by Philippe Lasnier
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
encourages to photography in this wonderful afternoon because we have some
Anders is missing
to make a full gallery. Nobody knows where he was when we made the
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
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
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
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.
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.