Tag: Ondarroa

August 12-13, 1912: 112 Basque fishermen die in sudden storm

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):

Anchovies or Tornadoes?

I arrived in the town of Ondarroa on the second Saturday of May to observe the celebration of Antxoa Eguna 2017.  My bus had arrived a bit early, so I had the opportunity to see everyone setting up their booths in preparation to serve pintxos-all of which honored the anchovy.  As I walked around in the lovely weather, admiring this quaint little coastal town in the province of Bizkaia, I was quickly transported back to my home state of Kansas.

The sound of an air-raid siren filled the air with an ominous howl.  Unlike the famous Dorothy and Toto from the Wizard of Oz, I was lucky enough to grow up with warnings of this kind when a tornado had touched down back home in Wichita.  A small part of me instinctively felt the urge to go hide in a basement as I observed people strolling around in the sunny warm weather, free of any funnel clouds.  I later learned that the siren was a call used to notify people that fishermen were returning from sea with the catch.  As my roommate later told me, this signal meant that all hands on deck were needed to unload and get the fish prepared for their auctioning off at the market.

Pretty soon the action started with people arriving at the booths to buy their fried anchovies, croquetas made of anchovies, tortilla with anchovies, and the famous txakoli to wash it all down.  As with many celebrations in the Basque Country, plenty of eating and drinking in the street alongside the sound of the trikitixa (and a good amount of Basque-speakers I might add!) ensued.  The celebration lasted a few hours with families heading home before dinner.  Final observations: I’d take anchovy season over tornado season any day.

 

Photo from Deia, Ramon Basaldua

Deia article for Anchovy Day