On passage at last!

No need for mooring lines for a while!

Gibraltar – Madeira – La Palma – La Gomera – Gran Canaria

Gibraltar to Madeira

With ticks against most of the items on the ‘to do list’ we finally weighed anchor at La Linea (Spain), made use of the new Cepsa fuelling berth at Marina Bay, Gibraltar and moved into the marina so we could stock up on ‘English’ provisions at Morrison’s supermarket for the ARC and passages to the Canaries.  This was a couple of days before greeting Tim Goodwin and his father Fred, who were joining us on October 3rd for the passage to Madeira.  Wanting to complete the 600 nm passage in favourable conditions, we had been watching the weather forecasts eagerly and anxiously for days.  We felt that what we saw might just work, as the prevailing northerly winds had deserted us!

Consequently we left a day early, and motored out into the Bay at 19.40.  Under the light of a full moon rising in the east, we watched large numbers of dolphins playing around us, and in the Straits their phosphorescent trails were discernible.   Magic!

The Man in the Moon

We headed across the Straits to hopefully catch the spring tide going west, but despite judging our departure to coincide with a favourable tide in that direction, struggled with 3 knots against us for a few frustrating hours.  Even the pilot book author notes with some cynicism that it seems impossible to get it right!

With a watch change at midnight, we tacked in towards the Moroccan coast.  Shortly before 0300 Bob was roused because a boat was shining a searchlight on us, which turned out to be an unlit Moroccan Coastguard vessel.  After giving the officer our nationality, departure port and destination, he headed off, only for a second unlit vessel to emerge.  This time we were boarded.  Bob’s passport was checked, Elaine provided a tour ‘en français’ of the accommodation for cursory examination (for drugs) before the young officer left.  An unpleasant experience, but we were soon under way again, clearing Cabo Espartel which is the NW tip of Africa, and proceeding SW across moonlit seas.

We had an interesting passage to Madeira, anticipating the wind changes, and experienced everything from strong head winds to no wind.  Pipistrelle achieved averages of 140 nm each day.  Bright sunshine on blue seas speckled with white horses made for some memorable sailing, coupled with the fact that we felt we were now on our way towards the Caribbean!

This passage also provided Elaine with the opportunity to test her menu planning and on passage culinary skills to the full, in a variety of conditions.  With the freezer running and stocked up with a multitude of meals that she had prepared whilst at anchor at La Linea, she provided the four of us with a veritable feast of excellent repasts that would have impressed us in a marina, let alone plunging into 2 metre seas and rolling through 60 degrees!  It will be interesting to see going forward who can begin to match her skills on the ARC!

Whales were spotted on one day, and we stopped on another occasion to take a closer look at two large turtles.  Eventually, after 4 days, Porto Santo appeared on the horizon, and taking advantage of calm seas and very light wind, we stopped to swim in 3800 metres of water!

In the small hours we anchored in a bay just east of Quinta da Lorde Marina, our destination.  Having Tim and his father on board was delightful, especially as Fred had made the passage in the Royal Navy in his youth, and was fairly emotional about following in his own footsteps together with his son.  We had covered 660 nm in 5 days.

Three Amigos

The reception at Quinta da Lorde Marina was exceptional.  We were met outside the entrance by a rib and guided to our berth, and the management team were excellent during our stay.

Madeira is a magical island, and one of contrasts.  The south side is dry, the north side facing the prevailing winds, lush and tropical.  The moist winds condense on the towering mountain slopes, and the dripping water is collected by levadas, man made channels which transport the water to local villages or the whole way round to the drier south.

The mountains, with twisting narrow roads and hair pin bends provide spectacular views across the island or the ocean.  Being Portuguese, we experienced the same friendly and helpful welcome as on the mainland.

Before Tim and Fred flew home on Saturday 11th October, we managed to fit in a visit to the peak of Pico do Areeiro in the centre of the island where the atmosphere is breathtaking, despite the inevitable gift shop!  Standing above cloud level, we looked down into plunging chasms, with sunswept cloud swirling around the lower peaks as they broke through the cap.  The deep green of the forest on the slopes adds to the atmosphere, certainly a place to return to and savour!

Pico Arreiro

Colourful Madeiran souvenirs

The following day we walked along the Levada do Caldeirao Verde on the north coast, enjoying the peace and tranquillity, whilst at the same time getting good exercise after 6 days afloat.

A Levada

Madeira to La Palma

Dave Bennett was our next visitor, and we met him at the airport late on the Sunday afternoon.  Dave is really a sailor, and despite now being the owner of a motor yacht, was really looking forward to some good downwind sailing.  Promises, promises!

