Personal,  Sailing

Crossing the Bay of Biscay

5 Days of Awe & Wonder

I am writing these words a week after I arrived in Ria de Viveiro in northern Spain, not of laziness, but for the very reason that I simply needed time to process what I had just experienced. For many experienced sailors it might not seem like a big achievement, but for me it was an adventure of a lifetime! And I want more!

I woke up early that morning in Camaret-sur-mer in anticipation of what was to come. It was a sunny day and Serenity swung gently on her mooring just off the marina Vauban. I was equally excited and nervous and started the preparation for departure. I removed the sail cover,

attached the halyard to the mainsail, started the GPS, AIS and the engine, put on my life vest and I was good to go. The last thing I had to do was raising the mainsail and cast off the lines from the mooring, Serenity was free again. After I rolled out the foresail they both filled with light air and I sailed my way out of the Bay of Camaret. The plan still stood, with the current weather forecast I estimated about 3.5 Days to A Coruna, my destination on the other side of the often notorious Bay of Biscay.

In the evening of the first day, the last signs of land disappeared behind me, the lighthouses of the Ile de Sein were the last reminders of the french coast and about 600 kilometers of open ocean lied ahead. The first night I was not alone. Offshore fishing vessels appeared on my AIS and on the horizon, frantically changing course on the hunt for the big catch. Their irratic behavior will cost me my sleep. There was no chance that I could predict their course and so I spent the crystal clear but warm night in the cockpit, either stargazing and counting satellites or checking my screen for the fishing fleet.

The next day however was warm and very calm. I could take several naps in the cockpit and eventually was very awake and fit again. The wind died down to a more than gentle breeze and I had time to get settled onboard, I was calm, started to read a book and truly enjoyed the moment.

Me, Serenity, sun, and 4 kilometers of water below the keel. If someone plans to scam their insurance, this must be the place to let your boat disappear…
But then I was not alone anymore! A school of about ten dolphins approached my boat and started to play around the bow, jumped out of the water and dove below the boat from one side to another. My heart was pumping from excitement, never before have I seen so many dolphins just enjoying my company. Mothers showed there younglings how to play around boats… it was magical!

But this was not the only strange encounter I had. On the horizon I saw a very unfamiliar looking cloud. So close to the water surface… what was it doing there? Was it the exhaust of a big cargo ship on the horizon, I could not tell. And then I heard it. The strangest, most unsettling sound I ever heard… It reminded me of the sound of the tripods in “War of the Worlds”, as if someone would blow a huge horn through a metallic tunnel… It was so loud that I could feel it in my stomach.

Then I saw it just in front of my boat… a whale! A huge freakin’ whale! A 20m, more than twice the size of my boat, long whale just emerged from the ocean in pure elegance and blew out a fountain of air and water!

How could I ever describe accurately what I just witnessed? I cannot… and so I realized, that this moment, this encounter, was just for me. Was this whole experience just for me? Why is it so hard sometimes to just live in the moment? Not looking at my phone or trying to capture the moment to share it with others?

I lived a big part of my life alone without a partner in crime to experience such moments together, and I think sharing or living through something together is a crucial part for humans we do naturally since we roamed the earth in groups. My way to battle loneliness was to surround myself with friends, and of course share my experience, via Instagram or Whatsapp or Facebook, wherever an Introvert feels comfortable sharing. Often also keeping the TV running, fighting silence with noise, with podcasts and music helped keeping my mind occupied.

But here and now, I felt for the first time, that it’s okay, and it’s great, to just live in the moment. Be really there, in the middle of the ocean, alone, but living very intensely! That day felt like a lifetime.

The third day started like the second, with a lovely sunrise, good breakfast and very little wind. But at 10 in the morning, I noticed a pigeon sitting on my solar panels just staring at me.

What was it doing here, 250km away from the land? Could it be that I just got a new helmsman on a voluntary basis? It truly seemed to like the position on my tiller my autopilot pushes around so soothingly? But first things first, I set up a little bowl with water and one with muesli to feed the bird.

Weirdly tame, the pigeon jumped into the cockpit just next to me and started gulping down the water and swallowing the muesli and in between, the pigeon even jumped onto my lap to have a comfy little rest. Then I noticed the rings on its feet and I later found out that this pigeon was not just an ordinary street gang pigeon. It was a contestant of the RPRA, the Royal Pigeon Racing Association in the UK. Say what now? Yes! That’s apparently a thing!

The pigeon was with me the whole day and left in the evening for the UK I assume. Not before it shit like 5 times all over my sprayhood but hey, that’s what birdies do. A little more annoying was the complete lack of wind combined with a scolding hot sun and a swarm of 100.000 little fruit flies invading my boat. I killed all of them except of one. That one has to tell the tale of that crazy towel wielding guy on that little boat, so they never visit again.

For the wind, I contacted a friend via satellite phone, asking to give me an estimate of how big the lull of no wind was and if it was possible to get out of there by engine. No luck it seemed, but the weather was unredictable and late in the evening, the wind came back. I had 100 miles to go but now, the wind came from the direction I wanted to sail to… oh you cheeky little bay of biscay, always full of surprises!

Time to adjust the plan. A Coruna is off the table, Ria di Viveiro it is! Just about 30 nautical miles further to the east, the course was much more favorable and so I started sailing close hauled towards my new destination. Early the next morning, the wind picked up a lot and I was making 6 Knots of speed and so the distance to the finish line melted away

That last night at sea, I did not sleep much. The gusts were strong and the boat very loud, the water rushing past, the wind generator howling… but I was fast! So fast, that if this wind keeps blowing, I’d arrive in the evening of the same day. That would be fantastic and so it happened. First, I could smell it, and then the mountainous terrain of the Ria Atlas appeared on the horizon. And my mobile phone started to buzz… 76 messages on whatsapp… I was back in the modern civilization, my self finding journey was coming to an end.

Happy and deathly tired, in a last ditch effort, I managed to wave some friendly people to the pontoon to help me docking the boat… done! Hello Viveiro, and goodnight!

I dream myself back to that magical place. The place of peace and quiet. The place where it is just me, far from any distractions where I can be so closely attached to nature and earth with wide open eyes, where I feel like a small cog just doing it’s thing, like the whales, the dolphins, the wind and anything else…

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