Aurora through Biscay bay and Iberian Atlantic coast

With the time passing at the Lagoon delivery quay in Les Sables d'Olone after couple of days the Aurora preparation list was almost checked out and we could find ourselves more often looking at the wind and weather prediction applications in our mobile phones. Most convenient ones for our purpose turned out to be Windy and Windfiner Pro. The later gives meteorological  information in the weather buoys near the coast line, in order to get the real wind force we had to add  5 extra knots of wind to the prediction and at least a meter of waves. On the other hand Windy is approximating the weather conditions in a large sailing area via animated graphs. In a way the wind itself is not the main concern in the Bay of Biscay rather than the waves it creates. On the first place there is constant swell coming from the northwest Atlantic that varies from 1m to 3m depending on the season. Then there are the wind waves created from the gale force winds that can easily be built to 5 even 8 meters. At times the wind follows the swell  but other times it comes from Southwest Atlantic or Northeast continental France. We were waiting exactly for that northeast wind and there was a prediction it will come quite strong on the first Sunday of February and will be steady for at least 2 days. We knew we would get some rough sea on the other side of the bay a day later however we completed the final preparations and half an hour after the high water of the morning tide on 04.02.2018 we collected the mooring lines and slowly took Aurora through the harbour channel into the Atlantic ocean.


Aurora at high tide on the morning before departure

Last photo on delivery quay before departure

Other lagoon boats are preparing to follow us

Aurora slowly maneuvering the way out of the Les Sables d'Olone harbour

Les Sables d'Olone old town

Les Sables d'Olone view from the channel

Vlado anticipating the Bay of Biscay with the current Lagoon delivery

Last part of the channel before the Atlantic

Except us we could see 4 more Lagoon catamarans left the harbour on the same morning.  Three of them took course southeast with us and one took course north. Of the three we knew one Lagoon 45s were going to Croatia as we had a brief chat with the skipper the previous night. The other Lagoon 45 we met later at peculiar circumstances in Gibraltar turned out also to be going to Croatia and the last Lagoon 380 we met later at our destination in Alimos marina in Greece.

Once we were out of the harbour with the wind reaching 20 knots and not enough distance from the continent to build a wind wave we had an ideal sailing conditions to use the complete sail area reaching easily 9 knots on downwind. 

20 knots of northeast wind with not much waves near the French shore line

Aurora with full jib and mainsail opened

Small jib trick to grab more wind over 160 degrees downwind

Aurora doing 9 knots in perfect sailing conditions
In the early afternoon 30 miles away from the coast a wind wave started to build up and cause a little discomfort. The wind increased to nearly 30 knots and we have  furled the jib and took the first reef of the mainsail later.  The wind started to change the direction. In order to keep with the same trim we took 10 degrees north which we had to do anyway to go around an underwater plateau some 40 miles away from the French coast. It has few rocks at 3 meters under the water which could be some danger to the sailing yachts at waves above 1m. However bigger concern were the local fishermen boats who were taking an advantage  on the sea life near the plateau. The rest of the lagoon boats were motoring with only with half jib. They took the shorter path on the southern side. Soon we lost sight on them.

As the French coast line disappeared some wind wave started to build

Galin at the helm as the wind force kept increasing

Aurora's jib furled as wind increased to 30 knots

Aurora going around the plateau on the norther side
In the evening somewhere 70 miles away of the French coast the wind exceeded 35 knots.  We took the second reef on the mainsail and had a bit of the jib out to keep the bow steady. Some serious wind waves of 5 meters have already being build and chasing our stern causing the boat to surf at times.  The swell kept coming from starboard side and some reflected waves completed the boiling pot we found ourselves into. One crew member was already sea sick. I made a mistake to drink some orange juice and threw it back on the transom half an hour later. Vlado had an apple that had the same destiny. Only Galio was still in good spirit and joking until few hours later when he decided to drink some water that had same devastating effect on him. 

