Biscay the fourth time round

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Nick
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Biscay the fourth time round

Postby Nick » Sat Sep 03, 2011 2:03 pm

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It all started in Stornoway . . .

This year we decided on a more modest Summer cruise after our slightly exhausting and expensive trip to Norway the previous year. We determined to head for Stornoway for Sail Hebrides, an event we had last attended in 2003 in our first season with Fairwinds.

With 95% of the year’s action taking place that week – SailHeb, HebCeltFest, tall Ships and more - Stornoway was a wild musical town, open all hours. We managed to snaffle a couple of prizes in the racing, and partied hard all week. We made many new friends, including Phil and Alison on Bagheera. We had seen her sailing all week, and on the last night before we left we attended a black pudding party on board. She was a sturdy and sumptuous vessel, 42 ft of solid ocean-going craftsmanship and showing very few signs of her 14 years.

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.......................................................... ...........................................................Bagheera sailing off Stornoway

Phil and Alison explained that they were liveaboards, having sold their house, and that they were planning to Winter aboard in Troon . I must have come very close to spluttering my red wine over the luxurious upholstery at that stage as I suggested that there lay madness, or at least rapid disillusionment with the liveaboard life. Portugal was a minimum, I suggested, with the Canaries as the preferred option. I was not alone with these thoughts and much alcoholic advice was offered. Before we left I said that if they wanted crew across Biscay I would be happy to come if they could pay my travel expenses.

I didn’t think much more about it until we were home a couple of weeks later, when Phil got in touch to ask when I could join the boat. We made a vague plan for me to join the boat in Waterford, for the 500 mile trip across to La Coruna. Initially Phil and Alison planned to head for Portugal as quickly as possible, but I managed to persuade them that a leisurely September cruise exploring the Galician rias and the Portuguese Atlantic coast was a better plan.

Bagheera left Troon on a Tuesday , but the weather was typical Irish Sea stuff and by Friday they had only got as far as Ardglass, so I made plans to join them there. This involvd a train to Troon then camping overnight on Phil and Alison’s previous boat, Utopie – an HR352 in very good order, currently on brokerage at Troon if anyone is interested. A pleasant evening was spent at Troon Cruising Club and in a nearby hostelry with John Mosson, aka ‘Old Glow in the Deeps’, then next morning it was off to Belfast on the fast ferry then train to Belfast and bus to Ardglass.

We sailed from Ardglass next morning (Sunday) for a tippy ride to Howth, hard on the wind all the way. We had wind over tide as far as St johns Point, then it all settled down a bit and Bagheera got in the groove. It was a great opportunity to see how the Hallberg handled windward work in a stiff breeze, and to get used to the in-mast electric reefing. The boat was rock steady and needed surprisingly little sail to keep her moving at six or seven knots, while the broad teak decks made tasks such as hoisting the Irish courtesy flag easy even when well-heeled. We passed Lambay Island six or seven miles off before tacking in, at which point the wind freshened and backed soon after we tacked and on our best course we could barely make Ireland’s Eye. A mile off we gave in, furled sails and motored in with 30+ knots and lots of spray over the deck.

In the marina it was relatively calm. We were directed to a berth right down the head of the pontoon nearest the quay that I would have been reluctant to take Fairwinds into, but Alison coolly parked the big boat exactly using prop walk and the bow thruster. It was a very snug and handy spot at the foot of the ramp, and it wasn;t me who was going to have to back out when we left!

It was late, but we managed a pint of real Irish Guinness before retiring. The weather was looking pretty grim for Monday, so a rest day was declared. Phil and Allison went off into Dublin while I did a few odd jobs on the boat. I was invited for a long and leisurely lunch aboard Saffire, a brand new Ovni owned by a charming French couple who joined us later for pre-dinner drinks on Bagheera. Phil cooked a superb fish dish featuring monkfish and clams, which we ate with organic bread made on board in the breadmaker. The galley inventory is very extensive and even includes a sodastream for cold fizzy drinks. Cooking is all-electric with a ceramic hob and electric oven, with 240 volts being supplied by a very quiet generator in the spacious engine room.

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............................................................................. ....................................................All mod cons . . .

With the next few days looking pretty tranquil for a Biscay passage we decided to press on and make an overnight passage to St. Marys in the Scillies, which would be our jumping off point for Spain. The weather was not great first thing on Tuesday morning, but the wind was forecast to drop later and there were a few jobs to do. Round about twelve o’clock we warped Bagheera round onto the fuel berth and filled her up. There was a bit of drama backing out of the berth, not helped by the constant stream of Optimists being launched right into our path, and we had a close (but non-contact) encounter with a CQR on the bow of another boat before getting clear.

