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by Rene Vidmer - Nazareth, Pennsylvania - USA

Part One - Part Two

Bilbao on the Bay of Biscay

Kiss of the Wolf* was built in 2008 in a Nazareth, PA backyard. She is a fifteen and a half foot, out-board-powered, flat-bottomed skiff in the Sharpy style to lines drawn by boat architect Jim Michalak (AF4b).

Although designed as a day sailor and occasional over-nighter, KOTW in 2010 logged in excess of 8000 miles circumnavigating the Eastern half of the navigable North American continent.

In 2012 she was shipped to Kotka Finland and from there, running inland waterways where possible and coast wise where not, visited 11 countries before being hauled for refitting on Spain's Costa Brava.

In 2013 KOTW was relaunched in Bilbao on the Bay of Biscay with the hope of running the Spanish north coast and French west coast (Cote Basque) north to Bordeaux, thence south on the Garrone and Canal du Midi to the Mediterranean. The following is pieced together from sporadic emails, as my journal and scores of photos covering all but a few days of the last six months were lost when my iPod went overboard at the very end of this adventure.

DAY ONE - Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Finally dropped her in the water here in Bilbao, an industrial city in the North of Spain on the Bay of Biscay. About a 4 hour drive from my sister's, but my nephew Koko had business in Bilbao and he is a sailor also, so we had a pleasant drive North to beautiful Basque country, which is much more heavily forested than Spain proper. When you cross over into the Basque region the signs abruptly change to the Basque language which bears a relationship to no other, and no one seems to know its origins; lots of Xs and Zs.

Needless to say, I don't speak Basque (Euskara), but we managed with the help of the manager of the local yacht club to get her down their ramp. All this in pouring rain, and temperature in the high 50s. Not fun, but all went well, and the motor started on the first pull of the cord. How's that for proper winter storage?

Anyway, the weather is not conducive to anything but taking to my bunk and waiting out this front, so I've dropped the hook among some small fishing boats in the inner harbor. Decent weather is promised for Friday.


Today is Friday and I am at anchor in the harbor as conditions have not improved; it is still rainy and it is still cold. I don't mind, it's an attractive harbor.

Tomorrow if weather improves, I'll putter down to Gherry's Guggenheim Museum which is on the river a few miles below this harbor. I learned a long time ago that if you are returning aboard after a long absence, not to do anything requiring the slightest bit of skill until you regain your sea legs. Nevertheless, I attempted to step from the boat to a rock jetty and the boat slid out from under me and I went for an impromptu swim. Luckily my iPod was on the boat charging but my cell phone I think, has drowned.

Sun came out yesterday morning and hung around long enough for me to run Bilbao's river right through the town center to Frank Gerry's museum. The museum is now surrounded by newer buildings, all modern, competing for attention but not successfully. I couldn't stay as long as I would have liked because that stretch of the river had been commandeered for the Paddle Board World Championships. Very festive. Lots of tents. Lots of paddle boards. Lots of participants and spectators.


Finally got off. Sailed out of Bilbao's harbor with fair weather and tolerable seas. Am in the Bay of Biscay 20 miles East of Bilbao.


Dropped the hook in Lekeitio last night. Spent the night in a narrow, very pretty river to the South of town.

High and dry. Haven't yet learned to anticipate 17 foot tides.


It's cocktail hour so I've dropped the hook in a tributary of the Adour River which runs inland from the Port of Bayonne on the Bay of Biscay. Bayonne is a large industrial port, but not unattractive. However, nothing like as chic as the Holliday ports on the Côte Basque, which are Palm Beach, but better. The Basque coast: steep cliffs, and no reliable harbours of refuge.

DAY 11

Left Spanish waters and entered French waters yesterday. Have the hook down in a river that acts as a border between the two countries. Don't know the rivers name (Bidassoa), but the port town is Hondarribia.

The Basque coast: steep cliffs, and no reliable harbours of refuge.

DAY 16

Made a run up the Côte Basque yesterday. From Cap Breton to Arcachon, a distance of some 70 odd miles; 12 hours.

I had planned on stopping at any one of several small ports that dot an otherwise featureless coast. Unfortunately, one after the other, the ports were closed with large breakers guarding each inlet. I tried one at Conti that looked more promising than any so far. Figured I might be able to time it just right and scoot into the harbor ahead of a wave. However, the wave came out the winner in that contest: lifting me up and tipping me on my side. But the boat apparently has such a powerful initial righting moment that except for a few more bruises, I got away with it once again. I say again because a few hours earlier sailing north in a light chop I discovered large breakers several miles off shore. I didn't dare put myself between them and the cliffs that make up the shoreline in this area, so I headed out to sea planning to put myself where I was sure the breakers weren't.

At the very moment I was swinging the bow from North to East, a gigantic black wall loomed up ahead of me. I had no choice but to try and climb over it before it broke. No such luck. Another second or two and I would have been skimming down the other side, but it broke on top of me.

As I and everything in the boat was being hurled about, and I'm grabbing on to whatever comes to hand, the lone thought in my mind was "I'm not going to survive this."

But I did. In seconds the wall was gone, rolling inland, and I was still alive. The boat did not capsize, and after a cursory examination appeared not much damaged. Just everything hurled about. The amazing thing was that she shipped no water, at least not an appreciable amount.

To go from a not survivable situation to "Oh boy have I got some straightening up to do" in a matter of seconds is sobering.

Arcachon is (for the SC contingent), like Myrtle Beach on steroids; a medium size city of no particular distinction other than it plays host to the largest collection of every different kind and size of boat all going hell bent to no discernible destination. On this July 4th weekend, there are thousands and thousands of them (no exaggeration ) blanketing a bay 10 miles wide and 10 long; churning the waters into a maelstrom.

DAY 27

I'm in Teich, a tiny port in the middle of a wildlife preserve (mostly marsh). I'm trying to find someone to portage me to Bordeaux, about 40 miles from here, as going around the cape is too dangerous. Once I get to Bordeaux, its inland all the way to the Med.

It's very hot here. I absolutely have to stay out of the Sun between 12 and 4. However, it's a friendly place and I can swim in a fresh water lake in the afternoons.

Ice is expensive. Only the SuperMarket has it. Supermarket is several kilometres out of town, so I have to rent a bike to get ice every day or two. It winds up costing 12 euros a bag. And they're small bags.

Block ice and ice cubes are not popular in Europe. In some places, Denmark for instance, they look at you like you're crazy: "Why would you buy ice? It's free in the fridge." Of course they're plunking down on the SuperMarket counter a six-pack of bottled water as they say it.

Only in France can you get Coq au Vin in a can.
This chateau on the Garonne looks like the victim of a direct bomb hit. As it is in the middle of nowhere it must have been an important target.

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