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Apsara: Messages From The Boat:

Bay of Biscay to Spain

September 25, 2003     Latitude: 37°06&rsquo     Longitude: 08°31’
Wind: SW @ 6 knots     Temp: 80F     Skies: Clear and Sunny

Apsara and her faithful crew now have 2835 nautical miles under their belts. 2 weeks ago we reached latitude 38, a milestone for us because our city by the bay, good old San Francisco, lies at latitude 38. We are happy to have made this much southerly progress, and we are enjoying the reward of warmer weather. Our launching point, Jakobstad, Finland, sits at latitude 64, and that sure seems a long way back.

Since our last report, we have had a midnight intruder, crossed the infamous Bay of Biscay, surfed down the waves at 12.8 knots, watched dolphins dancing on our bow wave, tasted the Spanish culinary delight of barnacles, unknowingly anchored off of a "naturists" beach, gone for a few swims in the Atlantic Ocean (yes, it is quite chilly!), and made some friends along the way. The crew is healthy, happy and is now busy exploring the coast of Portugal and getting some maintenance and repair projects done on the boat.


It has been a while, so we’ll move chronologically, and thus begin with the crime scene.

On August 8th, we were docked alongside the town quay in the picturesque town of Dartmouth, UK (Latitude 50.20N; Longitude 03.33W). After a long day of motoring from Gosport to Dartmouth, we had turned in early, anticipating the following day would be filled with projects as we got the boat ready for the Biscay crossing two days later. Enormously pleased to have left the stresses of the boatyard behind, we were enjoying our first peaceful night’s sleep since arriving in the UK. But this was not to be. Instead, we awoke at 12:30AM to find a large foot reaching through the open hatch (boat-speak for window) above our bed. Someone was trying to come aboard and had unwisely chosen a point of entry that would land himself in bed, literally, with the boat’s occupants. Luckily, this hatch was covered by sliding screen, which opened with a loud "SNAP!" waking the crew up from their previously blissful slumber. Eyes open, we saw a large male leg entering our cabin from above. We grabbed for the leg and hollered, but the intruder must have been as startled to see us as we were to see him. He ran away into the night.

This was unsettling. And most unexpected in what we perceived to be a bucolic English town. Upon reporting the incident to the harbor master, we were told that it was "Silly Season." We suppose this means the intruder was a harmless drunken fool? I guess we’ll never know. Regardless, we were more than happy to be kicked-off the town jetty the next morning, and move the boat to a mooring located a safe distance from shore to get ready for the upcoming passage.

Bay of Biscay Passage  
Dartmouth, England to Villagarcia, España; 589 Nautical Miles  
August 10th- August 13th  

Bay of Biscay Passage The red line indicates the actual route taken.
  • Departed the River Dart at 0830, Sunday, August 10th.
  • Arrived Villagarcia, Spain, at 1030, Wednesday, August 13th.
Nautical Miles = 589
Avg. Speed = 8 knots
  • We didn't make a navigational boo-boo, we jibed to stay out of the shipping lanes.
Ah, the Bay of Biscay. Infamous for its storms and the steep, irregular waves they produce. A "Graveyard for Ships" it is called, and it is the setting for innumerable heavy weather survival tales. As with the North Sea, this passage had been on our minds since before we left Finland. We had been moving quickly in order to cross Biscay before mid-August, after which point the odds of adverse weather conditions increase significantly.

Given the Bay’s reputation, we decided it was better to be five than two. Joining us for the crossing were: Scott Zebny, our expert Sailmaker from North Sails in Ft. Lauderdale; Ted Huber, a good friend and veteran of the 1998 Pacific Cup with Scott; and Sharon Grayburn , a veteran of the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers), whom we met through crew-seekers. Our scheduled departure coincided with the highest temperatures on record in the UK and a corresponding meltdown in the transportation system (literally, the train tracks were melting) – and we owe special thanks to Zebny and Sharon who suffered horribly hot trains and buses for several hours to make it in time for our scheduled departure.

With a good weather forecast in hand, we departed the River Dart at 0830 on Sunday, August 10th. We had very good weather conditions for most of the trip. We generally had plenty of wind to sail during the days, and then as darkness fell so would the winds, and we would motor through much of the night.

The first 48 hours found us in lumpy seas. The conditions were not rough, but there was a significant swell hitting the boat at an uncomfortable angle. OK, this is a roundabout way of saying that the crew was not accustomed to the motion-of-the-ocean, and three out of five had "Christened" the boat before the first night was through. The good Captain took first honors, and yours truly followed shortly thereafter. To the crew’s amazement, Zebny was absolutely impervious to sea-sickness, and for that he receives the "Iron Stomach" award.

Zebny’s fishing skill was also on display. He managed to catch three tuna during the trip, using lures which were designed for fishing in the Caribbean (far, far, away from the cold waters of Biscay). The first catch came on Monday, and that night we enjoyed a feast of tuna steaks ala Chef Huber.

By Tuesday, all the woes of seasickness were behind us. Good thing, too, as we were in for a fantastic day. The morning began with a large group of dolphins dancing across our bow wave for about 30 minutes. To see these animals in their natural surroundings is a spectacular thing, and we were delighted.

