We have been really bad at updating the blog, I´m sorry, we´ll get better!
The last time I wrote was when we were still in the Hague, and so much has happened since then.
Leaving Hague, we were aiming for Bologne-sur-Mer, below Calais, but the weather turned really bad, not according to prognosis. We had pretty high waves and winds gusting up to 18 m/s and decided to turn around slightly and seek shelter. Unfortunately the currents and winds were against us and we spent four hours being beaten, doing about 1 knot in our preferred direction, arriving in Dunkirk early in the morning at a windy and almost empty marina.
After spending a few days waiting for better weather in Dunkirk, doing some exploring and fixing broken stuff, we sailed for about 40 hours to Le Havre. It was a big marina but once again we were locked in because there was no staff there. This time a lot of other boat owners were around so we could go in and out and explore the town. They really do have good bread in France and we were eating a lot of baguettes.
From Le Havre we sailed on towards Cherbourg, but after just a few hours some things broke again, a wire and some small things, because we didn´t have enough wind and too much waves. We took a reef so we could continue sailing for a while, but then we ended up motoring because of the waves getting bigger. As the sun set the waves got even bigger, the currents turned against us and we didn´t feel like repeating ourselves, also I started feeling really uneasy, so we decided to head for Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue instead of continuing through the night. It turned out to be a super busy and really crowded harbour, with many fishing boats rushing in and out at the time of high tide (when the harbour entrance was open). We were quite nervous the last bit of the way because there were unlit fishing flags and buoys everywhere and I was standing up front scanning the water with our torch! We were a bit shaky when going through the super narrow entrance at the same time as all of the fishing boats too. Also, we didn´t find any free space for our boat and ended up cramming ourselves in between two smaller leasure fishing boats.
We left the next morning, when the water was as still as ice and there was absolutely no wind at all, so we motored on to Cherbourg. The marina was large and calm, very nice with a lot of space. We got the wire fixed and also made some other adjustments and repairs. We stayed in the nice town of Cherbourg for three nights before we continued on.
This is a part of our journey that I would have done better off without, as we set sail without having really done enough research. We had focused on accurately timeing the weather, waves, tides and currents because they are super strong in this area and yes – we were having a superb sail! There were no waves to talk about, just enough wind and we were surfing the current doing more than 10 knots! So comfortable! We arrived in Guernsey, and moored at a pontoon outside the marina because the tide was still too low to enter. About then is when we read some more about the regulations in the Channel Islands and found out that dogs were not allowed to enter from sailing vessels. They had to be securely confined inside the boat at all times and we were actually not even allowed to moor at any pontoon or marina with dogs on board! It didn´t matter that they had all their shots, blood tests and everything – if found ashore they would be retained and then either quaranteened or destroyed as well as the owner being prosecuted!
If the weather had been in our favour we would have left immediately, but it was not! We spent the first night at the pontoon outside because we didnt want to enter in the dark, and it was NOT comfortable. In the morning we found one of our mooring lines chafed off, so thank god we had a few extra tied up. So we went inside the marina when the tide was high, hoping to get some shelter inside, bit it was almost worse! We spent two horrible days and nights there, being violently smashed and jerked around. Didn´t get much sleep at night but we could sleep about three hours when the tide was low enough for the marina to be closed to incoming waves. We had to sneak out with the dogs in the dark, but they didn´t want to do their business on the boat when they could see land so close so we took some walks anyway, keeping a watch out for the many police officers around.
Joel came down with a fever and a cold, making his stay even more miserable.
When we finally left the waves were still a bit high but it calmed down after a while. We had our first dolphin encounter under a moonlit sky just a few hours before reaching Roscoff, magical!
In Roscoff we spent a few relaxing days, exploring the Exotic garden next to the marina, bikeing the countryside and visiting nice little beaches. It must be a lively town with many tourists in summer, but during our visit not many of the stores or restaurants were open, the town was almost deserted.
From Roscoff we planned our sail carefully, because there are two areas south that can be very difficult if sailing towards the current or if the wind is blowing against the current. We had very little wind the entire sail, but it started blowing up just before we reached this area, Chenal du Four. Thankfully we took down all our sails and motored because it was suddenly really windy and just like that the waves got big and choppy and really uncomfortable. It was only for a short while though and we continued on towards Camaret-sur-Mer in calmer waters.
We had our first visit by the Coast Guard/Customs when we just reached the marina. They were really nice but a bit confused by our boat´s name being La Vie and us being two swedes that didn´t even speak french.
We did some exploring of the beautiful surroundings, a nice long hike with stunning views and gorgeus beaches. Otherwise the town was very calm, many stores and restaurants were closed and not a lot of people were there.
After our hike I got Joels cold and a fever too, thought I had dutched it but unfortunately not.
Again, thinking we had planned our sail carefully, we went on through the next difficult passage, Raz de Sein. Our weather forecast was kind of off, the wind was coming from another direction and as we tried to sail we lost some time cruising against the wind. We thought it would be ok though since that would mean that the currents would not be at their strongest. It started getting darker and we were motoring but feeling a little worried about our high speed, the currents were much stronger than we anticipated and also stronger than Navionics told us it would be at that time. Just after Point du Raz we got the worst experience of our lives! Waves were coming from all directions at the same time, at least four meters high and super steep. Our boat was violently thrown around and smashed up and down, sometimes it felt like the entire boat was in the air before being beaten down so low that I thought we were going to get flipped over upside down. We were holding on so hard that our fingers got numb and we were actually thinking that this might be the end of us!
