A Coruña, the Rias Baias, Northern Spain, Western France (Rochefort), 2011

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A straightforward, day to day account of what we have done during the current year's cruise. What we found may help others. I hope that anyone interested in the area will cherry pick rather than trying to read from start to finish.

Our boat is a Hallberg Rassy 34, Anhinga. It is crewed by Frank Singleton, Jennifer Singleton, Margaret Roberts-Homeyer,

Plans for 2011

After fitting out at Marina Sada, Ria Betanzos, near A Coruña, we will probably head southwards to meet up with John our second son and Max, his second son, Max graduates from (American for finishes) High School at the end of May and this is to be part of his break before starting at Georgia tech in August. We hope that he will enjoy a couple of weeks in the Rias Baias.

After that we intend retracing our steps to A Coruña and then around the north coast of Spain visiting some old favourites and some new ones before heading for the Charente and Rochefort for the winter.

Pre-sailing problems

After the excitement of the start to our 2010 season with the Icelandic volcano, our Vueling flight from Heathrow to A Coruña was uneventful. Anhinga looked in as good shape as to be expected after standing ashore for 7#seven months.

Getting back in the water looks like being a problem as the travel hoist has a tyre that is unsafe and they are awaiting a new one. Slow progress. However, we had a number of jobs to do. We were fitting a new radio to replace the rather poor Raymarine that had given trouble right from the start back in 2005. It was cheaper to buy a new ICOM M505 than spend money on the Raymarine. We had to replace the NAVTEX aerial at the same time and were able to tidy up our rather amateurish wiring.

We now have a radio that, hopefully, will be as reliable as the Raymarine was not and a NAVTEX that works without interfering with the GPS.

Areas and places visited

A Coruña and the Rias Baias

The Rias Altas

Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque country (Asturias, Cantabrico, vasco)


Marina Sada - A Coruña - Rias Baias.

Marina Sada

Sada is a small, pleasant working town. The Carrefours right by the marina is adequate rather than good but there are better shops a little walk away. A bonus is the small restaurant near the marina where they serve an excellent menu de dias. A choice of two for the prima and secondo platti, three choices for desert, a bottle of wine and coffee - €25,50 for the three of us. All good. All prepared on site. Great value.

Marina Sada May 6 to 9

Travel life tyre arrived early on the Friday. We were second launch and in the water by 1230. Engine started at first asking but gear lever jammed solid. Mechanic from Punta Aramel arrived promptly. After much muttering, probably unprintable Spanish, he took away the gear control mechanism. We were on the fuel berth so two marineros skilfully took charge and sailed us 100 m or so to a berth,

The mechanic arrived later with a functional control. It is 20 years old, time for a replacement

Saturday and Sunday were wet and windy putting paid to ideas of rigging the mainsail. Monday was better, got the main on but too windy and wrong direction to hoist in the berth.

To A Coruña, Dárseña de la Marina. May 10, 11 NM.

Left Marina Sada with some regret. We just like the low key town and marina. At €200 a month ashore it was not expensive although the €28 per night in the water in May seemed rather high. There is free WiFi of variable quality. When good, we could use it to hear BBC Radio 4. When poor, there was no signal.

This was our commissioning sail - no wind so motored round to A Coruña. Tried the reefs. true to form the second reef jammed solid. We have single line reefing for the first two reefs but slab on the third. The problem is that it is a bit crowded in the boom and some care is needed to get all lines straight.

Dárseña de la Marina is smaller than the new Marina Coruña, nearer the shops, quieter and, in May, €10 less per night. No contest. The marineros are all friendly, they pulled my leg about my "Pequina Español” on my VHF call. As usual, they did not reply but were there to meet us and see us to a berth.

There is good, free WiFi here. Understandably, the system does not allow "Streaming media" so we could only get news in text not voice. Good showers and toilets.

After the wind died away, we were able to sort out the reefs and all (touch wood) seems fine.

At A Coruña, May 10 to 16

Persistent strong winds kept us in port, along with several others going north and south. We did not like the idea of passing Capo Villano, even running, in a F8. As we were going o be in Spain for at least three months, I invested in a data dongle - after finding that a Spanish SIM card would not handle data using my phone.

Some socializing, walking, much reading, some work on this site plus handling queries were the order of the days.

The Yacht club, noted in the Pilot as formal, was welcoming - except for Sunday when we were turned away rather brusquely. Lunch, menu del dias, at €13 a head was excellent, including water, wine and coffee. Smart casual was the norm and, even during the evening, ties were not de rigeur. We were told that the evening meal also had a low cost menu and was available at £normal" UK time.

Met "Mac" Macdiarmid single-handing back northwards and facing a long wait for a favourable wind; Donal and Anne on a 42 ft Irish Bavaria, Fand and David and Jackie both heading south.

Still in low season, €108 for 7 nights was less than half the Sada rate in the water. Plus, we were given three bottles of wine on departure. It was not clear whether this was to all marina users, as a bonus for staying 7 days, or a thanks for returning. Whatever, it was a nice gesture. We reciprocated, in small part, by giving our old but still serviceable Genoa sheets to one of the marineros. A little heavy and too thick for us, no doubt he can find a use or user for them. Free WiFi.

A Coruña to Caramiñas, May 17, 52 NM

The forecast had been suggesting a 2 or three day window. The start was fine but, after Islas Sisargas, the wind freshened to a near dead run F5 or 6. We ran under head-sail alone averaging 5.5 knots.

The yacht club marina answered our call on Ch 9 instantly. The wind showed no sign of abating and the afternoon GFS GRIB now had a strong wind around Cape Finisterre for the nest three days.

At Caramiñas.18 - 20th

The enforced stay was not a bad thing. First, our fresh water pump decided it was time to go into retirement. We had a spare but the pump is under the main cockpit locker floor boards. An easy but lengthy job.

The bigger problem was my OpenCPN chart plotter software. This had been doing some off things lately. it would, apparently cause the touchpad to cease working; not a big problem once I had worked out how to navigate Window entirely with key strokes. More seriously, it was causing the laptop to crash leaving no option but to use the power switch and do a crash restart.

I reloaded the software, I re-unzipped the CM93 chart files. All to no avail. I asked Richard Chambers (Myrica, HR34, now in the Mediterranean) for help. My saviour was Pavel on the Cruising and Sailing forum. The trick (as the UEA man unwisely said) was to go to C:\ProgramData\opencpn and delete all its contents. Then re-open OpenCPN. It worked! Thanks, Pavel.

Saturday looks a sensible time to move on. We like Caramiñas but it does seem a windy old place. Five times here now and on four of those, we have had to wait for the weather. Mike hopefully going north, who gave me a copy of CM93, had been here for two weeks and still no slot in sight.

Had drinks on Fand with Mike and Carole off Phantom Lady, Colin and 3auline off Amy, a Nicholson 22. Both had crossed the big pond several times. Makes us seem very timid.

