Many long distance cruisers end up writing a book about their adventures. We have now decided the title of our book: What not do to when cruising.
Last Thursday the forecast was 2-4 m/s wind,17 degrees and our plan was to go our shortest distance so far – 10 miles from Ribadesella to Lastres. We were only planning to go by motor and this seemed like it would be the perfect lazy day. It wasn´t.
When leaving the harbour and just getting out on the sea – we ran aground.
Some of the mistakes that led us in the wrong direction was:
- Trusting the depth information in the chart
- “I have a bad feeling about leaving in low tide but the local marina staff have repeatedly ensured it will be okay so let us follow their advice.”
- Leaving on a falling tide even though there is a sandy beach close by.
- There is no wind and weather looks great so let’s just this once skip to stove away all the things before heading out.
If the above things are followed you might end up a local celebrity, see the following link:
Since there is not much happening in town everybody will know your face and that you are German (do not know how they came to that conclusion but apparently so). If you would also follow the above advice be aware that the marina staff will have no clue at all what you are trying to say on the phone when you are trying to get quick help to tow you off the sand bar. The VHF will not provide much help either since nobody on air will understand you if you speak english. If the local fishermen try to help you and set you free make sure they are pulling in the right direction. Seems simple but believe us when we say it can be basically impossible. When you are finally safely moored by the local fishing pier make sure to quickly figure out a strategy to handle the local old men who will, with limitless perspiration, insist that you rinse off your clothes from saltwater with their freshwater buckets instead of taking care of more urgent business like getting rid of water inside the boat. Most certainly the spot where your tow dropped you off will belong to somebody else. Of course these fishermen will arrive with today’s local catch eager to start unloading and your boat is in the way. But also know that when the crisis is over, a lot of people will want to help you out and know that you have recovered.
Staying safe is harder than it sounds.
This was a short version of what actually happened to us outside Ribadesella last week. The day after we spent cleaning, drying and going through our stuff to see what is broken and what is not. This grounding was our worst experience so far. The grounding itself was very gently but the friendly locals actually put us in a worse location after the first attempt to set us free where we were badly exposed to the breaking waves. We were bouncing around hard on the bottom (all sand luckily) and heeling at least 60 degrees first at port and then to starboard. Heeling towards the sea was very wet and the cockpit was filled with sea water every time a new wave was running to the beach. This is something that the self-drainage is supposed to take care of, but it did not work properly since we were tipped on our nose. According to our sea chart it should be at least 2-3 meters of water where we ran aground even at the lowest point of low water. We understood the sand could move around and therefore asked the local marina staff for advice and they gave us detailed directions. But, still we ended up stuck in the sand. An echo sounder is now very high up on our wish list. We will also make sure to trust our gut in the future, it´s just not worth it to take even a small risk just because the locals and the charts say it’s safe.
Compared to our accident in Belfast this experience was a lot more stressful, even though we knew that we were not in danger of getting harmed we were very concerned about the boat and all the things that makes it our home. It took about three hours before we were back to safety again with the help of the Red Cross and Salvamento Maritimo.
Luckily, the boat did not suffer too much damage but it probably will take a while before our trust in her being fully sound and healthy is restored. We intended to lean Mouni towards the local pier and set her aground on a ramp with the falling tide to inspect the keel and rudder, but since it wasn’t the best time of the month (concerning the tide) we went for the second choice – inspecting it underwater. Our new friend Sesu at the marina, who was the first that tried rescuing us went the accident happened, lend us a wetsuit and Jens jumped in. After inspecting the rudder and the keel the only thing we could find was that some of the paint had been scrubbed off.
The damages to the boat were instead mainly on the deck – some deformations of the pulpit because of the strong force from ropes as we were being towed, a bent stanchion (holding the guardrail) and a broken tiller. The tiller was really the only thing we needed to fix/replace before continuing and we were happy when Sesu said that he could fix it. We asked if he was going to do it in “su casa”, but he said no and 10 minutes later pointed towards his car and said that we should come with him. Since we have had very limited ability to communicate without google translate we were quite curious on where he was taking us. Turns out he had a big workshop a little bit outside the village which he had used for his company building kayaks. He had built over 800 (!) kayaks during his career, as well as paddles. The kayaks had been exported all over the world, including to Scandinavia. It was a really cool space and we were impressed with both the kayaks and the piles of awards that was laying around (both him and his sons had competed). Let´s just say that our tiller was in good hands. Some days later he returned the tiller that was now reinforced with new wood on all sides – probably stronger now than it was before!
In the end, we stayed five more days in Ribadesella, drying all the stuff that got wet inside the boat, doing some improvements and taking care of our souls by walking in nature. Jens worked on making a safe watertight box for all the electronics (besides the batteries) in one of the wardrobes that we have now completed here in Gijon.
But don’t get discouraged on visiting Ribadesella based on this report. They have wonderful beaches (if you’re not aground at least), nice narrow streets filled with restaurants and a lot of opportunities to explore the surrounding nature. The river is popular for paddling, we walked pass the beach to look at foot prints from the dinosaurs and there are lot of opportunities to hike along the coast or up in the mountains. And if you are visiting by boat, we just have to say that they have marvelous marina staff that will help you anyway they can. In fact, when we left the Presidente had told the staff that they shouldn´t accept any more money from us for the five days we stayed after the accident, they gave us a “Club Arra” flag and two t-shirts with their emblem. They also said that it had been really busy since we ran aground, because older ladies and others were calling them all the time to ask if we were all right. Let´s just say that Spaniards are really friendly people!
NOTES FOR SAILORS
When investigating further it turns out we are not the only yacht that has run aground in Ribadesella. But, entering and leaving does not have to be a problem if you just consider that the charted depths are highly uncertain (the place we ran aground is marked with a circle on the picture below). The sand bars can, and do, move. Our personal guess is that the bad winter weather had moved the sand around quite a bit and since this happened very early in the season (we were their first visiting yacht) maybe there was still some uncertainty about where it was safe to navigate. That recognised the marina staff advice is to keep close to the pier, closer than what feels comfortable, they were talking about 20 meters only. Furthermore the current in the river can be strong, up to 4 knots, so when leaving it can be difficult to turn around or even to go slow. The swell can break heavily on the beach so calm weather is preferable and I would not enter during night time or bad visibility. Once you are in the river and turned around the sand reef there is a fishing quay along the pier but opposite there is a pleasure craft marina. The visitor spots are alongside on the outside of the long jetty to the left, feels like you are on the outside of the marina. Keep close the jetty when going around the corner as the water is only deep maybe 20 meters from that jetty. On low tide a big rocky break water appears scarily close but as long as you are close to the jetty the water is deep. The price per day in April for a 10 meter boat was 20€.
A big thanks to everyone that helped us get loose from the sandbank, and helping us get back on our feet afterwards! Next time we will share the more positive experiences we´ve had since we ran aground, enjoying nature and meeting new friends in Gijon!
– Petra & Jens