The Departure from Bilbao: heading north to France

23rd April

The skipper headed back to Bilbao with a heavy heart, sad at leaving a place which had treated him so well. I had a week to prepare the boat for the arrival of the crew and the departure for France. As well I had to see my Spanish friends who I would not see again for a while. Sadly, I couldn't see Marivi who had to head to Cantabria to catch up with her family. I caught up with Muna to see her new apartment, and had the lend of her car for a couple of days. After doing lots of shopping and collecting some of the heavy stuff, naturally, I did the sensible thing and visited an ex student of mine. Jose Manuel is the General Manager of a wholesaler. He very kindly helped me choose some good wine to bring back. Thank you Jose for the classes, laughs and of course, the BRAGAS !!

After that I had a week of hard work to get the boat ready. She came out of the water on monday lunchtime and tuesday was an early start with antifouling, cleaning seacocks, the list of jobs was endless. But I got them done and back in the water for wednesday afternoon. After filling up with fuel, it was back to the berth to a pleasant surprise. John Brewster and daughter Claire (the ever patient, ever smiling, ever brave) were passing through on the way to Galicia where their boat has been wintering. This meant an excuse for a celebration. We all headed out to Santurce for a night in the pintxo bars with Pete, his family and cuadrilla (circle of friends). We had a great run on the bars but I was sad to see them go as it would be a while before I got to see theat whole gang together again for a while.

Next morning after John and Claire left, I went out for a test sail with Elena from San Sebastian, who hopes to join me for a while over the summer. We had a lovely day with light winds to remind us why we were planning to do all this sailing stuff. All was well on the boat apart from a leaking stern gland which had the packing replaced when she had been out. Just something else to adjust for now and check out later when we got moving.

Now it was thursday and my mind turned to the arrival of the crew and the weather forecast for the passage. Calm seas and sun were due to be replaced by swell and possible thunderstorms over the weekend. Luckily, the humid weather did break with a couple of showers on saturday evening. This managed to clear the air. I certainly know that Joel was worried about getting caught out in a Galerna like the one which hit us the previous Easter with winds of 40 knots coming in a matter of seconds. The forecast for the sunday was 1.5 metre swell and slight seas, winds west force 2-3, going north later. Monday looked like the swell would ease to one metre but the light wind would remain on the nose. So overall I felt confident that the trip would start as planned and La Rochelle was a realistic objective. I had to be conservative as we would be 50 miles offshore for most of the trip and that shore had only one harbour, which could not be entered at night or in strong onshore winds.

So Derrick arrived on friday night and we got a taxi back to the boat for a bit of grub and an early night (after the customary glasses of wine!). Saturday was preparation day. We planned to do some shopping for the next three days and get a pot of food ready to eat on the trip. Getting that done and everything stowed for sea took until lunchtime, after which we headed into town to do the sightseeing touristy thing. I brought him around the old part of town and back along the river to the Guggenheim. Then we headed to meet Gerry who was arriving in by bus. We had a couple of hours to kill before John arrived by plane. So I brought Gerry and Derrick to "Pozas", a street famed for having great Pintxo bars. we did a good pub crawl, visiting about 5 of them (well you can't be too clear about these things!). After John's arrival, it was back home to get set for the morning departure. At this stage Joel was having a last romantic night with Tanya who was sure I was going to kill her boyfriend on the high seas. She was then going to find my body, bring me back to life, just to kill me again in revenge. After that the threat got violent ........

The off......

We were all up early and anxious to get going. The day had dawned overcast but calm and we were ready for a long motor north. Joel arrived with Tanya just in time and we were off. At the harbour entrance we had a little SE wind so the Ghoster was put up and we cruised at 4 knots. That didn't last so it was back to the iron donkey and varying bouts of snoozing all day. The swell was as predicted but the wind settled on Northerly, just enough to give the boat some stabilising effect as we cut through the comfortable seas. At first we spent time on deck admiring the view but it started to get chilly in the breeze and we were glad for the shelter of the new sprayhood, finally fitted the day before I left, only a year late.

The clouds obscured the sky until well into the night when a few stars started to become visible. People started snoozing for periods at this stage, but at 2am I found myself alone on watch when I saw that the wind had risen a little and changed direction to more northwest. So the yankee was set and we were off sailing at a good 6 knots. It was great to have the engine off as the boat was more stable and the silence allowed people to sleep easier. Maybe because she was my responsability, but I found it harder than the rest to sleep, but I did lie down when I could.

The sailing forced us to a slight course change as we couldn't sail with that wind to La Rochelle. We headed instead for Royan, at the mouth of the Gironde, some 20 miles short of La Rochelle. Presuming the wind still held, I was happy to do this as it let us all rest and we had lots of time to reach La Rochelle. Sadly, there was a strong tide against us on the way into the estuary, which probably cost us an extra hour or two. On the way into Royan, we ran aground at low water, when we should have had a metre under us. So we dropped the anchor outside and had lunch and a siesta. Later on entering, I found out that my guide book had the wrong depth marked so at least I had someone to blame !!!!!

Royan is a touristy spot for the Bordelaises and others from nearby towns. I found it a bit cheesy going around in the afternoon but by evening they were gone and it was much more relaxed. We had a great feed, cooked by Joel. We had a vote during the night and he was awarded the honour of cooking the crew the "welcome to France" dinner. Naturally, Joel was asleep when the vote was made............ We had Lomo, peppers, pan roasted spuds and a magnum of Crianza awarded to the crew by Jose Manuel, my wine supplier. He must have known how difficult life on board was to have been !!!!!

Next morning, it was off to La Rochelle. Light winds on the nose were forecast again, but they were enough to kick up 3 metre waves on the strong ebbing tide out of the Gironde. once past that, we motored for an hour and a half before we could sail for a glorious hours or so up to the end of the Ile D'Oleron, where we turned east for the city. I started cooking dinned at this stage since we would be tied up in the huge Mimimes marina in no time. NOT !! When we got there, it seemed more packed than I remembered and I was informed by the Capitanerie that there were no berths for the night, but certainly not for 6 weeks. Worry started to furrow my brow before he offered to call the old port in town to see if there was space there. We were given 2 nights but no guarantees about longer. Ther old town has 3 lovely yacht basins, some more crowded with gawking tourists than others. The bridge was lifted for us and we found a lovely corner with an alongside berth. Ideal! Also it was in one of the quieter basins.

The following few days were about sun cream, yacht brokers, chandleries, and of course Derrick cracking the whip on the cleaning projects we had to do. While we were in town, Joel took some great shots which I have included on a separate page, but there are lots of them so it might take time to download. So Suckin Diesel is now happily sitting aongst some real megayachts, snoozing until we get back...