Sailing from Camaret sur Mer to Dartmouth

Fog approaching, 'Le Four' France

Chasing a fresh supply of French wines had me running late for my planned 3pm departure from Camaret (to catch the appropriate tidal stream through the “Chenal du Four”), but I still managed to be the first of several yachts converging on “Pointe de St-Mathieu” for the turn of the tide. A few south bound stragglers rounded “Les Vieux Moines” as I approached, and surprisingly, one even stopped to say hello.

It was Damian from Dartmouth on his yacht Simba. I’d met Damian in La Coruna crewing for Riviera Magic, and here he was again sailing his own yacht to Camaret. Small world! I wonder who else I’ll chance upon at sea when sailing back to Portugal in July.

Despite Damian’s warnings of dense fog off Ouessant (also broadcast in a special bulletin on VHF 16), I decided to risk the poor visibility in order to reach England before even worse weather arrived.

My plan was to be well clear of the tidal stream in ‘le Four’ before a forecast breeze of 10 to 15kts veered north. Three other yachts apparently had the same idea as they quickly motor-sailed past Eileen despite my best efforts to maintain our top speed of 5 to 6kts. Shortly after overtaking us, the yachts disappeared into a broadening bank of gray mist to the north.

The forecast northerlies and the fog arrived early, making for an uncomfortably wet ride through mist on agitated seas, but fortunately the disagreeable conditions were short lived.

Curiously, (as the visibility improved), I found that the yachts that had previously overtaken us (off St. Mathew), were now behind us… In just 20 minutes, Eileen of Avoca had outdistanced the lot!

How we managed to pass everyone in the fog remains a complete mystery. I can only imagine that cloaked in heavy mist Eileen must have felt brazen enough to lift her seaweed ruffles and make a dash for the lead while nobody was looking. 🙂

Sunset at Start Point

Thirty hours later I found myself off Start Point enjoying the sunset on my approach to Dartmouth. With Eileen’s lackadaisical pace, I get to see a lot of sunsets, something I’m sure only other Yarmouth23 owners can truly appreciate.

‘Enjoy your sunsets at sea with a Yarmouth23’ ought to appear on the sales literature.

A synonym for ‘don’t count on getting to port before dark in a 23ft gaffer that weighs almost three tons!’ 😉

But at least I arrived in Dartmouth safely!

Crossing the Bay of Biscay in a small boat

General weather situation for Bay of Biscay crossing

Crossing Biscay wasn’t something I was willing to take on without careful preparation. I spent hours sifting through my pilot books studying approaches to suitable bolt-holes and checking the tides for destinations as varied as Audierne to the north and La Rochelle to the northeast.

The prevailing weather conditions (winds with a northerly aspect and corresponding swell), would not make the passage trivial, and given the frequency of storms, it is not surprising that it took a week of sheltering in Gijon before a suitable three day weather window presented itself.

Gijon was my chosen jump-off point because it shortened my crossing by at least 24hrs (compared with La Coruna), and maximized options for changing my destination on route.

As a large high pressure system approached Biscay offering north westerly winds and settled conditions (see weather-fax) I committed Eileen of Avoca to the crossing.

The idea was to head north as quickly as possible and try to stay ahead of the high pressure system’s center. I was only partly successful.

After a marvelous 24hr run in steady Force 4 winds, covering more than 100NM under sail alone, I stalled in light variable winds. Apparently it was not fast or far enough to outrun the high. The next two days were spent motor sailing, maintaining 4 to 4.5kts, a speed necessary to avoid being caught by the cold front strengthening in the Atlantic.

That’s the official line. I’d like to embellish it further and add volumes on the discomforts endured and how only fine seamanship and the luck of the Irish (I’m figuring that Eileen of Avoca qualifies for this), saved us from a certain doom as we fought a savage sea against a lee shore. But I’ll save that version for my retirement.

The unofficial version (for your eyes only) goes something like this:

I spent hours pouring over my pilot books because there is nothing else in the way of reading material on Eileen, and I stayed in Gijon a week because I didn’t want to be rained upon on route.

