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Leg 3: Madeira – Canaries

 

Leaving Madeira – Late Afternoon of Friday 28th October 2011:


Ever since our smart maneouvering into the very tight berth which we were allocated at Quinta do Lorde marina, I had been wondering how on earth we were going to get out. To our starboard were some vacant finger pontoons, which was a blessing, but the yacht on the port side of our finger (we being bows in) protuded into the fairway a good deal further than us, being much longer, and all of the yachts astern of us, on the other side of the fairway, were substantial, such that I doubted that the fairway was more than 35 feet across. Gulliver G is 32 feet long.

            

None of this would have been a problem had the wind been blowing from ahead or had there been no wind. But it was blowing fairly hard from astern.

            

In a modern fin-keeler it would have been possible to reverse the boat swiftly into the middle of the fairway and then high-tail it out before the wind blew the bows down on to the neighbouring boat. But in a long-keeler like Gulliver G, there is no telling exactly where the boat will go when attempting to reverse and the tight space left no margin for error. I had visions of our ending up plastered over our neighbour’s stern, and for good reason: the conditions and set-up were very similar to an occasion when we left St Helier in Jersey a few years previously and, after much revving of the engine and brandishing of fenders, counted our lucky stars for managing to scrape out by the skin of our teeth, miraculously without making contact with anything, though leaving a thick trail of soot in our wake.

            

As for our exit from Quinta do Lorde, I had already decided that it would be far better to take advantage of the vacant space to starboard and warp the boat around, enabling us to go out forward.

            

Upon undoing various bearthing lines, we found that the wind really was rather strong and even warping the boat around had the potential to get messy. Fortunately a fellow yachtsman came along and gave us a hand. After some considerable struggle, Gulliver G was in the perfect position to motor out. Off we went, when CLUNK! We had only gone forward by about eight metres and the engine came to an abrupt halt. Good job that the chap who had helped us was still on the pontoon as he was able to assist again as we were blown hard back onto the finger next to that from whence we came.

            

The cause of the engine failure did not require Holmesian powers of deduction: a line (one of our own, cough, cough!) was wrapped around the prop. As we did not have our own snorkle and mask, the marina leant me one and down I went. Fortunately the water was very clear and I had the prop free of line in a couple of minutes.

            

Given that the propellor and I seemed to be in acquaintance on an alarmingly regular basis (previously in A Coruna, where it had become fouled with marine growth), the acquisition of a snorkle and mask went up my priority list by a few places. It is simply not the sort of thing one thinks to carry in British waters, where the sea is far too cold and murky to take a dive without full-on frogman get-up.

            

Finally, we were off, the berthing master giving us a big wave, watching to make sure that we were well and truly gone before retreating to the sanctum sanctorum of his office.


A Whale – 28th October 2011, 1800

 

A few miles out of Quinta do Lorde, coming abeam of Ilhas Desertas, I happened to glance behind and saw a fin not far off. This was not the thin delicate fin of a dolphin, but the thick stout fin of a much larger creature. A bit of back broke the surface and there it was: our first whale. Or some of it, anyway.

 

Speeding South – 28th to 30th October 2011

 

‘We’re going too fast’ are not words oft uttered aboard the good ship Gulliver G.

            

So, it was with a degree of surprise that I found myself saying to Kate “We’re going to have to miss the Ilhas Selvagens because we’re going too fast – at this rate we’ll get there in the middle of the night rather than tomorrow morning.”

            

The plan had been to stop at the larger of these two minute islands, nearer to the Canaries than Madeira though belonging to Portugal rather than Spain, for a few hours. They are a marine nature reserve, waters reportedly teeming with fascinating fish and the land home to a beguiling array of birds (which presumably live off very limited vegetation, the fish and one another) and two orthonologist wardens (who are kept topped-up by a supply vessel, weather permitting).

            

The wardens will only permit one to land if in possession of a permit, which we had obtained free of charge from Quinta do Lorde marina. Upon landing, one of the wardens will usually give a little tour of the island. A number of people had advised that we stop at the Islands. As one of my old colleagues put it, “hardly anyone bothers to visit, but when else are you going to be there?”


            

Click chart to view larger image.

When, indeed. But the middle of the night is most definitely not the time to arrive. The islands are fringed with pinnacle rocks which, as insurance broker-come-marine cartographer DM Street Jr notes on Imray-Iolaire chart E2, “are ready to nail a yacht.” DMSJr adds that this has been evidenced by the many wrecks which the islands have collected over the years, “including a French tanker.” I still haven’t figured out the significance of the tanker’s nationality.


