Sunday, 28 December 2008

Rowing for pain

With arms lax and heavy, back warm and limber, snuggled into a favourite corner of the sofa with a book and a glass of wine it’s all I can do to keep my eyes open. But I’m trying to find references to galley slaves, something to give an idea of the suffering that someone tied to an oar for up to a month at a time must have experienced. I know I read somewhere that conditions were such that a galley could be smelt from many hundreds of yards downwind but I’m damned if I can find the reference. And the truth is that tonight I don’t really care. The post row glow is too pleasurable to be spent dwelling on those souls for whom it was utter misery.

Instead I look at one of my favourite rowing/sailing stories in search of another reference, this time one that sums up the feeling. The story is Un Viatge Frustrat by Josep Pla, literally ‘a frustrated journey’. Josep Pla (1897-1981) wrote brilliantly about the Catalan coast but unfortunately has not yet been translated into English.

Josep Pla on the right and l’Hermós

During the First World War Pla and his friend l’Hermós, an illiterate fisherman, took an engineless 18-foot fishing boat up to France. Pla’s account begins with l’Hermos proclaiming, “We must demonstrate that one can go to France under oars and sail alone. Now everybody has motorboats they have become brave and daring…we will do as we please.” (A phrase, I must admit, that inspired my trip this summer.)

Pla describes every detail as they travel up the coast from cove to cove stopping to eat and drink with a wealth of friends. But their plan to get to France and live it up in Port Vendres is frustrated when they see a distant patrol boat soon after passing the French border at Cape Cerbère. Lacking necessary ‘papers’ they turn back for Spain without having touched French soil. Fluky winds on their return call for hours at the oars and one evening after a long pull Pla, curling up in the boat, writes, “Rowing is a delicious sport; it never tires excessively and leaves the body just ready for rest.” Being ‘just ready for rest’ he finds the boat supremely comfortable and says, “Sleeping in the little boat is like returning, momentarily, to life in the womb; it’s agreeable but takes a bit of getting used to.”

Lines for the sort of boat called a ‘gussi’ that Pla row-sailed to France. The craft would have carried a lateen sailing rig.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Onawind Blue

The main topic of these pages has long been absent, and though she’s not the jealous kind all this ogling of polbeiros and currachs is not entirely healthly. To redress the balance here are some photos of the old girl one and a half years after her launch. Coincidently that makes it exactly two years since I began this blog. The idea was simply to document the build but here I am, still waffling on 730 days later. Look at the pictures and judge if I still have a boat worthy of web page or not.

Large autumnal seas pumping over the beach filled the wasteland behind the dunes. The area was originally a lagoon until some bright, considerate souls decided it would be better as a carpark and displaced the water and wildlife with builder’s rubble, since then others have found it an ideal spot for illicit rubbish dumping. Paddling with one oar from a standing position in the bows I enjoyed the area as it would have been. Though blissfully gliding over the shallows I gazed down into the modern underwater world of half bricks, broken tiles and, at one point, the gaping bowl of a toilet.

Then a backhoe digger appeared on the beach and dug a channel across the sand. The water drained out of the lagoon, land was prised from the fingers of the sea and order re-established. OB and I went home and are still waiting for a window between the successive southwesterly swells to let us launch onto our favourite playground.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

More on the Currach

Narcis Fors of Belone, builder of skin on frame kayaks, has sent me some better photos of the Catalan currach. He says that the currach rows very well and that like all skin on frame craft the flexibility of the hull absorbs and dissipates the force of waves that might break violently against a stiffer vessel.

While I was building the Jim Michlak/Pete Culler oars for OB many of the folk that used to stroll through the Invisible Workshop giving advice told me that my oars would be too narrow, that, if my boat floated, I would need wider blades to get anywhere under oars. However, being familiar with currachs and their blade-less oars I felt justified in ignoring their pearls of wisdom.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Battle site

Just to clarify the previous post here’s a map showing the location of the battle of Lepanto. The coastline of Greece has changed significantly since the battle. The fast flowing river Ahelóos bringing down silt by the ton day after day for 437 years has covered much of the area where the battle was fought, burying remains and turning the much of the site into a fertile alluvial plain.

Lepanto, the Italian name for the Greek city of Naupaktos, is a safe natural harbour on the northern coast of the Gulf of Corinth. The battle took place slightly further west in the bay of Patras.

