Delivering “Gecko”, a Nautitech 40 Open catamaran from La Rochelle to Barcelona: the fourth leg.
Once we’d arrived in Vigo and moored up at the excellent Real Club Nautico de Vigo after another eventful crossing, the plan was to head for a shower, and then do the provisioning for the next leg south. Oh and try and find a phone shop to replace my mobile which had died in the waves coming out of La Coruña.
In the end, we made the shower, but all the other plans were trumped by an offer from an old Galician friend of Pedro´s for lunch at his restaurant in the “Celtic Territory” of Vigo, 30 minutes drive inland from the marina. And this turned into an all day (and night) event helped along by quite a bit of the locally produced moonshine. We never made the supermarket or the phone shop.
We did, however, get to discuss the relative pros and cons of the British and Spanish empires, Galician and Catalan independence and how to measure the alcohol content of the local brew (pick a number between 40 and 60 % depending on your timing of extraction).
When we had pulled into Gijon on the 13th and survived the Bay of Biscay, I remember talking to the other guys, something along the lines of: “Hmm, that was an experience, but at least it should be plain sailing from here”.
Well, that’s the last time I tempt Neptune with a line like that, because things were about to get a whole lot more serious on this next leg.
We had been eyeing a weather window while in La Coruña that would allow us to nip along the coast to Gijon- some 120 nautical miles: 17 hours of sailing at an average speed of 7 knots. Although the weather had been pretty ferocious in La Coruña since our arrival with waves smashing over the sea wall and almost sweeping a van into the sea at one point, by Friday it had started to calm down to more moderate levels.
Looking at the forecasts on PredictWind and Windy, we decided to give it a go and continue along the coast and slipped the lines at around 16.30 in a breeze and headed out into the bay from the Real Club de La Coruña.
As soon as we got into some space, and still behind the sea wall in flat water, we raised the mainsail with one reef in (forecast 15 knots of wind). We soon lowered the sail and clipped in the second reef as we were hit by gusts of up to 22 knots and had to swerve around a big tanker in the bay. I was beginning to feel more concerned about the conditions – I had originally intended to pass downwind of the tanker, but there was so much weather-helm on the boat that I ended up passing it to windward.
Once we got out into the Bay, we realised that the conditions were pretty rough. The wind was blowing 25 knots and the sea-state was pretty angry. In hindsight, we should have made the 30 minute walk around the bay from the marina to double check the waves.
With 2 reefs in, some solent tucked in, and both engines running we started punching through the waves funneling into La Coruña. There are some nasty shallows in the Bay as you head out of the city which you need to navigate through. We’d seen some pretty big waves coming in 2 days earlier, breaking over the Bajo Cabanés. The sea state and waves were worse today.
As we got out into the Bay, we realised that we were fully committed as going beam on in these kinds of waves was just not an option. With 2 reefs in and both engines going, Gecko was now smashing into 5m waves and they were still building. We threaded our way along the deeper channels avoiding the shallows, tacking NE then NW and it was at this point I figured that the skipper Pedro had a different acceptable level of risk than I did. However, he was doing a great job navigating out into deep water, and as I said earlier, we were committed, so there was no real point in debating that one.
As we tucked in between 2 areas of low water through the deeper channels, the waves built to around 8 meters and things started to feel a whole lot like a roller coaster. Gecko was powering up the steep faces helped by the freshening wind, and we were smashing down the other side, often with both bows under the water as we hit the face of the next wave -pretty scary yet exhilarating at the same time: adrenaline levels were topped out at this point.
Pedro was on the starboard helm, while I was checking the charts on the port helm. I had my phone out at one point filming the proceedings: that was an error, as a big wave swept over the coach roof and onto the port helm: end of phone.