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................................................................... ...............................................................Optimists at Howth

Once out and round Howth Head we fond ourselves on a beam reach across Dublin bay in quite a bit more wind than we had been expecting. We furled a couple of panels of the main away and took a few rolls in the genoa and Bagheera picked up her skirts and flew across the bay. With a knot or so of tide with us the SOG stayed above ten knots for most of the time, and was frequently over 11. I claimed the record with 11.6 knots, but as we came abeam Wicklow Head the wind began to ease. By sunset it has almost died, and we were motoring as we watched the sun go down behind the wind turbines on the Arklow Banks. Still, we had covered 28 miles in the first three hours on passage, an average speed of over nine knots. As darkness fell and the tide turned against us we reconciled ourselves to motorsailing for a while.

Our course took us down the outside of the Arklow banks to the corner of the Tusker TSS, from where a very small course alteration would take us to the bottom corner of the TSS off the Smalls. I had set up a watch system which gave each person three hours on watch, three hours ‘guaranteed’ sack time and three hours on ‘standby’ – meaning that theoretically six hours uninterrupted sleep was possible. Three short two-hour watches in the afternoon meant a 24-hour routine could be established. A lack of sea berths was a bit of an issue however. With only one settee berth in the saloon the only other lee cloth was in the aft cabin. This proved to be not only lively in a seaway but also very noisy under engine, surprising in a boat that was so refined in every other respect.

I had given Alison the first watch from 21.00 – 00.00 with myself on standby and due to come on watch at midnight. I snoozed behind the leecloth in the saloon until shortly before I was due to come on watch Alison called me to say there were three ships coming up fast almost dead astern. A quick glance at the plotter and chart showed that we were approaching our waypoint at the corner of the TSS, and it immediately dawned that most of the Southbound traffic would use exactly the same waypoint. Bagheera carries an AIS transponder, so there was little chance that they had not seen us, and at this point they were still three or four miles astern of us. However, two of them were showing a CPA of under a quarter of a mile. I decided to stand out a bit further, and made a 30 degree alteration to port. This put the first two ships on a course that would see us pass at a more comfortable distance, but the third now showed a CPA of only a couple of cables and was closing the distance rapidly. I called up and asked if they could see us, and a very polite voice assured me that he could but that he would make an alteration to starboard ‘to give you a bit more room’.

Phil didn’t sleep much, and both Phil and Alison had already told me that they had not slept at all on their only previous offshore passage, which was when they had been helped to bring their previous boat Utopie back from Holland, where they had purchased her. However, the night passed with no further incident, and once it was light we managed to get Bagheera sailing again on a cracking broad reach. A huge pod of dolphins came to play - they just seemed to love BAgheera's bow wave as we powered along at six or seven knots. Later the wind dropped a little and there were tentative thoughts about putting the donk on, but we resisted them. It was almost exactly 200 miles from Howth to St Marys, and it was always going to be touch and go whether we arrived in St Marys in daylight or not. I had been in before in 2006 in Fairwinds though, and I remembered it as an easy entrance with no real dangers, so I didn’t see any need to burn diesel just to ensure a daylight arrival.when we could sail comfortably at five knots.

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.......................................................... ................................................Dolphin attack en-route to the Scillies

We passed the Seven Stones lightship as dusk was falling, and by the time we were off St Martins it was dark. St. Marys Sound is well-lit though, with all dangers clearly marked once you are sure you are clear of the Gilstone, and we found our way round into the harbour and picked up a mooring buoy without incident. Of course, a big screen plotter is also useful in these circumstances, but it wasn’t really needed. Drams all round and fall into bed.

The next day - we went ashore for various reasons. Phil and Alison went shopping, while I took a shower in the excellent facilities on the pier. I had remembered these showers as being superb from our previous visit, and I was not disappointed. I met up with Phil and Alison in the mermaid and we had grilled sardines and a bowl of chips for lunch - a quick preview of the Spanish tapas we were all looking forward to. The pint of Doom Bar was very British though - a superb beer.

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............................................................ ...........................................................Hugh Town, St. Marys

This was Thursday afternoon and I still had to book my flights back. I now felt confident enough of our arrival to decide to book them for the Wednesday. We got back on board at two, had an exciting visit to the very busy fuel berth before the tide dropped too far, then got back to the mooring before three, but the flaky harbour wi-fi kept dropping the connection and it took me until five o’clock to be sure that I had confirmed flights from La Coruna to Heathrow and Heathrow to Glasgow. As soon as the flights were booked we dropped the mooring and headed to sea.