The small town has adequate shopping for provisions. The club house is small but friendly. Showers and loos basic but clean. At €16 a night, pretty good. Free WiFi

To Portosίn. May 21, 41 NM

After a short motor out of the Ria, this was a good sail, largely right down wind, rising to a good F5, touching 6. As on previous occasions the wind increased at the entrance to Ria Muros, sucking us in. No answer on VHF from the Club Naútico but we (and Fand) were helped in. Excellent English from an extremely friendly and helpful lady in the Capitania. Then a dash up the steep hill to a nearby Eroski for provisions.

We seem to be surrounded by the Irish. Well, counting Fand, two at least. Cormack single-handing on his Island Packet, Island Life was trying to get northwards. With no real let up in the strong northerlies, he was clutching at straws. Good luck.

The nearby town of Noia, a short bus ride away, is pleasantly quiet. Unfortunately, the one church that we wanted to see - very old with interesting tombs inside - was closed.

A meal at the yacht club was good but not cheap by local standards. Showers and the club laundrette were excellent. At this rather upmarket club, marina fees were €32 a night. Free WiFi.

To Ribeira, May 24, 32 NM

Although all forecasts were for a break in the strong northerly winds it was uncomfortably windy in the marina. Our slot was not going to give s straightforward departure so we waited until lunch. In fact, once out of the marina, winds were considerably lighter. We had a reasonably gentle sail until, approaching Ria Arousa, winds dropped so light that we had to motor.

Not having been to Pibeira before we wanted to explore despite the rather ambivalent pilot description. First impressions were not good. Few yachts in the marina. A wave breaker where a wall would have given better protection and which seemed to serve as a seagull toilet. We called on Ch 9 but, as usual, had no reply. Just as usual, a marinero met us and helped us to moor alongside a finger berth. In the office, he suggested that I put our length as 10 m not 10, 3 m. That saved us €5 a night. There is free WiFi.

The club house is impressive but stark in appearance although well appointed inside. Facilities are good, better than the more attractive Caramiñal. Provisioning is easy with a large, Tesco type supermarket close by – Haleys, a new one to us. There is a small bar cum restaurant that serves good coffee.

Expecting more strong northerlies and the pilot warning, rightly, of berths near the entrance being uncomfortable I spoke to a marinero. He and his colleagues were as helpful as any. During the evening, they helped us move to a more protected berth, Full marks. Most marineros in Spain are helpful and friendly, that is what the job is about. Here, they are at the top of the league showing just that little bit more concern for your welfare.

Ribeira is a working town with a large fishing fleet but has a pleasant adjacent beach. On an, admittedly, hot day we saw people swimming even though it is still May. A check of our temperature gauge suggested sea temperatures of over 20°C. This we have never seen in the Rias before. On many counts, we like Ribeira.

We tried the small restaurant/bar at the club. Inexpensive coffee and beer. Excellent lunch – Ribs of beef and sausage served over hot coals at the table to keep hot, salad and a mound of excellent chips. With beer and coffee, €10 per head. Good value.

To Combarro, May 28, 23 NM

The kind of sail that makes it all worthwhile. A broad reach our of Ria Arousa, some finer reaching to the entrance to Ria Pontevedra, then as the day time heating got going, the sea breeze effect pulled us into Ria Pontevedra. Many racing coats out of San Xenxo, or so it seemed but no real sign of a race. Is there a meeting nearby or were they just practising?

We called Combarro for a berth. “No problem.” Uncharacteristically, they missed us coming in and we had to move berth to one for visitors despite there being man empty spaces. I suppose they have their rules.

We always like Combarro. At a little over €21 it is not expensive. Shopping is easy but not great although there is a good bread and cake shop with a wide variety of fattening goodies. The “Hórreos”, grain stores, for which the town is famous are always worth seeing.

To Sanxenxo, May 30, 9 NM

We last visited Sanxenxo when it was just starting to become a major marina. Now it is large, b most standards with many large motor boats. We found it rather soulless with cheap looking bars around the marina and in the nearby town. Toilets and shower rooms were well done but they had economised on shower fittings and 3 out of 6 were broken. The plus was the reception, a prompt call on Ch 9, being efficiently met and escorted to a berth, then a very helpful fluent English speaking young lad in the office. The nearby supermarket was limited but there was an excellent fish and meat market, also an excellent fruit and vegetable shop. Helpfully, the office arranged a rig check for us.

Still in May we paid a very low €14 but from June 1, this would escalate to an exorbitant €35. We did not stay.

To Vigo, June 1, 30 NM

We had never visited Vigo itself although we had been up and down the Ria. The morning GRIB forecast had Suggested stronger winds by late afternoon although these were not mentioned b the Spanish forecast. In fact, as we rounded the headland into Ria Vigo, the wind pepped up to a good F5 giving a one reef beat to the club.

Réal Club Nautico Vigo are about as friendly and efficient as one could imagine. I had emailed them to ask about a berth and laundry; we got an immediate reply. On arrival, the usual unanswered call on Ch 9 resulted in us being met and shepherded through their corded marina with its complex basins. In the office, Begoña gave us a comprehensive briefing. Temporary membership of the club is included with its swimming pool and other facilities. All for €22 a night.

The nearby supermarket is a small and expensive Spar but, in the town, near C & A (shown on the Mp given us by Begoña, there are two larger and much better quality and priced supermarkets. The menu del dias at the Club for €8.50 was excellent. Three courses, glasses of wine, water and coffee included.

We met Andy and Karen on the Feeling 44, Suli, CA members. They had been having problems on their boat. The Marina staff, Begoña and the manager got it sorted with minimum fuss. Later we met our Irish friends, Donal and Ann of Fang, who were wanting to move from another Vigo marina to the Club Nautico. Again, Begoña came to the fore. Donal called her a veritable dynamo.

To Bayona via Isla Cies

On our way to Bayona, we had a lunch time anchorage off the reserve at Isla Cies; one of the most delightful of all the Rias anchorages. The afternoon was spoilt by a crowd of small racing yachts that came in, dropped anchors, went ashore leaving long banners the length of their forestays. The result was a constant flapping that they could not hear but was extremely annoying to us.

The RCN Bayona is clearly nowhere as efficient as Vigo. Their website booking produced no response. I telephones on the Saturday morning and was told there would be a berth. When we arrived, the marinero said “Completo.” We explained in our best Anglo-Spanish and he relented. Despite Rally Portugal being in town, there were spaces. We think that he really just did not want to make the effort. The club may be as friendly as people say. The message has never got to the marineros. This is much as it was back in 1998.

Met Jonathan Eddy, HR 43 and CA member who is on his way south with Rally Portugal. He threw some interesting sidelights on the rally. Also met Danish couple, Sten and Marie Rose, on their Southerly 32. Alan and Karen, Suli had arrived the previous day.

