Yacht Pipit

      

Au revoir belle France, Hola hermosa Espana! 26th June 2011

Our first glimpse of the Spanish coast and snow-capped mountains.


As mentioned in our last update, the weather forecast for the end of last week remained favourable, so we began readying ourselves for leaving La Rochelle on Thursday morning. We spent our penultimate evening in La Rochelle in the company of Tim & Karen, which was a perfect and fitting end to our time in France. Tim had mentioned that last year, on this day (midsummer's day) there were dancing girls in the streets, so although neither Tim nor Andy were at all interested in watching scantily clad women 'shaking their booty', Ann & Karen dragged them into town. As well as the aforementioned dancing girls, there were dozens of bands on the streets, outside cafes, bars and restaurants playing all types of music. It created a stereotypical and wonderful French cafe culture atmosphere and we wandered through the city stopping to enjoy various bands before choosing a suitable pavement restaurant in which to have dinner.



Move along, nothing to see here...





The next day in our final preparations for crossing Biscay, we discovered that the spare halyard (on which the storm jib is raised) had chafed nearly through where it had been sitting against the radome bracket for the last eight years. Unfortunately, this meant an unscheduled visit to the chandlers to purchase 40 metres of line, but better to have discovered the problem then as opposed to half way across Biscay if we needed to set the storm jib! We've had a kedge anchor on board for the last year, but have had no means of attaching it to the boat! As we are hoping to spend more time at anchor this year, we also bought line, shackles and other bits & bobs for the kedge, and some more bits for making a snubber and a tripping line for the bower anchor. There are many chandlers in La Rochelle, but we found Atlantic Loisirs to be not only the best and most helpful, but the cheapest! They even had a new spring catch for the fridge lid!

Thursday morning arrived and our final checks on the weather forecast indicated the ideal window to go! Coincidentally, it was Ann's birthday, but having crossed the Channel on her birthday last year, Andy insisted that we won't be able leave for a new country every birthday! Spain was to be our second new country, or third if you include Cornwall... We were excited and, truth be told, a little apprehensive about what was ahead of us, and it was a slightly sad moment when we were finally waved off by Tim & Karen. We were sorry that our good friends whose company we've enjoyed so much over the last six or seven months wouldn't be joining us any further south this year. We will keep in touch...

Ready for the off...


Nearly ready...


Going...


Going...


Gone!


About 15 miles out of La Rochelle, we altered course to 232 degrees magnetic towards Gijon, some 230 miles away. As forecast, we had 12-15 knots of breeze on the beam, so Pipit picked up her skirts and romped along at between 7 and 8 knots. When the wind freshened a bit to 15-17 knots, we put a reef in the main, leaving the full genoa set to sail at a more comfortable angle of heel. The seas were larger than forecast, so it was a bit lively, but even reefed, we were still bounding along in the right direction, although Andy felt slightly too dicky to spend much time below decks.

We topped 8 knots for a while. Incidentally, a bit later the depth wasn't 34.1 metres, but about 4034.1 metres!


Ann made sure Andy had plenty of Stugeron and ginger nut biscuits, along with sufficient hot and cold drinks and hot food, so the dicky feeling didn't spill over, so to speak! We put another reef in the main and reefed the genoa just before it got dark, not only to ease the angle of heel, but to increase visibility under the genoa, particularly as we would soon start our lone night watches. We had pre-cooked two evening meals before we left so reheating them and cooking rice, whilst heeled, was challenging but not impossible for Ann. How people cook meals from scratch in these conditions we'll never know! Andy started his first two-hour watch at 2300, although it didn't get fully dark until midnight, and remained so for only about five and a half hours. By this time, the sea state had calmed down somewhat and Andy was feeling better. There is something very special about night sailing, particularly in pleasant conditions. Being on watch on your own gives you time to contemplate life, the universe (quite literally as the stars on a clear night at sea are amazing), and why the gas bottle only ever runs out when you are using it. Usually at night. And when it's raining...

