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Old 01-07-2013, 21:49   #1
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New Cruiser debating the Atlantic Coast of France, Spain, and Portugal

So we are finally casting off the land based shackles and going cruising. Weve been saving up and just pulled the trigger on a boat. The plan was to purchase in the southeast US and sail the Caribbean. However we stumbled upon a boat we liked and it happened to be on the Atlantic coast of France. We debating bringing her back to this hemisphere, but since the ability to travel is one of our main reasons for cruising, we decided that Europe might be a great place to explore. Weve been lucky enough to have sailed much of the Caribbean (from the Windward Islands to Belize) over 8+ years of bareboat chartering, so Europe would be completed new cruising grounds.

So were leaning heavily towards not shipping or having it captained back to US/Caribbean. The boat will be ours in late Oct/Nov near La Rochelle. Based on the research Ive been doing, that time of year in that part of the world is not exactly easy coastal cruising down the coast. We are lucky to have the advantage of having time, so we can start making our way south when it makes sense, and we will need some time to outfit the boat.

So after all of that here is the question: are we asking for trouble starting our cruising life on a boat in La Rochelle France in winter? We can live in a marina for a while but would love to slowly work our way south when weather windows present themselves to Spain, then Portugal, with the goal of getting into the Med for the summer through next winter. We are not overly experienced sailors, having only several years of weeklong charters in the Caribbean and my US Sailing Bareboat courses.

Im looking for some advice from those that have sailed this area during these months (anytime from January to April-ish), whether or not we can make our way south when openings in the weather present themselves, or whether or not were crazy to consider it.

Right now our options are: 1) brave the coastlines of France, Spain, and Portugal to the Med, 2) get an experienced captain to help take the boat straight to the Med, or 3) ship the boat back to US/Caribbean and just spend our time island hopping.

Thoughts? Any input on good pilot/cruising guides for this area?
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Old 01-07-2013, 22:06   #2
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So we are finally casting off the land based shackles and going cruising. We’ve been saving up and just pulled the trigger on a boat. The plan was to purchase in the southeast US and sail the Caribbean. However we stumbled upon a boat we liked and it happened to be on the Atlantic coast of France. We debating bringing her back to this hemisphere, but since the ability to travel is one of our main reasons for cruising, we decided that Europe might be a great place to explore. We’ve been lucky enough to have sailed much of the Caribbean (from the Windward Islands to Belize) over 8+ years of bareboat chartering, so Europe would be completed new cruising grounds.

So we’re leaning heavily towards not shipping or having it captained back to US/Caribbean. The boat will be ours in late Oct/Nov near La Rochelle. Based on the research I’ve been doing, that time of year in that part of the world is not exactly easy coastal cruising down the coast. We are lucky to have the advantage of having time, so we can start making our way south when it makes sense, and we will need some time to outfit the boat.

So after all of that here is the question: are we asking for trouble starting our cruising life on a boat in La Rochelle France in winter? We can live in a marina for a while but would love to slowly work our way south when weather windows present themselves to Spain, then Portugal, with the goal of getting into the Med for the summer through next winter. We are not overly experienced sailors, having only several years of weeklong charters in the Caribbean and my US Sailing Bareboat courses.

I’m looking for some advice from those that have sailed this area during these months (anytime from January to April-ish), whether or not we can make our way south when openings in the weather present themselves, or whether or not we’re crazy to consider it.

Right now our options are: 1) brave the coastlines of France, Spain, and Portugal to the Med, 2) get an experienced captain to help take the boat straight to the Med, or 3) ship the boat back to US/Caribbean and just spend our time island hopping.

Thoughts? Any input on good pilot/cruising guides for this area?
You can almost day hop round biscay , you just need short weather windows. The journey south can be done in winter , but you have to be careful ! In spring some more weather windows can be found.

