M@re Nostrum

Spanish International
Sea Kayak Adventure
by Philippe Lasnier

Achieved along Asturias coast (Spain)
from august 20 to august 31, 2001

Gulf of Biscay is well known for its rough waters and the north coast of Spain is particularly inhospitable with cliffs falling down to the ocean and rollers on the few beaches covering the end of bays. So the challenge proposed to the European paddlers this year was a difficult trip. 15 experienced paddlers have tried the adventure and 3 of them withdrawed after the first day. The group was composed with 6 women and 9 men: 1 English, 1 Swedish, 2 Spanish, 2 Dutch, 2 Italians, 4 Germans and 3 French. In spite of the difficulties, the weather was relatively clement and we have appreciated this navigation along the rocky coast with the backdrop of Asturias Spanish mountains.

Asturias coast is divided in two parts, equal in length, separated by Cabo Peñas. In the west part, nothing is stopping the swell coming from the ocean and we had there waves up to 8 metres obliging us to paddle far from the coast. On the other hand, in the east part, the cape is protecting the coast a bit, allowing us to paddle more near the rocks where we admired caves and arches.

Monday august 20th. Our start point is playa de Peñarronda. Brigitte is preparing herself to launch. She had an accident a lot of years ago where she losted one leg, but when she is in her boat, she has a hell of a stroke! We had only helped her a little for launching and landing. On the back, rollers are waiting for us... Several will capsize when starting.

Swedish married with a Spanish coming from this region, Anders knows a little the coast, but he never paddled all along before, as we have planned. He paddles a kayak rented by Fun Run, a Spanish kayak builder. After the rollers in front of the beach, the sea is relatively calm because there is only little wind (W 2/3).

At the far end of the small harbour of Viavélez, we have find a secured shelter for the lunch stop. Astri (in the middle) must be towed by Guy (on the right) because of a hard pain in his arm. She has still after-effects of a bear attack in Canada on last september. By taking care of it, his arm will get better and better with the days.

We have requisitioned the ropes between fishing boats and the peers to dry our things. The coloured alignment of our kayaks drained some people when we arrived, but they quickly go back to their own business. The coming tide obliged us to let somebody keeping an  eye on the boats when the others went to the village.

Our camping place on playa de Navia. The end of the day was very testing. The wind increased (E 4/5, so in front) and Gerard capsized. His recover was difficult because of his weight and the little equipment of his boat (in spite of recommendations made before the trip). Carmela needed to be towed all the afternoon. Astri also was towed a little. In the evening Gerard decided to give up. Carmela and Tito gave up also the next day after the collective analysis of encountered difficulties which take us all the morning.

Tuesday august 21st. On the afternoon, we launch from Navia after a long and difficult portage. Astri is making exercises to relax and warm up. The low tide is protecting us from the rollers which are lowered by sand bars. This will not prevent Carmen to fall down, surprised by a wave when looking at a bank of mullets passing by. Luckily, she do it brillantly with an opportune eskimo roll.

Carmen, a speed kayak competitor converted to sea kayak, helped me a lot to organize this adventure. Without her and her lot of knowings in this region, we would not have been able to enjoy local welcome and opportunities she negotiated for us in different places where we landed. His capacity to find people to bring her kayak on the beaches made Jacques name her "Carmen de la playa"!

Dieter is now used to our international trips. Teacher in Germany, he was not able to come to each trip because of his professional constraints. The favourable weather of this second day (NW 2) is a good thing to take pictures on the water. Several of us had putted a fishing line in the water, without any success in spite of we could see a lot of fish near the surface.

During all our days when fishing, Carmen was the only one to take a fish. This one, which I just unhooked from her fishing line, was too small for twelve starving paddlers after one day on the water. So it went back to the water after a beautiful gliding flight, thanking us with a few tail movements.

We have landed with the rollers in Playa de Otur, one of us landing first and showing to the others when it's the best to pass the falling line. Then we had to carry the kayaks which is more or less difficult. We are four for each one (six for Jacques'one!) to carry it out of waves and tide reach. The camping place is a narrow place, between the beach and the cliffs. Probably we will not be pleased to be there when a storm is going, but today, the weather forecast is OK.

