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Gecko Shake Down Cruise Leg 1

At the beginning of November, we took delivery of a Nautitech 40 Open called “Gecko”. She’ll be available for charter from her base near Barcelona and the Balaerics from 2020.

Gecko in La Rochelle on a sunnier day

This is a quick summary of the first part of a delivery trip from the French port of La Rochelle across the Bay of Biscay and around to Fuengirola in Andalucia in southern Spain.

The original plan was to sail her all the way to her home base in Port Ginesta near Barcelona but due to bad weather we were delayed in La Rochelle and ended up ducking in and out of ports heading south as we tried to avoid the worst of the autumn storms.

La Rochelle 2 Nov 2018

We arrived at La Rochelle on Saturday the 2 November into some filthy Biscay weather.

Welcoming Jim onto Gecko in some wet and windy La Rochelle weather. We sat around in this for a week, coping with a box or two of the local French plonk and some decent Spanish vino tinto that we had brought up with us from Barcelona .😬

That week, we remain stranded in the French port kicking our heels as storm gusts hit a maximum of 74 knots while we waited for the weather to improve and for Nautitech to install a missing Fridge in the cockpit.

Who needs a TV when you can fire up the Wind Speed chart on the B&G nav display, open up the PredictWind and Windy apps on your phone and obsess over the weather? Most of the week was spent prepping the boat for the journey, cooking up big pots of food to freeze for the trip (mostly lead by Head Chef Jason with some tasty flapjacks thrown in from Jim) interspersed with trips to the supermarket to provision and sessions in WorkingShare Newton to catch up on work. What a great co-working space that was in La Rochelle, I’d highly recommend it, very friendly.

Although the weather was terrible, there was plenty to do in La Rochelle with a night out in town, a tour around the sights and jobs on the boat. Still, by the end of the week, we were all itching to go but were finding it difficult to pin-point a wide enough weather window to reach our first destination of La Coruña in Galicia, Spain, across the Bay of Biscay.

One afternoon, we rigged up the gennaker for a bit of practice and promptly dropped a piece in the water. Conclusion: the water is cold in La Rochelle in November with a shortie on.

A quick chat with Beatriz II, a Bali Catamaran, revealed that they too were struggling to find a decent gap between the storms.

Finally, we all agreed on a plan to head to Gijon in Asturias on the northern coast of Spain in a smaller window as successive weather systems swept across the bay. This would mean an extra stop, but it would at least get us across to Spain where we’d have more options to duck in and out of ports along the coast.

The Bali, Beatrice II, had also decided to give it a go: reassuring to know that someone else had arrived at the same conclusion after poring over the met reports and crunching the numbers on the passage plan. La Rochelle to Gijon is approximately 250 nm which would give us a 36 hour crossing if we achieved an average SOG of 7 knots.

After a test sail in the bay on Sunday 10th November, we finally slipped the lines Monday morning, 2 hours behind Beatrice and headed for the Bay of Biscay. We were soon bashing into a pretty nasty sea with around 15 knots on the nose- an uncomfortable introduction to the Bay. Gecko seemed happy enough motor-sailing through the waves, with full main and solent up and her twin 40 HP engines powering us through but still, smashing through the waves seems like a pretty good description- definitely a shake-down for Gecko as she shuddered and banged through a building seaway that had been whipped up by successive fronts.

It normally takes me about 2-3 days to find my sea legs, so I was feeling pretty grim 🤢 for most of the passage: all I could manage was a occasional nibble at a “36 hour banana” in an attempt to get some food down. The rest of the guys on the boat either wolfed down or nibbled on Jason’s spiced up meatballs, depending on how they were feeling.

The guys in the forward cabins started to spend quite a bit of time at the roofs of their cabins, or at least waking up in mid air, so most of the crew started to migrate to the back of the boat to catch some sleep, fully suited and booted in the cockpit. I can’t believe they volunteered for the crossing! Many thanks to both of them.

It was on this first leg that we started to have problems with the sliding doors between the saloon and cockpit. Smashing through the waves, they jolted right out of their locking mechanism that night – annoying at the least and downright dangerous at the worst. On close inspection, it looked like Nautitech had done a DIY fix on one of the locking anchors in the frame – the end one had been trimmed to fit and was held loosely with one screw rather than two. Pretty sloppy. It’s fixable at the marina, but bouncing around the Bay of Biscay, it could have been nasty. I’m going to have a think about how to lock these into place more effectively in big seas.

We were also getting to grips with the reefing systems as the wind increased and we shortened sail, putting in 2 reefs before the night shift. There is definitely some fine tuning to be done at the mast where the reefing lines come down. We ended up ripping through the outer skin of the first reefing line by leading the line directly from the clutch near the tack onto the winch at the foot of the mast. Not a great angle. Solution: we rigged up a snatch block at the foot of the mast to improve the angle: lesson learnt. We later rigged up another for the second reef, but it was still a sticky tape solution, one that I am going to have to sort when we get Gecko to her home base in Catalunya.

The coffee machine was soon put away into the nearest cupboard as it sailed from the starboard to the port hull.

Halfway through the night we came across a Nautitech 542 travelling the other way across the Bay. After spotting a searchlight playing on a mainsail ( a pretty spooky signal in the pitch black in the middle of nowhere in the Bay of Biscay), we called the boat over VHF and it turned out to be skippered by a good friend of Pedro on Gecko. Of all the places to bump into each other. They were doing the same as us but in reverse.

We had a lot of alarms going off on this first passage – particularly a time-out warning on the port engine bilge pump. We eventually worked out that there was a bit of water sloshing about in the big waves from some work on the boat speed sensor. A quick pump on the port manual bilge seemed to sort it.

The Big Front to Gijon, Asturias

The Big Front halfway across the Bay of Biscay

About 6 hours out of Gijon on Tuesday morning, we heard from Beatriz that they were bailing out and heading for Santander (hmmm) and then we hit the front (this was planned- it was weaker than most of the others we’d seen that week). The wind veered to the north and increased up to Force 7 gusting up to Force 8 (42 knots max gust). With 2 reefs and 60% solent, Gecko handled the conditions really well and we were soon flying across the Bay towards Gijon at speeds of over 10 knots, with one ear on channel 16.

The wave direction settled onto the starboard beam which gave us a welcome relief from the night before. Nicely reefed down, Gecko settled into a gallop and we hauled in the miles to Gijon on the Asturias coast.

SOG: 11 kts. TWS: 37 kts. AWS: 33kts.

We arrived in el Puerto Deportivo de Gijón on the afternoon of Wednesday 13th November for a welcome hot shower. This is a great little marina that was running a catamaran special (€23 a night- quite a bargain for the 4 of us).

Gecko in Gijon

That night we headed out for sidra and tapas at La Galana in the Plaza Mayor. This place offers fantastic cider poured from a height set off with some tasty tapas and a smooth bottle of vino tinto.