Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Wendy’s Diary 17 June 2013 - The long crossing to France

On Sunday 9th June we anchored at the end of the runway of Santander airport and dinghied the bikes ashore. John then rode his own and pushed mine the mile or so to the arrivals point and collected a good friend Caroline otherwise known as Squiff (something to do with how quickly she gets drunk apparently). She only knew that John would meet her at the airport, not the method of transport back to the boat and found it amusing. She works in the marine industry and has travelled many a mile over many different seas, but not in sailing boats.   After a couple of days at Astillero, upstream from the airport we headed down to our favorite anchorage just inside the sandbar ready for the crossing to the Gironde. With the big sail ahead we made sure the water tanks were fully topped up.

Six years ago I disliked all boats and knew nothing about navigating, currents, charts etc. etc. It was yours truly who did the passage plan, checking for obstructions like the military firing range that stretches across a huge chunk of southeast Biscay. I do most of the planning on the electronic charts on my net-book, which is used for navigation during most of our voyages.  However, this would be not just the furthest I had ever been off shore on the boat but also John’s, as coast hopping has always been the chosen method of getting around. So the paper chart was also on the table during the planning process, along with tide charts for the Gironde (which must be entered on a rising tide), and of course a variety of weather forecasts from my favourite weather websites. Squiff went through the details with me and was happy with my planning and finally John gave it a cursory glance trusting our judgement enough to not need to do a thorough check. (Who’d have thought it??)

Squiff and John having fun sailing across Biscay
So at 4am (nice time to start) we up anchored and with a little anxiety all round, headed north from Santander. The wind was gentle so we had one motor running, but it did mean we also had a gentle sea. We had agreed on rotating shifts of 3 hours on 6 hours off, based on the pattern John and I usually take on our long journeys of 3 on 3 off. It can be quite easy to go brain dead sat on watch, so we tend not to do more than 3 hours at a time if possible.

I believe it was not long after setting sail that Squiff made a pot of tea - it was awful - tasted like a swimming pool :-( This was the first time we had used the water since filling the tanks the night before and realised that the water wasn't just chlorinated, but very heavily so. The tea went over the side.  Our water tanks are split into 3 categories: we have 10 litres of bottled water for when we want a drink of water (as the water can be a touch too chlorinated at times) then we have a large drinking water tank that we use for making tea and squash - then finally 2 large washing water tanks that are often refilled using rain water collected off the decks, and although it is filtered, there could still be traces of seagull poo etc so we use it just showers and washing up - and it is nice soft water. We quickly realised that 10 litres of water would not last 3 of us 2 days, so John extracted some of the rainwater - and that was what we used to make the tea - hoping it would be fine after boiling. Thankfully none of us suffered as a result and the tea was perfectly drinkable. Lesson learned - taste the water out of a tap before putting it in the tanks.  

Dolphins vying for position between the hulls
The sea and winds remained gentle with much of the time the swell being hardly noticeable, so we alternated which engine was running but did keep one on for the entire journey. The sea being as it was meant we were able to go out on deck safely and the weather was warm enough for it to be a pleasant alternative to sitting in the wheelhouse.  Twice during the journey we had dolphins come and play between the hulls, one of the times for more than hour. I feel it an honour to be able to watch them like this and am always thrilled when they appear.
Over 2,000M deep. The water is a lovely shade of blue
Taking it easy out on deck

During another watch Squiff and I were out on the foredeck chatting whilst John was asleep when we were both distracted by a noise close by. We both turned round to see a large whale which had just blown a spurt of water not far from the boat. Close enough to see but not too close for it to be scary – I was blown away by the experience. I have no idea what type of whale it was, but it was big! I quickly woke john and he had just enough time to jump out of bed and see it before it disappeared again – unfortunately we had no time to get a photo of it. Squiff knows her marine animals better than I do but couldn't identify it, but another time had pointed out some much smaller minke whales.
Sunset at sea

