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Across Biscay

August 17th, 2008 · 5 Comments

David: An excellent sail across Biscay. Mary was back in UK, as planned, to see friends etc while it was easy to get back. David Lunt, Tony Owens and Stuart Conway joined me in Kinsale. We got away from Ireland before a large Low came in and stopped. We could see bad weather forecasts for the areas to the north of us for the whole trip and well after we had arrived in Spain. There would have been a lot of Guinness drunk if the low had come earlier and stopped us leaving! We had a day of stronger winds with the storm jib up, 2 reefs and closed hauled but not enough to feel uncomfortable. The whole trip was the Starboard tack, first getting well to the west of the course line and then coming to the east before being able to ease the sails and head for our destination.

I have loaded the best of the photos into the gallery.01_Giselle_ready4Biscay.jpg

One of the pilot books recommends crossing the continental shelf at 10 deg west to avoid the bad seas associated with Biscay. BAD MOVE. Seas were OK but at this point (49 deg North) there was a large fleet of fishing boats. Some with flashing lights like a council lorry but with less manners. Some with two red lights – not under command – who charge you when you are in range. Some with one red light – guess whether I’m a pilot boat or a fishing boat. Some with navigation lights on, some with them off, some turned them on when you got close. Lit buoys marking nets, some of them were obviously fishing in pairs. It took us 2 hours to sail through the fleet in the middle of the night – no fun at all.

Wild life was real fun to observe. We had dolphins all the way across. Stuart got some excellent videos and an amazing picture of a common dolphin completely out of the water. 07_Dolphin_out_water.jpg Hopefully we will be able to put the videos on the blog site in the future. We saw mainly common Dolphins but also some bottle nosed and some pilot whales. As we left Ireland we saw a Sun fish which Stuart caught on camera, saw another one further out as well. Before we left the continental shelf we saw a lot of storm petrels. They are very small birds, the size you get at the bird table in the garden, they are able to keep below the crests of the waves to make their progress easier. By the time we got to mid Biscay we saw lots of Shearwaters. Not the smaller manx shearwaters we see in Scottish waters but a larger bird about the size of a gannet. There are 3 variants and we saw them all – Great, Sooty, and Cory. The Great has a black head and black tail, the Cory just has the black tail and the sooty has neither.09_Shearwaters.jpg

As we approached Spain the AIS showed up all the big boats leaving the traffic separation scheme at Cape Finisterre and heading to the one a few hundered miles away at Ushant. There are two north lanes and two south lanes which spreads the fleet of boats over a large area. We had to time our course change with care to keep a good distance off the boats. When it was their turn to give way they all did so – a pleasant change from the fishing boats.

Often on delivery trips we tolerate fast food. My low GI diet doesn’t lend itself to fast food so we cooked fresh produce despite being at 30 degrees and having the cooker near it’s stops as it gimballed backwards and forwards. Food was excellent even if I do say it myself. Thanks Tony, Stuart and David for your creations.

We used the sextant on the day of sunshine and lighter winds. Swell was large so we were about 15miles away from the GPS position. This would have been close enough for us to safely make landfall in Spain. We were able to positively identified Islas Sisargas at 30miles just before the dawn came up. I reckoned we would have been able to manage without all the electronics at that rate.

Since we were well ahead of the original schedule we decided to make for Camarinas rather than La Coruna. 16_Entering_Camarinas.jpgWe had to motor for about 10 hours as we got close to Spain but as we were finishing our bacon, white and black Clonakilty puddings etc on the last morning, the wind filled in from the nose. Quickly hoisting the sails we thought we would have a light wind beat to Camarinas. We already had rolled off some genoa and put one reef in when you could see a rain cloud approaching so we changed to the storm jib and 2 reefs. The final 10 miles were made in force 7 and above with a huge sea running. We even got a force 9 squall just as we went through the narrows at the entrance. After anchoring we had horizontal rain for an hour or two. Felt like being in Scotland only quite a few degrees warmer. The next day was excellent though, sunshine all day. We took the walk out to the lighthouse. The wheel house in the middle of a garden was a garden shed to hide away from it all. I fancy one of those! Eric Tabarly’s Pen Duick VI came in that evening and acnchored beside us. We sailed east to La Coruna past the world’s oldest lighthouse the day after that. Roman remains are on view inside the 18th century Hercules tower lighthouse.

Tony and David are away home now. Mary is back on board and Stuart has been joined by Katrina. Today we are in Sada, in the ria just to the east of La Coruna. Sada is at 43.359N, 8.245W (enter 43.359, -8.245 in google maps)

Tags: Atlantic Leg · Friends & Family

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Stephanie Conway // Aug 17, 2008 at 5:59 pm

    At least Stuart didn’t fall in on the sail over, so his Mammy was happy!!


  • 2 Ian Reid // Aug 24, 2008 at 9:16 am

    Congratulations on completing first major journey to Spain. Heavy seas and the fishing fleet sound challenging. Allan enjoyed photos of dolphins. I liked the idea of your cooking at 30 degrees. Good luck for the next stage.


  • 3 Rodney Hill // Aug 31, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    Hi David and Mary

    Great to follow your voyage. Delighted it seems to be going so well. We will all be glad to see the back of this grey wet August we have endured here. Keep posting sunny scenes so we can experience it all vicariously!
    Love to both
    Rodney and Christopher

  • 4 David // Sep 7, 2008 at 8:44 pm


    Thanks for the comment. Beginning to relax after all the work of getting away. You will see I had Katrina on board when we came to La Coruna. She really got into the way of cruising , I was very impressed. Stuart is a real natural. He has gone from never sailed last year to understanding all about ocean crossings and the blue water cruising. He is really in tune with nature. Spotting wild life at great distances and picking up on the differences between species. The picture of the dolphin fully out of the water came from a lot of patience.

    One of the recipes I cooked will appear soon on the blog – Scurvy free Chicken.


    Thanks for the comment and thanks for monitoring progress. We will be making our way back west now ready to pick up my Mother at Camarinas and move around Finisterre to the Rias Bajas. All around here there are signs for the numerous foot paths to Santiago de la Compostella. We have done a small bit of one. The way is marked with a scallop shell symbol, the fingers point the way to go. The shell was an essential piece of kit for the pilgrim’s drinking bowl, plate and knife.

  • 5 dion & barbara // Sep 8, 2008 at 8:38 pm

    Needless to say you are ahead of schedule!

    Really enjoyed reading your blog on our new computer. Next step is to get internet access in Penarth. Cheating in St Albans at present. Best wishes for the next leg.