La Rochelle (France) to Gihon (Spain)- Crossing the Bay of Biscay
02 June 2014
The Dufour boys turned up and did a couple of final things to Songbird on the Monday morning, as we did the final preparations for the crossing of the infamous "Bay of Biscay" (Golfe de Gascoyne as the French call it). Weather is always the governing factor here, Kim, Mike and I downloaded weather information from several sources and analysed it to death. These all indicated various themes of the same thing, it was going to blow pretty hard on Tuesday night. The idea was to get a far as we could towards La Coruna on the northwest Spanish coast a distance of 360nm as the crow flies, ride out the blow and then carry on. We started on the afternoon sea breeze out of La Rochelle on a tight beat across the bay to round the Ile de D'Oleron and stay as close to 244 degrees to round he headland at Cabo Prior and into La Coruna. We didn't know it then but it was to be a 3 day beat across the bay, Monday and Tuesday passed with lights winds just plodding along on a combination of sail and engine to keep moving. We were visited by small very active dolphins (see photos) which are always great to see and helped. As forecast on Tuesday night about 11:00pm the wind picked up and the front came through blowing at a consistent 30kts, with a few heavier gusts. Songbird hadn't been tested as yet in a good blow with a sizable swell and wind wave. The swell was coming from the NW at what we estimated was up to 3.5 metres but the wind chop came in from the SW at about 1.5+M and the seas became very confused, throwing us around quite a bit. As with most boats of this design, they have a flat bottom and will slap the water with a bang when they come off a wave. The small slaps were okay, but on three occasions (and I was counting), we came off the top of a wave and pounded into the void beneath which ended with a bone jarring bang. I remember one of these vividly, seeing the bow pointing at the moon and thinking (pardon the language)...."Oh fuck this is going to hurt". I wasn't a happy puppy at all, thinking i'm beating my girl up and was worried about the damage it might be doing. We slowly plodded our way through the night and clawed our way to the SW. The wind had swung to the NW with the passing of the front and as the sun rose you could see the sea state and ride them a little better. I remember thinking this is what the inside of a top loader (washing machine) looks like, there wasn't any consistent pattern to the waves . We still had a 100nm to go to get to La Coruna and knew it was going to be a hard noisy beat, the wind hadn't abated and more was forecast. We had time up our sleeve before we needed to be in Coruna, so the call way made "stuff this we'll crack off and head for Gihon" with a plan to pick our way along the coast over the next few days. We arrived late afternoon, tied up safely in harbour and downed a nice cold beer to wash out the salt. This in hind sight proved to be a really good decision, as it allowed us the opportunity to visit some of the lovely ports on the north coast of Spain. We checked Songbird in Gihon for damage, with only the front panel of the cutlery draw needing to be fixed, it fell off when it slammed closed. Good thing was no leaks could be found, she was dry and sealed well from wind, rain and waves......
Gihon was a nice tidy little town, with a commercial port on one side of the 'Ria' and the marina and town centre on the other. It had an art piece on the waterfront made of Wine bottles, as region produced a good wine which Kim, Mike and I took a liking too. As we wandered around town looking for a place to eat, we stumbled into a local café for looking for a feed, this turned out to be the local 'cider' bar. Mike ordered a bottle for us to sample and they used a traditional way of pouring the cider into your glass. They raised the bottle over their head and poured it into your glass which was held about thigh height, this was a drop of over a metre. They stared straight ahead when doing this and didn't spill much each time it was done. The amount they poured was just enough that you had to drink it in one go (i.e. skull it)......It was a pity I was still trying to shake the bug I picked up just after we left Arzal, it would have turned into a good session on the local hooch I think.