Pat and I had been at La Coruna for a week with poor weather, rain and wind awaiting both crew to arrive and a suitable window of weather to cross Biscay. Beverley and Ann were due to arrive on 31 st May and indications were that the weather might be suitable on 1 st June. As the seven day forecast unfolded it looked as if a low pressure system would move into sea area Sole then move south into Fitzroy before filling and dissipating . This would give us light winds on day one followed by southerly winds and rain which would gradually back east and finally north east as the rain cleared. There were no gale or strong wind warnings for the five or six days for a crossing. Beverley and Ann duly arrived to be told we were off early the next day and only had a brief look around La Coruna.
Early on 1 st June it dawned cloudy but with light southerly winds so we set off, clearing the harbour and setting our northerly course for Cork which was calculated as 504 miles away. As we cleared the harbour the swell was two metres, sometimes more and we rolled along with black clouds sitting above the surrounding headlands.
The light wind astern of us was insufficient to sail so we motored as we settled into our pattern of watches with one person on watch for two hours each. By mid morning the sky was clearing and the sun came out so we warmed up a little from the 15 degrees that we had experienced for the past week in Spain. Apart from a few fishing boats we saw little traffic at this time and the watches proved easy to settle into a sea routine with the mainsail set to steady the boat from rolling and the engine thrumming away giving us 6 knots in the right direction.
That first evening we were treated to the sight of many dolphins leaping and splashing and to our delight there were also whales blowing amongst them. We think they were all feeding on the same mass of fish. The sunset that evening was beautiful and later in the night when the moon came up it threw a silvery moonbeam across the sea behind us. These conditions continued for the first 24 hours during which we had logged 147 miles and the first night at sea had been clear with starry skies. Good progress so far but we all wanted some wind to sail instead of trying to sleep with the engine noise.
Exactly 24 hours after setting off the wind filled in from the south west at force four and we hoisted the Genoa sail and cut the engine. Speed was reduced to only four knots but it was quiet and the sun was shining.
I tried to steer more easterly of our desired track to allow for the winds later pushing us back westerly but it was difficult to maintain speed if the wind angle was not on the quarter. We had reached a position where shipping going from north west Spain to or from the corner of the Channel at Ushant was crossing our track and we had to watch our speed and course carefully to avoid these juggernauts. At one stage on Beverley’s watch we had three ships abreast overtaking us and it was like crossing the M 25 at rush hour. It was fortunate we crossed this area in daylight and could see more easily the ships track and distance even though we were helped by AIS, automatic identification system. There were two occasions when ships got quite close and I called them on the radio to make sure they had seen us and would stay clear. However, by midday the sky was darkening and the wind was backing more southerly as the predicted low pressure system approached. The rain started in the afternoon in the form of showers from patches of intensely black sky that we had hoped would miss us.
Pat cooked a very good lasagne from a preprepared package and since my watch was at supper time I had mine in the cockpit in the rain whilst the others stayed below. The food certainly warmed us up as it was getting quite cold outside.
The second night was distinctly different to the first as it was jet black, wet and with flukey winds. We resorted to the engine again to keep us safely on track. Watches were unpleasant to say the least as there was no light at all just inky blackness and cold wet rain. Pat called me to check on the safety of one passing ship that came close out of the murk. Later , whilst in my bunk, I had a feeling about something whilst Ann was on watch and saw on the AIS that a ship was approaching us from astern fast and was only four miles away. When I joined Ann in the black it was obvious that the ship was not yet visible but just emerged from the gloom a few minutes later. I altered course 20 degrees to be sure he passed down our starboard side which he did just a few minutes later as I took over the watch from Ann.
As dawn broke on our third morning the wind had backed a little further south east and strengthened enough to start sailing again. I hoped that the wind change was consistent with the low passing us by to the west and the rain would diminish as forecast. By 0730 we had logged 270 miles and we were sailing in a brisk force five with mainsail and Genoa set which was great and I was still trying to keep east of our track. I had to gybe to get the wind on the starboard side but hoped this would not put me back too close to the shipping route that had given us concerns in the night. Gradually the sky cleared and we ended up sailing in sunny weather again doing six knots or more under sail which was exhilarating.