Ver mapa más grande

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

The Battle of Lepanto

The other rowing boat at Barcelona's maritime museum, in a different class to the humble polbeiro, was a reproduction of the fighting galley ‘La Real’.

In the 16th century the Ottoman Empire, spreading medieval death and destruction west across the Mediterranean, threatened Christianity and trade. No single country had the power to halt its advance and so a coalition between Spain, Venice, the Vatican, Naples and the Savoy called the Holy League formed. The 26 year old Don Juan de Austria, in the flagship ‘La Real’, led the Christian fleet against the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571.

Built in Barcelona in the very shed in which the reproduction is displayed, ‘La Real’ is a remarkable craft. A massively ornate stern with fine joinery, exotic wood, gold leaf and three huge lanterns rises high above the waterline, while at the other end a fine bow morphs into a long, long bowsprit and, teetering at the end, a golden figure mounted on a blazing dolphin. 240 rowers occupied the deck, four to each 30-foot oar. With long oar looms inboard of the locks the inner most rowers had to stand and walk backwards with their hands above their heads for the pull stroke and crouch for the return, gruelling work but the oarsmen were slaves and prisoners referred to as ‘chusma’ or scum and they didn’t evoke much pity.

Spare oars under the boat

Under oar power, on long waterlines galleys could really shift and, having the huge advantage over sailing craft of being able to head directly into the wind, they could be deadly. However, mounting their firepower only at the front and rear, they had a huge Achilles heel in their unprotected flanks. La Real mounts five canon on the foredeck, the largest, most central gun pointing straight at the gilt fellow on the bowsprit. Don Juan foresaw this problem and ordered the removal of all figureheads for the battle. But the Battle of Lepanto also saw a more significant innovation that would change the nature of naval warfare—the introduction of broadside-firing galleasses. Designed and developed in Venice the six new ships were the secret weapons that, being capable of pumping quantities of iron into galleys’ vulnerable sides, tipped the battle in favour of the Christian fleet.

Lepanto was a battle of rowing boats. There were more than 400 galleys involved in the battle and over 200,000 troops armed with arquebuses, bows, arrows and crossbows. And although, standing above that long deck, I can hear the clatter of oars, the thunder of canon, the shouts and screams, see the smoke and the raining arrows I am aware, from my cosy-armchair western viewpoint, that the imagination falls pitifully short.

One of the participants that might have detailed his experience was Miguel de Cervantes who embarked as a soldier aboard the galley La Marquesa. During the fray he was wounded twice in the chest and once in the left hand rendering it permanently useless and earning him the nickname ‘el manco de Lepanto’ the hand-less one of Lepanto.

Several years after the battle Cervantes, carrying a letter of recommendation from Don Juan de Austria, left Naples for Spain to pursue a military career. But it would be five years before he saw his native country. First a storm separated the small fleet of five galleys, then, near the Catalan coast they fell foul of Berber pirates. Cervantes was captured, taken to Algiers and, due to his glowing letter of recommendation, ransomed for 500 pieces of gold. Cervantes repeatedly tried to escape during his imprisonment until in 1581 monks of the Order of the Holy Trinity paid for his release.

When Cervantes turned his good hand to writing he didn’t in fact write about his impressions of Lepanto. His captivity, however, certainly inspired these lines from Don Quixote,

Freedom, Sancho, is one of the most precious gifts that heaven has bestowed upon men; no treasures that the earth holds buried or the sea conceals can compare with it; for freedom, as for honour, life may and should be ventured; and on the other hand, captivity is the greatest evil that can fall to the lot of man.

Among the treasures concealed by the sea for centuries were the battle’s sunken remains. Here are some youtube links to a series of documentaries about an archaeological expedition to the site, which also takes a detailed look at the history leading up to the battle and at the dispute its self. One, two and three. The Battle of Lepanto by Paolo Veronese

Sunday, 7 December 2008

More Polbeiro pics

Once again working hard to carve a wedge of free time from a relentless grind I was rewarded with another polbeiro, this time from Barcelona’s maritime museum. No prizes for photography I’m afraid, but at least we can see that huge rudder. A foil this large and so positioned must surely bring the centre of lateral resistance way aft, giving the boat massive lee helm and making it a handful when sailing off the wind. However, maybe the fairly deep hull compensates. Were this blog a source of income, I’d obviously drop everything, drive the 1000km to Galicia, find and sail a polbeiro and report back with a faithful account of its performance under sail and oars. For the moment though we’ll have to be content with supposition and hypothesis.

