Our Biscay crossing and France at last.
We cross the Bay of Biscay to France, and we have a small drama on route.
France (2nd June, 320 Miles from Spain)
W e spent over a week in Viveiro and together with Keith and Jo of Sapphire Voyager checked the weather almost daily, having earlier decided that we would sail only to a good forecast and not simply a schedule. The Bay of Biscay is no place for bravado but even with our cautious approach it's still a testing sea as you can read below.
Preparation for overnighters is reasonably simple for us. Janet prepares a menu for the passage and does some initial cooking. I rig lifelines down the deck and separate ones along each side of the cockpit. This allowing short tethers yet still we are able to move between the helm and the shelter of the sprayhood without un-clipping. We also rig the inner forestay.
The Passage to Spain. Following a few last minute purchases from the supermarket we left Viveiro at about 1100, some 3 hours after Sapphire Voyager. Out in the estuary we had little or no wind and certainly not the westerly F4 we were expecting. We motored for a couple of hours until we were clear of the coast and the wind had arrived. First a F2, then after 20 more mins a F3 and F4. We had full sail and we were seeing over 8 knots on the log - great. Then the wind rose to a F5 and finally, as the F6 arrived, Janet said "can we reef, its not very comfortable and 9.5 knots is a bit excessive" (well it was something like that but she said it quite loudly). Two reefs in the main had our speed down to the sevens and we were upright again. After all, Janet reasoned, we did have 300 miles still to go and the present rain and winds from squally clouds was not what we were expecting, neither was sailing on our ear.
Just as the second reef went in a pod of Pilot Whales came past. There were 4 of them about 10m away and also heading North, they cruised serenely past us. They looked huge and so incredibly black, really beautiful, not menacing at all.
We continued dodging most the squalls until by mid afternoon the sky had become quite blue, the temperature was still only about 17 degC but with the chill factor it was really cold. Luckily dinner was warming. We had pork with black eyed beans out of bowls in the cockpit?
During Barry's off watch time, about 2000 hrs, Janet spotted two sizeable whales and there blows were incredible, very high and like inverted cones, She watched them for a good 30 mins and the whales came quite close, a fantastic - memorable sight. Keith and Jo had also seen them a few hous earlier. (after our crossing we deduced that they were Sei whales)
By 2200 it was quite dark, although, even at 2300 we could still discern the horizon. and in the cockpit the solar BBQ lanterns gave adequate light to see by. Ahead we could see the lights of another yacht, probably Sapphire Voyager we thought, but it was another 4 hours before we were passed them.
At 0400 the log shows the wind as having gone NNW so to make Camaret we were pretty hard on the wind but still just comfy enough. On Sapphire Voyager things were different. They were motoring hard on the wind, but taking a bashing in doing so. On our 0800 VHF call, which we said we would try as we might be in VHF range, we agreed that to continue to go for Cameret would wear us out, and anyway, even our own course made good was only just acceptable. Additionally Keith's recent liver transplant, and the very necessary anti-rejection drugs which he was finding hard to keep down, were causing tremendous problems. He was really knocked out so leaving Jo to do everything. Her voice told us quite clearly she was having a difficult time looking after both the boat and a sick skipper, and she had not eaten much, nor slept at all during the last 24 hours.
We suggested that a course for Concarneau looked more achievable as it would be a further 20 degrees off of the wind so likely to be more comfortable. But when Jo checked the pilotage she was not keen and unless she could regain some strength during the next 24 hours (150 miles) the complex entrance would severely stretch her jaded abilities. In truth an easy entrance was what was needed. Janet suggested that they could follow us through all of the tricky bits and into the marina, we would quickly berth and then take Sapphire Voyager lines. So that was the plan. Trouble was neither of us could see one another and the idea of following needed visual contact.
With GPS positions hastily plotted we realised Sapphire Voyager was some 20 miles further East and so already nearer to the revised destination. Altering the Hydrovanes course and shaking out a reef gave us nearly 8 knots and so showed that we could catch them by mid afternoon and that's when, during one of our regular radio contacts, we asked, "is that you over there?" and heard the reply, "yes it is". Fantastic.
We followed about one mile off the stern quarter of Sapphire Voyager and regularly spoke on the VHF until about 2200 when we took the lead. Coincidentally the wind had just gone back NW freeing us to easily sail to Concarneau and Jo to have the autopilot truly on auto. This was just as well because she had spent the last 10 hours blipping buttons on the auto-pilot to maintain about 50 degrees to the wind (so now some 38 hrs without sleep). But the best news was that Keith was feeling a little better and so took some of the strain from Jo.
By mid morning we were passing the rocky Glenans and heading into Concarneau. We could tell all was now well on Sapphire Voyager because they were finding the transits quicker than us and we were supposed to be showing the way in. Once tied up we noted that our 320 mile crossing had taken 48.5 hours thus an average speed of 6.6 knots.
Looking back at the situation, we obviously did the right thing staying with our friends even if we could do little to help physically, but had Keith worsened further, then using our HF SSB radio we could have alerted a rescue service and hence a passing ship. A Pan Pan Medico to Falmouth MRCC might have also given us an insight as to our best course of action in the situation. Had a mechanical problem occured we might have been able to fix it, if only temporarily. Jo later said that knowing we were near gave her additional strength and confidence. We think she did brilliantly in the circumstances and we where more than happy to be of what little assistance we were. It must be said that for the last 5 years whilst sailing in the Med as far as Greece and back, Keith has been robust and oblivious to sea conditions but, seemingly, this last operation has robbed him of his sea legs. How do you plan for that?