As is often the case in maritime folklore, the reputation of the Bay of Biscay was affected by the things that actually happened there. Ships with rectangular sails, unable to sail upwind, were captured by the prevailing westerly winds and washed ashore - unable to get out of this trap ...
This prevailing wind, rapidly increasing depth and openness in front of three thousand miles of the Atlantic, still make the waters of Biscay something like an ancient biblical sea, capable of giving a motivating kick even to the experienced yachtsman.
Although the geography has not changed since then, the sailors have accumulated enough knowledge about how to get through Viscay... Better weather awareness, the ability of modern yachts to sail steeply to the wind, and (dare we say this word) a motor all serve to ensure that even a seasonal yachtman cruiser could satisfy his desire for adventure.
Waiting for the right weather
Correct weather is critical to getting started crossing of Biscay... They say that Sir Francis Drake calmly continued his game of bowling on the Plymouth Spit when he saw the approaching Spanish armada. He decided to wait for the wind to change in his favor before withdrawing the British fleet. What was more in it, bravado or sea experience? Probably both.
For 18 yachts Atlantic Rally for Cruisers traveling on the Portuguese route in 2018, the right weather was exactly what occupied the minds of the participants. The organizers' strategy - to sail over the continental shelf in one haul of 550 nautical miles - depended on whether there was a suitable weather "window" for this.
Chairman of the World Cruise Club Andrew Bishop first organized this event 24 years ago to promote the opening of a new Marina Lagos, Portugal... And this partnership continues to this day.
He explained some of the challenges his team faces in organizing a successful rally. “We started in Solent. Logistically, this was, in a sense, even more challenging than crossing the Bay of Biscay. Bringing a fleet to the western tip of the UK is always challenging due to the prevailing winds. Therefore, now we have excluded this part of the route from the rally and we advise other teams to save enough time to get to the start on time. Pick-up in the marina Mayflower (Plymouth, England) in this sense is ideal. "
Command World cruising club makes sure the boats are ready for the task. “The security check is no different from what I would do myself if I were crossing the Bay of Biscay. The whole check is going according to plan. Thus, everyone knows what he needs to buy, where he needs it and when it will be checked. For a trip like this, getting a plan like this and executing it is half the battle. And it is at this first frontier that many fail. You just need to enter the dates in your diary and say to yourself: "This is the day I go," explains Simon Ridley, owner Swan 46.
For some, the Biscay crossing is the first of many planned crossings. Manihi, brand new Hanse 548, assigned to Australia. Its owner, Christopher Cope, took his family on a year-long journey. With him is his son Patrick, who has a free year before the university.
“Starting with other boats is a great way to socialize, get out of your head and plan together. Excursions are also a very attractive moment, we want to know where we disembark. "
At every stop World cruising club organizes tours and excursions, including sightseeing Lisbon and a walk around Santiago de Compostela.
Approaches to team building at the Biscay crossing vary, but having a strategy certainly makes sense - as the first few days of a transition are usually the most stressful.
Steve and Carol Stokes took with them two additional crew members for Biscay, and then doubled the crew for the coastal stages of the rally.
Simon Ridley used the website to find crew members Crewseekers Internationalto find like-minded sailors, including Margu van Rysselwho keeps her own boat Jeanneau in Greece.
"It was a great opportunity for me to ride another cruise yacht, meet new friends, and know that all the support from the World Cruising Club was with us for a safe journey."
Terry Chandler took on his Aludra, Jeanneu Sun Odyssey 37, two good friends. “They are not experienced sailors, which of course was a little risky. But we feel great together. We had fun, sometimes a little stressful - but voila, it worked out! "
Regardless of how many crew members you take, Biscay's crossing will require a watch system and crew rotation in such a way that everyone has enough time to rest.
Meteorologist Chris Tibbs on When worth going
Crossing the Bay of Biscay can be a battle with the elements, but with good winds it will be an unforgettable crossing.
Yes, dramatic images of waves crashing against and absorbing lighthouses can be found in abundance. But these are winter storms rather than summer conditions.
Stable summer weather high pressure ridges from the Azores to the United Kingdom brings southwesterly winds into English Channel, but in the middle and in the south of Biscay, easterly and northeasterly winds dominate. The situation changes when the low pressure area crosses the Atlantic and approaches Britain. During this period, it is not easy to find favorable exit window - the winds change from south-west to north-west, and vice versa, barely giving an opportunity to tack.
Continental shelf stretches 60 miles from Brest. This shallower water lifts the Atlantic swell upward, creating steep waves. When the wind changes to northwest after a cold front, a crosswave can occur, making it dangerous to navigate the continental shelf. Crossing the Bay of Biscay is possible at any time of the yearbut waiting for the right weather window in the fall or winter can be quite a long undertaking.
