Big Day for Biscay

Baiona was a great anchorage not too far from civilisation and a set of LED navigation lights, though my old head torch enveloped in broken green glass still worked perfectly. New lights purchased and we headed off across the bay to anchor just off a beach. A nudist beach! Surely not in these temperatures?

Full marks to the parading naturists! The cooler temperatures didn’t deter the desire to parade along the beach front in full, well nearly full, it was still quite chilly, unfettered splendour. We moved on to our next anchorage the following day and I set about replacing both navigation lights. Bit nervy, as one slip and things would disappear into the briny, but all good and new lights fitted.

Some nice steady sailing took us up to Vila Garcia where we could anchor off the beach and take a short trip for food and water supplies. We slowly picked our moments to progress to our start point at Ria Camarinas.

The Ria provides a quiet, safe and comfortable location to set out from to tackle Biscay. For those who don’t know, Biscay has a menacing reputation for biting the unprepared or unwary on the arse. Careful planning and a reliable forecast were necessary before setting off.

We’d been studiously monitoring the forecast for a week or so and the morning of the 2nd May, had been looking favourable. That was, till I checked it that morning! The first 2 days looked okayish, but the wind would veer to a Northerly on the 3rd day and build substantially on the 4th. “No chance Sarah, we’ll stay put for now.” “But I’ve just received a message from Nicky saying they’re gonna go for it!” said Sarah. “Into, the mighty Hannibal woman, we need to parley with the all-knowing ones.”

We blasted across to Whimsy to find out what we were missing and why they’d decided to go. They acknowledged the Northerly wind veer and the high winds on day 4, but believed that diverting to Brittany and sitting out the high winds, was a viable option. “Okay” I nodded, hummed and massaged my chin a while as I listened to the reasoning. “Right, let’s go then!”

Back to Gianti at full tilt to make everything ready for the off. After 30 minutes we were heading out of the Ria into a pretty strong North Westerly, heeled over and making a steady 6 to 7 knots. It was a great start and we continued to make good progress throughout the day and well into the early hours of the following morning.

Eventually, the heeling ceased and I reverted to filling the kettle from directly under the cold-water tap, rather than a jaunty angle while chuckling like a daft lad as the water exited the tap in a funny direction. The wind disappeared completely, so the engine went on as we made comfortable headway under a clear blue sky and brilliant sunshine. We were then joined by a pod of dolphins. Perfect conditions with perfect travel companions, so why was there niggling doubt bubbling away?

As the day wore on, a confusing sea state started to build along with the wind. Sails were out again but had to be quickly reefed. Conflicting waves and swell clashed as Gianti battled to stay on course. She was fighting against waves that were trying to twist her or cause her to yaw to port. Each wave that struck created greater stresses on both Gianti and her crew. The uncomfortable motion was having an impact on Sarah, who’d lost her appetite.

We both braced between the locker fronts as we sat on the cockpit floor to try and minimise the stomach-churning motion. It may have helped, but I started to regret my insistence on eating something 30 minutes earlier. We were both now feeling seasick and there was little sign of the racing lumpy seas relenting.

The waves continued to build and as the light began to fade, it started to rain. There was nowhere to shelter while on watch and full wet weather gear, over outdoor clothing was the only way to maintain any level of comfort.

It was now dark with little distinction between sea and sky to help control the increasing levels of seasickness. Huge imposing container ships passed either side, reminding us just how tiny we were against these giant floating warehouses.

We were both cold and wet. I tried to head below around 1 to get some rest, but it was impossible. Gianti was being thrown around so much that I couldn’t settle. I returned to the cockpit and we both huddled as best we could beneath the sprayhood, hoping that night would pass quickly into day and conditions ease.

Just before 11:00 the next morning, the wind veered as predicted. Two knots were all we could make on the current course so after a quick conflab with Whimsy we changed course towards Audierne.

It wasn’t particularly pleasant sailing though we were making good time again. The night was no where near as rough as the previous one. Tiredness was now the primary obstacle and we hoped that when we reached St Evette, just outside of Audierne, we’d be able to get some decent rest.

As we arrived at St Evette around 10:00, we saw David and Nicky and passed close by to hear them shout “We need to head through the Raz de Saine at about 5, in order to get shelter at Camaret, before the big winds tomorrow.” That meant we’d need to leave the anchorage around 3 to make slack water at the Raz de Saine at 5, so it was a quick shower, food and kip.

The Raz e Sain proved as uneventful as on our way South a few years earlier. A gentle motor took us up to the anchorage just off Camaret and by just gone 10:00pm the hook was down.

The winds built overnight and I was glad we’d opted for a safe anchorage rather then continuing. The enforced 36-hour stop did us both some good and enabled us to make a temporary repair to the starboard side lazy jacks, that I’d popped after a bright idea, while pretty fatigued!

First light on Friday morning we raise the anchor and just before it housed, the control mechanism packed up. The next 2 hours, en route to the Chanel du Four, were spent trying to repair the anchor control. The best I could do was to place the ends of a U-shaped piece of insulated electric cable against the terminals to house the anchor fully.

Conditions were fantastic as we started to move away from the French coast. We stuck close on Whimsy’s heels, making between 6 and 7 knots and relishing the chase. Our plan was to keep both sails up until around 9 in the evening, then take down the main. A storm was on our tail and it would settle in for the next 7 days, so we needed to make good ground quickly, but didn’t want to be caught in big winds and sea’s trying to stow the main sail in the dark.

We stuck to the plan and even then, battled to bring down the main into ever increasing winds. We’d lose some speed with it down but would be able to control the headsail more effectively to deal with whatever was thrown our way.

As the night wore on conditions became worse. Seas were confused and winds kept building. The rain was chasing and would soon swallow us. I knew that this was the last big push to reach the UK and that if we maintained our speed, we’d most likely be in before daybreak.

It was an exciting and slightly scary reacquaintance with British waters. The darkness was total. I squeezed under the sprayhood for protection from the rain, holding either side of the companionway as we plummeted down each wave before suddenly being side swiped by a counter wave to force us off course. 

I knew that Plymouth wasn’t far away as I strained to see any sign of lights, but there was nothing but pitch black. Eventually, a momentary flash of light off the port bow. It wasn’t consistent due to poor visibility and a building sea state, but it soon became clear it was the Eddystone lighthouse.

We were closing in fast and planned to head straight to Cawsand, anchoring just off the beach to await daylight. It was 4:15am when we arrived and managed to find a spot to drop the hook. We were soaked through, tired and relieved to have made it.

There wasn’t much time to rest before heading across the bay to Plymouth, but I’ll tell you about that next time.

I’m off for a nap now.

Captain Mac

4 Replies to “Big Day for Biscay”

  1. As always, love following along on your adventures – glad to hear you are safe and sound – thx for sharing –



    1. Thank you both, it was fun and games but all safe now and Gianti is with her new owners. Always great to hear from you. Take care 😁


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