A Biscay yacht delivery can be daunting. For many people Biscay has a fearsome reputation and it is often well deserved, but although the weather and geography of the area have remained the same, the availability of reliable weather forecasts and yacht design has certainly improved.
In the days of square riggers, Biscay provided the perfect trap. Unable to go to upwind they would be caught by the prevailing westerlies and be blown inshore, unable to tack their way back out again. Combine this with a rapidly shelving seabed over the continental shelf and exposure to 3,000 miles of open Atlantic Ocean and you have all the ingredients of the sailor’s perfect nightmare.
Waiting for a Weather Window
The right weather window is crucial for any Biscay yacht delivery.
Depending on your start and finish points, a Biscay crossing is around 360 nautical miles. Usually we complete a Biscay yacht delivery in around two and a half to three and a half days depending on the vessel, so we tend to look for a three to four day weather window.
There are many good apps and websites we use for our weather information and it really comes down to personal preference as which you choose. It is always advisable to look at more than one to see what works best for you, but you might like to consider passageweather and Windy, as these are two we find particularly useful.
Just as important as weather is to check wave height and direction. This, more than wind strength, is what can often make a Biscay yacht delivery uncomfortable.
OceanTrax carries out Biscay yacht deliveries all year round and a late season or winter crossing often mean an increased chance of gales. This being the case, it’s useful to know that there is a good choice of marinas on both the north and south ends of Biscay to wait out bad weather. Here are just a few of our choices:
- Brest: Excellent all round shelter, good marina, 24 hour fuel by card self-service, good range of yacht services and supermarkets.
- Camaret Sur Mer: A favourite of ours for a day or two, 24 hour self-service fuel by card, supermarket in town, good range of bars and restaurants should you get stuck here for a few days.
- Port La Floret: A bit more out the way, but if you have been pushed west in to the bay and need fuel, the marina offers 24 hour self-service fuel and excellent all round protection in bad weather.
- A Coruna: Probably the best known stop, often the first or last port of call crossing Biscay depending which way you are going, wide range of services available, supermarkets and fuel, although the fuel berth is alongside a harbour wall which in a swell can be tricky.
- Sada: One bay east of A Coruna, offering most marine services, fuel and supermarkets for provisioning for your crossing.
- Muxia: Small marina and town with a couple of small supermarkets but do not expect anything other than essentials. From our experience the marina never seems to be busy and the staff always friendly. Fuel is available here, however you have to buy from the garage on the quayside. The attendant will then fill and bowser with the amount you order and tow it on to the dock behind a trike. One disadvantage of this is on spring low tides the slipway can be a bit too steep for the trike and you have to be accurate with your estimation as unused fuel cannot be returned. This marina really wins on its location as when you leave you are straight into the Bay of Biscay and can set your course for France.
If you do not need fuel or supplies and the weather is favourable we would recommend passing Finisterre and considering one of the many marinas in the inlets that lay just to the south.
Best Time of Year
From past weather data, June or July are traditionally the best months to cross, with the likelihood of gales extremely rare although not unheard of. When the Azores High is well established, there will (usually) be a ridge of high pressure extending towards Brest; this gives us predominately south westerly winds in the Channel, westerly in North Biscay and a North-North easterly in south Biscay, which then develops into the Portuguese trade winds.
There is an acceleration zone off North West Spain, Cabos Ortegal, Baras and Finisterre. In this area close to the shore, localised winds can quite often reach gale force which is not always shown on weather forecasts. This wind quite often decreases quickly once past Finisterre.
Some years the jet stream remains well to the south, allowing lows to pass close to or over the UK. This gives us predominantly a south westerly wind in Biscay with conditions more like spring and autumn rather than midsummer. This makes crossing more challenging.
A large swell develops when depressions dominate, and as this hits the continental shelf the shallower water causes the swell to increase in height and for it to shorten in wave length. If the wind then veers NW when the cold front passes, a dangerous and confused sea can form.
Shorter Biscay Yacht Delivery Crossings
There have been occasions were we have had to shorten a Biscay Yacht delivery. This may be due to small weather windows, or in the case of a power boat delivery limited fuel range. In this case we have made land fall on the north Spanish coast. Some of the ports we have used are Gijon, Ribadeo (beware of heavy swells on the entrance) and Santander. Depending on your starting/finishing point, using one of these can reduce the mileage to 250-270 nautical miles.
Key Points to Consider
- Get a good 3-4 day forecast for a straight northern France to Northern Spain crossing.
- Ensure you have plenty of fuel and take cans if necessary. Crews quite often underestimate how much fuel they will use, especially if the wind drops or you end up motor sailing into headwinds.
- Beware of the acceleration zone of North West Spain in an Easterly or North Easterly.
- With approaching low pressure and a SW wind, the next change will be a veer to the W or NW. A port tack initially (taking us west) gets in phase with the next wind swing.
- Check your boat – crossing Biscay can be a real test on equipment. For our guide on checking your rig click here.
- Ensure you have the right crew and set up a good watch system.
- Wait for a suitable weather window, do not rush it.
- Check the wave heights not just the weather as this can have a big impact on your Biscay yacht delivery.
- Look out for strong tides around northern France.