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Old 25-10-2011, 11:01   #1
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Sailing from the UK to Portugal, Across the Bay of Biscay

We are taking delivery of our new Dufour 405GL in April next year, so excited... and are planning to sail her with a total of 4 on board, to the Med in June.

The question is which is the best/easiest route... some people have recommended we sail from the Hamble over to Guernsey and then start the leg accross the Bay to la Coruna from there, others say, going along the English coat to Plymouth and kicking off from there would be best.

I am sure it is personal preference, but I would welcome any thoughts from those who have done it, either way or both...
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Old 26-10-2011, 04:30   #2
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Re: Sailing from the UK to Portugal, accross the Bay of Biscay

Hey Chantal...welcome to the forum.
Congratulations on the new boat.
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Old 26-10-2011, 04:44   #3
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pirate Re: Sailing from the UK to Portugal, accross the Bay of Biscay

Hi Chantel... Congratulations on the new boat....
I've done the trip quite a few times...
The Gurnsey option is OK if you are looking for a warm up but I'm not to keen on it as if there's a N'ly blow the shelters restricted by tides...
I've regularly sailed from Poole or Salcombe direct to Ushant then down to La Coruna/Viviero/Baiona non stop... but this last time I sailed from Falmouth straight down to Baiona, N Spain.... will definitely go that route again...
1/ Falmouths a lovely 'Get your **** together' place... before the crossing..
2/ Its more or less due S to clear NW France and Finisterre and gives plenty of sea room and better winds... also get into 'deep water' quicker... hate being caught while still on the 'Shelf'.
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Old 26-10-2011, 05:00   #4
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Re: Sailing from the UK to Portugal, accross the Bay of Biscay

I don't know why you would particularly want to go to Guernsey, which is a bit out of the way. Unless maybe to fill your diesel tanks with cheap duty-free dino juice and buy cheap parts. Furthermore, the tides are stronger and ports much fewer and far between (and harder to access) on the South side of the Channel, and a stop in Guernsey will bring you closer to the South side of the Channel. Furthermore, Hamble-Guernsey is a tricky passage with the Casquets and the Alderney Race in your way -- why would you bother when you can sail down the Channel well clear of those nasty bits?

As Boatman said, the South side of the Channel is hazardous in a Norther -- in fact, the lee shore from hell -- nowhere to hide, a harsh, rocky coast with gigantic tides and very few places of refuge (I just spend most of August cruising that coast), and almost none at low tide. You will definitely want to stay closer to the hospitable Northern side of the Channel with its lovely all-tide, all-weather ports and more moderate tides, if there is any question at all about the weather.

If I were you, if you've got a good weather window, and your boat is well provisioned and properly shaken down, I would just head out of the Hamble when the tide is just turning Westwards (just before high water Portsmouth) to get a nice shot down the Solent and out the Needles, and just set a course SW down the Channel to a waypoint well clear of Ushant. Your SOG will go way down when the tide is running against you, but you'll make it up when the tide runs in the opposite direction. When you clear Ushant, turn South.

If you've got a SW wind (not unusual in the Channel), then you'll have to adjust that, obviously.

If you have time, and would like to use the tide to maximum benefit, you can day sail down the English South Coast on the tides, stopping at Weymouth, Dartmouth, and so forth, depending on your average speed. Then once you get to Falmouth, as Boatman said, you've got an ideal jumping off point for the long passage across Biscay and won't have many more Channel tides to fight.

Another reason to day sail down the coast is if you're concerned about the weather. You will want to be very, very, very careful about your weather window across Biscay -- one of the nastiest bits of water in Europe -- but I'm sure you know that already!!
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Old 26-10-2011, 05:12   #5
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Re: Sailing from the UK to Portugal, accross the Bay of Biscay

Thank you guys for your response, my first inclination was to day sail down the coast to Falmouth and then sit tight until we had a decent 4 day weather window to go across the bay, it was just a friend of a friend, and a much more experienced sailor than my questioned by I would do that out of the Hamble, putting doubt into my mind!

Another reason for Falmouth for me, was that we minimise the time we are in traffic accross the channel!

