September 1992 - Falmouth to Bayona

1 September 1992   Falmouth
The weather is still pretty horrible so we worked on various jobs on the boat.

2 September 1992   Falmouth
The weather is still horrible so we worked on various jobs on the boat.

3 September 1992   Falmouth to Santander, Spain (Day 1)
We have a good forecast for the next few days so we set off at eight o’clock in the morning. Then we had to come back because I had forgotten to post the customs form saying that we were leaving the country. We set off again at nine o’clock.

It was a fairly grim night beating into a Force 6-7, cold wet and windy. We were getting gusts of 35 knots which is just short of a gale and the motion of the boat was pretty violent. Poor old John got an attack of seasickness and retired below to lie down with a bucket by his head. Glenys and I had taken Stugeron tablets and were feeling rough but could cope with the nausea. John was convinced that the best place for him to be was in his berth, lying down and throwing up into his bucket every so often. Personally I feel better staring at the horizon and taking big breaths!

Middle of the Bay of Biscay

4 September 1992   Falmouth to Santander, Spain (Day 2)
The wind dropped during the morning and the seas settled down. Motored all day and night in a flat calm. The damn autopilot did a 360 degree turn for no apparent reason. I am starting to feel better and had a small glass of wine with dinner.

5 September 1992   Falmouth to Santander, Spain (Day 3)
Blue skies, a flat sea and a 10 knot wind. To celebrate our good fortune, Glenys cooked an English breakfast which we ate while watching dolphins playing in the bow wave. Life is good sometimes.

We can only carry enough fuel to motor for 40 hours, so we couldn’t afford to motor too much this early in the passage. I’ve decided to motor during the night and to try to sail during the day. My logic is very simple – we can lounge around during the day and play with the sails to try to get as much boat speed as possible. It would also be too depressing to do night watches and only travel 25 miles in 12 hours.

Just after lunch, I plotted our position on the chart and found the we were at one of the deepest parts of the Bay of Biscay with a depth of about 4,300 metres. I found this very exciting and just HAD to go for a swim.  John and Glenys didn’t seem too keen on the idea for some reason.

I cautiously climbed down the transom ladder and put my toe into the water. It was freezing.

Discretion being the better part of valour, I retreated back onto deck, donned my wet suit and then bravely plunged into the water. It’s a very eerie sensation swimming so far from land in water which is so deep.  Goodness knows what lives at the bottom of the ocean and might take a fancy to a nice plump Neville. Two circuits of the yacht and that was enough - been there, done that.

Having dried off, my next hair-brained idea was to take some photographs of the boat sailing along - we had nothing else to do after all.  We pumped the dinghy up on the foredeck, lowered it into the water and then attached our outboard.

The outboard is not my favourite device. I bought it from a man in Sussex when I knew nothing about outboard engines. It’s a very old Mercury 3.5 and I often have trouble starting the engine. Glenys was very worried about the fact that I was leaving the boat in the middle of the Bay of Biscay, but John was on board and was more than capable of sailing Glencora to “rescue” me. The exercise was very worthwhile because we ended up with some good photographs.

During daylight we have seen very few other boats, but John has become convinced that the Spanish fishing fleet waits over the horizon until his night watch and then deliberately starts to close in on us, surrounding us with their nets! They are “Purse-Seine” fishing, which involves pulling a very long net between two boats and then closing the loop to catch the fish. No doubt a very fine way to catch fish, but a nightmare to a sailor who could get caught out by sailing straight into the middle of it all. They use very powerful flashing lights on the boats at either end of the seine net which are visible from a great distance. John spent most of his night watch manoeuvring to avoid the fleets with their confusing lights.

6 September 1992   Falmouth to Santander, Spain (Day 4)
At five o’clock in the morning, we were motor sailing and John noticed that the oil pressure was reading low. Having already blown one engine up, I panicked and changed the oil filter before putting in some fresh oil. Nothing like having my head stuck inside an engine compartment early in the morning to make me feel seasick!

The day continued to be fine with a light wind against us again. The wind dropped at six am, so we put all the spare fuel into the tank and motored. We picked up a fair wind at ten o’clock and sailed towards the entrance to Santander.

