The Biscay!!!!!

Fri 23 Sep 2005 22:17

 So we left in bright sunshine and made good speed across the channel all be it in the wrong direction. The wind was from the SW, which is not really good, when you plan to sail 600 miles southwest!!  But with a reef in the main and full genoa 7 knots was our average speed on the first afternoon as Leon, Jo and I prepared ourselves for the next 4 – 6 days.


The weather Forecast suggested we would have the SW winds for the first 1 – 2 days before the wind would veer to the west and finally the north, max wind strength of F4 -5. Therefore we planned to sail close to the French coast and round Ouessant before entering the Biscay. Trying to make our best course to windward and tacking through the wind shifts (great plan).


Thursday morning we found ourselves in the mouth of the shipping lanes off Ouessant trying to sail the best course in the SW winds, not quite our intended route.  So we sailed down the central reservation before tacking back across the East bound lane. During this exercise we were buzzed by a French fighter jet twice first at about 500m and then by 100m, quite a sight, but not sure why they did it? Reading the Biscay chart there is some comment about the use of this separation scheme, but you need a separate book to understand the rules so we will never know what the issue was!! The rest of the day was spent sailing on starboard tack down southeast into the bay.


Friday the wind was still from the S / SW and we had to start tacking to make some progress West, otherwise we would be visiting Biarritz on the French coast, and not the intended destination of Porto. The wind was building and the sea state increasing.  By lunchtime the sea state was rough to very rough and we had breaking waves over 20 ft high.  As night came, the wind was still increasing and the sea was very scary.  The boat would rise up a wave, and continue rising, and finally you would reach the peak, not knowing if you would crash over the crest or slide gently down the other side. There was no predictability of which would follow, made worse in the dark. Some waves had white caps that were still visible in the dark, these would either just slide past the bow or the stern and occasionally hit the side of the boat and water would flood over us into the cockpit and slowly drain out of the transom. It was like being in a log flume in a theme park with the lights out and no one to let you off the ride after your 2 minutes! All of us had to cope with very difficult conditions and we pulled together well, supporting each other all the way, each taking turns at the helm, trying to keep the bow of the boat pointed at the mountains ahead.


Saturday morning came and the new light allowed us to see the true state of the sea we had battled against all night and it was quite a sight!! I think it’s the worst sea state I have ever been out in.  The waves were sharp and irregular in shape, with breaking crests. The key for us now was to just survive this storm and ensure we keep the boat and ourselves safe. The sail plan was already minimised with 3 reefs in the main and almost no genoa furled out. We maintained a close-hauled course about 45 degrees to the wind and waves and just held on. During the day both Leon and I had our life jackets self inflated due to the amount of water coming over our heads as the waves broke over the sides. Working below was almost impossible and hot drinks and food was not a priority.  However the Chilli from the night before was a welcome relief later in the day (thanks to Leon the resident chef on board!).  All of us had stories to tell of being thrown across the saloon and hitting something hard and all have the bruises to re tell the tales in port.  As the day went the wind shifted more to the west and our course improved to the point we could actually sail toward the SW at last. This brought some cheer to us all and the thought of actually getting to the Spanish coast some time on Sunday, seemed a reality.


Sunday morning brought new winds and reducing waves, the worst of the storm was over and we all could sense the challenge of a Biscay storm had been beaten. It was a great feeling for us all and it had tested our sailing skills and personal strength to the limit. The final few hours saw the sun rising and the wind dropping, resulting with a final 2- 3 hour run on the motor into La Coruna. During this time Leon and Jo completely cleaned the boat and returned the saloon and heads into a respectable living space as I slept off watch.  We arrived in port at 13.45 and celebrated with a few beers before the job of surveying and repairing the damage of the storm. We moored next to a boat ‘Kaya’ (home in zulu!) owned by a young guy called Tom and his sister Alice.  They were really great guys and listened sympathetically as we discussed our crossing.  They had left on Monday and had fair winds to blow them south and West, so missing the storm and any bad weather completely.


The repair list was quite long…

VHF Arial needed tightening at the top of the mast

Furling Gear inspection and repair also up the mast (Thanks Leon)

Spray hood cover frame was bend

Mainsail leach line chafed and needs replacing

Mainsails tell tails gone and 3 sliders broken needing replacing!

2 Life jackets to re-arm

Second reef lines chafed to replace

Fit third reef

Re-fit the electrical distribution board as it fell off mid Biscay!


Most jobs were completed in the sunshine before a well-deserved shower and shave (not a shave for Jo of course!). The evening was spent having a Spanish meal out in the old town with Tom and Alice.  A great end to a truly memorable Biscay crossing.


Looking at the weather forecasts and observations for our Biscay crossing, the weather we had experienced was worse than they had originally predicted due to a low over Cap Finnister, which built and moved in across the Bay.  The offshore weather forecast had recorded the conditions as F7 – Gale 8 locally. Based on this we all feel it’s fair to say we have beaten a Biscay Gale - it’s a great feeling!



Leon Fixing the VHF Arial up the Mast!


The Tattered Ensign after the storm in Biscay