Past the tenseness before passing the rollers, faces recover their natural smile. Everybody is preparing his camping gear while tourists are sunbathing on the beach. We will retrieve quietness with the night coming and also with the high tide which, thanks to a rocky outcrop, will cut the beach in two parts, our one becoming out of reach from the road because of the cliffs. In the foreground, Jürgen, our most senior member (74) and Astri. At the back, Guy is storing his portaging straps.

After the first two days difficulties, the group is retrieving his usual good mood. Guy has brought his clown cap which has made us laughing previous years. Tourists ask themselves who are these fellows who dare to face the troubled waters in front of their beach and now have a so strange behaviour. We care little about that and do as if they were not here. The beach will soon be only for us and we expect to enjoy it.

Jacques shows us an use of Union Jack which was probably never planned in British etiquette. His royal lining is usually used for lateral protection of Guy's stove, who also provided the flag. As for the stemmed glass (special unbreakable and taken to pieces for sea kayak trips) contents, it can only be Bordeaux wine. We now better understand why Jacques' kayak is heavier than others!

The tide has grown with the evening. Waves are crashing on the rock in front of which we could have pass a little earlier to join the other part of the beach where is road access, full of camping-cars. Spanish Red Cross Coast Guards came to evacuate the sunbathers before the pass is closed. Rollers are now falling just close to the ground. Launch in such conditions seems rather acrobatic. Luckily, tomorrow morning, the level will be a little lower.

Wednesday august 22nd. Becci is awaked by her mother, Gabi, early in the morning. She is the youngest of our group. At 13, she practise white water kayak competition and kayak race on flat water. This trip is her first one of this length, but she will follow the group without any problem, although a little tired at the end of the day. Being with us, she has bring a new youth spirit in atmosphere and her games amused us several times.

Instead of charts, we used plane pictures of the coast, which were at scale and with a lot of information written on them. They gave us a good look of how is the coast with all information we need for paddling. They are extracted from a Spanish tourist book covering all the coast and giving a lot of information about outstanding places, accommodation and catering. As an example, this is Cabo Busto, passed today.

Playa de Cadavedo where we landed this evening is full of pebbles, except at low tide. For lack of place, we were obliged to pitch the tents on the path used by the fishermen to go to their boats. It was a difficult day with a 8 metres swell obliging us to paddle far from the coast and to round Cabo Busto very far.

Carmen's kayak is leaking by the skeg. Jacques, who was a kayak builder in France, will try in vain to watertight the bulkhead with our poor means. The only way to get it dry was to close the skeg hole with some tape, but some days it will not be possible for Carmen to paddle without her skeg.

This evening, we have dinner at the restaurant outside. We get composed salad, potatoes with ketchup and fried calamari. We are the last customers. Tourists are gradually leaving the beach. Some fishermen came to give a look to their boats, but we don't see any launching, which would be very spectacular because of the very steepy pebbeled beach.

Thursday august 23rd. It was a hard day. Carmen and I have "tourista" (ill) from half of the night and we are a bit groggy. The big swell was a little less than yesterday, but we never forget the rounding of Cabo Vidio with six meter waves. We have landed on Playa de San Pedro. The camping place had been cancelled, but a superb flat grassy ground will make it. It's Guy turn to be very ill. Becci is drawing, giving one animal for each of us.

At our evening meeting, Guy fever had increased. Tomorrow is a day off. We will stay there hoping he will be soon better. This will also help Carmen and I to completely recover. Arriving, I was so tired that I had difficulties to pitch my tent. Astri gave me a hand before I fell down for a recovering sleep. Carmen recovered quicker than me, but she suffered more when paddling today.

Friday august 24th. Today is a day off. Everybody is going about one's business and go to the village, two kilometres from the beach. Jürgen is writing under his tent. At the back, Guy is recovering slowly. With Luis help, who is in charge of cleaning the beach, he had gone to the doctor who said it was a poisoning with drinking water. This problem is very frequent there in this season.

Becci has taped her drawings on each tent with sticking. Everybody gets one. Unfortunately, during the afternoon, Guardia Civil told us to put off the tents. Next night will be under the stars. In fact, the camping was cancelled because of flooding risk in case of thunderstorm, due to rio Esquiero flowing nearby the ground where we are.

In the afternoon, Jacques, Federico et Anders are going to surf the waves in front of the beach. Some are very hard and there will be some capsizes. The game will end with several surfers arrival, our friends leaving them the spot for not taking the risk of a unwilling collision which could end badly.

