Here’s an article that’s come a little late, but that I’m keen to share with you! This year we changed sailing boat, discovered a new one and travelled all the while working full-time online. Raquel has even gone one step further: she’s gone back to studies!
Previously I explained how the acquisition of Menyr went. In this article, it all starts where we bought it: in the little port of Anglet, near Bayonne in the Basque country.
A fun programme
- Moving onboard in the Basque Country
- Medical training in south of France
- Move Menyr to Lagos in Portugal
- Retrieve our belongings from storage
- Crossing to Lanzarote in the Canaries.
A difficult start…
We’re well into May 2023, aboard our magnificent yacht. We had to find our bearings on board in the unpretentious little port of Anglet in the Basque country.
In Anglet, there’s a problem with sedentary ‘travellers’ who annoy the yachtsmen. We were greeted in a very peculiar way by people who wanted to intimidate us and make us understand that they were the kings of the pontoon. The “mayonnaise didn’t take” as they quickly realised that we were more nomadic than they were and that we wouldn’t be staying long. What’s more, I’m polite – I was the first to say hello!
Apart from that we go into town a few times, and each time we witness a scene: one junkie yells at another on the bus, the next day a visually respectable lady insults another in her car, the day before a guy was shouting in his car because no-one would let him pass at the stop sign. Conversely, our pontoon neighbour, who was a retired carpenter, built us a fold-down shelf for a modest sum, enabling us to turn our aft cabin into an office. It was spontaneous, pure kindness and very welcome, as we’ll be working full-time for the duration of our trip. We didn’t feel particularly comfortable here; it feels like any ordinary situation can change at the drop of a hat.
Placing orders in May, in France…
The idea was to get to La Coruña before the 23rd June, so arriving in Anglet at the beginning of May was pretty big!
It just so happened that we had to put the boat’s new name on it, because it’s the law, you have to have the regulatory marking. We ordered the sticker at the beginning of May, but as nobody works in France during that month, we didn’t receive it until the beginning of June. I had asked whether the delivery times would really be affected before placing the order, and apriori it would take two weeks instead of one. That’s a lie!
We left the port of Anglet with a tape-made name and received the sticker in Hendaye. The person on the phone said “we’re not robots”, but knowing full well that they were wrong, they kindly sent it to another address.
And that was it! So we went through the ritual of renaming the boat as we should, and we set off from Anglet!
In the port of Hendaye, we entrusted the name change on the mainsail lazy bag to a very friendly Spanish sailmaker. It was done in 4 days and delivered to the port on the pontoon, what a change!
Perfect, we’re ready to go. The next morning, some young drunken revellers tried to steal the dinghy from the deck of the boat. I’d chased after them in my pants at 6am, so if only I’d caught one of them!
Northern Spain: discovering our boat
There’s very little wind as we leave the port, so the weather is perfect for our second sail aboard Menyr, but with too little wind, we’ll be using the engine for half the journey… We crossed the border, and anchored 30 minutes further on at Ondarroa, a small anchorage more or less protected from the swell. The next morning we set off again for Bilbao, where we also ran out of wind and used the engine for three-quarters of the trip.
We arrived in the port of Bilbao. Menyr is 13.09m long, but on the papers it says 12.64m. The financial advantage is considerable: instead of paying for a berth for 13-15m, we pay for 12-13m. The disadvantage is that the berth is smaller and tighter. As it happened, we also had the pillar that holds the pontoon in our berth, and when we arrived in reverse and weren’t very skilful, we made our first scratch on the transom! The trauma was immediate, there was a white stain on the beautiful glistening midnight blue transom! What a shame! Especially as it’s not the first time, before we moved to Anglet, Menyr had been alone for a month. The mooring lines had slackened and the transom had been damaged on the pontoon, again, a 2cm2 scratch.
Anyways, we swallowed the pill the next day, which was a Monday, the start of a week’s work.
And so began our itinerary. We’ll be travelling in the evening, doing small jumps on the engine as we’ve never had the wind with us: Castro Urdiales, Laredo, anchorage at Santander.