Since the trip into the med can be done in a week , why rush down in winter. Enjoy LA Rochelle and wait for the middle-late spring

Dave
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Old 01-07-2013, 22:15   #3
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Re: New Cruiser debating the Atlantic Coast of France, Spain, and Portugal

I think Dave pretty much has it, but you might want to look into the whole visa story. Now that the EU is one big happy family if you're American you get 90 days. Moving from one country to another doesn't help, you have to leave the EU.

Tons of threads here with lots of conflicting information, so you can search and do some reading (search "Schengen Visa"). If you arrive in winter and spend your three months in France near where you bought the boat it starts to limit your options when spring comes around. Lots of "experts" here on the ins and outs, I'd recommend doing a little research and see what you come up with.
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Old 01-07-2013, 22:40   #4
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Re: New Cruiser debating the Atlantic Coast of France, Spain, and Portugal

Thanks for the input and good to know with caution day hopping can be done. I know the stretch from the La Gironde estuary to Hondarribia, Spain is about 150 miles, so not sure about that stretch.

For the visa we have been researching the Schengen visa issues and are going to be applying for a long term French visa. Hopefully this will help us avoid issues especially if we travel in and out of France for any flights we might take.
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Old 01-07-2013, 23:49   #5
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So we are finally casting off the land based shackles and going cruising. Weve been saving up and just pulled the trigger on a boat. The plan was to purchase in the southeast US and sail the Caribbean. However we stumbled upon a boat we liked and it happened to be on the Atlantic coast of France. We debating bringing her back to this hemisphere, but since the ability to travel is one of our main reasons for cruising, we decided that Europe might be a great place to explore. Weve been lucky enough to have sailed much of the Caribbean (from the Windward Islands to Belize) over 8+ years of bareboat chartering, so Europe would be completed new cruising grounds.

So were leaning heavily towards not shipping or having it captained back to US/Caribbean. The boat will be ours in late Oct/Nov near La Rochelle. Based on the research Ive been doing, that time of year in that part of the world is not exactly easy coastal cruising down the coast. We are lucky to have the advantage of having time, so we can start making our way south when it makes sense, and we will need some time to outfit the boat.
Question 1... is it a mono or a Cat...

So after all of that here is the question: are we asking for trouble starting our cruising life on a boat in La Rochelle France in winter? We can live in a marina for a while but would love to slowly work our way south when weather windows present themselves to Spain, then Portugal, with the goal of getting into the Med for the summer through next winter. We are not overly experienced sailors, having only several years of weeklong charters in the Caribbean and my US Sailing Bareboat courses.
Late Oct... I'd suggest a straight run La Rochelle to Viviero... around 270 miles... a great place to start your hop round to the Atlantic coast... just need 24 hr windows round to La Coruna... then wait on a 48hr window of N'lys to get you round Finisterre.. and down to Baiona... once past Finisterre its a whole different ball game... your not fighting headwinds.. your running B4.. and lifes is a lot easier..
Definitely would not coast hop at that time of year personally... but WTFDIK....

Im looking for some advice from those that have sailed this area during these months (anytime from January to April-ish), whether or not we can make our way south when openings in the weather present themselves, or whether or not were crazy to consider it.

Right now our options are: 1) brave the coastlines of France, Spain, and Portugal to the Med, 2) get an experienced captain to help take the boat straight to the Med, or 3) ship the boat back to US/Caribbean and just spend our time island hopping.

Thoughts? Any input on good pilot/cruising guides for this area?

You do not coast hop in winter... unless your an EU citizen... or can score visa extensions easy...
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Old 02-07-2013, 10:02   #6
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Re: New Cruiser debating the Atlantic Coast of France, Spain, and Portugal

Thanks for all the replies.

Boatman61,
For Question #1, it is a catamaran. A Lagoon 380.

For your second comments is the reason you would go to Viviero directly and skip the whole north coast of Spain because of the weather and prevailing winds? You're saying you'd skip sailing west across the top of Spain in late winter, early spring, right?

You mentioned the visa issue, I *think* we can get long term (12 month) French visas which I believe will save us from Schnagen. I just wanted to understand if you were advising against coastal hopping because of weather or visa issues.

