Well the Bay of Biscay lived up to its reputation of being rough and stormy and the crew all still feel slightly weary but have an immense sense of achievement.
However before I tell the tale, a quick note on our AIS system for all our friends and family who follow our progress on various beacon apps, thank you all for the concerned calls, texts, posts etc we recieved. Our AIS transmits a VHF radio signal and therefore will only travel short distances, ours being situated on the top of our tall mast can be picked up by receivers for about a maximum of 50miles. So when our blip on the screen disappears this is not us sinking it us sailing out of range of the receivers that are mostly based on land. You will see large commercial vessels far out to sea as they relay their AIS through the internet, but we, I’m afraid, will disappear.
Last Sunday we left Plymouth promptly at 7am to catch the best of the tide for the start of our sail to A Coruna in Northern Spain, the route took us across the English Channel and then across the Bay of Biscay, we estimated it to be a three day passage. On board with us we had Ian an old friend who has sailed with us before but, like Rick and I, was a long passage virgin and Chris, a member of the Stella Maris team and experienced delivery skipper.
We had for days been watching the weather forecast and we were expecting to have NW winds for the first few hours, which would back to the SW as the first day went on. Our plan was to get as far west as possible while the wind was right and then turn southwards as the southwesterlies came in, hoping to be far enough west to skirt outside the Traffic Separation Zone that carries the big cargo ships around the headland at Ushant in France. However as we left Plymouth Sound the winds were persistently from the SW. Probably with our inexperience telling, but keen to get sailing and with the lure of the south pulling us, we headed for the inner passage at Ushant instead. We had a great day with the winds on our beam, Rick gaining confidence as captain with every mile. We set up our watch system to ensure the boat was manned 24 hours a day and that everybody got plenty of rest, we cooked our first hot meal onboard while sailing and relaxed. All was working well.
As we approached the Traffic Separation Zone noted in the log is “dodging tankers”, they were huge great things that bore down on us relentlessly as we moved between them, keeping watch on the screen and on the horizon became vital.
Eventually we had to turn westward to get past the Ile d’ Ouessant off the western most point of France and the motor came on. At first with the tide with us, we were steaming along with a speed over ground of around 8kts, but then the tide changed and we struggled for a frustrating few hours with not only tide but wind and waves against us, for hours we were hardly moving.
Unfortunately it wasn’t just the tide that began to change, as we entered Biscay, the 15-20kt winds that were expected, built to a steady 30kts peaking on Monday at nearer 35kts, we had a large swell layered with a choppy sea. We took photos but capturing the roughness of the sea escaped us, this great photo was taken by Chris just imagine a few huge waves in the background.
I came on watch with Chris at 10pm Sunday, it was a very dark night with no moon or stars and, with the boat rocking and rolling, despite taking pills I started to feel seasick. For me, from there on things only got worse. I managed to stand my watches for about another twelve hours but eventually had to give in and take to my bed where if I kept absolutely still with my eyes closed I could reduce my sickness.
The others battled through, Chris was a lifesaver with a seemingly iron stomach that meant he could keep everybody fed with the food I had prepared before we left. Ian was sick for a while but found his sea legs by the end of Monday and Rick was on a high as Raya shook off the conditions with ease. At no point did we ever feel worried, she just plowed through the waves happily at around 8kts, both main and genoa reefed. With, now finally, northerly winds we were able to head straight for A Coruna. Would we have had a calmer ride if we had stuck to the original plan and kept further out of the Bay, I guess we’ll never know, but what we do know is that Raya is not going to let us down, even if some of the crew do!
The entry into A Coruna in the dark at about 4am Wednesday morning, with the sea still very rough and a fleet of fishing boats leaving, was quite challenging and tested our navigation skills, but we made it in to the marina unscathed. On the radio we had been directed to an outer pontoon, in the darkness we couldn’t see that it was in fact covered in netting laid to discourage birds from landing. As it turned out it should have discouraged us as well, it was a bit like something out of the Keystone Cops as in turn each of us jumped off the boat, lines in hand and promptly tripped up. We did get her tied up, a little bruised and blooded but were quickly met by a very apologetic marineros who showed us to a better berth.
Despite their tiredness and the fact it was 6 o’clock in the morning the boys managed a couple of celebratory beers and then we all crashed into bed for a few hours of sleep in our now wonderfully still bunks.