One of the most exciting parts of sailing is approaching an unknown harbour. Unfortunately, the charts that I have of Santander are very small-scale charts which means that there isn’t a great amount of detail shown. I have a pilot book but that doesn’t give very good information either. I’m worried.

7 September 1992   Falmouth to Santander, Spain (Day 5)
At one o’clock in the morning, we were about five miles from Santander,  I had to make a decision about whether we stayed offshore until daybreak or whether we attempted to enter this unknown, foreign port. I couldn’t face another night at sea so I decided that we would continue. As we got closer to the approaches to the port I flicked on the radar and tried to reconcile the lights that I could see with a trace on the radar. It seemed very peculiar to both John and me. There were many bright white lights and traces on the radar which didn’t match our charts. We cautiously continued hoping that the Spanish hadn’t built a new breakwater. We spent a very traumatic hour slowly approaching these bright lights until eventually we found out that they were very large ships at anchor. Breathing a sigh of relief, we carefully threaded our way through the ships and into the port of Santander.

The entrance started off as a very wide bay and, as we passed a rocky island to starboard, it quickly narrowed  to a river about 50 metres wide. The pilot book stated that we should anchor just off the Club Nautica in good holding mud at a depth or five metres. We slowly moved down the river at 3 knots and eventually found what we thought was Club Nautica. We then motored round in circles trying to find a spot which was about five metres deep. Most of the river was 10 to 12 metres deep and the only place that we could find that was five metres deep had lots of small boat moorings in place. I decided that Glencora was too big for these moorings so we found a place off to the side, which was about 10 metres deep.

Now came the fun part - we had never anchored Glencora. In fact, I had only ever anchored once, which was on a lunchtime stop, with a sailing school, in beautiful calm conditions. Anchoring a heavy 39 foot cruising boat while exhausted, at three o’clock in the morning, in the pitch black, in a Spanish port was a totally different proposition.  John’s experience of anchoring wasn’t much better than mine having only anchored his 26 ft yacht for lunchtime stops.

Anchoring is a Black Art. If you ask any group of sailors about the best way anchoring a boat, you will get a different answer from everyone. The size of anchor, the type of anchor, whether you should use chain or rope and the procedure for anchoring are all very emotive subjects – strongly contested in bars all over the world.

The first thing to do is calculate the length of chain required for the depth of water that you are intending to anchor in. The length of chain required is 3 to 7 times the depth of water (depending on wind and sea conditions.)

The sailing school procedure for anchoring is to lay out the correct length of chain onto the deck of the boat, tie the end of the chain on to a suitable cleat on the boat and then lower the anchor over the front of the boat so that it is just touching the water. When everything is prepared, the boat should then be turned into wind or into the tide (depending on which is stronger) and then the anchor is gently lowered until it hits the sea bed. At this point the boat is allowed to drift backwards while the anchor chain is slowly fed out, laying it along the bottom. The weight of a boat drifting will slowly dig the anchor fluke into the sea bed and the chain will then become tight. The boat’s engine should then be put into reverse, backing the boat away from the anchor, thus digging the anchor further into the sea bed and ensuring that the anchor is holding. Easy!

Leaving Glenys at the wheel, John and I walked to the front of the boat. We opened the hatch at the front and stared down at the windlass, which is a very simple device which helps to control the anchor chain. It has a clutch which allows you to feed the chain out of the chain locker in a controlled manner and, in our case, has an electric motor with a foot switch to pull the anchor chain back in.  While back at Fox’s marina, I had diligently painted white marks on the chain every 10 metres and I had stripped down and repaired the windlass. Unfortunately, I had never used the windlass in anger. John had no experience of anchoring with a windlass.

We pulled some chain out of the chain locker. I lifted the anchor from its place in the anchor locker and, with much grunting and groaning, hung the 45lb anchor over the bow roller at the front of the boat. I made sure that the windlass clutch was tightened up so that the chain was held in position.  So far so good! All we had to do now was to manoeuvre the boat into position, use the windlass clutch to slowly pay the chain out until the anchor hit the sea bed and then slowly pay out the chain as the boat drifted backwards.

