Sunday, 24 August 2014

Bay of Biscay

17 June to 30 June

We arrived in La Coruna on Tuesday 24 June after a relatively uneventful crossing. Leading up to the start of the crossing on Saturday 21 June was a little less than stress free.
Monday 16 June was my last day at work. I lugged back my computer along with host of contracts that should have been filed over the last 3 years and said my goodbyes. It was less of a relief than I had expected since I still had a mountain to climb before we could cross the Bay of Biscay

Preparing the Boat
On Tuesday morning Andrew and I set off for Plymouth at noon. Somewhat later than planned because I was still sorting out the boat insurance for the round the world trip. Having diligently completed all the paper work, the scanned copy that I needed to send in was so faint as to be unreadable. Phoned Andrew to delay departure for an hour (twice) while Catherine sorted out rewriting all the forms and I carried on getting ready

We took with us a list of 30 jobs that needed to be completed before we could leave. Many of these were jobs still not completed from our original list (fixing the AIS which had stopped working) and others that were specifically for the journey such as the crew rota and food shopping list. Andrew and I started working through the list but found time to dinghy across to the other side of the harbour for drinks and dinner. We found ourselves in a “locals” pub where Andrew quickly found a new friend. Or rather someone adopted Andrew as their new friend. A distinctly weird pub.

Wednesday was a continuation of working through the list and getting the food shopping. Finding the Sainsbury’s in Plymouth proved impossible  for us and after 20 minutes of driving around the same streets we abandoned that in favour of one 10 miles away on the basis it would be easier to find. A quick detour to pick up some boat parts and we were shopping with a carefully crafted shopping list.
Martin arrived in the evening and we sampled the delights of the Barbican for dinner. Better pubs here and some good fish and chips. We were chatted up by three delightful ladies from Glasgow who were on a tour of Britain - I just hope that we have that much energy when we are in our eighties!

Our First Sail
Our first test sail on Thursday showed how poor we were at man over board procedures.  We lost sight of the two fenders we through over board, faffed about for 45 minutes trying to pick them up and decided we needed a rethink. Slightly better the second time but still far too long and the sea was calm. In a rough sea it would be ten times more difficult and it ensured that we wore life jackets all the time on the journey and clipped on when outside the cockpit.

I attempted to demonstrate how the radar worked only to find out it didn’t.  Now we had no AIS and no radar. Beginning to wonder if we would ever get the boat and crew ready in time for a planned departure on Saturday while the forecast was still good.

Back in port we took apart the radar controller to check the wires were OK and took up the floor boards to check the junction box. All seemed to be connected the final piece to check was the radar dome up the mast. Not something that was going to be easy. One final check of the junction box revealed that two of the 10 wires had been switched – green connected to grey and vice versa. With low expectations I changed them over – we had used the radar since the mast was taken down when the wires from the junction box would have been removed. Radar burst into life showing that we could not have used the radar since the mast had been taken down 18 months earlier. I could have sworn we had!

So with that success I tackled the AIS, starting with the aerial wire which in fairness was the most likely cause. Ten minutes later that was working. Just another 20 jobs to be completed and the boat, at least, would be ready.

Paul arrived on Thursday night and we spent the evening watching football and eating in the Marina café. Very tired I slept through the match.

We Are Nearly Ready
Friday was a very good day. We went for a sail and the man over board was very competent, we tacked, gybed and I started to feel that the crew were ready. Just needed to get the boat finished off and we could relax. Martin and Paul went off the last minute shopping while Andrew and I finished off the last remaining jobs. Andrew prepared the crew rota which was a work of art with a chart showing who was on watch and when in simple graphical form – reading and writing is not a skill we expect of the crew.  By 5pm I was happy and feeling confident!

Paul opened a beer on the boat at 5pm with the words “this will be my only beer tonight”. He also said that for the following 4 beers over dinner. We took the dinghy across the harbour for dinner, partly to reduce the amount of potential drinking time and for a bit of fun. Not before I had managed to take the skin off the back of my hand starting the engine. Sitting on the bathing platform and trying to start the engine is better for the occupants of the dinghy but very painful for the person starting the engine if you hit you had against a bolt sticking out of the boat. Paul bandaged my hand and an antihistamine helped reduce the impact of the bruising and bleeding.

