Well, we made it across the Bay of Biscay. We left Port Crouesty, just at the edge of the Morbihan near Vannes, at 9am on Saturday morning, and arrived in Gijon in northern Spain, after 280 miles, at 5pm on Monday. It's by far our longest-ever passage, with two nights at sea, and we were blessed with good weather, force 2-4 winds from the north-east and north-west, and no major technical problems. At times the winds were so light that we had to motor, which was not what we expected!
Our thanks to Simon Keeling, our weather-man, who provided us with a personalised forecast and explained that although there were very strong winds off Finisterre we wouldn't be affected by them. Hooray for modern communications. The winds are still there at the moment but it will be at least a week before we get to the Cape.
The Bay of Biscay is quite astonishingly empty. Frankly, if we had set the autopilot after Belle-Ile and gone below, and come on deck again 5 miles outside Gijon, we wouldn't have encountered any problems in avoiding shipping. We saw a few yachts and fishing boats on Saturday - one of which passed within a few hundred yards. On Sunday, we saw a ferry cross about two miles ahead of us at 9.30am and saw nothing else, apart from dolphins, a pod of pilot whales, and a few birds, until about 4pm on Monday.
My best moment came on the Sunday evening, when we were well past the halfway mark. We were goose-winging (one sail on each side) with the foresail held out with the spinnaker pole and a preventer rigged to stop the mainsail from swinging over (jibing). It's a classic rig for crossing oceans and Kalessin was loving it, although we had to steer by hand as the autohelm couldn't keep the speed up. We had dinner (French shepherd's pie) up on deck, we had Dire Straits on below at full volume, and the sun was shining.
The worst moment was when I woke on Sunday morning - it was cold, grey, and bumpy, I'd had about two hours' sleep, I felt sick, and wanted to go home. Oh well.
Gijon is a big, lively Spanish city and has been a bit of a culture shock for all of us especially as none of speak Spanish. Last night (Tuesday) Sam had a very low moment and seriously wanted to go home. He's feeling better now, I hope. We will press on to La Coruna and see how we feel there.
We have a few minor problems with the boat. We've sorted out one leak into the bilge, but there still seems to be quite a bit of water around. And our holding tank is frankly extremely smelly. I'm on a personal mission to pour water into it and pump through whever we're at sea, to try to clean it out completely, but we may need a rethink of our plumbing. Sam feels Deeply Guilty about the whole thing, so 'nuff said.
Wednesday 2 August
Vannes is a medieval city at the head of the Golfe du Morbihan, an amazing inland sea full of rocks, and tides. Once when we had a little 16-foot gaff-rigged trailer-sailer we thought about bringing it here. I can’t remember why we didn’t – perhaps we thought our 4hp Mariner outboard wouldn’t make it against the tidal streams which can run at six or eight knots (7-9mph). Frankly I don’t think our 20hp Volvo would do much against these tides either, but in fact you can usually retreat to the side of the channel and find that the tide slows down, or is even going the other way.
We’re parked next to two sailing school boats who are taking on a load of teenagers today and heading out tomorrow. The skipper of the boat next to us speaks excellent English and had time to spare this afternoon, so he briefed us about some of the best moorings and anchorages out in the Morbihan. I think he must have been a schoolteacher in a previous life, but anyway we are well instructed and very grateful. Fortunately the teenagers are still over-awed and quiet, but we are benefiting from a harbour-side concert by a truly dreadful heavy metal band. I speak as a fully paid-up middle-aged person, of course, but I used to like Black Sabbath once.
Vannes is lovely, and once more I am astonished that on a boat you can drive straight into the middle of a busy city, park in a prime spot, and pay €20 to stay the night. We’re close to the medieval centre and had a good wander around this afternoon. The weather is still wet so half the holiday-makers in Brittany were also here. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to run into someone I know, especially as so many of the tourists are British.
Ben discovered a truly vile snack called chi-chis (above), which I think are extruded lengths of batter, deep fried and dipped in sugar. They look like giant chips and taste like the most disgusting doughnuts you can think of. Ben made some small English child’s day by giving him a chi-chi.