S.E. Bay of Biscay
Monday, 15th June
Today we were to experience the worst gale of the cruise. We had had more than our fair share. June and July are reckoned to be the best months for crossing the Bay with the least chance of meeting a gale, but severe gale 9s have been experienced near the coast of Spain in these summer months. Adding the ferocity of such gales is the effect a sudden change in depth of water can make. We were approximately at 46 degrees north and 4 degrees 30 minutes west, where the deep Atlantic meets the continental shelf, and soundings change from 4,000 metres to 130 metres. The Atlantic swell is forced to rise, causing the regular rhythms of waves to be broken. Most often such gales will be precipitated by the Azores High when it edges a little to the east. Winds between the high and the Spanish heat low accelerate, and they change in direction from southwest to northwest causing confused seas.
The wind progressively increased in strength, and Bill admitted to being careless when steering downwind; this resulted in several bad gybes. At the final one the bronze gooseneck by which the boom was attached to the mast broke, and as it was an essential component for keeping the boom attached to the mast, we were forced to devise a makeshift repair. Our solution was to lash the fitting with ropes to the mast and tighten them by driving wooden wedges between the lashings and the mast. By the time we finished, the wind was blowing at a good Force 7. From there onwards we ran before the wind with only the storm jib set.
Before nightfall we were about 95 miles from La Rochelle, and it seemed sensible to heave to for the night. By doing so we would maintain our sea room and we would not drift too far and too fast into shallower water where the waves would be more dangerous, even lethal. The barometer indicated a rise in pressure hinting that the worst of the gale would be over in a few hours. Meanwhile life below was interesting to say the least; crockery rattled and banged, waves hissed and crashed against the hull, but we held firmly to our bunks to stay in place while trying to relax. We had seen it all before, and I was pleased that Bill had overcome his problem with seasickness. In fact, he was quite upbeat.
At 2220 we successfully obtained a rough radio bearing of Cape Ferrate which lay to south of southeast. We also found another bearing from La Baleines Lighthouse on the Ille de Re. These bearings were insufficiently far apart to provide a reliable position, but they were better than nothing. It is preferable to have at least three bearings that exactly intersect at the yacht’s position. If they do, then the position can be accepted as reliable. A depth sounding taken at the same time will further confirm the accuracy of the plot. Navigators often forget the value of soundings. Bill and I were once caught in dense fog near St Ives, and by using soundings we were able to find our way into the harbour.
When we took radio bearings there in the Bay of Biscay our sounder gave a reading of 64 fathoms, each fathom being 6 feet. By simple calculation we were in a depth of 117 metres. One foot is 0.3084 metres; therefore we were actually into shallow waters. However, with the rise and fall of the yacht on account of the swell and the yacht’s violent movement, we could not rely on the reading.
Text for the Day
Romans 13:8 ‘Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.’
Crossing Biscay – A Weatherman’s Perspective