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Leg 1: UK - France - Spain


The Start of the Adventure – Friday 3rd June 2011:

 

Our log entry for 0508 BST on Friday 3rd June 2011 reads –

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It had been a beautiful start to the day, the dawn light just starting to burn through the early morning mist which lay over the unusually serene waters of Portsmouth harbour as we slipped our berth in Gosport Boatyard, where work on Gulliver G had finished mere hours earlier. The entry at 1929 that evening, with only 2 nautical miles (NM) to go to Cherbourg records that it was a lovely evening, too. The fine weather was not to be oft repeated over the next two weeks.

            

The plan was vaguely simple or simply vague, though the goal crystal clear: to use a two week holiday to get Gulliver G down to Baiona on the Galician coast, north west Spain (view chart). Nothing in the weather forecast appeared to be remotely conducive to a westward passage along the English channel, so the vagueness concerned the manner in which we were to get to where we wanted to go. We were determined to get there, though, or at least across the feared and respected Bay of Biscay.

            

If we survived Biscay, we would then give up work for a while and continue with a full circuit of the North Atlantic (from Spain to Madeira, Canaries, Cape Verdes, Caribbean and then back to Europe via the Azores). We wanted to continue south from Spain in October, but all of the advice is to get across Biscay before the end of August. Any later and gales start rolling in from the west with alarming rapidity. It is never good to have to sail to deadlines – far better to have the luxury of being able to await favourable weather conditions – but that two-week break was our only chance to make the crossing during the summer.

If the weather proved really bad, an alternative was to get as far south as possible, if necessary leaving Gulliver G somewhere such as Camaret on the north west tip of France and then risk the crossing later in the year.

Aside from the timing, we were very keen to complete the Biscay crossing during our summer holiday as it would be our first passage of more than eighteen hours or so and we wanted to be sure that we were comfortable with longer passage-making before quitting our jobs.

Expecting the Biscay crossing to take four or five days, our aim was to get on with it sooner rather than later. Of course, it did not quite work out that way…

 

Cherbourg – Friday 3rd to Tuesday 7th June 2011:

 

Cherbourg is a long-established favourite of England’s south coast sailors. Close enough to get there from the Solent in a day, but far enough to feel like a proper voyage. Better still, it’s foreign and somehow sailing 85NM to a place where people have alternative ideas about clearing up after their dogs and urinating in the street feels so much more of an achievement than doing the same mileage along the English coast. And then there is the excitement of crossing the shipping lanes and trying to work the tides in such a manner as to avoid getting swept straight past the entrance. But the main draw for many is that the local wine merchant will deliver to your boat.

           

And so it is that every year a number of Nicholson 32s rock up to form a rally, organised by the Nicholson 32 Association. As members of the Association’s committee, Kate volunteered us to organise the 2011 Cherbourg Rally, so it seemed like the obvious starting point for our great adventure.


The rally was a great success but the next day announced itself with the pitter-patter of raindrops on the coachroof and continued in that vein. I set about fitting new cupboard doors which a friend had made for the heads compartment.


The rain was miserable but helpful: we discovered that all but one of the saloon windows leaked, as did the chainplate deck seals. Unfortunately it was too wet to do anything about it except arrange pots and pans under the various drips, whose locations would move as soon as the assigned receptacle was left unattended.


Monday 6th June was sunnier and drier, so we got on with re-sealing the windows and deck joints. It was clear that we were not going to leave that day, so we hoped that we might be able to sail direct to Baiona the next.


The shipping forecast was not encouraging. Force 5 to 6 from the west – the very direction in which we wanted to go. We visited the marina office several times to examine the monitor from which the forecast beamed, vainly hoping for a volt face. I have found that the forecast will often barely warrant a glance when all appears to be in our favour, yet receives examination in the minutest detail when patently against, as if somehow looking at length at the little darts which depict wind direction and strength will encourage them to pick themselves up and reassemble in the desired pattern.

