For anybody who may be a stickler for precision: this evening, at 21H02 Z, we finally ticked all the boxes that officially define a circumnavigation.
At that time we crossed our outbound track of 19 August 2011 (at 08H07 Z).
We were at a point about 130 miles north of the Iberian Peninsula, and 230 miles west of Les Sables D’Olonne. In doing this we have followed in the wakes of a long line of sailors starting with Juan Sebastian del Cano in September 1522. Ferdinand Magellan is often erroneously described as the first circumnavigator but he was killed in the Philippines during the voyage and it was left to Del Cano to bring the survivors home. 270 men set out originally in 1519 and just 18 returned in 1522, so at least we have a better track record than that! I believe I am right in saying that Del Cano was the first to complete a circumnavigation entirely by sea, but the first to do so by land and sea was an Asian translator who set off with the expedition from Spain. Perhaps somebody can check that for me?
Today we have had moderate or light winds which was a good thing as we threaded our way through the “Iron Curtain”, the almost continuous stream of ships that traverse the Bay of Biscay, heading to or from Northern Europe. The first vessel we saw was a fishing boat called the “Meabean”
which was following a rather random course, as fishing boats are wont to do. After that the real traffic began, with 18 ships appearing in the next
12 hours, and half of those appearing within an hour of each other, as we bisected the direct route between the Ushant and Finisterre Traffic Separation Schemes. At least these cargo ships and tankers stick to more or less defined routes and it was easy to thread our way through first the southbound stream and then the northbound. At times we felt a bit like a tortoise trying to cross a busy road as some of these giant ships passed quite close to us! Now we are through the wall of steel and alone again as we traverse the Bay of Biscay. No doubt we will see the occasional ship heading to or from French and Spanish ports, and tomorrow, when we reach the continental shelf, we expect to see a lot more fishing boats, but for the moment we are on our own.
Last night we sailed quite conservatively in winds still gusting over 25 knots and a heavy swell of nearly 3.5m, but as the sun came up and the wind died down we hoisted the gennaker and went back to the full mainsail.
Through the course of the day the wind backed from NW to W, and soon after midday we gybed as we found ourselves slamming into the waves while heading downwind. Now that we are on the starboard gybe we have a more comfortable angle to the waves and the wind is continuing to back into the SW, giving us an a great course towards the finish line. As I write this the breeze is quite light and we are sailing slowly in steep seas of about 2.5m, but the forecast is for the wind to gradually fill in from the S / SW and blow at near gale force for much of the day, pushing us rapidly along the final 200-odd miles to the finish line.
Bird life has been almost non-existent today, but we have been accompanied by a lot of Common dolphins, giving us some great opportunities for photos and videos! We took quite a lot of underwater video of the dolphins and it is interesting to see how green and murky the water has become as we have got closer to Europe, compared to the crystal clear blue waters of the deep ocean. Underwater visibility here is barely 6m. The sea is still around
4 800m deep here, but within the next 15 hours we expect to cross the continental shelf, where the depth suddenly comes up to less than 200m.