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South Tidal Europe

Biscay Overall

Cruising Biscay

Our "Biscay" starts south of the tidal gate at the Raz du Sein, and runs to Ribadeo, the first of the Rias of Galicia. Biscay shorelines, often ignored in the rush to warmer climates, are rewarding cruising destinations in their own right, and good value compared with cruising UK waters. French Biscay can be reached and briefly cruised within a two week cruise from UK. It has three markedly different regions; N France, France south of the Gironde, and N Spain:

Cruising Biscay Ports, North Spain, E to W

This bold, mountainous and interesting green coast between France and Galicia is little visited by yachts, most of which rush straight to the Rias. It's an easy 240nm coast of passage. The longest leg between two safe harbours is about 70nm.

Well populated, this coast has big industrial ports, quiet villages, busy fishing harbours, attractive beach resorts. Some ports are cut into clefts in the rock, some protected by massive sea walls, others are hidden in shallow estuaries behind sand bars.  When the fishing fleet is in, it’s often necessary to tie alongside - and wake up as they leave port. Then enjoy sea food to die for.

South Tidal Europe - French Biscay to Gibraltar

The whole pace of life changes south of rugged Ushant and the Raz de Sein, where the Bay of Biscay starts. Tidal streams no longer dominate passage planning (though there are some hot spots), and the weather improves. The civilised older towns of southern Europe with their attractive pavement cafés offer a new culture - and new menus - to enjoy. It's easy to find good, economical places to base your boat, or lay it up, in this area.

Cruising Biscay France

We define "Biscay France" as the coast from of the Raz du Sein to the Gironde estuary. It's a superb cruising ground (8/10), a busy holiday coast with easy day sailing, sandy beaches, sheltered estuaries, inland seas, groups of small islands, and some beautifully preserved old towns. It is the yachting centre for France, rather the equivalent of Poole/The Solent in south England. It is dense with reasonably priced marinas, harbours, and anchorages. It's easy to spend four weeks cruising here, with plenty left for further visits. Many British boats base here, with crews commuting to UK with the help of this public transport planner site.

Rias of Galicia

The North West corner of Spain (between Ribadeo and Bayona), is Galicia, a wonderful cruising ground (8/10) comprising about 180nm of granite coastline deeply indented with steep sided ‘Rias’, each just a day sail from the next.  There is lots of sheltered sailing with good beaches, many anchorages, some interesting pilotage. Yacht support is good, with enough marinas, and some good layup and live aboard locations.  Allow four weeks for a good explore.  There are year-round scheduled flights from Santiago do Compostela,  and Vueling (a low-cost Spanish airline) connects London to Vigo and A Coruña.

West Portugal

West Portugal is a 300nm long coast of passage, rather than a cruising ground. It has two cities of great character to visit, both suitable for wintering ashore or afloat; Porto (10/10) and Lisboa (8/10). There are enough safe ports along the low sandy coastline to allow day sailing when running south with the prevailing summer winds - the Portuguese trades.  With time and ingenuity, day sails northwards from port to port against the trades are possible.

South Portugal & Spain (W of Gibraltar)

Once east of Cap St Vincent (the SW corner of  Portugal), you're in the Algarve. There's a marked change to a sunny climate. Good communications and mild winters make this a popular region for ex-pats, winter layup or live-aboard.


Otherwise, this is a 190nm coast of transit to Gibraltar, with two interesting rivers for a diversion. There are a few delightful anchorages among sand dunes, some other-worldly villages, and plenty of marinas. It's easy to transit the coast just visiting Lagos and Cadiz, but much more fun to allow plenty of time exploring rivers and inlets. A strong Levanter (easterly) may force a day or three's wait before entering the Gibraltar straits.

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