I pictured a darkened land-mass, small but threatening, scarcely illuminated betwixt the rough dark seas of the new moon, needle-like rocks lurking mere inches beneath the broiling surface, all pointing decisively in our direction. One of these hazards having our name scrawled along it, ready to ‘nail’ us.


I thought of the Black Adder episode in which Baldrick carves his name on a bullet on the basis that if everyone has a bullet with their name on it, one could avoid being shot by virtue of already being in posession of that bullet. I was not sure whether the same logic could be applied to pinnacle rocks, but in any event had neither the rock or the tools to hand to inscribe our name on one.

            

At 0807 on 29th October we altered course direct for Isla Graciosa, the eastern-most of the inhabited Canary Islands. Speaking later to an English family who had ventured within 800 metres of Selvagen Grande, this was a good choice. They reported a massive surf around the island, crashing into the anchorage. Two yachts ahead of them buzzed the anchorage, but there was no hope of getting in. Another yacht behind them gave it a miss, too.

The number of yachts nearby in those conditions belays another interesting observation: perhaps because everyone thinks that no-one else will bother stopping at the Selvagens everyone does. The anchorage only holds four or five boats and in calm conditions, despite it’s remoteness, is apparently often full.



On the second evening of the passage we had to resort to ‘mug-shots’ for dinner (packets of dried pasta and seasoning which you tip into a mug of boiling water) because messing around with pots and pans whilst constantly clinging to a grabrail and bracing one’s feet against some part or other of the boat did not appeal.


The violence of the motion experienced on this leg of our voyage led me, on the morning of the second day, to jot some notes and observations on wedges, grabs and braces. Barely decipherable though the manuscript be in places, I shall transcribe as accurately as possible –


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Wedge, Grab, Brace


When ocean cruising you soon find that the most common forms of movement have nothing to do with heaving on lines, grinding winches or pulling or pushing the tiller. Adjustments to rig and steering should be few and far between.

                        

No, deployed with far greater frequency, nay continuously, are the ‘wedge’ the ‘grab’ and the ‘brace’. At the time of writing (0815, 30th October 2011) I am bodily wedged into the companionway, one hand half around a grabrail and half holding my notebook, the other holding a pen whilst bracing the pad against the edge of the companionway. This pose is necessary in order to scribe these sentences, which upon future examination will no doubt prove wholly unintelligiable, because we keep heeling 20 – 35 degrees to starboard with the odd lurch to port whilst hurtling through the rough seas at a speed over ground of more than 6 knots.

                        

I don’t have an Oxford English Dictionary to hand to corroborate, but would ascribe the following definitions to these verbs –

 

‘To Wedge’: to place body or object (esp. latter) between two or more fixed extrusions in such a way as to ensure that said body or object is not dislodged by the ship’s perpetual and often violent motion.

                        

Key use: making tea. In rough conditions, having sustained a few burns and bruises in the process of heating water, rinsing one’s mug and finding out a tea bag, losing one’s beverage all over the floor in the final preparatory stages of brewing and milking before screwing the cap on adds insult to injury(ies).


In the picture you will see that I have found the perfect wedge between the top companion-way step and a conveniently placed batten. The mug has been known to remain securely wedged in place here even when the boat is taking hefty broadsides from the raging seas.


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The Wedge

‘To Grab’: distinguished from the conventional sense of ‘to grab a chocolate bar/apple/nap,’ here ‘to grab’ means to grasp at or cling onto a rail specially fitted for that purpose, of which there should be many throughout the boat. Narrow-beamed craft, like the Nicholson 32, are a much better proposition than their fat-bellied cousins when it comes to ensuring that a grab rail is always within easy reach. In the picture you can see the lower ends of the two grabrails which adorn Gulliver G’s compnionway.

                        

Key uses:

  1. As part of a carefully researched, planned and perfectly executed passage from one part of the boat to another.
  2. In a panic-stricken last ditch attempt to prevent oneself from being flung across the cabin and possibly impaled upon some object or other or strewn in an undignified manner over the leeward side of the cabin or floor. This second sense is usually characterised by the grabee flailing their arms like those of a ragdoll being tossed around by malicious children and will often be accompanied by a torrent of foul language, though the swearing may come after the fall, depending on how quickly events unfold. Most likely to be deployed with trouses down since it is in the act of trying to dress or undress that the grabee is at his or her most vulnerable.

 

‘To Brace’: to airline passengers the ‘brace position’ is the ridiculous contortion which they are expected to adopt in the event of disaster befalling the aeroplane which it was their ill-fate to board. Of course, we all suspect that as an aeronautical survival tactic the ‘brace position’ is likely to deliver a success rate akin to crawling under your dining table in the event of nuclear war.

