SW France & the border with NE Spain.
This page covers Capbreton to Hendaye on the French / Spanish border and includes
our most eventful passage this year.
We also do some mountain climbing.
Cap Breton from the air
Cap Breton (3rd May, 72 miles from Arcachon)
We expected the exit from Arcachon to be difficult but todays conditions were not
bad at all. A force 4 Easterly wind blew against a 2 knot tide but we blasted along
at 8.5 knots and soon arrived at the shallow entrance series of buoys. Again
breaking waves were everywhere but this time the wind over tide made it really bouncy
although not for long as we again blasted thro them and out to sea. We turned South
and shaped up for Cap Breton 55 miles away, then suddenly 2 almighty bangs almost
floored us both, they were firing somewhere on the missile range. 15 minutes later,
as we tried to stay in the rumoured 3 mile inshore route, a French voice called
us on the radio and asked our intentions regarding the missile range. It became
clear no inshore route was available, the French voice telling us it was an error
on the English charts and pilot books. We were given a course to steer out to sea
to avoid the range. At about 1030 they called again and said "that's it for
this morning" but they asked if we could make the latitude of 44˚ 13΄N
by 1200. No chance I said, so they asked for 1300, when I said yes its possible
I was thanked for my understanding and asked to call when at that latitude. In due
course we called in, early as it turned out as the wind had died and we were motoring.
No firing occurred for a further 2 hours.
French customs launch
During this lull we watched dolphins leaping and playing together, totally ignoring
us. Unlike the 25m grey launch travelling straight towards us, a customs launch
and it wanted us to stop. At first I didn't stop and so was 300m away when the rib
was launched but they soon caught us. Would they think we were running away we wondered.
Then one of the guys got soaked by a wave as he tried and failed to get aboard.
Even with these 2 black marks it was all rather relaxed really, apart from it taking
about 45 minutes for them to complete the paper work. They were amused as we were
English on a French boat heading for Spain and they had sent a French speaker to
interview us. Luckily his English was good also.
A further 5 hours with virtually no wind had us motoring, motoring, motoring on
a glassy sea. What a bore that was until the swell started to arrive. We did not
notice it until we heard the thunder as the swell broke onto the beach and sent
huge plumes skywards, very spectacular even viewed from a few mile out to sea. By
late afternoon the swell was at least 2m and really dramatic as it pounded onto
the beach and onto the distant breakwater of Cap Breton.
Looking thro the Capbreton entrance out into Biscay
Do not enter Capbreton in onshore winds, says the French pilot book, as the waves
break . . . . . . Well we had come this far and we were not going to be deterred
by a little swell. In the end we surfed in at over 8 knots, mostly in control, or
so we like to think.
This is the entrance photographed at the same tide time but one day later. If you
enlarge it you can see a person by the red light house giving a size perspective.
And here is an amazing
Post Card photograph of the entrance during a summer gale.
Another puzzle during the passage was the tides. The tide tables are very simple
neither showing springs nor neaps but stating 0.4 knots as a max current. We saw
1.3 knots against us for about 4 hours and still do not know why.
As we had arrived quite late we simply tied up on the visitors pontoon and enjoyed
the evening. The following day we visited the capitainerie to pay and to decide
how long to stay. The good news was that the previous night was free and if we paid
for 4 nights we could stay for 7 days. And even better, the 4 nights only cost 64
Euros total, that's 8 Euros per night overall.
Cap Breton from the air
Capbreton is one of three small towns surrounding the marina, and being the biggest
it has all the basics we might have need of. Supermarkets, DIY stores, tourist info,
chandlers etc, etc. The towns are also surrounded by beaches and forests through
which are loads of cycle routes.
On one of the days, we were cycling back from a walk in the forest when it started
to thunder and lightning, so quick as flash I said, "lets have a coffee
in this bar". As we sat at the pavement cafe under the sun/rain cover the rain
turned heavy, then really heavy, then torrential such that over one inch fell in
one hour. Because were sitting right by the roadside we were able to watch
others first make for cover then they'd make a run for it through the 6 inch deep
puddles (honest 6 inch at least). Best of all, during the morning it had been hot
and sunny so people were flimsily dressed; now they wore wet flimsy attire. Nuff
said! The rain showed no sign of abating after 3/4 hrs so we decided
to be on our way. Janet's being organised had a waterproof, I was reduced
to having to wear a bright yellow thin plastic rain cape, which I had
bought a couple of years ago and had been in the bottom of the bike bag ever since.