           

Westwards Along The English Channel:

 

By 1800 on Tuesday 7th June 2011 we were sailing out of Cherbourg. The wind was still blowing force 5 to 6 (increasingly 6) from the west. Nevertheless, I confidently wrote “Baiona” as our planned destination in the log.


It seemed like a good idea to try the Aries wind-vane steering, but it takes a bit of tuning of Aries and rig to get it holding a good course. The log entry for 2005 reads –

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At this point I was still getting my sea-legs. The only time I have been physically sick at sea was when a friend and I sailed a fast but rolly night passage from Le Havre to the Solent during the course of which diesel escaped from the rusty old tank (promptly replaced), mixed with excessive quantities of sea water which had flowed back through a bilge pump (we keep that sea cock closed nowadays!) and ended up covering the floorboards. Despite my record, I did not want to take my chances whilst still not feeling 100%.

 

An Unscheduled Stop in Braye Harbour, Alderney

 

The log for 0110 on 8th June, by which time the wind was a strong force 6, reads “At a mooring buoy in Braye!!!”.


To explain the change of plan, it is best that I reproduce here a fuller entry which I subsequently wrote –


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Of Tides and Tidal Streams

 

The problem with the English Channel is the damn tides. Particularly around the Channel Islands – the tidal streams in Alderney Race, for example, can run at more than 7 knots. Going against a stream like that, the average cruising yacht with a speed through the water of five knots (for passage planning in Gulliver G we tend to assume an average speed of 4 knots, though 5 is often more likely) will go backwards at 2 knots.


Always keen to try and see the upside, I had in years gone by rationalised to Kate when she complained about tides (usually when we had been stuck off the same bit of headland for four hours or so) that the big advantage of them is that if worked properly they can give quite stunning speeds over ground. Hence one year passing Alderney in Gulliver G we recorded a speed over ground just shy of 12 knots. This, I reasoned, was an experience which Mediterranean and Caribbean sailors would never enjoy.


Of course, my attempt to see the positive was a bit of a nonsense as to work the tides completely in one’s favour passages along the Channel would have to be limited to 6 hours – the approximate duration for which a tidal stream will run in one direction before reversing on itself. We have found that south of about 48°N although there are still tides the tidal streams that they produce are so weak that in many areas there is no point in worrying about them – and this makes life a lot easier!


I will however venture one other factor in favour of areas with large tidal differences: the constantly changing nature of the coastline. Further south the coastline will look pretty much the same at any time of day. Around the UK and northern French coasts by contrast, as the tide recedes an entirely different landscape is revealed of rough-hewn rock-pools and mudflats.

Nowhere is this more true than the stunning Brittany coast, which we had never visited before and had no intention of doing so en route to Spain, but the plan continued to evolve as the journey progressed.

 

Braye Harbour

 

In Braye Harbour all boats either take a mooring buoy or lie to anchor. Expecting to only stay one night we had been lazy and taken a buoy. In the end we stayed for two nights as the winds remained force 5/6 from the south west – the direction we wanted to go in.


Getting the water taxi back out to Gulliver G we explained to the skipper that we were hoping that the wind would settle a bit.


“Prefer it rough myself,” he said, “it’s boring otherwise. But then, I was a lifeboat man for 27 years.”


“Look at them,” he continued, his attention diverted to some people walking out along the harbour wall. “Bloody idiots. Every year one or two people get washed off that wall. Sheer drop onto the rocks on the other side.”


“Really?” I said, thinking that this was an alarmingly high fatality rate for an island the size of Alderney.


“Worst is when they shelter in those alcoves.” The skipper indicated some alcoves in the upper portion of the sea wall, which looked as if they had been designed to give shelter, but were probably part of the structural design.


“Why’s that?” I asked with morbid fascination.


“Well, a big wave comes over and ‘bam!’ the vacuum will take your lungs out.”

 

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Kate enjoying her summer holiday.