It was quite windy so there was a fair amount of noise from loose halyards and the flags of the rally boats. However, the worst noise was these wretched racing boats, again left with nobody on board but still with all their banners flying. One of the Ralls kippers complained and then there was blessed peace – apart from normal marina noises.

At nearly €31 a night, we did not think that CRC Bayona was a good deal. Last July, in the Marina Deportivo, we only paid €21!

Back to Combarro, June, 7 25 NM

It had been a chilly night and seemed to be a colder day. Nevertheless, it was a good sail back to Combarro. This was in order to meet John and Max coming from Atlanta, GA, via Charlotte, NC. Madrid and then bus to Pontevedra. Hope they survive the trip.

Coming up Ria Pontevedra we passed a lovely small gaff cutter, Planet. flying a CA burgee. Simon and Cat Holman are taking a couple or three years off before settling down to the realities of life. all good luck to them. They have been down to the Ned through the canals but are returning to the UK, like us, the hard way. But, unlike us, they want to get back this year. We exchanged pictures of each others' boat. I cannot help thinking that we got the better of the deal.

From June 10 to 22

John and Max arrived from the USA on the 9th after a long trip - 2 flights, a long bus ride and a taxi to Combarro. On Friday, June 10, we had a good beat and reach to the Isla Cies anchorage for a late lunch then on to Bayona Puerto Deportivo for the night, another good fast sail. The showers and toilets are still in portacabins due to planning problems. We arrived just after a UKSA boat with a large crew – result cold water.

At about €22, it is 2/3rds the price of the RCN Bayona. There is free Wifi in the Capitania. Due to Jennifer’s eagle eye, we met Up with Donal and Ann again, this time in a bar. We had an indifferent meal out.

To Isla Cies and Camariñal, June 11 and 12, 9 NM and 26 NM

The following day we had a good short sail to an overnight anchorage off Isla Cies. Delightful, not too busy. John, Max, Jennifer and I tried the bar and asked for Pina Coladas. Cleanly unknown territory for the barman. We compromised with Malibu rum and pineapple juice. Pretty good.

The next day we went on to Caramiñal. After a quiet start, the wind picked up and was broad enough for a 9 mile spinnaker run. A call on Ch 9 brought a very helpful marinero who showed us to a nice quiet berth. €24 a night seems OK although showers and loos need some considerable TLC although they are clean. More free WiFi. We find it odd that the most expensive marina so far charged for WiFi.

Overnight it rained and the next day started dull, cold drizzly, miserable. After shopping we had hoped to eat out but further rain put paid to that.

Back to Portosin partly for some washing in their superb machines. Good provisioning and a good meal.

Camariñal to A Coruña

Forecasts are looking good to get round to Camariñas for a day there before going on to A Coruña. John and Max have to get back to Madrid for a flight early Thursday. The sail to Camariñas was in a good SW F5 touching 6 at times but with a very rolly sea. As predicted by Spanish Met and GRIBs, the wind duly went NW and dropped off a little giving a short beat before reaching into the Camariñas Ria.

It was then that the engine decided not to start. Anchored off the marina, went in by outboard to check a place. Disconnected the fuel line and used the fuel in the Jerry can to get to a berth. We had never realised just how much fuel goes back into the tank when using the engine. The 10 litre can probably had no more than 3 litres left after about 100 m at most.

The club has a small restaurant but does a good small menu. The following day, we explored the fuel tank siphoning fuel from the lowest point. It was very dirty and needed about 3 litres removing to get clean fuel. Disconnected the fuel line from the tank to find the exit blocked with filthy black gunge. Cleaned, reconnected and hey presto!

Had excellent meal, just about our best ever in Spain, at Hospedaxe Plaia, a small restaurant/hotel at the head of the Ria. This is run by a former export manager of a leather/tanning company. Excellent English – and several other languages.

Met Nigel Blundell on Griffin, a Starlight 35 and CA member. They are going south. Also said Hello to Endurance, an Irish Dehler 36. We had heard them in Ria Vigo talking about swimming off Isla Cies. Brrrrrrr!!

Back to A Coruña, June 19, 51 NM

One of those good fast sails, broad reach or dead run. OK for spinnaker at times, poled out Genoa at others. 9 hours 30 minutes from casting off to mooring in Dárseña de la Marina. Here, as ever we were met by a friendly marinero who replied instantly on Ch 9.

John, Max and I walked to the station to book sleeper train to Madrid on Wednesday. Booking took a long time because their on-line computer went down. Workmen drilling just by the desk might have been the cause. Lunch at the RCNC was excellent at €15 per head, including wine, water, bread coffee and three courses. We met the “Presidente” and thanked him for allowing visiting yachtsman to use his magnificent clubhouse.

Met up with CA member and old friend, Tony Warr on Diatonic, a Bavaria. Tony is on his way back to the UK from the Caribbean via the Azores. A Coruña is his first stop in Europe. Tony used to run (his son now does) a firm specializing in diesel fuel bug treatment - FuelClear. He kindly gave us a bottle of the magic fluid and explained (as we knew) that only a biocide treatment is going to work.

John and Max returned to the US safely. The night train to Madrid got them there just in time for their flight. The lucky old so-and-sos got upgraded to FIRST class! The downside was that Max, being under 21 on a US Airline Could not have any alcohol. Our hearts bled for him.

We had a few days to recover from the pleasure of our family on board, did the laundry, and took the tram round the bay past the Torre del Hercules.

To Ria Cedeira,26 June, 25 NM

This was a quiet sail though foggy. The forecast did not mention fog but it is always possible in SW winds. Ria Cedeira, once in the bay by the town, is well sheltered, pretty and quiet.

To Viveiro, 27 June, 30 NM – on an unusually bad forecast.

The forecast that went wrong. The Spanish inshore forecast talked about winds, up to F 4, going from east to south, west and then northwest. Also, they did mention fog and mist patches although we had moderate visibility becoming good. Winds were light initially but increased to a good F5, near F6, near Cabo Ortegal; not surprising as this is a well known windy headland.

On the leg between Cabo Ortegal and Capo Bares, the wind dropped a little but then increased to a good F6. Expecting some increase near Capo Bares, and a broad reach into the Ria, we dropped the already one reefed mainsail and carried on under a half reefed Genoa. Near Capo Bares. Winds increases quickly so that after turning for Ria Vivero, the wind got up to a good F8 – 35 knots over the deck on a broad reach. It was not until well into Ria Viveiro that we got shelter from the land.

No reply on Ch 9, but the marinero was waiting for us and helped us into a good slot, bows to the wind; kind man. The office staff were as friendly as ever. Showers and loos are in portacabins but well kept, spotless and very hot water. We look forward to a pleasant few, weather-bound days here.

Having seen more of the town and marina, we have made an excellent choice. The town is small, friendly with that rare combination of well kept old buildings and good looking new ones. There are good walks around the area. Our Irish friends on Fang had wintered here and we can well see why.