Monday, 1 December 2008

A Catalan currach

The currach is a curious craft, tar-blacked skin stretched on a tied wooden frame, a light-weight open rowing boat indigenous to the wet, windswept coasts of western Ireland and Scotland; the long and lean cousin of the Welsh coracle.

Although the currach is not what many would consider especially seaworthy having no reserve buoyancy and being of flimsy build, it is possible that Saint Brendan the Navigator crossed the Atlantic to Newfoundland in the 6th century aboard a similar craft. Tim Severin’s voyage of 1976 proved that such a journey was possible and that currachs are as at home on ocean waters as they are on the rivers Shannon, Lee and Spey. And Saint Beccan of Rum, in the late 7th century, wrote of another seafaring saint, Columba:

‘In scores of curraghs with an army of wretches he crossed the long-haired sea.
He crossed the wave-strewn wild region,
Foam flecked, seal-filled, savage, bounding, seething, white-tipped, pleasing, doleful.’

Though a far cry from the wild Atlantic coast Irish artist Mark Redden built a currach for contained seas of the Mediterranean. Working from a studio in Barcelona with essentially the same materials that he uses for constructing the supports for his paintings; wood and canvas, Mark adapted the currach for Mediterranean use. The typically raised bows, unnecessary with no Atlantic swells to cope with, were lowered and the materials were all sourced locally. Mark employed hazel switches from the north of Catalonia for the frames and steam bent white pine for the inwales and stringers.

He covered the boat with canvas but rather than painting it with tar, which he considered would melt in the summer heat, he gave it a few coats of a flexible plastic based paint.

Mark learned his skills in Cork and as well as having built currachs in Ireland and Scotland he has also built one in Australia. He says that even though he may move on he leaves the boat where it was built so that people can continue to enjoy it. On this build Mark was aided by Narcis Fors a young Catalan builder who studied boat building in Canada and specialises in skin on frame kayaks. Narcis, under the name Belone, builds high quality bespoke kayaks on the Costa Brava.

The currach was launched on St Patrick’s Day 2008 in Barcelona. The local TV station made a 13-minute documentary, which can be viewed here. Although Mark talks in English the Catalan commentary drowns him out, but the film may still be of interest for the archive shots of currachs, views of run down areas of Barcelona, the build, the launch and shots of the currach in action on the Costa Brava where it now lives, in Lloret de Mar.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Boats built to last

The Sant Isidre is one of three remaining ‘barques de mitjana’ (pronounced bar-kas dey mitch-ana) still residing on the Catalan coast. ‘Mitjana’ in this context means mizzen and it is this sail that gives the lateen rigged 14 metre heavy wooden boats their name. The Sant Isidre also flies an almost equilateral jib on a long bowsprit. One would have to look at Phil Bolger’s book on sailing rigs (which I don’t own) to find out exactly how this type of boat would be named in English. The wide, double ended hull with plumb bow and stern follows the typical form of the llaüt.

Built in Mallorca in 1925 as a sail powered trawler by the shipwright Joan Creus Julià it wasn’t long before the ‘patron’ turned the Sant Isidre to smuggling. Caught with a cargo of contraband the boat was decommissioned, de-rigged, painted grey and renamed V13. With her wings clipped the V13 patrolled the fishing on the Catalan coast until the Civil War broke out in 1936 and she was seized by the POUM. (The Marxist political party in whose militia George Orwell fought against the Fascist troops on the Aragon front.) As a gun boat the V13 operated from Port de la Selva on the north side of Cap de Creus. After the Civil War the boat fell into disuse. Limping through the decades until weary with neglect, she was sold for 100 pesetas (0.60 euros) to a diving organisation who gave her a rudimentary refit and, after six years of intermittent use, sold her on to a private owner. She received a Bermudan rig and undertook oceanographic surveys for Greenpeace and other organisations. But in1993 the owner, choked by lack of funds, abandoned the boat in the Port of Palamos. Two years later, though greatly deteriorated, she had a lucky break being discovered and restored by the association Vaixells del Mediterrani. After four years of restoration work the boat was re-launched in 1999 with her original name and lateen rig. The Sant Isidre is now used for cultural and heritage events up and down the Catalan coast.