The beginning of the breakdowns
In Santander we noticed that the bow thruster was no longer working. This little electric motor, which allows the boat to rotate on itself, makes port manoeuvres much easier. As we were running on diesel, we had to fill up at the small floating pump at the far end of Santander’s tiny harbour. Getting there was trivial, but making the U-turn to get back out was rock’n’roll, with a crowd of people stayed watching us struggling. They ended up applauding us when we finally got out. We weren’t quite sure how to take it.
This bow thruster is bothering me a bit; sometimes it works, sometimes not. I’ve also noticed an oil leak under the engine, not a big deal but something to keep an eye on.
We carry on over the weekend and the following days: Playas de Mendia, Gijon, Luanco, Ribadeo, O Porto de Bares, Ares and finally Sada. We set off from Gijon in squalls and thunder. From Luanco to Ribadeo we were able to hoist the sails, and most of the rest was done by alternating between sail and motor!
Under the engine, moreover, I can now see little bits of rubber in the oil, which is still leaking just as much…
Medical training weekend
Summer as I said… My plane, which was due to take off from La Coruña, was cancelled due to fog, but fortunately my connection to Barcelona was 6 hours later… I had rented a car in Marseille on the app OuiCar, the only car available at the time seemed a bit dodgy but I had no choice.
Indeed, after a trek through the fields among the syringes and other rubbish of all kinds along the main road, I did find the car. The technical inspection was good, but it didn’t lock – welcome to Marseille!
The Ocean Medical Course is organised by Doctor Vincent Délire, himself a sailor and first-aider at sea. The two days went very well, and I met some very nice people, all of whom had great plans: circumnavigation of the globe, the North Atlantic, with family or friends.
They’re all heading south, with a stopover in the Canaries, whether they’re leaving from the Mediterranean or Brittany. So we raised the issue of killer whales, because they are on the move, from Gibraltar to Brittany depending on the season… It’s a real problem, some boats have been sunk! Since December 2022 I’ve been following the movements of the orcas thanks to the Orcas.pt Telegram group, where thousands of sailors passing through areas frequented by rudder-eating orcas share information. We know where they are and we follow them.
While I’m at La Grande Motte, the orcas, which are all grouped together between Trafalgar and Gibraltar in winter, have begun their migration towards Brittany. In other words, they’re doing exactly what we’re doing, but in the opposite direction: we’re going to run into them!
We learnt about all sorts of unsuspected dangers. The moral of the course, for my part in any case, was that it’s important not to have an accident, and if you do, you need the on-board pharmacy that goes with it. To know how to use it, you have to revise the course very regularly! You also need a means of satellite communication to be able to communicate with the CCMM in Toulouse. Having (among other things) sewn up pig’s legs during the training, the gestures requested by the doctor on the phone will be less clumsy.
Taxes offshore the coast of Portugal
Back after my short trip aboard Menyr, I’m on my own as Raquel needed a rest after all this sailing combined with work. So I decided to do Galicia solo and take advantage of the very first favourable weather window for our destination: Lagos, in the very south of Portugal.
I did a bit of tin soldering to repair the connections that I suspected were at the root of the bow thruster failure, to no avail. Then came the provisioning, I also collected our fire extinguishers from the overhaul and cast off at daybreak the next day. I had no time to lose as the Orcas were already off Cap Saint Vincent.
I pick up the wind as I leave the rìa and pass Cape Finistere to anchor at Louro. I would have spent a good part of the day with the dolphins. The next day, I passed off Illa de Ons, then took advantage of the venturi between Cies and land. In truth I was surprised, I didn’t think I’d have to take in the two reefs in the mainsail when I was under engine a mile before! Last anchorage in Spain at Playa de Barra, tomorrow we leave for the longest sail of my solo route: 175Mn to reach Péniche, in Portugal.
175Mn is in a straight line, and 35 hours with an average speed of 4 knots. The wind is forecast to be northerly at 20 knots over the next few days, peaking at 25/30 overnight, so I’m not worried about the average speed. The killer whales are just south of Lisbon, so I should arrive just before them at Péniche. There, I’ll anchor quietly, sheltered from the northerly swell, so that the next day I can take a break in port for a week to rest and let our friends the orcas pass.
