Slow Boat to Spain

The normal price for a return sailing between Portsmouth and Bilbao runs to ~£750 and takes 24 hours. However, Brittany Ferries offer an “economy” service at certain times. When I investigated, I was happy to save ~$180. The downside is that these sailings, presumably on older, slower vessels, take 32 hours. Departure time was to be 08:45 Monday from Portsmouth, arriving in Bilbao at 14:15-ish Wednesday. With a crawl through immigration and eight hours on the road, we’d arrive in Jalón at about 23:00 Wednesday. We’re cheapskates; I booked it.

Then Brittany Ferries decided some maintenance of the ferry in Bilbao would be necessary. Departure was brought forward to 23:59 (i.e. midnight) on Sunday 9th April. Sailing time was still 32 hours. We’d now have two nights aboard and get in to Bilbao early morning on Wednesday. Once you’ve got used to 32 hours on a boat, this had two advantages. Firstly, we’d spend more of those stultifying hours sleeping instead of thumb-twiddling. Secondly, we’d arrive in Jalón late afternoon in plenty of time for shopping. Great.

And so it was. We actually docked at 06:00 on Wednesday but then remained on board for two hours while Spanish customs and immigration woke up. However, everything was now prepared on the ferry and disembarkation was swift. Surprisingly, Spanish customs and immigration were also swift. They glanced at our passports but not at us, too engrossed in an early morning conversation. We were off and cruising in what seemed like no time flat.

Our car salesman had expressed surprise that I wanted a cruise control on our new car. This, however, is where it comes into its own. With Spanish traffic density, or lack of it, you click it on just below the limit and simply steer occasionally around corners and the very rare obstacle; obstacles like toll booths. At our brunch stop we grabbed two sandwiches without really studying them; they turned out to contain tortilla with a slice of jamon and some green beans. Yes, a Spanish tortilla in a sandwich. I actually quite like them but it puts Francine off. She picked something else containing more sugar.

We sailed along pausing for the necessary wee stops, coffee stops and leg stretches. With a journey of 480 miles, I was expecting to need a fuel stop, too, but the needle was dropping only very slowly. I adjusted my expectation, it  looked as if we were going to do this on one tank.

Circumnavigating Zaragoza was quite straightforward. Valencia was, as usual, a little busier but nothing compared to British roads. On we trudged with plenty of fuel still aboard. We did add a cold beer stop to slake our thirst on arrival and reached Casa Libelule at about 16:30 having used only ¾ of a tank. I was pleasantly surprised.

I checked the on-board computer. The little beast – it’s a BMW X1, btw –  had returned 58.8 mpg on 480 miles, mostly at 70 mph. Good grief!

The beers may have been expensive from a motorway service area but they certainly tasted good.

Posted in 2017-Spring Spain

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