When donned it covered my shorts, leaving my still pale legs on view, I then
pulled up the hood and placed my baseball cap on top of it. At this
point Janet and a few other onlookers started to snigger. Janet is convinced
that quite a few people we passed probably wonder what the hell a giant chicken
was doing riding a bike through their streets. Janet's only regret is that
she did not take a photograph as then you would all have been able to have a laugh
at my expense.
Morgan arrived on the Saturday having left Arcachon at low water; very brave we
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Anglet / Biarritz. (12th May, 12 miles from Capbreton)
Anglet from the air
It being only 10 miles to Anglet we happily waited for the afternoon HW before we
exited. On board were David and Jill as Jill was flying home from Biarritz to London
for 2 weeks and, once at Anglet, they would only be about 5 miles from the airport,
also they were both interested to see what a modern mono-hull sailed like.
We motored out of the harbour into a flat sea and an Easterly (off shore) wind.
Turning South(ish) the wind was on our side so perfect for a fast passage across
a flat sea. Our guests were pleased to see speeds as high as 8.4 knots in only a
F3 wind. (so were we as it happened) And so, even with a slight adverse tide,
we were soon at the entrance to the Bayonne/Biarritz/Anglet estuary which the picture
above shows. David took the helm as Janet and I sorted things ready
for Anglet. Then suddenly we heard "fender over board" and David swung
the boat through 180 degrees. Coincidently as we turned, coming up behind us was
a 20m customs vessel and its RIB and they both saw our manoeuvre. The RIB
tried to help by beating us to the fender but David surged forward and stopped us
right on it. I hoisted it on board and David resumed our course. The RIB,
for want of something better to do, asked us to keep clear of the larger customs
I took the helm and made a poor attempt at reversing into the berth allocated, then
I made a poor attempt at going in forwards but we tied up happily nevertheless.
On the north bank just out of the above aerial photo is a scrap metal recycling
plant which spent most of the night unloading a ship. The noise was dreadful
as each 50 ton scoop of old iron was taken ashore and dropped from a great height.
From the web we learned that the company had recently started melting down nuclear
reactor spent fuel to make it safe. 'not sure how that one works.
On the Saturday morning Jill and David left for Biarritz and the airport whilst
we cycled into Biarritz for a look at this famous French holiday resort. At
first it was quite chilly and we had dressed optimistically for sun, fortunately
the sun appeared and after that Biarritz was much more appealing. It
is certainly a swish seaside resort, first made fashionable by Napoleon, its
on the lines of Cannes or Nice, its the "S of France" on the west coast.
Large hotels ring the bay and within the town there are lots of boutiques, antique
shops and plenty of cafes and bars. But it has to be its beautiful beach
which makes it special. There were lots of Brits around obviously a popular
destination thanks to Ryanair.
From Royan the 150 miles of coast to Biarritz had been one long uninterrupted beach,
totally facing west and receiving the full Biscay swell, it was a surfers dream.
The whole coast, as is the land to at least 5 miles inland, is beautiful clean fine
sand. In Biarritz I think the off lying rocks make the beach more of a sun bathers
beach although it also has a surfers beach.
Along the coast is evidence on Napoleons attempt at a harbour but we liked the old
fishing port and the quaint fisherman's houses which ringed it. Above the harbour
are modern high rise hotels and apartments whilst to the right is a splendid granite
St Jean de Luz. (13th May, 13 miles from Anglet)
With only about 10 miles to go to SJDL we left at 1400 having spent the morning
following the No. 4 bus route to a Lidl supermarket. Well its the only info we had,
"we passed it on our way to Biarritz when we were on the bus", Jill said.
