Friday, 17 June 2016

Crossing Biscay

We left Vannes with the 9:30 bridge and motored in non-existent winds out of the Morbihan gulf.  As we left the gulf and headed into the Quiberon bay, Patrick suggested we pull into the port of Crouesty to top up the tanks, since it was clear we would be motoring quite a bit the first day.  I didn’t think it was necessary since the gas gauge read 90% (about 120 liters) and we had 2 jerry cans of 20 liters in the lazarette.  Little did we know that this spur-of-the-moment idea would save the day.

We calculated that we could add 10 to 15 liters, max.  The rapidly dispensed 10 liters, then slowly pumped out 15 … then 20 … and then 30 litres.  “Stop!” I went below to look and smell for leaks.  Nothing.  We continued: 40, 50, and finally 65 liters before it was full.  I felt sick to my stomach.  The fuel gauge was clearly not working, and on a whim, we had just avoided heading off across the Bay of Biscay with only half a tank of gas. 

While we were in Crouesty, we heard friends chatting on the vhf radio who we thought had already started their crossing.  A quick call confirmed that three other boats from Vannes headed out only 4 hours ahead of us, heading for Viveiro, Spain and we stayed in radio contact most of the way down.  Always comforting. 

The gas-tank delay and light winds put us behind schedule and we had to punch our way out of the Quiberon bay against a 1-2 knot current - not a great way to start the cruise, but the detour to Crouesty was worth it.

Gennaker !  ...and a little motor.
Around 6:30 pm we finally got a bit of wind and could sail with the gennaker until sundown, then continued under sail until 3 a.m. when the wind completely died and the motor was fired up.  As the sun rose, we put the gennaker back up but we couldn’t maintain more than 3 knots under sail alone.  Before leaving, we suspected we would be motoring a fair bit, and I’d hoped we could fly the gennaker with the light winds, but I never suspected that we would perfect the “gennaker with motor” manoeuver.  It works pretty well!

By late morning after the 1st night, we decided that the light winds were worse than we had expected and decided to cut a day off our crossing by heading to Viveiro with the others.  That would avoid a 4th night of sailing and many hours of motoring.

In the middle of the 2nd day of light winds, we heard one of our buddy boats call to another that was closest to his position and ask if he could “borrow” some gas. (!!) He hadn’t counted on so much motoring and had left with only about 70 liters and wasn’t sure to make it to Viveiro.  Later we learned that the boats got close enough to each other to throw a line to recuperate a small 10-liter jerry can of gas (fortunately water-tight).  We congratulated ourselves (mostly Patrick) on his last-minute foresight.

One nice thing about flat calm seas is that you can see marine life easier…and they can see you.  By the time I could call down “dolphins!” to Patrick, the dolphins were squeaking out “Sailboat!” amongst themselves as they bounded over like to litter of excited puppies to play in our bow wake.  They stayed, as is strangely almost always the case, for 20 minutes before getting bored or hungry or both.  We also saw a whale (most likely a pilot whale).  They are stuck up and never come to play. I also saw a shark (probably a small basking shark) skimming the surface at a distance from the boat, unperturbed and uninterested by our presence.

Dolphins zipping around under the boat show up on the echo sounder.
During the calm period and at least 100 miles from the nearest coast, we picked up a hitchhiking dove.  I was on watch at 4 a.m. and the dove landed on the solar panel arch.  The flapping from out of nowhere just above my head in the wee hours of the morning scared the pee out of me, so I jumped up and promptly scared the poo out of the bird.  The dove took a couple of turns around the boat and decided that it would be more prudent to settle on the mast spreaders, where it sat and shat for the next 36 hours.  Despite the mess, I didn’t have the heart to chase it away.  We migrating species have to stick together.