Jennifer and I took the coach to Lugo to see the Roman wall, a world heritage site. Well preserved and complete. The town within the wall is not particularly old but had many fine buildings, good shopping and restaurants. The trip there was 3 hours bit we saw a good deal of the country and surrounding towns. Returning it was an express, 3 hours. A most enjoyable day.

We met up with CA member David Sykes and wife Susie on their Elizabethan, Treoggin II. Also Richard and Sabina Petterson on Noya, a Vancouver 34. They keep their boat at Viveiro and have an apartment overlooking the marina. They say that the abandoned round the world plans in favour of Biscay and Atlantic Iberia. We can well understand.

Viveiro charged a modest €21 a night BUT €112 for a week! Truly excellent value.

To Ribadeo, 3 July, 35 NM

The forecast light N winds were lighter than we had hope for so that this was the first time this year that we had to motor more than about 3 hours. The whole passage, in fact. The entrance to Ribadeo was much as we remembered from 1998. The marina, itself, however, has undergone some changes. Many more pontoons and ample space for visitors.

Probably because it was mid afternoon, there was no marinero to reply to our call on Ch 9. (Reeds says Ch 12, but that is incorrect. We used the well posted waiting pontoon and he duly arrived. Ribadeo has been noted as expensive. We paid €33 a night, only slightly more than Portosin and Bayona, less than Sanxenxo. Much more than Viveiro!

Facilities are good. The shops including a Gadis supermarket are up several flights of steps and then a short walk. The Ria is attractive enough although anchoring should be undertaken with care as there are extensive sandbanks above the marina.

To Luarca, 4 July, 25 NM

Another good sail although right down wind. Started with full sail but reduced to Genoa only as the wind got up to a good F 5. Of course, it promptly dropped but we still made good time. At Luarca, the buoys are now encased in a metal framework so that some care is needed if you are not to damage the gel coat when taking a line ashore to the quay.

Since our last visit here in 1998, the place has changed little. It is still one of the most attractive towns on this coast; plenty of good shops and market stalls. For old time's sake, we ate at the Méson de la Mar. This quiet, unpretentious restaurant specialises in fish and being in an active fishing port, it is always good. More pricey than 13 years ago but just as good.

Luarca makes few concessions to visiting yachts, apart from free moorings. However, these can be very rolly when a NW swell is running out at sea. Fishing boats also cause rocking and rolling. We would have liked to stay another day but the swell, already uncomfortable, was expected to increase.

To Avilés, 7 July, 26 NM

Partly because we expected a windy dead downwind, awkward swell, sail and partly because we wanted to know about Avilés, it seemed a sensible stopover en route to Gijon. The other possibility, Cudillero would have been difficult, if not dangerous. The wind certainly was reasonably strong at a good F5 reaching 6 at times but there was a big swell – over 3 metres. This made for tiring sailing even under headsail alone doing up to 7 knots.

Approaching Alvilés we called on Ch 12 and spoke to the pilot to check that no large vessels were moving. He said not but warned of the big swell in the entrance. In fact a ship did come out, maybe not big to him but big to us. Immediately inside the training wall, the swell disappeared even though it was directly down wind.

Up the creek for 2 miles we found the club pontoons with one marked for in transitos and giving a telephone number. A call brought a policeman who took our cash (€10.43 a night) and gave us a key. No facilities, apart from water and electricity but a Mercadonna supermarket close at hand. With a big swell forecast to be running tomorrow, we booked for two nights. It is not pretty being a commercial port with much industry close by. The pontoons are good and solid.

To Gijón, 9 July, 22 NM and at Gijón until 15 July

Having let the swell die down, we had very little wind until approaching Gijón. The Capitania lady on Ch 9 directed us to a berth. Not as high price as we had been led to believe - €27 a night.

Gijón has changed little since we were first here in the latter 1990s. Toilets and showers are good. Shopping is close and there are many restaurants. On one of our visits her, in 1998, I think, we had a couple of wet days. That we are having again as a slow moving fairly weak looking front gives prolonged periods of rain, light at times, heavy at others.

It dried up a day before Margaret had to return to the UK for a recurrence of a health problem that we had hoped had gone away. Asturias airport is a 35 minute coach ride away and near Avilés even though it is sometimes called Oviedo, much further away. A Spanish conundrum.

Heading eastwards, our hope has been to be able to stop at Ribadesella. Winds look good on Friday. However, in two days time a big swell is forecast. We could well get stuck at Ribadesella for several days. The best option seems to be the 90 mile passage direct to Santander. The decision is to leave Gijón Thursday evening aiming to arrive Santander around noon or early afternoon on Friday. Well, the best laid plans.........

To Santander, 15/16 July, 86 NM

Leaving Gijón about 1930, we had very little wind overnight, a clear moon so were able to motor for nearly 60 NM. Then he wind increased enough to give a good reach into Santander.

Wanting good shelter and needing washing machines, we chose Marina Santander just by the airport. Not good but there seemed no other real option. There is, as 14 years ago, no local shopping. Without a car, it really means a taxi (€10 each way) to get to a massive Eroski supermarket in an American style shopping mall. There is only one washing machine and no driers. A pleasant enough spot; the airport is pretty quiet; staff are helpful. It is just not user-friendly for those on passage. A bike would be useful.

Have decided that Marina Santander is an offshoot of Fred Karno’s circus. The one washing machine is in a locked room. The marinero has to open up for you, lets you start the washing and then locks up again. He tells you when to come back and, hopefully but not necessarily, it will be done. At a weekend with only one marinero that could be a real pain. As it was, there were two of s each with two loads of washing. Fred would have done better.

The one saving grace, the friendly staff apart, is the good restaurant at the Capitania. A good 3-course Sunday lunch with wine and coffee came to about €15. Met Chris and Judy with their Nord West 42 foot motor boat Christiana that can plane up to around 30 knots. It is one of the few motor boats that we actually liked. Amazingly, it had a “hover” facility. It is possible for the boat to use GPS signals to keep it in one spot regardless of wind and current. Comparisons between our different approaches to cruising were most enlightening. Had entertaining lunch with them.

The charging here is ridiculous. We had to pay €35 + VAT = €41 a night, this is by far our most expensive marina this year. A Coruna in July was €27, Viveiro €21 (and a reduction for 6 or 7 days, Ribadeo (expensive) €35, Gijon €27. All had more to offer than Marina Santander with its difficult access to provisions, its own washing machine and no dryer, its limited transport facilities - apart from the airport.

That rate was the same as a yacht over 12 M compared to our 10,3 m. A Belgian skipper had left his boat there for a month and had paid more than the daily rate. With this kind of charging practice, I can only advise anyone on passage to think twice before staying here. Despite being friendly, it is not a user friendly marina. We will try to avoid in the future.

