Nicole and I are four weeks into our trip around the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal), departing from Les Sables-d’Olonne in France and aiming to reach southern Spain over 8 weeks.
After months of preparing for this trip, we are underway. To get ready, I passed my European boating captain’s license with Nauticed.com, obtained a practical sailing certification on a 47-foot catamaran offered by the Royal Yachting Association out of the UK, and completed a radio operator course with the FCC. Fortunately, my past experience made the studying easier, as I have well over 300 days of sailing experience from over the last 40 years.
We spent 10 days provisioning the boat with supplies, sailing equipment, and wiring electronic gear in Les Sables-d’Olonne. Not only was our boat baptized in this town, but coincidentally Nicole’s father, Jean Vidal, was also born in this same town. We were up early and got to bed late reading manuals and getting used to all the new equipment.
We had some awesome meals in town and were amazed the by the quality of fresh food. The seafood has been incredibly fresh and delicious. The produce is excellent quality and 30-50% less than what we pay at home in the US for the same items. Our favorite dish in Les Sables-d’Olonne was Moules Meuniere. (Mussels steamed with onions, garlic, parsley, thyme, butter, and white wine.) This same dish can be called Moules Marinara, as there are many ways to make the latter.
Fortunately, our Swiss friends, Beat and Hildegard joined us and helped to prep the boat and were with us for the first two weeks. Beat and I worked together during residency training in a hospital in Geneva, Switzerland 35 years ago. Six months later, I randomly ran into him again in a small restaurant on the beach in Bali, Indonesia (my next work stop was Australia and he was on vacation with his wife, Hildegard). We have children with similar ages, and we have been friends ever since. They have extensive sailing experience, which has come in handy.
Our first day was surprisingly calm, sailing south on the Bay of Biscay, an area known for storms and huge waves. During the second day, we had 2-4 meter seas (6-12 feet), 15-25 knot winds, and were unable to enter the narrow inlet we had intended in the evening, as surf was breaking over the entrance. We were forced to sail all night offshore to the next port in an agitated sea, 10-12 hours away, dodging fishing boats along the way. We got all our emergency gear together and took two-hour shifts with two people together watching for boats as we bounced along.
At dawn, we were very happy to sail into St-Jean-de-Luz, one of the last French ports before arriving in Spain and moor on a buoy with a splendid view of the town. St Jean is packed with tourists in August, children sailing boats and paddling kayaks, and families wandering the streets. We walked along beautiful narrow streets and enjoyed the mixture of Basque and French cuisine, unique to this part of the world. My favorite dish was chicken a la Basquaise prepared with a Basque tomato sauce, and for vegetarian followers, I suspect the same sauce would be wonderful with grilled seitan or Cannellini beans.
A week ago, we sailed into San Sebastian, a charming Basque town on the northern coast of Spain. Again we had 15-25 knot winds with 2-4 meter (6-12 foot) waves and it was a short but choppy sail.
Unfortunately, our generator, which we use to produce power for plugs and appliances has yet to work, and now the battery for it is dead and won’t charge, so we went searching the streets looking for a battery booster. We hope to have this issue solved in the next few days, and have the wiring changed so that its battery will charge when we run our two ship engines.
San Sebastian is situated on a beautiful C-shaped bay, with a historical old town, loaded with restaurants and tapa bars. Here we had the same Basque tomato sauce with very fresh squid—simply amazing. It’s unfortunate how hard it is to find good quality fresh squid in the US, but they don’t seem to have any trouble here.
Back on the sailboat, it has been mostly gorgeous days with sunny skies, a rugged, green, mountainous coastline as we sail west along the Spanish coast. The last few days, the seas have been gentle, and we have had a moderate following wind. We have had several good sailing days as we cruise through the regions of Cantabria and Asturia, more than we could have hoped for.
Wishing you fair winds and following seas.
Steven Masley, MD