Perhaps my last sail across Biscay

There are several advantages of a trip south to N Spain The journey is only about 60 times as long as a sail from Lymington to Cowes with 58 times less chance of a row with your crew for bungling mooring up or for dropping fenders overboard or tying them on so that they never come off, HSSC style. The sun comes out more often on the way than it ever does in the Solent and the temperature gets warmer almost immediately you round Ushant (and again if you are going further south than La Coruna as soon as you round Cape Finisterre). Mooring charges are still generally cheaper and the food, both on the way and when you arrive, usually less expensive and certainly always better than the Folley can ever provide.

I first crossed Biscay to Bilbao and back, in 1970 and last crossed with Bryan Sheinman and Ed Howe in 1997 having made three other crossing in between. †I thought that I would take what may well be my last opportunity to get YAMMA into the Med where at least I would be able to sit in the cockpit without too many sweaters or wet-weather gear and read a book with a glass of wine in my hand!

I planned to leave Lymington in May for Plymouth. Steve Moss would have liked to go directly to La Coruna because of the boring and not inexpensive train journey back to London and out again, But there are advantages of breaking the journey. While the mileage directly to N Spain from Plymouth is not all that much less than that from Lymington there can be – but don’t bank on it – a better wind, still NElies, blowing in the English Channel earlier in the year and subsequently a slightly better heading when making for the NW corner of †Spain in the event of a SW wind. A four day journey fits better into a five day forecast too.

With Steve, David Ramet, Gilad Shub and me YAMMA set off at the end of May as planned. The weather forecast was poor and it looked as if we were in for a wet, windy, cold and rather lengthy journey which could be longer than we had time for. Off Yarmouth I debated whether we should abort but we went out past Hurst and the wind gave the impression of backing. Once through the Needles we were able to motor sail on a course to give a goodish offing to St Alban’s ledge, Soon we were able to sail properly to leave the S edge of Portland race 5 miles to the N. And for once we had a pleasant sail pretty well all the rest of the way to Plymouth waving to Dartmouth, Salcombe as we passed by. We tied up in the Plymouth Yacht Haven’s †now only newish marina. And we made the boring and expensive train journeys back eastwards.

I had hoped to go back to Plymouth †two weeks later with the crew and leave for La Coruna immediately to give us two or three days space before Louise de Bosky was to join us for a week’s Galician potter. That, alas, was not to be. The five day paid for forecasts for the English Channel and Biscay from the Met Office and the free synoptic charts from the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (www.ecmwf.int) were appalling showing continuing strong winds in the SW quadrant and particularly, because these winds had been blowing for some days, that the sea state would be rough or very rough in the West – where we were. †There was no point in taking a battering. Whenever possible I do not like to sail on a longish journey and, particularly if there is nowhere to run to, where the forecast says F7. It could be and often is which I have found to my cost, F8 or more. If the forecast says F6 and it subsequently blows F7 or F8 so be it.

Anyway we did get away albeit a week later than planned. We stocked up with provisions, got the ship ready and late on Saturday afternoon we cast off.

Within a short of leaving Plymouth we were sailing merrily in a F6 on course to leave †the shipping lanes N of the Isle of Ushant to port and then directly for Cabo Prior. And it was fascinating to watch YAMMA bobbing about on my latest toy, a Garmin Chart plotter, absolutely spot on the course line. The chart plotter with a large coloured screen was a joy to use. But looking at it for too long was not a good idea….

The wind was behind and increasing: the tops of the waves were blowing off and two reefs were rolled into the genoa with a suitable amount rolled into the main to keep YAMMA balanced. The speed was manageable but I would not have liked to have been struggling uphill! The swell was “interesting” but at the speed we were then going there was not much danger of broaching: those in the cockpit were well fastened on. When I went below the wind was blowing up to 38 knots (F8 Gale – 34 to 38 knots – moderately high waves, crests begin to break into spindrift) and the sails were further reduced.

I sleep in the after cabin. I was awoken by a strong sensation that YAMMA’s stern was eager to arrive in La Coruna before the bow and was trying to overtake it first on one side and then on the other. Steve reported the wind was now often up to 41 knots (F9 Strong Gale – high waves. Dense foam along the direction of the wind. Crests of waves begin to roll over. Spray may affect visibility). So we reduced the genoa further (to a size rather less than the area of the storm jib) and the main where the clew was less than half way along the boom; we were still sailing along at about 6.5 to 7.5 knows but everything was manageable with not too much water breaking into the centre cockpit.

Sometime later the reefs were gradually taken out and we continued without event, land came up and we and we entered La Coruna and found the new marina (not yet marked either on the electronic or uptodate Imray charts) where I had been told to go by the CA port officer- in the harbour where the old yacht club had been. There was no one about but there were many available slots and we took the most convenient.

Edward de Mesquita had called me on my mobile while we were still at sea and had told me about Wahkuna. I at least gave thanks for a safe and indeed pleasant sail. And we had arrived a whole day earlier than we had planned.

More maybe of the journey S anon.

Victor Stone, 22 July 2003

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