Wild Heart’s maiden voyage: The Bay of Biscay and the Coast of Death

The maiden voyage of Wild Heart and her crew meant leaving the safety, familiarity and comfort of a marina in pretty La Rochelle and crossing the notorious Bay of Biscay; a large open stretch of water with a reputation for being very unfriendly. It was not a trip I was looking forward to in a brand new, big and shiny, unfamiliar catamaran; especially when it involved 2 overnight passages.

The Bay is a gulf in the northeast side of the Atlantic which has a fearsome reputation for storms especially winter and and you can read and see many horror stories on it’s weather. Here’s one filmed from a cruise ship. So lets, just say, my anxiety level was high and I was obsessively reviewing the weather forecasts for a suitable window for the passage.

It was definitely time to leave La Rochelle as the boat handover was complete; we had fitted Wild Heart out and were excited to get started. We would head directly across the Bay to La Coruña in Spain, a distance of approximately 350 nautical miles. There’s nowhere to stop and its just a long 2 night haul. The Bay is subject to all the winds, swells, weather and other vagaries of the Atlantic Ocean and can change very quickly. Surprisingly it was also quite cold. We bought out the Spinlock safety harnesses and tethers and Musto wet weather great for the nights.

We choose a particularly “good” weather window to leave. By “good” I mean, light winds and swells. We set the sails including our light wind gennaker and had high the expectations of some great sailing. However the winds were not in our favour for the required course so we had to resort to motoring to get the crossing done and to get out of harms way on the open water.

While the winds were light, the Bay wasn’t letting us off completely. On my moonless night watch, fog rolled in and stayed in for the next 6 hours. I could barely see our navigation lights on the bow of Wild Heart. We slowed the boat speed down, turned the radar on and kept each other company on watch. We were kept relatively comfortable in the helm enclosure now affectionately known as the “Pope Mobile”. However it was difficult to know who else was out there on the water nearby. Not that it gave us any comfort really but we occasionally heard communications to other boats from “American Warship XXXX” on channel 16. Of course they don’t show up on your AIS screen as they “run dark”.

So for all it’s reputation, we has a comparative anticlimax on that trip but it was a relief to get it under our belts. In La Coruña we rested, refuelled, regrouped and serviced engines for warranty purposes. Beer and gelato helped the regrouping process along!

Our next leg had us facing the Costa del Morta (Coast of Death). Dramatic, I know. It’s a stretch of coastline from Cabo Ortegas and Cabo Finisterre that La Coruña lies in between. The coastline is high, rugged and known for it’s onshore winds and swell from the Atlantic, given giving it its name. The Pilot guide for this area warns to keep an extended safe distance from this shore; so time to take another deep breath to get past this one and onwards down the Atlantic coast of Spain and Portugal.

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