Thanks again!
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Old 02-07-2013, 10:33   #7
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Re: New Cruiser debating the Atlantic Coast of France, Spain, and Portugal

is the VAT paid on the yacht?
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Old 02-07-2013, 10:58   #8
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Thanks for all the replies.

Boatman61,
For Question #1, it is a catamaran. A Lagoon 380.

For your second comments is the reason you would go to Viviero directly and skip the whole north coast of Spain because of the weather and prevailing winds? You're saying you'd skip sailing west across the top of Spain in late winter, early spring, right?

You mentioned the visa issue, I *think* we can get long term (12 month) French visas which I believe will save us from Schnagen. I just wanted to understand if you were advising against coastal hopping because of weather or visa issues.

Thanks again!
Hi... its down to you...
I'll just say this... it's not called 'Costa del Morte' for nothing... if you've plenty of time to wait for windows do the harbour hop... but your sailing down into a corner with prevailing NW'lies... the Stream... or a part of it starts a curve E halfway down the Biscay... you get gales of 50+kts that last for weeks and sea's can build to 10-12 metres during that time...
True on the N Spain coast there's lots of hidey hole's.. but if you get caught... getting into some of the Ria's can be dodgey...
La Coruna in a gale is a bad idea as there's two shallows... one from a N approach and the other from the WNW...
Its your judgement call.. but I'll tell you now.. the weather aint what it was... and don't rely on the forecasts.. they've been 75% wrong this year
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Old 02-07-2013, 12:12   #9
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Re: New Cruiser debating the Atlantic Coast of France, Spain, and Portugal

Massive Atlantic swell hitting up against a rocky shoreline, unfamiliar boat....
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Old 02-07-2013, 12:39   #10
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Re: New Cruiser debating the Atlantic Coast of France, Spain, and Portugal

Dunno if the beam of a Lagoon prevents it, but with a long stay Visa for France what about going to the Med cross country! (via Canals).....won't be hot and sunny of course, but plenty of rural France to see (and eat!) plus the waterways do go through areas with people in them, at least now and again.

Never sailed in those parts during winter (I suspect the pool of folks who have will be shallow, not because it can't be done but because hard work and not so much fun), but if not going cross country by boat, I would hole up in La Rochelle (apart from day / weekend sails - pick yer weather!) for the winter and take the opportunity to explore inland France (and other bits of Europe) by car, train or plane (or a bit of everything).
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Old 02-07-2013, 12:55   #11
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Re: New Cruiser debating the Atlantic Coast of France, Spain, and Portugal

If I had to sail a boat that time south I'd avoid the coast and sail open sea to Madeira and Canaries, stay there some time and turn to Med or back to Biscay after winter gales are over.. just my 5c..
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Old 02-07-2013, 14:24   #12
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Re: New Cruiser debating the Atlantic Coast of France, Spain, and Portugal

The Med is beautiful and there's so much to see. A couple of things to consider.... The winters anywhere north of Turkey are very cold and really too windy to sail. And... no mater what anyone tells you online, Schengen will be your biggest headache since you plan on living in Europe. There's no sneaky way to get around it... you will get caught and fined. Others we know tried, and got caught.

VAT will also be an issue if it hasn't been paid if you're trying to live within the EU on a visa. But trying to live within the EU for more than 90 days... essentially living there full time cannot be done without a proper visa.
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Old 02-07-2013, 15:31   #13
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Re: New Cruiser debating the Atlantic Coast of France, Spain, and Portugal

I’m looking for some advice from those that have sailed this area during these months (anytime from January to April-ish), whether or not we can make our way south when openings in the weather present themselves, or whether or not we’re crazy to consider it.

Hi,
You ask an interesting question:
We were based in La Rochelle for a couple of years an we are now in Les Sables d'Olonne, the place from which the Vende Globe starts.
November is a rather bad month as the weather can be pretty nasty and seas in the Biscay bay can be so rough that half the IMOCAs from the 2008 race could not go past it.
December is almost the same and real improvement will start in March (this year it has been particularly bad ...)

