Across Biscay!

James & Amelia Gould
Wed 28 Mar 2007 09:49

Repairing the anchor locker


27 March 2007


Since our last blog so much has happened I don’t know where to start.  The boat faced gale Force 10 winds in Falmouth harbour and safely crossed the Bay of Biscay – all in one week!


We ended up being storm bound in Falmouth for 4 days, waiting for the strong, freezing, northerly winds to die down.  Unfortunately our berth, which had been nice and comfortable until the storm came, was totally exposed to the winds, and we spent a very restless night being battered against the pontoon (see picture below).  At one point the winds were so strong that the sailing boat next to us was heeling over by 15 degrees with no sails up!



Big seas in Falmouth Harbour                                    Rahula being battered against the pontoon


In the morning once the force of the wind had burst a fender and cracked the side of the boat we’d had enough and decided it was time to move to a safer berth.  The problem was that the wind was pinning us onto the pontoon, and James wasn’t sure that our small outboard engine would be man enough to fight the wind.  But we couldn’t bear any more battering, and we realised that we were as likely to damage the boat staying where we were, as we were if we left the berth.  We spent an hour trying to get the boat off the berth; it just wasn’t budging.  In the end we rolled the boat forward to the end of the pontoon, then at the last minute let go and “fell off” the end (James will no doubt describe this better as a great act of seamanship).  Twenty tense minutes later and some amazing boat handling by my specialist navigator husband brought the boat alongside to the best and most sheltered berth in the marina.  Even all the spectators that suddenly appeared (there was no one around when we were looking for help!) were impressed.


Once the storm abated we made the final preparations for our Biscay crossing, and started monitoring the weather closely to find a suitable window.  To those who do not know, Biscay can be quite dangerous in Westerly winds because it shallows so steeply and any swell from the Atlantic just builds into massive waves.  Our chance finally came over the weekend, with forecast Northerly winds.  So on Friday afternoon we set off, for our first major offshore passage!


We had near perfect conditions for most of the way, with wind from the North or North East.  This meant they were either right behind us or on the beam, which are the best points of sail for the boat.  We averaged about 150 Nautical Miles per day, which is reasonable.  Occasionally we managed to have 7 or 8 mile hourly passages, and during one of James’ watches we clocked 10 miles in one hour! (I’m sure the log got stuck – J)  I was trying to sleep down to sleep down below, but the noise of water rushing past the hull was too deafening.  The boat could go much faster, but we are not “doing an Ellen” and trying to break any records; we just didn’t want to break anything!  The most depressing thing was that we spent 50 hours on the Bay of Biscay chart, only moving about a centimetre on the chart every hour…


It took us a day to settle into a routine, and to adjust to keeping watches.  We kept 3 hour watches each overnight, then did 4 hours during the day.  It seemed to work well, though because it was so cold all we did in the off watch time was sleep!  I passed the watches reading or trying to learn Spanish.  James managed to achieve the highest score in Pinball, and complete 4 solitaire games between fixes! (I’m sure that’s libel…J)


We saw quite a few ships when we were off the North Western tip of France, then once we had passed the shipping lanes we didn’t see another boat for 2 days.  We did have lots of marine visitors to keep us company though!  On the second day a big pod of dolphins came to join us, and stayed with us for most of the day, playing in our wake.  They appeared while I was in the shower, and it was really odd watching dolphins through the window while having a wash!  We had several other visits from dolphins; it was fascinating watching them swim and play with each other, and we could have watched them for hours.  Unfortunately they were quite difficult to photograph, as shown by a series of photos where only a plop can be seen, or a dolphin is just swimming out of shot…


Dolphin refusing to perform for the camera


We also had a little bird come to dry off and rest on the boat after a particularly heavy rain shower.  It sat on our guardrail quite happily watching me sail the boat, fluffing its feathers to help them dry in the wind.  It was amazing to see something so small so far from land.  I offered it some bread, but it didn’t touch it.  It preferred to chat to Ed the duck, the other bird onboard and our stowaway (those lonely watches were really taking their toll-J).



Little Bird fluffing its feathers                                                                        Birds posing


After 3 and a bit days sailing we had our first sight of land, as the Spanish coastline came into view.  It was a great sight in the sunset, and we were both very excited to have made it this far.  But we still had to get into port…


First sight of Spain


We slowly made our way into La Coruna, trying to spot all the navigation marks on the way in which wasn’t easy with all the lights of the city as a bright backdrop.  James’s sixth sense as a navigator kicked in again, and somehow we made it without running aground (more by luck than good judgement - J).  However, we did have a tense moment when James heard a small tap, and the boat stopped dead in its tracks.  The boat was caught in something!  We then methodically raised everything that was below the waterline – engine, dagger boards, and eventually found a fishing float wrapped around one of the rudders.  We lifted the rudder, and off we went again!  That is the beauty of having a catamaran – in a monohull the whole evolution would have been much more complicated! (one hull good, two hulls better - J)


We then motored into the harbour and picked up a buoy for the night, planning to find a marina berth the following day in daylight.  Time for a well earned beer and James to spoke his Hookah pipe (the only thing he is allowed to smoke now that he has “really given up”!).