The Atlantic swell didn’t go down well …. but the up close wildlife experiences on passage more than made up for it.
The brave Bagheteers (Paul, Bruce and Sally) left Camaret on Monday 27 August to cross 345 miles across the Bay of Biscay to A Coruna, Spain. It took us exactly three days and four hours. We operated an around the clock watch system with three hours on, three hours off. I buddied up with Bruce and Paul did his watch alone. We met up on watch changeovers and shared lunch and dinner during the daylight hours. For me it was eye opening, tough, tiring, challenging, but very exciting!
The ‘notorious’ Bay of Biscay
It’s called notorious because of its location, depth and continental shelf.
Bounded by the west coast of France and the north coast of Spain it’s around 86,000 square miles and has a reputation for rough seas and violent storms due to its exposure to the Atlantic ocean. It can be over 4,500 metres deep at points, which will explain why our depth sounder just flashed a lot and turned itself off.
The power of the sea in these deep areas was extraordinary and we experienced some large Atlantic rollers. Winds blowing from America to Europe cause the waves to grow all the way as they travel from west to east. It felt like a huge wall of water was coming straight at you but in the nick of time Baggy would rise up these long sloping swell waves like a cork and surf down the other side. I kept clipped on and couldn’t decide which was less disconcerting, the wall of water coming at you or watching yourself rising up and the steep surf down.
For the first 24 hours the winds were so light we had to motor; it was HORRIBLE. Baggy bucked her way through large confused seas, probably caused by earlier bad weather. She banged up and down and violently side to side. Everything creaked and groaned, legs got bruised and tea was made in the washing up bowl. Aside from keeping ourselves and the boat safe and on track there wasn’t much more we could do.
I ate three boiled sweets (thank you Lucy Gross and Max Mudie), six bits of pasta and half a ginger biscuit. When off watch I tried to sleep, fully dressed and on watch I stood up for most of the time – day and night.
Paul and Bruce ate Italian the first evening and enjoyed lunches of corned beef rolls. They are sailing machines.
The winds had picked up to force 4-5 and and we were able to turn the engine off and sail. The world suddenly became a much nicer place, though we were still experiencing rough and confused seas. Bruce saved my life by making plain porridge and our wildlife adventures started.
Pods of dolphins followed us for several hours and we had a Blue Planet experience with bait fish leaping out of the water to avoid dolphins coming at them from all directions and gannets diving in to catch the bait fish in a mass feeding frenzy.
Next up, two pilot whales (Factoid: the second largest dolphin in the world) scooted over to the boat, breached right next to us and gave a dancing display as if to say hello, then bounded off again.
We all ate Indian that evening and Paul saw a shooting star on his night watch which lit up the mainsail in a big flash and left a sparkling trail in its wake. By contrast I threw up on my night watch.
Charlie the Chiffchaff
Just before lunch a tiny green Chiffchaff landed on the guard rail. He seemed exhausted and fearlessly fluttered around the deck trying to find shelter around our boots. He checked out the Bay of Biscay chart and chart plotter to see where we were heading. Happy with our passage plan he had a small poo, yawned and tucked his head into his feathers for a little sleep. Once refreshed he flew off to catch a moth for his lunch, which he ate on deck with us, flew back down to the galley for some bread crumbs and then went on this way again.
We called him Charlie and our trip ornithological expert (that’s you Jamie Wilkinson) reliably informed us that he/she was probably on his/her way to Africa or the Middle East for winter. So small and so vulnerable it’s incredible how they manage to do this.
Finding fin whales
That afternoon we started spotting large water spouts about a mile away from the boat and by the significant size and timing of them we could tell they were from a whale. Sure enough, a little later an endangered fin whale (Factoid: the second largest species on earth) sidled up to the boat to say hello for a short visit.
Paul and Bruce ate South American that night (Fray Bentos pies!) I had instant mash, a tin of peas and a brave grating of parmesan!
We smelt and spotted Spain in the early hours of the next morning – a fresh, earthy pine smell was in the air and we saw our first plastic bottle floating on the surface. Though I’m pleased to say we didn’t come across any other man made waste at sea for the entire crossing. The only other smells we were becoming accustomed to were of each other. Paul had kept his shorts on for the entire crossing – even the chilly night watches. Bruce was hermetically sealed into this foulie bottoms (though he claims they had come off once for a pant change) and I was wearing the whole entire set of clothes I had left Camaret in – save pant and sock changes!
We felt triumphant on arrival. We were immediately met by our friends Len and Anne who helped us moor up in the Marina Coruna and gave us a loaf of fresh bread. After a manic boat clean-up and a hungry lunch we all fell deeply asleep for several hours, showered away the crossing and then went out for virtuous beer and pizzas!
Five best bits of being in Spain so far …
Morning runs around the headlands and cold sea swims
The A Coruna beer festival and live band
Meeting up with our sail training friends Pepe and Jorge, and their families, from the Spanish sail training association, Juan de Langara
Watching the impressive Spanish Olympic distance Triathlon Championships
Eating fresh fish, avocados and tomatoes
Tomorrow we are going to start making our way down the Spanish coast to Portugal enjoying the Rias along the way. Combining coastal days sails with anchoring we have a month to enjoy gentler travelling and exploring. Our only deadline now is to arrive in Cascais (near Lisbon) in time to meet our friends Chris White and Annie O’Sullivan at the end of September who are helping us with our next big passage to the Madeira Islands.
Meanwhile, brave Bruce is sailing back across the Bay of Biscay next week with Len and Anne. We wish them fair winds, calm seas, dolphins, whales and Chiffchaffs all the way!
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