Hitchhiking dove on the spreader.
On the morning of the 3rd day, the wind picked up and turned rapidly, building to 17-20 knots in the nose with 2 meters of swell.  The forecast had been for 15 knots on a beam reach.  We put 2 reefs in the main and rolled the genoa down until things were more comfortable and maintained 5 to 6 knots of speed despite the “speed bumps” of the swell.  We weren’t too concerned since I still had some confidence in the weather grib files that said the wind event wouldn’t last more than half a day.  By 9 p.m., the wind died down to a more manageable 16-18 knots and by midnight was an agreeable 15 knots and falling.  The last 6 hours heading into Viveiro were fabulous sailing, still on a close reach but only 12 knots of wind and smooth seas.  The sun shining on the emerald mountains of the Spanish coast was a welcomed site and we even slowed down our approach in the ria to savor the last few hours of our crossing.  Friends were waiting in the marina to help us tie up, and by evening, we had 8 compadres in the cockpit for sundowners.

Cooking while heeled over...

Viva l'Espagna !

Cruise stats:  340 nautical miles in ~78 hours (average speed 4.5 knots), with 37 hours of motoring (47% of cruise), where 24 of those motor hours were at 1500 rpms or less.  I calculated the gas consumption based on our latest fill-up, and it seems that we only used 1.5 liters / hour with the low rpm motoring. 

We left Viveiro after only 2 days because the weather was closing in and would have trapped us for a week.  The departure was rougher than expected, with 30 knots and 2 meter seas around the first headland instead of the 15-20 knots forecasted.  A 40-foot yacht that pulled out about 200 meters in front of us turned around and headed back to port as he approached the point.  Never a comforting sign.  I began working on Patrick, saying there was no shame in turning around and heading back in.  Despite having received several waves head on, soaked through and with red eyes, he said he wanted to push past the point and see if things were calmer.  We hunkered down and pushed through as best we could with 2 reefs and only a handkerchief-sized genoa.  After the point was just behind our beam, the winds died down to 20 knots and the swell was less aggressive, more orderly, and the worst was over.  Coruna is only 60 miles from Viviero, but because we had to tack back and forth against a strong headwind, it took us 15 hours.  We arrived in the Real Club Nautico of La Coruna after midnight.  Patrick tried to squeeze Mareda into the same spot we had for Spray several years ago, just under the bar with good internet, only to realize that Mareda is much larger than Spray.  We had a hell of a time getting back out of the small catway area to a more appropriate pontoon for larger boats.  Sorely regretting not having paid the extra money for a bow thruster !!

The weather in Coruna has been terrible with high winds and pouring rain every day, confirming the good idea to leave Viveiro when we did.  Still, we’ve been able to wander through the labyrinth of little stone streets, enjoy the tapas, the ham, the cheese, and the octopus, a Galician specialty.  Filling up with gas, with water, and with food have been major preoccupations, as well as searching for good internet connections (difficult).  With this, dear reader, I inform you that more timely updates of our whereabouts will be posted on Facebook (Sailing Mareda) with only intermittent postings to the blog depending on internet connections.  

We end this first missive with an ode to our new electric wok, which we adore and which saves tremendously on cooking gas when in port.  We are so enamored of our little toy that we just went out and bought an electric toaster.  Those little gas stovetop toasters take forever and burn a lot of gas for such a piddling little piece of toast.


Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor said...

Wow - quite good luck you stopped at Crouesty and checked on the diesel! Wonderful dolphin shots :-)

Astrolabe Sailing said...

Great pics! Love the dolphins. So glad to hear you arrived safely and interesting re the diesel consumption figures and your bow thruster wishes! We have just been on a 54' yacht with a bow thruster and I am impressed!
Love the sound of the food and great tip re the electric wok too. Happy travels Mareda! :)

Sailing Mareda said...

Thanks Ellen and Viki,
We are also now envious of 40 hp engines. We visited a Dufour 375 (still like the SO 379 better) but had HP envy when they told us they cruise along at almost 7 knots at 2000 rpms. We get about 4.5 - 5 out of 2000 rpms, which is okay but if there's a headwind, we creep along. Just hope we can be clever and/or lucky enough to anticipate those potential situations and avoid them.