Marabu Cruises


By Brenda McCurdy 


6 to 20 July 2002

Onboard: Andrew Clark (Skipper), Barrie Smith (Mate), Bob Bridgeman, Graham Clark, Sarah Doughty,
Brenda McCurdy

After two flights (first to a hot and busy Madrid airport and then on to the cooler coast at Bilbao) and one bag lighter (!) we still had to make our way to Marabu, which was located in France! But plans had been well laid and our team was driven overnight in the hire vehicle from Bilbao and reached Marabu in La Rochelle at around 02:00. Sunday was a day of making plans and catching up with sleep. After a good evening in the old town of La Rochelle, we left on Monday morning for the two-day sail back to Bilbao. We sailed with the main, mizzen, jib and engine. The winds were light south-west Force 2/3, and didn’t increase as much as expected during the night. It was also soon apparent that there were problems with the engine – maybe caused by dirty diesel. Everyone was a little worried by this but not unduly alarmed and some investigatory engine work was
carried out.


That first night was spent in darkness – no moon or stars, just a black sea. A paler distant sky turned into strange lights on the horizon, and eventually developed into the lights of a fishing fleet, which we played with in a strange game of chess.

Early on Tuesday we were startled by a shout from Barrie and we hurried on deck to watch a school of porpoises curving through the water alongside, zipping across the bows and watching us. Could they know that we were a bit cold and rather wet, with only a Force 3 wind and no engine? ‘Do you think they’re laughing at us?’ Graham asked. Five minutes later they were gone, and we continued on our slow passage to Bilbao.


It was good to eventually see the first lighthouse of Bilbao. We arrived in the port on Wednesday morning and were soon cheered by the blissful combination of warm sunshine and our first sight of pint-sized gin and tonics. We soon learned to live with the macho wine pouring of the Spanish barmen. The lost bag, belonging to Barrie, was delivered to the boat later that afternoon. We teased him about lost bag syndrome – he still hadn’t opened it by 19:45. It was Sarah’s birthday and we had rather a good dinner in a restaurant in the marina that was almost empty at 21:00. when we arrived, but bursting at the seams half an hour later.


The following day – on Brenda’s birthday, Andrew and Barrie donned the boiler suit in turn and took the engine apart before we went into Bilbao. We took the metro to the Guggenheim, a fabulous silver concoction that hardly resembled a building. It was fascinating, the art was intriguing and there was also a Kandinsky exhibition. On Friday morning we chugged out of Bilbao harbour, past container ships and fishing boats. It was hot and sunny with a light wind – and we had a long way to go. With the cruising chute we still only made 2.5 knots so it had to be the engine again, although it set off the gas alarm. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch on deck with blue sky, a blue sea mostly to ourselves and, in the background lay the impressive sierras, edged with cliffs to the sea. (My notes say ‘liberal red wine’, but that could be an exaggeration.) 

We arrived in Santander on Friday evening. To start with we moored to the town quay – avoiding the charming little bronze statues diving off the edge – and amidst lots of Spanish interest and arm waving. It soon became apparent it would become too shallow to stay by this wall – but not before Andrew and Barrie had paid a quick visit to the Capitainerie, Bob had disappeared for a ten-minute walk and Graham had prepared gin and tonics for the rest of us. We anchored in a bay, and spent a pleasant evening on the deck cheering the racers rowing past and feeling glad we were not moored next to a busy Santander street.


On Saturday we planned to make the 60-mile trip to Ribadasella, so it was an early start with all the sails up and the engine. The sea was a smooth silky-grey and there was a swell but only a light wind, so it was 9.30 p.m. by the time we motored gently in over the bar at Ribadasella and searched unsuccessfully for a suitable mooring. We reckoned we’d found the right ambience here – there were bars and lights and lots of people walking rather sedately up and down – but we had to anchor in the deep part of the river and make do with our own ambience, which we did as night fell and we looked up at the stars in this magical place.


We were lucky that the engine took us out of the harbour on Sunday morning; it didn’t fail until we’d reached the exit. After revving out of control with a flurry of smoke, Marabu then sat quietly on a glassy sea. It seemed that our engine team knew the cause of the trouble but could not cure it – they could only ease the symptoms and worry about it – especially when the wind reached barely 5 knots. We had a very gentle day’s sailing, with warm sunshine and a blue sea, and mobile calls home about the engine. With one last try, changing filters yet again, we were able to motor gently into Gijon – with the foresail handy on the rail and into a comforting berth at a large marina. Our meal in Gijon had a typically Spanish flavour. It was followed by a late night walk to a strange Folly we had seen earlier from the coast, now in the pitch dark!

The light following winds persisted on Monday and we used an assortment of sails to make our way to Ribadeo. Andrew told us it was an exercise in learning different ways of sailing downwind. Certainly the poled-out genoa plus the cruising chute did their job but keeping the helm with the state of wind and tide was also challenging. Bob excelled himself at keeping our course, holding on for dear life, while Andrew expertly navigated us into the bay in the middle of the night, amidst a barrage of confusing lights, and Barrie weighed the anchor. We awoke to find ourselves in a quiet bay overshadowed by the huge Ribadeo railway bridge. Later that day we waited for the tide and moved into the little harbour by the wall, which was close by an classy restaurant with the town and its busy market only a short walk away. Then it was on to Vivero, an anchorage in a very pretty bay and a chance to swim. We left in the morning through thick fog, dodging fishing boats, on the short passage to Cedeira. We felt we were beginning to relax into the Spanish Rias after our long journey from France.


Suddenly – as always – the last day’s sailing arrived much too soon, although I suspect that our skipper was very relieved to have reached La Coruña safely with such a fragile engine. We celebrated with a few gin and tonics, and a cultural trip up the hill to see the memorial to General Sir John Moore, who had died while covering the escape of British troops in 1809. We read the moving poem dedicated to his memory. 


That night our team was joined by Sally and Mike as part of the next cruise and we enjoyed a lovely evening out in the squares and restaurants of La Coruña.


Thanks to Andrew and Barrie for their skilful handling of Marabu’s problems, and the rest of the crew for making this a very memorable trip.