Across the (in)famous Bay of Biscay

Crosshaven to Bayona Spain across the infamous Bay of Biscay

It is Saturday and we’re lying in Crosshaven waiting for a weather window. Our weather program, Predictwind, changes the forecast every few hours, due to an enormous low pressure area approaching from the Atlantic. Here in Ireland, we’re going to get gales – in Scotland they’re going to get hammered with winds of over 50 knots, which means gusts of hurricaine strength. We’re happy we’re here and not there, although we do send our thoughts to those sailors plying the waters up there – may their luck hold out.

We thought we would make it out of Crosshaven Tuesday, but now it is looking more like Wednesday or even Thursday. The wind will then be coming out of either the north or northwest, which means we will be on a broad reach with the wind from our backs. Perfect. The waves are forecasted to be about 2 meters with the swell coming from the west. The only fly in the ointment is a localized high pressure system at Cabo Finnesterre (the corner of Spain) and it is blowing a gale. There are, however, sings of it breaking up so since it will take us 4 days to get there anyway, we can hope it will be gone.

We have decided to bypass La Coruna (on the north coast of Spain) and sail instead to Bayona on the Atlantic coast of Spain. As usual with these decisions, there are advantages and disadvantages. The major disadvantage is that the trip will be another 150 nautical miles longer. But there are some real advantages. First, we’ll bypass Spain’s corner and thereby Cabo Finnesterre. Cabo Finnesterre is rightly famous or infamous for wild and unpredictable waves, some huge, even in relatively calm weather.

Secondly, we’ll be sailing a good part of the trip out beyond the continental shelf where the water is much deeper (the Bisacy is about 300 meters, beyond the continental shelf the water is 4-5 kilometers) and we’ll get a bit further south and into the “Portuguese high pressure systems” that lies around Portugal each summer.

So we just need to find the right weather window and as you can see our liveaboard weather guru (AKA Vinni) is reading up on her theory. The name of the book is Meteorology and Oceanology for Ships Officers, and is the Danish bible on weather at sea. Vinni has gotten quite good at weather (better than me, I’m ashamed to admit). It is great to have someone on board who really understand it.

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Vinni studies wind and weather

Crosshaven has 3-4 meter tides and here are some pictures of the marina and area around it. The town, more a village actually, is quite nice and makes every effort to enrich the quality of life here. There are 3-4 restaurants in town and 8-9  pubs (gotta be careful – you wouldn’t want to get thirsty). The pubs all have live music on the weekends and from the crowds, it looks like this is what everyone does on the weekend – go to the local pub and raise a pint or two. We were going to go for a pub crawl tonight but have put it off until tomorrow because I was tired as all get out.

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Most of the lagoon dries out a couple of times per day

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at high tide the bridge is level

Why was I tired? We sailed very hard on the wind coming down from Scotland and our traveler bent slightly. So I had to find a place that could straighten it and also find a place that could make a stainless steel rail to mount it on.

Such a place was in the next marina over (Crosshaven has 3 marinas), but typical for such places, they are busy as all hell and I had to get down on bended knee to get them to make this for us over the weekend. Of course, they didn’t happen to have a 30 x 30 millimeter x 1.5 meter piece of stainless on hand, so I had to take a taxi over to Cork to pick some up and then back again, all before everything closed for the weekend.

So now they are working on it and I can pick it up Monday morning – whew!!

 

Our “wailing wall” continues to remain filled. Everytime I cross something off – 2 more things get added (sigh). But it is raining today and that means I can get started on getting our manuals systemized. I did have them properly put into a system but we got quite a few new ones just brfore we left and even more when we got the new autopilot – so it’s all a mess. I’ve started on this any number of times but so far haven’t gotten anywhere – something more important keeps coming up. As it turned out – I also wouldn’t get to it this time. As a liveaboard cruiser how he spends his day and he’ll answer: “I don’t know – but it took me all day”.

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a never ending story the wailing wall

And I also needed some time this afternoon for a little nap – life is tough when you’re a cruiser J.

We’ve also dug our TV out and hooked it up (it IS raining today). Yesterday and today we ate breakfast in the cockpit so things are looking up – today I wore shorts!!!!

Vinni is making Chili con carne and I’m writing just to keep all of you, dear readers, up to date. I know you wait desperately for each installment of the continuing adventures of Vinni and Carsten J

The chili was good – Vinni is getting the hang of it. The traveler showed up and naturally there are problems and it needs some more work (sigh again). Our rigger, Harry, has told us that he is extremely busy tomorrow and won’t be able to lend a hand and the smithy shop has also said they are too busy to spend time on our little problem tomorrow.