And We Are Off
Early start the next morning and we started on the watch pattern from the start. Paul and I were up at 4am to get the boat ready and took the boat out to the Eddystone rocks about 10 miles out from Plymouth. Wind starting to build so put up the sails and made a turn south west down the channel. Our last for 2 days!

Wind only lasted about 5 hours before we back on motor and we continued motoring for the next 24 hours with the wind behind us and less than 10kns. Cornwall faded from view as we headed SW at about 4pm in the afternoon and we were  joined by Percy the pigeon,  a racing pigeon who rested on the bimini for the next 6 hours as we took him further from the land and presumably his destination but that was his problem.

Our first meal on route
Dinner was at 8pm where we enjoyed the first of the four dishes we each prepared. Andrew’s chilli and rice went down very well and later that night we had our first sightings of dolphins although it was so dark it was difficult to see them.

On Sunday we kept heading southwest, keeping outside of the long line of ships heading in the same direction but 5 miles to the south. We could see the ships on the AIS but we were out of sight of them most of the time. Very hot on board in the light winds and cloudless sky and we put up the bimini to prevent being roasted alive on board – it was the day after the longest day of the year. More dolphins caused excitement as we were joined by a pod of about 30 dolphins playing with the boat. We took lots of pictures, mostly of sea as the dolphins were often too quick to photograph but we did get some good shots. Paul provided dinner that night (and in fact became the chef for lunches as well) and we dined on pasta bake of Paul’s own recipe.

Heading Towards La Coruna
Monday morning we made our second turn of the trip South towards La Coruna. A mixture of sailing and motoring took us along our path. We poled out the head sail during the day as the wind was very light but as long as we could make 3.5 – 4kn we were happy sailing. We had plenty of time and the weather was very good.  Thanks to some miscommunication between the skipper and crew we managed to wrap the genoa round the forestay while taking down the pole in the afternoon creating a tight mess of sail and sheets. 45 minutes later we managed to unwrap the mess and vowed not to do that again! And indeed we did not.

We Amuse Ourselves on Route
Everyone noticeably more relaxed after the first two days. Crew off watch sitting around the boat, reading or watching yet more dolphins when not on watch. We had all settled into the sleep patterns of four hours on and off watch with 6 hour watches during the day. Therefore we were all less tired and able to do more in our off time. Still very hot and pretty windless.

One of the regular crew entertainments was Martin mastering the art of tying a bowline which he did everyday (and even with his eyes shut) demonstrating a different technique each day (unintentionally so). I was stripped of my role of instructing Martin by popular consent of the crew (mutiny is another word for it) when my exasperation started to show on day 3. Under the guidance of the new instructors Martin continued to again master the bowline again each day. Still not sure he used the same technique twice but that shows how creative he is.

Dinner that night was Martin’s creation of moussaka which went down very well and we settled into the well worn watch pattern for the night. Wind did get up to gusting 28kn so we reefed the main at 4am in the morning.
Was this sunrise or sunset? They all look the same at sea.
We talked through a contingency plan for every eventuality before we reefed the main including going into the wind and reefing the sail. At 4am on a dark morning you do not want anything to go wrong but it all went smoothly and I could go to bed with confidence.

What More Dolphins?
By day four, seeing more dolphins failed to excite and the crew wanted killer whales and sharks at the very least.
What that flipper? Man stuck down a mine shaft?
We were now heading back to shallower water, as we came from a depth of 4000m down to 300m. The depth log still could not register what we now considered as shallow water and when it eventually started recording depth at 100m it caused some mild excitement.  As we got closer we changed the watch patterns so that all the crew had at least 2 hours sleep before we closed in on La Coruna. Emails from the SSB to the marina to ask for a berth were unanswered so Andrew made a call on his phone which had at least some signal strength now after 3 days of being out of contact. He did what any self respecting English person does and spoke loudly and slowly to the person on the phone, hanging up immediately when he realised that the person‘s English was equivalent to our grasp of Spanish (rather ashamedly for us).
Nearing La Coruna and time for team photo. From Left to Right: Andrew, Martin, Paul and John

We Arrive
So we entered the harbour at 9:15 and the marina at 9:45, acutely aware that if we did not get to the Marina office by 10:00 we could not get keys to the toilets or the gate – we would be trapped on board and there were four thirsty people on board. At 9:50 we had moored up and Andrew and I went to book in and get the keys. Huge relief and we opened a bottle of champagne. A tour of the bars followed and at 3am we got back to the boat after finishing the night playing darts in what would become our local for every evening for our last drink.

