The Bay of Biscay and making new friends

I had told myself that these blogs were going to be shorter, but we are behind in time and want to catch up. And also – the content of this next blog is not easy to describe in few words – so bear with me.

Camaret-Sur-Mer

The English Channel was now behind us, ahead laid the Bay of Biscay. We had heard many stories, both good and bad, about these waters. This made us a little nervous. It was app. 350 miles across and would take us about 3 days and be our longest sail ever. We had hoped that by now we would have found one or several other boats that were going to do the crossing. On a longer sail, it is always nice to have the company of other boats, but it seemed like we were on our own.

But for now, we needed to relax and take care of some jobs on the boat. The anchorage in front of Camaret-sur-Mer was beautiful and the water was so clear that we could see the anchor on the bottom. The small town was nice and atmospheric and after a few days, we got our energy back and went for a long hike along the coastline. It was absolutely gorgeous with high cliffs, bays with sandy beaches and lots of history because of the many bunkers from the Second World War.

One of our friends from home wrote to us to let us know, that a Danish sailboat named Carpe Diem was in the marina in Camaret-sur-Mer. Excited to meet other Danes we immediately made contact and before we knew it, we were on their boat drinking Gin&Tonics. It turned out that they were also going to cross the Bay of Biscay. We both needed some time in a marina to do the last preparations, and wait for a good weather window, so we decided to sail to Moulin Blanc Marina in Brest, which was said to have the best facilities. We were very excited to finally have a “buddy-boat” across the Biscay – little did we know that this was going to be the start of a wonderful friendship with Søren, June and Laura.

Boatwork and waiting in Brest

Our time in Brest was spent doing a lot of projects and maintenance – the motor got some TLC with change of filters and oil, the winches were serviced, Camilla made some sunshade panels for the cockpit and lots of other small projects. We did a lot of food-shopping, went sightseeing in the city, visited the famous aquarium, Oceanopolis, and spent some very cozy nights with our new friends drinking Gin Hass and studying the weather forecasts.

One day another Danish sailboat called Papaya arrived in the Marina. They were also planning to cross the Biscay – and so now we were 3 boats. We called our little flotilla “Biscarien Banden” and were very excited to do this crossing together. We also celebrated Camilla’s birthday. Our new friends surprised her in the morning with a birthday song and flags. In the evening we had a birthday party in Idéfix. Having such good friends while being away from our family – especially on days like this – was priceless. We soon started to refer to each other as our “boat family”.  

The weather forecasts hadn’t been great the last week and it had been very windy in the Biscay the past 3-4 days. But Saturday evening the wind would decrease. Sunday and Monday we would probably have little to no wind and Tuesday a new low pressure would build up and bring headwind of 15-20 knots off the coast of A Coruña, which was our destination. But by then we would probably have arrived or be very close. 

Our concerns were:

– Leaving just after several days with heavy winds – the wind can decrease fast but swell/waves take some time to settle. And had the wind decreased enough?

– The risk of the new low pressure changing course and or arriving earlier than predicted.

It was not ideal, but we had been waiting for 9 days and we’re eager to push off. We made back-up plans and was going to monitor the forecasts every morning and evening while underway – thanks to Papayas Iridium Go.

And we are off….

Saturday at 1824 o’clock all 3 sailboats left the marina. I think we were all both excited and nervous. But we were in it together and would help and support each other the best we could. On Idéfix we write a handwritten logbook – normally every or every second hour. At 23:52 o’clock we made our fourth entry – the next was at 13:03 o’clock the next day. Needless to say, we had a very rough night. The waves were probably 2,5 -3,5 meters and we had to tack (sail in a headwind) the first 40-50 miles. When it got dark Sebastian got very seasick and was not able to do anything on the boat. Camilla was feeling okay and had to be on the watch the whole night. In the morning none of us had slept for 24 hours and Sebastian was still not feeling well. At this point, there was still the option to sail towards the coast again.

In the morning wind and waves had decreased, but we were both extremely exhausted and conflicted as to whether we could continue the crossing. Our big concern was if Sebastian didn’t start feeling better. I, Camilla, was NOT going to sail the remaining 300 miles alone. We shared our thoughts and concerns with Carpe Diem and Papaya via the VHF (the boat radio). The moral support and encouragement were priceless and words can’t describe how happy and thankful we were that we were not alone. In the end, the determination to finish the crossing with our friends won. The alternative was to do it alone at a later time or sail the inshore route of the Biscay – which was 900-1000 miles – and not 350 miles across.

Luckily we were both able to get some sleep during the day and Sebastian started feeling much better. That afternoon the sun was shining and we were surrounded by dolphins for several hours. In moments like that, all worries and fatigue disappeared. We could share our excitement with Carpe Diem and Papaya and we were happy and relieved that we had chosen to continue.

At night the water was glittering with bioluminescent plankton and the sky was filled with stars. The sky was so dark that you could not see where the sky ended and the water began. You could clearly see the Milky Way and we saw hundreds of shooting stars. It was quite magical. The only sign of civilization was the navigation lights from Carpe Diem and Papaya.

Change of plans

The next day we had calm, sunny and warm weather. We relaxed, took a shower, made some good food and just enjoyed looking out on the open blue water. During the evening the wind picked up as predicted. We were motor sailing as we had the wind on our nose and the waves became bigger and more closely together as we approached land again. At 0230 o’clock we still had 50 miles left to A Coruña. That would probably take us 10 hours and the wind and waves were increasing. By 0400 o’clock we had all decided to sail to a protected bay called Cedeira instead. That would shorten the trip and save us for 4-5 hours. We were hammering in the steep waves and Sebastian was steering the whole night as the autopilot could not handle the boat in the waves.

Sitting in the dark with waves breaking over the boat and praying the boat and engine could cope with the conditions, we once again turned to our friends who were experiencing the same as us. We stayed in contact over the VHF with encouragement, jokes, and promises of a well-deserved “party” when we reached our destination.

At 0830 o’clock we dropped the anchor in the bay of Cedeira. The sun had only been up an hour and it was a misty morning with clouds hanging low over the mountains. It was a glooming but impressive sight. The bay provided good shelter from wind and waves and after breakfast and a hot shower, it was finally time to go to bed.

In the evening the crew from the 3 boats gathered on Papaya for drinks and a debriefing. It was nice being able to really talk to and see each other after 63 hours and 358 miles of sailing.

After a good night’s sleep, we left the next morning. It was a very rolly sail along the coast and we had to avoid many fishing pots and nets. On the 26th of August at 1540 o’clock, we arrived in the marina in A Coruña.