from Stefanie: finally we find some time to publish this post. We are at the hook right now in a pretty cool anchorage, swinging around happily in front of the little town Muros in Northern Spain. More on that in another post.
... and, because Bay of Biscay was our first longer piece of sailing, the following post is a bit longer too. Therefore I put together a short version for you "fast-readers".
At one point we had to cross over. I wanted to have a third person on board, Kosta wanted to do it alone... because it is important for us and the whole cruising thing. We knew about the extreme drop in depth in Bay of Biscay from 200 m down to 5,000 m, virtually within a couple of miles. But how does this look like in reality? Huge waves, wild waves? What, if there is strong wind as well? We had no idea, didn't really research and didn't want to do this neither. All we had was a whole lot of respect and we were a little bit scared too.
It took us 3 days and 3 nights to cross over to Spain. With more or less of the boat rocking around thing. We had our highs and lows, not only weather-related. On the other side we had a lot of "animalistic" company. From flies, birds and moths to dolphins, whales and even a bat. We didn't have to pay anything for this. Absolutely awesome.
We have done it now. The two drops from 200 to 5,000 meters and back were challenging for the first time and a bit nerve wrecking for the second time. We are proud of ourselves and happy as one can be. We got through the English Channel and Bay of Biscay. A big step towards the freedom and cruising lifestyle in general. We arrived in Spain, which equals to sun and a relaxed lifestyle (at least to us). Our cruising life can start NOW. :-)
But now, one thing at a time:
Crossing Bay of Biscay, roughly 370 nm, doesn't sound as bad. But if you do such a "long" trip for the first time and you are only doing 120- 140 nm in 24 hrs, than this translates into 3- 4 days at sea in a region of the world, which isn't know for its good reputation. Since I am more tending towards sleeping during the night and along with its reputation, this whole crossing hung over us like a bad headache. We had a whole lot of respect and funny feeling in our stomachs, only thinking about it. For the East Coast US sailors, who crosses the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas: Think Gulf Stream 5- 6 times the distance. Things can change to the worst quickly, and there is no way back.
We are honest here. We still need to get to know our boat and I can't sail (remark from Kosta: "This is so not true, Stefanie is a good sailor"). In the end Kosta did the whole decision making. When do we leave, which course, whats the wind like, the currents? Well, and then a good weather window turned up, one that we couldn't miss. Light winds (10- 15 knots) were predicted from northwest (means beam reaching) and our friends from s/v Nikita with their 8,5 m aluminium cruiser (nikitaoffshore.wordpress.com) wanted to cross as well.
Well, if they will make it, we will make it too, right?
We topped off fuel, re-routed an expected parcel to A Coruna, bought some last Croissant and Baguette, prepared the boat to sailing mode and soon we are on our way. Winds are light and the ETA is reading almost 5 days on the plotter. Arghh. We took some pics from Nikita under sail and they did the same from us:
1. day 1130 in Camaret-sur-Mer: Weather looks good, IKOKO is sailing close-hauled and we tick away the miles. In 10- 13 knots of wind we do 7 and more knots SOG. Not bad, really.
For the first couple of hours we don't even dare to do something else than to observe the water, the sails, and everything around us. We are not really nervous anymore, but the respect is still there. A book is lying next to me, but remains there. It is all too exciting as to read. During the afternoon - the sailing is smooth, Ikoko is gently cutting through the waves, I finally start reading. A good sign, as I am obviously calming down. A good friend gave me that book prior to our departure. Sergio Bambaren "Distant Winds". A dream and it all fits so perfectly to our/my moment. Not that we are having issues in our relationship (this is where the book starts off), but the journey this couple makes on their boat just is fitting to what we are doing right now.
Towards the evening we were greeted by dolphins. A lot of them were jumping in the wake of IKOKO. They had a lot of fun and so did we. Dolphins kind of open up my heart. I don't know why this is, but they make me happy big time.
The sun sets and it the night comes. No moon, but a lot of stars on a clear sky. I am tired and go to bed. Kosta is on watch and told me that the dolphins swam with us until late at night.
Kosta was overly excited and not a bid tired. The first drop in the bay was about to come. from 200 m down to 5,000 m !! The wind picked up and we a quite a bit of wave action going on. Kosta didn't want me to take this watch all by myself. Good for me. I went below deck and into the aft sea berth.
Quote from our logbook from Kosta:
“ 0000 h; 39.42 47° N 5° 47.64 W; Wind 4; SOG 7kn; Course 230° (T); 1019nPa
Too much sail, when we were over the drop. Two reefs in the Genoa and one in the main. Eased the main a bit. Fisherboats off the beam, but far away. Awesome fluorescent water, like stars in the sea. Dolphins are still there. Shooting through the water like torpedos. All sparkling, like stars would rain in the water. Clear sky with millions of stars.
2. day: Kosta went to bed around 9 or 10 am. He wanted to make sure we are clear of the many freighters that suddenly appeared all around us. Where did they come from? During the night we saw nothing and then, all of a sudden there are a dozen or so around us.
Along with all the confused waves, we saw a lot of fishing boats during the night. Where do they appear from? You can't see them during the day. Most of them don't have the correct lights on and you barely can distinguish them from other boats. Only by the bright lights on the stern. They can come very close at times and its always the question of what they really do? Are they trawling, larger nets to each side... whatever. Well, Kosta navigated around them while shaking his head in disbelief.
My own shift was not as spectacular and rather boring. I read and looked around after every chapter. Nothing to see, though. Apparently all the action is taking place in the early morning hours. We were zooming along with a beam reach (wind almost from the back). I sometimes went to the bows to just sit and rest there. The gentle up and down of IKOKO has something calming. I thought about this and that, sometimes about nothing and once fell asleep, while the sun tickled my nose. Those are the moments I will capture in my heart.
