|2009 Postcard from Ione 3|
Over a month has flashed past since the last communal postcard. A month in which we have sailed over 500 miles, had two sets of guests and made two quick trips back to UK. Wet days have been thankfully rare, but today in Gijón is one so it seems a good opportunity to sit at the computer.
After a few days in La Rochelle we moved back to St Martin on Ile de Ré where we were joined for a week by Chris & Lindsey Ingoldby. Ile de Ré was connected to the mainland some 20 years ago by a long bridge and is a delightful and fashionable (but expensive) holiday resort. St Martin was fortified against the English by Vauban and so has recently become a World Heritage site.
The little marina, with a gate opening for some 5 hours each tide, is right in the centre close to the shops, a superb market and beaches. Also close is the prison, partly built in the Vauban fortifications, which used to be the main centre for penal deportation from France to her colonies and used as such until 1938!
From St Martin it was a gentle sail over to Ile d'Oléron. An overnight stop in Boyardville was limited by the impending arrival of a cruise for disabled sailors, so we moved on to St Denys for 24 hours, from where we cycled 15 miles around the north of the island, visiting the salt marshes with wonderful bird life (of the stilt variety). Keeping to the islands we next anchored off Ile d'Aix from where Napoleon surrendered to the Bellérophon and was then taken to St Helena. A quarter of a million visitors each year swamp the handful of residents, but in mid June the main holidays had yet to start, so the island was relatively uncrowded.
As the crew was finding the rolling anchorage off Aix uncomfortable we retreated to Minimes in La Rochelle to be attached to terra firma for the night before sailing to the River Charente. The 12 mile passage upstream to Rochefort took us under the old transporter bridge. Arriving at high water we locked into the marina. Rochefort was developed by Colbert in the 1660s as the main naval dockyard for France, being defendable from the sea, having a good supply of timber and with the locals having sailing and shipbuilding skills. Local workers were all given a plot of land on which to build their houses with the streets laid out in a rectangular grid pattern.
We visited the Corderie Royale - rope factory - a single building of 300m rebuilt after being burnt by the Germans retreating at the end of WWII, and the Hermione, a reconstruction of a brig being built by 'traditional' methods. The last time we saw Hermione was four years ago and then she was planned to be launched in 2008. Progress has been very slow and the supposed launch date is now 2011. With a huge number of paying visitors viewing progress one wonders whether it has been seen as more profitable to continue to build slowly rather than to launch!
From Rochefort we returned to La Rochelle, sailing between the towers into the Vieux Port, before locking in to the Bassin des Yachts to leave Ione for a few days and return to UK.
Returning from Southampton with Flybe in late June we were joined by Simon and Aurélie for a few nights giving us an excuse to go back to St Martin and spend a night off Ile d'Aix. The dinghy was put to good use and Ione remained a no-smoking zone!
Thence to Spain. We had been uncertain whether we would cross Biscay to A Coruña and then work back east along the north coast of Spain or take the shorter passage south and then work west. In the event the weather made the decision for us as we would have needed NW winds to make A Coruña and the forecast promised westerlies. The passage across the bay does need some planning. The distance to Bilbao is barely over 200 miles - so shorter than the passage between Southampton and Brest which we have done many times - but it is open to the Atlantic swell, big seas can build up over the continental shelf and there are no ready ports of refuge.
However by 6 July the weather grib files for the next few days were looking good with a WNW5 due to decrease slowly from the south and the swell likewise. So off we went, initially to spend a night in St Denys d'Oléron to save ourselves a ten mile windward beat the next morning. Leaving St Denys at 0640 we skirted showers whilst motoring the short distance to the north of the island before heading WSW with a reef and a roll on a fine reach in a force 5 towards Castro Urdiales some 185 miles distant. As forecast the wind eased and by midnight we were under full sail with 12 knots of true wind and a full moon. The wind progressively dropped through the night, dying at dawn, then coming and going through the morning but by noon we were anchored in Castro Urdiales after a crossing of just under 30 hours.
Castro Urdiales is a favourite spot and this was our third visit. The harbour is well sheltered from the north and west and overlooked by a beautiful 14th century basilica. There are quite a number of moorings but these are all private, so one anchors in about 12 metres inside the entrance. The water is not only warm but so clear that the bottom is often visible when swimming. Ashore there are plentiful tapas bars and decent food shops. A delightful 24 hours was spent relaxing after the crossing before we moved back to Las Arenas marina in Bilbao for a brief trip to UK. Last year the Las Arenas Royal Yacht Club was closed after ETA had bombed the top floor, however now all has been rebuilt. A single night in Castro Urdiales was inadequate, so on our return from UK we headed straight back there intending to spend a couple of nights there. Not having blown up our dinghy AMB swam to another boat to invite them across for drinks! Two nights turned into three as the wind got up from the west. Inside the harbour we were well sheltered but even so were recording gusts of 35 knots and needed to relay our anchor as we swung close to the quay on 42 metres of chain. However the extra time was well spent as we watched a procession of boats escorting a virgin around the harbour.
From Castro Urdiales we had a gentle beat to Santoña, a fishing town which has seen more prosperous days but which still has a sizeable tuna fleet and is becoming a (slightly downmarket!) holiday resort. Good food and good company with the boat next door made this a worthwhile visit.
Thence a pleasant broad reach in E4 to Santander. We first tried to get into the new marina at Pedreña but were too big. The maximum here seems to be about 10m. We did not particularly want to go up river to the rather soulless Cantábrico marina near the airport but we did want to be able to get water. Luckily one single slot was available for one night at the Royal Yacht Club near the town centre. Here we watered the boat at the berth and ourselves at a tapas bar watching a pipe band.
The forecast for the next day was fine, but then a band of heavy rain was due so we decided to avoid the tiny harbour of Llanes, miss Ribadesella and head straight for the comfort of Gijón. With little wind this meant that the 85 miles were mainly under motor, but at least it took only 14 hours, allowing us to arrive in time for an excellent and cheap meal overlooking the harbour.
From Gijón where next? So far since May we have been following some familiar routes and revisiting favourite haunts. We will now go west along a bit of the coast which we have never sailed before, heading towards A Coruña. We have no detailed plans - over the next month the ocean and weather will decide.
Best wishes to all
Sarah & Tony
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