Saturday, 10 May 2014

Biscay Bound

In one month and one week (although remaining staunchly uncommitted to an actual date), we’ll be heading off across the Bay of Biscay to explore the Rias of Galicia in northwest Spain and the north coast regions of Asturia, Cantabria and the Basque country. 

On the tourism menu:  the Rias (estuary inlets cut deep and wide into the rugged granite coastline), protected islands (one hosting a beach considered to be one of the most beautiful in the world), an inland visit to the UNESCO World Heritage site at Santiago de Compostela, and numerous wild anchorages, small villages and fishing ports dotted along a steep coastline whose geological features have earned this coastline the designation as a UNESCO GeoPark.      

On the sailing menu:  a 3-day crossing of the notorious Bay of Biscay, another shorter overnight crossing for the return trip along the coast, coping with frequent fog, dodging a dense fishing industry and numerous mariculture sites, getting weather reports and port information in a language we don’t master, and rounding several impressive capes and headlands, some with disconcerting names like “the cape of death.”  The good news is that the currents and tides are diddly-squat compared to those of northern Brittany.

Since returning from our shakedown cruise, we’ve spent most of our time fixing things on the boat (still waiting for new mainsail and repaired auto-pilot), studying and refining the cruise plan, upgrading our navigation software (new MaxSea charts, double of everything on a 2nd backup computer, installing navionics on the smartphone), and pulling together all the bits and pieces needed for 4 or 5 or 6 months on the boat.  The daily activity helps keep the anxiety at bay, but I do have to admit that it is present as a light undercurrent most of the time. These last two years on Spray have taught us the importance of experience-and-confidence building by tackling smaller goals that are just a bit outside our comfort zone.  Last year, I was quite anxious about sailing around northern Brittany and the Channel Islands, especially after an experienced sailor friend said “What?! You guys are going to tackle THAT zone for your first solo cruise ?!”  Today, if you told me I was leaving for northern Brittany tomorrow, I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it, and yet it’s some of the most difficult sailing in Europe.  I am, however, anxious about our upcoming cruise and the 3 day crossing in particular, but I also know it represents a major stepping stone for us and one that is necessary if we hope to go further in the future. 

We crossed the Bay of Biscay several years ago, crewing for Guru Bob in a small 24 foot open cockpit boat, sailing from south to north against the prevailing winds.  It was rough.  I felt like I deserved a tattoo afterwards.  This time: a 34-foot offshore boat with a hefty dodger, sailing north to south on a downwind run (we hope). It’ll be fine.  Really.  

Big smiles after having survived a rough crossing of Biscay in 2010.

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