July 4, 2015
Happy Fourth! For those who celebrate the occasion, anyway. The Declaration of Independence remains one of those milestones of human progress, like the Magna Carta, the Emancipation Proclamation and many others, that are worth a moment’s reflection. Basic democratic rights – threatened as they may be – make life better. They belong right up there with antibiotics and relatively painless dentistry!
So, we made it to Ayamonte, Spain, after a fairly uneventful trip – except for the presence of nets and fish traps in unexpected places. We didn’t end up with anything wrapped around the propeller, which was totally a matter of luck. But, there’s a lot of water and only a few hazards in it. The odds are good, even travelling in the dark. Cato had his first nighttime trip at sea, and weathered it well.
Ayamonte is a relaxed little town, and since it is a couple miles inland from the beach, it is not overwhelmed with tourism. It has been a relief to settle into an area where the very large boats that we sailed with in the ARC Rally across the Atlantic are replaced by very modest cruising boats, owned by people of modest means from Europe. We currently appear to be the biggest boat in the marina…
We talked to some of the more local boaters and decided to chance the 20 mile trip up the river on the border of Spain and Portugal. It’s a dry, undeveloped, rugged area, dotted with the ruins of old stone buildings, stork nests along the shore, a few small houses living off the grid with solar panels, and a very few small towns, mostly on the Portuguese side. Ever since reading Huck Finn, I’ve been fascinated with river travel, and this was just the best. The river is not wide, but there are very few dangerous shoals, and our only trouble was getting stuck in the mud of the marina when we first tried to leave. But the tide was coming in, and after a couple hours of waiting we were under way, a little sheepish, but with no damage.
The dry hills and oak trees are reminiscent of central California. But when we got up to our destination, the scenery was very different – two small, old towns directly across the river, each boasting a large stone castle with many gun emplacements. “The Castle dates from the 15th Century, during the difficulties with Portugal…” explains a sign on the Spanish shore (my translation). Difficulties indeed! Now the conflict seems reduced to the level of competing church bells, which ring different times from the opposite sides of the river – Portugal being an hour earlier than Spain.
It was amazing to see that the tidal currents run so far up the river. We were anchored more than 20 miles from sea, yet the river ran at 2 knots to the north during the flood, and two knots to the south during the ebb. It made for an energetic row into the town.
Tomorrow we will continue working our way down towards the Straits of Gibraltar, one day-sail at a time, watching the weather in the Straits carefully. Right now it doesn’t look good, but we’ll take our time until the prospects for favorable winds are better.