Gipsy Moth crew enjoy a celestial show as the wind drops and Spain is sighted

We’ve had the rough on this Biscay crossing, but in the last 24-hours we’ve been enjoying the relatively smooth. As I write, at 0430 BST, we are motor-sailing along at seven knots under a starlit sky on a silken sea ruffled only by the ocean swell. Astern, off our port quarter, a sliver of moon is rising on the horizon. On our port side lies Orion’s Belt, with The Plough constellation of stars astern and the pink glow of Mars above. The same reassuring bodies that Sir Francis would have sighted whilst navigating his voyage around the world. Off the port bow is the glow of lights from NW Spain’s city of La Coruna. If we’re lucky, we’ll see the loom of a lighthouse beam sweeping the night sky before our watch ends at dawn. It could be Cape Prior or, perhaps, the Torre de Hercules, the world’s oldest lighthouse, originally built by the Romans to mark the natural harbour of La Coruna.
Land Ho! ? well, almost.
There’s a magic about night sailing that’s as exhilarating as it’s enchanting. Seeing the stars shining brightly in a studded dome of never-ending velvet blackness is a sailors’ privilege. None of the big city light pollution to blur or dim our spectacular private Star Show. The only other man-made lights around tonight are Gipsy Moth’s navigation and steaming lights! ‘Night’s like this make the rough bits we’ve gone through, worth the suffering,’ says Elaine.
Dewi has got the sextant out of its box and is wearing the Corum time piece so he can do some star sights? just as Chichester would have done on such a night – before the advent of satellite navigation, as he, too, headed south from Plymouth 39 years ago this month.
There’s another light show going on out here in the Bay of Biscay tonight? on the ocean around us. We are still, just, ‘off soundings’ (in deep water) over the Continental Shelf and as Gipsy Moth’s long-keeled hull cleaves through the water she leaves a trail of ‘sparks’ astern and in the wash to port and starboard? these bright glowing lights, known as ‘bio-luminescence’, come from plankton in the water. There’s a whole other world beneath our keel. Elaine has grown fascinated by the phenomenon and wants to catch one and take it home!
By day, the ocean in these parts is more than two miles deep and a beautiful dark shade of cobalt blue that you won’t find in UK home waters. In the last three days we’ve seen Biscay in all her moods? except really angry! Today she’s been relatively tranquil and when we hove-to at noon to do our MetOcean environmental sampling we had to let out 20 metres of line before the white disc disappeared from sight in the depths of the Big Blue. It’s used to measure the clarity of the water. The more plankton in the water, the shorter the distance the disc will be seen. The tests, for the University of Plymouth, are undertaken three times a day: at 0600, noon and 1800 to provide ‘a window’ on the marine environment through which Gipsy Moth is sailing. The data recorded – including water samples showing turbidity and chlorophyll content and photos of the sea surface – is sent back with the latitude and longitude.
This morning we spoke to a passing cargo ship by VHF radio? It turned out to be a Belgian-owned cargo ship with a Russian skipper taking quartz rocks to Norway! We only asked!
Matt, Peter and Elaine also had some lessons in light airs sailing – flying the cruising chute. Alas, there was no one else around to see the sponsor’s corporate logos, but it was great fun. The sun was out and it was time to peel off the oilies and put on the shorts and T-shirts. ‘Can we go swimming out here?’ asked Matt.
On the menu today was corned beef salad for lunch, with fresh tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber and pepper and with beef and dumplings for supper.
Time to ‘sign off’ now and get a grip on the tiller, again – all this typing is too much like working in an office! I wonder what Sir Francis would have made of all these emails, video streaming, webcams, ocean sampling etc. I rather think he had more than enough to do as a solo sailor in charge of handling Gipsy Moth IV!
Fair winds to all of you ‘Out There’ sharing this voyage with us.