Sailing over Bay of Biscay in October

Finally the day had arrived and on October 15th we started sailing over the bay of Biscay. Normally all books say that you should sail over Biscay as early as possible, as the further into autumn you go the likelihood of bad weather increases.

As we departed late from Sweden (late August) we knew that finding a weather window for Biscay might be hard, but we hoped that we would make it across anyway. Today with the good and detailed weather forecast finding good weather info is easy, but still it might be unreliable. The weather system is complex and no forecast can be fully relied upon.

We checked the winds and waves several times every day for Biscay and for our weather window the forecast stayed the same up until our departure. This is a good sign and shows that the forecast might be correct. If the forecast where to change every day it is a sign that anything can happen and maybe  not a good time to start a crossing. But our weather window was very stable so we felt safe starting our crossing.

We had also prepared a lot of food for our crossing, filled up our freezer with already cooked food so that we only would need to cook pasta or rice. We had made overnight oats with berries and peanut butter that we could only grab from the fridge for an easy breakfast. And finally made some energy bars, chocolate balls (to eat with the coffee) and warm drinks to make for the night. We downloaded podcasts so that we could have something to listen to while on night watch.

day 1

We left Roscoff about 9 in the morning after eating a steady breakfast. We sailed along the French coast all day, and around sunset we passed the strait between mainland France and the islands outside Brittany. It was dark when we headed out into the bay and we saw all the lights from France disappear behind us.

It was a still night with no wind and clear skies. We went by engine all night as we wanted to get over the bay as fast as possible. During the night we where accompanied by a lot of dolphins. Which was really cool. Later in the night we had phosphscenic light in the water making the dolphins look like torpedos around the boat. A very cool experience.

sailing bay biscay october
Excited to have found a good weather window for sailing over Bay of Biscay in October.
First sunset as we where about to enter the night and bay of Biscay.
Day 2

The morning started with a beautiful sunrise accompanied by the dolphins. We ate our first overnight oats with a cup of tea. It was a sunny day and the wind picked up so we could sail. We listened to music, a podcast, read and enjoyed the sun. We saw even more dolphins and sat on our bowsprit looking at them jumping around the boat. You get amazingly close to them when sitting there.

By evening the wind picked up even more (as we knew it would do). It was south-easterly winds so no huge Atlantic swell where gonna hit us, but still the waves got a bit big. We set the main on the third reef and changed from the genoa to a smaller headsail and started our night watch. For Biscay we tried with 2-3 hour shifts. It worked fine as it wasn’t that many days but for a longer sail we might need to take longer shifts. We’ll see how we do it.

The waves made Petra very seasick and she spent her night shifts watching the boat accompanied by a bucket. It was a tough night but still even though all the tiredness and throwing up we got through the night.

Calm day = autopilot check.
day 3

When morning came we made sure to eat, drink and rest. As Petra threw up a lot it was important to eat and drink to get energy back. And equally important for Thomas. Even though it is very tiring preparing food in the waves (even if it is only cooking pasta) it is important to do it. It won’t get easier the hungrier you get!

The wind and waves calmed down during the day. We got our energy back but wondered how exhausting our final night at Biscay would be. To our relief it was better than we thought. It was another calm night, and we motor-sailed through the night. We had our shifts and by this time it was no problems falling asleep (the first night was a bit harder). During the night we started seeing the lights from Spain and the winds where considerably warmer than our first night.

Day 4

We got another beautiful sunrise together with dolphins as we approached Spain. Even though we saw the coastline early we wouldn’t arrive to A Coruna until after lunch. We motor-sailed the last bit as there was almost no wind and found ourselves a spot in the marina. When checking in at the harbor office we showed our passports, ships papers and insurance policy. Earlier when we sailed through northern Europe we have never needed to show any papers (except when we where visited by the coastguards).

Hard to get the dolphins on a photo, but promise we saw a lot of dolphins! (If you look closely you can see a fin)

 

So, to summarize sailing over bay of Biscay in October:

  • We where really lucky to find a good stable weather window so late into the season. Throughout our crossing the forecast turned out to be very accurate and every change happened right on the expected time.
  • Even though we had a tough second night we weren’t super-tired when we arrived to Spain. And now a couple of days after we feel like it was a good crossing and that doing it again for a longer period (with warmer weather) might not be impossible.
  • The cold nights are pretty though. We where lucky we only got a little bit of rain, since cold AND rainy nights are even tougher.
  • Having good food prepared was a necessity, otherwise it would have been really hard.
  • Having an offline playlist with music and podcasts downloaded was also really nice.
  • Having dolphins around the boat is amazing!