Recommendations for crossing Biscay
- Get a good 5-day weather forecast that will give you time to go if you are late or the weather starts to change faster than expected.
- If the wind has eased, then it is better to motor in order not to miss the weather window or changes in the forecast.
- If you are heading further south, it is important to pass Cape Finisterre - there is simply to be trapped off the northern coast of Spain. The views are not bad, of course, but the situation itself can be quite tense if you need to move further south.
- The northwest corner of Spain has an acceleration zone where easterly or northeasterly winds and rough seas can intensify rapidly, often before a storm.
- With low pressure and southwest wind approaching, the next change will be west or northwest.
- Get your boat ready. For many of us, Viscay is the first major transition.
- Although some cruiser guides advise walking along the English coast as far west as possible before heading south, I prefer to go to the Brest Peninsula to reduce the distance and expect a weather window there.
- Allow enough time. Sailing on a tight schedule will force you to advance with dubious predictions.
What to look for:
- Poor visibility and strong tides around Ouessant Island.
- Waves on the continental shelf.
- Don't get trapped in the bay.
- Strong northeasterly winds around Cape Finisterre (large acceleration zone).
- Navigable waterways and fishing boats.
Three best routes
This traditional route leads you 10 degrees west to avoid being caught in the growing wave on the continental shelf, landing at Bayonneafter a 550-mile trek from Plymouth.
La Coruña offers a slightly shorter alternative that some boats use for refueling. In June and July, storms are extremely rare at sea.
However, due to the warming of the land during the daytime, storm force winds near the coast still prevail, especially when large masses move eastward from the Azores.
Extreme northwestern tip of Spain, Cabo Ortegal, Baras and Finisterre are famous for strong winds at any time of the year, so the route should be laid with caution.
In addition to the expediency of the “Portuguese route”, following them will also give you the experience of a real crossing on the high seas, the completion of which will be a significant milestone in the logbook.
Halfway across the bay
One of the options is as follows. Instead of going out one long passage, you can go out of Camaret-sur-Mer or Audierna and head straight to Gijon or La Coruñamaking more short jump.
Even shorter, you can make the transition to one of the islands from Groix before Oleron, before landing at Santander or Bilbao.
Weather forecasts for 48 hoursproviding a significantly higher degree of accuracy, make this route a good alternative for those who want to limit time at sea or have a small crew.
Selecting a coastal route attracts many with both the picturesque ports along the way and the acceptable distance between the boat and the shore. However, traffic around the northernmost parts of France and Spain has its own individual set of problems.
So, in some ports on the coast, it would seem quite acceptable, it is impossible to enter when there is a lot of excitement at sea - and they are periodically exposed to it.
However, if you have time to spare, then along this route you can move south with day crossings lasting till 12 o'clock.
The real Biscay experience
Joining the fleet ARC Portugal and spending the day on Boomerang, Elan 340, in the last stage of the rally from Sinesha to Lagos Is a great opportunity to find out how the transition actually occurs.
Steve and Carol Stokes decided to fly their cruiser, the smallest yacht in the fleet, from Ramsgate in the Algarveto experience a different sailing format.
“Two years ago, if it was not a race, it didn’t interest me! I myself was surprised by this transformation from a racer to a cruise sailor. I loved visiting so many new places, ”says Steve.
“Every boat and crew faces its own challenges along the way. The weather did not match forecast, resulting in several torn sails and a broken spinnaker pole on one of the larger yachts. But no one seemed too depressed by this turn of affairs. Instead, everyone has a story about their transition. When I joined, it became clear to me how well everyone knows each other. "
Have Carol Stokes with Boomerang there was a feeling that she was out of her comfort zone, which, of course, turned out to be a rather difficult, but extremely exciting experience. “We had two more people on the team to cross the Viscay, including daughter Steve. Even though I ran a sailing club in my previous job, I honestly am not a sailor at all! Difficult weather combined with steering problems (fixed by making the right part from a chopping board taken from the galley) and the realization that we are undersized in the team - in general, The Viscay leg has definitely become an adventure! "
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“Our boat was a little limited in the sense that it is smaller than most others and therefore slower. And when the excitement increased in the Bay of Biscay, we were probably not as comfortable on the waves as other, heavier cruise boats. It also meant that we had to leave early in the morning to arrive at the next location before dark. It's not a very pleasant moment when you're on a tight schedule, but acceptable on a 34-foot boat, ”adds Steve.
About the Author: Will Bruton is a professional skipper with over 50,000 nautical miles behind him. Translation: Dmitry Bushuev
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