The approaching high pressure system equated to an inconsequential swell,which suits me fine because I can keep my food down better when I’m not being violently shaken about.

Swallow visiting Eileen for the night

My marvelous run was spent deciding what to eat next (at sardine sandwich o’clock or half past cold roast chicken), and dozing, because heading directly north from Gijon allows you to miss most of the shipping traffic (my radar detector bleeped only once).

All I had to do was stay on the boat and amuse myself while Eileen did the rest. Hardly an epic journey.

Apart from a surreal “Hitchcock birds” moment or two as increasing numbers of exhausted swallows noisily settled both on and in Eileen each night (in the most unlikely of places), it was delightfully uneventful. Dull is always good when sailing.

As soon as I see the first item in NAVTEXT transmissions taken on route stating “No Warning”, I know I can relax into my semi-catatonic solo passage making stupor. Here is one that almost threatens to be moderately interesting with its mention of fog and rain, but upon closer examination doesn’t quite manage it:

ZCZC AE81

181200 UTC MAY 10

BAY OF BISCAY BULLETIN (METAREA 2)

METEO-FRANCE

TUE 18 MAY 2010 AT 09 UTC.

WIND IN BEAUFORT

1 : NO WARNING

2 : GENERAL SYNOPSIS, TUE 18 AT 00 UTC

LOW 983 48N45W, MOV SE, EXP 995 47N40W BY 19/00 UTC THEN 998 49N35W

BY 19/12UTC. ASSOCIATED DISTURBANCE OVER E FARADAY, ALTAIR, NW

ACORES AND W ROMEO. HIGH AREA 1030-1032 FM NE IRVING TO BRITANNY ,

WKN IN S, EXP 1033 IN BAY OF BISCAY BY 19/12UTC. LOW 1013 OVER

MORROCCO WITH LITTLE CHANGE.

3 : FCST TO WED 19 AT 12 UTC

IROISE, YEU :

N OR NW 2 TO 4, BECMG VRB OR NE 1 TO 3 LATER. SLGT OR MOD. RAIN

AT FIRST IN N. MOD.

ROCHEBONNE :

MAINLY N 2 OR 3 , TEMPO NW 4 IN E SOON, VEER NE LATER. SLGT OR

MOD. MOD.

CANTABRICO :

MAINLY N 2 TO 4 IN E, BUT E 3 OR 4 IN W. SLGT OR MOD.

FINISTERRE :

NE 4 TO 6. MOD. LOC MOD.

PAZENN :

IN NW: SW 4 OR 5, OCNL 6 AT FIRST, DECR 3 OR 4 LATER. ELSEWHERE :

VRB CLOCKWISE 2 OR 3. MOD. RAIN IN N AT FIRST. FOG PATCHES.

4 : TEND FOR NEXT 24 H

NO GALE EXP.

NNNN

I’ve reached La Coruna!

Fog off Cape Finisterre

Upon rounding Cape Finisterre or Promunturium Nerium as the Romans called it (for the Latin buffs), I found myself motoring on a tranquil sea with light variable winds, thoroughly surrounded by FOG!!!

With my radar detector buzzing a stream of constant warnings, I desperately rummaged through mounds of safety gear to find my ‘never before used’ aerosol fog horn.

Seizing the can of noise just as a fishing vessel materialized from the mist, I gave the big red button a serious push, only to have the blasted contraption squeak once (and rather feebly at that) before turning mute.

Despite liberal application of several unimaginative expletives, my efforts to ‘blow my own horn’ came to naught, though I probably needn’t have worried, anyone within a mile of Eileen would surely have heard my ravings. 😉

The fog was so much fun, I took a photo of it as a keepsake. Voila!

By midday the mist lifted and eight happy uneventful hours later, I was within sight of the “Tower of Hercules”, the only ancient Roman lighthouse still in use today. Not long afterward I was safely tied to the visitors berth at La Coruna rolling with the other boats in the wash from the constant comings and goings of the pilot boat.