Me thinks I will go back to my own plan...after your comments, thank you!

Also,any other helpful tips for crossing the Channel & the Bay would be gratefully received....whilst I have done it before many moons ago, it was as the junior crew member.. and it was a mill pond the whole way accross. This will be my first time as skipper in a boat we will have had for 2 months, although we intend to do lots of sea trials in her before we go, still a little daunting!
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Old 26-10-2011, 06:19   #6
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Re: Sailing from the UK to Portugal, accross the Bay of Biscay

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Originally Posted by Chantal View Post
Also,any other helpful tips for crossing the Channel & the Bay would be gratefully received....whilst I have done it before many moons ago, it was as the junior crew member.. and it was a mill pond the whole way accross. This will be my first time as skipper in a boat we will have had for 2 months, although we intend to do lots of sea trials in her before we go, still a little daunting!
The only big challenges for crossing the Channel are (a) ship traffic (busiest shipping lanes in the world); and (b) tidal vectors.

For ship traffic, make sure you have a good hand bearing compass and know how to use it. Use this AND radar if you have it. It's good to have someone below doing bearings on ships at one or two-minute intervals using the VBL function on your radar, while someone in the cockpit is doing the same thing with the hand bearing compass. It can be hairy with sometimes two, three, or even four dangerous contacts at one time.

AIS could help a lot with that, of course, if you have it (I do not so far).

Don't assume that ships will alter course for you, if they are the give-way vessel in a crossing encounter. They often do not. That is why it is really important to track them closely and understand if they are turning, or not. If they do alter course, you need to be aware of it, so you don't turn into each other -- something which happens from time to time, with sometimes tragic consequences.

If you are in the Traffic Separation Scheme it's actually simpler -- no one will alter course for you, and you are obligated to cross at right angles to the lanes. You will likely be in the TSS if you cross from Falmouth.

Concerning tidal vectors -- if you have done Channel crossings before, you probably know how to do this. It is more complicated if you are not crossing at right angles to the tidal stream. You can lose dozens of miles if you don't do this calculation correctly. It is NOT enough to steer to a COG equal to the bearing to your waypoint. The tide will sweep you back and forth. You must calculate a course to steer based on a proper tidal vector calculation, then hold that heading. Don't forget that you need to allow for leeway, also.


Concerning the Bay of Biscay -- I will leave it to Boatman to comment. I've never crossed it. The Gulf Stream terminates there, bringing with it some incredibly nasty weather and sea conditions, as I'm sure you know. Weather window is everything.
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Old 26-10-2011, 06:24   #7
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Re: Sailing from the UK to Portugal, accross the Bay of Biscay

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Originally Posted by Chantal View Post
Thank you guys for your response, my first inclination was to day sail down the coast to Falmouth and then sit tight until we had a decent 4 day weather window to go across the bay. . .
That's what I would do -- if I had time enough for it.

It's a very pleasant journey along the English South Coast, too -- 50 or 60 miles at a time with the tide under you, and pleasant places to stop. Why not do it if you have the time?
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Old 26-10-2011, 06:38   #8
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pirate Re: Sailing from the UK to Portugal, accross the Bay of Biscay

Crossing the Biscay....
Weather windows I only credit for 36hrs ahead....
to many times I've sailed with a 4 day+ window only to get clobbered just past Ushant...
Its not a long trip but treat it like an ocean crossing...
be well practiced and set up for heavy weather and MOB procedure...
it could be like a mill pond... but it can also be the Washing machine from hell...
especially in a Sou-Easter... hence the get away from the continental shelf asap...
keep out of the Bay as much as possible...
West is Best...
OR....
You could coast hop from Brest all the way round....
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Old 26-10-2011, 07:06   #9
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Re: Sailing from the UK to Portugal, accross the Bay of Biscay