Onwards and Westwards(ish)

 

On 9th June 2011 we felt that, with the still adverse conditions (wind south west force 4/5) it would be foolhardy to venture down through the Chenal du Four and out into the dreaded Bay without the opportunity to stop for respite and to take stock. Having since completed a number of much longer passages, I can say with some authority that passage making along the English Channel can be Hellish hard work compared to ocean sailing. It is much easier when the wind blows in the right direction, but even then the Channel sailor has to contend with the tides, the rocks, the ships and the yachts, the buoys and the alarm on the DSC radio sounding regularly with warnings of various additional hazards like tugs and their tows, flotsam and broken-down ships.

So it was that, departing Braye at 0700 on 9th June, we entered L’AberWrac’h on the NW tip of France in the logbook as our next destination. Instead we ended up stopping at Les Sept Iles, just off the Brittany coast, for a few hours on the morning of 10th June. Some excerpts from the logbook reflect the frustratingly slow progress (at times regress, e.g. the position at 1600 is NE of the position at 1415, when we wanted to be SW of the earlier position) –


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Les Sept Iles comprise seven small rocky islands which have been designated as a bird sanctuary just off the Brittany coast. They are really quite stunning, as is that whole coastline.


The outlying rocky islets, which vary from the rounded to the jagged, are so numerous that mainland coastline is in many places difficult to identify. It would make a very rewarding cruising ground, with ample opportunity to put one’s coastal navigation and pilotage skills to work.


As we got into the main anchorage in Les Sept Iles the islands blanketed us from the wind, so I re-started the engine intending to run it only for a few minutes to push us into the anchorage. To my surprise, water started pumping out of the exhaust, so no repairs were needed.


There was one small mooring buoy in the middle of the almost deserted anchorage, so we took that for a few hours to wait out the tide while we relaxed, had lunch and basked in a few short-lived rays of sun.


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Approach to Les Sept Iles.

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The largest of Les Sept Iles has a light on it.

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Les Sept Iles are a bird sanctuary. I managed to get a picture of a seagull.

Next Stop: Roscoff – Friday 10th June 2011

 

Having originally planned to stay well north of the Brittany coast, only closing in on it as we reached L’AberWrac’h, it was something of a pleasant surprise to find ourselves sailing along it. Leaving Les Sept Iles early on the afternoon of 10th June I entered L’AberWrac’h as our next port of call at the top of the page in the logbook, but evidently half-heartedly as the first entry notes: “Motoring head into wind. Will stop at Roscoff, await next tide and top up fuel tank from jerry can.”


The passage to Roscoff from Les Sept Iles, about 22NM, proved adventurous. I turn to the write-up which I made whilst berthed in L’AberWrac’h on 12th June –

 

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Rocks en route to Roscoff.

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A squall coming in.


We stayed overnight on a mooring buoy in the channel between Roscoff (a tidal harbour and ferry port on the mainland) and the Ile de Batz. This allowed Kate to indulge in a hobby which has become a favourite since we took to berthing in the main channel of Portsmouth harbour: Ferry Spotting. 


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At the first puff of black smoke over Roscoff harbour, Kate has the binoculars out…

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…and is rewarded with this fine ferry…

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…oh, how the simplest things give the greatest pleasure!


At 1100 the next day, Saturday 11th June, we set off westwards along the narrow chenal Ile de Batz, which is marked with stone cardinal markers the size of small forts. With L’AberWrac’h 30NM away, and no obvious places to stop and await tides en route, we fully expected to make it in one leg and… did so, arriving at the marina in rather overcast conditions shortly before 1900. This was despite the wind remaining resolutely from the west the whole way, requiring us to motor (though we kept the main up just in case it should change its mind!).


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Leaving Roscoff under motor.

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Chenal Ile de Batz is well marked with massive stone cardinals.

 

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Kate on the helm, Ile de Batz in the background.

 

The visitors’ berths looked invitingly empty. The harbour master motored over in his rib, smoking away astride the petrol tank, to explain that (as Sod’s law would have it) those berths were being kept vacant for a large rally. We were keen to have walk-ashore access so as to enjoy fresh showers and top up with water without having to inflate our tender, the plan (ha-ha!) being to only stop for one night, so he rafted us up to a local boat.