Shit, shit, shit! Ok, down on my knees again and swallow my pride and ask them to show some mercy.

Tuesday morning, Harry showed up with the traveler, which now fit perfectly and helped me mount it. He then checked our rigging and pronounced it ready for a Biscay crossing. I got my wallet and asked how much we owed him?

Nothing he said.  You don’t owe me anything.

Uhhhh – no money?????

No he didn’t want our money. We should just enjoy our trip. Well such generosity should not go unrecompensed so since he wouldn’t take money, I forced him to take a bottle of good rum.  Being Irish, he did admit that he could be, under great duress, talked into partaking of a wee dram, and he would accept the bottle.

“mainly for the wife” he noted with a broad smile playing about his lips. So we owe a great thanks to Harry and herewith recommend his services to anyone visiting Crosshaven who is in need of a rigger. Unfortunately, Harry is like all those who do good work – in great demand and therefore they have more work that then can handle.

Finally, Tuesday afternoon, I could take in our lines and vinni helmed Capri out of the marina and Crosshaven and into the Biscay. Harry advised us to sail far west before turning south, which enabled us to get beyond the continental shelf a bit earlier and let us avoid most of the trawlers and fishing boats on the bay (thank you – Harry!). Vinni and I have evolved a true hatred of fishing boats and especially trawlers. This feeling would get intensified on our trip across the bay J. We followed the Irish coast westover until we were almost the southern tip of Ireland and then turned Capri south.

Unfortunately for poor Vinni, her seasickness came back again and this time in spades. She was pale and not a happy camper. But she is a true fighter and took her watch, only calling me to come up when she was in the midst of several trawlers and the sails needed trimming – this was a two man job – not a job for a single-hander. We had started with 2 reefs in the mainsail (and the happier for it!). The winds were strong and we zoomed right along at over 7 knots.

The weather forecast said winds of 15-18 knots and I guess we did see that for a few minutes. Most of the time the winds were 20-25 knots so we were very happy we had double reefed the mainsail.

Soon it was dark and I had the watch. I can tell you that you it is very interesting to sail along in total darkness (it was overcast so no moon or stars) at 7+ knots and 2-3 meter waves. Actually, it was more than interesting. Considering that there were also a lot of fishing boats and trawlers, it was downright entertaining. Entertainment I really didn’t need. Fishing boats and trawlers seem to think then own the sea (ok – the collision regulations do state that we have to give way for them)and they do almost everything they can to make life hard for the poor cruising sailboat. On top of everything else – they have so many decklights turned on that it is impossible to see their navigation lights and therby know which way they are heading.

I hate fucking trawlers and fishing boats.

I let Vinni sleep for an extra hour as she still was plagued by her seasickness. A couple of dolphins came by the boat to say “good night, sleep tight” and then disappeared  – off to have fun somewhere else. They really are amazing creatures.

Wednesday

 

Our barometer reads over 1030 – so super high pressure. Normally such high pressure means clear skies, sunshine etc. Of course, not when Vinni and Carsten are sailing (sigh). For us it means overcast, strong winds high waves and did I forget anything?

As you can see from the video, I recorded some footage around our pantry. This is to try to give you some idea of what it is like to be on a boat on the high seas. Cooking can be a challenge, as you can see from the gymbal mounted stove. Don’t forget, the stove stays level – it is the boat that is heeling. The cook has to hang on with one hand while stirring with the other (or chopping onions? Or baking bread etc)  Yes, dear friends, life aboard is simply grand.

Are we having fun yet?

Damn right we’re having fun!

Onto a slight digression. For those that have never tried it, going to head aboard a boat at sea can be quite a challenge. First imagine that some sadist has mounted a toilet inside a telephone booth. Now you have to go in there and proceed to remove: your foulie bib pants. Your regular pants. Your underwear. Of course you also have to take off your foulie jacket (because you have overall foulie pants on) and your lifevest and by the way you are also wearing a heavy shirt, sweater and a felece jacket (plus woolen cap and gloves mind you).

You are now ready to sit down and pee.

Oh for god’s sake – is your reaction, dear reader. This guy can complain about everything – what a pansy!

UUhhhh – did I forget to mention that the same sadist who put all this in a telephone booth mounted the phone booth on the back of a bucking bronco from the rodeo? Oh yes, dear reader – don’t forget the boat is jumping all over the place in all directions.

