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Old 14-01-2011, 09:37   #1
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Bay of Biscay

I'm thinking of leaving Falmouth at the beginning of Jan next year to go to the Canaries (via Portugal) and then cross the Atlantic.
I know the weather isn't exactly going to be hot and sunny!! Am I crazy to cross the Bay of Biscay in January though? Is it do-able?!

Advice please!!
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Old 14-01-2011, 10:20   #2
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In case...

you are not already familiar with this website, I think it contains matters for thoughts
Climatology of Global Ocean Winds - COGOW
(click on requested area, select date (that's easy in your case), click again somewhere to access detailled data. Placing the pointer on a specific spot will pop a wind rose up)
I have only crossed the gulf from july to september, so I do not feel qualified to express some kind of definite opinion.
But with a GOOD weather window (meaning you are in a position to wait for as long it will take) I won't say you are considering suicide
Breaking the route to (for instance) Camaret (Brittany) would seem a possibility. Also, A Coruna (Galicia) can be entered in any kind of weather if necessary (not so sure about e.g. Camarinas) Cape Finisterre can be a hellish place, even in summer. Some Portuguese harbours can be closed for days when strong westerlies are blowing because of huge seas on sand bars.
En route access to weather charts a definite plus
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Old 14-01-2011, 10:32   #3
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Been in Biscay in January as crew on a square rigger...we went up to reef topsails in 50 knots and 20+ft waves. Only time in my sailing career I have been frightened!

In winter the whole of the French, Spanish and Portuguese coasts become dangerous lee shores.

Not a good time to cross and you should get to the Caribbean in time for hurricane season.

Start following the UK shipping report on a daily basis. It will give you the Biscay weather report, its quite nice there today 25-35 knots and 12-15 ft waves.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/coast/shipping/

Better to buy Jimmy Cornell's "World Cruising Routes" and follow his advice.
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Old 14-01-2011, 11:10   #4
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I ve sailed in Biscay in November and December and its way bad. January, no way, serioulsy youre a lesuire sailor why push your luck. The whole Cabo Finnisterre is a very difficult place to cross Bayona and many further south ports get closed ( you should see the rollers in the approach channel in Bayona!!.


I wouldnt bother really,

Dave
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Old 14-01-2011, 11:34   #5
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We have friends who have a beach house we call "Le Shack" on the Brittany coast looking directly out over Biscay. During the summer its idyllic but then you see the heavy steel roller shutters on each window they lower when away for any time during the winter.

I have crossed Biscay half a dozen times in the Summer and Autumn and could have done with extra diesel on some of the trips. However, there is no way I would cross Biscay in anything less than the QE2 during the winter.

Check your insurance, they may specify a date you have to be across the bay before the winter.

Instead go earlier, catch the trades down the Portugal coast. Chill out in the Canaries for a month or two and then across the pond late Nov or Dec which is the classic route.

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Old 14-01-2011, 11:37   #6
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Originally Posted by goboatingnow View Post
I ve sailed in Biscay in November and December and its way bad. January, no way, serioulsy youre a lesuire sailor why push your luck. The whole Cabo Finnisterre is a very difficult place to cross Bayona and many further south ports get closed ( you should see the rollers in the approach channel in Bayona!!.


I wouldnt bother really,

Dave
I have to agree it can be VERY bad- lots of Fog also in that area- I might gobut take little hops or wait for a break- good luck
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Old 15-01-2011, 08:07   #7
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Exclamation Your're a braver man than me!

In many respects Biscay might prove to be the easy bit; as noted by others, you can wait for suitable weather windows and then do it in small bites, if you coast hop all the way to La Rochelle and then its only about 160-180M across to Bilbao/Santander, from where you can coast-hop again along northern Spain. The difficulty is that at this time of the year, the suitable weather windows will be fewer/shorter, which will mean you're unlikely to be able to wait an extra day or two for the seas to settle too, so you're likely to end up motor-sailing in big seas - not comfortable.

As I said, your real problems may come after Biscay: As far as La Rochelle, its not often that you'll be more than 2-3 hours from a secure and accessible harbour, whilst in N Spain/Portugal harbours are generally further apart, with many being difficult to enter in heavy weather and some dangerous/impossible. I would think you're more likely to get stuck out at sea in something unpleasant along this stretch.