            

I turn again to my write-up of 12th June –


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By this point we were starting to get rather concerned about the timing, as there was barely a week left to get across Biscay, berth Gulliver G somewhere secure and catch our pre-booked flights from Santiago de Compostella back to Stanstead in time for work. We were mollified by great pizzas, wine and mousse au chocolat at the nearby restaurant in the small, quaint village.


A good night’s sleep had an excellent effect on our spirits but none on the weather forecast, though whilst the wind was still forecast to be southwest (promising a close-hauled sail across the Bay and in direct contravention of the books, which all say that the wind will be from the north east in June) no gales were forecast until the following Friday. By this point we were both very eager to get out into deep water, into proper passage-making and watch-keeping, to prove to ourselves that we could hack it.


If storms had been forecast, we might have thought twice, but we had to, nay needed to go. And not just because of deadlines: despite the adverse wind direction and the distant promise of a gale in the great Bay, having spent over five years being pushed back and forth by the tides, more often than not whilst being attacked by frigid waves in driving rain, we’d had enough of the English Channel. 


Enough! No more!


Here we were, right on the corner of this wretched seaway.


Needless to say, there was no point in high-tailing it out of L’AberWrac’h first thing on Monday 13th June as we had to await favourable tides through the Chenal du Four. But, as soon as the tides began to set in our favour, we were gone.

 

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L’AberWrac’h has the tallest lighthouse in Europe at 270ft, as well what is perhaps one of the shortest just next to it.

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Motoring out of L’AberWrac’h and into the murk. Rocks abound.


            

Through the Chenal du Four and Across the Bay of Biscay – Monday 13th to Friday 17th June 2011:


It was evident that setting Baiona as our landfall, on the west coast of NW Spain, would be a trifle optimistic, simply because we had to be able to catch our plane home. So we decided to head for the large port of A Coruna, on the northern coast of NW Spain and about 60NM closer. From L’AberWrac’h this was a passage of some 350NM, the first twenty or so of which involved some careful passage planning to see us safely through the very narrow Chenal du Four, which has strong tidal streams and lots of nasty rocks on either side.

I had planned on a pleasant day sail though the well buoyed Chenal, eyeballing our way safely through whilst sipping our tea and munching ship’s biscuits. Oh but were it so!


The visibility, which was poor as we departed L’AberWrac’h, steadily diminished. By the time that we approached the entrance to the Chenal du Four it was under 200 metres. We heard the horn on Le Four lighthouse, which marks the entrance to le Chenal, before we saw it loom eerily out of the mist. It dispiritingly disappeared just as quickly.

 

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Le Four lighthouse.

And then we were into the Chenal. According to the GPS, at any rate.


We were at this stage motoring along in near calm and could not see a damn thing.


The Chenal du Four lies between the north west tip of mainland France and the Ilet de Ouessant (known to the English as ‘Ushant’). On the outside (to the west) of Ushant lies a massive traffic separation scheme (‘TSS”) for merchant ships, many of which track across Biscay and around the Finisterre TSS off the NW corner of Spain on the way to Africa or Asia.


Passing on the inside (east-side) of Ushant, we were safe from the big ships, but not from trawlers and other yachts.


We kept our radar on, the first time we had ever properly used it. The radar uses the same screen as the GPS chartplotter (which is similar to satnav in cars, though it does not tell you to turn right in 300 yards). The chartplotter shows where the vessel is on an electronic chart of the area, which is great. If you have paid the best part of £300 for the appropriate chart.


We’d spent so much money preparing Gulliver G for the voyage that we could not bear to part with the better part of £1,000 for electronic charts covering the areas south of the English Channel which we would be cruising (just as well as the chartplotter died as we left A Coruna three months later).


The electronic chart ran out just when we needed it most – half way through the Chenal du Four with visibility under 20 metres. Fortunately the radar still worked, as did my iPhone – onto which I had downloaded Navionics electronic charts as an App for £11.99 rather than the usual £300 for each area! The iPhone gives a good position close inshore (the manufacturer claims it has ‘GPS,’ though it obviously triangulates from mobile telephone masts rather than getting a GPS position as it will not work without mobile reception), so we were able to use that to navigate through the thick fog, with an eye on the radar for other shipping.


