Biscay Crossing

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Stormy Passage Bayona to Hamble in a Konsort

In May 1993 having given up chartering in the Caribbean I was experiencing a "career break" and found myself with nothing to do. I telephoned Westerly Hamble office on 12 May 1993 and spoke to Peter Thomas for ideas. He asked me if I would be interested in delivering a Typhoon to Bayona, North West Spain for a customer. The elation of sailing a new Typhoon to my favourite European destination and being paid at the same time was somewhat diluted when Peter told me of the Konsort "trade in" However, I had nothing else that I particularly wanted to do and got on with the task with spirited enthusiasm.

The passage across Biscay in the Typhoon, interrupted by-a: short visit to Brest where my crew Tony joined us, went largely without incident. The only exception being that the owner decided to take the opportunity of seeing La Coruna and asked if Tony and I minded travelling by train to Bayona. This was accepted looking forward to seeing the Galician country-side from a Galician express train at 35 mph. We arrived at Vigo and caught a taxi (approximately £5) to Bayona.

Ohayo, the fin keeled Konsort was lying in her berth having been lifted and scrubbed for the passage back to the UK. She had two new batteries, an Autohelm 2000 and no furling headsail. She appeared to have been very well looked after.

Tony and I, being lovers of fish, spent Saturday evening in one of the many Bayona fish restaurants the like of which we very seldom see at home and never at their prices. The following morning after breakfast and fuelling we slipped Bayona yacht club pontoon at 0930hrs. Sailing north among the many islands makes one realise the abundance of anchorages in an area with so little industry other than fishing, and five rivers the size of Chichester Harbour surrounded by high ground. Local folklore says that "when God made the earth he rested his hand down on the seventh day on Galicia", hence the five rias. "He then felt so sorry he made the place bountiful".

2115 hrs on Sunday found us three cables off Cape Vellano 18 miles north of Finisterre. At this time I had a "once in a lifetime" view of a marlin clearing the water to the west of us and silhouetted in the sunset. For the next 24 hours we had a magic sail steering 020 with spinnaker and full main on Autopilot. We ran the engine occasionally but only for battery charging. With the boat upright we made the most of our steak and new potatoes.

By 0625 hrs on Tuesday I June the wind had backed and the glass was falling. By 0830 hours we were on poled out genoa and reefed main. By midday the wind had increased to 6 and it was raining heavily. At 1500 hrs we were close by the Sea Princess steering a reciprocal course. l called the Deck Officer on the VHF, a pleasant Antipodean chap, to request a forecast for north Biscay. We had quite a long chat about things other than weather and then he informed me that there was a 992 west of Ushant making its way up the Channel, and would be long gone by the time we got there. At 0130 hrs we dropped all sail and it was blowing 7 to 8, it continued to increase and at 0530 hrs we spotted a French wooden fishing vessel in a valley in our starboard side with all of the little yellow chaps working the deck. The next moment we were in the valley. We had a chat with the skipper of that vessel who expressed his concern as to the severity of the sea conditions. When the wind induced current caused by a south westerly gale meets the acute angle of the edge of the Biscay continental shelf the sea is very confused.

Although in the 1979 Fastnet race the seas were much taller, they were fairly consistent in shape. In Biscay they are the opposite, they come from all directions. By midday on Wednesday 2 June the wind had dropped to about 7 and I decided to do the rounds and check the various parts of the boat. I found no movement by way of the keel, the shroud attachment areas and the mast step, and the only thing in the bilge was dust. We even removed the table and the bottom boards to obtain an overall view of the situation. Late afternoon we spotted a yacht to the West and slightly to the south of us which turned out to be a Nicholson 35 with a storm jib turning back for Morgat. The skipper and the mate were both Belgians and were on passage to the Med. We sailed in company for Morgat and shared some serious beverage with our new friends. One of them having taken some excellent photographs of us promised to send us some. As yet I haven't managed to trace him. The remainder of our passage up the Channel was plagued by 100 miles of fog but without incident.

With the recent attempt to categorise yachts limiting them to various distances offshore, I sometimes wonder if people that sit in their airtight offices designing top heavy ferries with front opening doors with CAD systems ever get out there and do it. I have been there in a Westerly Konsort, I have done it in a Westerly Konsort and I would do it again in a Westerly Konsort without hesitation.

David Hardy