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Originally Posted by boatman61 View Post
Crossing the Biscay....
Weather windows I only credit for 36hrs ahead....
to many times I've sailed with a 4 day+ window only to get clobbered just past Ushant...
Its not a long trip but treat it like an ocean crossing...
be well practiced and set up for heavy weather and MOB procedure...
it could be like a mill pond... but it can also be the Washing machine from hell...
especially in a Sou-Easter... hence the get away from the continental shelf asap...
keep out of the Bay as much as possible...
West is Best...
OR....
You could coast hop from Brest all the way round....
Once had to motor for 2 days (absolutely no wind, and sea as flat as a Witch's tit )........Day 3 was a full on gale (washing machine is quite apt)..........but only real problem was that Skipper wanted to take a short cut (following the GPS)........and that would have taken us a few hundred miles inland, and need to use a few motorways
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Old 26-10-2011, 07:29   #10
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Re: Sailing from the UK to Portugal, accross the Bay of Biscay

I'm also seconding your plan to do it in one hop (maybe to Bayona) from Falmouth. We have tried it going around the edge but found it simply took too long, still left a couple of nights at sea to make Spain, and sets you up with no option but to come round Finisterre close in.

We've found Falmouth on a direct passage presented an easier heading than say Plymouth, and who knows, at the time of the year you're choosing you might get a chance for n'lies and power reach across in record time. The further west you get to start, the easier it will be. Thats why I'd say no to the Channel Islands.

Certainly agree with others that it is much better keeping out away from the tidal streams inside Ushant - and invariable higher winds around Finisterre.

Crossing Biscay we have found it best to adopt course that keeps us 30 miles west of the regular ship 'motorway' twix Ushant and Finisterre. Being run down by the big ships that seem to charge through at 10 minutes intervals is not something we like to worry about.

Oh - double check your charts v your plotter for TS scheme at Ushant. Our plotter had it all wrong!

Sail safe and enjoy

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Old 26-10-2011, 08:07   #11
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Re: Sailing from the UK to Portugal, accross the Bay of Biscay

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Originally Posted by David_Old_Jersey View Post
Once had to motor for 2 days (absolutely no wind, and sea as flat as a Witch's tit )........Day 3 was a full on gale (washing machine is quite apt)..........but only real problem was that Skipper wanted to take a short cut (following the GPS)........and that would have taken us a few hundred miles inland, and need to use a few motorways
OMG David ...Old Jersey... how can a skipper make a mistake like that... did he not check his chart at all? And 'm worrying about my skippering experience being enough!!!
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Old 26-10-2011, 12:41   #12
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Re: Sailing from the UK to Portugal, accross the Bay of Biscay

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OMG David ...Old Jersey... how can a skipper make a mistake like that... did he not check his chart at all? And 'm worrying about my skippering experience being enough!!!
Actually I was the Navigator . Well, until the dispute arose. Basic reason was tiredness (and simply wishing to get into port ASAP).......and the old style GPS was correct with the bearing to follow

Wwe were meant to be 3 handed - but extra crew pulled out at last moment ...........I came back by train
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Old 26-10-2011, 12:52   #13
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Re: Sailing from the UK to Portugal, accross the Bay of Biscay

Chantal,

Good advice given on the Biscay crossing issue, but a tip: put into Portosin just to the south of Cap Finisterre, a really delightful place and the first taste of the Spanish rias further south which you should spend some time to discover. Good marina, good yacht club restaurant.
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Old 26-10-2011, 14:48   #14
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Re: Sailing from the UK to Portugal, Across the Bay of Biscay

Hi - we went from Fslmouth the Coruna and would agree with much of the advice above, but don't just miss out the Rias Alta - ie east of Coruna, which are supposed to be lovely. If you do go to Coruna, and then need to wait out heavy weather for Finisterre, there is a very good anchorage at Ria Caraminas, though make sure your anchor is through the weed.

Opposite Portosin in Muros which is also a great town with a good anchorage, and the other Rias are also good all the way to Bayona. Just before Bayona are the Islas Cies, which are a natural park but very visitable. Lots of locals go there for lunch but they clear out by dusk and the anchorages are wonderully quiet and beautiful.

Lots of dolphins almost the whole way from the shelf to Portugal.

Enjoy!
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Old 26-10-2011, 14:59   #15
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Re: Sailing from the UK to Portugal, Across the Bay of Biscay

Have a safe trip!

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