Nevertheless is it not pernament and you may have some beautifull days, specially if a high is located on west Europe.

So,if you want to sail to Portugal there are a couple of things to know:
  • From la Rochelle to A Coruna you will have 3 days at sea. Last year with no wind at all it took me 58 motoring hours to reach A Corugna.
  • It you choose to stop in A Corugna go to the marina that is in the center of the town. Much better then it is windy and much more enjoyable.
  • The weather forecast in the Biscay bay area is pretty accurate on a 4 to 5 days basis, if you are on a straight line to A Corugna. Hence you will have to wait for the 4 days window of good weather at least and take the Meteo France detailled marine forecast for this crossing. You may have to pay some Euros for the very detailled Grib Files but it is worth it if you have doubts.
  • It would not be a good idea, this time of the year, to sail directly south to the Spanish coast as you will be in the worst place of the bay where it is vey shallow and you woudn't find any place to hide if something nasty happen. There is no marina you can reasonably enter between La Rochelle and Saint Jean de Luz, on the Spanish border ,if you find strong winds and swells from the west.
  • I you want to sail all along the the Spanish coast, from E to W, that time of the year you will find almost permanent W or NW winds raising a bad sea. To boot, by night it can be very treatrous with all the spanish fishermen boats that are everything BUT cautious.
  • You will probably have to sail straight to A Corugna and get out of the shallow water as soon as possible, even if you have to put a bit of W in your SW.
  • In the Biscay bay keep the NAVTEX "ON" as all varning will be broad-casted through it, particularly if some unexpected rough weather (gale like) appears on the north of the Spanish coast. Bulletins will be in Spanish and English with a thick spanish accent that may be hard to understand. If you do not have a Navtex, it would a good idea to invest in it if you stay in Europe, including in the Med.
  • An other thing to remember is that W winds for several days in a row will raise a lasting big swell you may have to face even if the weather forecast is acceptabe.
Having said that it is possible to cross the bay at that time of the year provided you have a 4 days window of good weather, ideally with NE, N or NNW winds. Don't leave if you have SW as the cold front will be on you very soon and you do not want that.

All the best.

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Old 02-07-2013, 16:57   #14
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Re: New Cruiser debating the Atlantic Coast of France, Spain, and Portugal

Well that settles it then, considering my deathwish level is low I think we’ve got some time to explore France by land until Spring. Thanks for all the input and hanami2, I appreciate all that detail, it will be very helpful. If you are still in Les Sables d'Olonne come November we may get to meet. That is actually where I’ll be picking up the boat.

Dave, the Lagoon is about 3 feet too wide to make it through the canals based on the research I have done. That would have been a fantastic way to work our way to the Med, but unless I learn how to get the catamaran up on one hull, I won’t fit.

For all the VISA and VAT issues, the boat will be US registered and as I’ve confirmed that means I do not need to pay VAT for 18 months while in the EU. If I leave the EU (and have documentation to prove it) that will reset the 18 month window. But that only applies to the boat itself, not the people on it.

For the people there is the visa issue. I have been researching the Schengen rules and understand the 90 day out of 180 day limits. This would essentially make it impossible for us to cruise Europe. So, we are planning on getting a 12 month “Long Stay Visa” for France. We will be spending several months there from November through spring. At that point we will be cruising down and into the Med. We will be back into France on the coast of the Med for a while as well. It is extremely difficult to understand exactly how our time in other countries will be treated. With the 12 month French Visa, our time in France will not be applied to any Schengen 90 day rule I would assume. I am not positive about other countries. I have heard that the airports are the strictest and we will be flying in and out of France more than likely, which our French visa should cover us for.
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Old 03-07-2013, 00:34   #15
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Re: New Cruiser debating the Atlantic Coast of France, Spain, and Portugal

Why not spend your second winter in Turkey which will re-set your visa and VAT issues. Turkey is warm, and you might end up staying longer than you expect. We know several couples who are now enjoying Turkey, all wishing to stay longer. Then head back over to the EU for an additional short stay.

This way you can extend your Europe stay for over three years.
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