Posted by: williekp | October 9, 2016

Crossing Biscay

When we left things last time it was a bit touch and go crew wise as to how we were going to get across Biscay. I even thought I might have to sail back up the channel and take Lila to the Med through the French canals. Harriet who was the only crew at that stage didn’t seem too keen on that so we went into overdrive to recruit suitable crew at short notice. A while ago when this whole idea was brewing I joined the Cruising Association (CA). It is not anything to do with gay bars. It’s a non profit for people who cruise, live aboard and share info on how to make life generally easier. They have a crewing service so I updated my needs on there and on Crewseekers. In addition the CA has a section where potential crew set out their experience and what they are interested in. So Harriet and I made a list and e- mailed about 20 prospects. Next day we phoned up the best candidates on the list. To cut a long story short, we recruited two who could join us on the Wednesday to make a weather window of 4 days that started on the Thursday.

It takes 4 days to cross Biscay offshore. My insurance also stipulated that I wouldn’t be covered if I didn’t make the crossing before end of Sept when storms become more frequent. We set off on Thursday 15 th Sep with a forecast of North Westerly winds of 20 knots gusting to 23kts for the first two days and then light winds after that.The two crew were a man and a woman. The chap had done a single handed Atlantic circuit and  was both a good sailor and a really good shipmate. The woman’s sailing CV read like Sir Francis Chichester. She was a disaster. A moaning passenger who broke the bog seat twice, bog door once and managed to lock us all out of the boat by changing the combination on the lock without knowing that she had done it. She was the only person seasick. She also had no discernable receive mode and seemed to be stuck on transmit. I had paired her with the other chap and felt very guilty about it. She was also permanently late for her watch and left her massive amounts of stuff in everyone else’s spaces. Needless to say when we got to Northern Spain we didn’t see much of her.

Back to the crossing itself. We had to motor for a good distance out of Falmouth as there wasn’t much wind but once we found the wind we found a bit more than we had expected. It was averaging 29 kts and gusting to 37 which in shipping forecast terms is Force 7 gusting F8. The sea was also not great with at least two wave trains running in different directions. When they met they sort of exploded upwards. So we got to see what Biscay has got its reputation for. This meant I was kept busy on the foredeck reefing so we didn’t have too much sail up for the wind. We ended up with three reefs in the main and Lila self steered that whole first night beautifully.

We had a good sail the next day until the wind dropped out and then we motored or motor sailed for the remaining two days and docked in A Coruna in N Spain early on Monday 19th. All safe and sound with nothing broken. Except the bog seat twice etc etc.

On the way across we saw a lot of wildlife. The highlight of the wildlife was a large pod of pilot whales who followed us in daylight for about half an hour. There were at least 20 of them ranging in size from about 20 feet down to babies. I got lots of good pictures but unfortunately got my camera wet in A Coruna and lost the pictures. The memory remains.


Our excellent crew member

The crew left in A Coruna and Harriet and I managed the boat around to a place called Camarinas. We anchored up for a couple of days to await the arrival of John Bullard who was returning to help crew us down to Lisbon. On the day JOHN was to arrive, Harriet got a call from home that meant she had to abandon her plans and return to look after someone close to her who was unwell. That was a sad loss as she had been a great crew member . Poor John turned up to find that it was just he and I.

He and I managed Lila without much help from the wind round Cape Finisterre and down the coast calling for a few days at Porto and Lisbon. Most of the other stops were brief either on the anchor or one nighters in a marina. The stops in Porto, Vigo and Lisbon were fun but it is a long way down here and I wanted to schedule a break before the next leg to Maderia and the Canaries. That meant for me that it sometimes felt less like cruising and a bit more like a delivery trip. I intend to fix that from here going forward, only sailing when there is wind suitable for what we want to do. We did have a bit of fog which made for some nice pictures.


Cape Finisterre looming up out of the fog


Fishermen dredging by hand in the early morning fog


Motley crew safely in Lisbon

We have been working a bit on the boat and boat handling with modifications to the self steering and putting up and down the topsail.


Topsail flying!

Tomorrow I am back home for about a week with Lila laid up here in Lisbon. Crew is arranged for the next legs to Maderia and the Canaries and that will be a bit of a selection exercise as to who will make the Atlantic crossing in January. The plan is to make it to the Canaries by about end of October and then cruise the Canaries for a few weeks before laying Lila up again until January when we will reconvene for the trip to the West Indies via the Cape Verde islands. More about that next time. Thanks for reading this and feel free to comment. Willie




  1. Sounds like a great voyage so far. I’m very envious and trying to work out how I might join you for a stint.
    PS JB looks like a Portuguese fisherman in that pic, did you tie him to the mast in the midday sun?

    • JB has been a really great crew member. We had a great time taking the boat down through Spain and Portugal. Thanks JB.

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