Bilbao, June 21st

Loctudy was a brief stop as we headed to Lorient. There were forecasts of a blow coming in so we were hoping to make tracks while we could. Loctudy itself doesn't have a lot of charm as it is primarily a fishing harbour with a marina attached. The village was pleasant but only for a short stop. We headed out with a breeze from astern and soon setup a poled out headsail to sail the 30 miles to Port Louis, just inside the entrance to the natural harbour of Lorient. The lads hand steered, trying to keep the sails filled, which was difficult at times in the gusting conditions. We started with 12-14 knots of breeze but as we got closer to Lorient it got closer to 20 and we reefed in the main. We noticed a lot more traffic on the water, everything from racing catermarans, kitesurfers, skiffs to cruising boats and fishing boats. We sailed in slowly in all the traffic. Passing through the fortified entrance, the U-Boat pens opened up in front of us, where Admiral Doenitz co-ordinated the submarine attacks on the Atlantic Convoys during the second world war. They were huge reinforced concrete structures to protect the subs. From there we dropped sail and motored into Port Louis. It was very busy there as there was a classic boat regatta going on for the weekend. Going in we spotted "Dos Tintos", owned by Steve and Julie, who I had met during a visit by them to Malahide. After being squeezed into a berth, it was good to catch up with them and hear of their stories since we last met. It was a brief chat as my cousin Lara was coming to pick up the crew for a night in her place. Lara was very brave, moving her 3 kids to France to spend a year living in their summer house. I had not seen the house and was blown away but how well it had been done in the traditional Breton style. Her 3 kids there were in good form and got along great with the visitors so a great night was had by all.

The next day we headed back to Port Louis and chilled out, visiting the fortified citadelle guarding the entrance, doing our laundry as well as having a few beers with Steve and Julie. We had a giggle sharing stories with them and dreaming of the far flung places they had sailed to. The next morning we sailed to Belle Ile, 25 miles away. Initially it was foggy and calm and with wind just off the nose, but as per forecast, the wind came more onto the beam and increased to 20 knots. The swell got up to 2 metres and we were creaming along at up to 7 knots. We knew that the forecast gave gusts of 30 knots in the afternoon and we were keen to be in and tied up before that. Le Palais is the main harbour on the island and gets busy. There are fore and aft moorings in the outer harbour and as we approached someone came out in a rib to help us tie up. Over the next couple of hours a number of other yachts came in as the wind rose and we had great spectator sport watching them get tied up in the gusty conditions. The crew decided to eat ashore that night to celebrate and to get off the boat while the winds created rolly conditions in the harbour. We had great grub, watching the end of the Ireland Sweeden game in the Euros. The sun was shining, Ireland didn't lose and all was good.

The next morning the forecast gave 2 metre plus swell and wind for the next couple of days so we decided to move into the locked in basin as we would be on the island for a couple of days more at least. But we were happy that we did have easing winds and swell for the coming weekend, meaning that we would be able to make ground towards Bilbao in time. In the meantime, it was a matter of chilling out onboard and maybe getting our hiking boots on. We visited the impressive citadelle, even bigger than the one in Lorient. In fact the town has lots of fortifications, showing the island's strategic importance over the last 500 years. From the citadelle Humberto and I followed the coast path to the north side of the island before increasing showers drove us back to Le Palais along the interior roads.

The afternoon the rain and cloud cleared and the weather seemed to have the appearance of settling down at last. The forecast looked like the winds were due to ease and maybe the swell as well. So the next day we prepared the boat to go out the sea lock at 2pm. We had a boat rafted outside us who offered to let us slip out earlier so that we could be ready to go. On starting the engine, I noticed that there was no cooling seawater coming out of the exhaust. Before we had locked in I had a similar problem and found weed in the filter so I assumed the same. In the end I took off the filter, impellor and seacock hoses until I was able to fully rinse the system to get it working again. I was just glad that our neighbour had asked us to move a couple of hours before the lock opened.

