Biscay Crossing-La Rochelle to Santander

This was the big day and the weather looked good for the next few days so it was time to go. Jac had been particularly nervous about this leg of the trip as the other members of the crew on her Day Skipper course had been ribbing her about the Biscay crossing so we were particularly happy to have Bert and his vast sailing experience on board.

We refuelled the boat, filled the jerry cans and left La Rochelle at 10am anticipating a crossing of between 35 and 40 hours. The plan was simple: clear La Rochelle then follow a straight line to Santander. Leaving the shelter of the Ile D’Oleron we hit a confused Atlantic swell that left us bucking and rocking for some time until we cleared the land and settled into the routine of looking out for fishing buoys and other traffic. The rough ride made Jac a little seasick but she recovered when the sea settled. We lost sight of France at 1320 and then took an hourly fix which we plotted on the chart in case the electronic kit failed. The crossing was then almost entirely uneventful. We encountered several pods of dolphins one of which stayed with us for a while but very little other sea life was to be seen. We had hoped to see whales as this was a known area for them and we crossed an area that was 3000 metres deep, but saw nothing whaley!

When we worked out that we were in Spanish waters I swapped the French courtesy flag for the Basque flag, knowing that in the Basque country they are very sensitive about boats flying their flag. We then determined that Santander is not in the Basque country so I swapped the Basque flag for the Spanish one. Much bucking around on the foredeck to achieve the final aim. Jac took the customary photographs of the “changing flags ceremony!”

In the night we encountered several groups of fishing boats and the AIS proved invaluable as we could see their heading and speed and avoid them. Other than these small diversions there was little to see but lots of water! The wind stayed almost calm and we motored almost all the way. Dark lasted from around 2300 until 0630 on 20 July and the sea became so calm in the morning that we could have been crossing a lake. During the early morning a pod of dolphins started chasing tuna and some very large fish were leaping from the water in an attempt to escape. At around 1200 we spotted the mountains behind Santander and finally moored up in the Marina de Deportivo up the river from the town at 1630. I think we must have had one of the easiest Biscay crossings ever but we burned a lot of fuel doing it.

Author: chrisgowers

Retired pilot now sailing around the Mediterranean accompanied by my wife Jacquie.