It was a dull evening as we emerged from St Marys Sound and set a waypoint for la Couruna, 403nm distant. There was a leaden, choppy and confused sea and a F5-6 almost dead aft. We rolled uncomfortably into the dusk under genoa hoping the sea would go down. The forecast showed winds mostly F4 or less well aft of the beam – not ideal conditions, but better than a gale on the nose - and we had plenty of diesel.

The first night passed without incident. The wind went round and dropped until we were close-hauled with 8-10 knots over the deck and Bagheera showed that she can sail in light airs as well, making 4-5 knots when we bore away a little. This SW wind was unexpected, but was no doubt part of the ‘variable F3’ we had heard about from the Navtex. We were awash with weather information. Apart from studying Magic Seaweed before leaving we had printouts of the UK shipping forecast, the French sea area forecast and Phil finally got the hang of downloading GRIB files via the satphone. All looked good – no nasty surprises in store, morale high and people even managing to sleep a bit off watch.

The next day dawned bright, sunny and with the sea in a much more civilised state. It was so pleasant that Phil and Alison could barely believe this was the dreaded Biscay. we had a mass outbreak of dolphins for a while, then the next highlight was the shipping lanes. I explained that the traffic basically steams directly between the Ushant TSS and the Finisterre TSS, and drew the two lines on the chart. Our course crossed the shipping lanes at a very slight angle, so we were going to see a lot of ships over the next eighteen hours or so. However, as they are all on parallel or reciprocal courses there is no mystery as their intentions and no-one got stressed. This was the third time I had crossed the lanes like this going across Biscay; I find the ships give interest to a long watch with little else to see, and this time with the AIS there was definitely no cause for alarm. The night watches in the shipping lanes passed without incident and Saturday morning found us in an empty sea. This was to be our last full day at sea, and I began t get that strange feeling where you wish the trip was a little longer. We were functioning as a crew now, the watch system was working well and I understood all the boat systems. Phil’s cooking was excellent – you couldn’t fault the catering - and al in all we were a happy crew.

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.......................................................... ...........................................................The first giant of many


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.......................................................... ...........................................................Just another Biscay sunset

Our third night at sea passed without incident. We started out motoring but raised sail when the opportunity presented itself. The Navtex promised us a thundery low moving North from Spain to France, with moderate winds but severe gusts, so we were expecting some squalls. The sky was lowering and grey, but we didn’t get any squalls and were helped on our way by the following wind that had been such a feature of the whole trip. Towards afternoon we began to look for the Spanish coast, but the visibility came right down to a mile and we finally sighted the breakers at the foot of Cabo Prior in very Scottish conditions.

A mile out we furled the sails and motored into a grey damp La Coruna. Rounding the breakwater we motored up to the new Marina Coruna to be met by a man on a bicycle who showed us to our berth. My fourth Biscay crossing had been the best one yet, thanks to a superb ship and a most hospitable crew. We showered and repaired to the street of a thousand restaurants for tapas and beer.

Although teh weather remained resolutely Scottish on the Monday, it cleared up on Tuesday as Phil and Alison began planning their cruise of the Spanish rias and Portugal. I took the chance to have another look round this fabulous little city we had fallen in love with in 2006, then we had another evening of beer and the most delicious tapas followed by music, drams and chat until the small hours. Tomorrow, back to reality . . .

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.......................................................... ...................................................La Coruna from Torre de Hercules

Alison and Phil are now in the Rias. I am in Balvicar, but I am going to Ballachulish on Sunday . . .
- Nick 8)

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Re: Biscay the fourth time round

Postby Telo » Sat Sep 03, 2011 2:54 pm

Nice write up, thanks Nick. From your description and pic, Bagheera looks and sounds like a great boat for long distance cruising.

One question though, about in-mast reefing; how did you find it? We did once charter with in-mast reefing, which I found OK although Mme S was less kindly disposed towards it. Additionally, we also favour slab reefing because the cost of conversion would rule in-mast out anyway for Shard. ;)

I ask this because last weekend while going round Mull we were easily overtaken by Patricia, a rather sleek RHYC fortysomething foot cutter (47' I believe) with in-mast reefing. She was being single handed with all three sails out, and was doing probably a full three knots more than our SOG 7kts. As we approached the anchorage, we had our engine on earlier while we stowed the mainsail; meanwhile, Patricia just sailed on, engineless to the last moment, while her headsail, staysail, and mainsail were wound in. I was well impressed.

