Wednesday, 2 July 2008
The perilous shore
I used to windsurf at Riumar beach when I practiced the sport more actively and we would often go to the Tamariu restaurant for coffees, beers and sandwiches after sailing. In winter the restaurant would only open on windy days, windsurfers being the sole customers.
Finishing my chores about the boat I left it locked, clean and trim and walked across the sands to the restaurant. I ordered a beer and soon fell into conversation with the people at the bar.
One of the things I’ve discovered about cruising a small boat is that, not only do you feel good about yourself—you quickly become lean, fit and healthy and the necessarily Spartan lifestyle fosters your sense of independence—but once on shore you are occasionally treated as a rare and esteemed guest. People are fascinated by your journey, eager to hear your story and to buy you drinks.
I vainly succumbed to this, falling in with an animated trio who gave me the nickname of ‘El Naufrago’ (the castaway) and invited me to go on with them for another beer. And then, before I knew it, I was in the back seat of a rocket-powered car at full pelt on an uneven, dark, tree-lined road, my finger nails digging in to the seat covers.
When cruising in a small open boat you spend so much time making provisions for the perils of the sea that you quite forget about the perils of the land. This short car journey was without doubt the most frightening part of my trip, and probably the most dangerous.
But the helter-skelter ride came to an end, I managed to extract my deeply buried finger nails from the upholstery, and soon we joined up with more revellers and settled into the night, Spanish style. I believe I did my wiggly dance at one point, but thankfully I didn’t sing. On and on the night flowed while I wondered if I’d ever get back to the boat, if I could find another driver, or if I’d be forced to make my own way home, wading through the mosquito infested rice fields.
Eventually I reached a dew soaked OB in the grey dawn light. There was no point putting up the boat tent, instead I donned my foul weather gear, inflated the mattress and crashed out across the thwarts.
I was vaguely aware of a tractor cleaning the beach as I slept and when I awoke at noon OB sat on a small untidy island in the middle of a neatly combed beach. Feeling foolish for wasting the day though the weather was grey and windless I decided that the sea was the only cure.
I rowed towards the mouth of the River Ebro, people of the night before had said that sailing or rowing boats never entered the river but I felt that this was due to the almost complete lack of small sailing craft in the area rather than their inability to overcome the flow. I asked about the existence of counter currents near the banks but nobody seemed to know, being accustomed to belting in and out in motorboats—try it and see I was advised.
I rowed on going over the night before and smiling at the memory of a powerful monoglot German who, exasperated at his inability to participate in the lively conversation, assumed the bear hug as his sole means of communication. Regularly doing the rounds, crushing the members of our party, until one girl, presumably inspired by his messages of universal love, took him on to the dance floor.
The river mouth, though visible from the beach, was deceptively far away and as the waters turned a murky green I began to feel the current. A lot of rain has fallen in Spain since that fateful day in May when I opened a pot of varnish and the river, though not swollen, was flowing vigorously. I continued to pull noting the speed at which rafts of driftwood floated by.
In flat water and with no wind OB can make 3 knots under oars with relatively little effort but now, though making a fine wake, she was only doing one knot over the ground, and the moment I let up she slid off backwards. After an hour of getting nowhere the sun came out and a foul wind sprang up so I decided to quit. I brought OB to rest on a lovely strip of lonely sand right on the river mouth and spent the rest of the day reading and dozing in the meagre shade offered by her hull. Then in the cool evening I took some photos before the camera shut its shutter for good, then made myself a large pan of pasta in preparation for the morrow.