Crossing the Bay of Biscay

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We have now arrived in Vilamoura in Portugal after a fantastic sail from UK.  We logged 1000.01 nautical miles in 9 days, and although we often had very light winds, we arrived on the Algarve coast early enough that we could spend one night at anchor under the spectacular cliffs at Cap St Vincent.  The final day of our voyage was spent sailing downwind along the stunning coastline.

After our safety briefing and an hour of sail familiarisation in Plymouth sound, we set our course towards the small island of Ushant off the French coast.  It never ceases to amaze me how many ships you see crossing the English Channel, and although we were motoring in light winds our concentration on the first night was spotting the lights and avoiding the ships in the traffic lanes.  We rounded Ushant at first light, and found a small amount of breeze to sail

We had what can best be described as a peaceful crossing of Biscay, with a mix of weather.  After studying the 5 day weather maps before departure, it was clear that we were going to be under the influence of High pressure systems for the first few days, and it would be unlikely that we would have much wind.  When planning this passage we had been aware that there was a likelihood of October gales, but none were showing on the latest weather faxes.  We beat to windward in lightish south winds, making nothing on either tack, and waited patiently for the wind to shift to the north west.  The wind stayed a long time in the south west and we took a long tack deep into the centre of the bay, it seemed like we were sailing directly along the line of the cold front, we kept getting the rain squalls, but no shift.  Eventually our patience paid off, when the shift came, we had the most glorious sail, reaching at 7 knots under clear skies towards Finisterre.

We approached the northern coast of Spain in the dark, with the many lighthouses glinting away.  After scanning the chart and counting the light characteristics of the lights, there is always a huge feeling of achievement when you see your position is where you expected to be. 

We continued down the coast of Spain and Portugal, sailing in some fantastic wind pockets, and motoring whenever the speed was less than 3.8.  Night after night we had clear sky, and a good view of all the stars.  Each night the moon grew, and seemed like a giant spotlight in the sky.  dolphins_1.jpg

Ocean passage making regardless of the weather is never uneventful.  As we tacked one night in the wind in Biscay, there was a loud crack, followed by an unnerving rattle (in the dark of course) we found the torch and discovered the fitting on the outhaul car which  had sheared off completely.  Half hour of jury rig later we were at full sail again, the damaged fitting a reminder of how much load is on the ropes and rigging.

Our guests, John and Brian, were thoroughly enjoying themselves, never having been on a long passage and so experiencing watch systems for the first time.  The sextant was out a lot, and many sights were taken.  Stars, Sun, Moon and Venus all helped to reveal our position on the chart.

As well as the clear skies at night, the sky during the day was blue and cloudless.  The warmth of the sun increasing the further south we went.  Just about every day on this passage we were visited by dolphins, perhaps they were going south at the same speed as we were.  They came to play with us and often spent an hour or more jostling for position under our bows.  Brian managed to take some fantastic photos and video.  I am just trying to figure out how to load video on the blog!

We anchored late afternoon under the fort at Cap St Vincent.  What more perfect way to end a passage than to sit on the deck with a beer and watch the sun disappear behind the cliffs.  There was enough light and warmth for us to enjoy our dinner in the cockpit before retiring to bed very early!

The sun and wind did not disappoint us on our last days sail as we set off to cover the final 40 miles.  We sailed downwind at 5 to 6 knots and even tried goose winging for a while.  We arrived in Vilamoura, late in the evening, with enough time to enjoy a night ashore after dinner.
We now have two trips coming up to continue exploring this coastline, and still have a couple of spaces on the Algarve and Andalucia trip.

At the end of November there is another chance to experience Ocean Passage Making in our Trade Winds Ocean passage as we head south from Portugal to The Canary Islands via Madeira.  Why not join us in the sunshine!