Bad weather, wind and much rain kept us at this marina for 5 days. As soon as possible we moved to an anchorage just west of Santander. It was quiet, despite threats of a noisy disco.

To Castro Urdiales, 22 July, 27 NM

Winds that just about got up to the forecast F3 mean half motoring, half sailing to one of our Spanish favourites. Because of all the moored boats, a dinghy dock would be impossible. There is no marina but you anchor in the harbour free and pay €15 for as many ferry trips ashore as you want or need. Good showers at the clubhouse are included. The ferryman welcomes you.

It is a spectacular setting with a Knights Templar castle and an imposing church standing guard over the harbour

Bilbao (Getxo), 24 July, 11 NM

A short by quite windy downwind sail got is the Bilbao, really Getxo a very up market area. On advice from CA members we chose the yacht club – Réal Club Maritimo which runs the marina together with the Sporting Club. Our limited Spanish and a marinero who seemed capable of understanding nothing that was not perfect Spanish was not a good start. However, the night-time loo and showers were excellent. Water, electricity and free WiFi on the pontoons. Over 10 m, the advertised charge is €35.45, under 10 n it is €25. Perhaps we looked ol and he took pity on us or the marinero round to the nearest metre. Whatever, we are paying €25.

The area near the club and Getxo marina is clearly prosperous. Along the sea front, many of the houses were of some architectural significance. This was recognised by a number of well presented plaques in three languages, including English. These gave the history of the particular building together with pictures. Interestingly none had been vandalised.

Nearby there is the oldest transporter bridge in the world. This dates back to the time of Gustave Eiffel and was designed by someone who admired Eiffel

We met Christopher and Catherine Brown on CA boat, Brave, a Grand Soleil. We had met them briefly in Caramiñal and seen them in a number of places. They are heading back to France tomorrow, so we had drinks aboard Anhinga and exchanged experiences.

Unfortunately, we arrived on a Sunday followed by a Spanish national holiday – St James’ day. There were no obvious celebrations, just many people not doing very much. Late afternoon, in a dry spell, we walked over to see Getxo marina; we had been there just after it first opened and wondered what it was like now. Reports were that it was expensive. The marina is surrounded by a large number of eating places. From the smells, we got the strong impression that they were not of the highest quality.

The helpful lady in the tourist office gave us directions on the metro and bus to Guernica (Gernika in Basque). Knowing Picasso’s painting and being wartime children, we thought that we should see the scene of Hitler’s infamous destruction of a town as practice for the blitzkrieg.

The visit to Gernika was a success. €10 for metro and bus for the two of us and €2 each to get into the museum of Peace made it good value. I suspect that the Peace idea is really an excuse to remember the Gernika massacre of 1937. This was Hitler's trial run for blitzkrieg around Europe. Although the 250 killed is tiny compared to London, Coventry, Dresden and other cities in the UK kind

The weather continues to be wet and unpleasant. Improvements keep being forecast but are short lived.

Having problems with my Orange dongle – partly misunderstanding by me, partly some less than helpful Orange Shop staff. This necessitated crossing the river using the oldest transporter bridge in the world. The Orange shop with some English speaking staff was in a shooing mall of the worst kind. More interestingly was the use of several flights of moving escalators, travelators really, in the street up the first part of the hill. We are familiar with these on the London Underground and airports but not in the open street.

To Lekeitio, 28 July, 30 NM

An all too rare sunny day. Full marks to AEMetM for getting it right. We just hope they are as good for the next two days or so. It was a light wind. Half sailing, half motor sailing.

Lekeitio is as pretty a small fishing village as we remembered. The change is that the southern half of the harbour has now been filled with pontoons entirely, as far as we could see, only for local leisure and fishing boats. We went alongside a yacht on the wall to the north of the entrance as directed by the harbourmaster. No facilities, but no charge. Surprisingly, we seem to be the only visitor on arrival and were joined by tact from Guetaria.

To Zumaya, 29 July, 11 NM

We were here in the year that this marina was opened following the improvement to the entrance making it safe except in really bad weather.

The promised F3-4 never quite materialised. We motored as far as abeam Motrico and then had a light sea breeze. Entry was easy. No reply to my call on Ch 9. The waiting pontoon is by the harbour office so that it is problem to go ashore, complete the usual forms and get a berth. Friendly, efficient.

Since 1999 when it first opened, Zumaya has become a major marina. The town is pleasant enough with an impressively understated cathedral. Shopping is reasonable. In the marina itself we were disappointed by the quality of the services. Showers were Luke warm, cleaning of the toilet and shower area left much to be desired. Compared to the older Gijón marina it was not good.

There is a sizable travel lift and good hard standing. Nearby there are service agents. Like so many places the chandlers was not open at the weekend! That would be unthinkable in some British marinas such as our beloved Darthaven which does much business over the weekend. Why with so many boats in marinas far larger than Darthaven, do the Spanish, in general, not do the same?

Sorry, Zumaya, you have just missed being excellent.

To Hondarribia. 31 July, 22 NM

We waited until 11 o’clock (still only 9 am by God’s time) hoping that the sea breeze would set in. It had and we had a gentle sail, fairly slow and only getting up to 5 knots briefly with the San Sebastian sea breeze effect. One short tack approaching Cabo Higuer was the only real excitement. At least, we did sail all the way.

Arrival at Hondarribia was a bit mixed. No reply on Ch 9 and, unlike most Spanish marinas, nobody to indicate where to go. We were just tying up to the waiting pontoon only to be asked to move by a day tripper sailing boat. The Capitania were helpful enough; they gave us a bag of information, a bottle of local cider and allocated a place.

Entering the slot we were hailed by another yacht claiming it was their berth. There were some docking lines on the pontoon. After we had moored an irate, abusive French woman told us to move. We refused. Apparently, they had had the berth the previous night, gone off for the day but without informing the Capitania.

To what extent this was confusion in the Capitania was not clear. The lady there seemed to be overloaded despite having two marineros on duty. It did not look good and is untypical of Spanish marinas as a whole.

Hondarribia is a most delightful small town. Shops are about 15 to 20 minutes walk away with a choice of many small shops and moderate size supermarket (we only found one on our first foray. There seemed many welcoming bars, not the seedy variety that you often see) and restaurants.

A first was their bank of three flights of outdoor moving staircases, up and down! This was an advance on the sloping moving pavements near the Bilbao transporter bridge.

To Getaria and Zumaya, 24 NM, 4 August, Back to Hondarribia via San Sebastian, 5 August

All a bit boring. We wanted to see Getaria again after some 12 or so years. Not always easy to get in, we knew. The sail there was one of those frustrating light wind spinnaker runs. Enough to hold out the chute but not enough to take us over 2 knots.

Getaria was full and the harbourmaster would not allow us to raft outside a French yacht. The swell coming in did not make anchoring too attractive, so we went on to Zumaya.

