John & Susan Simpson
Mon 16 Aug 2021 16:30
The Bay of Biscay has a reputation for foul weather and rough seas so there was some trepidation about the crossing. There had been much poring over weather forecasts and possible sailing routes before deciding the best moment to set off. We expected the passage from Falmouth to Baiona on the Atlantic coast of Spain to take between 4 and 5 days non-stop. The weather forecasts suggested there would be an initial period of wind from the West, which suited us well, then a period with no wind when we would have to take the sails down and use the engine. We could expect to pick up favourable winds again in the middle of the Bay of Biscay.
Biscay Day 1
We left Falmouth at 10.30 am on 12th August, having had a very early wake up call due to a large ship being moved in the anchorage at 0600. At least it meant there was time for a hot shower and a run ashore for fresh croissants before we actually had to leave! The day was grey with drizzle and mist but as we left Falmouth the clouds lifted, the sailing was good and we settled into a routine of taking it in turns to be on watch for three hours at a time. This routine would continue 24 hours a day whilst on passage and with five of us on board we had the luxury of 12 hours between each of our watches so we were able to sleep and relax in between.
Biscay Day 2
The wind died as the sun rose the next morning, just as we rounded the Brest peninsula and entered the Bay of Biscay. This was all according to the forecast so a course was set for us to motor to where we should be able to pick up the wind again. We passed the day pleasantly: playing music, reading, chatting, taking a nap.
Ian in contemplative mood with guitar
Mike had brought along his drone and practiced flying it from Casamara’s stern. More importantly, Ian and Felix practiced catching it when Mike brought it back to the boat. Those were nerve-wracking moments! At various times Mike took some amazing video footage of us sailing across the Bay of Biscay. See our Facebook pages for those.
Felix expertly catching the drone
We set up the light wind sail, a new gennaker, ready for when the forecast wind returned. We were all excited to see how the new sail would perform.
Biscay Day 3
We were a little disappointed the next morning to find the forecast wind was being elusive. We did raise the light wind sail briefly at 0700 but it was down again within the hour and the engine back on. However, it was beautiful sunny weather and the sea had calmed to a long slow swell so the conditions were very pleasant. John and Felix got the Satphone connection working as we were now far from land, and this enabled us to download the latest weather forecast. John added another point to aim for on the chart which we hoped would mark the return of the wind.
Twice we saw a couple of whales close by. We believe they were Fin Whales - pale grey with a small fin towards the tail and they were absolutely huge. Apparently they can grow to 27 metres in length and weight 75-100 tonnes.
Finally the wind returned at 1900 and the engine was off ….. but only for two hours! This was getting a bit frustrating!
The night watches throughout the trip were magical as the sky was so clear. Without light pollution it’s amazing how starry the night sky really is and how bright some of the planets appear. Jupiter was so bright that it cast a strip of light on the surface of the water as bright as that of the moon. We also saw numerous shooting stars. One of my favourite night time moments was seeing a shoal of small fish leaping out of the water in the dark and creating phosphorescent splashes as they re-entered. The sound was like that of hailstones on the surface of the sea. Then dolphins arrived for a quick fishy snack and added to the beauty of the scene with their phosphorescent streaks in the water and the puffing sound of blowing air as they surfaced.
Felix took this night time photo
Biscay Day 4
We knew the weather was definitely changing when it began to rain at first light. This was the only rain of the whole passage. By 10.00 am the rain had stopped and we were sailing again. By lunchtime the new red gennaker was flying and we all sat along the coach roof chatting and enjoying that sailing sensation.
Felix decided to try his luck fishing but despite the promise of sushi for dinner he didn’t have any luck. Luckily, Mike rustled up a fabulous pasta carbonara instead! Never has so much pasta been eaten by so few!
As the day drew to a close we took the gennaker down, as this was the safest option in the dark, and sailed using only the Genoa (foresail) as the wind was directly behind us.
Biscay Day 5
The night passed slowly and was very unpleasant! The wind had dropped a bit so we were unable to travel as fast under sail but the sea conditions whipped up by the wind during the day remained sloppy for the rest of the night. Consequently the boat rolled side to side and we made slow progress through the water. We were approaching the Costa del Morte - the coast of death, which tells you it’s not a nice bit of sea! - and couldn’t change course onto a more pleasant heading until we had rounded Cape Finisterre. Not much sleep was had until the early hours of the morning when we were able to turn the corner and put Casamara onto a more comfortable course. The trials of the night were soon forgotten though as we were rewarded with a fabulous sail from Finisterre along the Spanish coast towards Baiona, our destination. The sun was shining, the wind was the perfect direction and strength and Casamara positively roared through the water at 8-9 knots. Mike and Felix both had a turn on the helm and there was competition to get the highest speed.
We arrived at Monte Real Club de Yates in Baiona at 1630 local time. As Felix was due to catch a flight early the following morning, the guys leapt into action getting the wing foiling kit ready. John, Felix and Mike took off in the dinghy and Ian followed suit on the paddle board. I took the opportunity to have a nice shower and a more leisurely approach to our arrival.
The day finished with a cold beer at the Yacht Club bar. We always sail as a ‘dry boat’ so the beer was much appreciated after five days of Fanta or Ginger Beer! We wandered into the old town and found a lovely restaurant in the crowded back streets. We couldn’t decide what to have from the menu so asked the host to choose us five of their best Tapas dishes. The food was delicious and five happy sailors had a wonderful evening to mark a successful Biscay crossing.