The wind was backing gradually all the time towards the east and we sailed well with the wind just forward of the beam trying to steer just east of north. By now we we’re getting north of the latitude of the Brest peninsular which was about 100 miles to our east so we were entering the western approaches to the Channel. The swell was much reduced and we only had the waves induced by the force five wind.
The wind across the deck was now touching 22 knots so we reduced sail slightly and still maintained nearly 7 knots of boat speed.
That evening Pat was serving a cooked chicken with potatoes and peas and the bouncing and the heel on the boat was causing problems for boiling the potatoes on the gimballed cooker. I offered to hove too whilst we cooked the dinner but she was happy that I just eased the main sail out slightly to bring us more upright with only a slight speed reduction and less bouncing. After dinner and as night approached we put a reef in the mainsail to make the night sailing more comfortable and we sped through the dark hours with few ships to worry about.
The wind by the morning was more north north east and it was pushing us more westerly which is why we had tried to get east earlier in the trip. Another beautiful morning dawned and we had logged 370 miles and were now back in UK waters. High pressure was building back over the UK and promised to give little wind as we closed the Irish coast. We shook out the reefs in our sails and tacked to make some miles east for a while. However, as the wind reduced we tacked back to a better course north west and tried to make as much mileage as we could before the wind died. As predicted at 1500 hours the wind died and the engine went back on having logged 409 miles. The sea was now flat calm and the sun shone as we motored towards the shore of Ireland less than 100 miles away.
One more night at sea and we hoped to enter the estuary at dawn. It was 2200 when the sun set beautifully over the north western sea. We were now past the Isles of Scilly and Lands End and this was emphasised when a Cornish fisherman called us on the radio to tell us what he was doing with the nearby fishing vessel. It was great to hear his rounded Cornish accent making us feel we were nearly home. Sadly whilst Pat was on watch fog began to form in patches above the flat sea and I got everyone up on deck in life jackets and on watch peering out into the gloom looking for other vessels. Ann stayed below scanning the radar and AIS for potential problems. We passed some yachts that were obviously on some race but not making much progress in the almost non existent wind. The fog lasted for four hours and then as the coast became nearer a slight offshore wind cleared it away at 0400 hrs. We now steered for the fairway buoy at the entrance to the Cork harbour basin as the dawn came. We passed the buoy at 0600 hrs and set course for the Royal Cork Yacht Club marina at Crosshaven. This was the best option for our landfall base as it had good facilities rather than go the extra 12 miles to Cork city where there were no facilities.
Entering Crosshaven at 0700 was beautiful with this charming village ahead of us tucked into this perfectly sheltered inlet on the left hand side of the estuary. The multi coloured houses of the village and the variety of cottages spread around the surrounding fields was enchanting.
We moored up on the visitors pontoon at the RCYC having logged 496 miles in exactly 96 hours and it felt great to be back in home waters after all the years we have been away. We all went to our bunks to get some much needed sleep after the trip. The weather routing had proved correct and we had experienced a good crossing of Biscay. The weather in Crosshaven that day was sunny and warm whilst Spain we had left behind was still languishing in rain and cold!
We all enjoyed the ambience of the RCYC , the food served in their bar and of course the Guinness or Murphy’s! However, we wanted to visit Cork itself and we motored the 12 miles up river on the Thursday to the Cork city marina.
The trip up was very interesting with some lovely countryside and houses on route interspersed with docks and industry. The city marina was just a pontoon right in the heart of the city and a little bit noisy. We took lunch in a riverside bar sitting out in the glorious sunshine before exploring the city.
Cork is a large vibrant city undergoing much building and renovation and it was reminiscent of Amsterdam with the old bridges spanning the river that surrounds the old city.
The second morning we visited an old convent with beautiful gardens that had been set up in the early 19 th century by Nano Nagle who defied the local authorities to provide education for the poor children of the city. It was a very tranquil end to our city visit before we motored back to Crosshaven. The final day before Beverley and Ann left we visited the fort on the headland over Crosshaven which has been partially restored and is full of exhibits from the Irish past history. Its position over the river estuary is unique and on the beautiful hot day we had it was magic to sit in their tea room enjoying the vista before us.
We had logged a total of 519 miles since leaving Spain , a total of 1023 so far this year and Beverley and Ann left us here to continue our trip up the east coast of Ireland.
Chris and Pat