Weaving through Spanish Puertos
20 September 2007 | Rota,Spain
Dazzling sunshine reflected off the water as we departed the Rio Guadiana for Mazagon (pronounced Math-a-gon) near Huelva. At the mouth of the river, dozens of sports fishermen in tiny motorboats managed multiple lines as they shielded themselves from the sun with brightly-coloured umbrellas. In light wind and with the tide at half flood, we watched the depth sounder readings drop from 25 feet to 11.5 feet as we passed the outer buoy. From there, we were quickly into 50 foot depths, but with no possibility of relaxing as our route became an obstacle course of the all-too-familiar buoys marking fishing nets. These buoys are difficult to see even on calm days, and it is nerve-wracking to know that a moment of inattention could result in a fouled propeller. We probably added an extra mile to our track as we wove our way through hundreds of tiny flags.
There is an anchorage in the lee of the Mazagon marina mole, but since we were in dire need of a laundry facility we passed it by. The marina was exactly as the Imray guide had described- large, uninteresting and a long way from the town. As usual, we were assigned a berth on a gated pontoon, which required a security card for access. This time, there is a new twist- they have no access cards available. When can we get one? Maybe tomorrow, maybe Monday, maybe later, they are not sure. He is so sorry, but there is nothing he can do. But senhor, the intercom on the gate is broken- how will we get to our boat? No problema, just come to the office when you want to get in, we will open the gate. Hmm, we will have to consult our phrasebook for the Spanish translation of "Please open the gate to pontoon G, but not too soon because it will take us five minutes to walk over there". Fortunately, Rick devises a method of climbing over the fence to the rocks below the ramp, so we will be fine unless we want to leave the boat when the tide is high. In spite of these minor annoyances, the sight of the single washer and dryer in the service building cheers me immensely. The marina also has a surprisingly large selection of marine supply stores, and a small bar/café where wireless internet is available.
In the laundry room, we met Marie, a friendly and beautiful woman from the south of France. She and her husband Christophe are staying in Mazagon for a year as they prepare their boat for a journey to Brazil, Patagonia and perhaps the Antarctic. She invited us to meet them and their friends in the café that afternoon, and we had a very enjoyable time sharing stories in a mixture of English and French. As we parted ways at the gate to Aisling's slip, Christophe was very amused by Rick's method of access. "You have to know the trick", he said, and deftly opened the door with one well-placed kick.
With our access problems solved, we considered lingering another day to enjoy the company of our new friends, but decided to sail to Chipiona as planned. As we sailed away, we recalled that Columbus had departed from Huelva for his voyage to the Americas, but the industrial surroundings and the sound of our motor (no wind, again) prevented us from imagining that we were standing on the deck of the Nina.
The Chipiona marina was also experiencing a shortage of access cards, but this proved to be irrelevant since all the security gates had been ingeniously rigged with plastic twine to remain permanently open. Most of the marina seemed to be populated by large motor cruisers, and the water around Aisling's berth was murky and filled with floating garbage. Since the Imray guide described Chipiona as a "pleasant holiday town", we set out to do some exploring. At 8 p.m., the streets were almost deserted, and most of the restaurants were shuttered. As the time approached 830 p.m., the town gradually came to life, and we wandered along the beachfront boardwalk sharing the view of the beautiful sunset with a thin crowd of Spanish tourists. Eventually, we settled at a table in front of a small bar where huge hanks of dried ham hung from hooks in the ceiling and wine was served from large barrels with spigots. We ordered a plate of boquerones, had the usual discussion about whether or not to eat the fishbones (I say eat them, Rick says no way) and then tried a plate of "carne variad". This turned out to be a large plate of roasted pork and grilled sausages instead of the cured ham Rick had hoped for. It was tasty, but the plate was so large that dinner was out of the question. In any case, our appetites disappeared when what appeared to be a large flying cockroach descended on Rick's shirt. Two of these creatures emerged from our sailcover when we prepared to leave Chipiona, and I am living in terror that there could be more. I have bought some traps, just in case.
Spain's tourist season begins to wane by mid-September, and the town of Chipiona remained quiet during our stay. During siesta (from 2.30 to 5.30 p.m.) the streets were eerily empty. Other than cafes, everything was "todo cerrado"- offices, businesses, even large grocery stores. This is a noticeable difference from Portugal, where lunches are a mere two hours and many businesses remain open throughout the day. The siesta could be a nice innovation for Canada- but then, would you really want to report back to work at 530 p.m. and stay until 830? The Spanish seem to be very nocturnal- dinner is eaten very late in the evening, and many offices and businesses don't open until 10 a.m. (Hey Mom, you'd love it here!)
From Chipiona, we moved on to Rota, in Cadiz harbour. It is a lovely place, and if we weren't so determined to make it into the Med this year I could cheerfully linger here for a month. We have decided to wait here for Nancy Lewis, who will arrive on the 26th and sail with us through the Strait of Gibraltar and into the Med. I pray we will be blessed with fair winds on a day when the daylight tides are favourable.
We'll write more about Rota soon-till then, all the best from Aisling 1!
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