All the weather sources agreed – high pressure for the next week would mean light winds for the south of England and Biscay areas, predominantly from the north east. Ideal for crossing the Bay, and the roughly 450 mile voyage to La Coruña in Spain. We delayed departure until midday so as to be outside the Ushant TSS at nightfall. We had to motor as the wind was actually a very light westerly, but the plan worked well, and as we skirted west of the TSS, all the ships were in their lanes, well out of our way throughout the night.
After dawn we arrived at the southern end of the TSS, then gradually worked our way across the traffic until more or less clear of shipping by the end of the afternoon. Here we came to the continental shelf, where the depth plunges to 4-5 km within a few miles, and features steep canyons named after the French towns, such as Brest and Douarnenez. By this time the expected north easterly had picked up to F3/4, enough to sail without the engine at last.
It was time to try out the Hydrovane self-steering gear. This had been fitted in the winter but we had not yet had a chance to test it. The wind vane operates an independent rudder, so first we had to set up the sails so the boat almost sails herself, then lock the wheel steering before engaging the Hydrovane. To our astonishment it just worked straight away, needing only an adjustment to the vane angle (via control lines to the cockpit). For the next 24 hours Ambition II steered herself under sail at mostly 5 knots.
Fishing net caught on a hull anode (luckily not the prop!)
Later on day 3, the wind dropped until we were forced to motor again. Then it started to blow (still gently) from the SW, and grew overcast. Banks of fog appeared, and that night it was hard to know what visibility we had since there were no ships within 10 miles on the AIS or radar, and no lights visible all night. On day 4 the fog cleared for most of the last 100 miles, only reappearing near the coast.
When motoring at night, we engaged the Raymarine autopilot, since it is hard for one person on watch to steer as well as navigate, make cups of coffee and put on another CD. But the electric autopilot is normally disconnected, as we have had problems with the gear wearing out, so when two are on watch we hand-steer unless the Hydrovane is engaged.
We had several dolphin sightings in the Bay. First we had a group of 3 small dark animals playing around the boat for a while, though we could not identify them. Later a large group of short-beaked common dolphin were with us for long enough for J to get some good photos.
short-beaked common dolphins
The impressive rose-coloured cliffs emerged from the mist as we approached La Coruña in the late afternoon. Avoiding the city and marina, Ambition II anchored in the Ria de Ares, a little to the east. Yesterday’s beef casserole was enhanced with a tin of chilli, and washed down with a bottle of Rioja (thanks to the RSA!).
Plotter snap: steep contours off the Iberian coast, and close encounter with fishing boat!