I don’t know how long it took us to get out of the Bay, it seemed like a long time, but was probably only 20-30 minutes. Once we started to get some offing into deeper water, the wave frequency decreased and things calmed down. The deeper we got , the safer we felt and there was a communal sigh of relief as we veered WNW to avoid the Bajos de Laixiñas, another area of relatively low water and the sea state calmed from high to very rough and then rough.
However, La Coruña wasn’t done with us yet: as we headed offshore the wind started to build to 28 knots from the North. On a close to beam reach, this had us right on the limit for the second reef with 60% solent, which covers you up to 35 knots apparent wind speed. On some of the gusts, we were hitting 37- 38 knots apparent, and Gecko took off on a gallop – she felt overpowered, but it was getting dark and we were in no mood to put the 3rd reef in with these kinds of waves about, so we managed the gusts by loosening the sheets and continued west heading to the Costa de Morte or “Coast of Death”.
La Coruña Radio came up on Channel 16 at one point to check on us (translation: what the hell were you doing out in the Bay), but once we explained that the sea-state was much better offshore, they calmed down a bit and told us they’d continue to track us. Later on, we received an All Ships transmission warning everyone about the conditions around La Coruña which did nothing to calm the nerves.
The Coast of Death is Europe’s western frontier. The ancients believed this place to be Finisterrae – the end of the world – the gate to the afterlife. Hmmm. That was where we were now heading. We had a run west with the wind on the beam and the worry of the increasing apparent wind until we cleared Isla Sisarga, at which point we’d be able to bear away south and hopefully get the apparent wind speed down.
The watch system went out of the window on this leg as we rounded the top of the Iberian Peninsular and sailed south in a Force 6 past Cape Finisterre and along the Costa de la Muerte. The oceanic floor rises up very quickly along this coast going from 1500-2000m to 2-300m in a short distance which can create some nasty waves, particularly if the weather is coming in from the west. We had northerlies, which reduced the risk, but even so, we were glued to the chart and stayed well clear of any aggressive looking gradient changes and patches of lower water.
As we turned south, the wind calmed to a Force 5 and we rode a following sea south along the coast. Surfing down the waves, we were hitting speeds in the mid teens and making great progress. Just before daybreak, we spotted the leading lights for the channel into Vigo and threaded our way past the Isla do Norte towards Vigo, and as the sun came up, the weather calmed further giving us a lovely 2 hour run into the Galician City past the beaches and fishing communities in the bay. What a stunning setting- it reminded me of the landscape around Sai Kung County Park in Hong Kong- that’ll be all the granite I guess.
At 10.30 on the 16th November, we arrived safe and sound at the Real Club Nautico de Vigo – a lovely little marina in the center of the city with a few other catamarans including another Nautitech Open 40.
Time for a hot shower a chat to reflect on the last 24 hours.
Video by Pedro (from the Catamaran Center) who skippered this leg. I must have been in my bunk at this point.
Translation from Spanish: “Well, after a pretty hard passage, the wind has died, the sea is calmer and we are coming into the Bay of Vigo. We´re passing these islands to starboard. Here´s my mate Jim. To all of you, the passage for Catamaran Center from La Rochelle to Port Ginesta. See you soon”
The second leg of the trip saw us heading west along the northern Spanish coast to La Coruña in Galicia. Jason left the boat and headed back to Barcelona leaving behind plenty of food in the freezer. There was no shortage of meatballs, that was for sure.
Pedro, Jim and I left Gijon at 16.30 and pointed the bows towards the Atlantic. The sea state had calmed down to “slight” (waves less than 1.25m) and we sailed up the coast through the night through rain and mist in force 4-5 winds and between 1 and 2 reefs in, motor sailing with one engine where needed.
After the Bay of Biscay, the calmer conditions were welcome and they gave us the chance to practice our reefing and to get to grips with the B&G navigation system, running watches of 2.5 hours which we ended up changing to 2 – just easier to work out.
