With snow on the forecast in Les Sables d’Olonne, getting Sabella out through the Bay of Biscay and south to warmer weather suddenly jumped to number one on our lengthy to-do list. Our departure was complicated by 2 factors. Most importantly, we needed a 4 day weather window indicating that wind and waves would play nice in the Bay – Sabella informed me, sternly, that breaking waves just aren’t her thing…
The other aspect holding us back from leaving was the finalisation of Sabella’s Australian registration. This turned out to be quite the trap for young players, I’ll spare you the details, suffice to say that if you are picking up a boat overseas, try to get all the admin completed whilst still in Australia, including the “marking note”. We sent this document to the Australian maritime regulator AMSA a number of times from various places in Europe and I guess some of them are still circling the globe. Anywho, we couriered it again from Lisbon and it got there in sufficient time for Sabella to be registered and catch a decent weather window.
In a life preserving measure, we enlisted the help of a delivery skipper and crew from Halcyon Yachts for this first ocean passage. See the video of our trip here. I was also able to complete my Coastal Skipper ticket during the delivery, under the careful tuition of Tim, the delivery skipper, an invaluable experience on our own boat. By Tim’s own admission, a Yachtmaster instructor should have some grey hair and perhaps he had just that little bit more by the end of a week with me 🙂 Tim’s knowledge, demeanour and instructional technique were top notch, resulting in both a safe passage for Sabella and a whole lot of new knowledge for me.
The passage itself was great fun. The boat performed very well. We were expecting some new boat glitches but there were none. I’m sure some squirrels are still hiding in there somewhere!
We set off on a cold and windy Saturday morning; simply leaving the dock was a challenge with the wind blowing us on, expensive boats on either side hemming us in. Learning learning learning, scratching the itch that would otherwise be present with the distinct lack of aeroplanes in my life! It took 3 days to get through the Bay of Biscay, including about 20 hours of motoring straight into the wind and waves – I got seasick for the first time ever (!). The feeling of climbing up a wave then free falling off the back before slamming into the face of the next one is memorable, and takes on new meaning in one’s own boat.
We hoisted the code zero once the wind veered off the nose, and speed increased by almost 2 knots. In an aeroplane that’s about 0.5% of your speed, what evs … but in a boat it’s about a 30% increase, kind of a big deal!
The most impressive aspect of Sabella’s performance during our 6 day passage was her downwind ability. With the true wind within 20 degrees of dead downwind, we made just under half wind speed with only the main up, traveller let right out but main sheeted in hard to mitigate the risk of accidental gybe. A preventer is high on the list of priorities, although easing the main sheet more than a little is not possible due to the location of the shrouds, which chafe the main sail if its sheet is eased too much. With the code zero up we made about half true wind speed downwind, with the apparent wind speed roughly averaging boat speed, almost impossible in a cruising cat I would have thought. But I’m a novice.
A pleasure during the trip was mucking around with the avionics (navionics?) to get the displays set up perfectly. There is a great deal of crossover between flying and sailing, if one remains humble about their inexperience. The terms of reference are different, but the concepts are the same, just approximately 100 time slower and more peaceful. The old 99% boredom and 1% sheer terror is still completely valid though, particularly in close quarters. One thing that surprises me about ocean sailing is the laissez-faire attitude towards a SAR Watch equivalent. I guess it’s a non-commercial realm out here, but you can set off, across the Atlantic if you want to, without so much as leaving a note with an authority or talking to anyone on a radio, not advisable but nothing to say you can’t. On the other hand it’s kind of refreshing to be able to choose how many or how few safety measures are appropriate for your situation (within the scope of regulations).
We made good time on the way south, electing to keep pressing ahead whilst the wind was favourable. Each time we got within a couple of miles of land we could update the PredictWind forecast, informing our decisions. Yay for mobile interwebs! We stopped at Peniche for some close quarter manoeuvring practice, then again to anchor overnight at Cascais, close to Lisbon. Sounds bizarre, but I was relieved the next morning when the windlass pulled up our mighty Spade anchor safe and sound. I knew we’d connected it well, but when it’s your Euros at stake it’s different.
So many wonderful memories from this short time at sea – sunsets, dolphins, peaceful night watches, throwing up (oh, actually that’s a bad one) – this way of life is just spectacular and really feels right for our family. We pinch ourselves each day and wonder when we’ll wake up from the dream.
So many dolphins! I even woke to one staring at me cheekily through my cabin porthole.
It was very exciting to finally arrive in Lisbon. This was a milestone we’ve been looking forward to for many months, as it is really the beginning of the nautical part of our adventure. From here we are free to take our floating home round into the Mediterranean by ourselves.
A couple of hours of motoring (painfully) against the tide up Lisbon’s River Tagus and we arrived at Marina Parques Das Nacoes, to be welcomed on the dock by the 3 most precious things in my life.