Ann did the next watch from 0100-0300 having caught snippets of sleep below. Despite being June, it was quite cold at sea at night, so we let the autohelm steer so that we could shelter under the sprayhood. Andy did the next watch from 0300-0500, having at least rested in the cockpit, as he didn't want to risk feeling ill by going below much. We'd had to start the engine at 0300 and motor sail, as the wind had dropped exactly as forecast. Soon after the end of this watch, we were treated to a perfect sunrise at sea. We continued motor sailing for most of the day in relatively calm seas, cloudless skies and sunshine. We lost count of how many times we had visits from schools of common dolphins, but no matter how many times you see this spectacle, it remains magical. We also saw a pod of pilot whales who passed close by, but didn't stop to play with Pipit, unlike the dolphins. They did, however, seem to stop several boat lengths astern of us and pop their heads up several times for a good look. Unfortunately, we couldn't capture this on the camera, but it remains a special memory.


Down with the French, up the Spanish! (courtesy flags that is...)


Again, as forecast, the wind returned mid afternoon on Friday, so we were able to switch the engine off and again enjoy silent sailing, this time on a broad reach. At about 2000, we enjoyed our chicken curry with rice, sailing along in idyllic conditions surrounded by the largest school of dolphins we'd seen, who stayed for about an hour, continuously diving back and forth under the boat and doing that leaping thing that dolphins do - perhaps they just wanted some chicken curry! This cruising lark doesn't get much better than this!







As the evening progressed and the wind freshened, an unpleasant quartering sea developed, making moving around on deck, in the cockpit or below extremely difficult. We had dropped the main altogether and were running under full genoa. At this point of sail, there was still good visibility under the genoa. We repeated the pattern of night watches, managing to get at least some rest, but no sleep due to the continual rolling and associated noises. Fortunately we had both been able to get short periods of sleep through the previous day. As dawn broke, we caught our first glimpse of the Spanish coast with the snow-capped mountains of Northern Spain in the distance. We had to alter course for a small tanker. Although we had already established that we were on a converging course and made the decision to alter ours, the AIS confirmed that our CPA (closest point of approach) was .3 of a nautical mile, probably ok, but a little too close for comfort, particularly in the increasingly unpleasant sea and the now F6 winds.

Off watch...


We returned to our course, and about 5 miles from Gijon we collided with a submerged long length of timber, something like a 4" x 4" fence post. It made an alarming noise, but having checked the bilges and engine compartment and found nothing amiss, plus made sure the rudder and saildrive/prop seemed ok before entering Gijon, we are almost certain it just sounded worse than it was. This was the second encounter with submerged timber we'd had, the first being a glancing blow and a far less noisy one although that one had lumps of metal protruding from it. We also spotted a fridge freezer sailing by in the opposite direction not far off our beam at one stage...

We finally tied up on the reception pontoon with the assistance of the helpful marinero at Gijon marina at 1010 on Saturday morning, 47 hours and 50 minutes and 276 miles from slipping our lines at La Rochelle. We were both extremely elated at our achievement. Although nothing that countless thousands of other sailors have done, it was a huge milestone for us, having built up from crossing Lyme Bay, the Channel, the Alderney Race, Chenal du Four, Raz de Sein, and pilotage all along the challenging coast of Brittany, all recognised rites of passage for any sailor. Our patience in waiting for a favourable weather window had been rewarded, but it was still a challenging sail, and the Atlantic swell in Biscay is not to be underestimated.

Having checked in with the friendly staff at the marina office and moved to a visitors berth, we headed for a much needed shower (incidentally 'free', hot and high pressure-lovely) and, despite being extremely tired, headed out to find beer and tapas. Having succeeded in that, we returned to the boat for a siesta, and awoke at 0630 on Sunday...

After thoroughly hosing all the salt from the sails and the boat, which got a generous dousing during the crossing, we erected the bimini and had a relaxing day doing very little else other than this update, the first we have done al fresco in the cockpit enjoying the fantastic weather. We'll stay here in Gijon for a few days for some R&R before heading west towards La Coruna and the rias. It feels 'proper foreign' here - we have come nearly as far south in one passage as we did in the whole of the previous year, and have consequently had to adjust the default scale on the Voyage Map to avoid showing a blue rectangle of open sea!


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