Sunday, 23 September 2012

Biscay

Biscay has something of a reputation.  Partly this is due to the kinds of seas that can be thrown up near the continental shelf - where the seabed plunges steeply from one or two hundred metres down to well over a thousand - and the fact that the Biscay coast has few harbours of refuge, becoming a massive lee shore in a westerly gale.  This would also be our first really long passage in Limbo.  On the other hand, I told myself, the 330 miles or so from Camaret to A Coruna was only slightly over three times the distance we'd recently covered from Dartmouth to L'Aber Wrac'h.  Neither was there much chance of meeting a westerly gale, given the promising forecast.  This indicated a fresh north-easterly which would gradually decrease before fading out completely and going round to the south towards the end of the (we hoped) three-day passage.  My main concern was whether the wind would hold for long enough; but even with our fuel capacity, we could still motor for a couple of days if we had to.

Ready to tackle Biscay (we hope).

With these encouraging thoughts in mind, we left at 1630 on the afternoon of the 5 September, with the wind a gusty force 5-6 from the north east.  Rather than worry about getting through the Raz du Sein at dead slack water (which you are advised to do in any sort of wind), I decided it wouldn't make much difference if we just went round the outside, given the miles ahead of us.  We put two reefs in the main and headed westwards, the cliffs outside Camaret lit by the evening sun.

Leaving Camaret

As we came out of the shelter of the land, the seas built up behind us. Natalie went below to sleep for a while after the sun had gone down. There was a chilly, moist breeze, but shortly the moon came out and lit up the waves.  It felt much less bleak with some glint on the water. At 0200 in the morning Natalie came up and we gybed the boat round to head south, now clear of the Ile du Sein.  The uncomfortable, corkscrewing motion improved,  the swell coming from a better angle, and the wind was dropping slightly.  Satisfied that all was well and we were making good progress, I went below to get some fitful sleep.

I won't describe every moment of the passage.  It's already a bit of a blur.  The days were sunny, cloudless and warm, the sea a deep blue and speckled with white horses.  The nights were chilly and clear, with a bright full moon and hundreds of stars.  There was a heavy dewy dampness in the air and we needed full waterproofs on well before the sun went down.  Limbo rolled onwards across the bay, making a good speed, more settled once the wind had gone round slightly more to the east rather than dead behind us. She handled the seas well, even if the size and steepness of some was slightly alarming at first.  They always seem bigger at night; some rushed towards us with a sudden hiss, others slapped against the hull and sent spray over the cockpit, but on the whole we rose over them easily.  The sea calmed down as time went on.  Our self steering system worked well, and we stayed on port tack with a preventer holding the boom down, our course set at 210 degrees most of the way.  There was not much out there; we saw one or two ships on the AIS system, but they passed by harmlessly.

Surprisingly pleasant out there, at times..

We kept a slightly vague watch system. Natalie would go below at around nine in the evening, and I'd wake her around three hours later, having seen the moon rise (once spectacularly red). I'd take over again at about four in the morning, comforted by the thought that the sun would nearly be up at the next watch.  We saw dolphins three times on the second day.  They swam alongside and in the bow wave for several minutes, seemingly as delighted to see us as we were to see them.  In the distance, a great plume of water rose out of the sea: a whale!  I wasn't too disappointed when it didn't come any closer.

Dolphins!

The wind did what the forecast said it would do and fell light after midnight on the third night out.  Our speed dropped and the sails started to flap.  After an hour or so it didn't look like it was coming back, so we put the engine on. The sea had really calmed down now.  This was a relief, as I'd had a  bout of seasickness the night before.  Natalie was feeling better after an uncomfortable first night and - to my relief - was coping fine with being on watch alone.  I'd downloaded lots of Desert Island Discs episodes onto the iPod, which made a slightly surreal accompaniment to the long nights.

The north coast of Spain has some very powerful lighthouses, but we still hadn't seen anything of land.  On the morning of the fourth day the wind had gone round to the South, at about Force 2-3, and we found ourselves motoring through fog banks.  We were about 50 miles off Cabo Prior, and I worked out that we weren't likely to get into A Coruna until quite late that evening.  That afternoon the breeze increased from the west to a gusty force 4-5, and a change of destination seemed like a good idea; not only would we avoid beating against the wind, but it would be much pleasanter to arrive in daylight.  We altered course to port for Ria de Cedeira, a reasonably sized inlet with, according to the pilot book, a suitably sheltered anchorage.

Spain!

The misty feel of the afternoon persisted.  We were quite close now; but where was Spain? We motored onwards (the wind having died) with, at times, almost nil visibility.  I put up the Spanish courtesy flag.  It wasn't until we were within four miles of land that we saw the steep crags of Punta Candelaria, at first just a slightly darker grey than the fog.

Spain looms out of the fog.

To our relief the bank lifted enough to make out the entrance to the Ria.  I wasn't sure what to expect as we rounded the breakwater to the small harbour, the anchorage being hidden from view until the last moment, but a wide, sandy  bay appeared, off which sat three or four other yachts.  For some reason, it was a relief to see other boats there.  We anchored off the beach in five metres of water, just over three days after leaving France.  Everything seemed strangely still and quiet.  The champagne had been chilling, and then the sun came out.


        

Safely anchored in Ria de Cedeira



  

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