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Arkyla - 12-16 June 22 – Biscay Crossing (is that all you can throw at us Poseidon?)

Sunday morning and my crew is, if not well-oiled, at least sufficiently tarred and feathered! We fire up the iron mainsail and head to the start line with morale at an initial 100%. On the gun, we head for outside the Ushant TSS; somewhat annoyingly the Eddystone is in our way and we are forced to drop east and watch Falcon smugly point higher to the west… but our battle is not yet over with this 2-handed band of blue-hulled pirates!

In a few hours the fleet is splitting either ‘inside’ or ‘outside’; we go west tracking Sea Crusader hoping to outwit our nemesis Kite Runner who has stubbornly maintained a mile‘s gap ahead of us all day. By 0400 we are clear of the TSS and heading south. I turn on the engine to charge batteries to be somewhat panicked at the ensuing alarms from chart plotters, telflex, and autopilot… the batteries and electronics are cooking at a charge rate of 18 volts! Engine is rapidly turned off, emergency power procedures initiated, and brain engaged to ‘well that’s not good’ mode. Morale level dipping.

By dawn the wind is directly off Arkyla’s stern. I set the rig to pole out the twin headsails - a sail plan that has previously proven to be magnificent downwind; however, with a following sea constantly kicking our stern and rolling the boat, the goose wings are forever collapsing, progress is slow and, with frequent banging, rather annoying. We suspect that the genoas knocking the radar and mast may have caused an intermittent fault with the AIS so decide to change tactic and continue south by broad reach gybes. Morale declining furhter.

Midnight Monday into Tuesday - the wind has freshened and seas have built significantly. Arkyla, still under full main and genoa, is surfing at a rather alarming speed. The off-watch crew is called on deck to help reef-down; they were unprepared for the interruption to their sleep - I was unprepared for their nightwear choices of unicorn onesie and baby-doll negligée… I won’t disclose the watch rota! We effectively lose 10 miles on the boats chasing us as we head further west to gain the angles needed to maintain a decent speed. Morale now also in danger of collapse.

Fast forward… Falcon appears on our AIS – the first boat seen from the ‘inside’ lot. We suspect they have hit the gin over night as they make several 360-degree manoeuvres over the course of the next few hours; Ade and Bev swear these were made to control their Bluewater runner rig in the shifting conditions – I remain to be convinced! Morale on Arkyla creeping back up into the orange zone.

1600 hours on Wednesday and we look curiously on at the line of advancing frontal clouds behind us. Suspicious that the wind gods are plotting against us again, we reef down and, not a minute later, 8 knots increase to 30 and turns 180 degrees. Arkyla 1 – Thor 0.

With winds no longer sufficient to propel us to Bayona in time for Mike’s flight home, we reluctantly turn on the engine (after a few hours immersed in the small print of the Balmar instruction manual and the battery box to fix the charging issue) and, right on cue, six dolphin tag along to ride our bow wave for the better part of an hour. This would have been the highlight of the passage except, a few minutes later, a pod of 8 pilot whales swim alongside us showing us the way to Finnisterre. Morale recharged and in float mode.

Dawn Thursday and we coast along south under engine in near calm conditions. In the literal blink of an eye, we are hit with 30 knots and 3m short steep seas on the nose. Maybe not quite survival conditions, but not exactly fun either. Mark is, unbelievably, happily cooking a full English for the boys; I am not unsurprised in Bayona to find a pork sausage embedded in the panelling opposite the galley!

1600 hours and we cross the line – Biscay defeated, morale recovered, champagne popped, and Bayona shower block desecrated!

James Kenning

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