as we relaxed after the long day we decided that this place wasn’t so bad after all.  We chatted to another English couple on a catamaran who told us that it wasn’t that far into town, so we decided to stay and give it a go.  If we hated it, we could go back upriver in a couple of days when the bridge opened again.


It turned out that the Marina Yachting Sevilla was much more “our kind of place”.  The pontoons were rickety and the showers old, but it was a friendly and tranquil place to be out of the hubbub of the city (the overhead power lines made a relaxing humming noise and Amelia never tired of providing sound effects every time the lock ‘ate’ a ship. J).  We got a lift into Seville on our first day of exploring the city, and after that we cycled in every day.  The 30 minute cycle with the wind cooling our faces was a much more pleasant way to travel than walking in the heat of the day.


I will write all about our sightseeing in Seville in the next Blog, but here I want to concentrate on our time at Marina Yachting Sevilla.  The couple we met, Chris and Judy, made our stay in Seville all the more enjoyable, as they provided us with great company (and a new source of conversation!) and were endlessly helpful.  They had been living onboard their huge catamaran, Red Soren, in Seville for 5 years and though they were officially “liveaboards” they also had some earthly ties such as cars and children nearby.  We hit it off straight away, and what started as us casually admiring their boat turned into a cup of tea onboard, then dinner at one of the local restaurants.  (Where we had the BIGGEST steak and chips I have ever seen for 4 Euros!).  Chris and Judy were in their early 60s, and had had an amazingly eventful life both afloat and on land.  We were fascinated to hear their stories about all the places they’d been and things they’d done, all while bringing up four children.  (In fact Judy is writing a book about their lives which I will commend to you all when it is published.  It includes a chapter entitled ‘A Tale of Two Titties’; I will leave the rest to your imagination…J) 


Red Soren – The boat had 4 triple en suite cabins!


They came onboard Rahula for drinks one night, and we started quizzing them about being Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Neither of us had met a Witness before, and we were genuinely interested to find out more about the religion to dispel the stereotype we subconsciously held in our minds.  They talked openly about how they came to their beliefs and what it meant to the way they lived.  It was fascinating to have such a frank discussion with no hard sell or attempts to convince us, and we both learnt a lot.  We are not about to find God, or convert to any religion, but the discussion certainly opened our minds about a section of society we knew little about.


We ended up staying in Marina Yachting Sevilla for our whole time in Seville, as even the lack of pool was soon overcome.  The one daily certainty in Seville in summer is that it will be hot.  It is called the frying pan of Spain, and while we were there temperatures rarely dropped below 30 deg C in the day, often hovering around 40 deg C.  There was no point in showering much before 8pm as you’d soon be covered in sweat again.  So we finally got out one of our leaving gifts from my mum – a children’s paddling pool shaped like a pirate ship.  After a hard day’s sightseeing it was bliss to inflate the pool on the net, fill it with cold water, and lie inside clutching a cold beer.  We got a few chuckles from other people in the marina, but at least we were cool!


Cooling off in our very own onboard pool