We did get through it obviusly but seriously shaken up by the experience, we headed for Audierne. At that time the passage through a narrow canal to reach the town and marina was impossible, because of low tide, and we grabbed a largely over-sized mooring buoy for fishing boats outside and spent the night there.
We went in to Audierne around noon the next day. It was a nice, but small town and we spent three nights recovering, exploring and planning our next move. The beaches and surrounding natural areas were really nice and the last day we went on a long walk, had some crêpes and played with the dogs on the beach. We were completely set on sailing along the coast of Biscay, especially after the recent horrible experience, but as we studied the weather prognosis every day we saw that it seemed to be stable and good conditions for three or four days to come. So we decided to take a leap and do the crossing anyway! Our minds were also still set on reaching the Canaries and crossing the Atlantic before it was to late in the Carribbean season, so it seemed like a time saving move.
The first day was pretty windy and the waves were a little over my comfort level and as the sun set and the waves were still pretty high I started feeling uneasy and scared. We still had a long distance to go and we had about a day if we turned back (but then it would have been against the wind too) so we continued. Some dolphins came to accompany us and that made us feel better! We were rocking and rolling a lot but it got a little easier as the night passed. We met two large boats that were doing some kind of measuring or something, in the middle of the night. It was difficult to see but they left something in the water that had lights on it, but it didn´t seem to be for fishing (and the depth had just gone down to 4000 meters). No clue what they were actually doing.
The second day was ok, we tried to get some sleep now and then but it was still very rolly. The feeling of being that far out without any land in sight was weird and also not a nice feeling for me, I have been a little spooked by things breaking on our boat and I find it hard to relax, like I´m in a constant state of ”ready to act”, high in adrenaline all the time. It´s like it accumulates and I´m not really able to get rid of it, so being far from land made it a whole lot worse for me. I was dreading the night a little bit but it was actually ok, and I guess my mind and body just gave up or it was just because of the easier conditions (we had actually started to motor for a while).
But things can never be easy, so after Joel had his three hours of beauty sleep and we were both outside for like ten minutes, Yra had a slight mishap inside the boat. As soon as I got inside I senced the smell! I felt so bad for her, she must have really panicked because she had jumped up into our bed, then spun around while having diarrhéa all over the place! So I guess you can say we had some cleaning to do! We tried to rinse all of our sheets, covers and mattresses in the the sea water, just getting the worst off and then cleaning the walls too! She continued to have diarrhéa through the night and the next day, so we were not getting any more sleep but at least we had time to take her out before it happened!
So, exhausted and with a nasty smelling boat we were getting closer to Gijón, when our motor gave up and died! We couldn´t get it to start and we couldn´t figure out what was wrong. I sailed while Joel changed the diesel-filter, checked the oil and everything we could think of. We were thinking maybe it got over-heated but the cooling was working and it didn´t seem right that the temperature meter wasn´t showing anything. We also filled up with more fuel and as we took the air out of the system after changing the fuel-filter, we realized that there was a lot of air there! We sailed for a few hours, cruising against the increasing wind until we felt we really had to try the engine again and if it had been over heated it would have cooled down by then. It was a little reluctant to start but it worked up and continued to run just fine. Our theory is that we had run a little low on fuel and while rocking and rolling so much the motor must have gotten air instead of fuel in increasing amount. We were very nervous that the engine would quit working again before we reached the harbour, but it didn´t and we were finally in Spain!
We spent nine days in Gijón, celebrated christmas and did a lot of laundry! We found some nice people that we trained agility with and also to got some advice about where to go hiking. We rented a car for two days and went to Picos de Europa, a national park about 1,5-2 hours drive from Gijón. The first day we went on an easy hike around to small lakes, the scenery was breathtaking but we were not alone in thinking so, the place was pretty crowded because of rather easy access I suppose. The sun was shining and it was really nice and warm. The next day we went on a longer trail, higher in the mountains, Ruta de Cares. It is partially carved out from the side of the mountains and it was really amazingly beautiful! We tried to take a lot of pictures but they were rubbish compared to reality. It took us just over 6 hours to walk.
In Gijón we stayed at Marina Yates, a little bit outside town, in the more industrial port area. It was a nice and calm marina, with very helpful staff and a restaurant with good and not too expensive food. Unfortunately we had a lot of soot in the air from the industry close by, so that was a downside. Otherwise we didn´t mind the distance from the town centre that much.
After having recovered from the crossing and processed all our thoughts and feelings, we came to the insight that we are not going to cross the Atlantic this time. We are only two persons, with limited sailing experience and an older boat. We would have to hurry down to the Canaries, missing much of the experiences along the way, sailing longer distances without going ashore and at this time of year the weather can be unpredictable. What I felt while crossing the Biscay wasn´t enjoyable, we are doing this to feel good, explore, get new experiences, meet new people, see new places… We´ll see where this takes us in the end, but right now we are slowing down the pace, making shorter sails and focusing on having a good time! We are heading in to the Mediterranean this spring to start with.
A couple of days have now been spent in Cudillero, a small fishing village in a valley down by the sea. It is a beautiful little town but a bit worn down in places. People are not really speaking english and we are trying to learn some spanish, but we were a little isolated. We were moored on the side of a pontoon in a crowded fishing harbour, locked in once again but used the dinghy to go ashore, so it was ok. New Years Eve was the calmest we´ve ever had, almost wondering if we had mistaken the date!
And now we are safely moored in the marina at Real Club Nautico Ribadeo, where we´ll stay for a day or two.