Testing the toys in the Bay of Biscay

We continued to have a hectic last few days in Plymouth on the build up for our Biscay trip.  The Autopilot was delivered, installed and tested – and it didn’t work!  We had been sold a faulty unit.  Obviously sending us a new one next week wasn’t going to work, so there was a massive ring around of Raymarine dealers in UK to see if anyone had one on the shelf.  One was put on an overnight courier from Portsmouth and at 10am, just before the guests joined at 6pm a very friendly bloke arrived to install it and check it worked.  By noon it was up and running, hurrah.

So with all the new toys working we were ready on time for our passage across Biscay.  We offer the sail across Biscay as a qualifying passage for Yachtmaster Ocean, and this week we were joined by Donald and Mike, both wanting to use the passage as a qualifier.  We were also joined by Darragh, new to sailing but keen to learn.

Studying the weather is part of the requirement for an ocean passage, so we pored over synoptic charts, grib files, web data and the Met Office forecast.  All sources agreed that we would have a mix of wind with most of it on the nose and we would have to do a good bit of tacking.  There was also a warning of a 5 m swell and high seas in the western approaches from a fairly vicious low pressure out in the Atlantic.

We usually take the shortest route inshore of the traffic separation scheme off Ushant, but in this forecast we decided to beat out of the English Channel and take the longer route, clear of the land and the ships.  It took us a very long time to clear Ushant, we made great progress when the tide was with us and then slow progress when the tide was against us, but eventually after 30 hours of beating hard to windward, we were in the Bay of Biscay.  Here surprisingly the wind died off a bit and we had a nice long fetch into the Bay amongst a host of fishing boats all fishing on the continental shelf.

We continued to monitor the weather with Navtex and weatherfax and watched a stream of low pressure systems building in the Atlantic.  It was clear we were going to get strong gale or storm force headwinds as we approached Finisterre.  We had 24 hours to go until this wind arrived and we were within 100 miles of La Coruna so we decided to detour.

The requirement for an Ocean passage is 600 nm by the log, and as we had already sailed 480 miles, just one more tack would make it long enough to count!  As it was, we needed a few more tacks and by the time we arrived in La Coruna we had sailed 660 miles.  A good decision to divert as by the time we arrived in sight of the Tower of Hercules it was already blowing 40 knots.

Our 4 day passage across the Bay of Biscay, gave Donald and Mike plenty of time to practise with the Sextant, Darragh started learning chartwork and Richard and Lin had time to read the handbooks and get to grips with the new electronics.  As expected a few extra calibrations were needed!

After a day to let the sea calm down and explore the old Spanish town of La Coruna, we set out again to sail overnight around Finisterre.  This time the passage was completely different – downwind for a start.  Calm sea and glorious sunshine as we ghosted along the coast of Spain.  With temperatures in the 20’s it was time to get the shorts out.  This part is all coastal navigation with lots of clear landmarks during the day and lighthouses in the night.  Darragh quickly became a dab hand with the hand bearing compass and mastered the art of three point fixes in no time getting many of his lines to intersect without a cocked hat.

By the time we arrived in Sanxenxo, the wind had died and the temperature rose even more. Drinking beer in the sunshine on the terrace, everyone agreed it was a shame to have to go home.

Richard and I have been in Sanxenxo for 3 days now, with continue blue skies and sunshine we are taking the opportunity to put everything outside for an ‘air’.  Bunk cushions, carpets, upholstery, oilskins, even the clothes from our wardrobe!

As we continue south, we expect the weather to get warmer and are really looking forward to our next few trips.  After drying them out, we have just packed all our thermals and lined trousers away for next year, and replaced them in the wardrobe with shorts and t shirts.  Now away from the prevailing westerly winds of the Bay of Biscay, we are about to enter the Portuguese trades and expect more downwind sailing from here on – There are still a few places on our next trips, and time for you to book a place and join us.  Go on!

Just heard – Easy jet are having a sale, with discounted prices on flights to Madeira and Lanzarote.