The final leg home: Crossing the Bay of Biscay in October

We spent two weeks in Muros marina after our relaunch from the boatyard. Each day studying the weather forecast to see if we could get four days of suitable weather to complete the final leg of our journey home to Cork. The boat was ready to go and so were the crew. We had a few days of rain & miserable weather so we went out to purchase a Draughts/Checkers set to pass the time. The skipper doing his best to teach me but he was far too clever and beat me almost every game. Next task was to make a new cloth holder for the spanner set as the existing holder was disintegrating and a fine job he did too all by hand stitching. Might have to write a letter to Santa for a new sewing machine……

As the days ticked by it looked like the weather was not going to come right with constant northerlies blowing through biscay. We began to think ahead and start to look at options of leaving the boat in Muros for the winter, the crew going home to Ireland to return in the Spring 2021 and enjoy a few months sailing in Galicia and then make the voyage home in August. Plan B would be Liam to fly home, complete two weeks of Restricted Movements after returning from a non Green list country, resurrect our car from the garage and get it road worthy, insured, taxed and tested and then return to Muros via ferry from Rosslare to Bilbao to pick up Schooner (and me…..). At the time this was high risk as there were indications on the Irish news that Ireland was heading for another lockdown as the number of positive Covid-19 cases were rising quickly nationwide. Liam could get stuck at home and not be able to return.

Best to forget Plan B and move to Plan C. Could we get our car on the ferry to Bilbao without a driver? This would mean assistance from our neighbour and family in getting the car up and running and delivered to Rosslare Port to be put on the ferry. On the Spanish side we would need to get to the port of Bilbao, six hours drive from Muros to pick up the car. Doable but a lot of hassle both on the Irish side and for us in Spain.

Then a hint of a southerlies began to appear in the weather forecast. A list was drafted of the necessary items to be completed to prepare for a four day sea voyage. Top up the diesel tank, cook & freeze meals for the crew, stow any loose items in the saloon, settle the marina bill and book a berth at the Royal Cork Yacht Club for arrival in Cork.

On Thursday 15th October at 08:40 just after daylight we departed Muros marina. The crew were both excited and apprehensive of the voyage ahead. It was a beautiful morning as we motored out of the Ria, a good omen for the day ahead.

The sea state at Finistere was calmer than expected but as we motor sailed up the coast the seas began to build to make life onboard a little bit uncomfortable and after spending over a month in the calm waters of a marina it was not long before I was turning a bit green.

It was a busy time for Liam as we crossed the shipping lane. Nightfall began at 20:00hrs and it was a long night of darkness until dawn of day two shortly after 08:20. However we were making great progress, we had travelled 155nm in 24 hours.

By now the winds had increased to a nice ESE wind of 15 knots and we were sailing along nicely at 6/7 knots with a full main sail and the Stay sail in a moderate sea. The winds were forecasted to increase during the night so before nightfall we put two reefs in the Main sail. It was another long dark night and the wind increased to 25-30knots with rough seas. We put in a third reef in the Main sail our equivalent of a Storm sail.

By dawn of day three the winds were still increasing and so too was the sea state. This was not what was forecasted for this day before we left Muros. I checked the Navtex to see a weather warning issued at 06:00hrs for the sea area of Fitzroy and Sole. A new Low Pressure system had formed 200 miles west of Fitzroy and a forecast of a Severe Gale F9 was imminent decreasing to F6 or F7 later with rough to very rough sea state. At that time, 09:00 on Saturday 17th October, we were 230nm south of Cork and 160nm west of Breast, France so we really had nowhere to run. We had to run with the storm.

Liam took over the steering of the boat as the auto pilot was not reacting fast enough to ride the waves. For six long hours Liam steered the boat and lined up to the cresting waves to ensure we surfed down the waves. Our biggest risk was getting caught broadside by a wave. At times the wave height was 25ft+ cresting with wind speeds of 40kts+. During one of our surfing moments our GPS log recorded a maximum speed of 16.3kts, a speed not many 14 Ton cruising boats have achieved.

By 16:00 the wind and wave height started to decrease and Liam felt confident to put the boat back on autopilot. At 21:00 we shook out the third reef in the Main sail and continued sailing with 2 reefs on the Main sail and the Stay sail. Throughout the night the wind dropped to between 5-7Knts but the sea state remained rough. Despite the madness of these conditions we managed to sail 170nm in 24hours using mostly just a storm sail.

At 08:40 on Sunday 18th October we were 96nm south of Roches Point and the entrance to Cork harbour so excitement was building amongst the crew. The winds were sustained at SE 18-20knts all day so we were making very good speed averaging 7-8knts. We surfed past Roches Point lighthouse at 21:30 and navigated the channel to Camden Fort Meagher where in the shelter of the land we dropped our Main Sail. As we were prepping the boat for docking we could hear whistles, car horns, bells and lights flashing in the houses as we past parallel to the Point Road. Our good friend and neighbour Mark had sent a message to our neighbour hood WhatsApp group notifying our neighbours of our arrival and to give us a big welcome home. It was very emotional and a fitting end to our first Mediterranean adventure.

We were greeted at our berth at the RCYC marina by Dave & Kat and Tom & Harry who took our shore lines. Schooner was first off the boat to mark his territory on the marina and once his proceedings were completed he was chasing Dave’s hat so I took that as a good sign that he was happy to be home. Dave also presented us with a bag of lovely Irish produce so we could have a good ole Irish fry up for breakfast the next morning.

The total distance travelled from Muros to Crosshaven was 572nm in 85 hours. It was a tough trip on the crew and the boat but we arrived safely and unscathed and we were delighted to be home.

Muros, Galicia to Crosshaven, Cork

We started our journey home on Thursday 09th July from a beautiful anchorage, Il-Hofra I-Kbira in Malta and 2,403nm later we arrived in Crosshaven, Cork, Ireland on Sunday 18th October. We stopped at 15 ports along the way in three different countries all having various stages of restrictions in place for the Covid-19 Pandemic so we kept to ourselves when at marinas. We did not experience difficulty entering any of the ports as all borders were open at the time.

Since leaving Crosshaven on the 4th June 2018 we travelled a total of 5,267 nautical miles, visited 3 countries, 7 islands and 61 ports. Our longest single trip was from Licata, Sicily to Cartagena, Spain, 754nm. We have made friends for life who we look forward to keeping in touch with and follow their blogs, albeit with some envy as they continue their travels and one day we hope to meet again.

Maggie’s Mediterranean adventure June 2018 to October 2020

4 Replies to “The final leg home: Crossing the Bay of Biscay in October”

  1. As a good engineer Liam was able to solve the different technical difficulties and Mags has compiled us a wonderful report of the life on-board. Besides this there was probably a angel flying all the time very high above you to help you to return safely home…
    Congratulations with this fantastic adventure.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great to read about all your adventures but most of all to see you have arrived safely home. Hope all is going well in Cork and you are looking forward to a lovely Christmas… keep in touch love from Fi and Nigel ( locked down in the New Forest UK and missing Licata!)

    Liked by 1 person

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