Published on 21 May 2022, In Event
ALBAOLA: The legend of the whaler SAN JUAN
The Basques are (also) sailors, and as early as the sixteenth century they built the first trans-oceanic merchant ships. They dominated whaling on the Canadian coasts and ruled the whale oil trade, which at that time lit up all the cities of Europe. In 1656, the SAN JUAN, a brand new whaler from Pasaia, sank off the coast of Terre-Neuve in the cold, shallow waters of the bay where it was sheltering from the storm. Her wreck was found by a team of Canadian archaeologists in 1978: carefully dismantled, reassembled and studied, she bore witness to the shipbuilding and marine carpentry techniques of the time. The legend of the whaler SAN JUAN was born, and Xabi Agote knew how to bring it to life: he was at the origin of ALBAOLA FAKTORIA, this improbable project of shipyard, museum, carpentry and navigation school, this unique place of meetings and passions around the maritime history of the Basque country...
It was in the very port of Pasajes, where the original was built, that the construction of a replica of the SAN JUAN was launched in 2013: ALBAOLA FAKTORIA's project, based on the work of Parks Canada's archaeological teams, is to recover and implement all the construction techniques of the period, wood and carpentry, nails and metal parts, ropes and sails, plaster and tar, right down to the crew's clothing and food.
In order to keep this shipyard alive, it had to be opened to the world: ALBAOLA is also a museum, which bears witness to the history of these Basque sailors and whalers, as well as to that of the arts and industry of the Basque country, which was at the heart of the excellence of Basque shipbuilding at the time.
And to keep this conservatory of maritime arts and crafts alive, ALBAOLA FAKTORIA is now a school: a three-year programme welcomes students of this APRENDIZTEGI school of marine carpentry, with an original teaching method inspired by the American model of Lance Lee in the 1970s. Students of more than ten nationalities work there, under the gaze of often surprised visitors, on the construction of the SAN JUAN, but also on the restoration of boats characteristic of the local maritime heritage, such as the Ozentziyo cross-border boats or the “gabarres” of the Dordogne.
A visit to ALBAOLA FAKTORIA is a must in the region: the old village of Pasaia San Juan welcomes you with its medieval streets and the house where Victor Hugo lived in 1843 (who described the place as "this humble corner of land and water which would be admired if it were Swiss and famous if it were in Italy"). A plaque recalls the embarking of La Fayette to help the American Revolution. Crossing the harbour, you will discover a façade on the sea worthy of Venice; you will walk along the coastline to ALBAOLA, and on the way back you will sacrifice yourself to the gourmet stopover at the Casa Camara, where fish and shellfish go direct from the trap to the grill... You will come back delighted, disoriented, astonished, educated, and above all, strengthened by all the energies and passions that ALBAOLA radiates.