Before I left Plymouth I hadn’t quite decided whether I was going to stop or not on the way to Lisbon. I had my options, Brest, La Coruna, Baiona. But thought if the wind is right and I am making good progress then I will keep going. Across the channel I had a solid 15 knots from the east which was perfect to shoot Ariadne and I across to Ushant, going inside the TSS before heading across the Biscay. That first night was a series of cat napping and ship dodging as we crossed the shipping lanes of the English channel. I was thankful to be in the Biscay away from all the traffic where I could get a little sleep and let Ariadne do the work. For two days after Ushant there was not a single other vessel around, not even a fishing boat when we crossed the continental shelf, which is a first. Normally when I have sailed across the biscay its been thick with fishing vessels on the shelf, but this time, nothing. Not complaining about that! Nearing Finisterre was a different matter and navigating through the fleets of fishing vessels meant another sleepless night. For about 36hours in the Biscay we had very little wind, in fact it went to nothing. Like a mill pond. Because I had a deadline for Lisbon we motored until the wind picked up again, thankfully from the East at again about 15 to 20 knots. The sailing was fantastic, we pulled out the cruising chute when the wind started to drop again. We managed a good 7 knots the whole time we were under sail. The Biscay was certainly not without company, having a large pod of dolphins with us nearly the entire way. Which at night were still with us, their splashing as they hit the water and also lit up by the vast amounts of phosphorescence.
As we neared Finisterre I picked up a forecast which was all Southerly but promised Northerlies on the Saturday. It was Thursday by this point and I thought as I don’t have to be in Lisbon until the following Tuesday I might as well stop. I set my sights on Baiona, but as the wind kept dropping it became clear that it would take 2 days to get there at the speed we were going. Making no progress to windward, we decided on Muros instead. I looked at the mileage and we would get there just as it was getting dark. There we could sit and wait for the Northerlies that would scoot us to Lisbon in no time. I had looked at the approach into the Ria, which was fairly straight forward, as long as I was outside the 20m contour then there were no hazards. But as we neared the coast, I took over the steering to avoid the many fishing buoys around, which are grey here, not very helpful especially as it gets dark. I looked at the depth as we were coming round the coast and thought surely we must be within soundings now. It had been flashing the whole time across the Biscay, which I had thought nothing of as its deep, way too deep for soundings so I assumed nothing was wrong with it. But, like every good lesson on a boat, never assume anything. It simply wasn’t working. So on entering the Ria, we had no depth and surrounded by unlit fishing pots and by this point it was nearly dark. Luckily I had stared at the chart for long enough to practically memorise it so I was fairly confident that we were in deep enough water, but just to be safe, we went pretty slowly as we nearly the harbour. A very helpful and friendly Pedro met me on the dock and took the lines. He asked where I had sailed from and where the crew were, and jokingly I said I had got fed up with the crew and left them floating mid Biscay. He stared at me, not sure whether I was serious and a total nut, or just joking. I laughed and explained I came on my own, to which he still thought I was a complete nut. He gave me the keys to the marina and said we would do the paperwork in the morning, which I was very thankful for as all I wanted to do was sleep.
Friday, I spent fixing the few things I had broken, got an update on the weather and looked at the passage to Lisbon. Saturday was perfect, 20 – 25 knots from the North would see us in Lisbon by Monday. The met office said, F4-F5 occasionally F6 in West with the odd thundery shower. If only it had specified that the ‘odd thundery shower’ was actually fierce squalls of up to 45knots that would pummel us for a good half hour, every few hours, the whole way to Lisbon. With a fairly large following sea, and the wind from directly behind, the monitor was struggling to keep a course that would not have us accidentally gybe. I rigged the preventer, but even then we would have the odd accidental gybe, so I came up from a dead run and had the sea and wind on the quarter which the monitor handled beautifully, but it meant sailing out quite a long way from the coast and gybing back in. The only problem with that was we would be in the lanes between the TSS off Finisterre and the TSS off Lisbon for most of the trip. A very busy stretch of water as we didn’t go more than a few hours without seeing another vessel. I tried to sleep, my trusty egg timer gave me 20 minutes every time when I would jump up on deck and quickly scan the horizon to see yet more ships in our course. Needless to say, not much sleep happened.
On approaching the coast of Portugal, still about 80 miles to go, I had got my wet weather gear on and decided to sit on deck, giving up on the idea of sleep, when I saw the most prominent squall line yet. The cloud it was under was so black it might as well have been night time. Even at night you could see the squalls coming as they were so dark and the moon lit the sea. But this one looked like it had more power being it than all the others. I furled away some more go the genoa so there was only a tiny scrap showing, 3 reefs in the main which up until this point had been fine. The squall hit us with as much force as I imagined. I sat watching it with fascination then started wondering how much it would take for one of the monitor control lines to break. The monitor is a powerful peace of equipment and will steer through anything, but it has a weak point which are the control lines attached to the tiller. I had thought coming across the Biscay that I should really replace them as they were starting to show a little wear, but I had decided I would do it in Lisbon. I should always go with that gut instinct because sure enough, mid squall I hear a bang and it was one of the lines snapped in two. I grabbed the tiller and steered through the rest of the squall wondering where on earth I had put the spare lines. After several hours helming I was no closer to locating the control lines in my mind, so I rigged a temporary line which would do the job when the wind wasn’t so strong. It would last long enough for me to go below, put warmer clothes on and plot out position, the rest of the time I steered. I thought as we were so close to Lisbon anyway, I would just fix it when I got there. Stupid decision as it meant I would helm the rest of the way. I would sleep when I got there.
We arrived too early for the tide so 3 am Tuesday morning we anchored up in Cascais. I managed 2 hours of kip before catching the tide up to our marina which was 18 miles up river. We had one last hurdle chucked at us before we could depart; the anchor was well and truly stuck. When it just would not budge I checked the chart to see whether in my bleary eyed state a few hours early I had anchor on top of some cables or in a no anchoring zone. Luckily there was nothing of the sort, but the anchor still wouldn’t move. I had rigged up a tripping line on the end of a fender ‘just in case’ which is what got us out in the end. The anchor was properly stuck on something, each time i tried with the windlass the bow would go down and no chain would come up. So I rigged the spinnaker halyard to the tripping lines and winched. The bow went even further down. An hour later I was no closer, I had tried everything, windlass, tripping line, driving over it. Nothing worked. The water wasn’t clear enough to be able to see it, and it was still dark so I thought if I wait until it gets light then I might be able to dive down and free it. But in the meantime I kept trying as waiting would mean missing the high tide into our marina. I was about to give up as I ground ot the halyard so tight that I knew something had to give, hopefully the anchor and not Ariadne, thankfully it was and it was free, grateful for a tripping line. The motor up the river was a peaceful uneventful affair finished off with a much needed oversized meal and a good sleep.