We were getting fed up of studying gribs and weather, often there had been 1 or even 2 good days but the days either side of it were just too windy or there was too much swell (we have a 2 metre limit for comfort). It seemed never ending. We geared up to leave for Gijon as this reduces the crossing to 2 days rather than 3 days but then the wind increased to gale force round the headland so we changed our mind and stayed put.
A week later we saw a window, it was perfect, finally after almost a month of waiting. But the next day it got worse, the wind direction became less favourable, wind strength increased, the swell increased, but on balance it was still just about ok and we agreed we could probably still leave.
We started our pre-departure preparations, then the lunchtime before we were due to leave it all went even worse and we really doubted our decision. It is awful to be in such a state of indecision with these changing forecasts. We are so keen to get going and get home but neither of us want to make the wrong decision and have a bad experience – Biscay has a fearsome reputation in the sailing world.
We continued to make our meals for passage and cooked a big joint of beef just in case it improved in the evening update. For once it actually improved and it was even better in the morning. Steph, our professional forecaster from MeteoGib, confirmed the forecast for us and it was all systems go for a lunchtime departure
We knew we were in for an uncomfortable first 24 hours with a NW swell of 1.8m, light N winds, with opposing easterly wind waves and shorter swell from the very strong easterly that has just died down a few hours ago. It wasn’t too bad at first but overnight it was horrible. Neither of us really slept, Ian said he got more sleep in the cockpit on watch just dozing than he did in his bunk.
But we got through the night and I was on watch when the sun was rising. As I took this photo a dolphin just jumped up next to us, I had no idea he was there, what a lovely surprise.
We had dolphins with us throughout the night, on and off, you can seem them in the dark swimming next to the boat, they really are beautiful creatures.
At Monday 12 noon we had been motoring for 24 hours and had done 120 miles, 5 knots per hour. Not bad considering what we’ve motored through at times.
Steph is sending us forecasts twice a day for this passage with a 24 hour forecast and a further outlook for the next 3 days to support our passage planning. We would like to get to Padstow round Lands End but if the winds and/or sea become unfavourable we will divert to Newlyn (near Penzance) or Camaret (near Brest, Brittany). On Monday evening the forecast continues to be favourable so we plan to go to Padstow and do our passage plan to get round Lands End in a favourable tide. We are on Spring tides at the moment so it would be good to have 1-3 knots of tide with us rather than against us.
It is actually a better forecast for Padstow than Camaret as there are strong north easterlies forecast on the approach to Camaret whereas if we stay offshore the winds are much lighter. We have noticed that Brest seems to be a very windy corner and we don’t want to get “trapped” again on a windy headland.
We have a much better second night, the sea is calmer and the stars are visible although it is very damp. We have had an abundance of dolphins with us throughout the afternoon and night, keeping us entertained with their acrobatics as they weave under and around the boat. At night they are silvery shadows, absolutely stunning.
Overnight we start to pick up more traffic on the AIS system as we approach the shipping lanes off Brittany into the English Channel.
Moonrise on Tuesday morning at the start of my 5am watch and a big ship is just passing to starboard heading to the shipping lanes.
An hour later and we have a stunning sunrise as another tanker passes by in the distance. What a glorious morning.
Unfortunately about an hour later we spot fog banks in the distance and spend the rest of the day in poor visibility, fog and mist which was forecasted so not unexpected.
We made good time overnight and are now going to get to Lands End too early. Lands End is best rounded between HW Dover and HW Dover+6 so we decide to aim for the last 2 hours of the earlier tide rather than the first 2 hours of the later tide. This means we will have more tide with us on approach but very little once we are round. This is probably better anyway as the tides are stronger on approach.
During the day we started to notice the effect of the tides pushing us to starboard for a few hours then to port. We also notice our speed is changing significantly – we are down to 4.5 knots for a few hours then back up to 6.5 hours for a few hours. We don’t have a tidal atlas for this area of the English Channel but can extrapolate the tides from Lands End and the Scilly Isles and understand how the tides are now starting to affect our boat speed and direction.
Steph confirms the forecast for our final 36 hours to Padstow with an Easterly force 4 forecast all Wednesday which is perfect to finally turn the engine off and start sailing. We have had force 2-4 winds for most of the passage but more from the north than the west that we were hoping for so we haven’t done any sailing yet. Fog and poor visibility continues to be forecast for the duration of our passage. There are more easterly gales forecast in Finisterre in the next couple of days with a rough sea in the sea area we have just come through – no turning back now!
We had to put our spare 80 litres of fuel that we carry in cans on deck into our fuel tank during Tuesday afternoon which was very challenging in the persistent 1.5 metre westerly swell but had to be done just in case this easterly wind doesn’t appear and we have to continue motoring.
As we enter the English Channel during our third night we are kept busy with shipping and poor visibility so no dozing off on watch for either of us tonight! The persistent westerly swell on the beam continues to make it difficult to get comfortable enough to sleep but we both manage to get a few hours.
Dawn breaks on the fourth day and there are no photos of the sunrise this morning. We have got 100% grey cloud cover and we notice the sea is no longer blue but grey to match the sky. Visibility has improved and we are no longer in fog and mist. Around 7am we cross the line on the chart, we are back in UK waters and it feels surprisingly good, we are really on our way home now. The wind is has gone through N overnight and is now NE as forecast – the long awaited Easterly 3/4 is in the Met Office Shipping Forecast for our sea area today.
During the afternoon the cloud clears and the skies are blue. The promised Easterly arrives but not quite strong enough for us to sail so we hoist the mainsail but keep the engine on as we are doing 6-7 knots and can’t afford to go slower as there is a strong tidal gate at Lands End. It’s unlikely we will get through the worst of the tide before it turns so can’t afford to give away any more time.
We spot Lands End in the distance, what a welcome sight!
We get half way round Lands End and start to slow down, the tide had turned. We had hoped to get further round but knew we were pushing our luck. Our speed went down quickly from the 6-7 knots we had enjoyed all afternoon to 3-4 knots. At one point it even went down to less than 2 knots for an hour or so. We made very slow progress, lots of whirlpools and disturbed water. On the chart it says ‘Heavy seas during gales’ – we had relatively little wind and a slight sea and can imagine how quickly it would build in any sort of wind. That is why we wait so long for our good weather windows.
We have a slow 6 hours making between 2-4 knots until the tide turns again around midnight and our speed increases back to 5-6 knots.
We arrive in Padstow harbour at 4.30am, we slowed down a bit towards the entrance so we could go down the channel as it was just starting to get light. The harbour master remembered us from 2 years ago, it was good to be back. We had sent an email before leaving La Coruna asking for a pontoon berth and there was one space that had been reserved for us – just perfect!
We would like to thank Steph at MeteoGib for her weather forecasting support pre-departure and en route. It is so incredibly reassuring to know a professional weather forecaster is watching your back while you are offshore. Steph really cares about your safety and this comes across all the time, we very much recommend her service.
TOTAL miles – 471.3
Day 1 – 120, average 5 knots
Day 2 – 136.5, average 5.7 knots
Day 3 – 136, average 5.7 knots
Day 4 – 78.8, average 5 knots