Built by Itsas Begia, a society from Ziburu (Lapurdi) focused in the preservation and recovery of Basque mariner history, the boat Brokoa arrived yesterday to Zumaia (Gipuzkoa) after several days of coasting from Portugalete (Biscay).
The Brokoa is a replica of 19th century cargo boats, known as txalupa haundi (broad boat), that sailed along the Basque coast carrying prime quality iron ore from the area of Bilbao to the many forges spread through the country (they were built not where lumber was aboundant and rivers could power their machinery, the ore could always be brought from elsewhere).
The ship is 13.7 m long and 3 m wide, with a max. depth of 80 cm, holding two masts 12 and 8 m high. It could carry some 10 tons of material, normally iron but was also common to complement the cargos with other less important merchandises, known as pacotilla (mariner word that now means in common Spanish "fake" or "low quality").
The journey they are now replicating began at the Biscaine port of Portugalete, north of Bilbao, where the original txalupa haundiak used to load the iron from nearby Somorrostro Valley. There the ancestors of the Brokoa were revised by the "ticket-seller major", who made sure that 8 maravedis per iron quintal were paid to the provincial government as taxes. From Portugalete they sailed to Muskiz and Castro Urdiales, where they visited a historical forge in good preservation state. From Castro they sailed to Plentzia, where are the forges of Butron (Gatika) and then to Lekeitio, where steel bars for naval construction used to be made.
And from Leketio, they made it to Zumaia in just three hours. The port of Zumaia used to supply all the industry of Western Gipuzkoa, along the Urola basin. In this locality they visited an old store still preserved.
Today they must have already done their last coastal journey to Donibane Lohitzune (St. Jean-de-Luz) in Lapurdi, also in some 3 hours. From Donibane, the iron used to be carried up the river Urdazubi to Azkaine in Navarre, where the iron ore was stored for its use at the forges of the low Pyrenees, like the one at the Monastery of San Salvador of Urdazubi. In that monastery will the iron end its journey this time too, after an oxen-pulled cart brings it to its destiny like more than a century ago.
Historian Gonzalo Dúo explains that this type of coastal navigation was only made in summertime, when the sea was calm, and always in daylight. It was a way to make some money for people that in winter worked as fishermen in the same kind of ships. They carried as much mineral as they could, sometimes causing the ship's wreckage.
This kind of traffic, he argues, caused much stronger connections between the people of the coast, finding surnames of various local origins, scattered along the Basque coast, something that did not happen in the interior.
In July 2010 the Brokoa will be at the meeting of old ships at Brest (Brittany) and its owners are already planning a longer journey for it along the whole coast of the Bay of Biscay: from the Galician Bayona (at the border with Portugal) to the Basque Baiona (Bayonne) in Lapurdi. Maybe for 2011.