                        

On a yacht the ‘brace position’ is instinctively adopted by those in the cockpit when they anticipate that a wave is about to deluge them or that the helmsperson is about to crash gybe. In all other cases ‘to brace’ is to deploy a large number of the body’s muscle groups so as to maintain a particular pose or stance or to hold something in place.

                        

Key uses: except when perfectly wedged against the vessel’s pitch and roll, constant. Even when grabbing one is likely to be using various muscles to brace against some sturdy bit of boat.

 

So, there you have it. In order to ensure safe passage-making with minimal tea loss, remember: Wedge, Grab, Brace. 


Arrival at the Canary Islands – Evening of 30th October 2011:

 

One matter on which the Atlantic Islands pilot book by Anne Hammick and the Imray-Iolaire chart E2 by DM Street Jr both agree is that Isla de Graciosa, the eastern-most inhabited island of the Canaries, makes a perfect landfall, being perhaps the most unspoilt of all of the islands. Another is that no landfall in the Canaries should be made after nightfall.


Well, it was still light when we sighted land on the evening of 30th October. It was dusk when we rounded the north-east tip of Isla de Graciosa. It was pitch black as we made our way into the anchorage at Playa Francesca on the west side of the island. Whether or not we made landfall in the light depends on how one defines ‘landfall’. Upon discovering that one or two of the yachts were not showing anchor lights, we choose to drop the hook on the outer and westen edge of the anchorage, paying out our full 60 metres of chain in about 65’ of water. Holding was reported to be good on the sandy bottom and proved to be so.


It had been a rough and wet sail, taking much of the weather on the beam, so we treated ourselves to fresh water showers in the heads compartment. In only 50 hours we had covered about 280 nautical miles, giving an average speed of 5.6 knots – pretty damn good for us. Some of the times between GPS fixes show average speeds of over 6.6 knots. This was all accomplished under full jib alone, which seemed to be more than enough sail for the conditions. The passage may have been slightly smoother at times if we had reefed the jib slightly, but the helm was light and with bunched-up four and five metre seas on the beam I am not sure that the passage could have been made much more agreeable. In any case, speeds such as those are not to be lightly squandered, particularly over comparatively short distances. 


Click here to view a chart of the Canary Islands.


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Waking up at Anchor on off Playa de Francesca, 31st October 2011 (Yachtmasters take note of the skilfully coiled main halyard!).

Isla de Graciosa and down to Puerto de Naos – Monday 31st October to Wednesday 2nd November 2011:

 

After a week on the highly developed island of Madeira in the immaculate Quinta do Lorde marina, it was most pleasant to spend a couple of days at anchor off the almost entirely un-developed Isla Graciosa. This fair isle does not even have any macadamed roads.

           

The island is low-lying and sandy, with four smallish volcanic cones and many attractive rockpools intersecting golden beaches. Though popular, the anchorage at Playa Francesca did not feel crowded. We recognised a couple of other boats from Madeira, who subsequently also anchored in Puerto de Naos (our next port of call).


The island is low-lying and sandy, with four smallish volcanic cones and many attractive rockpools intersecting golden beaches. Though popular, the anchorage at Playa Francesca did not feel crowded. We recognised a couple of other boats from Madeira, who subsequently also anchored in Puerto de Naos (our next port of call).


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Kate on Isla de Graciosa, 1st November 2011.

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Gracisoa, like the other islands, is home to many different bird species…

 

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…as well as some pretty impressive rock pools...

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...and rock formations. The cliffs in the background belong to Lanzarotte.

On the morning of 2nd November we awoke to find that all vessels were pointing towards Lanzarote on the other side of the narrow channel separating the two islands, meaning that our sterns were now towards a lee shore. During the night the wind had shifted by 180°. Time to haul anchor and ship out.

            

After much of flipping of decompression levers, a timely reminder to wire in the special cranking battery which had been languishing in a cockpit locker since new, the engine finally fired into life. We decided to take advantage of the strengthening breeze to practise sailing the anchor out. This was neatly achieved, though cranking in 60 metres of chain with our manual windlass almost did for me. Actually, I probably winched in over 80 metres of chain as it jumped off the gypsy a couple of times, with a good few metres flying back out over the bow roller before the links caught the cog again; something else for which a solution must be found. By the end of this cruise, I thought, wiping sweat from my brow and feeling a degree of envy for those with electric windlasses (i.e. everyone apart from us), I am surely going to be as fit as a fiddle, if nothing else.

            

We ghosted up the channel which separates Graciosa and Lanzarote under full sail, eventually resorting to motor sailing. We must have been in a wind shadow cast by the high cliffs of this end of Lanzarote, for as we rounded the north-east tip of the island to bear south west down the coast the wind strengthened considerably, from the west.

