16 Aug 2018

16 Aug 18 - Return To Biscay: Heading Home

Dawn on the final morning saw the Pont-Aven in North Biscay. Unfortunately, she had already crossed the continental shelf in the darkness of the early hours of the morning & we were only a couple of hours South of the Brittany coast. This was a sea area we had already travelled through at night on the way home on the Bilbao ferry so one of the benefits of the new route was getting the opportunity to see it twice in daylight. The Pont-Aven allows passengers to see the whole route in daylight once between Plymouth & Santander (spread over the two days), as well as, the Eastern Solent & Isle of Wight. The weather was similar to the previous morning when we were in this sea area: calm seas & heavily overcast with poor light.
The Pont-Aven takes the shortest route between the Brittany coast & the offshore islands: It was the only time the ship slowed down at sea as she passed through the relative narrow gaps between the mainland & the islands. The Northerly most island is Ushant which has had a few rarities on it over the years
About 45 minutes after dawn
Thirty minutes later the skies were more threatening: There were occasional light showers during the morning
The only Cetaceans I saw were about fifty Short-beaked Common Dolphins in several scattered pods & 4 Harbour Porpoises. All were seen in the first few hours before or as we passed the Brittany coastline. As with the rest of the wildlife seen today, they weren't close.
Short-beaked Common Dolphin: This was the best photograph of the day. It's a good job the previous day had been really good
I saw at least three hundred Great Shearwaters, as well as, the best part of a hundred Balearic Shearwaters & Manx Shearwaters up until we passed the last point of the Brittany coast. Unfortunately, the light was poor throughout the morning & none of the Shearwaters were close to the Pont-Aven.
Great Shearwater
Great Shearwater: Part of a 200 strong raft of Great Shearwaters that flew as we passed. Pity none felt the urge to fly close
Balearic Shearwater: They are a bit bigger than Manx Shearwaters, bulkier-bodied & longer winged. The overall colouration was brown with a pale brown breast & vent which contrasted with the off white belly
Balearic Shearwater: Not a great photo, but it does show the underwing pattern
Manx Shearwater: They are smaller, short-winged, more compact & basically black & white. It's still hard to get my head around Balearic Shearwater was considered a sub of Manx Shearwater when I started Birding
Gannet: A nice comparison of different plumages of sub-adult & adult Gannets
We were soon in sight of the Brittany coast.
The first sight of the Brittany coast is these two tall lighthouses in the distance
Pointe de Raz is the southern-most peninsula on the Brittany coastline
The Pointe de Raz lighthouse: We hit a wall of fog & drizzle for the next 20 minutes as soon as we passed here
The stunning Pointe de St-Mathieu lighthouse & ruined abbey: This lies on the next headland & is the most Westerly point of mainland France
Looking back on the Pointe de St-Mathieu lighthouse
After passing the Brittany coast, the conditions deteriorated as the wind strength increased, the sea became a bit choppier & the wildlife dropped off. I decided to catch up on some lost sleep for a couple of hours. To be on the safe side I had been taking seasickness tablets & they always make me sleepy. When I got back on deck I found nearly everybody else had given up. However, I still had a couple of hours to see something good on the run into Plymouth especially as we were now in British waters & the light had finally improved. A few Gannets, three Fulmars & two Manx Shearwaters were about all I saw for my efforts. Still it was good to see the approach to Plymouth as it's the first time I've arrived by sea.
Gannet: In British waters
The first view of Plymouth in the distance
The Eastern defences to Plymouth Sound
Close up of the Fort Bovisand battery & Staddon Point battery (above): The Staddon Point battery was built in 1847 & Fort Bovisand was added in 1869. Both were still in use up to the end of the Second World War
The outer breakwater & fort
Drake's Island provides further protection on the Western side of the shipping route
The accommodation on the inland side of Drake's Island
The Plymouth citadel
Plymouth Hoe & lighthouse
The weather could have been better on the way home. However, the journey to Santander was excellent & having the Orca team on the ship helped getting information around the top deck about the Cetaceans. Overall, it was a great trip & I will be back next year.