Even having made it to the bottom of Portugal, you're problems aren't over; whilst the weather between here and the Canaries is likely to be more moderate for the most part, its far from settled in January and you're still likely to encounter big seas rolling down from the weather systems further north; additionally, the harbours on the west coast of Africa are even fewer/less accessible than Portugal.

As I said, it can be done and undoubtably has been on several occassions, but its unlikely to be fun and the odds are that you'll get a kicking from the weather somewhere along the way.
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Old 15-01-2011, 08:26   #8
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Originally Posted by ABAYLEY View Post
I'm thinking of leaving Falmouth at the beginning of Jan next year to go to the Canaries (via Portugal) and then cross the Atlantic.
I know the weather isn't exactly going to be hot and sunny!! Am I crazy to cross the Bay of Biscay in January though? Is it do-able?!

Advice please!!
It's do-able as in there's a high chance you would survive to tell the tale, but why look for trouble? As others have said you've got the Galicia and the portuguese coast to get through as well. Not a nice prospect.

Then if you're heading to Carib there might not be much time left before hurricane season by the time you've relaxed and fixed the boat in the Canaries. If south america then Atlantic timing not so crucial.

Why the rush?


Here's Brittany in December

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Old 15-01-2011, 08:31   #9
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Did it late Nov-Dec in 08... got caught halfway across and ended up hove to for 7days slowly being pushed SE.. ended up having to run before with steering aid from the engine (she was only 22ft) into Viviero as I was running outa sea room.
Was stuck there for 3 weeks with 9 and 10 metre sea's and strong NW'lies.
Fast run on a calmer day when the wind went NE got me to La Coruna before it went back to W... another 10 days there before I could run around Finisterre and down to Figiuera da Foz.
If you can get a 5-6 day N window for your run well and good but don't get too close to Finisterre... if it goes SW you'll appreciate the sea room to run for better shelter or stand off hove to... and most ports along Portugal are very dodgy... Those big NW swells play havoc and many local boats get into trouble... last Nov even Nasare closed and that's very rare...
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Old 15-01-2011, 09:38   #10
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I've done Biscay 4 times this year, twice in each direction. Last trip (early Nov) coming north I had to wait in Corunna for 5 days for the 8 metres seas and 45 knot winds to decrease to 25 knots and 5 metres.

jan and Feb are probably the worst times of the year, you may struggle with insurance cover, the adage is not to cross if there is an 'R' in the month.

The coast south of Corunna is a place you need to keep well out from until well past Cape Finnistaire - those sucessions of Atlantic lows build up some horrendous seas and cross swells.

Far better to leave in September for winter in the Caribbean.

Hope this helps

As others have said, you are heading into the hurricane season - June to October
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Old 16-01-2011, 18:24   #11
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You probably are since you asked this question.

Doable, but not to be done by an inexperienced crew, and not in any boat.

Since you asked the question, I assume you may be inexperienced.

barnie
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Old 18-01-2011, 13:11   #12
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Biscay in winter...I have 2 crossings in memory, one (late december) was horrible, the other one was a dream (beginning of february).

So, if you can not wait the good season, make sure you have plenty of time to be in stand-by when it'll become necessary during the trip, in stand-by for some weeks...

The planning with the weather, ideally should allow you to ensure a safe crossing from, roughly, La Rochelle latitude, to Norh of Spain (Bilbao, La Corogne...), because there is no safe harbour inbetween, so do it in 1 leg.

Another safety trick is to stay as much as possible "out" the gulf area in case of bas weather, to have better sea condition than "in" the gulf where really messy sea state is developing very quickly and is so confuse that it is a nightmare to cope with (if coping can be possible in such situation...).

So, if you are trapped in bad weather while crossing the biscay, GO AT LARGE!

Make sure as well that the boat has been well surveyed and checked 100%, as every little detail not being 100% safe will fail in few hours in the gulf bad weather.

To give you an idea, a 10 mmm diameter schakle pin (on the mainsail, at the end of the boom) was reduced to 5 mm after 5 days of bas weather in the gulf...

So: good weather forecast + plenty (plenty, plenty....) of time are the keys.
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