 

Our last days in France before the Biscay crossing

We ate a good, steady breakfast before starting our sail from Fecamp to Cherbourgh. We have learned that it is worth a lot to eat breakfast before leaving than leaving and then eat breakfast on the go. It takes time before you can settle to make breakfast and it is really nice to start the day with a proper meal even if it means leaving a bit later.

Our sail to Cherbourgh was followed by more seasickness for Petra, and more throwing up. But apart from that it was a pretty okay sail. Still it has been cold and we have a lot of clothes on, which makes a simple toilet visit pretty tiring. We really look forward to warmer weather and less clothes!

We arrived in Cherbourgh-Octeville after sunset and found ourselves a spot. During our sail through northern Europe we have never booked a spot in a marina, we have always found a spot. But we have also sailed during low season so if going in July-August there is probably more boats and less available spots. Another good thing about sailing in low season is that the marina fees at some places has been a bit lower.

The day after our arrival we went to the harbor office to pay the marina fee and we also fueled up for our upcoming Biscay crossing. We had a weather window starting the next day so we planned to sail all the way from Cherbourgh across the bay with no stopping in between. So we did the final preparations and one of them was to switch genoas. We brought an extra genoa with us, a smaller one which we thought we would use during the Biscay crossing, but switching sails turned out to be a bad choice…

Finally we got to see some palm trees!

Fueling up in Cherbourgh.

We left early (but still after breakfast) with the goal to sail all the way to Spain. We passed the Channel islands (but not allowed to stop there due to Corona, would loved a visit otherwise) and timed the strong currents around the islands.

It was a rainy sail with pretty strong winds and a while into the sail our genoa started to get damaged. At first it was just a small damage and still possible to continue, but later another damage appeared so we decided to head towards Roscoff instead. It was still a long way to, over 100 nautical miles. As the genoa was damaged we set up a headsail on the cutter stay instead.

It was a tough night, with rain and thunder. That was a bit scary being in a sailboat at the ocean with lightning all around. Luckily there was a fishing vessel close to us if something should happen. If we where to be hit we made sure that our handheld VHF was out of its charger so that we would be able to call for help.

We managed to stay out of the thunderclouds by changing direction a bit so that the clouds didn’t hit us. Maybe they where so far away so that it wouldn’t have been a problem anyway, but better safe than sorry.

When we finally arrived in Roscoff in the morning we where really tired. We ate breakfast and feel asleep for a couple of hours. After that we changed genoa once more and decided that the other one wasn’t much to have (but will probably use it as an anchor sail and/or bimini/sun protection). Hopefully our other genoa last for the rest of the year.

One of the damages in our genoa.

Our Biscay window was still open, and we where gonna start crossing the bay the following day. As our night sail to Roscoff had been a very tough one we where a bit nervous of how our three day crossing would turn out…

Sailing in Normandy

It was stormy weather in the Atlantic and no good weather for us to leave Dieppe so we stayed there a week. During that week we got a lot of small jobs done on the boat, which was good. For example, more work on autopilot installation, fix our toilet (that started having some small issues on the way to Dieppe) and other small stuff. As we where closing in on Bay of Biscay we also spent a lot of time preparing for the crossing, by cooking a lot of food and put it in our freezer box. So when we where gonna do the crossing we would only need to cook pasta or rice and heat the food. Nice way to get good warm food while sailing.

As soon as a weather window appeared it was time to continue, but again a shorter distance. Or next stop would be Fecamp, a bit further west along the Normandy coast. On the way to Fecamp we got our first seasickness, Petra did not feel very well and threw up once on the way there.

Arriving to Fecamp.

When we arrived in Fecamp we started by taking a walk around town and up to a hill with a nice view and steep slopes.

Walking around in Fecamp.

Nice view over Fecamp.
WWII bunker.

The following day we rented bikes with the plan to bike along the coast towards Etretat. It was a very nice bike ride, with beautiful places along the way. And pretty tough as it was a lot of slopes. We ate lunch at Etretat and watched the cool cliffs by the beach before we started heading back. In total we biked 40 km so it was a good exercise for us.

Cool cliffs at Yport.
Low tide.
See the people in the picture?
Cool sheep on the way to Etretat.
The very cool cliffs at Etretat.
A cool building in Etretat.

After our long day of biking we went to bed early to rest for a longer sail towards Cherbourgh the day after.

A visit by the coastguards…

After two nights in Dunkirk we where ready to sail into the English Channel through Dover strait. We sailed along the coast and had the tide with us (about 3-4 knots through the strait) so it was pretty easy sail. We sailed to Boulogne-sur-Mer, which we reached short after lunch.

