Summer is in full bloom and at last it has been made possible to get out and sail. After the Corona-shock and lockdown it´s a relief to see some things going back to a near-normal level at least it´s permitted to be on a boat and go out to sail. I guess it´s safe to state that the first half of this year 2020 is “for the trashbin” and I fear it´s definitely not over yet. This Covid-19-crisis won´t let loose it´s grip and will re-shape our world. Anyways, as we are just passengers in this life, one cannot do more than trying to make the best out of it. And I hope you, dearest readers, are able to cope with it. I do, pretty well so far, but I am as well very exhausted. Taking some time off of this world is a good idea. Perfect timing for a whatsapp-message I received some weeks ago from a dear friend. It read: “Lars, come on, jump aboard: Let´s bring home FREE WILLY!”
The message has been sent by Wilfried whom I know since three years. Wilfried is the owner of FREE WILLY, a Bavaria Cruiser 37 from the early 2000s. We began chatting back and forth and since I knew about his plans to bring home the boat for a while I was electrified and excited about his invitation and answered right on the spot: “Hey Skippy – LET`S ROLL! I am in for sure!” and that was it. Just like a confirmation that all of this is really going to happen, Wilfried “Skippy” sent another message some days later: The homecoming-trip has begun, attached was a picture of Gibraltar rock which he had passed the day before.
A good boat, a good crew: FREE WILLY casts off
It is really an honor and flattering to be chosen and asked by Wilfried to jump aboard. FREE WILLY is a privately owned sailboat in perfect conditions (I´ve seen her once and took a tour on her) and Wilfried is certainly not a man who is picking his mates and friends randomly. Sailing the seas for over thirty years now, he is literally one of the most experienced skippers I know of.
“Which leg to you want to join?”, he asked me via whatsapp. At this stage his Bavaria was still berthed on Lanzarote, Canary Islands. He had sailed her down there some years before and had spent all of his summers sailing this region. As I am a big, big fan of these islands too, I perfectly understood what took him down there. Last not least, his affection for Lanzarote and due to the fact that he belonged to the thriving but kind of intimate German population there, he got to know a businessman who runs a charter company on Lanzarote which brought him to the job of transferring some brand new boats from Lisbon/Portugal to the islands – boats, of course, sold by my company.
This is how I got to know “Skippy” in the first place, he was commandeering MOJITO, a 46-feet brand new sailboat which I put myself aboard, being a representative of the yard and the dealership. It turned out to be my first ever real high-seas sailing experience and one of the most memorable sailing trips ever (you may read all articles on this great Atlantic-sailing by clicking on this hashtag #dufourcanaries). After sailing for nearly three weeks together, spending nights and days on watch, talking, philosophizing, laughing, arguing, chatting and loosing ourselves in great conversation, we became friends. It´s an honor to be a part of his new crew.
An honor, because now he is transferring his FREE WILLY back to Baltic waters: “I have had enough of the Canary Islands at some point”, he told me. That was long before Corona. Sailing the boat into the Mediterranean last year to Almeria in Spain, he completed the first leg of the tour. At that time I couldn´t join because of a pretty busy job. “I didn´t liked the Med though”, he texted: “Too hot, too expensive and being honest, I am longing for the Swedish Archipelago, I miss the cool and brash Baltic environment. I´d like to sail to Sweden, see Bornholm again.” So, he asked me which leg I´d liked to join … my answer was obvious and came fast: Biscay!
Terrifying? Forbidding? Sailing the Gulf od Biscay.
The notorious Gulf of Biscay enjoys a rather mixed image in sailing literature and jetty-talk. I would rather say that this sailing area has an equally questionable reputation like the Cape Hoorn amongst sailors. Few I know have actually sailed the Gulf of Biscay – but all seem to have an opinion of these area. Well, let´s stick to the facts: The bottom of the Atlantic Ocean is rising steep from 4.000 to some 400 metres depth, creating a kind of “wall” onto which the long, long waves of the ocean – pushed by prevailing Westerlies – crash and are causing a troubling, wobbling, rocking sea. “Boiling Biscay” it is said. Open to the West, this large bay between France and Spain is prone to storms, severe winds and the said waves.
The leg I went for is, from my point of view, the most exciting part of FREE WILLY´s homecoming: Gulf of Biscay, a part of the English Channel and if winds are favorable as far as Amsterdam. That´s some 1.000 miles all in all if we are able to sail the perfect course. Markus, another friend of Skippy who is joining in, checked for the complicated travel restrictions: “Guernsey and UK mainland is a no-go since a quarantine may be imposed.”, he texted. That´s sad: I was hoping to get to see the English Channel islands after the Biscay-leg or even the Scilly Islands which I find so attractive. If we can make it to Amsterdam, getting home from there would be a no-brainer. But let´s take a closer look to the Biscay-part.
As we are sailing from the South to the North-East this time, we will have a comforting course traversing the Gulf of Biscay: Contrary to the South-westerly courses of people reaching for the South who will have wind and waves coming in from an upwind point of sail, we might be lucky to experience a beam- or broad-reach. Having wind and waves coming in from abaft, chances are much higher for my first time sailing the Gulf of Biscay to getting to know this area in a much more bearable way. Checking weather windows for the last days the nasty string winds around the Cape Finisterre with some 40+ knots have gone and it seems that we could have a far easier start next Saturday than feared.
Let´s roll & cast off!
So, let´s go then! Well, is it that easy? Unfortunately not. My first flight ticket booked to Porto where FREE WILLY is now berthed for crew-change, has been cancelled due to Corona virus. Thanks whizzair, I lost some 350 Euros now. Booking another flight, this time with Lufthansa, directly from Frankfurt to Porto without any change of flights reduced the risk of another cancellation: 450 Euros well spent, I hope. Yesterday I talked with Skippy on the phone, some minor problems occurred with his VHF, but he is working on it – we need to see the AIS-signals on the plotter since his boat does not have Radar.
Anyways: The last two days here in Germany, I work off the item list and will start packing my bags tonight. I am excited and so motivated, at last I will get to experience the all-so legendary Bay of Biscay, finally meet my friend Wilfried again, possibly make another friend and hopefully experience a great, adventurous sailing trip, learning new things and widen my horizon. Dear reader, you won´t be getting any new articles in the coming two weeks, but you may browse this magazine: There are 438 articles waiting to be (re)read. Have a great time, see you all in 2 weeks. Fair winds, mates.
You may later browse all FREE WILLY-related articles by clicking on the hashtag #biscaysailing
Other interesting articles, fairly related:
All articles on the 1.300 miles delivery cruise from Lisbon via Madeira to Lanzarote: #dufourcanaries
A pretty perfect sailing trip on a Judel/Vrolijk aluminium racer/cruiser
Trip planning and weather routing hints