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Nick
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Re: Biscay the fourth time round

Postby Nick » Sat Sep 03, 2011 3:11 pm

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The in-mast reefing is via an electric winch controlled from the cockpit. Theren is a manual winch hole up at the mast, but there is no room to rotate a normal sized winch handle fully and I understand it is very low geared, so it would be a lengthy process.

Bagheera has recently had a new sail made. The old sail had no battens and apaprently reefing never cause d a problem - although Phil and Alison had not had her for long or sailed her in heavy weather. They wanted a new mainsail and asked a well-known W. Coast sailmaker to make it for them. The sailmaker recommended full length vertical battens - and they certainly do help give the sail a nice shape.

However . . . after the sail was delivered and fitted they got a phone call from said sailmaker who was adamant that they should only reef when on port tack otherwise the battens might jam. Naturally they were a bit annoyed with this as they were not told this at the time that the sailmaker was fervently recommending the fully battened sail. We always had the boat on port tack when furling or unfurling the main, but even then the battens caught a couple of times. The winch automatically trips - or the clutch slips, not sure which - if that happens.

It is also essential that the boom is at right angles to get a neat furl . . . and for some reason this seemed impossible with the new sail even with the kicker pulled down hard against the vang. My suspicion is that the leach on the new sail is slightly shorter than on the old sail.

The sail sets beautifully and the in-mast furling is very convenient, but I would always be a little worried that it might jam in extremis and leave you with no option but to take it down with a stanley knife. This might just be a function of this system or this particular sail, but I would still prefer a conventional slab reefing system even on a boat this size unless I could be convinced that the in-mast system was bombproof. I would never consider a retrofit system.
- Nick 8)

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Re: Biscay the fourth time round

Postby Gardenshed » Mon Sep 05, 2011 11:42 am

enjoyed the write up Nick, thanks for posting it

I don't like the sound of the "port tack only" in-mast reefing. I assume that is because of the way that the battens have been stitched into the sail. Good job they are all done the same way....

BTW, your "Toppers" are Optimists because a) that's the name of the type of dinghy b) the parents of the kids all believe that their kid is the next olympic champion

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Re: Biscay the fourth time round

Postby Rowana » Mon Sep 05, 2011 12:17 pm

Gardenshed wrote:
BTW, your "Toppers" are Optimists because a) that's the name of the type of dinghy b) the parents of the kids all believe that their kid is the next olympic champion


Every time I see young kids having fun in Optimists, I always thing they've just taken the drawers out of a chest of drawers and stuck a mast and sail on.


Nice write-up BTW, Nick
BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO ARE CRACKED,
FOR THEY ARE THE ONES WHO LET IN THE LIGHT

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Re: Biscay the fourth time round

Postby Telo » Mon Sep 05, 2011 12:31 pm

Gardenshed wrote: the parents of the kids all believe that their kid is the next olympic champion


Given the sheer strength of numbers of kids in dinghies and the apparent widespread availability of tuition, it's probably inevitable that Ireland will be going for medals in sailing events in a few years.

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Re: Biscay the fourth time round

Postby Gardenshed » Mon Sep 05, 2011 4:00 pm

I lived in Howth for a couple of years and it was interesting to see how the IYRU approach worked. Lots of youngesters get plonked into the Oppies and they very quickly start racing each other. The top kids by age and location then start travelling to regional and national regattas and the pressure mounts. They are drilled on reading windshifts, assessing which end of the line to start on and all the one-design racing details. Many parents push them really hard with Ribs to follow them on the water, multiple sails and even multiple boats for the kids depending on just how seriously they are taking things. Not unheard of for a parent to be texting wind direction& speed from the weather mark to their kid during the pre-start....
As the kids grow up, they either get tired of the continual coaching and racing and go and do other things, or graduate to laser radials and lasers. What I found sad was that many lost interest as soon as they no longer made "the squad", whether this was the local / yacht club squad or the regional or national squads.
The boat handling and experience that they get is fantastic, but few learn just to have fun and enjoy just being on the water.
I've also had experience of taking on RYA national squad sailors on a keel boat, and it is amazing that basic skills (coiling ropes, basic navigation etc) were completely lacking. Too specialist too early?
That said, the good ones are always a pleasure to sail with and learn from and whatever the faults of the system, the Irish are great at getting lots of kids onto the water.
It's also a tad warmer when you get that wee bit further south!