All in all, a much calmer experience and we reached La Coruña, a distance of some 141 nm, in the early afternoon of the 13th November 2019, where we planned to tuck in before the next big blow hit. Coming in, the swell was sweeping into the bay creating some big breaking waves over a sandbank to the west of the bay. Pretty impressive to watch and one to avoid in a boat, you can see the Instagram clip below if you swipe through the videos.
After filling the tanks up with diesel, we booked into the Real Club de La Coruña and were shown to a fantastic berth right opposite the promenade in the centre of the city.
We found another excellent coworking space to catch up on work while we were in the city Corworking. The weather was filthy again with plenty of horizontal rain and high winds (nice to be tucked safely into an all weather port), but we ventured out in the evenings heading first to a Galician tapas bar (Pulpo a la Brasa) and then to a Galician restaurant on the second night.
The weather continued to howl with waves smashing over the sea wall from the bay. No need to slip those lines just yet!
I can highly recommend the octopus and the clams in Galicia….delicious.
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.
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
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.
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).
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.
Thank you to Alan from SV Damn Kiwi for helping us out with this owner’s review of his lovely looking Prout 37 Snowgoose. This model was one of Prout Catamarans´ best selling boats. Follow them on Instagram at @sv.damnkiwi
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and the boat. Boat name says a lot Damn Kiwi. It’s always been on my bucket list to bring a boat up to Cat 1 NZ and take it offshore, I’ve done a few miles now but haven’t taken my own boat away so the challenge was there. Wanted to do it before getting too old and stuck on the treadmill
This interview with William Jelbert, the COO of Gunboat, was recorded on the 14th September 2019 at Cannes Yachting Festival on Dash- the second Gunboat 68. You can also read the transcript below the video.
Thanks so much to William and the whole Gunboat team for showing us around Dash (Gunboat 6802) and giving us such a fascinating insight in how they create these performance catamarans.
The Cannes Yachting Festival is coming up fast and this year there is going to be a whole area dedicated to sailing boats, including catamarans of course.
I am going to be there looking at the boats on Friday and Saturday, but one of the problems I have is time. Which catamarans do I see and which do I skip?
The Gunboat 68 is going to be the star of the sailing area, so this boat is a no brainer. Gunboat 68-02 will be at the show, otherwise known as Dash. The #1 hull, Condor, is Stateside. I’m looking forward to seeing this beast!
The new 50 footer from the Polish yard looks like a real stunner. I don’t think I’d ever be in the market for a luxury yacht like this, but that won’t stop me ogling at it. I want to check out the interiors on this catamaran. The hybrid 60 will also be there.
On the other hand… with the Outremer 4X, I’d certainly have this on my shopping list. This is the sporty version of the 45 made famous by Riley, Elena and Lenny on La Vagabonde.
Check out the Sail Puffin blog if you like these boats. They had one delivered in August 2019.
Fountaine Pajot 45
This new boat from FP makes her debut at the show. Definitely worth a look. Maye they’ll give her a name?
This is not a new boat, but a refresh of the interiors which look stunning from the pictures. I am a big fan of the 40, so I am keen to see the 46 Open Mark II.
This performance cat is a personal favourite, and I haven’t had the chance to take a close look at her. I want to see that Versahelm close up. Next door is the Slyder 49, another nice performance cat.
The Lagoon group are launching their new performance brand, Excess here. I have to say, I am a big underwhelmed with the overall concept, they don’t seem that different to the Lagoons except for the helm position. Maybe I’m wrong, and I’m missing something. We’ll see at the show.
I like the look of the 53. I’ve been on one in Port Ginesta near Barcelona (thanks to Pedro from the Catamaran Centre). I want to take a second look.
What can I say? I have to take a look at that master stateroom with the diving platform / terrace that extends out from the hull.
Privilege 5 Series
Another luxury cat! Well, it is Cannes I suppose. I want to check out the interiors and in particular the signature master stateroom in the nacelle up front.
What do you think? Am I missing anything? Let me know. The list of the boats is at bit.do/cannescats
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