Lisbon to UK – Biscay Crossing April 2023

I much enjoyed keeping Spellbinder in warmer climes this winter – Porto initially, then in Oeiras Marina, Lisbon. It gave us the opportunity to discover both cities and escape the UK weather at a time when it is good to get away. The plan was always to come back to the UK in April, however, and I made plans to sail back, hoping that conditions in Biscay would allow me to do so.

For this trip I was joined by younger son Jonty and by Bruce. Jonty and I arrived ahead to buy food and to prepare Spellbinder, and once Bruce arrived we dined locally at the excellent Charkoal restaurant at the marina. The next day we headed up river to Algés Boatyard, where we lifted out by prearrangement. The boatyard team was very efficient, and there was not much fouling, so after a quick wash off, a change of anodes and a scrub of the propeller we were off again.

Spellbinder lifting out at Algés
Clean hull, new anode and polished prop – ready to go

We were back in the water at 1130, so motored out of the Tagus river estuary, headed north and found some gentle winds to propel us up the coast. Orca attacks had been a concern, but luckily at this stage of the year the activity is in warmer waters around Gibraltar, and concerns lessened as we headed north.

Turning the corner and heading north up the Iberian coast

Our first destination was Peniche, a fishing harbour with a small number of pontoons where we found a berth. It was a relatively short sail and we got used to being aboard again, ensuring everything was working on board. There was not much in town, but Bruce and I had a stroll and a coffee the following morning before we set off again.

Old fortifications in Peniche
Peniche pontoon bird life

Nazaré was our next stop, where I had called in with Charles back in December, coming in at night to take on fuel. We had a good sail up, and arrived with time to explore the town and to eat out very well at a restaurant called Mario do Mar, where the fish was very fresh and expertly cooked and presented. This trip was already proving gastronomic, a feature of most of Spellbinder’s voyages, as the cognoscenti will know.

Tuna teriyaki
Grilled sea bream

Nazaré is known for its surf conditions, and we ventured out with caution the next day as the Atlantic swell was predicted to be up to 4 or 5 metres in height. In the end we found a delightful sea, with a fair wind and we progressed up the coast, bypassing Porto and heading overnight and into the next day.

Leaving Nazaré in the swell
Fine sailing up the coast

The wind eventually died, and at this stage we had our first real challenge – the main halyard had chafed at the top, bringing down the mainsail. Chafe is an ever-present challenge to the yachtsman, but I suspect that the masthead sheaves have worn, causing undue friction.

The end of the mainsail halyard, chafed through

We decided to put into Baiona and try and effect repairs. Despite our best efforts raising Jonty to the top of the mast, and dropping a mousing line weighted with some bicycle chain, we couldn’t get a line through, so opted instead to use the topping lift (which normally supports the boom weight) as an alternative. This diversion to Baiona did allow us to enjoy a good night out though, with more excellent seafood.

Fine scallops

The next morning brought blue skies, and we sailed out and through the islands of this part of the Spanish rias.

Leaving Baiona
Wending our way up through the outlying islands north of Baiona

We picked a spot to anchor for lunch, then sailed up through the rocks and around into the Ria Muros, where we found an anchorage for the night at the Enseada de San Francisco.

I had thought that the anchor had bit quite abruptly the night before, and on retrieving it the following morning to start our Biscay crossing, we found ourselves very stuck. Eventually, after attaching a rope via a rolling hitch to a cleat, to stop undue pressure being put on the windlass, we managed to free the anchor, which came up rather bent, sadly.

A somewhat bent anchor

This slightly inauspicious start to our Biscay crossing was followed by a gentle motor up past the hauntingly-named Costa da Morte, and Cape Finisterre, before heading into Biscay and finding some quite strong easterly winds coming off the bottom of a high pressure system. This gave us some bumpy and wet sailing for a while, with the Hydrovane doing the steering, but allowing us to make great progress.

Blustery and wet conditions in Biscay, with the Hydrovane doing the helming
Bruce invoking all manner of deity to ensure this squall stayed away from us as we approached Ushant

Lighter winds followed, we dried out, and enjoyed a sail most of the way to Ile d’Ouessant (Ushant) where we came in at night to Lampoul in slightly testing tidal conditions, and a welcoming drizzle, at 0400 in the morning, and picked up a buoy. The crossing of Biscay had taken just over 3 days.

Awaking to this view of the mooring field at Lampoul, Ouessant – a new destination to me

With Biscay behind us, we had to respect the Brexit obligations of checking out of Schengen, so made for Roscoff in some excellent sailing conditions, sailing off our buoy, gybing out and heading east under cruising chute with the tide, making rapid progress.

Pleasant and fast progress under cruising chute – with Jonty’s washing beautifully presented and adorning the guardrail
Taking advantage of the tide as we sailed towards Roscoff

We motorsailed through the channel south of the Ile de Batz and came into port in time to have a very agreeable supper in one of the marina restaurants, before turning in for the night, somewhat tired after our Biscay adventures.

Spellbinder safely berthed in Roscoff
Araignéé – Spider Crab as an entrée

The following morning, after a hearty breakfast in the same restaurant, we headed over to the Police Aux Frontières to check out. It remains a great pain to get one’s passport stamped, and very old tech, and I await the arrival of a promised electronic version with a fair amount of impatience!

We had time for a final lunch in Roscoff, and to buy more supplies, before we headed out across the Channel for a fabulous reaching sail through the night, arriving at the Needles in time to motor through and ride the tide to Cowes.

Back on home turf
Back in Cowes

After a celebratory Easter breakfast in the Castle at Cowes we headed back to Gosport, to Spellbinder’s berth.

I’m delighted to be home, and now have a couple of weeks to fix various things before Spellbinder’s next adventures, planned for France and the Baltic. It was an excellent 984 nautical mile cruise, all complete by Easter, and in great company – thank you Jonty and Bruce for much intelligent exchange, generous invitations at restaurants, gargantuan amounts of washing up, and such able, calm and willing crewing. It was an adventure to remember, bringing its own challenges, but all the more memorable for them.

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