Quico Despuig of Cadaqués undertook the restoration work and he has been her skipper since. Quico is one of a handful of ‘mestres d’aixa’ (master shipwrights) on this coast. Restoration and maintenance are bread and butter work but this year, working from half models, Quico has also built and launched his own design; ‘Kuyunut’, a 5.94 LOA, 2.16m beam, lateen rigged llaüt. Carvel built of Niangon (Tarrietia utilia) on iroko frames, with Oregon pine for the mast and yard and silicon bronze fastenings throughout. Wanting to maximise sailing performance Quico designed the boat with a fine, deep and slippery underwater hull shape.

The name, pronounced coo-yoo-noot, is a play on the spelling of the Catalan word ‘collonut’ meaning ‘of or having testicles’ but here, I assume, it is used in its colloquial form to mean ‘the bollocks’ as in ‘it’s awesome mate, it’s the bollocks!’

If the boat lives up to its name it should be amazing to say the least.

'Kuyunut' at the Barcelona boat show.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Friday evening

When I am working away from home my life is put on hold, suspended somewhere—hopefully near the sea—while the physical me, wearing a paper smile, counts the turns on the treadmill. The job is not taxing but nor is it relaxing, long days preclude outside life and by the end of the week I’m beginning to forget who I am. I look at this blog from a great distance and wonder if I know the fellow who writes it.

And then on a Friday evening standing on the dock in Barcelona, a lateen rigged llaut reeling in motorboat wake tied to the bollard beside me, I scroll through my contacts on the mobile. Press call.


‘Hello, Quico?’

Groggily, ‘Yes.’

My best Catalan, ‘Yeah, err, hello it’s Ben. I don’t know if you remember me. We met at last year’s boat show, I visited your workshop in April…’

No response.

‘Err, I called you when I sailed up to Cadaqués in my homebuilt boat but we couldn’t meet? Ben, you know, weird English guy, always ringing up at odd times...’

Finally, ‘Ah Ben, how are you?’

‘Good. Fine. Look I’m just standing on the quay by the Sant Isidre and wondered if you were on board.’

‘Yes I’m right here! Just having a nap actually, but come aboard.’

I look down at the gunwale rising on a surge below me, then suddenly receding, yawing away from the quay and revealing a black band of dirty water then heaving up again. Just watching the movement is sickening, I feel like a lead-footed fool teetering on the brink of an embarrassing accident but just before Quico appears through the hatch I choose my moment and jump.

And it must be while I’m travelling through the air, just before the deck rises to meet my feet, that I shed the weekday shackles and re-inhabit myself.

Then a warm handshake, quickfire talk of boats, building, design and sailing. A can of cold beer is placed in my hand. The phone rings and Quico answers while I walk forward, treading purposefully on the old boards, up to the bow. The sun slips behind Barcelona and I place my hand on the Sant Isidre’s high, unvarnished stem, the warm wood fitting neatly into my palm.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Rowing the polbeiro

Two-handed rowing

One-handed rowing

I’m afraid the photos are truly appalling but hopefully the hull form is clear and the rowing technique can be deciphered through the blur. The owner, sailor, demonstrator who had been using the boat for many years was convincing of its qualities and I found the crude yet ingenious simplicity summed up in the construction of the anchor wholly appealing.

Also at the boat show Bolger’s ‘Light Scooner’. The schooner was brought to Catalonia from Maine and serves as a trainer for ‘Sea Stars’—a brigantine whose wake Onawind Blue crossed on our summer trip north. While the rep couldn’t confirm the schooner was Bolger’s he did say, as one would expect, that it really shifted when sailing off the wind.
The design has interested me since I came across it while embarked on the search that led to the Light Trow. Radical and audacious it seems to raise the hackles of the conventionally minded, but despite their doubts about the large sail area, the narrow beam and the off-centre daggerboard the design clearly works within the parameters that Bolger intended.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

El Polbeiro

I left the Barcelona Boat Show feeling mildly depressed. An afternoon indoors, threading labyrinths of gleaming plastic boats, under the 100-watt smiles of manicured sales people high on the epoxy pong of the brand, spankingly new, was just about bearable. It was the undertones of elitism and the clear but sublime message that if you’re not well shod you’ve no place being interested in boats that fuelled my hang-dog mood.

Thankfully there was a small section dedicated to ‘marina tradicional’ where you could see lateen rigged llauts and speak to the dedicated craftsmen that have restored or built them. There was just enough to make me feel slightly positive about the survival and consolidation of Catalonia’s maritime heritage after my recent gloom.