The iPhone Navionics App worked so well that we were able to pick our way from buoy to buoy, sighting the buoys only a boat length or two before we would have hit them. That was quite something, for a vessel does not need to stray far outside of the buoyed channel before her crew will be sent flying to the sound of a loud ‘CRUNCH!’ as boat meets rocks.


I shuddered to think what may have happened if either our electronic navigation or the engine had failed in the middle of the Chenal du Four, when we could barely see the bows of our own little vessel in the fog, but my emergency plan in the case of instrument failure was to dead-reckon our way through with compass and depth-sounder. If the engine failed (there was no wind) I planned to drop the anchor immediately and hope that it caught on something before the boat did.


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Kate keeps a lookout in the Chenal du Four.

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Minimal vis in the Chenal du Four … this is the sort of picture you get in RYA books with the word ‘Fog’ written underneath.

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Geoff grins and bears.


By that same fortuitous combination of luck and judgement which keeps aeroplanes in the air we made it through the Chenal. I relaxed enough at 1920, with Kate off-watch and in bed, to go below and fill out the logbook. A glance at the radar screen showed a large blip at very close quarters.


Rushing back to the cockpit, I saw a fishing vessel, hauling her nets, emerge through the fog not more than fifty metres dead ahead. I took over the helm from the autopilot to avoid broad-siding her. That was our first and last close-quarters incident, but the Atlantic swell (which can hide even large ships from one another when one of them is in the trough) was sufficient to keep the radar on for the rest of the way across Biscay.


For the next 18 hours the winds remained too light to make much progress under sail alone, so we motor sailed. The clatter of the engine, the noise of the electric tiller pilot (which sounds like someone sawing a coffin in half) and the quantity of shipping showing up on the radar, some of which we could occasionally get a visual fix on as it popped up over the Atlantic swell, ensured that our entrance to Biscay was anything but relaxing, but it felt pretty momentous simply to have escaped the English Channel!


Throughout the afternoon of 14th June the wind slowly but surely rose, until we had a respectable force 4/5 blowing from the south east, allowing the engine to be shut down at last and the Aries to take over at the helm. It felt really satisfying to get the Aries working for the first time and to have Gulliver G sailing herself without having to rely on electronics – or the engine power needed to charge the batteries. There were hardly any ships about now, most shipping passing further out of the bay than us.


Confused seas marked the edge of the continental shelf, where soundings drop from a few hundred meters to a couple of thousand over a space of about thirty miles. I had been wondering what the depth sounder would do when we got ‘off soundings’, as deep sea is often referred to, and got my answer: the display shows the depth of the latest fish to swim under the boat and will then blink until another fish swims under and a new depth is shown. For much of the way across Biscay the depth sounder showed less than 10 feet of water!


By 0530 on 15th June the wind had veered from SE to SW, which would have put it bang on the nose were we following our original rhumb line across the Bay, but as the SE winds had pushed us well out to the west on a port tack we were now able to sail reasonably efficiently to windward on a starboard tack without having to worry about being pushed too far east – which would have then meant clawing our way westward against the prevailing winds at some point.


We were to stay on a starboard tack for the next couple of days, the wind veering west during the 16th June, generally around force 4, sometimes dropping to 3, other times rising to 5. The seas were perhaps more moderate than rough, though sailing to windward, the angle of heel making life on board that little more tricky, the sea will inevitably feel rough.


Our watch system was four hours on, four off during the night, alternating between who got two watches and who got the one. I loved my night watches. I would wedge myself in the companion way, alternating between headphones on, skipping through favourite tracks on my iPhone as we ploughed our way through the moonlit night and listening out for any unfamiliar sounds from the boat – of which there were none. Beautiful!

 

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Dolphins alongside.

Going under the bow.