The movement of our boat caught by the slow shutter speed
At around one a.m. I took over watch from Squiff, who pointed out a couple of glows in the darkness, suggesting there would probably be a couple of fishing boats just over the horizon. Half an hour later, in the pitch black 50 miles from land – it looked like a motorway had come into view. Not just a couple of fishing boats but about 25 of them were strung out in a long line in front of us. This was the perfect opportunity to put the rule of wake the skipper up if you are worried into practice. I had no idea what path to choose between the approaching boats so needed his advice, not that he was sure either. Squiff heard us talking so popped up to take a look and was profoundly apologetic for handing over shift when she thought it was just a couple of fishing boats. I love the photo I took of the boats, with the movement of our boat creating identical patterns from each boat.

Dolphins on day 2
It was amazing the difference it made to the long haul having 3 crewing instead of 2, so even when we were all three wide awake at 2a.m. admiring the line of lights, for me it removed the pressure of “I must sleep now as I am on watch soon and I will want to sleep then if I don’t get some rest now”. In reality even when there is just the 2 of us, we don’t necessarily stick to the watches but it gives a good framework to go by.

I love this photo with the sun catching the splash.

198 miles and 38 hours after setting off we finally arrived in Mortagne Sur Gironde,a tiny port about 20 miles inside the mouth of the river on the north bank. Anyway after tying up on a pontoon alongside a boatyard we popped a bottle of cava to celebrate our successful trip. Next day strangely enough none of us fancied sailing anywhere so we went for a wander around the town with views of the river. The Gironde is unbelievably huge and much of the time it is not possible to see the other side – and has typical currents of 4 knots.
Aerial shot of Mortagne courtesy of the Tourist Information Office
Another day later we headed back downstream to Royan and had the luxury of a night in the marina there. This meant we could wander around the town at leisure and check out the train station for Squiff to plan her journey home. It was nice for me again to have a girlfriend to natter with and potter around the shops and we loved having her on board. On Saturday morning we waved her off on the train north to Calais, just as the sun came out properly for the first time. The weekend turned hot and sunny and being in a marina meant I could get all the washing up to date, so we had sheets blowing in the wind all round the boat.

The weather forecast suggested an early start the next day would be good for the next leg to the Ile D’Oleron or somewhere thereabouts. The wind direction during the day directed us to an anchorage on the south bank just east of Port Medoc. It being a sunny weekend there were lots of boats out in the estuary during the day and at the end of the day they all disappeared into the various marinas. A couple of hours later we realised just why all the other boats had gone when the swell very suddenly picked up an hour before high water. At first we had thought it was the slop from a passing ship, but when it continued observed that it was a change in the sea state. With an hour left of daylight, and several hours before we had planned to head back out to sea, we decided to cancel the planned trip and head into the calm of another marina 5 miles upstream.

We arrived at Meschers just as it got dark, but with the electronic charts and flashing markers didn’t find a problem navigating the very narrow channel into the basin which is locked in half way up and down the tide. We have stayed put for a couple of days due to the weather, and it looks like it could be a long wait before a suitable weather window appears with a mixture of the northerly winds again that kept us in Spain so long and high swell, due to hit 3 meters again in the next couple of days.   We are still flushing out the water tanks with fresh water, and a hint of the bleach smell remains, but at an acceptable level. 

1 comment:

  1. What a trip it was too!!! Though I will never make another cup of tea again on board, it was far too distressing to watch it being thrown overboard. It was certianly the worst cup I have ever tasted. Actually, I lie. It comes second to the cup which my friend put salt in instead of sugar. Anyway, I digress. I meant to let you know that the dolpins were short beaked commons. And by God, how common they were; playing, frolicking and whistling all around the boat without even a by your leave... Seriously, how beautiful were they and what a treat for us. The whale I believe with the size and characteristics I ascertain to be a Finn whale. That was just pure magical.
    Once again, I do apologise for leaving you on watch with all those fishing vessels. And whatg about the single one in the day. The whole of the Biscay and we are on a collision course lol.
    Thankyou so much for inviting me along and I do wish you all the luck with the next stage of the journey. Huge hugs to you both xxx