Sailing with Balvenie - finding a real Spanish Bullfight

Bullfight end
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New Zealander cruising couple Amanda Church and Mark Farrell continue to cruise in their 47ft fractional rigged sloop Balvenie, in which they have already covered over 25,00nautical miles. They have been cruising in the Mediterranean for four summers, but have now - momentously - left the Med and headed north to cruise the Atlantic coast of Spain, reaching Barbate for their first night.

Balvenie Plaza de Toros
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We had a reasonably comfortable night at anchor behind the breakwater at Barbate and left early to continue our trip northwards up into the Bay of Cadiz. There was very little wind so we motored along and passed Cape Trafalgar, setting of the very historical Battle of Trafalgar. The shoal water goes for miles off the Cape, and we encountered some more over-falls and whirlpools. I imagine conducting an engagement of battle between the British and the Spanish/French fleets in unmanoeuvrable sailing ships in these currents would have been some feat indeed.

We motored north up the sand dune lined coast, a slight sea breeze finally filled in around 2.00pm so we managed to sail for 3 hours, not a good percentage on a 40 mile day but better than nothing. Finally we nestled into the very shallow anchorage between two breakwaters at Puerto Sherry, on the northern shores of the Bay of Cadiz – there were even some other cruising yachts in there. After our time in the Med and extended stay in Gibraltar we finally felt we were ‘circumnavigating again’.

The weekend came and it seemed as if every boat in the Cadiz area (and there are plenty), had left their respective marinas and came to our anchorage for the day to enjoy the sun and water. Each boat had at least 8 people on board, definitely a family and friends outing, dinghies buzzed around, windsurfers weaved through – some close enough to touch, kayaks drifted by, small fishing boats tried their luck to catch some supper, then the dreaded jetskiers with their noise pollution and annoying
Balvenie Replica Spanish galleon
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chop sped through being a dangerous nuisance and only narrowly missing several swimmers. We decided it was time to go ashore for some peace and quiet!

We took a long and hot walk into El Puerto de Santa Maria, it is one of the regions sherry making towns and a pleasant spot. We had seen a poster on the boardwalk along the beach that it was currently the summer festival of the Corridas de Toros - bullfighting week. Along with Ronda, the bullring here was one of the first in Spain to start bullfights with matadors on foot, whereby previously they had fought on horseback.

Bullfighting is a huge tradition in Spain, especially in Andalucia and although it is something we don’t agree
Balvenie bullfight parade
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with, sometimes you just have to see things for yourself and form your own opinion – we headed for the bullring to investigate further. It wasn’t hard to find, we just followed the crowds carrying red and yellow stripped cushions.

We discovered that Spain’s top ranking Matador was fighting that night and the ring was completely sold out. Tickets were available for Sunday night at €26 for seats in the sun, (€43 in the shade, the top ticket prices were €158!!) So we bought 2 sunny tickets for the next night, stopped for some tapas and cool drinks to revitalize ourselves then set about for the long walk back to the dinghy.

So on Sunday evening we headed back to the Bullring,
Balvenie bullfight
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there was a festive atmosphere; the audience was mainly over 30’s couples, even several groups of older women which surprised us, we thought it would be mainly men only. It was definately a Spanish crowd, this is not a tourist performance. We purchased two yellow and red cushions – we felt conspicuous without them! – and proceeded into the almost full ring.

Each fight (there were 6) started with a parade of the 'participants' (bull excluded!) around the ring to considerable applause, then the ring is cleared and raked and the bullfight commences. There are several stages to the fight, and really it was quite a performance.

The bull is never going to win,
Balvenie bullfight almost at an end
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that is something you need to accept or you may as well leave, however the art of the matador almost hypnotising the bull to the point where he is touching its horns, was in itself quite something to watch. The crowd go wild in their support for the more skilled Matadors, the fights last around 25 minutes and at the end if the crowd are impressed by the Matadors performance they all wave white handkerchiefs.

It seemed like the thumbs up or down of ancient Roman times when the gladiators were fighting. Although we do not agree with the killing of the bull at the end of each fight it appeared to be done as quickly and cleanly as a bullfight allows. It is something we will never do again, however this has been a huge part of Spanish culture and tradition for hundreds of years and was quite some spectacle.

To follow Balvenie in their cruising adventures of the world, go to their http://www.yachtbalvenie.blogspot.com/Blog-site.