Forecasts have not been looking good for the next few days with a lot of cloud and rain. No fun sailing. Having liked Hondarribia we decided to return but thought that it might be an idea to use a mooring buoy overnight in the bay at San Sebastian. It might well have been OK behind the island but with rain both forecast and threatening, we carried on to Hondarribia. At €25 a night and free washing machines plus the gem of a town it was an offer that we could not refuse. By contrast with yesterday, it was a good wind and a fast sail.

Still at Hodarribia, 9 August

As expected, the weather has not been good although there have been some very hot days there has also been much rain. We still think this is a great place to be; one of the most photogenic of any town on our travels. The old town dates back to Roman times and a number of buildings go back a thousand years.

We went on the ferry across to Hendaye. Another big marina but little charm in the vicinity. Maybe in the town but that is some distance away. The only plus about Hendaye is two good French chandlers. These are rare in Spain.

We took the opportunity to do some odd jobs – fixing the fresh water system, replacing our Anhinga patent bungee sail ties and doing an oil change.

Tomorrow seems a good day to amble down to San Sebastian. The swell should have died down and we could have a pleasant night on a mooring. Hopefully we might even get into Getaria. We met a local Spanish boat based there and who we had met in Lekeitio. He promised to have a word with the harbourmaster. Who knows?

To San Sebastian, 10 August, 13 NM

A few nice days are expected so a night at anchor or on a mooring at San Sebastian seemed a good idea. A gentle F3-4 gave us a pleasant sail down the coast. We picked up what we thought was a club buoy but were told it was private but there was room in the small harbour. We wrongly assumed that it was the club boatman and that no moorings were available. We should have checked

Entering the small harbour is interesting – as long as you don’t panic. Fishing boats, grackle trips, small motor boats come and go, youngsters dive or jump off the harbour wall in games of dare. On the pontoon for “Autoridos” there were 4 yachts rafted out but space astern of them. The depth seemed OK at HW so we went in and checked tidal range. We should be OK, 1.5 m at least under the keel at LW (it was on neaps.) When we looked in a different light the following morning, our rudder was just above bottom. It shelved steeply. Had we realised how steeply we would have turned the boat around.

The harbour is near the old and interesting part of the city. Noisy, crowded with people. Many good shops, patisseries etc.

To Getaria, 11 August, 10 NM

Getting out of the small San Sebastian harbour was almost as interesting as getting in having two small motor boats rafted outside us.

We had a slow sail to Getaria to have a second go at getting in. There are only two alongside visitors’ berths. Movement in and out would make rafting dangerous and it is not allowed. There are some buoys in the harbour that are free to use when the tuna fleet is out. Anchoring outside or using a buoy seems to be very swell prone.

Shopping is close and easy. The showers were cold – probably someone had got in before us. Cost €24 and only one night allowed.

The town is much as we remember it. A little scruffy. Not a great deal to commend it apart from a church where the floor is constructed as a giant wave; and that it is the birth place of Juan Sebastian, Magellan’s navigator who took over when Magellan died before getting back to Spain. Although Magellan’s name is usually quoted as the first man to command a ship around the world, Juan Sebastian really has the honour. Perhaps for this reason, the town attracts many Spanish tourists/

It was the second place where there were open airs moving staircases.


To Motrico, 12 August, 8NM and back to Zumaya, again.

Another place that we had visited years ago. There is now an extra breakwater to give better shelter from the NE. It looks as though it would work well. The end of this quay is very near the leading line, the rear mark of which is a clock that just points above house rooftops. It is not very obvious and it is sufficient to head for the lower mark, the end of the eastern quay on about 236 degrees.

Other than anchoring in the harbour or finding a free buoy, yachts have to go on the wall to port on entry. There are about 4 sets of stainless steel ladders so it is necessary either to get alongside one or raft up on a vessel by one. There is water and electricity but, probably by agreement with the harbourmaster. It is free otherwise.

The town is small, not terribly attractive but quiet. The town is built in a steep sided gully. If ever there was a need for outdoor escalators this is it. We saw none. There was very little movement overnight and the only noise was a flotilla of ducks.

We now know that granddaughter, Sophie, will be coming out to la Rochelle at the end of the month for a few days with us. The burning question is when and how to we get there – in reasonable comfort. At present, winds look like being East to NE but it is a fair way off. Our game plan is the wander around this corner until it becomes clear whether we go back to Bilbao and cross to Ile d’Oléron or start from Hondarribia and go up the coast.

All that is to explain why we have returned to Zumaya, not our favourite port but fairly convenient for provisioning, laundry and other such necessities. Getting bread before leaving Motrico meant a walk up the hill. I probably got as much exercise as some people in a whole week.

Back at Zumaya, we discovered an old truth about ports. The longer you are there the more you see that is interesting – and often good. Back in the 1990s, the western breakwater was extended to make , virtually, an all weather entrance. When doing so, they made this an extension of the walking area around the town. There are three levels, there are stainless steel guard rails, and there is an area near the light at the seaward end with seats sheltered out of the wind. Essentially, they have made an amenity out of a necessity. Very Spanish.

To Hondarribia for the last time, 16 August, 24NM

Forecasts seem very uncertain for the crossing from Bilbao or Santander to la Rochelle. The best option seems to be up the coast. OK by us. We would like to visit Cap Breton and see Arcachon again.

We had a good sail, a little motoring at first, then a beat. I know that gentlemen do not beat but Jennifer is no gentleman. Passing San Sebastian, the wind began to lift and it became a fast reach to Hondarribia. Once again, no reply on Ch9 but the usual warm greeting in the Capitania and the obligatory bottle of cider. Jennifer reckons that if the first prize was one bottle, second prize would be two. Anyway, it is a nice thought.

Because of the Landes firing ranges we have been watching the CROSS Corsen NAVTEX with more than usual interest. It brought home to us how necessary is NAVTEX. There have been warnings of a wrecked vessel just below the surface. Recent positions have been just NW of Isle d’Oléron right on track whether coming from Bilbao or Royan.

To Cap Breton, 18 August, 34NM

This began as a beat but the wind freed us to give a fast reach. It headed us on to a course of about 335 degrees but again lifted to 050! Météo France had warned about thunderstorms and squalls near the coast. WE saw none but did have a short spell of winds near F 6.

In the event our planed arrival at half tide worked out. There was no reply on Ch 9 but the marinero later told us “Il y’avait une pronleme.” Loos and showers seem well kept but, typically French bi-sex type. Quite a cultural shock after Spain.

Cap Breton is very much a French holiday resort. Many restaurants, an excellent Casino general grocery with an excellent butchers cum charcuterie. You could buy a whole meal here ready cooked at a fraction of the price for the same in a restaurant. Naturally, there is a fish market with each stall being run by a boat.

The marina is huge and in several basins. Sailing from it must be quite restrictive with an entrance that can be dangerous at times and really only for about 6 hours at a time. There is nowhere obvious to go to locally so day sailing is really rather limited.

