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.
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:
181200 UTC MAY 10
BAY OF BISCAY BULLETIN (METAREA 2)
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.
MAINLY N 2 OR 3 , TEMPO NW 4 IN E SOON, VEER NE LATER. SLGT OR
MAINLY N 2 TO 4 IN E, BUT E 3 OR 4 IN W. SLGT OR MOD.
NE 4 TO 6. MOD. LOC MOD.
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.