During this time, Brigitte, helped by Carmen, improve her rolling skills in rio Esquiero clear waters. Conditions are ideal for it. The water, coming from the mountain, is clear but not too cold. We can see some trouts, but Brigitte never succeeded in catching one with her teeth!

Going to the village for shopping, we passed a barn erected under pilots, which is typical in this area. This wooden building with a balcony all around, which was used as a hayloft, is built under four sharp stones which fragility is impressive. But, if this on the picture was a new one, we had seen very old ones, challenging the time.

This evening, fish for everybody, cooked by Jacques. Instead of having fishing, Guy had gone to the village fishery to buy some tuna which is cooked on a campfire, on a grid, near the river. With braised potatoes, it's very tasty. My stomach has not completely recover, so I didn't enjoy it as well as I would have wanted...

We obeyed Guardia Civil orders. Tents are putted off. Some of us have used their kayaks to make a makeshift shelter. However, the night is neither cold nor wet. I will have a good sleep under the stars, awaked only one time by the policemen round coming to verify if we had really putted off the tents.

Saturday august 25th. We are living playa de San Pedro. Rollers are waiting for us. Some of us will pass them without any difficulty. I will had eight big ones before passing to the other side. I don't know why, instead of being only three or four big ones, they had been more this time. On the evening, I will discover that one of the bases of my glasses was broken.

The morning is calm. There is almost no wind. The weather forecast announced S 3, which we will have on the afternoon. The swell is still very high. We will decide to cancel the lunch stop because of the difficulties to enter Puerto de San Esteban, where big waves are coming in when falling. Rounding Cabo Vidrias with a big swell between Isla La Deva and the cape is unforgettable.

We had a hard landing in front of Santa Maria del Mar. The big swell was entering the bay and we had to find the good timing to land with not too much risk. On the beach, Brigitte savour her tea. Bumpers, at the back, give an idea of difficulties for landing.

Here the sand is black. This is caused by a lot of mines extracting coal from the mountains. All the rivers bring some tiny black grains to the sea, colouring the sand on all the beaches around. This is not dirty, but the color is not very fine...

The camping place is full, too high and too far. There is a small remaining place in it to pitch our tents, but we have not the courage to roll so high and there are some steps at the end. We will pitch our tents on the beach when the night will come. For the moment, I relax myself at the bar with Guy, Astri, Carmen and Jacques.

We aligned the boats on the side of the beach, out of seeing from the road up there. It's Gabi's turn to be ill. Guy has not yet completely recover. Finally, they will go to the camping to stay near the toilets, when we will stay near the boats.

Sunday august 26th. Morning clouds have let the place to the sun. The come and go of youngsters coming from the nearby nightclub remained a part of the night, but we never heard the music. But those from the camping slept not as well as us... Today, the sea is calm and the swell has decreased a lot. It's a luck because Guy et Gabi are not well.

Rounding Cabo Peñas was beautiful. There is a cave crossing the rock which can be passed in kayak if the weather is calm. The swell was not permitting, although it was less high than previous days. Arriving at Playa de Bañugues, the Spanish Red Cross Coast-Guards tell us not to land. The beach ifs for bathing only. We turn back.

In the next bay, Playa de Moniello, we have find a small paradise. The bay is protected by the rocks which are a shelter for fishing boats and there are no waves to land on the pebbles. We store the boats. There is a restaurant just in front with a grassy parking on which we will be allowed to pitch the tents.

Good weather encourages to photography in this wonderful afternoon because we have some time left.












Anders is missing to make a full gallery. Nobody knows where he was when we made the pictures...

Astri has two jobs. She does massages and she sells health food products. Her knowledge drive to this game which adds relaxation to the play that the girls appreciated so much. The small broken house was used to protect the bay during the Spanish Civil War.

Our most senior member and our youngest are on sides of organisers. We can see clearly, at the back, the rocks protecting the bay from the big swell coming from the Atlantic. There, the sea is calm and we have taken a pleasant bath.

This evening, we have dinner at the restaurant. The big room at the top is only for us and we are served by the owner herself. Atmosphere is very good and the evening will end with a French Basque song, with body movements which will finish in a lot of laughing.

Monday august 27th. The owners of the restaurant came to see us launching. We had a lay in. This allowed everybody to recover from yesterday evening extras and for those who were yet a little ill to recover completely. The sky is grey, but the sun will soon appear. Wind is NE 2/3 and the sea is calm.