To Arcachon, 20 August, 72 NM

We liked Cap Breton and would willingly have stayed a few days. However, we have to get to Arcachon and on to la Rochelle by the 28th. Forecast suggested that window of opportunity from Arcachon may be rather few.

We knew that the passage to Arcachon was going to be tedious with much motoring. The forecast was for a fine day with the hope of some easterlies before the sea breeze arrived. We got some sailing, on a westerly as it happened. But we also had a severe squall.

This was totally unexpected as Météo France had not even mentioned showers never mind thunderstorms. The ominous roll of cloud had no white water under it so, when it came, it was a case of dropping the main fast – thank goodness for lazy jacks – and rolling in the Genoa. After the first vicious blast we have several smaller ones. Then it was all peace and light.

We got to the Bassin d’Arcachon at the right time for entry reassured by the excellent Cap Ferret signal station who was as helpful as we remembered.


We have never found the marina at Port Arcachon to be particularly user friendly. On arrival, there was no reply on Ch 9 – they close at 7 pm, before many boats on passage might be arriving. It take over an hour from arriving at the outer channel markers to getting to the marina. The office was closed. With the aid of a couple of very helpful French motor boaters we got into a tight space on the waiting pontoon. What a contrast with many Spanish marinas where even small ones, such as Viveiro, will have some form of overnight cover.

By the late afternoon forecast, Météo France had caught up with the storms. Late evening, we had further thunderstorms, much lightning and some fearsome gust that caused us to double up on mooring lines.

The marina is huge, over 2200 boats. Walking from the waiting/temporary stay pontoon to the capitainerie was a fair hike. Staff were helpful and friendly. They charged €45 for one night, expensive yes, but they gave the second night free. Not at all bad.

Rather behind Spain, there was no WiFi at all in the marina. Even more behind Spain, the “sanitaires”, loos and showers are little short of disgusting. They are open to the public and, not surprisingly, were not clean and in a poor state. Paying €45 a night – after the first two nights, this is deplorable. The portacabin loos at Viveiro were far better, clean and well maintained.

Still at Arcachon, August 22

Météo France having been caught out badly last Saturday were clearly determined not to underestimate chances of storms again. So, we had to pass up what seemed to be a good time to leave for the la Rochelle area. Had I, of all people been caught out with “orages grains et rafales de 45 noeuds” it would not have looked good. What about my street cred? On the forecasts, it meant another two nights at Arcachon. No time to be at anchor. We had to pay €45 a night! Still, with the one free night, an average of nearly €35 a night is not too excessive.

At Port d’Arcachon, the Casino supermarket is good, there are pizzas pour emporter, rotisseries, many restaurants. All pretty good and all reasonably priced.

Having left Spain I had to buy a French USB dongle for Internet access. In Spain, I had been able to buy one with no problem on a pre-paid basis. Here, the home of Orange, the Orange shop would not sell me a dongle because I did not have a French bank account. This was even though I was not having a contract but using pre-paid. Very poor. The SFR shop next door were much more helpful and I can now go online again without taking out a mortgage.

Having always had a fair and good service from Orange in the UK and in Spain with their Internet Everywhere, we were most disappointed by orange France. They are a poor advertisement or Orange. If in France, forget Orange, try SFR.

T0 St Denis d’Oléron, 24/25 August, 112 NM

Forecasts for later in the week were not promising. The forecasts for this passage was for rather light winds but, at least, we could motor all the way if necessary. That is how it started 0 after our usual call to the Cap Ferret signal station. It is always worthwhile speaking to them by telephone or VHF when going to or leaving this formidable entrance passage. The signal station staff are always patients and polite with good English. Their advice on entry or leaving times for the Bassin d’Arcachon may be on the cautious side but always worth heeding. They also have details of activity on the ranges and are probably the most user friendly way of checking on firing activity which occurs even during August.

We had some wind and probably had around 9 hours sailing in a 2 hour passage. Apart from fishing boats and a dredger, we saw little activity over all, the most, as expected was when crossing the Entrance to the Gironde.

We arrived at St Denis d’Oléron a short while before there was enough water over the sill. They replied promptly on Ch 9 and said that they had a place. On entry we were met by a dinghy and helped in. Staff were friendly and helpful. Loos and showers are good. All in all, a great improvement on port d’Arcachon.

The St Denis village seems to have changed barely at all over the years. The same good boulangerie cum patisserie and the charcuterie as back in 1999. Will the 7-day=a-week market be as good? Tomorrow will tell, Having always had a fair and good service from Orange in the UK and in Spain with their Internet Everywhere, we were most disappointed by orange France. They are a poor advertisement or Orange. If in France, forget Orange, try SFR.

T0 St Denis d’Oléron, 24/25 August, 112 NM

Forecasts for later in the week were not promising. The forecasts for this passage was for rather light winds but, at least, we could motor all the way if necessary. That is how it started - after our usual call to the Cap Ferret signal station. It is always worthwhile speaking to them by telephone or VHF when going to or leaving this formidable entrance passage. The signal station staff are always patients and polite with good English. Their advice on entry or leaving times for the Bassin d’Arcachon may be on the cautious side but always worth heeding. They also have details of activity on the ranges and are probably the most user friendly way of checking on firing activity which occurs even during August.

We had some wind and probably had around 9 hours sailing in a 24 hour passage. Apart from fishing boats and a dredger, we saw little activity over all, the most, as expected was when crossing the Entrance to the Gironde.

We arrived at St Denis d’Oléron a short while before there was enough water over the sill. They replied promptly on Ch 9 and said that they had a place. On entry we were met by a dinghy and helped in. Staff were friendly and helpful. Loos and showers are good. All in all, a great improvement on port d’Arcachon.

The St Denis village seems to have changed barely at all over the years. The same good boulangerie cum patisserie and the charcuterie as back in 1999. Will the 7-day=a-week market be as good? Tomorrow will tell,

At St Denis

Nothing is easy in the sailing world. Having arranged to meet Sophie in la Rochelle, we now find that there will be spaces in this large marina due to a Foire Exposition. One option is to go to St Martin de Ré. There are buses to and from the airport. Another is to stay put and take the ferry over and bring her back that way. We think that sounds the best option.

We have now been twice to the market. Like the village as a whole, it has changed little. There is the same stall in the same place selling the same excellent crème fraiche, cheeses, patés. We cannot remember the rotisserie but it looks and smells good As a Frenchman said, it is a genuinely traditional French street market. All good stuff and not over-priced as we have sometimes found in Spain. One oddity is that virtually all the breakfast cereals in the general store/supermarket have chocolate. Ugh!!!

Sophie arrived safely; going over on the ferry to la Rochelle worked well and gave us the chance to see a little of this lovely town.

