In March 1937, one of the most famous engagements during the Spanish Civil War in the Basque Country took place: the Battle of Cape Matxitxako. On March 4, 2008, a team of marine scientists from AZTI thought it had discovered the wreck of one of the Basque trawlers that took part in that encounter, the Nabarra, off the coast of Bermeo, Bizkaia.
The port of Bermeo today. Photo by Euskalduna, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
According to its investigation, the characteristics of the wreck the team initially came across matched those of the Nabarra, but it could not be totally sure without further dives, carried out by members of the Kresala association. More tests were undertaken and the Basque government even announced that all the indications did indeed seem to point to the wreck being the Nabarra. However, after fully checking the site, at a June 2008 press conference it was confirmed that the wreck was not that of the Nabarra, but instead that of a Nazi German merchant vessel, the Hochheimer, which had been sunk by a British submarine in May 1944.
The mystery of the Nabarra‘s whereabouts thus remains.
On the evening of August 12, 1912, as they were accustomed to doing every day, the fishermen of several ports along the Bizkaian coast set out in small 40-50 feet boats to fish in the waters close to their homes. This was a form of coastal rather than deep-sea fishing, a typical Basque practice and one intimately linked to the traditional culture of Basque fishing communities as a whole. It had been a mild day with a warming southerly wind, but all of a sudden, as the evening drifted into night, there was a dramatic change, and a cold northerly wind came in from an area of low pressure in the far North Atlantic, around Iceland: an unprecedented phenomenon for that time of year. The air temperature fell dramatically, and the sea became increasingly more squally.
At the time a number of these boats were approximately 45-50 miles off of the Bizkaian coast. This would have been just about the moment they were thinking of returning to port with their evening catch, but instead they got caught up in the storm, which carried on ferociously all night and into the morning of August 13. The boats could not cope with such appalling conditions and many sank.
On shore, people realized that their loved ones and neighbors were in danger, and an appeal was made to send out rescue launches, but between the terrible conditions at sea and the time it was taking to alert the authorities in Bilbao, help was not immediately forthcoming.
In total, there were 143 recorded deaths, most of them fishermen from Bermeo, but including others from Lekeitio, Elantxobe, and Ondarroa. A memorial service was held for all the dead on August 23 in Bermeo, to which King Alfonso XIII also came.
The tragedy marked a watershed moment in fishing practices and techniques in the Bay of Biscay.
Check out the following two-part video about the tragedy, recreating life in fishing communities at the time (in Basque):
It was confirmed recently that the dramatic setting of the Itzurun Beach in Zumaia, Gipuzkoa, will provide one of the locations for season 7 of HBO’s hit series Game of Thrones. Shooting will take place over 6 days in late October.
The beach features one of the world’s best examples of the flysch sequence of sedimentary rocks. See a previous post we did on the area here and a report on the story here.
The Gaztelugatxe islet, Bermeo, Bizkaia. Photo by multisanti, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Basque dailies Gara and Berria report that filming for the series will also take place in Bermeo, Bizkaia; and that the show previously shot some scenes in the equally dramatic “badlands” setting of the Bardenas Reales/Errege Bardeak in Navarre. See the original reports by Gara (in Spanish) here and here, and Berria (in Basque) here.