Before we left we managed a dinner together with Michèle and Michel who we’d met originally in Povoa de Varzim in April this year when their yacht ‘Quand Meme III’ was on the hardstanding there.   They are taking part in the ‘Route des Iles de Soleil’ which started from Quinta de Lorde mid-October and takes them via Lanzarote to the Cape Verdes, Dakar in Senegal, then 1500 miles across the Atlantic to Brazil.  From there they will head north to the Caribbean so we’ve a loose arrangement to meet them in 2010!

Quinta de Lorde – dinner with Michele, Michel and Rachel

Having discussed the forecast of northerly winds, we agreed to head off the next day for Ilhas Desertas, some 20 nm south of Madeira.  The sailing was good, with light northerlies, bright sunshine and gentle seas providing Dave with what he had come for.  The islands are a nature reserve, and landing is not permitted without a permit.  The anchorage is in deep water, protected from the ocean swell by rocks and shale projecting out to the north.  It is also atmospheric, with its towering cliffs, hovering and diving seabirds, while surf crashes onto the rocks and creates white spume in the anchorage.  Quite offputting from a distance.

Pipistrelle at Ilhas Desertas

With no other yachts around to complicate matters, and a good sized mooring buoy in the centre, we moored successfully, and were then met by 4 rangers who waded out to their rib and then came to check our permit – we were the 79th yacht to have visited this year – before disappearing from view to leave 2 of their company at another blockhouse further south on the island for a couple of weeks.

That evening we were warmly welcomed ashore for a fascinating guided tour detailing the wildlife from pipits to tarantulas, and the work the rangers do.  Yet another worthwhile visit, but one that few yachts make an effort to achieve!  The setting sun with the surf crashing in the foreground was a fitting end to the day!

Idyllic setting (sun) – Ilhas Desertas

We decided to make an early start the next day, and motored out of the shadow of the cliffs, hoping to find the wind.  Alas, the high pressure over the UK had killed the NE’ly trades, and so we motored the whole way to the Selvagem Islands.  Dave took himself up to the bow to escape the engine noise, and soak up the sunshine!  26 hours later we were approaching the anchorage in Selvagem Grande, only to find that despite the lack of wind, it was untenable because of the swell.  So we pushed on another 12 nm to the smaller island, to find a similar situation.  There was no alternative but to continue motoring to La Palma.

Two amigos

We finally anchored at Tazacorte on the west side of the island, where we enjoyed an excellent meal ashore, a welcome break for Elaine who provides the majority of the catering.

Tazacorte – black sand and clear blue sea

We continued round the southern tip of the island, desperately hoping the wind acceleration zones would provide Dave a final sail to Santa Cruz.  It was not to be, but we did enjoy a day exploring the island by car, and in particular the Caldera de Taburiente in the centre of the island.  This is a vast bowl 8 km in diameter and 2000m from top to bottom, with plunging cliffs, spectacular peaks and stunning walks.  We were lucky to be able to see this scenery before the NE’ly prevailing winds condensed and brought cloud tumbling into the bowl.

Calderas scenery

Banana plantations are the main industry in La Palma, with huge areas on the western side now under plastic as in Andalucia, and literally being grown right on the edge of cliff precipices plunging into the ocean.   In the south of the island we witnessed the aftermath of extensive devastation caused by the summer forest fire, but nature being what it is, green shoots were already appearing again on blackened tree trunks after 2 months.  We also paid a visit to the site of a volcano that last erupted in 1947, and came across camels laid on for tourists – so incongruous!

Waiting for the next fare round the crater!

After Dave had flown home the next day, we explored the northern part of the island, taking in the coastal region where natural sea water swimming pools have been formed out of the rock, alongside a blow hole showing the force of the swell on a fairly calm day.

Late in the day we managed a journey to the observatory which is the highest point of the island, and then had great views south to Mount Tiede on Tenerife, and also the cloud that had now filled the Caldera, so that only the peaks were showing.

Santa Cruz, the capital of La Palma is an attractive place, though we were surprised to see a cruise liner as large as the Queen Victoria docking.  There are a number of small narrow atmospheric streets, and a number of old buildings line the front with wooden balconies with a “privvy” at one end. We’ll leave the rest to your imagination!

La Placeta Restaurante – a fine dinner!

La Gomera

As luck would have it, the wind returned and we set sail for La Gomera and anchored off Valle Gran Rey, an old fishing harbour.  The anchorage at Vueltas beneath the cliff face was busy with many yachts waiting to depart across the Atlantic, some like ourselves on the ARC, but many independently sailing to the Cape Verdes and then to Brazil and further south, or direct to the Caribbean.

