Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Passage Planning for Biscay

In comparison to what other long-distance cruisers do, a 3 or 4-day passage is peanuts.  It’s not even enough time to get used to a watch schedule or to ease naturally into the rhythms of life at sea.  By the time the first 24 hours of novelty are over, you’ve only got 1 day before you start planning for the actual arrival (“Is the course to steer still good?  Can we make our initial port or do we need to choose a Plan B port?  Are we going to arrive in daylight?  Do we need to slow down for a daytime arrival?  Can we get there before we have to resort to another dinner of spaghetti?”) 

Quiberon Bay to Coruna.  Winds aren't cooperating for a departure before 7 or 8 June.

The Bay of Biscay is a tricky area, but if you get the weather right, it can still be a pleasant ride.  We’ll need to have a good, clear 5-day forecast before heading off, meaning that at least 2 forecast models agree and that the weather forecasted hasn’t changed over the last week.  I’m currently looking at raw grib files (ZyGrib), Passage Weather, Predict Wind, and our local Meteo France offshore forecasts.  Of course, we prefer to have a broad reach (winds a-beam or slightly behind perpendicular to the boat) and I don’t like anything more than 20 knots.  Waiting for all of these conditions to be met early in the season can be nerve-wracking and time-consuming. 

Once we get more than 25 miles off the coast, we won’t have weather updates until we arrive.  We could spring for a satellite phone to get internet, but a $1000+ investment for only a 4-day crossing is a bit much.  Once we’re on the coast, we’ll have access to weather info, and we won’t be doing another multi-night crossing for a while.  If we get surprised with bad weather along the way, we can cut the cruise short by 1 day or so by heading to a closer port and then making our way along the coast as weather permits.

Our crossing strategy for the approximately 350 nautical miles:

Depart as early as the current will permit after sunrise.  Maintaining an average 5 knots of speed means we’ll be sailing about 70 hours and should put us at our destination early in the morning.  I prefer to aim for early morning arrivals, knowing that we will likely have course changes and sailing speeds under 5 knots that will slow us down along the way anyway, which gives us 12 hours of cushion before the sun sets on arrival day.

We have 130 liters of fuel on board plus 2 jerry cans of 20 liters each.  With a fuel consumption of about 2 liters / hour, we have 65 hours of motoring possible with just the on-board fuel.  65 hours at 5 knots (about 2000 rpms) is 325 miles before we have to break open the jerry cans.  If we’re motoring even half that long, we’ve really misread the weather forecast!

We put a reef in the mail sail every night before sundown, even if the weather is calm.  This slows us down, but makes for a smoother and more relaxed ride for the night in case the wind picks up unexpectedly.

Once we are on our initial trajectory, we set a waypoint on the GPS and watch the evolution of our cross-track error.  Depending on the conditions, we’ll allow a 3 to 5- mile error before altering course.  Any course changes at night that require a tack or jibe are done at the change of the watch to avoid waking anyone up needlessly.

For a 3 to 4-day passage, we do not use the refrigerator in order to save on battery power.  We use it as an ice box, with pre-prepared frozen meals serving as blocks of ice.

Our watch system, of course, depends on how many people we have on board.  When it’s just Patrick and me, we use a 2-hour watch system, with the off-watch person sleeping in the saloon berth in view of the person on watch.  The off-watch person stays clothed with appropriate gear at hand to be ready to rush out on deck in case of an emergency.  If conditions are difficult, we go down to 1-hour watches.  (In those situations, no one is sleeping anyway…).  During the day, watches are more relaxed and variable, depending on when someone feels like napping, preparing meals, etc.

Lifejackets are worn at all times while in the cockpit or deck, and tethers are also used from sundown to sunrise.

With the pilot steering, the person on watch can sit behind or underneath the dodger to get out of the wind.  Reading is okay if you’re disciplined enough to look around every 10-15 minutes (look for lights of other ships or land, check sails, check bearing occasionally, make a log entry every hour).  Headphones or anything that affects hearing is frowned upon.

Meals:  we tend to make one-pot meals that can be heated up and served with rice, pasta, or mashed potatoes (here in France, we have wonderful instant mashed potatoes…). Most meals are eaten in the cockpit out of bowls unless the weather is extremely calm.

The draft meal planning looks like this:

Breakfast: Krisp Rolls and/or toast, yogurt, fruit, cereal / muesli, coffee or tea. Eggs if anyone feels like making them.

Lunches:  Quiche (ham, spinach, feta) with salad; sausages with mashed potatoes; Chicken stew with egg noodles; Grilled ham and cheese sandwiches and fruit salad. 

Dinners: Hamburger stroganoff with egg noodles; pork coconut curry with rice; chicken and lamb sausage couscous; spaghetti bolognaise (hoping we’ve arrived by this time…).

Midnight snacks (prepared before sundown or with fixings easily reached):  sandwich roll-ups, hard-boiled eggs, soups, cereal bars, yogurt, fruit, nuts, cookies.

Patrick usually makes his deadly melted chocolate brownie cake served with English cream; I usually make cookies.  Since Patrick is French, cheese is always plentiful.  We tend not to drink any alcohol while we’re sailing. It’s hard on the stomach and dehydration is always an issue anyway.  But oh, that first beer when you reach your destination!

All of this food talk has got me excited to hit the tapas bars in Spain !  


Unknown said...

Sounds like a great passage plan! I hope you get the weather window you are looking for. :)

Sailing Mareda said...

Thanks Astrolabe. I'm beginning to think we may re-route to Gijon, which will give us a better angle to the wind and cut off a day. I'd rather do that than sit it out another week waiting for perfect conditions. Too early to tell... frustrating ! said...

You've got it all covered! On our last trip I made mini quiches (with no crust) by mixing the ingredients and baking them in muffin tins. They pop out and can be frozen. Then we put them out the night before to thaw at room temperature. They are actually good cold in the morning if the weather is warm, and no cooking.

Sailing Mareda said...

How Cunning ! That's a great idea. I might try that but I'll have to buy a muffin pan.