Well, we have finally left the river Guadiana. If we hadn’t this mad plan to sail to New Zealand we would definitely have been tempted to stay in Europe and make the Guadiana our winter base. It’s just wonderful at this time of year, perfectly sheltered with beautiful scenery and great people on both sides of the border, both locals and visitors.
However, we had to make a move so left Ayamonte in company with Sea Spirit again. Paul and Phil were due to move on before us but the dreaded maintenance reared it’s head for them again, this time with a broken base of their Jabsco toilet. Jabsco is the usual sea toilet and we are pleased we have a Blake’s Lavac which is so much stronger. We have heard of so many of the Jabsco’s breaking down. We think they are OK for ‘weekenders’ but are just not robust enough for constant use. Paul and Phil had been waiting over three weeks for the new base to come, having been promised delivery in three days! They decided to just give up and left with us at 0600 on the 10th March.
Both boats made the short hop along the coast to Mazagon where we intended to stay for a few days. That evening Phil received a call from the chandlers in Ayamonte. You’ve guessed it, the part had arrived! They had to go back on the bus the next day to pick it up.
Mazagon is a small seaside town just 20 km along the coast from the capital of the province, Huelva, a mainly industrial town which we didn’t really want to see. This part of the coast is more commercialised with purpose-built resorts, frequented by mainly Spanish tourists, which are almost ghost towns this early in the year. Mazagon, however, is a bustling little place all year, with it’s population boosted by seasonal workers in the vast strawberry plantations and oil refineries to the west, along with soldiers from the army camp nearby.
Our main reason for stopping in Mazagon, however, was because of it’s proximity to the three sites known collectively as the Lugares Columbinos, all intimately connected with the voyages of Christopher Columbus. The Monastery at La Rábida, the Muelle de las Carabelas below on the rivers edge, and the small town of Palos de la Frontera just 4 kilometres north.
Christopher Columbus is believed to have been born in Genoa, Italy, sometime between August and October 1451. Contrary to popular belief, he did not think that the world was flat when he set out in 1492 from Palos on his first voyage of discovery. He was attempting to find Cathay (China) and India to the west instead of making the long and dangerous journey east.
He married a Portuguese woman and lived in Madeira for a while then in 1484 sought support for a transatlantic crossing from the King of Portugal. This was denied so he moved to Spain and in January 1492, after two rejections, gained the patronage of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.
He gained this patronage partly with the aid of two of the monks at the monastery at La Rábida, one of whom knew Isabella. The nearby town of Palos de la Frontera which is now landlocked with silt, was at that time a thriving shipbuilding port with many excellent boat builders and experienced Atlantic seamen. The north-east trade winds were known by then as exploration had already discovered Madeira, the Canaries and the Cape Verde Islands.
Queen Isabella furnished Columbus with three small ships. The Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, and they left from Palos on the 3rd August 1492, arriving on the 12th October at the Bahamas, which they named San Salvador. The expedition then discovered Cuba and Hispaniola (Haiti and Dominican Republic).
Columbus arrived back in Spain in March 1493, minus the Santa Maria, which foundered off Hispaniola. Remember, we told you about his return to Bayona last October. Were you paying attention there at the back of the class?
We rode our bikes from Mazagon to Palos (12 km) where we saw the church at which the crews prayed before leaving on their dangerous journey, the fount where the ships were provisioned with water, and the house of Martín Alonso Pinzón, now restored as a museum, the captain of the Pinta and Columbus’ right hand man. It was amazing to stand where the quay existed all those hundreds of years ago and imagine it all happening.
We then rode the four km down to La Rábida and visited the monastery, large parts of which have not altered since Columbus was there, then descended to the bank of the river Tinto below, where replicas of the three ships are moored at the Muelle de las Carabelas (Caravel Quay).
There is also a monument on the river bank dedicated to Franco’s younger brother Ramón, a pioneer aviator. He and his three crewmen were the first people to cross the Atlantic by aeroplane in 1926. They took off from Palos in a Dornier Wal flying boat and finally reached Buenos Aires after refuelling stops at the Azores, Cape Verde and Brazil. Franco and his crew were hailed as heroes in Spain, but the British and Americans took more notice of Lindbergh’s non-stop flight from New York to Paris a year later.
We then cycled back to Mazagon, another 12 km. Our bums were a bit sore afterwards, but we wouldn’t have missed the trip for anything.