We took a walk around town and up to the old town where we ate some waffles. After that we went to the boat stores around the marina to try and find some stuff we needed, but did not find that much. It is hard to find the right stuff when you’re in a foreign country and not have a car so that you can go to bigger shopping centres.

Walking around in Boulogne-sur-mer.

Anne-Mon in the marina in Boulogne-sur-mer.

The tidal difference really started to show when we sailed closer into the channel.

High tide.
Low tide.

After our walk around town we spent the evening on the boat and prepared for an early morning departure once more. This time we were to sail towards Dieppe. A lot of boats that want to go through northern Europe fast usually sail from Bolougne-sur-mer straight towards Cherbourgh, but for us there was not a weather window to do that so we sailed towards Dieppe instead (how we sail can be seen under Our Route). From Dieppe we would then have a shorter sail to Cherbourgh when the time came.

And on the way to we had an exiting meeting with the coastguards. Shortly after we passed Dover strait we got called up on the VHF by a close-by coastguard ship. First time someone called us on VHF so pretty nervous. They asked us a couple of questions, where we headed and so on. Then they wished us a good trip and we thought that was it.

The coastguard ship that came to visit us.

But later in the day when we approached Dieppe the same ship approached and called us up again and said they where gonna come aboard on a routine check. So we started the engine and took down the sails, prepared all our paperwork. We where told to maintain our course to Dieppe with normal speed. The officials (four in total) jumped onto our boat while underway from a dingy they launched (pretty cool). They stayed onboard about an hour, check paperwork and the boat. Everything was in order and they where really nice. It was also nice that everything happened while being underway, so that our timeplan didn’t get to messed up.

When we approached Dieppe we had the most amazing sunset.

No filter needed for this amazing sunset.

The following day we took a walk around Dieppe, watched the beautiful cliffs and had a Moules Frites and a beer in the sun.

Walking around in Dieppe.
Cool cliffs at the beach.

The marina in Dieppe.
Time to enjoy a Moules Frites in the sun with a beer.
Nom nom.

Sailing past the shipping lanes to the English Channel

After our short visit in Amsterdam we woke up early to leave the canals and head back out to the sea. Our next planned leg was to sail to France past the big shipping lanes around Rotterdam and Belgium, and from there continue to the English Channel.

We first motored from Amsterdam towards IJmuiden, where we would pass through the last lock.

In the last lock in Ijmuiden before entering the North Sea once more.
When we reached the sea once more we got company by a lot of small birds.

Through the English Channel and North Sea the big ships travel along the TSS (Traffic Separation Scheme) which we didn’t need to cross (as we where just going along the coast). Where there are TSS zones there is usually an ITZ as well (Inshore Traffic Zone) between the commercial shipping lane and the coast. Staying in the ITZ is no problem but every now and then the commercial ships will leave their zone and head into land, and then you have to cross their path.

When sailing past Rotterdam, at Maas Entrance, there is a recommended crossing for leisure craft. When you cross the shipping lane you should cross straight over or with a right angle. Rotterdam is the biggest port in Europe and the ships going in and out are HUGE, so don’t want to be in their way.

Sailing shipping lanes english channel
The recommended crossing for pleasure craft outside Rotterdam.

We approached Maas Entrance in the later afternoon/evening. The sun hadn’t yet set but was soon about to. Just before our crossing four ships passed on their way to Rotterdam and after that the entrance was empty so that we could easily pass. Not short after we where safe on the other side three or four ships passed. So we where really lucky with finding a good window to pass.

The next challenging shipping lane, we thought, was the ones outside Zeebrugge, as there where several in different direction and as we would pass there by night. But it went fine, we passed the shipping lanes fast and well away from any big ships.

In our opinion it was more work avoiding the dredging and fishing vessels as they move in the ITZ and suddenly can change direction. The big ships stay in their zone and maintain their course.

Other than that our night sail from Amsterdam to Dunkirk offered pretty strong winds and at times, pretty high waves. As there was a lot of job steering the boat and navigating, we both got really tired. We tried with shorter rests for the both of us but it was a really tiring and cold night. Next night sail we will probably be able use the autopilot or windvane more so resting will be easier.

When morning came the wind died out and we started the engine and reached Dunkirk in France just before lunch. We ate lunch at a restaurant and after that we want back to the boat and fell asleep. We had a calm evening with wine and serie watching before falling asleep once more.

The following day we visited the market in Dunkirk, went food shopping and fixed some things on the boat. We spent another night in Dunkirk before continuing through Dover straight.

Walking around in Dunkirk.
Visiting the market.