The most interesting boat however came from the other side of Spain. The Polbeiro of Galicia is an almost double-ended 14 foot row and sailing boat with a deeply veed forward section and a huge rudder that curls under the transom. Maximum beam is just abaft the mast—a solid yet lean and knobbly length of untreated pine. The Polbeiro flies a large dipping lugsail, the halyard doubling as a windward stay. The hull is of broad pine planking like a cross between multi-chine and lapstrake construction indicating that the design would adapt well to modern ply and epoxy building methods.

I was lucky enough to be roped into a demonstration in which I had to play crew on halyard detail while, during a simulated tack, the ‘patron’ (another volunteer who played the part of seagoing tyrant to perfection) brought the sail from one side of the mast to the other.

But what really interested me about this boat were the oars; 10-foot monsters with narrow, curving blades and massive handles. Made of two overlapping pieces, they had a boxed in section where they attached to square thole pins. The oars were so long that the handle of the starboard oar reached right over to the port gunwale and vice-versa. The boat, it transpired, is rowed with the oars crossed over—your port arm moves the starboard oar and your starboard arm the port oar. I couldn’t quite work it out and another demonstration ensued. Like those inventions that enable you to row while facing forward it looked odd but the blades moved in the familiar way. The advantage of having the oars crossed in front of you, the friendly man explained in Galician, is that you can row with one hand and fish with the other.

He invited me aboard for a try. The long oars were well balanced. You pull the aftermost oar towards you with one hand which automatically brings the other oar forward, then you push the oars back with your forearm. It is an unusual technique and I’m sure it would be easier on water.

Then we put one oar on an aftermost thole pin and my teacher stepped aboard and sat on the aft thwart to row stroke. This is how the boat is propelled with crew and there was just enough room for us both to row without me, on the forward thwart, poking his kidneys out. We were going along fine, building a good rhythm, an imaginary wake streaming behind when one of the slim legs holding the boat upright collapsed and we were ignomiously capsized onto the carpet.

Here are some photos gathered from the web. More images when I find the USB cable for my camera.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Some History

To temper yesterday’s rather negative post here’s a sketchy overview of the decline of the boat building industry on this coast.

Boat building in Catalonia dates from the end of the 18th century. The golden age of industry arrived around the turn of the last century—and the agonising end in the 1920’s. Building mainly took place on the beaches of the ‘El Maresme’ area north of Barcelona, which enjoyed a plentiful supply of timber, cheap labour and the steep shores that permitted the easy launching of deep-keeled craft. Boats were built at the water’s edge and the industry employed, as well as the master shipwrights, sawyers, caulkers, ironmongers, carpenters, rope makers and sailmakers.

Photos from the era show the sands cluttered with vessels in various stages of completion, scaffolds, piles of timber, thin curls of smoke and, as in so many old images, scores of bods standing about in hats.

100 years ago the Mediterranean was a rich sea and large fishing fleets launched from the beaches of coastal towns. The mountainous mainland impeded rapid transport and goods were mostly carried by schooner. The decline of Catalan boat building began with the arrival of the train but there were other factors that ultimately hastened its demise.

With the loss of the Spanish colonies came less demand for ships capable of crossing oceans. Having a limited steel industry Catalonia was unable to keep pace with industrial development and more importantly laws regarding trading rights were abolished meaning that foreign steel boats could be bought more cheaply. Foreign vessels could also fly flags of convenience and avoid the taxes imposed on Catalan boats.

While some of these factors affected the shipbuilding industry all over the world there were other more important and interesting reasons within the Catalan industry that impeded its ability to survive.

Catalan boats were heavy and consequently expensive. Shipwrights were said to build ‘per els nets’ (for their grandchildren). I am sure that fishermen weathering a tramuntana blow in the Gulf of Lions were grateful that their boats were over-engineered, but in the book ‘El segle d’or de la marina Catalana’ (the golden age of Catalan sail) author Capitain Ricart mentions that boats were often so heavy as to be sluggish and, more damningly, that occasionally their weight rendered them slow to rise to waves and as a result they sometimes buried their bows.

But probably the most decisive factor was the industry’s failure to adapt. Boatbuilding families were tightly knit units, skills and methods passing from fathers to sons. Techniques were jealously guarded secrets. With no active collaboration or discussion the industry stifled its opportunities to progress. The staid, foundering yards revived briefly with the demands of the Great War, then went under definitively.