We paddle along wonderful cliffs. Since Cabo Peñas, the sea is calmer and the swell lower. We can better stay near this inhospitable, but so nice coast. Gradually, the rocky cliffs will become a little green at the top, keeping a very steep profile.

Before crossing Gijón harbour channel, we had to wait for this gas carrier, named Polar Sky, which we have seen for a long time waiting for the pilot to enter the harbour. The waves at the end of the sea wall were confused because of the W 4/5 wind increased in the afternoon. Eventually, after the wall, the sea was calmer and we waited easily.

After all these mountains, approaching the town was an impressive contrast. Two local club paddlers had come to meet us, paddling in open kayaks. One has no life jacket... Carmen arranged our living in a room of the Gijón nautical club where we will pass the night. We are received by Pepin, president of the club.

We store our kayaks in the middle of club boats: storm sails, more important sailing boats, and some polyethylene sit-on top kayaks piled in a corner. The club area is closed and guarded. We will pass the evening in the town without any fear before coming back to sleep in the club room.

Animated evening at the restaurant. Hot atmosphere and we will make a show for our neighbours with our French Basque song. Guy and Astri will come back very early the next morning after having tried more addresses in the town. It was at this moment that Guy slide to the water, in his attempt to catch crabs for giving a small company to Jacques in his sleeping bag...

The speciality of this area is sidra. Nothing to come with the well known brittany drink. This one is more acid and just a little fermented. It must be oxygenated before drinking. To do so, the glasses filling method is very particular. We have seen the owner of the restaurant doing it when talking to a customer without looking neither to the glass, nor to the bottle!

Tuesday august 28th. For carrying the boats, we are using nautical club trolleys, generally used for storm sails. Two boats at each carry, we have all done in a few time and with small effort, the harder being not to be pulled to the water on the slip, which lower part was a little slippery because of algs.

Pepin, coming to saw us leaving, took a picture of the full group on the slip. From left to right, standing up : Federico, Anders, Philippe, Dieter, Becci, Jacques, Jürgen and Carmen. Scatting : Guy, Gabi, Astri and Brigitte. The sky is grey, but there is no wind and the sun is in our hearts.

We had planned to stop at playa España, but the waves were falling directly on the sand, forbidding landings. We had to continue to playa de Merón where the waves were less high. After a grey morning, the sun is coming to warm us up. We have lunch on the grass at the top of pebbles above the sand beach.

Jürgen is paddling hard on this beautiful sunny afternoon. The sea is not too choppy and allows some few pictures, but there is always a little swell and my Nordkapp is not the best boat for that, as for fishing. Backwards, Federico has an skimo paddling with his thin paddle.

Anders is paddling in the sun with Spanish mountains at the back. In this part of the coast, the cliffs have lowered and the higher parts are green with grass and bushes. However, near the water, the ground remains very rocky, which is not easy to see on the picture taken a little far from the coast.

Each day, Astri's arm is aching less than previously. However, Guy's massages during the stops were always necessary for relaxing. At the back, we can clearly see a big rocky plate falling down to the water. This is characteristic of this area where rocks are smooth superposed thin plates.

Becci was a surprise for all of us. Normally, it's necessary to be more than 18 to take part in our trips. On her mother's request, I accepted a derogation asking myself what risk I have taken. Competitor in Germany, Becci is a good paddler who showed us she has good skills, including skimo roll in big waves. At the end of the day, she was a little tired, but who was not?

The pretty village of Tazones is nesting in the hill. To the left, between the rocks, as in some other places around, are fossilized dinosaurus prints that you can see at low tide. Unfortunately, the swell still too important was not allowing us to come there and land to see this touristic attraction. We shall compromise with the pictures in our tourist book.

Wednesday august 29th. For the midday stop, we have landed at Playa de la Isla, at the end of a bay which is perfectly sheltered by islands protecting if from the swell. Here, there are no waves and we are actors for a few tourists on the beach. The sun is with us, and we don't comply.

At Ribadesella, we pitch our tents on a small island between two arms of the Sella river, near the sports centre. Here, people is used to kayaks. The Sella is about as well-known as Ardèche in France and there is organized each year a big kayak race well-known the world over by it's pistol start with all the kayaks on the beach and the paddlers standing on a line.

