Crossing the Bay of Biscay

Brian and sextant_1.jpg
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!

Ready to sail the Bay of Biscay


We have spent the last 2 weeks in Plymouth preparing for this next trip, across the Bay of Biscay, and down the coast of Spain and Portugal, finishing in Vilamoura.  We are due to leave tomorrow and since the Bay of Biscay has such a reputation for bad weather we have been studying the forecasts with interest.  There is currently a big high pressure sitting over the English Channel and Bay of Biscay, so although it is October we are looking forward to medium winds and sunshine at least for the start of the trip- hope I haven’t spoken too soon.  In 10 days time we expect to be sitting sipping Port in Vilamoura!  We will then be cruising the Algarve for a short time, and still have some places available.  Why not take a look at the Schedule on our website.

Happy Customers

I have just been flicking through our guest book and though you might like to see a selection of what people have had to say during the past 5 months. 

‘…what a magnificent adventure….

….for those that like to combine sailing and wild life there is nothing to beat this ‘Arctic Sea’ adventure holiday……
…..These 10 days exceeded all my expectations and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I cant wait to sail with you again…..

….A wonderful variety of sights and sailing experiences coupled with excellent food and accommodation. A delight…

…Keep on with the enthusiasm, hospitality and gourmet cuisine,  Looking forward to coming on board again…..

….This trip was a combinaton of fun, adventure, learning and sightseeing all wrapped up into your gorgeous boat….

….The sea in all its many forms from glassy to rough- from deep green to black – all amazing.  Thank you for a wonderful time……

Windy Windy Windy



Velvet Lady is now in Plymouth following her successful first season in Iceland. The 14 day trip home from Reykjavik was windy, windy and more windy – with the anemometer never showing less than 25 knots. We were joined on this passage by Jon, his first ocean passage and what a baptism of fire! He now knows all about seamanship in gales, sleeping in a tumble dryer and cooking at an angle. Dealing with the constant motion of the boat is very tiring and so we decided to take a breather in Bangor, Northern Ireland. For about 2 hours, we managed to carry full sail in the shelter of Belfast Lough. As it happened the breather was well timed, we missed the southerly gales, and went back out when the gales were more favourable north westerly!!

migrating_whales.JPGNo ocean passage is uneventful, and this one was not different. Our events began at the beginning of the trip, when we managed to suck a plastic bag up the seawater intake of the engine. The most spectacular event of the trip was when we encounterd a pod of migrating whales. These pilot whales appeared on the horizon late one evening, at first we counted about 20 whales, they just kept coming and it dawned on us that they weren’t the same whales playing, but hundreds of whales migrating south,. It took 2 hours for the whole pod to clear us, and it was just fascinating watching them and listening to them. We could hear them communicating to each other under water, mesmerising.

The dark nights gave us plenty of time to observe shipping and learn the characteristic of navigation lights – we had fishing boats, ships carrying dangerous cargo, sailing boats, tug and tow, and a ship not under command. The navy were exercising when we arrived in Plymouth, and we were followed up the harbour by a ‘submarine’

We are now busy preparing for our winter season in the sunshine and will be leaving Plymouth on 13 October; the full programme is available on our website.