Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Golfo de Vizcaya

The Bay of Biscay or the Cantabrian Sea is legendary for monster waves and rough seas. The continental shelf protrudes out into the bay where depths plunge from 100m suddenly to 4000m and with the wrong wind direction and strength this leads to confused water and unpleasant conditions. Although I trusted our research and our chosen ‘weather window’ it is still a very intimidating passage, and our first longer than 24 hours. I didn’t sleep much on the night of July 6th feeling excitement and a little apprehension.

We pulled up our anchor and waved goodbye to Bryer and Tresco Islands at 1530 on July 7th as soon as the tide was high. Our main had two reefs as we anticipated a slightly rough beginning and taking a reef out is always much easier than putting one in. Strong SW winds from the previous days had shifted to give us a nice NW breeze but this shift resulted in some large waves as we sailed out into the bay. Although we expected rough weather, 12 hours of 3m waves and swells with winds of 20-25 knots still made for a very uncomfortable night, particularly as Seb and I were both getting our sea legs. At 2100 we put the thankfully still cheerful monkeys to bed (Macsen in the bow and Emma with us) and settled into our watch. The first night was spent huddled in the cockpit with a eye on the horizon with little ability or desire to do much else. Fortunately, the winds reduced to 15 knots by early morning on the 8th and the waves calmed and we sailed at a smooth 6,5 knots into a beautiful sunny day.

Our SSB radio is working and we were able to pick up weather information and chat to the Mjolner, Elena and also the Tangaroa, just now departing from the Netherlands. We set up a plan to chat at 0900, 1500, 2100 and 0300 each day, starting out on VHF and moving to SSB when we were out of range. The VHF radio has a radius of approximately 20-30 miles (the horizon from the top of the mast) but the SSB should have a global reach.

My watch on the second night began at 2000. At 2200, I rushed inside to Seb and Emma. “Emma, are you awake?””No, Mama, I’m sleeping.” A quick whisper of “The dolphins are here” and both Emma and Seb jumped out of bed in great excitement. We watched in awe as about 10 dolphins jumped around our bow and leapt through the air next to the boat, swimming around and around to do it again. Amazing. Emma had been watching Seb catch fish for the last few weeks and said very seriously “Mama, can we catch them and put them in a bucket? They are very small dolphins.” I managed to convince her that they wouldn’t fit and would probably not find that to their liking at all and she seemed to accept that and went back to laughing out loud as they leapt about beside the boat. Since then, we have been incredibly lucky and they seem to travel along with us. Sometimes groups of 3-4 and sometimes as many as 20. Sometimes they are calm and just swim along next to the boat and sometimes they frolic about, jump into the air and make faces at us. Absolutely incredible, we are walking around with grins from ear to ear. It is absolutely impossible to be grumpy when dolphins are around.

The wind almost disappeared on the 9th and we hoisted our spinnaker for the first time. Cruising along under the big bright blue and yellow balloon with the dolphins splashing around us…couldn’t be any better. Emma and Macsen were both thrilled with the sail and the dolphins, Macsen doing his now trademark excited ‘kijk’ squeak and pointing his thumb and finger. Mjolner was in the area and motored alongside to take some pictures. After a couple of hours we took it down, although we were happy that we were able to translate 5 knots of wind into 2,9 knots SOG we needed to turn the motor on if we wanted to arrive in La Coruna within a week.

The rest of the day was spent motoring in the sun, bathing in the cockpit, watching the dolphins and generally enjoying ourselves.
Land in zicht! Seb caught the first glimpse of a looming cliffs in the distance at about 0500 on Friday July 10th. It was a great feeling to sail into the bay. I expected to feel a great sense of accomplishment and relief but in the end it was just really nice to arrive, be in Spain and see the Elena and Mjolner crew again. Although we were very careful with the planning of our departure it remains a very intimidating passage and we are delighted that it was so pleasant and enjoyable.


  1. Pascal en Reno15 July 2009 at 14:25

    Beste allemaal,

    Het klinkt allemaal erg mooi. Het is goed om te horen dat het goed gaat met jullie en we genieten enorm van jullie reisverhalen. Nog gefeliciteerd met de kleine!

    Geniet nog even van het mooie weer daar in het zuiden van europa.

    Groetjes, Pascal en Reno

  2. Hallo bemanning van de Pjotter,

    Geweldig, jullie zijn de beruchte maar ook mooie golf over!! Prachtige foto van de dolfijn,is ons niet gelukt.
    Geniet volop van de riga's!!
    Wij kijken weer uit naar julie volgende updates!!!

    Groeten van de Nostress

  3. waar blijven de foto's? Jullie lopen achter op jullie "peers" hoor.