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Re: Biscay the fourth time round

Postby claymore » Mon Sep 05, 2011 8:57 pm

Whilst this was a decent write up, I found myself disappointed that you didnt fall out with your hosts and would ask that if you ever manage to bum another lift in similar circumstances, you see to it that there is a punch-up
Regards
Claymore
:goatd

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Re: Biscay the fourth time round

Postby Nick » Tue Sep 06, 2011 11:04 am

claymore wrote:Whilst this was a decent write up, I found myself disappointed that you didnt fall out with your hosts and would ask that if you ever manage to bum another lift in similar circumstances, you see to it that there is a punch-up

I suggest that an ideal way to arrange this would be to commission me to co-skipper your old tub across to Denmark, where you could use it as a base for your kitchen-fitting business. Bring a video camera and we could go viral on youtube.
- Nick 8)

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Re: Biscay the fourth time round

Postby claymore » Tue Sep 06, 2011 2:01 pm

Love it
Whit'll we dae fer sex?
Regards
Claymore
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Re: Biscay the fourth time round

Postby Old_Glow_In_The_Deep » Tue Sep 06, 2011 2:52 pm

Fantastic write-up & some great pictures Nick.... :thumbsup:

Thanks for the mention (vote of thanks) for the Friday….. was a fairly sedate but otherwise enjoyable evening even though there were no shanties or punch-up’s.... :D

But if my assistance is ever required for the latter please provide prior notice to enable purchase of mouth guard…. bloody expensive these teeth now I have to pay for them myself…… but always up for a good-un.... :)

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Re: Biscay the fourth time round

Postby Clyde_Wanderer » Thu Sep 08, 2011 10:11 pm

claymore wrote:Whilst this was a decent write up, I found myself disappointed that you didnt fall out with your hosts and would ask that if you ever manage to bum another lift in similar circumstances, you see to it that there is a punch-up


You should know Nick does not fall out with folk, he just falls asleep on them :lol:
Great write up and great pics Nick.
C_W

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Re: Biscay the fourth time round

Postby Clyde_Wanderer » Thu Sep 08, 2011 10:16 pm

Old_Glow_In_The_Deep wrote:Fantastic write-up & some great pictures Nick.... :thumbsup:

Thanks for the mention (vote of thanks) for the Friday….. was a fairly sedate but otherwise enjoyable evening even though there were no shanties or punch-up’s.... :D

But if my assistance is ever required for the latter please provide prior notice to enable purchase of mouth guard…. bloody expensive these teeth now I have to pay for them myself…… but always up for a good-un.... :)


Dearest porcelain in the world, even more expensive than the Willow Pattern.
£600 for a half dozen nashers :shock:
C_W

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Re: Biscay the fourth time round

Postby Old_Glow_In_The_Deep » Fri Sep 09, 2011 9:33 am

Clyde_Wanderer wrote:

Dearest porcelain in the world, even more expensive than the Willow Pattern.
£600 for a half dozen nashers :shock:
C_W[/quote]

The secrets out!.... but not much of a secret… eh! :wink:

So now we know how Dentists afford all those (hardly ever used) large AWB’s. :shock:

I personally think that if they worked in a car body shop they’d be sacked….. I ask you…. have you ever seen & personally had such mismatched badly finished “patch jobs” which fall out at the first bite. :(

Eamonn me owd shipwreck….. how do you fancy setting up some competition with a mix of epoxy and white gelcoat.
All we then need is a Dremel, a chair and some restraints….. give it five years with BIG profit margins & it’s the “easy life” for us. :D :D :D

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Re: Biscay the fourth time round

Postby Clyde_Wanderer » Fri Sep 09, 2011 8:50 pm

Old_Glow_In_The_Deep wrote:
Clyde_Wanderer wrote:

Dearest porcelain in the world, even more expensive than the Willow Pattern.
£600 for a half dozen nashers :shock:
C_W


The secrets out!.... but not much of a secret… eh! :wink:

So now we know how Dentists afford all those (hardly ever used) large AWB’s. :shock:

I personally think that if they worked in a car body shop they’d be sacked….. I ask you…. have you ever seen & personally had such mismatched badly finished “patch jobs” which fall out at the first bite. :(

Eamonn me owd shipwreck….. how do you fancy setting up some competition with a mix of epoxy and white gelcoat.
All we then need is a Dremel, a chair and some restraints….. give it five years with BIG profit margins & it’s the “easy life” for us. :D :D :D[/quote]

Thats spooky John, that exact thought entered my head (pardon the pun ) today while half way through my first shift working for a grp moulding company in Denny Stirlingshire, I was studying a packet of plasticine and a bucket of white gel and my thoughts wandered to a new plate every week any shape or shade I would like :lol:
Weird how two minds thing alike, also how fools seldom differ
:wink:
U seen the weather for next wk end, could be the Guitar fest after all :(
C_W


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