To St Martin de Ré, 29 August, 19 NM

We left St Denis with a little regret; it is a friendly marina and cheap at about €18 a night with the third night free. Tides were right for a mid afternoon start. After a short motor we had a nice beat up to and through the bridge to St Martin de Ré.

This is a most interesting town with a wealth of small shops, many boutique style, and an excellent covered market. One attraction is some superb ice creams from a vendor who makes his own cones – you can watch tee process. The cones are far better than the thin cardboard flavoured normal type. We spent some time marvelling at the Vauban fortifications intended initially not to keep out the English but the protestants from la Rochelle. we hired bikes to get to Ars-en-Ré for lunch. The bikes were sturdy enough but the seats were rather hard.

To Les Sables d’Olonne, 1 September, 22 NM

A better sail than we had expected, a gentle broad reach with the spinnaker We had what seemed to be a minor recurrence of the fuel blockage problem that we had earlier in the year.

Although we arrived just after low water on a spring tide, we never saw less than 4 metres in the channel. The harbourmaster was fluent in English and very welcoming. Since our last time here, the toilets and showers have been greatly improved.

I checked the fuel line and found some oily dirt in the exit from the tank. Problem probably solved.

Still at Sables d’Olonne

No, it wasn’t! We tried to go to Ile d’Yeu. Unfortunately the Météo France forecast was too accurate; the wind was right on the nose and, as so often, the sea between Ile d’Yeu and the mainland was rough. It was going to be a long hard beat. Although Jennifer and Sophie are not gentlemen, we decided that Sables would be more comfortable.

On the waiting pontoon, Jennifer peered under the boat and keen eyed as ever spotted some net wrapped round the prop. Using boat hook to hold it and a knife lashed to a pole we managed to cut it free. But, the engine was slow to start. Back in the marina we checked the fuel supply. It seemed fine getting through to the secondary filter OK. So, we changed the primary filter. Although there were no signs of any solid contamination, the fuel w as very discoloured although that in the tank looked clean enough. We changed both fuel filters and it all seems fine.

Wind strengths, directions and times of gate opening have kept us at Sables. We have given up Ile d’Yeu for this year as we want to be up the Charente at Rochefort on 11 September. Sophie returns home on the 14th and we are booked back on 24th.

Back to St Martin de Ré, 7 September, 25 NM

This started with a difficult sea and a broad reach. With a calmer sea, the spinnaker would have been useful but we thought rather difficult in the conditions. The wind dropped a little meaning that we had to do an hour under engine to ensure that we could lock in at St Martin. In the event, we probably need not have bothered. The wind came back to give a fast run with poled out Genoa. At St Martin, we got the usual immediate reply on Ch 9.

The following day we saw more of the fortifications, had some more of their glorious ice cream and had a good meal of galette and crepes. Some of the best of both. It really is a place where you can bide awhile enjoying the town and the market with its enticing aromas of prepared food, bread and other goodies.

Back to St Denis d’Oléron, 9 September, 20 NM

A gentle beat to the bridge, a little motoring through the bridge and then a fast reach to St Denis. It is very different from St Martin but we like it just as much.

Into the Charente, 10 September, 15 NM

The bar to this river can be difficult on any tide. Pilots advise crossing the bar before high water but that leaves insufficient time to get to Rochefort upriver especially when you cannot leave St Denis before HW-2. The forecast for tomorrow was westerly f 4 so we decided to anchor or use a visitors’ buoy. Our plans hardened when Météo France issued a BMS of a Grand Frais – F7.

We found a buoy off Port des Barques. Here , despite the Pilot book, we saw no sign of a floating pontoon useable by yachts nor a fuel quay.


To Rochefort, 11 September, 10 NM

The weather seemed to save the worst to the last. The Grand Frais got increased to a local Coup de Vent – F8. Still, we did not foresee any problem being well into the Charente. We had a leisurely morning and left the Port de Barques mooring at about 1400 thinking that we could just sail gently under a small amount of Genoa with the flood tide.

OK until we got past Fort du Vergeroux. Here the river turns SSW right into the wind which then increased. Waves got large, larger than any of us had ever seen on a river. At one time our speed through the water was zero even though we had more revs on the engine than we normally use. Steering became difficult with the hazard of many yachts on moorings swinging violently.

Eventually after what seemed an age, we got past that stretch and the wind became favourable again. We arrived outside the Rochefort lock gates with an hour to spare. The duty harbourmaster gave us a berth. Will we be able to stay? Rochefort’s records seem to be somewhat disorganised; despite speaking to them early in the year and them agreeing to give us a winter berth, we never had written confirmation. Tomorrow will tell.

At Rochefort

We quickly cleared up any confusion about a winter berth ashore. We think we have sorted out who would be able to do any work on the boat.

We had a last day with Sophie visiting the great maritime museum in the Corderie Royale. Fascinating and greatly improved since our last time here. Saw l’Hermione, the replica of Lafayette’s ship when e went to the US to help in their war of independence. We last saw this when the keel had been laid but little else back in 1998. The dry dock is due to be flooded late this or early next year. The original took 300 men 6 months to build!

After a quick look around the town we had a meal at the Brasserie des Demoiselles. This was quite the worst meal that we have ever had in France. We sent the main course back (stale dorade) and tried the steak. It was inedible. We made a note not to go there again.

Our winter berth

We need not have worried. The marina and staff are all very friendly and helpful. We agreed day and time for Liftout and discussed work on the boat with a local firm; we are long past the age when it is sensible to do your own anti-fouling, cleaning, polishing and waxing topsides. There is Wi-Fi in the marina – two hours a day free. There is a good small boulangerie cum patisserie a few metres away. There is a good DIY laundrette also a few yards away. There is a Lidls, greatly improved since 1998, close and good for cheap gin and wine. A little further there is a Carrefours. We have yet to use the market but it was one of the best. Hope it has not changed.

The market, large on Saturday but smaller on Tuesdays and Thursdays, seems not quite as good as when we were last here. Although far smaller, we preferred the St Denis d’Oléron market and, even more that at St Martin de Ré. We have tried one of the two restaurants at the marina. It was good, a great improvement on the disaster in the town square.

We began the season at marina Sada with a defunct travel lift due to a damaged tyre but that was reasonably quickly fixed. We are ending with a more serious problem in that the crane is not working. The marina is owned by the council which seems as lethargic or more so than any rural British council. The harbourmaster seems powerless. Local boat businesses are being hampered.

We have arranged with J S marine for them to see Anhinga safely out of the water, to power-wash and, subsequently, wash, polish and wax the topsides. Since leaving the Mediterranean we are getting more yellowing of the hull due to fuel in the water.


We returned for three nights later in October using FlyBe from Southampton, a delightful small airport. Anhinga is now on a solid, good cradle a little higher than normal but very safe. Electricity is close but water had to be carried for about 150 m.

Our short trip confirmed our opinion that Rochefort is a delightful town.