From La Coruña to Cape Finisterre: the Death Coast

La Coruña

The city of La Coruña is located to the north-west of the Iberian peninsula, in the municipality of Galicia and its maritime tradition permeating from all its four sides, when walking along its docks, talking to its people, tasting its gastronomy or simply looking at the sea and its ships.

Much of this tradition is undoubtedly represented by the Tower of Hercules, the oldest active lighthouse in the world.

The participants of the GSC will set sail from the port of this beautiful Galician city. With the good preparation put in by the skippers, a bit of luck, thousands of miles and months later, we will find them on their return to this same port.

The challenges for these solo sailors start from the very starting line. They will have to face is the dangerous and complicated “coast of death”, which extends from Arteijo to Finisterre.

The weather is complicated in this area, even if it is predictable days in advance, it depends on the position of the anticyclone of the Azores and on the latitude of the North Atlantic depressions which circulate relative to the high pressures.

The winds in this area are variable, the most common wind being from the north-west and south-west with thermal breezes near the coast. The influence of the Azores anticyclone generates a flow from the north known as the Portuguese trade wind.

Squalls are more frequent in winter and rare in summer, but not improbable, they are usually from the south-west (the Vendeval, brought by storms) or from the northeast (the Noreste Pardo or “brown wind”, so called because it is accompanied by a lot of cloud cover) and can generate very strong winds accompanied by big seas.

A very important factor to take into account in this area is the swell coming from the seabed (not necessarily the same component of the swell caused by the wind), since the continental shelf does not extend far from the coast. Waves can be considerably larger close to shore especially where water is shallow.

Fog is more frequent in the summer months and is generally close inshore.

Sea surface currents are affected by the winds and can come from any direction, although they generally have a north-south direction.

Tactics are important from the start from the port of La Coruña and to the Sisargas Islands. Competitors will have to make route towards the west paying attention to shallow waters that can generate confused seas and breakers, trying to find a route towards the open sea whilst inching south.

From that point and up to Capo Villano they will head southwest, if the wind allows it. There skippers will have two possibilities, either continue on the same route in search for deep waters where the sea is easier (yet having to deal with shipping and the traffic separation scheme), or pass with a south-southwest route close inshore where the sea can be more uncomfortable, there is more traffic of fishing boats and wind accelerations are frequent near the Toriñana and Finisterre headlands.

Whatever choice they make as they pass Cape Finisterre, they will have the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean ahead and, hopefully, make progress with the help Portuguese following trade winds that will accompany them to the south.

It will be only at that moment that they will get a break as they will leave behind the “Death Coast” which required constant chnges of course and permanent attention to shallow waters, fishing vessels, merchants, etc. They will finally be able to ponder the challenge ahead and say to themselves, now yes, I have the world in front of me!