La Rochelle from seaward (Courtesy of Wikipedia)
It would take me six days to sail across the Bay of Biscay to La Rochelle. For all of that time the barometric pressure hovered around 1,015 millibars, which was consistent with the fine weather we experienced, except for the 31st July when the wind for a short time almost reached a Force 7.
At 0820 on Tuesday, 29th July I broke out the anchor and took the yacht to sea. La Corunna was soon a memory. The wind was NNE 3 giving us a good turn of speed to the northwest taking us clear of land. Early in the afternoon the wind increased, causing me to change down from the Genoa to the big jib. How much easier that would have been had I had a furling Genoa. By 1730 we were well clear of Point Candelaria to the southeast.
I was entranced with the beauty of that grand coastline. Outcrops of high granite cliffs rose upwards from the sea. An incredible blue haze hovered at their base. Later that evening I was overwhelmed, almost to tears, with the most stunning sunset that imparted golden linings to paper thin clouds. A cargo vessel overhauled us and another yacht near to our portside. As darkness replaced light, layers of wispy clouds dissipated. I was treated to the most heavenly display of twinkling stars, all with subtle hues – some were red, others green, yet others blue, indigo or violet. Unless you are well away from the influence of man-made light, you can never see their glory; in fact, you may not see them at all! Such is life for the city dweller.
First thing on the morning of Wednesday, 30th July the Walker log confirmed we had sailed 73 miles since leaving La Corunna. We were heading towards La Rochelle, which was 300 miles beyond the horizon. As the sun was rising to bring the morn, I replaced the jib with the Genoa. Nothing went unnoticed by the porpoises. They had been watching our every move, and they came for a closer look. They could not let us go; that evening they made a return visit for their entertainment and mine. Another yacht approached on a reciprocal course; at the same time a merchant ship was heading north. We came upon a group of purse seine fishing boats that we had to avoid.
Despite the barometer registering 1,015 millibars we encountered strong winds from the northeast, but we pressed on under reefed sails. The seas were rough, and in my log I described them as ‘wild and rugged’. Later on Thursday, 31st July, the wind eased as we sailed to windward. It was uncomfortable, but exhilarating sailing. According to the GPS, we had 257 miles to go before reaching La Rochelle.
Friday, 1st August was mainly a day of frustrations on account of infuriating wind shifts. However, by evening a breeze settled in from east of northeast, giving splendid sailing. We passed very close to an enormous beam of wood, which if the yacht had collided with it she surely would have been damaged. For the first time on the cruise we saw tunny fishermen. Their boats have exceedingly long rods that extend sideways resembling cat’s whiskers.
Saturday, 2nd August brought fluky winds and calms. I put the engine on, but forgot to turn the cooling water on! Habitually, I look over the stern to see if water is coming from the exhaust, but that time it went clean out of my head to check. No damage was done to the engine, because I remembered in time before it could have overheated. By 1700 the wind had settled down to bring perfect sailing, except for the many plastic bags and large clumps of weed littering the surface of the sea. Two yachts sailing south of us were flying spinnakers. I had a short chat over the VHF with the nearest. I did another twenty minutes of sunbathing.
The final full day at sea before closing with land was Sunday, 3rd August. We had another starry night and the sea was almost like a stationary, circular mirror with us at the centre. There were a number of fishing boats that kept us on our toes. They made me uneasy because they had right of way, and their actions were unpredictable. One moment they would be heading away and the next they would be coming towards us. For the second time on this trip we sailed through a pod of whales. As before, they never posed a threat.
That afternoon, the boat tramped along at 6.7 knots, our fastest to date. We continued in like manner throughout the night. A very brightly illuminated passenger ship passed within a half-a-mile. I could hear the throb of her engine through the hull and at the same time hear the chatter of nearby porpoises.
On the morning of Monday, 4th August we closed the land. I handed the log which gave a reading of 1,321.5 miles – the total mileage since leaving Falmouth.
Text for the Day
James 3:4, 5 ‘Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things.’