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Zafiro - Log 4 - “I wasn’t expecting that” - Biscay Crossing

The start of the Rally was a great occasion and lots of fun to be part of as all of the yachts assembled before the start line off Plymouth Hoe. The start looked to go well and a lot of yachts achieved the line as the signal flag dropped.

Once out of Plymouth Sound the weather quickly turned sour as we all tried to make to the west. Winds were not favourable to make it around the shipping lanes at Ushant and Zafiro lost a lot of headway during the night with very slow forward progress against the swell and tides. On our boat we all suffered some early sea sickness which hit as soon as we went below. The only solution was to sit up top or lie horizontally in the cabin..!!

The gourmet food idea of sitting on deck in the sun soon went out of the window and the reality was water and Digestive biscuits along with chocolate. The rocking and rolling of the boat made moving around below decks a difficult affair. Fortunately Zafiro being an older Moody yacht has plenty of places to hold and wedge yourself against. Changing socks etc......forget it..!!

Then the bombshell. Nearly across Biscay and Rally control advised us of a very unusual weather pattern for the time of year as deep low pressure system formed  almost directly on our track. Lead boats headed for northern Spain and the rest of us it was suggested to make further northwest and head out to sea..! We were not happy and Caroline, Ellie and myself were apprehensive to say the least. At this time I picked up on Navtex met office warnings of gales in Finistere and Biscay, gale force 9 and occasionally storm 10. This was Premier league stuff and in comparison we were just a Sunday pub team.

Following suggestion we headed out to sea making bad weather preparations of fitting storm sails, reducing sail and securing down below and making a few sandwiches. By this time the sea sickness had eased, probably due to being surpassed by fear.

Next morning the wind began to increase as forecast and our plan was to ride the winds as they went anti clockwise with the hope that we would be further south next morning with the opportunity to sling shot for Bayona as the low centre moved north.

What actually happened was that as the winds steadily increased above 30 knots along with the swell it became impossible to control the boat in the frequent gusts into the high 30 knots. After a final harrowing out of control lurch we hove to. Fortunately Zafiro behaved impeccably and we sat there with the wheel lashed down as the wind and swell grew and grew.

By this time it was late afternoon. Winds continued increasing and the swell got worse with rollers towering over us. A knock down I thought was inevitable. Caroline made herself comfortable as possible in the cabin while Ellie and I hung onto each other in the cockpit making sure everything stayed tied on as the mean wind speed hovered around 40 knots. The winds were supposed to subside after midnight. It didn’t happen. 

As darkness fell we went down below secured the hatches and hung on hoping that Zafiro would look after us. Great credit must go to Ellie and Caroline for staying so calm as the wind howled outside and the occasional wave smashed into the hull and submerged the upper structure.

At first light the wind was in the low 30’s and we decided to take our chance to sail south as the low hopefully tracked north. The following day was also a roller coaster ride, but manageable.

The journey continued uneventfully with the main issue now being fuel remaining. Typically as we crossed the busy shipping lanes off Finistere the wind went light and variable. However as I write this on the final approaches to Bayona with 30 miles to go the sky is blue and the sun shining. This is more like it...! Looking forward to tying up alongside safely, shower, clean clothes and a beer.

Rob Fletcher

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