La Rochelle — Bilbao

Startharbour: La Rochelle
Boarding after: 26.10.2013 00:00
Departure: 28.10.2013 08:00
Port of destination: Bilbao
Arrival: 01.11.2013 18:00
Debarkation before:
Days on board: 7

La Rochelle

La Rochelle is probably the most picturesque city on the French Atlantic shore. Founded in X century the city has become the biggest port in the Bay of Biscay and the transfer point for the Mediterranean merchants sailing to England and Netherlands in just 200 years. In the early Middle Ages La Rochelle managed to stay relatively independent from both English and French monarchies — mostly owing it to its status of the biggest Order of  Knights Templars base in the Atlantic. The Knights Templars have protected not only the city itself but also its commercial interests having taken the wine and salt trade that brought prosperity to La Rochelle under their control.

The city owes one of its legends to the Knights Temlars — according to it the Holy Grail had been moved here a little time before the crushing defeat of the Order. The day before Philippe IV signed the decree calling for arrests of the Knights Templars and their property the Order's fleet had left the La Rochelle port loaded with the riches and relics heading to Scotland according to one version and to the North America according to another.

There is no evidence of its future fate.

br /> During the Renaissance La Rochelle inhabitants have supported the Reformation ideas and the city has become the French protestant - huguenot center by the middle of XVI century. The independent period finished in 1628
when the city was captured by the French catholic king Louis XII. The La Rochelle siege is described in "The three musketeers" by Alexander Duma.
As well as the other ports of our journey La Rochelle has played an important role in the history of the Great Geographical Discoveries. In XVI-XVII centuries the city has become the center of the French colonial trade: African slaves, Carribean sugar, Canada fur — everything was getting here. Rene-Robert Cavelier de La Salle's ships left for the new grounds from here. He was the founder of the first French colonies in the modern Louisiana, Illinois and Mississippi. It is interesting that La Salle's idol was another French discoverer Samuel de Champlain who was born on La Rochelle and whose name is tightly connected with the history of many cities on our way — Honfleur, Saint-Malo, Cadiz.

The very first chapter in the history of far sea routes started in La Rochelle was written long before Champlain. In 1196 a local merchant Alexander Ofreddie has turned all his wealth into the fleet of 7 ships that sailed to Africa in search of gold and ivory and were to return in a year. But they did not come back neither in a year nor in two or three. Ofreddie's trade company crashed and he ended up on the streets as a pauper. His ships came back to La Rochelle in 7 years all seven of them loaded with African treasures. Alexander OFreddie became the richest person in town in a day and dedicated the rest of his life to helping the poor. The central district of La Rochell is named after him.

Having preserved is historical image La Rochell became a popular port among the yachtsmen and tuorists in XX century. The historical harbor protected by massive walls and two chain towers nowadays welcomes cruise yachts
and tour boats. Just several kilometers from the city in the Pertuis d'Antioche Fort Boyard is situated - impenetrable jail fortress once has been made famous by widely known television show and open for tourists nowadays.


Our passage will start with an mandatory visit to Rochefort – a small town just twenty miles away from La Rochelle. This part of our trip will lie along Antioche strait famous for its powerful flood currents. Navigating the ship especially a sailboat in such conditions presents a challenge even for the most experienced sailors. While exiting La Rochelle and entering Rochefort we will be catching the passing currents and our guests will be able to weigh the difficulty of this task working in the ship crew.

For three hundred years Rochefort has been one of the biggest French naval forces bases and military shipbuilding center. No wonder that a copy of a French military frigate L’Hermione is being built since 1997 here. By now the ship body is ready in full and the shipwrights are working on rigging. We will definitely visit the shipyard and the people working there – not as tourists but as friends and soul mates! We will have a unique opportunity to see a ship like Shtandart being built nowadays and meet its creators.

We will continue our journey from Rochefort to the South across the Bay of Biscay.


The next stage of our journey starts in Bilbao. Founded in 1300, Bilbao is the biggest city and the capital of the most separate autonomy in Spain – the Basque Country. There are separate traditions to be kept, separate culture and language the origin of which has been discussed for tens of years by philologists.

Nowadays the main point of interest in the city is the Museum of Modern Art, an affiliated branch of the New York Guggenheim museum. The museum is situated in a futuristic glass and metal building, designed by a famous architect Frank Gehry. This building with the glass bridge leading to it is considered to be one of the modern architecture masterpieces

Apart from the Guggenheim museum there is also a sea museum dedicated to the history of the city port and shipyards and we will definitely take a look at it. Being one of the biggest industrial ports in Spain (it is 5th in the country by sales turnover today) Bilbao has never in its history been actively involved in the colonial trade. The Basque have exported iron that had been actively mined around Bilbao for hundreds of years, buying Norwegian lumber and English and Dutch wool. Due to such inter-European trade orientation the city has never known explosive economy growth but has easily survived the economic difficulties that pursued Spain in XVIII-XIX centuries.

Since early Middle Ages Bilbao has stayed one of the main shipbuilding centers in Spain, and sailboats are still being built here. So in between 1968 and 1982 Bilbao launched 4 big sailboats including Cuauhtemoc – a usual guest of many sailboat festivals in Europe. The Bilbao port stayed away from the gold caravans and great expeditions to the unknown lands, but even here one can find traces of the pioneers. Bilbao lumber trade brought first money and first sea experience to a Dutchman Adriaen Block, the future founder of the New Netherlands, the Dutch dominion in North America between the English Virginia and French Canada. He was the first one to enter the Long Island strait and lay Manhattan down upon the chart. A replica of one of his ships – the “Onrust” stands in New York today.

While staying in Bilbao we will spend one day to visit another Basque Country coastal town – Getaria. Getaria is a tiny town inhabited by a little over 2000 people, but it gave the world the two most famous Basque sailors – Juan Sebastian Elcano, the first captain to sail round the globe (he continued the Magellan’s expedition after the death of the latter) and Domingo de Bonechea – the pioneer of the many islands in the Pacific Ocean who tried to establish Spanish dominion in the Tahiti.