VIGO TO BILBAO
By John Sampson
‘A long-legged cruise and an electrifying experience’
10 to 22 August 1998
Onboard: Paul Sharpstone (Skipper), Bill Scatchard (Mate), Mary McDermott, Javier Martinez, Dennis Metherall, Hazel Parker, Roy Pegler, John Rouse, John Sampson
The advantage of being tacked on to a Tall Ships’ jamboree was that the transport to Vigo was arranged with the smooth efficiency and economy one would expect from a National body of high repute. A charter flight to Santiago would leave Heathrow at midnight followed by a 50 mile coach drive to Vigo, while not going by the most obvious route, promised to get to Marabu at about 03:00. A cheerful prospect indeed, but, in the event, the instructions to the Weather Man proved to have been inadequate and our pilot, being unable to land at a fog bound Santiago airport, took us on to Oporto 120 miles further south.
So, about 300 would-be sailors became the not-particularly-welcome guests of an Oporto airport which thought it had shut down for the night. About one hour earlier another 300 home-going sailors had arrived in a fleet of nine coaches at Santiago airport expecting to climb into two aeroplanes, which were in fact about to land 120 miles away. If you had been the duty manager of the travel agency awoken at 15:30 hours by a telephone call with these glad tidings what would you have done? In fact, whoever it was, did a pretty good job, because we were only about ten hours late reaching Marabu and joining the other three members of our crew, who had wisely chosen alternative methods of travel.
That was Tuesday; a day of relaxation and public opening for the assembled Tall Ships which were impressively lined up against the extensive dock walls. Wednesday morning was to see the Parade of Sail with the Crown Prince of Spain taking the salute prior to the start of the final leg of the Tall Ships' Race from Vigo to Dublin. Marabu was not participating in this leg but we did spend most of the morning milling about with the fleet forming up for the Parade and this was an unforgettable sight on a lovely morning.
The Parade itself was an anticlimax as it was too long-drawn out and the ladies were distressed that His Royal Highness was miles out of sight. So then we broke away from the masses to plough our lone furrow up the coast.
We anchored for the night off Combarro, an alternative fishing village up the Ria de Pontevedra but the offshore wind was reckoned too strong for us to get ashore. We had covered about ten miles leaving only about 450 to do in the next nine days – this was not going to be a leisurely trip!
However, the Rias are the most attractive sailing areas in this part of Spain so the next port of call was Pueba del Caraminal in the Ria de Arosa where we could berth alongside the pontoon in a small marina for a shopping spree and ‘splendid nosh’ ashore. Friday morning’s forecast brought a gale warning for Finisterre so planning for further dallying on this delightful coast was rejected in favour of a night sail over the 120 miles to Coruna.
On entering Coruna harbour there is the most gorgeous medieval castle on the left. Straight ahead is a yacht club with a fairly small and crowded marina, but it did have a fuel berth – and we needed fuel so we joined the queue. The entertainment laid on by our thoughtful skipper started here and in a tight manoeuvre our inquisitive propeller found a mussel bag and wrapped it around the shaft. (A mussel bag is one which can be hung over the stern of a small fishing boat so that they stay fresh unless, that is, some idiot backs his propeller into it.)
No divers came rushing forward for the lucrative job of saving the English yachties, since it was a Fiesta Day in Coruna. This is quite normal in Spain since there are a lot of Saints and each one has to have a Day.
However, all was well, because hidden away among our typical Marabu crew of elderly layabouts were our two guardian angels, Dennis and Javier. (The former, a member of the elite Metropolitan Police squad of outriders who escort Royalty and other Notables round London was aided by the latter, a Spanish Navel Architect and outport member of our club who took a liking to Marabu years ago.)
The Man from the Met stripped off and was in and out of the water waving the mussel bag in about ten seconds flat, enabling us to be directed away to the old harbour, near the city centre and presided over by the vulnerable old Royal Yacht Club. This establishment opened its doors to us and inside was like a set for a TV Victorian drama.
After aperitifs in the crowded main square, and a meal we were back aboard by 01:00 in preparation for the next day-night-day, 130 mile leg to Luarca, a small fishing port situated well round the top left hand corner of Spain and along the Costa Verde. A long beat against a north-east Force 4–5 up to the corner was followed by a good sail. When the wind dropped we started motorsailing. Then the electrifying part of the cruise asserted itself when it was noticed that for no apparent reason the batteries were not charging.
We berthed outside a big brand new fishing boat against the wall in the crowded and marina-less harbour of Luarca. Getting ashore was something of an obstacle course but we made it for food and drinks at a jolly little Club Nantico. Our resident interpreter, Javier, was able to alert a ship’s electrician to attend in the morning. He was closely involved all day as the alternator was removed, declared faulty after testing ashore, and renewed. With all apparently well and charging and only 23 hours after entering, we left Luarca at 17:00 hours for the next and longest leg to Santander about 150 miles away.
Only one snag – at first – no wind. We motored all night and then all the following day along and a few miles off, the attractive north Spanish coast, entering Santander at 20:00 hours after logging 29 engine hours and with only two and a half gallons of diesel in the tank and none in reserve! The other snag was that in the early hours of the morning at sea the navigation lights had gone dim – an electrical gremlin was still with us! Santander had been scheduled for a little rest and relaxation so we looked for an alongside berth in the yacht harbour but Marabu actually came to rest firmly aground in the middle of the basin – surely a strange place for a shoal! Valiant attempts by the locals failed to move us and we had to wait to float off but the time was not wasted since a refuelling party was dispatched with cans and taxi money.
We were not sorry to leave the yacht harbour and anchor outside for the night.
The next and last port of call was Santona only 27 miles away. It was Javier’s home town and a fishing port with good facilities so he was able to lay on further electrical expertise to meet us on arrival and hopefully guarantee a clean bill of electrical health for the next crew. Several of us had been introduced to Santona on a previous cruise so we had a nostalgic tour of the town and dined at an excellent restaurant.
The final afternoon sail into Bilbao was a good one and Javier’s brotherand nephew enjoyed it with us. Berthing alongside a pontoon in the Bilbao yacht club’s new marina was agreat improvement and the final dinner ashore was voted the best of a memorable cruise. I returned home by train!