So we motored out into bright sunshine and wind astern of 10-12 knots. On rounding the end of the island the wind increased a bit before settling at a constant 15 knots just astern of the beam. The swell was still there at 2 metres but the boat was creaming along handling it all in her stride. Harry the Hydrovane steered us well in the seas as he headed southeast for La Rochelle. The plan was to overnight it as the winds and seas were due to ease. But with the seas staying up the skipper decided to divert to Ile De Yeu for the night. Approaching the island, we noticed that the winds were beginning to ease a bit but with the same swell so we were happy to arrive late and get out early to be in La Rochelle on Friday evening instead of morning. The next morning out neighbours were moving at 730 so we did the same to get into La Rochelle at a reasonable hour. On clearing the island there was still some swell there but it was down to 1.0 - 1.5 metres. The wind was down as well and coming from astern so we expected a rolly motor to La Rochelle in overcast skies. Half way there the skies cleared and a fair breeze came in from astern so the cruising chute was out. Coming in behind Ile De Re we were doing 5 to 6 knots at times as the wind got up to 20 knots. We took down the chute and goosewinged the yankee as Kevin decided which of the spans of the huge bridge to go through.

There was noticably more traffic as La Rochelle is a busy sailing centre with the biggest marina in Europe. They had a hurricane about 8 years ago which did a lot of damage. In reconstruction they decided to enlarge the marina further and now it has 4,500 berths. There was also commercial traffic as there is a large commercial port called La Palice just outside La Rochelle. There were 7 cargo vessels anchored offshore, protected by the Ile D'Oleron. I assume they were vessels with no work awaiting orders. We fuelled up and got a berth easily on the visitors pontoon before settling down to grub and bed.

The next day we had boat jobs to do in preparation for the 200 mile passage to Bilbao. I headed to the chandlers for a piece for the bilge pump and then helped a neighbour with a problem at the top of their mast. We went into town for a stroll around. Humberto and I found the busy market while Kevin and Brendan found the pub... It was the Ireland Belgium match in the Euros. In the market we got some great fish and veg so Humberto could make some paella for dinner. We walked back to the boat via the inner harbour and its boat porn. After watching the match I went to inspect the holding tanks on the heads. Both tanks were full meaning either there was a blockage in the seacock or the seacock was closed. The forward head was easily solved as somebody had accidentally closed the seacock. I opened it and the tank drained easily. I flushed it out a few times with fresh water and all was good. The aft tank seacock was open. When In tried to turn it, I found it sticking so there was something, probably thich toilet paper, blocking it. I took it apart and with water gushing in, found a lump of thick paper which had caused an initial blockage. Once it was lodged everything else got stuck behind it. In the end I had to put on my wetsuit and go under the boat to shove a piece of tubing up the pipe to clear the blockage. In 10 mins I had it clear and lots of crap, literally, came out. We could then flush it out and we were back in business.

The next morning, after Humberto's paella, we set off at 730am. Initially there was a little wind but it got fluky. There was some wind over tide as we approached the gap between Ile D'Oleron and Ile De re but it smothed out once we had passed through. We then had wind on the beam and were sailing comfortably at 5 knots on a beam reach in a 1 metre swell. After 3 hours the wind came down a little so we motorsailed leaving the sails set and putting the engine on at low revs. That was comfortable and not too noisy down below. At lunchtime the wind came back up and we were soon horsing along at 6+ knots which lasted until the evening as per the forecast. It eased a little but we were still sailing at 5 knots until sunset when it got lighter again and we motorsailed. By 1 am the seas had flattened and the winds went light so we motored through the night, each of us taking turns to do a 2 hour watch. We had little to see as to our east was the French Military firing range which means that there are no fishing boats or commercial traffic.

Most sailboats in this corner of Biscay, leave La Rochelle for Gijon or the Rias further east along the Spanish coast. As someone who has cruised the North Spanish coast before, there is little appeal to this section from the French border until you get to Gallicia. There are no real visitors facilities. Sure there are some quaint spots but they don't cater for visiting yachts. The Spanish don't get it that if you make yachts welcome, they will come and spend money in the local economy. The French got that years ago and as a result most marinas are owned by the town and make lots of effort to attract yachts to their region.

With the day warming up we had a little wind for sailing close hauled for an hour or two but as the morning developed the wind eased and we motorsailed at 5 knots until after lunch when the wind dropped to 5 knots and we motored on in the strong sunshine towards the mountains of the Basque Country with were visible from more than 40 miles offshore. We tied up at the fuel dock in Getxo and were boarded by the Guardia Civil who were pleasant as they did an inspection and passport check. Then it was fuel up and anchor before going ashore for pintxos. We had arrived in Bilbao. Yippee !!