13 June - Hola Gijon!
We sailed from La Trinité sur Mer early on Sunday evening with mixed emotions. We really enjoyed southern Brittany and La Trinité was arguably the best place of the lot: great location, charming town, awesome site at Carnac and plenty of friendly folk. The French take their sailing seriously, but somehow the environment is not quite real – so much of the real estate is given over to immaculate holiday homes for people living life to a very high standard – but is it just a fantasy?
We were also leaving France behind a little earlier than planned. With an eye on our daughter Anna’s visit to see us in La Coruna at the end of the month, we have been watching the weather for a while and this week presents a great opportunity to cross the Bay of Biscay in favourable conditions. So we decided to ‘fast forward’ to the second phase of our Big Adventure. We will return to this part of the French coast in the future though, I’m sure.
Sunday night at sea started with slightly stronger winds than forecast, but they were from the north west and we were able to set a good pace, at least initially. By midnight, the wind had veered into the north and dropped quite a bit, so we slowed down and rolled about a fair amount in the confused seas as we cleared Belle Ile.
But the sun came up without a cloud in the sky, the wind held at around 8 – 10 knots and by 0730 we had the spinnaker set. It stayed there all day: spinnaker sailing in a swimsuit! By the early evening the wind veered further into the north east, so we gybed – a triumph with the lightweight carbon spinnaker pole - which brought a huge pod of dolphins to provide a close escort for over an hour. They gave an inspiring display of formation flying, close quarters manoeuvring, intercepts, barrel rolls, loop the loops and jumps that would have kept any Red Arrows crew on their toes. The older ones coached the younger ones and they seemed, as ever, to be doing the whole thing for entertainment alone – although I’m sure they use the opportunity to hone their hunting and teamwork skills! It seemed that a boat speed of around 7 knots suited them best.
Before dinner there were clouds on the horizon to the south east and the wind was up to 20 knots, so we doused the spinnaker and put a reef in. We did not lose much speed, but the boat felt happier. Around 2am on Tuesday, the dolphins returned for some ‘night flying’ serials. You might have expected them to be slightly more conservative, but you’d be wrong. We could see their outlines from the phosphorescence coming off their bodies as they raced along – looking like wraiths in the dark water. We were sailing in water 4500m deep, so it was odd to have the echo sounder shallow depth alarm going off constantly – it thought that the seabed was just 1.9m away! The bottom of the keel is 2.3m below sea level and has a large lead bulb on it, so our fighter escorts were sitting under the hull but above the keel bulb – submariners eat your hearts out!
About 20 minutes after they left, the navigation system crashed. I still had some information – the GPS position, a functioning autopilot and log speed, but no echo sounder and no ability to pass data around the system. I wondered whether the dolphins had confused the echo sounder? Irritating, but not the end of the world, as we have paper charts and an IPad with charting software, so we knew where we were (and, most importantly, where we were not!). I do like to know the depth though, but conscious that the continental shelf only rears up in the last 10 miles before the north coast of Spain, I decided to defer major defect investigation until I’d had a rest.
Julie’s watch was uneventful (though she did lament not having the chartplotter to keep her company) and I commenced fault diagnosis early on Tuesday morning. Nothing seemed out of order. I wiggled some wires, hoping to find something loose. Nada. With nothing to lose, we put a fix on the chart, switched off the autopilot and shut everything down. When we switched it all back on a few seconds later, the data returned. Miraculous. Mrs Farrington is convinced that I’m a genius. The truth is that many years ago when serving in a Type 21 frigate I learned that the most useful tool in the engineers’ arsenal was the ‘Ferranti reset’. Computer systems in those days were full of bugs and you could easily overload them – the Ferranti fire control systems probably had less processing power than a modern day LED lightbulb, so the usual response to operators complaints about system performance was to switch the whole thing off and start again. Nothing has changed… Interestingly, the echo sounder only returned to life when the depth finally shelved to 120m (by which time I’d been on the phone to my mate Steve at Marine Tech in Gosport – who was on the verge of sending me a new transducer!).
By then, we could see the harbour entrance at Gijon. The wind had dropped to a paltry 5 knots, so we started the engine and motored towards a very grey and gloomy looking Spanish coast – thick clouds and a heavy atmosphere. To the west of the bay lies the new industrial port of Musel: gas cylinders on the skyline, cranes, merchant ships carrying coal and steel. To the east, the mountains were shrouded in cloud; ahead, the harbour entrance is dominated by a rather bizarre Modernist sculpture that looks as if it was stolen from the USSR before it was finished. Quite a contrast to La Trinité, then…
But as we turned the corner into the harbour, a much more welcoming vista opened up. The older part of town looks far cheerier and the marina facilities are well cared for – if only 60% full. The much anticipated ‘full document check’ was less painful than we had been led to expect and the quite expensive fees were pleasantly ameliorated by a generous 25% discount for Cruising Association members (RNSA please take note!). Lunch ashore to celebrate was a revelation: for the princely sum of €13 you could have a basic fish paella, steak and chips, crème caramel and half a bottle of wine. Unbelievable value! In the evening, we soaked up the atmosphere of a significant Spanish provincial city: masses of eateries, locals out strolling, very few tourists and much to like. We particularly enjoyed a plate of grilled octopus washed down with the local tipple – a sharp cider which you pour by placing your glass on the ground and emptying the bottle from height – presumably to get some air into it to dull the acidity. Sticky floors abound.
2230 at the marina, Gijon
So, Biscay conquered, we plan to stay here for a few days, hire a car and explore the mountains of Asturias. There’s an excellent series of books published by Dorling Kindersley entitled ‘Back Roads of…’ and we are about to sample the Spanish volume. A night in a posada will make a pleasant change from the sea berth!