Wednesday 06/07/2011 Gijón to Le Palais: Crossing Biscay

We’ve made it across the Bay of Biscay! We left Gijon at about 6.30am on Monday, and arrived in Le Palais, Belle-Ile, Brittany today at about 1.30pm, fifty five hours later. Overall it was a pretty good crossing and everything went to forecast, which is always nice. I’ll update this post in a bit with some details of our trip, but for now we’re off to catch up on sleep and beer!

So…to update. The first twenty four hours were quiet, virtually windless with a flat sea and sunshine. This was good because it meant we could have the autohelm on and not steer, but noisy with the engine going all the time.

Plenty of dolphins around though, and not a lot of other traffic other than a yacht going the other way and one fishing boat and a ship overnight quite a way away.

By dawn there was enough breeze to motor sail with the jib and make slightly faster. Then we got a bit of drizzle and a lot of cloud through with a steady SW F3-4, which was perfect, and we started to make better speed under sail.

We started off with full sail, and then gradually reduced it as the wind came round to the west and picked up overnight to a F5, by which time we had two reefs in the main.

It was all fairly uneventful in a nice way, until we saw a ship on the horizon that also popped up on our AIS about ten miles away. It looked to be going behind us, so we monitored it and held our course. With ships our policy is definitely to change our course early if there looks to be any need to do so, even if they are meant to avoid you. That way you make minimal changes to your course by doing it early, no ship needs to come within less than a couple of miles of you and are never in the position of having no option but to wait for a ship to avoid you. Steam may well give way to sail in the books, but so do cars to pedestrians on Sicilian zebra crossings in the Italian highway code. Don’t expect either to do so when it comes to the crunch. So it was all looking good for the ship to go behind us with a good berth and I went down to get a couple of hours sleep as it was my turn to be off watch. Then the ship began to change course. Rather than turning to go further behind us, it turned more towards us. Thinking they were just following our stern around to pass a bit closer behind us, Si held our course. This was fine, but then they changed course again. And again and it became very clear they were not planning to pass behind us. Instead they appeared to be intent on ramming us. It was coming up to sunset by now, but it was still light. We may be small but our mainsail is big and white, and we are not hard to spot like that. Si called me back up on deck and we tacked quickly, which on a gaffer when you’ve been dead downwind and all set up for the night ahead is both annoying and unsettling. What’s more, the ship (now steamed past us about quarter of a mile away) continued to alter course all the time, a few degrees to starboard every few minutes. Once we’d sorted Planet back on course again, Si tried calling the ship up on the radio to find out what was going on. They were displaying no signals or lights to show that they were restricted in their ability to manoeuvre, and we’ve never seen a ship behave so strangely before. There was no response. We followed its lights and then followed its progress on the AIS. It looked to be still altering course to starboard all the time, and I started to worry they were just travelling in a large clockwise circle and would end up coming at us again from the other side. I have a bit of an overactive imagination clearly, but even so both of us felt a bit shaken by the encounter. We stayed up together for a bit, then the wind picked up and Si put a third reef in and a procession of ships started to cross us coming out of St Nazaire by the looks of their course. These ones behaved themselves; we employed our usual tactics, altering course slightly for one of them so it could pass ahead of us, it all worked as normal. The ships passed at least couple of miles away from us, there was no worry, no panic and no problem and after that I began to feel quite happy that we were not alone in the night in Biscay with a crazed drunk/mutinous/dead/drowned crew of a tanker doomed to transcribe circles in the Bay like some metal Flying Dutchman until eternity.

Dawn came and we saw a couple of fishing boats in the distance and we both took it in turns to sleep again. Then we ate breakfast and enjoyed watching Belle Ile come into sight on the horizon. Chart plotters may take the fun out of landfalls a bit at times, but this one was still very exciting and welcome.

We had some torrential rain that lasted a few minutes, then a few showers and sunshine, and a good sail round into Le Palais, where we sat in the sunshine, had a celebratory tiny bottle of cava and then promptly fell asleep in the cockpit, about two minutes after we took the photo at the top of the post!

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5 thoughts on “Wednesday 06/07/2011 Gijón to Le Palais: Crossing Biscay

    • Cheers Pete! Just been catching up with your blog just now. The Azores look really interesting. Oh and we’ll settle for a mini race in the Carrick Roads once you get to Falmouth!

  1. Well done! I have followed all your reports. Not sure which was more risky – Tunisia or Biscay! Best regards Charles

    • Hi Charles! Great to hear from you and glad you’ve been enjoying the blog. Still having a great time although time is flying now that we’re nearing the end of our trip. Look forward to catching up with you when we’re back!

  2. I’m so, so relieved. I jolly well hope that you’re going to report that man to the appropriate authorities. Just who does he think he is? Twit.
    Maybe the ship’s dog was on the bridge, left in control and was feeling kind of lonely???? hasn’t passed his exams yet but the others flatter him and tell him he’s doing OK. But he hasn’t got the hang of the plotters yet. It’s hard with paws……

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