||Figueira da Foz, Portugal
||40 degrees 8.8 minutes North,
08 degrees 52 minutes West
England and Across the Bay of Biscay
We spent a couple of weeks in England including one
day in London plus another half day after we dropped the kids
(remember our niece and nephew have been with us) off at Heathrow
for their flight home. I think they had a good time although I
think the experience was somewhat different than what they expected.
We spent more time in transit, particularly motoring, and less
time in port that I think they expected. Oh well, such is the
reality of traveling through the world at 6 knots.
We spent our first week in England at Brighton,
enjoying communicating with people in English, a little of the
English countryside and, FINALLY, some decent BEER. It didn't
take us a day to find a tiny brewpub in Brighton and I drank my
share, and most of Andy's, of some relatively hoppy beer there.
The second week we were in Cowes, Isle of
Wight. Cowes has been described as a sailing Mecca to which every
sailor should make a pilgramage at least once. It was indeed a
sailing intensive area and, being a devoted boat watcher, I enjoyed
Cowes ... at least for a couple of days. The rest of the week
we spent biding our time waiting for a package of anti-cholesterol
medicine from the States. We finally left without the medicine
having made arrangements for it to be forwarded to Portugal.
Many experienced sailors suggest that, when
one is planning to cross the Bay of Biscay from north to south
one should first go to Falmouth in southwest England and wait
for a good weather forecast. Accordingly, in the afternoon of
September 28, we left Cowes, headed for Falmouth. The weather
was mild. Again, we motored through the night.
As evening approached we heard the British
Coast Guard announce on the VHF radio (remember the law says you
have to monitor VHF channel 16) that they had received a single
May Day call from a yacht named "Trampus" and they had
commenced a search. Trampus had been in our vicinity when she
made the May Day call so we were in the middle of the Coast Guard
search the entire night. The search was conducted entirely by
helicopter and it was pretty eerie to watch that huge spotlight
sweep back and forth as the helicopter meticulously flew back
and forth along the English coast. The first time I saw the helicopter
light it was a some distance and it looked like a powerful beacon
on shore. Mild panic set in since we weren't supposed to be anywhere
near the shore. Then I noticed that the light was getting larger
and closer. Then the chopper flew by and I realized what it was.
They searched the rest of the night. A ship reported seeing a
flare in the area. The CG reported that local police had said
that the flare was launched from somewhere on shore. Another ship
reported hearing an emergency radio beacon but the CG said that
a commercial airliner had reported accidentally setting off their
beacon ... no sign of Trampus. The search went on the entire night
and, apparently, the next day for it wasn't until that afternoon
that they announced that they were calling off the search and
Trampus was nowhere to be found. Having left the area I doubt
that we'll ever find out her fate.
The afternoon of the 29th we were approaching
Falmouth. The weather was mild, the weather fax indicated decent
weather for the next few days so, rather than put into Falmouth
we turned left and headed for the Bay of Biscay and Cape Finisterre.
We were sailing by this time and the northeasterly wind was right
at our back at about 15-17 knots. Pretty mild for the B of B.
This lasted for a day and night and Sister moved steadily, even
monotonously, out into and across the B of B at 6 knots. The sea
was not kind but then not abusive either.
Sailing with the wind at your back is not
the optimal situation one might expect it to be. The boom has
to be brought way out to the side of the boat to get the main
sail out into the wind. The boat rocks in all three of her axes
... she rolls, pitches and yaws. With the motion, particularly
yaw and roll, the boat can, for a short time, lose the wind. When
this happens the boom essentially wallows and can move back toward
the center line of the boat. When the wind catches the sail again
it either slams the boom back to it's proper position or it can
actually catch the back of the sail and slam the boom all the
way to the other side of the boat ... an accidental jibe. This
boom action can be pretty violent and if one actually jibes it
can be disastrous, potentially doing major damage to the boat's
To deal with this we tied a line to the
end of the boom and ran the line forward to a "cleat"
. This line holds the boom in place and effectively prevents the
accidental jibe. Surprisingly enough a line rigged so is called
a preventer. Once rigged our preventer held the boom nicely in
position and we weren't subjected to the violent jerk of the boom
being knocked about by the wind.
As the wind increased from 15 to 20 to 25
knots we doused the jib and reefed the main and moved steadily,
if uncomfortably, along at 6 knots. By Sep 1 we were in 35 knot
winds with a heavy swell coming primarily from the stern. Sister
would occasionally ride a wave like a surf board. When she did
so her speed increased dramatically for a brief time then, when
the wave passed under her she would veer dramatically to port,
heel over perilously, usually burying the lee (the downwind) rail
under water. Then, without fail, she would straighten herself
up, get her head pointed in the right direction and continue on.
This was extremely uncomfortable, Andy and
I wore harnesses and kept ourselves strapped in anytime we were
out of the cabin ... even in the cockpit. Believe it or not, however,
it wasn't particularly scary. Sister never felt overpowered, never
really out of control and never threatened. "Wanda the wandering
autopilot", worked overtime and was regularly confused by
the yaw but she inevitably sorted herself out and steered the
During the day of Sep 1 we were entertained
by dolphins for an hour or two. They seemed to enjoy the crazy
seas, particularly surfing the larger waves. Often a large wave
would approach and we could see 3 to 4 dolphins actually sliding
down the wave smiling at us. Occasionally they would overtake
a wave and burst right through it into thin air, all the time
wearing their perpetual smile. It was a welcome break. The 35
knot winds and shitty seas continued the whole day of Sep 1 and
into the night as we approached Cape Finisterre.
Andy and I had been standing two hour watches,
particularly during the dark hours. Two hours is not too long
to stand watch at 0200 in the morning but it is definitely not
long enough to get significant sleep, particularly when the motion
is so violent, while you're off watch. Were getting pretty tired.
By 2000 that day we were exhausted. About that time, however,
the wind abated to 17 knots and the seas calmed significantly.
We had rounded the Cape and were entering a different world. By
0200 the next morning we were motoring through glassy water, going
slow so we wouldn't reach Bayona in the dark. At 0600, Sep 2 we
were off Bayona, Spain, having been escorted the final two hours
by dolphins galore. They were extremely cool, and nearly as welcome
as the small winds and calm sea!
The Bay of Biscay was behind us. We were
spared it's notorious southwest winds and it's "equinoctial
gales". It didn't coddle us but it certainly didn't abuse
us to the extent that it is known for. Now we've left Spain and
we're in Portugal. The weather is warm, the water is calm, the
breeze is soft and I am READY for it!
Chuck and Andy in Figueira da Foz, Portugal