So now you are in there and you grab a handle with one hand, press against the wall with another hand and wedge your one leg hard up against a third wall so you don’t slide off the pot.

Now you can pee.

Of course you also have to do this in total silence and complete darkness so you don’t wake the poor sod that is trying desperately to sleep in the bunk.

And if you’ve done more than pee – you need to free up one hand to do the necessary paperwork, so that means wedging yourself in even harder with your legs. Once finished – you get to do it all in reverse.

Are we having fun yet?

Damn right we’re having fun!

But enough of bodily functions. Thursday came and we sailed into the middle of this enormous high pressure system, whereupon the wind died and we had to start the engine. The swell was still high, albeit it had died down a bit.

From the cockpit I suddenly heard a voice bellow:

I WANT SOME LICORICE!!!!

I realzed that our licoricemouse was recovering from her seasickness and in betterment. The old man with his scythe departed Capri without harvesting a soul this time. I got out a bag of licorice allsorts and tossed it up in the cockpit, making sure I withdrew my hand quickly so it didn’t get bitten off by the savage beast. I heard snarling and gnashing as the bag was shredded by the beasts knifesharp fangs. After more gnashing and snarling it suddenly became quiet and I heard a little contented lady-like burp.

The beast was tamed (for now) and it was safe for me to go up into the cockpit.

Yes, dear reader, there are more dangers at  sea than one would first suppose J.

Friday

When I woke and relieved Vinni at the helm, she told me that 20 or more dolphins had visited her while I slept. A shame I missed it. The weather had been hard during her watch, very hard. The winds were gusting gale force and the swell had risen to 3-4 meters. Vinni had let me sleep for an extra hour, because she knew I was tired. It is difficult to explain just how little you feel when you are sitting in the cockpit at night alone, and Capri is rushing through the blackness at over 8 knots and the waves are 3-4 meters high.

You are very alone.

We made Cabo Finnesterre (translation – the cape at the end of the earth). Finnesterre is a area that sailors, rightfully, respect and fear. The waves can be huge and generally are unpredictable, the winds can come from anywhere and everywhere at once and gales are almost the norm here. Many that have sailed all over the globe say the Biscay is one of the worst places there is.

We got lucky and had the exact opposite. We were becalmed, but with a mist that steadily got thicker and thicker, ending as a fog thicker than pea soup. There is a traffic separation system here at Finnesterre for the big ships. We sailed along the outside and waited until the system ended before crossing in and making a course for Bayona (we did radio the authorities that we were going to do this). The system is perhaps 20+ nautical miles wide and we figured it would take us 3 hours to cross it. Just as we turned in, we saw a ship on our AIS about 15 nm away, but we thought we would be past it long before it got to us.

It came on very fast and soon it was apparent that Evelynn Mærsk and we were on a collision course. Our AIS said we would pass within 200 meters of each other. Now Evelynn Mærsk is one of the world’s largest container ships, something like 5-6 football fields long and weighing a couple of billion tons. Certainly not a ship that Capri should be playing “chicken” with. We called her on the VHF and asked what his intentions were (according to the Colregs, he was supposed to give way to us). We suggested that we would be happy to give way to him, either by slowing down or turning or whatever.

No, no he answered. We should just maintain course and speed and he would give way for us. Sure enough, as soon as he exited the traffic scheme, he turned to port and passed behind us.  Look at the picture – here he is about 1 nm away.

And he is FUCKING BIG!

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As big as they get!

The mist you can see on that picture just continued to close in and soon we could only see 100  to 150 meters around us.

It is frightening to sail at night (or during the daytime for that matter) is such heavy fog. I had both the AIS and the radar going and stood (literally) and kept a 360 degree lookout for the next 7 hours(not everything is caught on the radar or has AIS).  I let Vinni sleep since I didn’t feel I could leave her with this alone. She is still learning the ins and outs of the radar (I’m no expert, but I can use the damn thing – more or less). Oh I know she would have taken her watch alone, but she would have been nervous as all hell and there was no reason for the both of us to be at the helm in that shit.

If you think it is frightening to be alone in the cockpit at night when the boat is blasting along at 7-8 knots and the waves are 3-4 meters high, I can tell you it is terrifying to be alone in the cockpit when the fog is so thick you can only see 100 meters.

You really feel like you are the last person left on earth.

I did have one amazing experience. At about 2 a.m. a couple of dolphins showed up. There was morild in the water so they looked like silver torpedoes speeding alongside Capri and carving out tunnels of light in the water. Unbelievable sight!