Jib out on 3rd reef with mainsail on second reef at 35 knots of wind

Aurora heading southwest

Aurora surfing on the waves

Ocean view from the port aft cabin

Me releasing the orange juice on the transom which I had half an hour earlier
During the night the wind exceeded 38 knots with bursts even to 42 knots the second reef line was torn off and we took the third reef without noticing much decreasing of the boat speed. When the morning came we were somewhere 70 miles away from Spanish coast. I started to imagine that I see some shadow coast line and Galin expressed for a first time some concern for the boat safety, since if I am about to go nuts only 2 pair of hands will remain for deck work.

Spanish coast ahead

Aft view from the port cabin
At the evening of the second day we got mobile network coverage near Cabo de Bares. The wind started to decrease but the wave size was still the same, never the less we had some sandwiches for dinner with Galin and tried to get some sleep for couple of hours while Vlado stayed at the helm. On the next shift with the sunrise we were already approaching La Coruna. The wind decreased further to moderate and the big waves have disappeared. For the first time since we left France we got comfortable sailing conditions. Even the sun was out from the clouds and we could sense the temperature increase. I thought it was good moment to rise the Spanish courtesy flag and cook some hot meal.

Aurora with Spanish courtesy flag

Morning at the Spanish Atlantic coast

Aurora heading south with full sails

The wind changed direction again in our favour

The dolphins of Galicia came to salute Aurora
As we were approaching the famous Cabo de Finisterre  I spent the rest of the day chatting with friends in Spain. They all complained about the cold weather that came overnight that brought even snow in Madrid. I was just smiling. We have used the very same cold front from France to sail down to Spain. He had a plan to stop in Vigo but we did not want to loose the favourable wind and decided to keep with it further south to Portugal. For the first night weather conditions allowed us to  start the generator and we had the salon and cabins warmed up and had some proper dinner and sleep.

Me and famous Cabo de Finisterre lighthouse on the back

The generator did perfect job to warm up the boat cabins
Over the night we crossed the border with Portugal. The wind was still favourable and waves moderate. The biggest treat were the local fishermen boats crossing our path and their nets. At night was impossible to see them. On few occasions Galin had changed our course in the very last moment to avoid fishermen nets. Then he secretly wished he was at the helm of his 100-thousand tons tanker ship and it would be fishermen crying worried on channel 16 radio to change the course like in the gulf states.

Draco is the Aurora's nightmare

Extra caution at the helm of Aurora near Portuguese coast

Birds feasting near fishermen nets

Fishermen net mark

Another net spotted in the very last moment
In the afternoon we got ourselves caught in the middle of a military exercise. Aurora  was scouted by two military ships and we passed without changing the course under sails. By the evening we were already approaching Lisbon. We had planned a stop in Cascais but wind was still with us, only the water tanks were at 1/4 full but we could afford another day at sea so we continues further. At lunchtime on the next day we have reached Cabo de San Vincente and headed into the tunnel that would eventually bring us to Gibraltar. One hour before sunset on the 5th day since we left France we have tied Aurora to the marina of Portimayo and stepped on solid land. We have washed away the salt from Aurora and us too. We evaluated the damages from the storm. Apart from the torn reef line there was nothing else. We have cooked dinner and opened a bottle of selected French wine to celebrate the crossing of the Bay of Biscay and Atlantic Iberian coast. On the next day we should be reaching Gibraltar but as the wind disappeared completely we would do it using the engines.

Aurora in the middle of military excersise

Aurora intercepted by two Portuguese warships

Portuguese warship doing half circle around us. Aurora sailing away from the military exercise

Aurora approaching the busy traffic area near Lisbon

The only damage from the Biscay storm was a torn reef line

Cabo de San Vincente marked the end of the extreme sailing marathon. We are heading now to the East.

Me at Cabo de San Vincente. Only a day in the ocean left hidden in southern Iberian side

Securing the mooring lines at the Marina de Portimayo

Aurora and the sunset at Portimayo

A well deserved price for crossing the Bay of Biscay

Aurora leaving Portimayo on the morning
Portimayo is really fantastic place and worth a visit in the summer. We would be happy to stay here more time but on the next day we had to use the calm weather to go through the strait. My next story will be on how we passed Gibraltar and sailed the lovely Spanish Mediterranian coast to Alicante where some crew members left and more friends came to join as a crew.

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