I pulled up the anchor in the morning and joined my superb weather window, greeting Baiona, the last Spanish town before the border. Menyr is making it well, the swell is around a meter and downwind we’re at 6.5 knots. The wind and swell are going to increase gradually throughout the day, so I’m adjusting the sail area accordingly. I put in a series of gybes to practise and enjoy manoeuvring our new vessel. At the end of the day I decide to move away from the coast towards the open sea, away from the fishermen’s buoys. I’m the happiest, when suddenly…
S**T it’s 30 June, it’s 11pm Paris time and I’ve completely forgotten about my taxes declaration!
I still have a weak 4G signal, so I open my computer and do my accounting in-extremis. The declaration is submitted on time, just before I lose the signal a few minutes later…
The stress of the orca
The wind has picked up and the swell has reached 3 meters. I’ve had the mainsail down for some time now and only have half the genoa. The moon is almost full and we’re making 8 knots! I’m happy, but it’s the first time I’ve sailed with Menyr in slightly rough seas. Everything is new, especially the sound of the autopilot, which steers well in 2 metre swells but not as well as Øya’s windvane in the 4 metre swells I had in the Mediterranean. I can feel it straining and consuming a lot of electricity. In fact the boat is unbalanced, if I had a third reef in the mainsail and a spinnaker pole I could put the forces back in the centre of the boat and relieve the autopilot. I’m observing and understanding my boat better and better.
As the night wore on, I slept in 20-minute micro-naps and decided to get closer to the coast to find some 4G signal. About 30 nautical miles separate me from Péniche, and we go to see where the orcas are. The Telegram group gave me a definite answer: they had been spotted at Péniche itself. I received a GPS position indicating that they were a few miles from me. Tired and ‘a little’ frightened by the idea of having my rudder bitten off by these 6-8 metre beasts, I followed the group’s advice. I made for the coast, sailed in 20m of water and made for the port of Nazaré, 20 miles north of Péniche.
With 20m of water and a 3m swell offshore, Nazaré makes for some nice waves! I dodge the barely visible fishermen’s buoys at the last moment. We’re definitely in Portugal, there are dozens of them, it’s a minefield! I signalled the port and said I needed assistance at the pontoon as I was alone. I arrive to port exhausted, my mooring lines ready to do my manoeuvre as usual. The marinero who greeted me told me to go forward and I followed his advice, which didn’t work: I made a big scratch in the bow against the pontoon. And that’s three.
I complete the formalities, a thick fog falls and you can’t see 30 metres. I clean Menyr and sleep.
The combination of miles, work, getting on a plane, rushing to get ahead of the orcas alone in such a short space of time is a lot of pressure for one person.Analysis
The symptoms are immediate: it’s a funny anecdote to say that I filled in my taxes declaration in 25 knots of wind off Portugal, but in fact it’s a consequence of the accumulation of small errors here and there. Similarly, the fact that I absolutely had to go to the port of Nazaré when I was fully aware that I was tired shows that I hadn’t foreseen the “what if the orcas are in Péniche” situation.
Some, many, the majority of people have passed through orcas without ever seeing them, there’s no reason to panic.
Finally, if I’d been in top form I wouldn’t have listened to the marinero, I’d have remained captain of my ship and I’d have set it up properly by giving my own instructions.
A feeling of déjà vu
After a week’s work in the July chill in Nazaré (20 – 25 degrees max), I set off again for Péniche. I anchored in the outer harbour.
Memories come flooding back, because Péniche is where I landed with Øya in September 2020. At the time I didn’t have a motorised dinghy and I didn’t dare anchor in the outer harbour. I went ashore with my plywood dinghy by climbing the 5m-high breakwater along the rusty ladder with the dinghy’s mooring line between my teeth. Passers-by looked at me strangely.
The next day I set off again for Caiscais near Lisbon, arriving after a good day’s sailing. I’m not in the best of shape. I’ve lost confidence in myself after the Nazaré fiasco.
But I’m still averaging a good speed and I’ll get there before dark.
In 2020 I set off at daybreak and arrived late when everyone was done with the dinner’s dishes. This time I was on time for the aperitif… and ready to welcome Raquel!
It was 9 July 2023, and we’re in Lisbon!