Capri and I sailed through the night as if we were in a fairlytale. There was nothing around us except white, white and more white. Finally, Vinni woke and despite my telling to stay and get some more sleep, she came up and kept me company, took over the lookout and made me some coffee strong enough to wake the dead.

Thank god for our chartplotter. Otherwise there was no way we could have sailed in through the reefs and islands. For example, we needed to pass by a south buoy in order to stay in the channel and we simply were unable to see its flashing light until we were almost on top of it.

This kind of sailing definitely keeps your adrenalin levels up J

We followed the leading line in and finally we were rewarded with a green flashing light, signaling the starboard side of the breakwater. Behind it was a whiteness of the city’s lights through the fog. Shortly thereafter, the red port side light flashed through the fog and the harbor entrance was ahead of us.

Rarely have we been so happy to get into a harbor. We came in at a snails pace, found a slip and at 5:30 a.m. Vinni jumped down onto the pier with a landline. We tied Capri off, Vinni and I gave each other a BIG kiss and a “high-five”.

We crossed the feared Biscay. 4 ½ days and 674 nm, in all kinds of weather from becalmed to gales to heavy fog, from no swell to waves up to 4 meters.

Are we having fun yet?

You’re damned right we are having fun!!!!

We’ve since learned that the Spanish call this part of their coastline around Finnesterre for Costa del Morte – the coast of death – due to all the ships that have gone down here over the years. After our little experience with the fog, we can certainly ascribe to that name.

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all our sailing foulies hanging out to dry

 

Bayona

Our bed was both warm and soft and we collapsed and slept like the dead for 5-6 hours. Bayona marina is big and lies in the center of the city. Actually the city is not so big and the facilities are older and few. As usual, we have some issues with the boat that need repairing and we have been told we should go to Vigo, a city about 12 nm up the bay where there are many chandlers and every kind of repair facility known to man.

We were hoping to wash clothes in Bayona. We hadn’t had an opportunity since Dublin. Reed’s nautical Almanac noted that it was possible to wash clothes in  crosshaven, but it wasn’t. The only option there was to take a taxi 7 km to the next town and use the laudramat. But we are too cheap to spend that kind of money on taxies, and decided to wait until we got to Bayona. In Bayona, the washing facilities are a local laundromat about 300 meters from the marina. All well and good, but since it is a public laundromat, the locals also use it which means the queue is long. So let’s wait for Vigo (ha, ha, ha).

We sailed the 12nm to Vigo – no problem. Only to be told the marina doesn’t have a washing machine but uses a local company that comes and gets the laundry and brings it back nice and clean.

Great – we love convenience!

Of course, that day was a national holiday so everything was closed. The next day was a local holiday so everything was closed.

Well fuck us! We were running our of clothes – especially underwear since we haven’t been able to wash clothes for over 2 weeks now. Our towels and our linen also really needed washing. The tourist office was open and told us about a laundramt in town that was open – about 2 kilometers away.

What the hell – when you’re a cruiser, you’ve got lots of time – so Vinni, I and about 35 kilos of dirty clothes marched off through town towards the laundromat. You find out as a cruiser that many of the joys of life are to be found in the smaller things – like clean clothes, f. eks.

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Vinni and a million pounds of washing

Vigo is a city of about 600,000 with a large downtown and lots of restaurants. Yesterday, the 18 of august was our wedding anniversary and we ate out. Dinner was good and a bit expensive – but what the hell – it was our anniversary.

Today is Vinni’s birthday (57 years) and we have sailed out to some islands (Isla de Cies) that are out at the end of the bay and front on the Atlantic.

Here we are, lying at anchor about 500 meters from the beach in glorious sunshine. Tonight we’ll grill some langoustines and drink some white wine.

Dear reader – aren’t you happy you know someone like us who is willing to bear these unbelievably heavy burdens for your? We take these burdens on us gladly so you can continue to lead your stressful lives at peaceJ

If you want know where these islands are – google earth will have them at

42 degrees 13 minutes 26 seconds north

08 degrees 53 minutes 84 seconds west

That’s all for now – I’m going up to have a sundowner in the cockpit with my lovely wife.