This evening is my birthday. My friends have prepared a surprise hidden beside them, on the table. It's forbidden for me to come and see it before all is ready. Carmen had gone to the village to buy a wonderful birthday cake. To celebrate the moment, I will open the champagne bottle cluttering up my front bulkhead from the beginning of the trip.

To celebrate my birthday, Astri and Guy have cooked a meal for me. The hat, offered by Carmen, has the sign of Asturias, with a yellow and blue ribbon, which are the county colours. We will end the evening in the village with a very good beer. In this season, the streets are busy and the good weather has filled up the terraces on pedestrianized ones.

Thursday august 30th. Yesterday evening, we landed at high tide. This morning, before getting in the kayaks, we have to climb down the steps and, with the loaded kayaks, it's not easy. Fortunately, we have find some sand which, putted on the step, has covered algae which should have make the climbing down a bit dangerous for us and the boats.

After rounding Cabo de Mar and facing several squalls with a force 5 wind and fantastic choppy waves, we have landed on playa de San Antonio, sheltered from the waves by the cape, a white sand paradise with green water. Carmen met somebody she knows, being on holidays here. At the top of the cape, there is a chapell blown in the wind.

We have pitched the tents in the falling night on playa de Nimbro. We had planned to land on playa de Torimbia, just before, but it would not have enough place at high tide there. It's a pity because this beach is one of the most beautiful of the coast, surrounded by hills. During the night, we will have a visit from Guardia-Civil and Carmen will need to negotiate our stay there till the early morning.

Friday august 31st. This morning, it's raining a little and, for not being cold, the meeting is in the boats. This meeting had become a routine. It allows everybody to know what is the trip for the day, where are possible and planned landings and what is the weather forecast. Before starting, to get the forecast, we request the Gijón coast-guards every day by V.H.F. and we also listen to French marine forecast on the radio.

After the meeting, we paddle in front of the sun hidden by the clouds. It's our last day paddling. The north-east wind is in front, but it's not very hard and there are few waves. We will be able to enjoy the coast and the caves.

Brigitte is paddling in front of the small harbour of Llanes. The blocks protecting the sea wall inside have been painted with bight colors. This is surprising and make a contrast with the grey sky under the landscape, hiding the nearby mountains. At the end of the ria, there is a small sand beach where small fishing boats can land.

The last picture of the whole group, on playa de Vidiago. Anders, whose one year small boy is in his arms, is leaving us here. This beach is not protected from the swell and we had difficulties to land. Jürgen broke his wooden paddle at half the handle when skimo rolling and, willing to land by three, Becci, Guy and me, have been pushed all on each other by a wave bigger than the others. The result is two skimo rolls and an impact on Guy's compass, his kayak being turned back by the wave under our two boats.

Astri is getting out of the channel we entered together. It's very impressive because the two walls are narrowing and the height of the waves increase to two metres. In spite we can see the end, we couldn't paddle all the length because the end is too dangerous with choppy water pushing to the rocks. At the top, the channel is partially open and we can see a little sky.

The mouth of rio Deva is not easy to find from the sea. The indentation in the cliffs is very small, and, if you are paddling a little far from the coast, you will probably miss it. Here is the end of our maritime journey and, after the big swell approaching the coast, the contrast in the ria is gripping. Astri is laughing. In spite of her difficulties, she has made the whole trip and for her it's a great victory.

We have landed in the small village named Unquera, after more than one kilometre up in rio Deva. This evening is a fun fair in the place where we are. We will need to pass with the boats between the strollers and the stalls, in a deafening music, to put them on the cars. The dirty water had putted us off and we didn't dare to get all participants in the water as we are used to do at the end of each trip.

We ended the evening at the restaurant in the camping where most of us will pass the night before a long travel the next day. Carmen gave us the newspapers where an article is telling about us, friendly offered by the editor. The evening will end at the bar (wonderful melocoton!) when the staff was putting the chairs on the tables.

A photographer came to immortalize us, at our arrival on the afternoon, on the park area of Gijón nautical club who accommodate us for the night. The article was published in Gijón edition of Nueva España dated august 31st.

A pretty journalist had come to interview us before our start, when we were at Juan Feliz office in Arriondas. She joined us, with a photographer, on august 30th in the morning when we launched from Ribadesella. Her article was published in Del Oriente edition from Nueva España dated august 31st.

Report written by Philippe LASNIER
Photos by participants

Sent for M@re Nostrum by Carme Adell


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