Saturday 8th July
The big one: L’Aber Wrac’h to A Coruna
The Bay of Biscay has a fearsome reputation as a boat breaker.
The continental shelf extends into the bay to create breaking seas where the depth changes at phenomenal levels. And westerly gales would often blow old sailing ships into the bay and onto the rocky lee shore – often with loss of life.
Needless to say we weren’t looking forward to it.
We spent hours carefully planning the route and took a very careful and very long look at the weather. The weather forecasts were studied for many days before making our decision to leave, and from where.
Finding the forecasts to be consistent across a number of models, and remaining so for the length of time to cross Biscay, we decided our departure point would be L’Aber Wrac’h. Close enough to catch a fair tide down the Chanel du Four, and mostly to the Raz de Sein.
With the decision made and a high confidence level in the forecast, off we went at 0800 on Saturday 8th July.
Flat calm in the Chanel du Four
This is in such contrast to the grizzly reputation of Biscay. The boat here was no more than 50 metres away, motoring along as we were, towards the Chanel du Four in a glassy-calm sea.
This continued all the way past the western end of the Raz de Sein… the point we planned to switch off the engine regardless of wind and take whatever was there.
After loosing the grip of the tide, that’s exactly what we did and managed to slowly plod along at the glacial rate of 2.1 knots.
Eventually the wind picked up as forecast, from the north west, so it was up with our downwind rig – and away we went at an average of 7 knots for the rest of the day.
The sails stayed up and the motor stayed off until we neared the harbour at A Coruna some 360 miles away from L’Aber Wrac’h.
Sunday 9th July
Pidgeon and Whales!
Whales! Was the shout from Maria.
And sure enough there they were… two of them, less than 100 metres away to starboard.
These magnificent creatures stayed with us for hours. Always at a healthy distance – not too close or far – and sometimes giving us advance notice of their presence from the air being expelled from their blowholes. They stayed into the night, when we couldn’t see them, but could still hear them.
Our other visitor was a pigeon, who had flown over specially from Yorkshire. We confirmed his heritage not by the rings on his legs, but because he turned his nose up at the bread from France that Maria offered him. If it’s not Hovis, it’s not worth having, I reckon he thought. He stayed with us for an hour or so to recharge his batteries I guess. But when he cottoned on to the fact our destination was South rather than the promised land of the North West – off he went.
Monday 10th July
Whales 7 Dolphins 7
We had almost given up on the dolphins. Other Biscay-crossers with whom we are in touch said they saw them. But we weren’t too optimistic with three days in and no sighting.
Frankly I thought the whales had it in the bag.
Then, 30 miles out from the Spanish coastline, the dolphins appeared with a spectacular performance on both sides of the boat. Leaping and diving under one side of Lady Jane to emerge on the other. It was truly incredible acrobatic performance and we feel blessed to have witnessed something so special.
So, the dolphins managed to pull it back to level the scores at 7 hours each in our company.
Close Quarters with a Cargo Ship
We have onboard an AIS transmitter. This shares our course and speed to other vessels around us and enables us to see what other vessels are up to. It also calculates the closest point of approach and when this will be.
In other words, it works out if you are going to hit another vessel or t’other way round. And it is one of the best pieces of technology we have onboard.
At 21:45 I was tracking a cargo ship using AIS and it was clear the distance between us – at this closest point of approach – was going to be uncomfortably close.
So I radioed the ship.
To be fair, he responded right away, and confirmed that he is tracking us. I stated that we are a sailing vessel, which shoves us up the pecking order, and he said he would make sure we are OK. So I left it at that… but with a close eye on him.
Frankly he could have turned a little earlier. Things were getting a bit tense on board Lady Jane as the closest point of approach didn’t change much over the next few minutes. Then he turned. You can see from the photograph how close he was. I’ll give that one 3 out of 10 ta very much.
Tuesday 11th July
As predicted – by Predict Wind – the wind came around to the south-west, so we had to motor the last four hours to the marina.
When nearby, Maria called ahead to let them know of our arrival and to ask where to berth.
At that time in the morning, after a sleep-deprived number of days, not a lot makes sense. Maria was hearing go to ‘phantom I’ on the radio and I was seeing a man on a bike waving at us.
Only one of those things was reality.
The man on the bike showed us where to go and took our lines on pontoon I.
And here we are.
After three and a bit days at sea, we have safely navigated the Bay of Biscay and are currently enjoying A Coruna and the occasional heat of the Galician sunshine.
We’ll be here until early next week, when we sail further south down the Spanish coastline.