BAY OF BISCAY
Sunday-Tuesday, July 7-9, 2019
This was the day to face the infamous Bay of Biscay, a body of water that I’d only heard not great things about. Max would every now and then hum a Schooner Fare song and when feeling particularly jolly, sing out “and the Bay of Biscay rollers will knock your head right off your shoulders!” Lovely.
Yet, we knew of several cruising teams who had perfectly fine crossings, one even in January (!) and another who zoomed down from the North with a wonderful wind. So, we knew if we picked our weather, which we usually can due to the luxury of no real time constraints, our crossing would, if not mimic those, at least be relatively peaceful.
That weather window opened up Sunday after a week’s long stay in Quiberon, our last port of call in Brittany. Since landing May 30 in Lezardrieu this part of France had served as an intriguing and captivating place to explore. Despite sometimes challenging decisions concerning extreme tides and powerful currents our time here gave us a completely different feel of France. Not surprising considering the strong connections to the Celts’ immigration pre-900 C.E.
Under a forecast of not too much wind and low wave, i.e., roller, height distrubing our 260-mile journey we left casting a last glance backwards.
Within two hours we were hoisting our asymetrical (cruising) spinnaker, first time of the summer.
For the next several hours we enjoyed a relaxing and even keeled ride.
Ahhh, only us, the wind and the seas, which felt blessedly gentle.
The first day our wind kept up, more so than had been predicted. No matter. Suited us just fine. And, how can anything be wrong with this picture… great legs AND harness attached (Max was fiddling with the SSB Radio antenna).
On our two-person passages our time tables for being on watch flex: during the day, we’ll trade off cat-napping as needed; at night we generally do three hours on/three hours off. Or, if required, we’re both up to deal with a lot of shipping traffic, sail changes, or major weather disturbances.
But, nothing like that faced us, so the captain got a restful sleep while offering the perfect opportunity for a quick shot :)
The night passed smoothly and another day of sailing coupled with motoring to ensure we maintained 4 knots minimum. We always want to keep ourselves covering miles at a decent pace. It lowers our exposure to changes in the weather as the forecast under which we leave a port is only good for a limited amount of time; so, the quicker we cross, the less likely to be caught out.
Surprisingly, very little traffic appeared during this passage. The one exception were the fleets of fishing boats, which we had heard about. Sure enough, the predicted flock appeared and we easily avoided any issues because they were clumped together.
After that, we rarely spotted another boat either on AIS (automatic identification system) or looking at the horizon. A few times a white sail would appear heading towards us or coming our way; but, other than those infrequent sightings the coast was clear as they say (sorry, I can’t seem to get away from spouting these trite expressions!).
On Monday the wind had dropped as forecasted, so on came the motor. By mid-day we crossed from France into Spain.
Max performed the ceremony of switching our courtesy flags (a nautical requirement to indicate a boat’s foreign status in another country’s waters).
Once or twice before we’ve come to realize after the fact out courtesy flag wasn’t the correct one. In Spain we later discovered flags without the crown on them. When we asked our Spanish marina host, he said, ‘no, you’d want the crown for it shows you support the king.’ Which began our understanding about this northern coast’s heritage: it was the first region of Spain where they reconquered their country from the Moors in the mid-700s. Don’t worry-that’s all the history. For now, at least :)
Monday flowed into the second and final night of our passage. We had hoped to be crossing under a full moon but the timing didn’t work out, so our nights were shrouded in darkness.
I’d check the sails with a strong flashlight but it can feel a bit eerie floating out there with only you, the sea, and a visibility the circumference of the boat.
When it’s quiet with no ships around and no unpredictable boat movements due to rough or no-wind weather, you become wrapped in a comfortable blanket of soft darkness. I’d like to play music but don’t since earphones would block out any unusual sounds coming out of the night. So, it’s my cup of tea, book, meandering thoughts, and dropping below to check AIS.
Then dawn breaks, the remoteness fades, and renewed energy infuses JUANONA. And, this morning involved prepping for our arrival in Gíjon, Spain.
With Marina Yates on the outskirts of the city promising no-stress docking we contacted the marina over VHF (if that fails, we resort to using our limited cell for a phone call).
The staff directed us to our berth, catching our lines and welcoming us to Spain. Within thirty minutes Customs was aboard, and after an easy exchange of legal papers (boat registration, our passports, and other necessary documents), we had officially been accepted into this country.
We had last sailed here in 2003, only it was in southern Spain when we had over-wintered while staging to enter and later leave the Mediterranean. This had a completely different feel, one we were looking forward to exploring.
And, one of the best parts of being here? Our crossing was the easiest one I’ve ever been on. So, the Bay of Biscay for us did not knock our heads off our shoulders, and for that I’m truly thankful.