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Dolphins

 

Dawn on 15th June heralded the arrival of a large pod of dolphins, which livened the journey considerably. They would rub up against GG’s bows and each other, dive under the boat and perform impressive jumps. I got the camera out and managed to get a few pictures before one of them started splashing me with its tail! They are really difficult to photograph because they are so fast and tend to disappear beneath the waves just as the camera clicks…


Over the next couple of days dolphins would often come and play around the boat, particularly at dawn and dusk. I say ‘play’, but I did begin to suspect that they were on a massive feeding frenzy, going for fish momentarily stunned by shock waves from our hull crashing through the waves.



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They were jumping loads, but this is the only jump I managed to catch on camera!

I put the camera away when this little bugger decided that it would be fun to splash me!

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A Biscay Gale and Engine Failure

 

We’d had the thick fog in the Chenal du Four, the heavy shipping, the wind on the nose, the gloomy and overcast weather. What next? Well, a Biscay passage is surely not complete without a gale! Oh, that and engine failure…


Log keeping went slightly out of the window when the gale hit, but the entries record text-book weather patterns:


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So, what happened?

            

Before leaving L’AberWrac’h we had seen from the weather forecast that a gale could be expected on Friday 17th June, but had hoped to be able to get in before then. We were not surprised to see the classic signs of an approaching warm front on the evening of 16th June – lots of mares’ tails in the sky (“mackerel skies and mares’ tails make tall ships carry small sails”), calm seas; all told the nicest weather of our holiday.

            

And by way of confirmation in the early hours of 17th June a falling barometer (“when the glass is high and risin’ soundly sleeps the careful wise un’/when it’s low and falling soundly sleeps the careless ass”) and backing wind.

            

At 0730 on 17th June, anticipating what was coming and with the wind already blowing a good force 6/7, I decided to wake Kate with the sound of the engine and high-tail it into A Coruna, now a tantalising 15NM away.

            

When I pushed the starter button there was a ‘clunk’ but the engine would not crank. I put GG hove-to, locking the tiller with the Aries. Rousing Kate I explained the situation and wondered whether there was somehow not enough power. This seemed unlikely given that we had only been drawing off battery no. 2 and that the wind gen had been going like the clappers for the whole voyage. Nonetheless, I dug out the brand new AGM cranking battery which I had not yet wired up and tried that. Still only a ‘clunk’. The engine spun fine with the decompression levers up, but put them down and ‘clunk’.

            

Kate came up on deck and, having been drifting NE at an SOG of 3 knots even hove-to, we put the boat to windward and aimed W (now being a few miles E of A Coruna). We did not know how long the gale would continue for, but had to assume that it could be some time and unless we went some 150NM east along the coast to Gigon (pronounced ‘hee-hon’), A Coruna seemed the only safe place to attempt an entry under sail in gale force conditions.

            

After a short and miserable spell in the cockpit, Kate very sensibly decided to put herself to bed, without sustaining too many injuries, and I kept watch. Kate did not sleep, yelling up to me occasionally to make sure that I was still there, not that I was going anywhere what with being harnessed to a secure fitting and gripping on for dear life!

 

‘Keeping watch’ must be interpreted loosely as the air was thick with spray – we have been through an F8/9 gale before in Gulliver G and I would say that for a while this was most definitely F9 – but I was rather concerned about the potential for stray fishing boats as there had been a lot of fishing vessels around from about 20 miles out. We had to keep the washboards in, which meant that I could not see the radar screen, which is mounted next to the chart table, though I am not sure that radar would have been much use with all the interference caused by the large breaking waves.

            

“Who,” you may ask, “would be fishing in these conditions?”

            

Well, I can tell you: the Spanish. Perhaps the bizzarest sight I have seen at sea was a couple of hours after the gale set in. Two large local fishing boats, not far off our port rail, being rolled gunnel-to-gunnel yet engaged in purse-seine fishing! In a force 8! I could barely believe my eyes. I wish I had got some video footage, but was more intent on survival. The best I can provide is a picture of a couple of these fishing vessels hauled out. The immense draft explains their sea-keeping abilities.