Our first drink for 4 days and very happy to be La Coruna.

Martin instructed us in the art of saying cheers while looking the other person in the eye. This evolved into a wired ritual over the coming days. I am sure the Spanish are pleased that there are no other English tourists in their region.

The Negotiation
In the morning. Andrew and I went to negotiate the rates for the berth for the next 5 weeks with the marina staff with their pigeon English and our non-existent Spanish. We had worked out what we thought we could negotiate and Andrew’s sharp intake of breath when she gave us the initial price was well understood – it is a common language. We eventually settled on something less than we thought we would get, very happy and we got a good berth allocated. However, we were still non compos mentis from the night before and we decided a walk and coffee would be the best course of action before moving the boat. Even then it was not my finest piece of manoeuvring and our well-rehearsed routine of tying up the boat looked a little amateurish.

Our Routine Ashore
The following days consisted of getting up late, having coffee and a game of team cribbage first thing followed by long walks interspersed with long lunches and early evening drinks. Darts was the key end for each day with Martin and me winning every night. Paul’s attempt to get me drunk to put me off my game with shots of jaeger miser did not work as I refused to drink it. Not sure I would have survived one of those on top of what else we had drunk. Unfortunately Martin did not follow my girlie cop out and drunk three of them. He was not well all the next day.

Thanks for All the Fish
Paul had generously donated a fishing rod to the boat and on the Friday we had decided to sail out across the bay and go shopping. After the previous night we once again decided walks and coffee were needed before heading out. Andrew and I went to find a hose at the local chandlers which was marked on a map for us by the tourist office. Paul had walked past it earlier in the week and confidently told us it was just along the sea front. Half an hour later and lost, Andrew and I stopped and checked the map. No idea where we were and so we went into a shop on the corner of the road and spoke to the sales assistant there (by pointing to the map and shrugging our shoulders). Clearly not understanding a word she said in reply, she grabbed Andrew by the arm and forcibly took him outside and pointed to the shop that we wanted – exactly at the point where we had stopped to consult the map. All in vein as they did not have what we wanted so we headed back.

When we returned we set off armed with hooks bated with Chorizo across the bay where we anchored for lunch. Martin slept all the way and looked green when he was awake. Our disappointment that the Spanish fish do not seem to like chorizo was tempered with our relief that we did not actually have to deal with catching a fish. It was very pleasant to be anchored in the bay and relaxing on the boat before heading back and filling up the diesel on route.
 In the evening Judy arrived and she and Andrew spend the next 3 nights in a 5 star hotel.

Someone Speaks English
We found an Italian restaurant on the Friday night owned by someone who was half Spanish and half Italian but brought up in Croydon.  The first time we could have a conversation with someone. Needless to say that Martin’s resolve never to drink again dissolved and the last bottle of wine (after darts this time) at the marina bar at 1am proved that point.  Another late start on Saturday morning.
On Saturday we have the boat a thorough clean before resuming our normal day time walks, lunches and pre dinner drinks. This time we played table tennis at Andrew’s hotel before going out for dinner and I cannot say that any of us covered ourselves in glory, me less so than everyone else. Saturday was also Andrew’s birthday and he brought us dinner in the square in the evening. Food was very good and mental note to go back there for dinner when Catherine and I come back later in July.

And it is Time to Go
Paul left on Sunday which meant that we had four people again for competitive team cribbage with Judy taking Paul’s place. Marin wiped the floor with us at table tennis in the evening and we went to the new part of the town for dinner. Andrew’s mixed grill would have fed a small family for a week while my steak looked like half a cow. Very tasty but more than one person outside of the US can eat.
Monday we were all back on flights to London with the adventure completed successfully.

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