Thursday 27th September, Western English Channel.
SW force 4, 1020 mbar.
I emerge groggily from below decks to find the dark clouds have dispersed, the sun is shining and the wind has dropped. After last night’s experience I had secretly hoped we were nearly there, so I am pretty disappointed to discover that I can still see the English coast. My god, sailing is slow. Having had to tack a bit through the night because the wind was against us, we’ve not even reached as far as Plymouth in 18 hours of sailing. However, my stomach is relieved to find it is a calmer sea through which Salamander cuts a brisk pace, and when cups of tea and oatcakes go down and stay down, it seems I have found my sealegs and am declared fit for duty.
We pass by several tankers, big enough to still loom large even from half a mile away. Otherwise the horizon is empty. The sun’s reflections give the sea a strange, glassy appearance. It could almost be ice – like a glacier, but moving in fast-forward instead of at a eponymously glacial pace.
We trim the genoa, and soon clear eight knots. I doze off on the cockpit bench, the creaking of the sails, gurgle of water under the bow, gentle rocking and lack of sleep is too much not to. A bit like a London night bus, in that respect. By the afternoon the English coast has disappeared and we are sailing down the channel midway between England and France. The occasional yacht passes by, signature triangles of white sail in the distance.
As the light falls, I go below to make myself useful by cooking a meal, the first substantial thing that’s passed my lips since I got onboard. Green chillies, galangal, ginger, lemongrass, garlic, more chillies and green curry paste – the provisions aboard leave little room for manoeuvre for those that can’t take the heat. Thai green curry all round, and we dine washed down with two bottles of white under a rising moon. As darkness smothers the boat, the lights of Roscoff and Portsall appear in the distance. We have left England behind, and Brittany lies ahead of us.
On night watch at midnight under the light from a nearly full moon that sears through thin clouds, I follow the French mainland as we pass the headlands beyond Brest, tucked out of sight at the end of the estuary, while the many lighthouses and beacons of the Breton coast score through the night. From the control panel in the cabin, I can monitor our progress on the computerised navigation map as we pass the Isle d’Ouessant, and a proximity alarm sounds as we pass the programmed waypoint. I head upstairs and adjust the autopilot’s heading for our new course south. We have entered the Bay of Biscay.