Ted Sailing By early afternoon, the conditions were ripe for hoisting the asymmetrical spinnaker, and doing some surfing. (The asymmetrical spinnaker, or gennaker, is the big, billowing, and often colorful sail at the front of the boat. It is used when the wind is coming from behind. While it can be flown without a spinnaker pole, we used the pole quite a bit.) The wind increased to 17-21 knots, the momentum of the waves picked up, and a fun competition for top speed began. The excitement started as Ted and Sharon hit 11 knots, and then heightened as Zebny took it up a notch and hit 12 knots ("hauling the mail" as he would say). But the Captain won the honors, as he took the helm and guided Apsara to 12.8 knots!
There were a few moments when the sail looked like it might just decide to wrap itself around the headstay (not good), and there were a few moments when our good sailmaker worried that the winds just might be strong enough to blow the sail. Fortune was on our side, however, and we just had a terrific afternoon of downwind sailing. (Of course, you may be wondering why we would get so excited about moving at the equivalent of 14.72 miles per hour – but, trust me, this feels pretty damn fast, and a little on the edge, when you are moving through the water!) Surfing Biscay
After we put the kite away the winds dropped and the sea settled in time for all of us to enjoy dinner as the sun set; and, just then, we were surrounded by a pod of pilot whales. Black and small (by whale standards) and beautiful animals that seemed curious to know what we were. Fortunately, our keel did not look like a willing mate and the pod moved on.

That night was long and a bit stressful. The wind picked up very quickly and changed direction as we neared Cape Finisterre. This found us with 26 knots of wind on the nose, pounding seas, and a bit of the dreaded lee shore. And then dense fog appeared. The Spanish call this place the Cabo del Morte (Cape of Death), and, as Scott so aptly described it that night, it felt like a few sailors’ souls were still wandering around. These conditions were cause enough for us to rework the navigation in order to keep us about five miles offshore. We redid the navigation at midnight, in an exhausted state, and it proved to be an example of how difficult it can be to do simple tasks when you are so tired.

The fog lasted through the night to morning, but the sun appeared just as we reached our destination of Villagarcia, Spain (Latitude 42.3N; 08.46W). We arrived at 12 noon, having covered 586 nautical miles in 75 hours, for an average speed of 7.91 knots. Happy to arrive, we headed to the nearest café for a cold beer and lunch, after which we began adapting to Spanish culture as we all took a nice long siesta.
All in all, we had a great passage. The weather was favorable, and, most importantly, the crew was great: Scott Zebny coached us all on sail trim and steering; Ted’s sharp wit kept us all smiling; and Sharon was a pleasure to have on board as she pitched in to help with everything (she even cleaned the heads!). Crew in Villa Garcia Marina

Rias Baixas and Galicia, Spain  
August 13th to 25th  

We spent 5 days in Villagarcia. After getting the boat back in shape after the passage, we relaxed a little, did some sightseeing, ate wonderful Spanish tapas (octopus, dried ham, and Spanish tortillas – yum!), and tried to grow accustomed to eating dinner at 10pm. A highlight of our stay was a trip to Santiago de Compostela, to see its beautiful church, which has been an important Catholic pilgrimage sight since, well, forever. A huge bonus was that I was happily using my Spanish again – it was rusty, but good enough to get by for most things, and it was great to finally be able to speak the local language.

Departing Villa Garcia on August 19th, we moved to a beautiful anchorage 29 miles away, a beach called Ensenada de Barra (Latitude 42.15N; 08.51W). The guidebook indicated the area is favored by "naturists." Surveying through our binoculars, we quickly discovered what this meant – at least 90 percent of the beachgoers were wearing their birthday suits! It was also at Ensenada de Barra where we took our first dip in the Atlantic, as we swam to and from the shore. It was COLD, COLD, COLD, and only a crazy few were braving the water. We enjoyed it thoroughly, though we swam as quickly as we could.

August 21st: After a brief midday stop at the picturesque Las Islas Cies, (where we anchored and swam ashore for lunch) we motored in calm winds to Baiona (Lat: 42 o 15’ North; Longitude: 08o 51’ West.). Here we docked at the Marina Real Club de Yates. Above the harbor lies a huge fortress wall and castle, now run as one of the "Paradors" of Spain, which are ancient fortresses the government has converted into luxury hotels. We had dinner in the Parador, which was a treat, especially for the sunset views of the Atlantic.

The history buffs among you may recall that Baiona was Columbus’ first port of call after discovering our homeland in 1492. Accordingly, the harbor is home to a complete replica of his sailing caravel, La Pinta. We were surprised to discover how small she was; her masts were shorter than Apsara’s. Columbus took around 50 days to sail from the Canary Islands to the new world we hope to do it in less than 20!

We spent 4 nights in Baiona. These longer stays in ports have given us the opportunity to enjoy our surroundings and make a few friends along the way. One night we were treated to drinks with an incredibly friendly Portuguese family on the yacht Ave Maria, and another we had drinks and dinner with the folks on Blue Destiny, a new Oyster 56 that is also headed south for the ARC.

Well folks, that’s all for Espana. Since then, we have sailed south along the Atlantic coast of Portugal, and have just recently rounded the corner to reach Southern Portugal, also known as the Algarve. More on Portugal to come soon...
At Villa Garcia Marina

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