Day 3, Guernsey to Lanzarote

Stravaig'n the Blue
Sun 11 Oct 2020 12:18
Position: 45.15.37 N 009.13.65 W (North Atlantic Ocean / Bay of Biscay)
Timestamp: Sunday 11th October 2020  11:00 BST (UTC+1)
Distance travelled last 24 hours: 156 NM
Distance travelled total: 404 NM
Average speed: 6.52 knots
Distance to destination (Arrecife): 1003 NM (incl dog leg)

Another uneventful 24 hours with, again, good progress being made and Linda feeling much better.

The wind has been from the north +/- 20 degrees, F4 until 20:00 then F5 occasionally F6 overnight and back to F4 this morning. The overnight wind was more than forecast but we put a first reef in the mainsail at 23:00 which kept things under control while sailing at a true wind angle of 130. The swell which is hitting our starboard aft quarter must be 2 metres at times but the period continues to be comfortably long. The barometer is reading 1034 (up from 1019 when we set off) so we must be near the centre of the high pressure system that’s providing the northerly winds. The cloud is 8/8 stratocumulus and the outside temperature (not that we’ve been outside much) is 16.3C at the moment. What about the sea temperature I hear you ask. Well that’s 18.2C.

At pinch points such as the Dover Straights and corner headlands such as Île d’Ouessant and Cabo Finisterre shipping is organised into lanes known as Traffic Separation Schemes. These are typically 20 to 40 miles long, are marked only on charts and are usually monitored for compliance and problems by the relevant maritime authority. Southbound ships exiting the TSS at Île d’Ouessant presumably set their autopilot for somewhere along the entrance to their correct lane of the TSS at Cabo Finisterre and, likewise, northbound ships exiting the TSS at Cabo Finisterre presumably set their autopilot for the entrance to their lane at Île d’Ouessant. This has the effect of concentrating all of the northbound and southbound shipping in the Bay of Biscay (which is most of it) to two unofficial and therefore unmarked lanes, roughly 20 miles wide.

The dog leg detour that we added to our route yesterday so that we go round Cabo Finisterre in daylight and sensible winds took us across these lanes last night. Doing this, especially in the dark, doesn’t make for easy, comfortable sailing. It is full on working of the chartplotter for hours on end. At any one time we could see roughly 20 ships on our chartplotter by virtue of the AIS signatures they were broadcasting. Half of these ships had already passed so were of no concern but the path of the closest approaching ship had to be monitored and our course fine tuned so that we passed safely either behind or several miles ahead. Then once that one was out of the way, there was the next one to deal with.  And we’ll be doing it all again when we cross back early tomorrow morning.

Strictly speaking, because we were a sailing vessel that was not using its engine, these power driven vessels were required to keep out of our way and take avoiding action in a potential collision situation. However, as we are the more nimble vessel we always make sure that we never get so close that a collision situation might arise and we make our intentions clear from our course and course changes. 

On our chartplotter other vessels show up as small triangles with a dotted extension line that shows the direction of travel and where the vessel will be in an hour’s time. Very useful when doing collision avoidance. Because we travel at between 6 and 8 knots Stravaig’s extension line can best be described as modest. The extension lines of the commercial ships we are dealing with are typically between one and three times the length of Stravaig’s. At 22:20 last night an extension line that stretched from one side of the chart plotter screen to the other appeared suddenly but with no triangle visible at either end. Zooming out I eventually found the extension line’s owner.  As the vessel had just come into range there was scant information, just the vessel’s id, course and speed - 40.3 knots!  Strangely, the speed and course were fluctuating quite a bit which should have alerted me to the fact that this was a sailing vessel. Eventually the other details came through. This was Maxi Solo Gitana 17 which is 32 metres long and 22 metres wide so a multi-hull of some description - something to check out when I next have a decent internet connection. It is a pity that it overtook us in the dark as it was less than a mile from us at closest approach and would have been quite a sight I’m sure. This passage to Lanzarote will take us 9 days; Maxi Solo Gitana 17 could do it in 36 hours. Our next boat will be …

Currently we are travelling south west down the dog’s thigh but will be gybing at the dog’s knee at around 16:00 and then heading due south for Cabo Finisterre.

All is well.