A “Biscay” Diversion

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They say “never look a gift horse in the mouth”. I certainly wasn’t going to be doing any equine throat examinations when I was asked if I would like to help sail “Esperanza”, a Halberg Rassey 352, from Dun Laoghaire South, across the Bay of Biscay to La Corunã, in the NW of Spain. Esperanza is owned by Alan McMahon, a great guy with lots of experience that he doesn’t talk about. Him and a friend flew a single engine plane round the world in 2003, purely to log hours for their commercial pilots licenses. Impressive.

Anyway, there would be four of us – apart from Alan and myself, there would be Bernadette Fox, who I knew from my days in Greystones Sailing Club and Heather King, who I have known for a few years and have done lots of sailing with. The plan was to leave Dun Laoghaire on the evening southerly tide on Friday, 10th June and head south to Tuskar Rock, then SW until off Cork, then South. The more ‘west’ we made early on, the further we would be from shipping lanes around Lands End and the NW of France, as well as being further to sea for crossing into the Bay itself. Biscay has a bit of a reputation, not undeserved, due to the to the sudden change in depth at the edge of the continental shelf. Depths can go from 100 metres to over 4000 metres in a relatively short distance, meaning that in strong winds, huge confused seas can build up. We didn’t want to experience this!

Night sailing
Tusker, at the SE corner of Ireland

We motored South, with little or no wind, in a thick evening mist. The large wind turbines on the Arklow Bank appeared out of the gloom, then disappeared again. Sonya, Alan’s wife had made a big pot of the best chilli ever, which went down very well on Friday evening. Early on Saturday morning, we passed Tuskar Rock and headed SW, still in relatively light winds. Any wind that there was, was south or south westerly, so we motor sailed along the south coast of Ireland, the last land to be seen was the Saltees, off the Wexford coast, on Saturday morning.

Off the south Coast of Ireland

We could just make a heading towards the Kinsale gas fields,  from there we would head South. However, The wind stopped playing the game. After heading west, for a while, the wind backed and west became NW.  Eventually, on Saturday night, the wind became variable and we were heading towards Ireland. Dinner was chicken Kiev, baby potatoes and spinach- tasty. We tacked, headed east of South and waited for the wind to go to its forecast direction of west. Eventually the wind filled in properly from the west, soon back making ground to the south.

On Sunday night, the wind dropped for a while, then began to fill in from the west again. Dinner was Lagrange and salad. Forecast after forecast gave westerly winds, 20 knots, with fronts passing and the wind due to drop to 10 knots the next day.  One French forecast was incredibly vague, merely stating “wind will not exceed force 7” – there was no mention of direction at all!

Heather, in great sailing conditions

Monday was  windy all day, with a steady 25-32 knots from the west. Occasional showers blew through all day and the seas remained big, with a wind blown westerly waves on top of a large swell. This gave some exciting but wet sailing, with occasional breaking waves catching us off guard. Dinner was chicken and ham pie, with baby potatoes and sweetcorn.

Whale blowing in the distance

After dinner, we were passed by a large whale, blowing 7 or 8 times. We never saw the whale, unfortunately.  We sailed into the night, with 2 reefs in the main and 4 rolls in the jib, quite a small sail area, but we still sailed at up to 7.5 knots.  Monday night wasn’t pleasant. I fell as I coming onto watch at night and gashed my head. This reminded me how serious long passages can be, where any injury could become very serious, very quickly. Anyway, Monday was a horrible night, strong winds and heavy rain.

Sailing into the night

On Tuesday, the rain cleared in the. morning, leaving a NW, blowing anything between 15 and 28 it’s. We had now been on starboard tack since saturday. There were a lot more ships today, including Rapallo, a 700ft long cargo vessel, who called us on the VHF. We also passed within 15 miles of the Jules Verne, 1299 feet long and 177 feet wide, which was heading for Malta. I cooked dinner on Tuesday night, pasta with vegetables in pesto sauce, quick and as easy as it is in a boat in a lumpy sea.    The good thing…less than 24 hours to go. Tuesday night was busy with boats.

Getting busy with shipping

There were plenty of fishing boats, working in pairs, zip-zagging around, as well as cargo ships and tankers, heading from the TSS off Finisterre. It was also the only night that we had something approaching a sunset,  we were reaching, in a gusty 20-25 knots, occasionally over 30.

Our only sunset

As Alan had decided to stay west, as much as possible, we had a bit of wiggle room to play with, if the wind did as forecast and went to the SW.  Luckily it didn’t and Tuesday and Tuesday night gave us some of the most satisfying sailing conditions on the trip – watches passed very quickly.

Approaching La Corunã

Wednesday wasn’t quite foggy, but damp and misty. We hadn’t seen any of the lighthouses on the big headlands during the night and were quite close to La Corunã before we saw land. The distinctive Torre de Hercule appeared – it is the oldest continually working lighthouse in the world and was originally built by the Romans. La Corunã is reasonable you straightforward to approach, with well marked north and west approaches.  As we rounded the breakwater, the marina appeared. We had arrived.

Tying up alongside after 4.5 days


La Corunã marina is really good – right beside the old city, very good value and very helpful staff. There were boats from France, The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Wales, England, the USA and of course us, from Ireland.

La Corunã marina.

There were small live aboard cruisers, through to humongous shiny new monster yachts and everything in between.

La Corunã itself is an old city with a strong maritime tradition. The old town is built on a headland and is linked to the rest of the city by a thin isthmus.

La Corunã

Beautiful old buildings, large squares and distinctive narrow cobbled streets abound in the old city.  The building facades have distinctive glazed in balconies, to protect from wild winter storms.

Wandering around the old town at night

Heather and I will be flying back from Santiago de Compostella airport on Sunday morning, the next few days will be fun, exploring the city, chatting to the many folks heading south towards the Canary Islands and onward to the Caribbean over the winter.

Bloomsday drinks in La Corunã.  Any excuse.

Someday, I plan to be back here on Koala, heading south and west………..


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