We left Audierne in patches of rain and foreboding clouds, after stumbling upon a local street market in the middle of the town. Fresh fruit and veg, cheese, meat, clothes and artwork stalls were strewn around the streets and we wasted no time stocking up with fresh fruit, cheese and bread in preparation for our 300 mile journey across the Bay of Biscay.
It felt promising that, as we let go of the mooring lines and started motoring out of the bay, we were leaving behind the dark rain clouds hovering over France in search of warmer climes and probably sun burn, due South.
The weather cleared up almost as soon as we got underway; I took charge of helming and was tasked with keeping a steady course under strict instruction from Jake’s Dad, Al who was coming along with us as invaluable crew! The sails went up and we set a course for A Coruña. We could almost taste the chorizo and cerveza (beer, for those of you not au fe with the Spanish language) on our tongues!
We did exceptionally well in the first 24 hours; we were close hauled most of the way with force 4 -5s, occasionally 6s and Ragtime was flying along! At points we managed to hit 10 knots but cruised happily at 7-8 knots which felt great, especially as we had been reliably informed in Alderney that “Ragtime only ever does 6 knots!” Of course this was also a fantastic test for Jake’s new rigging and he saw all of his hard work over the last 7 months come to fruition.
We settled in (…well, when I say settled in, Jake and Al did most of the work; sailing, cooking and making sure we were on course while I spent most of my time curled up in a ball trying to keep my dinner down – something which I would be mocked for for days to come from both Al and Jake) for a journey that we had set aside 3-5 days for. Given that we had absolutely smashed the first 24 hours we were feeling extremely optimistic that we would be seeing Galicia’s mountainous coastline very shortly.
Although we were having a cracking sail we failed to catch any Tuna. I personally blame Jake for this. He made a promise he could not keep. We were miserably disappointed not to have our Tuna Ceviche or soy and ginger tuna, which Al had bought ingredients for specifically. It is irritating to think that in a body of water 300 miles long (ish) and over 4000 meters deep in some places, we did not manage to catch a single fish. Not even a sprat. Jake’s excuse was that we were sailing too fast for Tuna but we all know that “a bad workman blames his tools/boat speed”. I am hoping that he can redeem himself by catching something for us this week.
Having failed at being a fisherman, Jake then turned his hand to bakery. I can now confirm that Jake is a Star Baker; he produced two loaves which served us very well for about 4 days and were delicious. Just call him ‘Jakey Berry’. This was made all the more impressive by the fact that this was done mid-Biscay! While Ragtime was barrelling through the waves he found his galley-feet and provided for those on board; a true Barefoot Boat Bum.
The third day brought the sun and clear blue skies we had been waiting for. It also brought back the dolphins for the second time in as many days! This time there were a great many more of them and they bounded over the waves from a hundred metres away, rushing to greet us with squeaks and jumps. They jostled and over-took each other as though each wanted to have the prime spot nestled under Ragtime’s bow with the three of us their audience.
Dolphins, we have discovered love to be the centre of attention and to perform; provided you remain a captive audience for their splashy marine frolics they will stay to entertain you. When you realise it’s beer o’clock and decide to head back to the shelter of the cockpit they will leave the boat; probably to go and feed on the massive stash of tuna they have obviously stolen from us. I knew dolphins were smart…
Deciding to take advantage of the calmer, warmer weather Jake came up with a marvellous invention; the best seat in the house, found up on the bow in the pulpit. With the use of a kayak seat clipped onto the railings (and of course a lifejacket; don’t worry parents, safety first!) you can sit quite comfortably with your legs either dangling either side or up in front of you. I must say, there is something quite ‘Jack and Rose’ about the whole thing.
Feeling a little better, I ventured up to the aptly named best seat in the house and wedged myself in. What a difference! No longer queasy and wishing it to be over sooner I felt almost weightless as Ragtime bounced over the waves and pushed on to Spain.
As the day drew to a close we ate some dinner of enchiladas and spilled a lot of wine. Eating dinner and drinking from wine glasses is no easy feat if you are heeled right over. Amazingly I felt fine! It seemed that my ever present sea-sickness had decided to take a break for now and I was allowed to enjoy the sunset of our last day at sea in Biscay.
To celebrate my new-found iron stomach I took my third watch of the trip. I had done two night watches on the same night during the leg between Guernsey and L’Aberwrach but sea-sickness had prevented me from being of any use at all from then on. So, I plugged myself in to my Audio book and watched for any lights headed towards us in the dark. I saw the misty mountains rising up from the sea to my left and felt excited that in the morning we should be in sunny Spain! Having said that, those misty cloudy mountains didn’t exactly fill me with hope that it would be very much different from Alderney. My watch finished so I went back to bed to try and get some shut-eye but was constantly hampered by a large rolling motion.
We were running down wind and had the Genoa pole out to force the Genoa to stay on the port side, while the main was on starboard side; goose-winging it. Jake had secured lines from end of the boom to the starboard side to stop us from crash-jibing. The wind picked up so we reefed the Genoa, still sailing down-wind at 8-9 knots. We altered course by a few degrees to avoid some shallow water, resulting in a crash-jibe but still with a line holding the boom on the starboard side, causing Ragtime to try pointing into the wind. After Jake wrestled with the Genoa pole to get it down (again, lifejacket on and clipped on – safety first) we safely allowed the boom to move to the port side. We then reefed the main and managed to put ourselves back on the right course.
All this when written-down sounds fairly harmless. But the truth is, as a very inexperienced sailor I was incredibly nervous and scared. It was dark, about 5am, we were all tired and hungry, there was a cacophony of noise from the sails, boom and waves, it was incredibly disorientating having Ragtime lurch from one side to the other and to be honest I didn’t have a clue what to do. But, Jake and Al being the level-headed and calm sailors they are, gave clear instructions and we (let’s be honest; they) managed to bring Ragtime under steady control and we started the engine to begin our approach into A Coruña.
We passed through the Ria towards the breakwater as the lighthouse (the oldest working lighthouse in the World I’ll have you know) flashed steadily. There were an enormous number of fishing boats all around us, presumably trawling for sardines in readiness for the upcoming San Xoan festival. Al kept a constant watch on the AIS and confirmed that we were indeed surrounded by at least 25 or 30 fast-moving fishing boats, often taking very strange courses. Despite playing what felt like a marine-version of PacMan we made it safely to the breakwater and turned into the Marina at A Coruña!
We found a berth on a finger pontoon and tied up. It was 630am and the sun was just about up on what looked like it would be a beautiful first day in A Coruña.
We nibbled on some marmite toast or fruit, a little dazed and tired; the significance of what we had just achieved not quite sinking in just yet. We decided to sleep for a few hours to refresh ourselves before starting the necessary admin when arriving in a new port.
The Bay of Biscay can have a reputation for being dangerous and daunting. If the weather conditions are not right or it is rushed into with not much planning it can be a scary experience for sailors and those waiting for news at home. However, whilst our crossing was not without incident, we had planned meticulously, waited for the weather to be just right and worked hard to get the best out of Ragtime. As a result we had a better crossing than we could have hoped for. It was tiring and often somewhat monotonous but Ragtime did us proud and we arrived safe and sound.
We have been in A Coruña for 5 days and have experienced most but not all that this marvellous city has to offer; festivals, beautiful food and above all great company. But more about that next week…