Monday, 27 August 2012

Birds of a Feather

One of the N Atlantic's stranger fish, the Sunfish, in Ribadesella

There's probably no need to point out that the forecast didn't hold true, so we didn't make the Bordeaux run. In general, the forecasts have been highly unreliable along this stretch of coast, possibly owing to the presence of the Picos de Europa just inland. A couple of days after our previous post, we picked up a fresh grib file, hoping to find conditions still fair for the Gironde. The wind direction was still ok, but the strength was up a bit - to gale force for a time - but the main problem was the sea state. Swell up to 3.5m, which might not be fun on the infamous inner Biscay coast.

Great hedge, lousy tasting maracuja
Ribadesella: nice beach and snug harbour
The swell would also make egress from Ribadesella impossible, so we decided to make a dash for Santander, 60 NM along the coast. The screenshot below shows what the forecast, from just 24 hours earlier, predicted. Light southerlies, eventually picking up from the west. What we experienced at that time was a F5 easterly. Impossible! We diverted to San Vicente de la Barquera - exactly half way. The one good thing about the wind was that it forced us out on a long tack into deep water where we saw a pod of dolphins for the first time since Ares.

How it should have been
The weather-disturbing Picos de Europa
On to Cantabria
The pilot book made San Vicente sound pretty unappetising and the photo they used, taken near low tide with the river in spate, made the entrance look a nightmare so it was something of a last resort. In fact it was nothing like its representation. The entrance was a dawdle at 4 hours before high water and inside, though tight for space, it was pretty and well-sheltered and a friendly local directed us to an unused mooring. 'No problem, here!', he said. Well, we figured we were in for a few days of R&R and, though tired, inflated the canoe and scrubbed the mooring lines clean so that next day all we'd have to do was kick back and relax.

No, thanks. The South Biscay Pilot's view of S Vicente
Night was falling when the first indication came that something unusual was happening. A squawky bird sound, not unlike our old friends the cagarros, encountered in the Azores and Islas Desertas. I looked out, expecting to see something nice. Instead I was astonished to see the boat on the next mooring - that of the friendly local - was totally festooned in roosting Little Egrets. Every shroud, every halyard, in short everything they could possibly cling to. Sonja looked out and noted that there was already one clinging to our forestay too. My immediate fear was that we would become the 'overspill' for all the egrets who couldn't find space on the boat next door. I sat in the companionway for a spell with the powerful torch, spotlighting birds as they fluttered down towards us. I'd hoped it might put them off, but instead it merely prevented them from seeing me and I nearly managed to grab ahold of one landing next to my head. I hastily strung up a couple of the anti-bird measures we used to use back in Granton and we turned in, hoping for the best.

Emerging on deck in the fresh light of the following morning, we found that the egrets had laughed in the face of our puny anti-roosting efforts. Goodness knows how many or how few of them spent the night aboard, but everything was covered in guano. During the following hour's effort cleaning up, we decided another night in that spot was out of the question and that we'd have to either head for Santander or at the very least find some other place out of the roosting egret zone. The snag, of course, was the 3.5m swell expected outside. Would it even be possible to get out?

Certainly, there didn't seem to be any other boat traffic heading in or out of the estuary. The wind was forecast to be northwesterly, F3, or about 10 knots, but we could already feel that it was considerably more than that. Heading out through the entrance channel, the horizon out to sea was clearly sinuous, never a good sign, but we were desperate and pushed on. It was not long after high water, so no strong current and the waves were not breaking across the entrance, so we made a dash out.

It was pretty wild. Wind northwesterly, yes, but F6, or about 25 knots. Really though that was just what was needed to make sailing in that kind of sea an option at all. Waves certainly 3-4m. We tore over them and through them, surfing down the wave faces at tremendous speeds - up to 11.7 knots! The sun was shining and it was fun, but hard work too. The 30 miles from Ribadesella to San Vicente took us 10 hours to cover. The same to Santander was down in 5.

The entrance was well sheltered from the northwesterly swell and we tucked into the first anchorage, just inside, where all was remarkably peaceful. After seeing none for ages, we were surprised to find about half a dozen British boats in this anchorage. The scenery was lovely, we were anchored off a fine beach, close to town, had a delightful swim in the morning and then went ashore for a menu del dia lunch treat.

View from the Santander anchorage
View of the Santander anchorage
Things were getting busy in the anchorage when we left, it was after all a beautiful Sunday afternoon. When we got back, it was all a bit chaotic. Boats absolutely everywhere, of course, but also a stiff (and unforecast) easterly blowing, driving a heavy chop straight into the anchorage and rolling Fettler about in a highly dramatic manner. There was nothing for it but to up sticks and look for better shelter further upriver. The first obvious spot was absolutely jam packed, no room at the inn. The other charted anchorages were wide open to the wind so we sailed off the page and right up to the navigable extent of the river where we finally found good shelter, though in a rather industrial setting, opposite a currently inactive ship yard.

The Astander yard, at dusk
Yesterday at dusk, we watched apprehensively as large flocks of egrets passed overhead, apparently bound for San Vicente. None stopped off.

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