Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Getting Lost in a River

2011 09 27

Gelves, Spain

From the Cockpit at anchor:
A View of the Bridge Under Which We Could Not Pass

How hard can it be to pilot a boat up a river?  This river, the Rio Guadalquivir, is like many other rivers.  It has an east bank and a west bank and a bunch of wet stuff in between.  All you have to do to navigate the river is keep the hull in the wet stuff.  Wherever the river goes that is where you are going to get.  It's not like you can get off.

This particular Saturday we even had the chartplotter on as we made our way up the fast moving road to Seville.  How is it possible we got lost?

Well, let me tell you.

Fifty five miles have to be traveled upstream from the mouth of the Rio Guadalquivir to get to Seville a city of 700,000 souls and capital of Andalucia region of Spain. Seville is a massive city built built all around the river To enter Seville you sail up the Rio Guadalquivir to a big new lock.  Before you can enter Seville you must go through a lock built on the river to protect the city from the violent tides experienced by the river.

To me the big new lock looks suspiciously like a sewage treatment plant.  The Budget Committee, my reference point of choice, agreed that the massive concrete and steel edifice we came upon looked exactly like a sewage treatment plant.  In fact I think the Sevillanos have built a sewage treatment plant right at the locksite so the effluent can be released directly downstream without building up in the city while waiting for the next locking.

That last bit is mere conjecture on my part.

There was no way we were sailing our boat into the discharge ditch of a sewage treatment plant.  So we didn't.  We should have.

For another couple of miles we continued upstream blissfully unaware we were headed the wrong way.  The extent of our navigational blunder disclosed itself when our river, no longer the Guadalquivir, began to narrow.  Then it began to have trees on its banks.  Then it began to have fallen trees across half its width.

When you sail along a river half blocked with fallen trees your confidence ebbs a bit.  YOu begin to suspect something is amiss.  In the beginning you tell yourself the fallen tree trunks are just debris from a recent storm, so recent no cleanup has been effected.  YOu try to ignore the evidence: the trunks of the trees are devoid of green leafery and trail significant booms constructed of flotsam caught in their dry brittle branches.  Flotsam you have to admit has been building up for months or years or even decades.

Still you do not accept that you missed Seville.  Seven Hundred thousand people live there.  You cannot just miss that while you motor up a river.  You earnestly believe that Seville, which is only a mile up the sewage treatment lagoon you just passed, is really just around the next bend.

Then you round the next bend and see the bridge.  A low bridge. A low bridge with no lift mechanism.

So what do you do?  Yeah, yeah.  You stop the boat.  But after that what?

YOu don't know where you are.  Your chartwork is so pathetic you cannot find a city of near a million souls on a river bank.  Your chart plotter has figured out it is in Spain and is taking its afternoon siesta.  All you wish is that you had brought your $5 Walmart road atlas of Europe.

What we did was to drop our anchor.

Our passage blocked by the bridge we took a good look around.  It was miraculous.  We had found a deserted stretch of treed river.  No boats, no traffic, no people.  No noise.  It was heaven.

Exploring our surroundings by dinghy we discovered that what had appeared to be an abandoned and seemingly derelict marina a mile downstream was not closed at all, just sort of closed for Saturday and Sunday.  Arrangements were made to land the dinghy and use showers for €2 a day.  The marina is right on a bus line with ten minute service to downtown Seville, has two bars and two restaurants and the best minimercado we have been in.

That night we introduced ourselves to the local inhabitants of the marina which turned out to be the Port of Gelves.

Dining late at the Taberna del Puerto the owner who, learning we wanted to find out about local cuisine treated us to a grilled tour of the gastronomic delights of Andalucia.  A five course meal with lamb, Iberico pork, steak.  As we sat at table in the driveway to the Puerto, along with all the locals, dogs and all, this man would interrupt us every fifteen or twenty minutes with his latest grilled delight, ending with the best steak we have ever enjoyed. As he tended grill his wife and son who manned the bar constructed their own own tour of locally produced wines and liquor.  We ended the night with icy shots of a locally produced liquor Miuro, or "the Bull": bloodred, icecold and strongly liquorice and cherry.

It has been since the Azores that we have enjoyed a dinner this much.  We might just stay lost.

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