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There's good sailing in Biscay from the beginning of June to late September, with temperatures some 5°C higher than south England. Occasional depressions pass by, sometimes with strong winds, usually well forecast. Outside of those, light winds with coastal sea and land breezes are quite common. In spring and autumn the probability of severe weather rises, limiting cruising opportunities. November to March has many periods of vicious weather, and massive seas make the exposed coasts hostile, especially in N Spain.
There are two strategies for crossing Biscay:
One Hop. It's best to wait for a three or four day weather window, which is easy in summer between June and September, when they are frequent. Weather windows are often accompanied by windless passages! Winter is far more challenging. Strong ocean going boats with strong crews practiced in surviving heavy weather are needed for this strategy, knowing that occasionally three day weather windows turn to worms. Note the ports of refuge - those which can be entered in any weather and any state of tide!
Coasting. Day sailing around the coasts is feasible, except the 150nm past S Biscay France. Waiting near the Gironde river for a 36 hour weather window to make the passage to a convenient port of refuge in N Spain is prudent. Passage planning is simple, with little tidal stream along the coasts to worry about. However, entry to the many ports/marinas is tide dependent, and in some ports strongly swell dependent. The passage is easily conducted with few delays from June to September. It's feasible in winter, but a lot of time will be spent waiting for tolerable sailing conditions.
Biscay shorelines, often ignored in the rush to warmer climates, are rewarding cruising destinations in their own right. French Biscay can be reached and briefly cruised within a two week cruise from UK. But much better, pre-position the boat, maybe for a season, and do the job thoroughly. Flight and rail connections make this simple. Our "Biscay" starts south of the tidal gate at the Raz du Sein, and runs to Ribadeo, the first of the Rias of Galicia. It has three markedly different regions; N France, France south of the Gironde, and N Spain:
France, South of the Gironde, 1/10. The 150nm of sand dunes south of the Gironde have little to offer except Arcachon, a shallow estaury affected by swell, and military firing ranges which extend well to seawards, best missed.
North Spain, 7/10, (which happens to include a bit of French Basque country in these pages!) offers a major culture change from the yacht oriented French coast further north. For starters, France goes to bed at 21:30; Spain wakes up at 22:30. N Spain offers a 240nm coast of passage which can be day sailed. It's backed by magnificent scenery, with ports geared more to fishing and industry. Yachts are a small but welcome (and growing) part of the scene. This is unspoilt cruising. If you prefer convenience and dedicated yacht service, you'll rate it lower - say 5/10. (more)
Reviewed May 2015