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a cool evening, a good book, a glass of white wine and life isn’t all that shabby

 

Reflections over the trip so far

Vinni and I had discussed at length how the trip over the Biscay would be. We had heard and read many stories about the crossing and most of them were not nice bedtime stories. There was always something about gales or storms, higher than high waves and generally 3-4 days in hell. We took the long way over the Bay – 674 nm from Crosshaven to Bayona. I can be shorter by coming donwthe English Channel and setting off from Brest in France. Then the crossing to la Coruna is “only” 240nm – a good 1 ½ – 2 days sail. Or you can “harboursail” from one harbor to the next along the coast of France and Spain.

But we had decided we wanted to see Scotland and Ireland and in doing so we knew we would have to pay the piper sooner or later. 4 ½ days at sea is the longest Vinni and I have been out and looked at as a whole it went quite well. The days pass with keeping watch, sleeping, eating and making food. Bathing also takes up some time – yes even in 3-4 meter high waves a bath on the back end of the boat is refreshing. Part of the time you spend making sure the sails are trimmed correctly and avoiding fishing boats, trawlers and the like.  Reading thick books is not something we experienced.

The big challenge naturally, is the weather.  By and large, the forecast held all the way over for us. The winds were a bit stronger than forecasted. The 10-12 hours very heavy fog was not something we had bargained for.

In general, I have to say the trip is not for pansies or mamas boys. Even with the relatively calm weather we had, it is a hard sail. Single-handing the boat in gale force winds and 3-4 meter waves at night is not for the faint of heart. And it IS single-handing. Sure – you can always wake the other person if everything goes south, but if you wake them every time for every single little thing – they’ll never get any sleep – so you just carry on and do it all yourself. You stand your watch, trim the sails, avoid the trawlers and if you’re really nice give the other person an extra hours sleep.

So mamas boys or those that can’t handle the boat alone should stay at home. It is probably different when you are 6-8 persons aboard. Then you don’t keep watch alone, nor are you 4 hours on, 4 hours off for days on end.

Here we are now at anchor at Isla de Cies (I’ll write a separate story about them). Our watermaker is going full blast and so is our ice cube maker. I don’t understand those that sail without a watermaker. Sure it is a rather hefty investment, but we just use water like we were hooked up to a city main. We don’t ration. We use about 40 liters per day. We have twin 130 liter water tanks which means a tank lasts us about 3 days. When one is empty, we switch to the other and turn on the watermaker. 3-4 hours hours later, it has filled the empty tank. The watermaker manufacturer, Spectra, says the watermaker uses 8 amps per hour.  We’ve only been able to measure 6 amps. We have also found that we like the taste of the water we make better than the water we have filled at marinas.

Regarding electricity, I’ve written a bit about this before. Quite a few laughed (some out loud) at our 2 large solar panels – but who’s laughing now? Our solar system generates all the power we can use and then some. We run the watermaker as we please, we have our hot water heater running all the time and we make ice cubes as we need plus everything else. The ice cubes means we have cold drinks on board – as one of the Norwegian jentes noted – “you’ll be very popular when you get to the carribean with ice on board”.

 

We’ve now gotten far enough south that the weather has finally gotten warmer and Vinni is beginning ton pack her Scottish bikini away. This is northern spain so the temperature is wonderful – warm but not too hot and the nights are cool (thank god). It is generally misty in the morning, but we have been able to eat breakfast and remain in the cockpit until late in the evening.

We don’t have much internet and don’t really miss it. Neither Vinni nor I have been on facebook or the like so that’s not an issue. When we are in a harbor and it works – fine – that gives us the opportunity to update our website, otherwise we live just fine without.

We also don’t know much about what is happening around the world. We don’t get to read newspapers, except maybe a headline in a supermarket. Without internet we don’t get any news from there and since we rarely hook up our TV we don’t get any from it.  Besides, there are few English (or Danish) speaking channel available for free from the ether. So we live in a newsless world.

Actually it is quite nice, albeit a bit mystical. To be honest – the news is pretty much the same every day anyway. A terrorist or bunch of terrorists have shot or bombed a bunch of innocent people somewhere, Donald Trump has made an ass out of himself again or what ever.  You could write the script yourself and no one would be the wiser.

On a final note.  It is 21000 nautical miles around the globe at the equator. Looking at our logbook, Vinni and I have sailed just over 2100 nautical miles so we’ve come about 10% around the world.

But that’s all for this time folks. You’ll have to be patient and wait for the next episode in the continuing adventures of Vinni and Carsten, which will be about the Isla de Cies and maybe some choice words about how we capsized in our dinghy (sigh), our first night at anchor in 25-30 knot winds and G&T’s and guacamole in the cockpit.

God it’s a hard lifeJ

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