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Fishing vessels of the sort I saw purse-seine fishing (dragging a net between them) in gale force 8. The deep draught explains how they do it!

As I held on tight under the sprayhood, white water frequently swamping the decks, the Aries held us admirably on a windward course to the west, the gale blowing in from SSW. What I did not hear in the cockpit were the loud bangs with which Gulliver G fell off each wave and slammed into the trough, which Kate said had her a trifle concerned. The structural integrity of the Nicholson 32 has never been an issue. The owners of the first N32 off the mould had a surveyor friend take a look at a plug of the GRP that they had left over when a new skin fitting was installed. The surveyor calculated that from the lay-up of a Nicholson 32 one could build 3.8 32 foot Beneteau’s.

            

Of greater concern to me was that as the wind blew consistently at over 30 knots the very considerably shortened roller-furling jib occasionally flogged rather violently (what with us trying to head W, or to windward) and I thought about setting the storm jib on our new detachable inner forestay.

            

We were now about 3 hours into the gale. I looked at the distant sky to the west and noticed that it was lightening. I sat tight. A few minutes later a thin band of rain passed over and within moments the wind veered 120°, the Aries sailing Gulliver G around with the wind so that we were now heading almost due north!

            

I reset the Aries and the rig, keeping three reefs in the main but letting out a little more jib, so that we had a pleasant downwind passage toward A Coruna. The sea was still rough, but that is not such a problem when sailing reasonably fast downwind. I busied myself with a study of the chart and marina plan, figuring how we might best make our entry under sail.

            

As we approached A Coruna with still heavily reefed sails a couple of other yachts came out with almost full sail up, showing how much things had changed.


A customs boat was waiting in the harbour entrance. They appeared to be attempting to launch a RIB. My immediate thought was that maybe they could give us a tow in, if the harbour wall cast too great a wind shadow to rely on sail.


We sailed past the customs boat. Now they were bringing their launch back on board. We tacked. Customs tried launching their RIB from the starboard side of the mother ship. We tacked again, heading towards Marina Coruna.


Finally, 3 men powered over to us in the RIB and announced their intention to board. I explained our lack of engine, but one of them jumped aboard (from the moving RIB, in the closest they got to SAS style manoeuvres) and advised that they could give us a tow but had to complete formalities first. I handed him the ships papers and passports and he proceeded to fill in a form. We put in another tack.


By the time the form was complete and had been signed between turns on the winch we were near the marina and I could see that there was still plenty of wind for us to sail around the wavebreak and onto a pontoon. Nonetheless, the customs man (whom I suspect was quite enjoying what had turned into a rather pleasant Friday afternoon on the water) insisted that his colleagues give us a tow in.


The man in charge of the RIB was decked out in full commando-style gear, with helmet, goggles, kevlar, guns, etc. His crew reminded me of Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski. With his long silver hair tied back in a pony tail and his deeply lined and tanned face, in stark contrast to the RIB’s skipper he looked like he’d tossed his spliff into the dock as he walked up the gangplank to report, in a somewhat lackadaisical manner, for duty. They were characters, for sure.


The RIB guys attempted to take a line from us a couple of times, but seemed unsure of what to do with it and dropped it. By this time I could see very clearly that it would be easy for us to sail into the marina and alongside a hammer-head, so we did that. The customs guy who had boarded us complemented me on my skills (ahem…).


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Map © Eric Gaba, 2011, with modifications by G P Caesar, 2012, in accordance with the terms of the license (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Celtic_Sea_and_Bay_of_Biscay_bathymetric_map-fr.svg).


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Boat hair!

A Coruna and Santiago de Compestella, 17th – 19th June 2011:

 

Once checked into Marina Coruna one of the office girls said, “Now time for the best shower of your life!”.


She was right. Weather conditions across Biscay had permitted no more than the most basic wash. My scalp had got increasingly itchy but my hair was so encrusted with salt that it was impossible to penetrate my fingers enough to scratch it (probably a good thing!). The showers at the marina are really luxurious and after about twenty minutes under the powerful, hot, hot cascade of fresh water we both felt vaguely human again.