With Glenys at the wheel, we manoeuvred into position and I gently pushed the clutch lever forwards to pay out some chain. Nothing happened. I then remembered that there was a small lever which locks the windlass wheel in place. I tightened the clutch, undid the locking lever and then slowly pushed the clutch lever forwards. Nothing happened. I gently pushed the clutch lever forward a little bit more. Nothing happened. I gently tapped the clutch mechanism. Nothing happened. I hit it a little harder. Suddenly with a great roar, the anchor plunged into the water and chain started to scream out of the windlass at great speed.

I frantically pulled the clutch lever back, but it still took me about 30 seconds to stop the chain.  John and I stood there for a minute in total silence.

We decided that we didn’t know how much chain we had paid out so we decided to re-anchor. Unfortunately, when the chain had screamed out of the windlass, a small piece of nylon called a ”Chain Stripper” had broken. This insignificant piece of plastic which only costs £3 makes sure that the chain does not snag on the windlass capstan thereby preventing it from jamming. It took us 20 minutes to pull 70 metres of chain up from the sea bed, because the damn windlass kept jamming every two metres or so.

Our second attempt was a little more controlled mainly because we paid the anchor chain out by hand - having decided that the windlass was far too complicated for us to cope with at four o’clock in the morning.  We attempted to back the boat up, but the anchor did not appear to hold. We had a third attempt but still couldn’t get the anchor to hold - I nearly cried. We decided to go find the marina that was mentioned in the pilot book.

Unfortunately, we had no charts of the port and the pilot book only gave a brief mention of the marina which “was further up the river.” In England, marinas are very clearly marked and the channels through a port are very apparent. Not so in Spain. We cautiously motored up the river following the big ship buoys but came to a point where small fishing docks started to open up to our starboard. After following the edge of this channel for a few minutes, I decided that we had missed the main channel up the river and that we ought to find it again. We looked around and spotted the green and red buoys for the main channel about 800 metres away. I cautiously pointed to boat towards these two buoys while keeping a sharp eye on the depth gauge.

The depth started at about five metres by the fishing docks and slowly started to decrease as we headed towards the main channel. Suddenly the depth went from 3.5 metres to one metre and with a big thump we hit the bottom. We were aground in the middle of a Spanish port at 4 o’clock in the morning. Not quite the landfall that I had in mind.
I quickly put the engine into reverse and slowly, majestically, we ground and bumped our way off the bank which we had hit. I took an executive decision and decided that, because we didn’t know where the hell we were, we would go back down the river and try again to anchor by the side of the Club Nautica.

We eventually anchored off the yacht club at five o’clock in the morning.  We had changed our anchoring technique so that we laid the anchor chain out on the sea bed but didn’t bother to power the boat backwards. I put out 50m of chain which was more than necessary in this depth of water, but we still didn’t know whether the anchor had set properly.  John and I spent 10 minutes staring at and feeling the anchor chain, but our only reward was strange rumbling noises. Glenys made a cup of tea and then I said that I just had to go to sleep. John (bless his cotton socks) gamely volunteered to stand anchor watch until daylight. Unfortunately, it started to rain and it didn’t get light until fairly late. He didn’t look his best when I got up at 8 o’clock!

After a cooked breakfast, John and Glenys went to find the Spanish customs to clear us and the yacht into Spain. They were passed from one government building to another until they eventually found someone who was willing to sign a piece of paper. The piece of paper that we were given appeared to be a temporary importation document for the yacht rather than any customs clearance. What the hell, at least we tried!

When going ashore in the dinghy, we met Neville and Margaret from “Bonnie Day” who were anchored next to us. They were going into town to do some shopping. Our first real yachties.

Just after midday we raised anchor, motored up the river and found the marina. We booked in, and caught a taxi into town where we got very drunk on Vino Tinto and Tapas. Welcome to Spain!

8 September 1992   Santander, Spain
Glenys and John caught the ferry back to Plymouth and left me at the boat.

9 September 1992   Santander, Spain
I worked on the boat. Glenys met her mum in Plymouth and got back onto the ferry with the boys.

10 September 1992   Santander, Spain
Glenys and the boys arrived back in Santander. We went to the beach.