Thursday, 7 October 2010

The Battle of Biscay

We left Falmouth on the morning of Saturday, October 2nd at 08h00, after an emotional goodbye, with the adventure of a lifetime lying ahead of us.  And what a start it was - crossing the Bay of Biscay proved to be beyond our wildest expectations in terms of challenges to our endurance and spirit.

In the late afternoon we were heading from the Cornish coast, south west towards the shipping lanes, when suddenly a pod of dolphins appeared.  They swam with the boat for about an hour - watching them was a mesmerising experience.  They have the most incredible sense of the motion of the boat, and effortlessly jumped and twisted in the wake as we sped along. A "good omen" I thought at the time - little did I know that perhaps they were offering us a warning of things to come!

Playful company
We started our first series of watches at around 21h00, with Russell and I doing the first stint of 2 hours. Rob and Magda took the second watch with Dave our skipper, and so it went through the night, steering a close reach course through some unsettled weather.  At around 04h00 the following morning, we were due to change watch again, and Rob and Magda were just waking from their slumber when we were unexpectedly hit by 35 knots of wind.  The bow of the boat rounded up and Russell, who was helming at the time, was unable to hold course - we were hopelessly overpowered - we needed to reduce sail, and fast!  I shouted for some help below, and once we had a few more hands on deck, was able to put another reef in the mainsail and reduce the genoa.  We were being battered by our first dose of Biscay weather, and it lasted for around 6 hours.

By Sunday afternoon, the wind calmed and we were able to get our exhausted selves together.  Magda volunteered to cook an interesting egg and potato dish for dinner, which was welcome as we hadn't eaten the whole day.  Little did we know that this was going to provide us with the energy needed to deal with our next dose of severe weather.  We'd taken a look at the Navtex weather information we'd received, and it indicated gale force winds, so we were a little more prepared for this than before.  When it did hit us on Sunday night, we had to endure around 12 hours of constant battering; we also had a series of mishaps, such as a few violent gybes that threatened to break our mainsheet traveller, which could have had catastrophic consequences.  The alternator on our engine had also packed in, and as our batteries weren't charging, we weren't able to start the engine.  This proved to be an issue through the following days, as we were reduced to barely enough power to light the compass at night, let alone other navigation instruments.

By Monday afternoon the sea state had calmed, and we even had a few hours of intermittent sunshine.  But again, because this is Biscay, nothing is impossible, and by late on Monday night, we entered the worst of the weather systems that we were to encounter on this leg.  A severe gale, with winds of between 35 and 40 knots and beating rain, hammered us for hour after hour, with the sea state building bigger and bigger.  Massive waves were breaking over the boat, and helming in the dark proved to be a roller coaster ride.  Nature was flexing her infinite muscles, and we were witnessing her immense power.  The terrifying beauty of mountainous waves breaking in the dark, lit up by phosphorescence, was awe-inspiring.  By this time we had decided to change course towards where we thought calmer weather would be, towards Gijon in Spain, instead of A Coruna.

Skipper at the helm
The storm lasted into late on Tuesday morning, and eventually the waves started to lose their height and power, although the rain persisted.  We were exhausted and wet, and with the last of the remaining laptop power, Dave plotted a final course to Gijon.  Through persistent rain, we continued on, heading 190 degrees, and finally in the early hours of Wednesday morning, we sighted the lighthouses of the Spanish coast.  Eventually the navigation beacons marking the approach to Gijon became visible, and we entered the harbour at about 06h00.  A cup of tea was  followed by a much needed shower and a long sleep.  

Below decks after a watch
Its amazing what we can endure when placed in a situation that we can't escape.  The biggest battle though, is not with the outside world, but with yourself.

Next, on to A Coruna!  Until then...


  1. You look a little traumatised Grant! Anyone home? Thank God for your 'spot' or we would have been seriously panic stricken!

  2. Let's hope that's the worst leg of the whole trip, over with! Glad you're safe. Keep it that way.

  3. Wishing you all the best and hope the alternator's sorted.

  4. The Bay of Biscay lived up to it's reputation, Spot is great, we watched your progress, and noticed that you had changed course, and thought it might have had something to do with the weather!!The test of one's mettle! Spot is so good we could see where you actally berthed, in Gijon.All our thoughts and prayers are with you.

  5. So glad ur all ok and poor Vega A made it though and kept u safe. Am relieved the aptly renamed "Bitch of Biscay" is now behind u. Take care on your next leg boys. xxx

  6. PS: I LOVE the dolphin pic, its brilliant.

  7. well done to all that sounds like one hell of a trip. you guys did so well now hopefully it will be clear sailing. love the pics. Good luck holding thumbs for the next leg