And what happened to all those boats that were built to last?

How Catalonia lost its maritime heritage is another story but it is quickly told. There are few natural harbours on the Catalan coast where boats might have been conserved—the plethora of marinas that now interrupt the coastline arrived later. Many boats ended up in El Port d’Alfacs on the south side of the Ebro Delta. Photos from the 70’s of this large natural lagoon show an elephant’s graveyard of elegant wooden schooners, their topsides rotting while their keels sink into the mud. But many boats remained on the beaches where they had always lived. By the 60’s the consequences of over-fishing were already becoming manifest but luckily for the economy this coincided with the birth of the tourist industry. Soon the beaches were alive with northern European holidaymakers. Selling trinkets to tourists was lucrative and many fishermen eagerly made the transition while their boats fed the traditional bonfires of the ‘fiesta de Sant Joan’ that celebrates the summer solstice.

The first moves to salvage maritime culture came in the mid 90’s. Unfortunately in those 35 years of total neglect the majority of boats had been lost and the last of the boatyards had closed.

Thursday, 6 November 2008


Spain’s apparent death wish is to grind its mountains to dust, add water and bury its self under the resulting cement. Unstoppable development and construction have led to new roads and with the swathes of blacktop have come roundabouts. That nobody knows how to use them is beside the point, though the fact that the inside lane is more often used for overtaking on otherwise congested roads makes roundabouts dangerous places to let your attention wander.

Coastal towns, however, with an unintentionally ironic gesture towards their maritime past, have taken to decorating their roundabouts with the remains of the Catalan boatbuilding industry.

Reflecting on the progress that fills the beaches with people in summer and relegates its maritime icons to traffic islands where they quietly rot among indifference and exhaust fumes I snapped away. Putting my life in more danger than I do going to sea in Onawind Blue I attempted to make an interesting composition but alas, even a beautiful boat cannot relieve the stark ugliness of a roundabout against a backdrop of coastal architecture.

The Julie Skiff

Like the Light Trow Gavin Atkin’s new design is long and lean with a pleasing sheer and an even rocker that promises low drag and easy rowing. A rowing boat’s hull weight is proportional to its performance and the Julie, built from 6mm plywood, looks like a feather-weight despite packing sufficient buoyancy to make her seaworthy.

Easily and simply constructed using the stitch and glue method the Julie is not above the novice boatbuilder. As I found with Onawind Blue the only credential an aspiring builder actually needs beyond the basic tools is motivation.

I would be interested to see the two boats along side each other. Though of a similar length (the longest hull shape you can get from two butted sheets of ply) the Julie has a smaller design displacement that, despite her hard-chine shape, gives her
a smaller wetted area. Less water has to be moved out of the way with each oar stroke and, in principle, this combined with her light hull weight would make the Julie skiff the faster boat.

The Light Trow does hold one ace, though—in the hull. Those lines that gracefully converge to form the narrow transom make for a better rowing shape. Gav says that he plans to develop a sailing version with a smallish rig and possibly side decks, which should make the two boats more nearly equal in some ways though they are actually very different designs. While the Light Trow’s ancestors are the obscure workboats of the Fleet—the stretch of water protected by the long arm of Chesil Beach on England’s south coast, the Julie comes from the pedigree stables of traditional rowing skiffs.

As with the Light Trow Gavin has provided free plans and a useful essay on the design and construction—plenty of material for a pleasant evening poring over plans and more than enough to spark that motivation.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Rough weather

Listening to the wind all night I expected to see enormous waves at first light but the sea was pinned down under by the weight of a force 7 or 8. Choking with rage it spat great gobs of yellowed foam up the beach. I leant into the blow in the early morning light and looked over heaps of confused white water to the where a smudge of rain erased the horizon.

This area hasn’t seen winds from the south hitting gale force in years and the effects combined with heavy rains were bound to be dramatic. Salou, where OB and I spent a night in March, registered a small tornado with winds of 160kmph, trees down, a sports pavilion destroyed and caravans flipped over in a campsite as well as severe flooding.

When the wind let up the unleashed sea rose, pouring through the gaps in the dunes to pile weed and sand in the streets. The salt and water laden air made photography impossible for most of the day but I managed to get a few pics as the wind and sun shifted west.

Though by then the sea had gone down.