Written by Nina Kristin Nilsen|
|Bika in front of the Oksfjord glacier in Kvaenangen, Norway, 70º North|
All along the coast of Scotland, Wales and England we saw dolphins. They dived under the keel, and came up to ride our bow wave. Their song could be heard from inside the hull. Some got very curious about the windvane, wriggling their noses next to it. We never tired of looking at the lovely creatures.
"Sailors planning for the Isles of Scilly must have plenty of anchor gear, good maps, and be ready to change anchorage the minute the wind shifts." We were mentally prepared for tricky cruising, but ended up with very lazy days, anchoring in New Grimsby Sound and Porth Cressa Bay. The sea was flat calm and the sun warm.
I think it was in Scilly our focus shifted. In Norway, and to some extent in mainland UK, we worked on the boat almost non-stop, preparing for the circumnavigation. Our industriousness was fuelled by the expectations of what lay ahead. Now we felt the preparations was over, and that the journey had begun. Finally being able to charge the pc by solar energy, we both wrote a lot, but we hardly did any boat work any more.
Our Scilly days were filled with self-picked seashells, crabs generously given away by local lobster catchers, and new friends. We spent the evenings dining together with other sailors.
|Skipper Henrik with the dinner|
A small Contessa is big enough for nice happenings. One evening four dinghies were tied to Bikas stern, and six hungry cruisers munched seashells and crabs in her cockpit.
Crossing the bay of Biscay is feared among sailors. We had left Norway in May to have time to cross this scary strech well ahead of any autumn storms. We hoped for nice northerlies all the way from the Scillys to Galicia in Spain, as it was only late July. As the crossing would take days, it didn't matter that we started off at night. The Bishop Rock light blinked us farewell, and a bell bouy chimed nicely as we hoisted our sails.
The first day had northerly winds, and we marked off our position on a paper chart every third hour. A proper sextant would be nice, but we must admit that we use a convenient, handheld GPS for navigation.
A sextant would fit our basic cruising more, as we have no inboard engine, do both laundry and the little visits bucket style, as we have no radar, no chart plotter, no satellite phone. We are a little romantic, but not enough to pay up for the nice and shiny brass instrument, not to mention do the hard study needed to use it.
After the northerlies died off, we got 24 hours of calms. The dolphins played around us throughout the whole day, and the fulmars answered when we spoke to them. We had passed the sea bed edge. With more than four kilometers of depth, Bika moved gently.
|Dolphin accompanying Bika|
We could read, write, make photos and watch the wildlife. Had the water been warmer we could have swum. This time the long-lasting calm did not frustrate us. We truly enjoyed it. All alone in a small boat in the middle of a huge ocean, with seabirds and dolpins for company. This was grand.
According to many cruising stories, it is not uncommon to sight whales, or have exhausted migrating birds land on the boat, when crossing Biscay. We saw neither. Our feathered company was fulmars, shearwaters and small petrels, all at home offshore. No landlubbers in sight.
The barometer kept falling. Early morning the third day out, we had south west winds, force 6, increasing to force 7 during the day. For the first time since leaving Norway I was totally knocked out by seasickness. For two long days I lay flat below decks, while Henrik sailed singlehanded.
He checked down at intervals, asked how I was doing and said I was brave. It helped a little bit. I lay suffering, listening to the crashing waves. It all sounds so much worse below decks.
I was totally miserable. This is not worth it, I thought, and recalled when I last said such things. Seasickness and heavy hangovers truly have their parallels. They both have you make hollow promises, forgotten the minute life turnes level again. Of course I will sail to new and exciting places. And I will certainly drink more wine.
When we had left the Scillys, we'd set the course far west, as advised, in case heavy weather treathened to blow us close to the shallow coast of France. Luckily, we had lots of room when the near-gale hit us. Henrik fastened his lifeline and crawled up front to raise the orange stormsail for the first time ever.
With the storm sail up, speed decreased and everything got more under control. Some hours later he decided to heave to. Instead of the crazy rave Bika had been dancing in the big waves, she now shifted to a slow waltz, taking one step ahead and two steps aside. It finally allowed Henrik to boil some water for tea and instant soup.
|Bika lying hove to in Biscay|
The diet these days was somewhat limited, consisting of cups of soup, tea, biscuits and flapjacks. Before leaving the Scillys, we'd made our own flapjacks. Made of oats, honey, chocolate and raisins, they were pure energy, and perfect stormfood.
During the night, it became clear that we had taken our break from the weather in the middle of a shipping lane. Fortunately no ships got too close. Even the big tankers and freighters had a hard time, and kept good lookouts. We made VHF contact with one of them, and learned that a new SW force 7 would follow next. This was depressing news. We had planned our crossing for July, the height of summer, to escape the autumn storms. Instead we got summer gales.
Our initial plan was to make landfall in A Coruña, a city on the western coast of Galicia in Spain. That would mean heading straight into the bad weather ahead. Why do it, if there were other options? We would probably be rather sheltered from the SW if we went east of Cabo Ortegal. Then the wind could decide which spanish ría would be our first landfall. After one more day of tedious sailing, we changed watches at midnight. Henrik finally got some sleep, while I gradually recovered from my seasickness. At dawn the fifth day we replaced the storm sail with the genoa 2. Bika made good progress towards land. A huge dinner made up for the last days of starving.
As night fell, I had such a grand time that I did not want to change watches. I could smell land. A distinct smell of pine trees and dry earth filled the air. What a thrill! I sang, and felt a strong urge to reach shore.
When Henrik got up he smelled something else than dry dirt. B.O. Body Odour. The several smelly days old clothes were replaced with fresh ones. Clean and happy we were ready for our first Spanish landfall. We counted 27 condensation strips from planes at one time. We started to dream of cheap red wine, Spanish serrano ham, warm evenings.
|Nina looking for wind|
It took us 6 whole days to cross Biscay. The last day before reaching the small port of Ribadeo, the wind played hide and seek. We allowed us a few days in a marina to get the salt crystals off boat and clothes after the crossing. We met other long term cruisers, and gossiped about Biscay.
What a grand feeling. We had reached Spain by our own keel. We could cross out both the North Sea and Biscay; been there, done that. Spain was warm and sunny. Our cruising adventure had just begun.
Henrik Nor-Hansen, born 1967, and Nina Kristin Nilsen, born 1971, are from Norway. With their 26 feet sloop "Bika", a shining red Contessa, built in 1976, they are in a circumnavigation since May 2005. Their travelogues are published on their website: http://www.freewebs.com/sybika-eng/
© All photographs: http://www.freewebs.com/sybika/websalbum.htm
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