Saint Jean de Luz Harbour
Another perfect wind and sea; wind well off the nose and the sea flat. Full
sail in a F3 soon had us approaching SJDL and a very strange sight. The tide had
caused debris to form a long line of filth and millions of fish were feeding on
it. The fish were more than 12" long and had the forward part of the body above
water so clearly visible to us. Then as we got to within about 10m they would suddenly
dive and then reappear a few metres behind us. We had over a mile of this strange
sight. Janet said that as we could see what they were eating we should not catch
We sailed into SJDL and then struggled to find somewhere suitable to anchor.
You see, it was springs so at LW the water was not deep enough for us, behind the
shelter of the wall. So we ended up in the middle of the bay. Eventually we
opted for a 8m hole and anchored on rock. Not good, and our first rock since Brittany.
During the night the wind totally disappeared, the sea went flat and the swell rolled
in. It was horrible, we rolled all night and so were shattered come sun up. Shame
as SJL is a beautiful place and the bay is very picturesque. Morgan sailed
into the bay at about 1400 just as we set off to a better anchorage. Sorry
David, we gota go.
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Hendaye. (14th May, 9 miles from St J de L)
The passage to Hendaye. We left SJDL under full sail but quickly dropped
the main to slow us down. The wind was sort off behind and as the passage
was less than 10 miles we felt a sail of more than one hour would be nice. We had
a really enjoyable time under head sail alone.
We passed Hondarribia (the Spanish marina) on the starboard side then up past 2
anchoring areas which had no appeal, the tides were still spring, and so the other
area marked was too shallow for us but a little way past Hendaye marina we
found some deep water and anchored. We had just hoisted the day signal (a
black ball) to say we were anchored when the capitainerie boat told us to move.
We were too tired to do much other than head into the marina where we were pleasantly
surprised at the price, 48 Euros for 3 nights. The 3rd actually being free.
Apparently we could have tied up to a pontoon outside the marina and this would
have been slightly less, but you need to buy tokens for water and electricity, so
probably not much of a saving.
The marina is a large and modern ringed by holiday apartments, hotels, cafes and
bars. There is a small supermarket but it is quite pricey albeit well stocked.
The beach is only 2 minutes away but the town centre of Hendaye is ten minutes away
by bike probably a good twenty minutes on foot. It is very small with a pleasant
church but nothing special.
Walking up the mountain of La Rhune.
We had read about a 905 meters high mountain called La Rhune , which
has a mountain railway you can take to the top, or you can walk up in about 3 hrs
and 2hrs down. We decided to visit even though it involved getting up early to catch
a bus to St Jean de Luz and from there a bus to Col de Saint-Ignac where the mountain
railway starts. We opted to take the train up and walk down.
The down was not all down hill as it turned out.
The railway was built in 1924 and it is delightful. It climbs to the top at
8km/h, up steep inclines and along narrow ledges, from which the views are breath
taking. As you climb you can see along the coast to Biarritz in one direction and
San Sebastian in the other, plus all the local mountains and in the distance the
At the top we took in the views, had coffee and then decided to start our walk down.
As we walked we passed lots of groups of the pottok, small wild horses. Most
groups had a couple of foals and the mares with foals all wore collars with bells,
not sure why, but they made a wonderful sight and sound.
We watched the fauve vultures soaring high above riding the thermals. We also
saw the manech a small sheep from which they make a local cheese. We walked
up and down through woods, over crags and small streams. The stream,
where it had formed a pond, was full of tadpoles and hidden somewhere
were loudly croaking frogs, some of the tadpoles where enormous, guess the frog
must be quite a size aswell!
There were also lots of alpine flowers and beautiful foxgloves everywhere. The ones
here are growing alongside an old Napoleonic redoubt.
The walking was easy enough except where the path was full of small stones which
made it quite tricky on the steep bits. It is a magical place and we picnicked
and lingered drinking in the atmosphere. After leaving the mountain we walked
to the pretty village of Ascain at the foot of the Rhune, and had a well deserved
cold beer before returning on the bus. Brilliant day out. In the past
we have done lots of walking in the Yorkshire Dales and the Lake District and until
yesterday, I didn't realise how much I had missed hill walking, needles to say we
both had a few muscle twinges the next day, just to prove how out of practise we
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