6) The Bay of Biscay

After a fabulous winter in Vannes it was time to get moving again and having gone through the pros and cons of all the options we had, we decided to head across Biscay to A Coruña in Northern Spain. This would involve our longest offshore sail so far and we needed a very good weather window.

Thanks to Google Maps©

We had read all the horror stories of yachts crossing Biscay, we were already aware of its formidable reputation, so we made sure Carried Away was fully ready for this trip and so were we! (I think). We became fixated with weather reports from as many different outlets as we could find, comparing each one with a 3-4 day forecast.

The weather ‘Generally’ comes from direction of America and drifts across the Atlantic at varying speeds, sometimes it goes North and misses Biscay, sometimes it comes straight across in to Biscay and occasionally it goes South. We were looking for a stable weather system coming off the American East coast that would track north of the Azores and hopefully keep heading for Ireland. We wanted one that was moving slowly with no drama and would be in the place predicted day after day. Once we got this pattern and we could predict roughly which way it was heading and roughly how quickly it would arrive, we could head off across Biscay with some sense of safety! Day after day we watched this, but frequently were disheartened by the randomness that is weather.

Our son had planned to collect the dogs from us mid April and we looked forward to seeing him before our departure. He was planning to set off Thursday morning, arrive with us that evening after a long drive, stay Friday and set off back to England with the dogs Saturday afternoon. On the Wednesday prior to his arrival we noticed a gap in the weather coming across the Atlantic, by Thursday morning there was still a lull and suddenly we began to study every weather outlet to confirm our findings. By Friday morning the stable weather had reached half way across the Atlantic with little or no sign of a dramatic change on the American coast. We decided that Saturday would be our departure day, but tried not to let our son think we were trying to get rid of him early! Either way, the lock gate didn’t open until 5.00pm and he would be leaving around mid day. Amanda had quietly been preparing a few days of food with meal plans for calm or chaotic weather by the time our son left, we were ready to go. One last thing, quick systems check. Lights, horn, wipers etc. only to find our port Nav light wasn’t working. Hmm no point using our spare, so I ran to the chandlers to get a replacement. Upon my return, I found the LED bulb didn’t fit the housing. Then I realised the port light fitting was an original and didn’t like the new bulbs. So now a quick jog back to the chandlers for a new fitting. As I sprinted back to the boat, I noticed the lock keepers were already strolling down to the lock gate and bridge ! I worked feverishly soldering in the new wires and fitting the new light and by the time we started the engine, the lock gate was open and the bridge had done its first opening of 2. We zoomed down the canal at the maximum 4 knots and made it out of the canal system just in time. Not quite the way I imagined beginning this leg, but no matter we were on our way. By the time our son reached the English Channel port, getting ready to cross back to England, we were already sailing past Belle Isle heading in to Biscay. By 9.00pm, we were already out of radio and mobile phone range and we would be ‘Dark’ for the next three days.

As we headed in to our first night, having had a lovely supper, we settled the boat down and started our watch shift. Around 10:00pm, we could hear a noise at the side of the boat. I shone the torch in to the water and saw what looked like a Dolphin, then another one and then another. We quickly realised we were surrounded by friendly sea creatures helping us on our way. I didn’t get much sleep the first night but at first light I was pleased to see the water was lovely and calm and so far our weather plan had been correct. We still had our friends tagging along and by now, in the light of day, we could see they were Porpoise, lots of them all around us. We started to wonder, were they following us, or just heading to Spain as well?

The day our son and his girlfriend left with Sam and Elly, the weather was glorious, just what we were hoping for. During our first night at sea, we noticed a lot of ships and our collision avoidance warning system was very active all night. We were taking the shortest route across Biscay, but so was everyone else! On the second day, we altered our course slightly to get out of the way of the big ships. We did see a P&O Cruise ship passing us, little did we know, a couple of our friends were onboard! We also picked up a hitch hiker who stayed with us the whole way across, only jumping ship when we saw land.

In preparation for the trip we had bought ourselves a light wind sail called a cruising chute. It is like a spinnaker, but slightly easier to handle for just the 2 of us and a more forgiving wider wind range. However, due to our lack of experience with this huge sail, it quickly became named ” The Wild Animal”. It seems with most things we do, there is also a story behind the purchase of this sail. I had seen it advertised as a secondhand sail in perfect condition from a sail loft on the south coast of England. I spoke to the seller who told me it was in excellent condition and was yellow with a touch of green and edged off with blue . Very smart we thought and waited eagerly for its arrival. Imagine our surprise when we unpacked it and found they had sent us the equivalent of a huge Dutch flag!!!

Not quite the yellow, green and blue we were expecting!

Regardless of the colour, 3 days later, we were in A Coruña and very happy to have survived the Bay of Biscay unscathed.

It was great to see the famous ‘Torre de Hercules’ Light house dominating the headland, apparently built by the Romans and now a Unesco World Heritage site (or sight!). We then saw the magnificent Port observation tower on the Dique de Abrigo which protects the marina Coruña. The marina staff were very helpful and welcoming and we were soon tied up and off to explore our new surroundings. It is fair to say, you can get anything you need here and we pushed our shopping trolley full of fruit and veg all the way back to the marina.

At the beginning of this adventure we had set off to sail around the British coastline, then we decided to cross the channel to France. Now we had crossed the Bay of Biscay and are in Spain! My friends say I am not a very good navigator to have got it so wrong, but we are having great fun. ( I Think they are probably jealous )

Next stop the North Western Rias of Galicia.