Gomera – Vueltas – spot the anchorage

Here we met Paul Johnson, a delightful chap on a GRP ketch, called Cherub, with timber masts and ratting lines leading up the rigging.  Paul has been living aboard yachts for 3 score and ten years, or maybe more.  He wears a sarong, has a delightful tabby cat for company, drinks warm white wine (no fridge), still designs wooden yachts, paints in a wonderful naïve style, has a number of past girlfriends and an ex wife in America.  Of all the characters we have met so far, he has to be the most colourful and is great company.  Through him we finally learnt that we cannot use the intra coastal waterway on the eastern seaboard of America, as our mast height is 72 feet above sea level, and the maximum bridge height is 65 feet.  Currently we’re rethinking our hurricane strategy!

Paul & Bob poring over ICW charts (with Cherub in background)

Paul & Bob poring over ICW charts

Membership of the EU has done a lot for all the Atlantic islands, and since Bob last visited in the mid 1990’s, the road network has dramatically changed, with tunnels being driven through miles of rock, and many roads being upgraded from single track with passing places, to the “A” roads that we are used to in the UK.  New marinas have also been built, and anchoring in these areas is now forbidden, to make way for Fred Olson’s Fast Cats that provide a quick link between the islands.

La Gomera has changed a lot as well, though not the Parque Nacional de Garajonay, which is now accredited with Unesco protected status.  This ancient forest of laurisilva is a jungle of nearly impenetrable green, and dominates the heart of the island, and contains the best hiking and cycling trails.  We walked to the peak, Alto de Garajonay, 1487m, to find a reconstructed platform used in the C14th to offer gifts to their God, and during excavation burnt goat and rabbit bones were found, together with cereal grains.

With strong winds forecast we decided to refuel at San Sebastian on the other side of the island, and finished up spending 3 nights there, allowing us to re provision, organise laundry, and arrange for some hatch security bars to be fitted, plus a crash bar in front of the cooker.  Having tried and tested cooking with the pans at various angles on the leg from Gibraltar to Madeira, we decided this was a really essential addition to the galley.

At San Sebastian we also encountered our next “small world” incident, when we met Bertil and Lena on an Ovni 44 called Ruth from Marstrand, Sweden.  As we have both visited Marstrand we fell into conversation, only to find they know our great sailing friends, Ingemar and Ann Britt.  We invited them on board Pipistrelle for drinks, together with an Irish couple, Mark & Eileen.  Bob’s intention was to phone Ingemar and to surprise him by passing the phone to Bertil.  As they stepped on board the mobile phone rang, it was Ingemar to discuss sailing in the Caribbean…..!!  Quite incredible.  An impromptu supper on board followed, with Eileen singing Irish folk songs and playing her guitar.  Such are the ingredients of a truly memorable evening.

Bertil & Lena – Skol!

Tenerife and Gran Canaria

On passage to Tenerife we encountered two large pods of pilot whales, lazily surfacing and diving. As always, photographing these animals is difficult in getting the timing right, but the photo below gives a good impression.

Pilot whales showing off and blowing!

Our final week before moving to Las Palmas was spent at Puerto de Mogán, on the south west coast.  This is probably the most popular and pretty marina on this island, and without our booking made in August, we would have been anchored outside.  Elaine’s parents arrived and spent a week in an excellent hotel 10 minutes walk from the marina, an oasis of peace, good surroundings, swimming pool complexes and good restaurants.  We enjoyed it as much as they did and it was lovely to spend time together before heading to Las Palmas.  Photos now below:

Squeezed into our berth!

Squeezed into our berth!

In the marina

In the marina

In the hills - Elaine and her parents

In the hills – Elaine and her parents

The plan is to make an early start to beat the acceleration zone winds, which increase the normal strength by up to 10 knots, but take advantage of the hotel wifi zone to upload this entry!

The weather during the last 4 weeks has invariably been fine, though the wind is either strong from the northerly sector, blowing at up to 35 knots, or it is very light.

Gusty anchorage at La Gomera

Temperatures are now 27C by day, dropping to 17C in the small hours of the night.  Generally the days are sunny, leading to some spectacular sunsets!

…and no apologies for two in the same blog!

See our ARC passage blogs at www.worldcruising.com/arc/ from 22nd November onwards, and also link to our ARC day blogs on this website.

The Pipistrelle Blog proper resumes once we’re in the Caribbean, so Adios until then!

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