A day into the middle of another force 6 with a decent sea running trying to hand steer down the waves in the pitch black. Wearing every item of warm clothing I have, and wondering if it was more then 5 minutes since I check how long was left on my watch, the though popped into my head, is this worth it? It doesn't seem like a relaxing holiday...
Sitting in Plymouth we were mainly concerned with the behaviour of the former tropical depression Gabrielle. This crossing of Biscay had loomed in our consciousness since leaving Norway. Fully aware of the well deserved reputation of this piece of sea and we definitely wanted to pick our moment and not have to test out any storm tactics. Gabrielle had been threatening at one point to hit the south coast and it didn't look like fun. We were keen to get moving on, the later we left the higher the chance of getting hit by an autumn storm. With all the most important boat jobs done, and my hand mostly repaired there wasn't anything keeping us in England. We left Plymouth on Tuesday, destination Vigo Spain, assured that the Gabrielle was going to pass safely to the north. The forecast looked good - albeit some questions on the arrival - it could be up to 25 knots in the compression around Cape Finnestere. An upwind beat out of the channel, a light patch of northerlies then easterlies until we arrived in Spain.
As the afternoon passed into evening after leaving Plymouth we got a look at the Eddystone lighthouse and kept tightening the sheets. The reefs started to go in as night arrived and cloud covered any light from the moon. After midnight the wind had built to a force 6 and the seas started to build as we reached mid channel. Our tacking angles were terrible and we struggled to make headway towards the western approaches. It was a wet and wild ride with the noise of breaking waves the only warning of an imminent dunking. We were told the Gamblings were wet boats - it takes on a different meaning when you get a good dunking working at the mast. The only upside was getting covered in phosphorescence and becoming a human glow-stick for an instant.
By 9am after being violently seasick multiple times (John... obviously) and another pair of fronts forecast for that night again - Ellie looked up somewhere to run to. Newlyn was the last port on the main land that we could make it into and was thankfully down wind and waves from us. Immediately after turning off the wind all was better onboard. We made it into Newlyn 24 hours and 116 miles on the log after leaving Plymouth - much the worse for wear. We tied up - tidied up and headed to the Red Lion for a pint (not for John, still a little tender), and an excellent Guinness pie (for John: No pastry sides only a hat but the gravy made up for that little faux pas).
After a quick visit to Penzance Lidl for lunch provisioning, a trip to the cave the gives Mousehole its name was in order. We stopped in at the old lifeboat station and memorial at Penlee - which was sobering. For the first time in the trip it felt like a bit of a holiday, walking on the beach eating ice cream. The weather also looked good for leaving on Friday the 13th.
It's supposed to be unlucky to set sail on a Friday - no one seems to be bothered on a sunny Friday after a crap week at work though. We also have a woman on board, so sailing superstitions are not adhered to on Alcyone, Captains standing order. So at 0820 on Friday the 13th we left Newlyn. Our course took us past Wolf Rock and the lighthouse there - an amazing feat of Victorian engineering. It took 8 years to build due to the sea state. One of the first helicopter rescues took place at Wolf rock. Alan Bristow (founder of the helicopter company of the same name) delivered 3 bags of supplies to the lighthouse keepers in February 1948. They had been cut off for over a month due to bad weather! We had a very pleasant force 4, 10-15 knots, from the north east and were thoroughly enjoying not having to sail up wind. That evening a small pod of common dolphins started to play near the boat - and stayed for the next 36 hours. The night watches were cold, standard wear was long johns, joggers and salopetes on the bottom, base-layer and 2 jumpers under the jackets with hood, hat and gloves to top it off. I'd have worn more - but that's all the warm clothing I have on the boat.
At midday on day three we dropped the number 2 jib as a rather large hole had chafed through on it. The small, 90% number 3 went up while Ellie started to repair the sail. She gave up when the wind started to build into a force 6 - mercifully still from behind. The boat was easy to handle and running deep enough that we didn't need the main up at all. We were glad we'd taken the time to get off the continental shelf and into deep water, over 4km deep at points, the long ocean cross swell was barely noticeable as we surfed down the wind waves for the next day and a half. It was in the middle of this blow that I was contemplating my life choices - I decided that Spain probably wasn't worth the crossing - but further on it would seem worth it. On the morning of the 17th I came on watch at midnight with the wind fast dropping, we were expecting to see Spain soon and eager to get in it was time to raise the main sail. The "Gulden Leeuw" a dutch tall ship was visible on AIS and we'd managed to stay ahead of her for almost 5 hours. With a little help from a Spanish trawler that forced them to wear around it must be admitted. 10 minutes later I was back in the cockpit and angrily pronouncing that sailing was a stupid past-time - having broken the top sail slide. We wouldn't be using the main until daylight at the earliest. Half an hour later, still cross with myself I had more to worry about as a thick fog set in. Ellie didn't get much sleep that off watch, I dutifully made one long and two short blasts on the fog horn every two minutes. It seems a little pointless making tiny little blasts on a fog horn with big ships about but I put those thoughts into the back of my mind and kept a closer eye on the AIS receiver. Radar didn't seem like an unnecessary purchase in those moments. Heading closer to land then I would have liked to avoid what looked like a pair trawl on the AIS I saw the first signs of Spain - wind-farm lights and the flashing lights from light houses along the coast. As the wind slowly dropped to nothing we took the decision to head for Ria de Muros and anchored inside the first anchorage off San Francisco, ready for lunch.
A little confused by the technicalities of coming to Spain, we're on a non-EU boat that is from a Schengen area but arrived from the EU - but not a Schengen country. We decided to "stay on passage" until we get to Vigo and not go ashore. The sails need repairing, food needs eating, books need reading, rum needs drinking, jumpers thick and tacky with salt need rinsing out.
As for Spain being worth it? Lounging on the foredeck with a cigar and rum an hour after setting anchor. In t-shirt and shorts with the sun blazing down and warm for the first time in a week. I admitted to Ellie that I was wrong, Spain definitely was worth crossing Biscay for. It was worth flying off waves and smashing down into the troughs outside Dover, it was worth the rollercoaster at Beachy Head and the 3 hours spent stationary but sailing forwards off Dungeness (sorry Keith).