Our Columbus respects paid, we left Mazagon on the 15th and sailed 38 miles east where we dropped anchor overnight at Bonanza (yes, you read that right) just upriver from the mouth of the river Guadalquivir. This is the navigable river leading up to Seville, 50 miles inland, but we had decided to visit there by bus from Cádiz, our next port of call. We duly arrived at Cádiz at 1540 on the 16th.
Cádiz is a lovely city, on a long narrow peninsular jutting out into the Bay of Cádiz. It was founded as early as 1100 BC by Phoenician merchants and has been inhabited by Carthaginians, the Romans, the Visigoths and the Moors, finally coming under Spanish rule in 1262.
Its great prosperity dated from the discovery of America in 1492, when it became the headquarters of the Spanish treasure fleets. During the 16th century it repelled a series of raids by Barbary pirates. In 1587 its harbour shipping was burned by an English squadron under Sir Francis Drake. After being blockaded (1797-98) and bombarded (1800) by the British, it was besieged by the French in 1810-12, during which time it served as the capital of all Spain not under the control of Napoleon.
The loss of the Spanish colonies in the Americas dealt a blow to the trade of Cádiz from which it never recovered, although it is now a busy port exporting wine (principally sherry from Jerez de la Frontera), salt, olives, figs, corks, and salted fish; and importing coal, iron and machinery, timber, cereals, coffee, and other foodstuffs. Several shipping lines call there, and passenger traffic is important.
The historic centre of the city is very interesting, with narrow cobbled streets and amazing architecture, including a 1st century Roman theatre. There is also a well laid out park, with giant trees which we haven’t been able to identify yet. We walked around the perimeter of the old town visiting forts and beaches. Altogether a lovely city, not too large or imposing.
From Cadiz we took the bus up to Seville, the chief city of Andalusia and the fourth largest in Spain. There are many architectural gems in Seville. Large houses dating from the 1929 Iberio-American Exposition still remain along the Avenida de las Palmeras and in the old quarter there is the magnificent Cathedral of Santa Maria and the Alcázar Palace. We should have really gone into the Alcázar but the queues were so long we gave it a miss. We took a tourist bus round Seville as it is quite big compared to Cadiz.
There was one funny incident. On the riverbanks were many gypsy women trying to sell bunches of rosemary. They were quite aggressive and we just ignored them. We were looking at our map when a shoeshine man came along and asked if Mike wanted his shoes polished. Mike rather curtly waved him away, and the man looked down at Mike’s feet as if to say “If ever a man needed a shoeshine” as Mike’s shoes were as per usual, a little scuffed to say the least. As he walked away dispirited after a second attempt to get some business, we felt guilty at not employing him but blamed the gypsies for getting us in a bad mood.
Seville and Cadiz to a lesser extent were both very busy on our visit as it was Holy Week, or Semana Santa. They say you either love the whole atmosphere or you want to run away for a week! It is a mesmeric sight to see candlelit processions of hooded figures and cross carrying penitents making their way through the streets accompanied by a mournful brass band and two pasos, one depicting Christ, the other a statue of Mary. These processions go on all week, into the early hours, culminating in an all night vigil of all the main brotherhoods on the night of Maundy Thursday. By this time the participants and spectators alike are overcome with emotion and there is much weeping and wailing. We wouldn’t have missed it but wouldn’t want to see it again. We read that, as a nation, the Spanish have stopped going to church but, once a year, at Semana Santa they become religious again!
We finally left Cadiz on 28th March after waiting for a weather window and sailed the 40 miles to Barbate, just past the Cape of Trafalgar. We had a really good sail with a F4 northerly wind and as we approached the cape we turned inshore to try to get as close as possible. It isn’t really that spectacular, just a small lighthouse on the end of a low spit, but we broke open the rum bottle and had a tot in honour of Lord Nelson and it felt quite special.
Barbate (pronounced Barbatay) is an interesting little place. Although not beautiful, it is a friendly, down-to-earth seaside resort in the old tradition, unlike the Costa del Sol to the east. Many Spanish people visit during the season and there are good restaurants along the sea front.
The tuna fishing carried out here using elaborate fixed nets has hardly changed since Roman times. Barbate is also one of the few Spanish towns where you can see street names from the Franco era. The main street is called Avenida Generalisimo. This isn’t really an indication of local politics. Franco used to spend his summer holidays here - the town is still sometimes referred to as Barbate de Franco, and is a little unwilling to ditch the last reminders of those days in the limelight
Our next stop will be Gibraltar, later this week. Check out the photos below as usual.
See you next month .