During the early evening hours our first little crisis. We don't even know why? We had to run the engine for some hours because the wind died and after a while it started to splutter again. Not enough diesel. We bought an electric lift pump in Camaret for this challenge and thought it would be solved once and forever. Very depressing. Our solar panels didn't deliver a single amp of power (why?), despite the fact that they had full sun exposure and the engine didn't charge the batteries either. What the fu... is this. We are spending big time money on stuff and nothing works? Well, all this and the pressure of sailing across Bay of Biscay, our experiences in the English Channel... all this apparently came out now, triggered by the again (almost) failing engine.
We again started to think about selling the boat, buying a Volkswagen Bus, continue our travels on land, or just buy a little hut in the mountains, with a garden, flowers, growing veggies and the like. That would be much easier than the constant up and down of our minds and the boat. Well, a couple of tears later, we calmed down and the world was in almost perfect order again. Kosta managed to sleep for 5 hours in one piece and I went to bed at around 3 am in the morning. The night was much calmer, but very humid and cold.
3. day: We became an answer based on our bad mood the other evening. Around 0800 am Kosta yelled: "Whales"! "There was a whale next to the boat and snorted with a trumpet-like sound, only to dive below IKOKO just 2 meters before the hull. From what I saw it was as large as our boat"! I jumped out of the bed in a worldrecord time that will never be reached again. I saw the whale blowing again in the distance... but this was it.
Around 11 am it started all over. Whales around our boat, closing in from behind, slowing down, breathing, snorting, so close we got the spray of them in our faces. Over the next 2 hours we counted at least 50 of them. Each of them as big as IKOKO. What an awesome, impressive and uplifting experience. They all were coming to the surface next to our boat. Not behind us and not ahead of us. Most amazingly was that they slowed down to swim with us. We could clearly see them diving below IKOKO, lying on their side and looking at us. Why are they doing this? We don't know... and we don't want to know. To us it was like a sign and as if they wanted to say: "Stick around with us. You won't be dissapointed"!
We uploaded a little video on our facebook site. We didn't cut it. So this is the real thing, like we experienced it.
The wind picked up just a bit, the sun was shining again. Life is good when sailing. We knew what we signed up for and there are ups and downs when cruising. Just that we don't like the downs. The ups are awesome though.
During the afternoon the next surprise. We already had all sorts of creepy crawly things on the boat. From moths, flies, spiders to birds... but this was new to us. In the middle of Bay of Biscay with no land in sight for the next 100 or so miles, a bat approached Ikoko. We just thought we didn't see right. It was a bat. Not again, was our second thought. The bat tried to land on our mast, where the halyards are leading inside. We sprinted to the mast just in time to wave her away before she could crawl inside. At one point she clung on the mast so hard, we couldn't do a thing to get her away. Man, she was so cute, looking at as with a miniature, teddy bear like face. At some point we couldn't see her anymore. A couple of minutes later we saw her crawling under the folded dinghy, which we strapped to the deck ahead of the mast. Well, we left her there and the other morning she was gone.
|Obviously this is not the bat. We can't find the picture anymore. This is the moth we saw flying on the boat.|
The last night was a bit wilder again. As we approached the "reverse drop" from 5,000 to 200 meters, the wind picked up and so did the waves. Kosta couldn't sleep again and sailed Ikoko until we approached Spain. I couldn't sleep either, even though I spent the whole night below deck. Three times the drawer, where we keep all the cutlery fell out, even though it was locked down. This should give you an idea how wild the ride was.
Somewhen during the night I moved to the guestbunk, which is almost in the center of the boat and usually good to stay, when the going gets tough. Not anymore as we where tossed around by a set of large waves, which buried the stanchions in the water and me on the floor. This particular drop sounded worse than it actually was. Nothing hurt. Kosta heard a big bang, but thought it was another wave smashing against the boat. :-). It took him a couple of seconds to realize it came from inside the boat. Wild, wild, wild.
Then again for the next hours those confusing waves with no clear direction. Left, right, from behind, short, long, high, sets of waves, probably up to 9 ft, wind gusting to 35 knots. But, my Kosta steered us through the mess with "bravour". IKOKO handles great in such conditions. We got to know a whole lot more of our boat now and we built confidence in her. One thing that we particularly like is the small and deep cockpit. If you are being tossed around, there is no other place we wanted to stay like our cockpit. Also, with the right sail trim she almost sails up-right, even if you get short waves from the side. No rolling around. Great boat.
Well, and then we saw the last break of dawn for this trip. We were already sailing along the coastline of Spain and the waves calmed down as did the wind. We saw A Coruna coming up in the distance, then more clearly as the sun rose. Fishing boats went back in the harbor, a cruise ship came in as well and it promised to be a splendid and sunny day in Spain. Our first of hopefully many to come.
Around 9 am we were tied up in the Marina, safe and sound, happy and a little bit proud of ourselves.
370 nm total
3 days 3 nights or 70 hours straight
we had to run the engine for a total of 11 hours
Animals spotted on deck or next to the boat: 1 moth, five flies, 1 wasp, 1 butterfly,
1 bird, 1 bat, 1 school of dolphins, 1 herd of whales
Eating: coffee, coffee, coffee, Insalata Caprese (tomatos with mozarella), pasta salad, div. fruits, 10 packs of chocolate :-), cheese platter, bread...
damage to the boat: two holes in the main – already fixed
damage to the crew: mental cruelty – already fixed => no divorce! :-)
Awesome experience. IKOKO is great and very capable, we still have to learn a lot :-)
Well, you all have a great day and until the next time. More stories about A Coruna and Muros (where we are now) are in the make.
All the best from the engineer Stefanie and the super duper autopilot-skipper Kosta.