Leg 1: Belgium - Spain

We had planned 3 September 2007 as our official departure date, however our 15 pages of remaining “Urgent To Do List” decided otherwise. Last Saturday and Sunday weren’t as productive as planned, due to the many goodbye visits of family and friends. How can you tell family and friends that you are really happy with their visit, but that you urgently need your time to prepare and run the last minute errants? Indeed, you don’t, because you are too happy they took the trouble of coming to see you off. A short circuit in our 12V circuit further confirmed the delay. With much of the mountain of work still there, we decided to solve these remaining items while sailing, and left Nieuwpoort on Tuesday 4th of September at 14:00. With a knot in the stomach and many questions in the head… Is this really it?

With a westerly wind of around 25 knots we leave our homeport at low tide. Ideal conditions for short and steep waves to build up at Nieuwpoort’s port entrance, and indeed there they are. Being used to light race horses, we immediately find out that we are in for some recalibration of our sailing style. Aspro shows her character of a sturdy lady by going through the crests of the short waves in stead of hobbling over them, reminding us of the importance of closing hatches and vents. The first were OK, but the second not completely.  Running with the tailwind we further came to know Aspro’s gentle rocking at constant speeds, in stead of the nervous pulling of our racehorses.

Later that day the wind died out completely and we traded the furling Genoa for her steel counterpart. Day two we try some upwind sailing in light airs of 10 to 12 knots. Aspro makes good speed, despite her weight, though I suspect our log to be a tad optimistic. However, to insure timely arrival for the Biscay weather window, we again start the engine after three hours.  This rather feels like a delivery trip in stead of a sabbatical.

Early afternoon of day three we hold a pit stop at Salcombe, to fill up with Diesel and change engine oil. Not much work, but the inverted position of the oil filter made the manual instruction of “Fill the new filter with fresh oil before installing” sound a bit strange. If anybody knows the trick how to keep “fresh oil” in a “new filter” when this last is head down for installation, they are welcome to tell. We made the note to ourselves to plan a long stopover in Salcombe on our way back to visit the beautiful surroundings.

A gale warning for Fitzroy (Finisterre) over Navtex makes us more nervous for the Biscay Crossing then we already are, so we decide to anchor in Falmouth and study the weather data again and prepare 200% for the crossing. As all looks ideal for the crossing, we leave Falmouth at 08:30 UTC on Friday 07-09. The grib files downloaded through Iridium predict Northerly to Westerly winds between 5 and 20 knots for the duration of the trip. Only at Cabo Villiano they keep showing 25 to 35 knots.  The nerves keep building, aided by the various horror stories we read on Biscay in all of our pre-trip literature.

The minefield of fishing nets around Falmouth got us trapped, despite a last minute evasive manoeuvre.  The line joining buoy and flag got trapped by our rudder. After a long try with the boathook (at least 35 seconds), we decided to cut the flag free from the buoy and let Aspro float away with the current. The execution of this solution was enthusiastically welcomed by Kwinten, who had already spotted the football used as floating device on the flag. He gratefully accepted this marvellous, though may be not completely intended, gift of the local fishermen. Leen afterwards decided to let the flag free without the flotation football, which resulted in a one way trip into 130meters of water.

At this stage and position, the complete burden of the trip become clear to us. The responsibility to safely carry Aspro and its priceless cargo of three babies from port to port makes for a sometimes stressful cocktail. Winds we would welcome at the Belgian Coast as ideal rag-conditions for our race horse, hoisting spinnakers and setting speed records, suddenly seem to have a new face. “Are we pushing it?” “Is it responsible to leave?” “The pilot guide indicates that generally the second half of August and early September are bad moments to cross Biscay. Should we take off?” Hopefully things settle in as we go further into our trip and take more confidence in Aspro and ourselves.

However, put the added responsibility and stress apart and it becomes a dream for both parents and kids to travel together on a boat. After spending four continuous days on board, the kids haven’t complained once. They get all the attention they want, and their parents never are further then 10 meters away. The only drawback, from the parent’s point of view, is that our kids are always present, whatever time of the day. Even asleep their presence is felt continuously, through their traces in every little corner of the reduced living space... An engine battery key turned to its off position by little hands while the engine is running: the favourite pacifier turning up under your ear while you try to catch some sleep between watches; the cuddle toy hiding behind the toilet bowl... At the other end, the moments you really need to find something, for example that same favourite pacifier or cuddle toy, that reduced boat space suddenly seems bigger than the average cathedral, full of small corners and angles where things can hide, giggling while you try desperately to find them to comfort your kid and stop the 95 decibels of the siren.

Dusk and dawn seem the preferred moments of dolphins to visit our boat. During the night of the fourth day, while dozing on my watch, I was awoken by heavy splashing alongside the boat. I first thought we lost something which was dragging alongside. It was only once I noticed the streaks of fluorescent green darting alongside that I realized dolphins were playing with Aspro. They kept us company for about 15 minutes, and returned on three more occasions. The next day another group of 6 dolphins paid a visit, to the joy of Lotte and Kwint, who were glued to the lifelines for over 15 minutes. From then on the only refrain they sang was about dolphins which had to return and play with KwinteLotte. Due to the slow nature of our digital camera it was impossible to take any pictures however.

During early morning hours of that same day 5 we were overtaken by a Hallberg Rassey 52. The British crew needed such a good look at our boat that they almost overran our generator prop. Having racing blood running to our veins, we rigged the spinnaker, which proved highly effective, despite its ugly colours and asymmetrical cut.  We indeed overtook our English colleagues, but it seems we still have some road to go before we become real “cruisers”…. We kept the spinnaker flying for most of the day and under autopilot, but we changed to main and Genoa for the night.  Later we even reduced further to Genoa alone, a rigging we kept for the remainder of the crossing. With 200 nM left we changed course to Gijon, as the winds around Finisterre remained in the 30+ knots range.

Suddenly both elderly crew members started battling a mild seasickness for a day, while the three youngsters, after 6 days on board, remained all bright and sunny. To be complete correct, the bright and sunny part only starts about 60 minutes after waking up in the morning for some of the female youngsters. We reduced speed some more during the day to make sure we would reach Gijon in daylight.  The lack of wind the next morning caused us to cover the last 25 Miles under Iron Genoa, with Lotte and Kwint on the foredeck on the lookout for Spain.

Once moored, and upon completion of the paperwork, Kwinten and Lotte insisted it was time to hit the beach. They mounted there hobbyhorse, which we call “their motorcycles”, and swerved through the heavy pedestrian traffic at high speeds. More than one Spanish grandmother had to swiftly change her course to prevent being run over by our road-pirates. However, all fulfilled this duty with a huge smile, induced by the sight of two giggling babies on the run.

Looking back on our first crossing we must admit we are impressed by the behaviour of our youngsters, who adopted their new environment within the blink of an eye. 7 days on the reduced living space did not seem strange to them at all, and their conduct made the sailing part a lot easier. Luckily, because dividing ones time between the normal care for three kids, sailing, navigation and boat maintenance leave precious little time for any additional burdens.

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