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Small dramas only sailing the Bay of Biscay


We set off from Cherbourg on this maiden voyage on Monday 11th june at midday. With an accidental fair tide, we shot west past Alderney and rounded the Casquet rocks as dusk was falling.My careful watch system was completely ignored by the Holme boys, mainly because they were too excited, but also because Henry had a touch of sea-sickness. As a result I had an almost undisturbed night.

The following afternoon we sighted land and that night flew down the Channel du Four, again with a following tide, past the Isle of Ushant on our right, (called rather confusingly Isle d’Ouessant by the French who seem to regard it as theirs,) following the right lights in the right line, and turned left into the huge outer harbour of Brest. All rather confusing at 7 knots; Henry a great help in sorting out which light was which.

Through the Goulet (or neck) of Brest up into the super new marina above town complete with clean hot showers, incredibly helpful capitainerie, and yacht club full of young French girls, who had nothing to do with sailing but regarded my crew of tall blonde males with something like awe. I have to say that I was rather overlooked.

Brest was a complete contrast to Cherbourg. The city has been substantially rebuilt following the war with smart new trams installed recently with no-one on them. Our marina also seemed to be the centre for a huge state-run sailing school with hundred of young cast adrift in all weathers circled protectively by rigid inflatable dinghies with outboards called Ridouts.

We were then stormbound in Brest for 3 days and 4 nights while a gale blew over with much whistling in the rigging etc. We used the time to check the boat over and repair a couple of things.

Holme crew and Crusader of Arun

Holme crew and Crusader of Arun

We slipped our morrings early on Sunday 17th, bound for Vigo,knowing the tide was against us but with a fair forecast of variable winds. Incidentally, when they say “variable” on World Service they mean they don’t have a clue.

For the next three days we motorsailed across Biscay in a thoroughly undramatic fashion, folloing the closest tack to our course, the wind of course being on the nose, and saving fuel by idling the motor to pootle along at about 5 knots. I found out later that the engine would have been happier at higher revs (2,500 not 1500) which would have produced about 6.5 knots cruising speed.

We were befriended by dolphins about half way across who never left us, and called hundreds of their friends over to have a laugh. I think perhaps Doris, our autopilot, may have formed some sort of sonic bond with them, but one can never be sure.

About a day north of the Spanish coast we heard the lunchtime weather forecast as usual which was not good.We decided to alter course to Corunna, which the Spanish call La Coruna, with a funny bit over the “n”.

When I say alter course, we happened to be heading for it anyway because of south westerly wind that was pushing us that way a bit. The weather turned a bit iffy and the boat is starting to sail. This juxtaposition is often the case with Hillyards.

We shortened sail to prepare for a blow and got on the radio to see if there were any other boats around. There was one, out of sight, about 50 miles ahead of us, heading the same way, which reported back on weather conditions. We then ate some more pasta or rice to prepare ourselves for the storm that never came. It was due from the West and we had about 300 miles sea room to the East.

At about 2 am Thursday we sighted land and guided ourselves in using the various lighthouses, backed up by GPS on the chart, and the Bible.(Reeds Almanac). A boat (Fidelity of Devon) came up from the west at about 9.00 am just as we were going about in front of the Pillar of Hercules and took a picture of us in the swell. The main is down and the foresail is rolled in a bit. The mizzen is acting as a staysail to balance the helm. We got into the inner marina at about 11.00 and, after a tricky rear entry, moored up. There were a number of other Brit boats around on a RCC(Royal Cruising Club) jolly but fortunately they were all on another pontoon.We saw them later having endless drinks and dinner parties, the wives all contributing their platter of offerings.They all seemed to be about 70 and had made the crossing without comment.The wives reminded me of slightly older versions of Titty, the able-seaman in Swallows and Amazons.

One of the Viking crew seemd to have grown an ginger beard and was anxious to try it out among the girls of Corunna so we were forcing to make frequent foraging trips into Corunna whcih turned out to be a pleasing old city with narrow streets, entirely made up of places to eat and drink. There also, surprise surprise, featured a huge festival on saturday night, called the Festival of San Juan, where they all go mad for a night. I put the veryhungover crew on a plane on Sunday morning and took the boat round the headland of the Ria to the east to a cheaper marina at Sada, and stopped to do anchor drill in a little bay. This was exhausting but better after a swim. I left the boat there and came home after a couple of days of cleaning up and odd jobs.

My thanks to the Holme boys (the Vikings) and especially to Lisa without whom none of this would be possible.

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