            

By the time we approached Puerto de Naos in Arrecife it was blowing a strong force 5 on the nose. Suddenly we came to an abrupt halt, sails flapping as Gulliver G seesawed in the choppy waters. A larger and faster New Zealand boat which had been catching up with us for some time started to come alongside. We wondered how they were still doing so well when they stalled, too. Both boats had to bear away and use engines to nudge forward out of the wind shadow, presumably cast by a distant volcanic cone.

            

A few moments later we were steaming along again when the other boat, now off to our port side, started to heel considerably. Further and further they went. We thought that they might even get knocked down, but at about 50° over they stopped and then righted, rounding-up as they came until they went hove-to. The gust which had caught them must have passed within inches of our bow. We didn’t get any of it. Comparing notes with her skipper and crew over some drinks a couple of days later, we were all in agreement that we had experienced some particularly peculiar wind patterns.

            

It was clear that we could either spend hours tacking in, or open up the throttle and head directly for the port entrance. We did the latter.


Puerto de Naos – 2nd to 18th November 2011:


We were pleased to have arrived with plenty of daylight to spare. The main anchorage was in a large old dock which was littered with a startling array of smashed up old yachts, many which appeared to have been abandoned on their moorings (“Puerto de Chaos,” I thought). Amongst the jumble of wreckage and decay, cruisers lay to anchor. We found the holding to be very good, Gulliver G not budging an inch despite the wind shifting by about 180° during our time there and some strong gusts blowing through. It is evidently patchy though, as a few others had to re-set.


Our pilot book quoted one skipper who described Puerto de Naos as “very safe, but grotty.” Prior to our arrival I had wondered whether for “grotty” I could read “oozes quaint rustic charm.” Once we got there, I realised that this was not the case and the depressing thought occurred to me that Puerto de Naos was something of a yacht graveyard. I attributed such negative thinking more to tiredness than the surroundings and sure enough all seemed much better by the light of the next day. Which was fortunate, as we ended up staying there for somewhat longer than the couple of days we had planned.


With the wind blowing from the south west on the 2nd and 3rd November, Puerto de Naos offered far better protection than anywhere else around Lanzarote. The wind remained fierce for several days, slowly veering to north east, with a large depression forcing the closure of ports along the Spanish and Portugese coasts. We were told that our lovely anchorage off Playa Francesca now had five metre swells rolling into it. The coastguard put out a warning that a merchant vessel’s lifeboat had been washed clean out of its lashings and was bobbing around somewhere out there, a significant danger to shipping. A new found affection for Puerto de Naos strengthened with the wind.


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Gulliver G anchored in a tight spot. Being small has its advantages.

Arrecife

 

With a few exceptions where the artisan still plows her or his trade, high streets in the UK tend to fall within one of three categories: the dead, the dying, or the homogenous. The latter will invariably contain a Clarks shoe shop, a Superdrug pharmacy, a Costa or Starbucks coffee house, a Wetherspoons pub, a Greggs bakers (selling delicacies of which a single mouthful will exceed one’s annual quota of salt, sugar and saturated fat), a W H Smith, branches of one or two of the national banks, a post office (possibly closed-down) and some sort of discount place where Woolworths used to be, as well as maybe a Poundland or 99p Store and a mobile phone shop. Depending on the local demographics it is possible that there will be a Waterstones, though a remainder book shop is more likely and no book shop more likely still. There will be some clothes shops, the branding of which may be mercifully less predictable but is likely to include an Evans, River Island and/or Zara.

            

To some this may sound like a grim portrait of modern Britain, but let’s not get sentimental. The homogenous high street thrives because it has adapted to what the British consumer wants. According to that impeccable market barometer, supply and demand (though which drives which can be difficult to detect), this varies little from one locale to another.

            

There is an international dimension to the law of homogenity, I realised as Kate and I strolled down the busy high street in Arrecife, the main town of Lanzarote (laid out behind Puero de Naos), passing a Clarks, a Zara and a couple of branches of Santander.


To remind us that we were in Spanish territory the latter featured posters of Formula 1’s Fernando Alonso (Spanish, driving for Ferrari) instead of the posters and life-size cut-outs of Lewis Hamilton and Jensen Button (both British and driving for McClaren) which fill every available inch of space in the UK branches. Additionally, odd snatches of Spanish could be heard in the balmy evening air which was otherwise filled with English.

            

At least we had found the nice part of town, we mused, as we strolled out along a sympatherically restored breakwater, past an attractively lit fortification dating, I presume, from the early days of colonisation about 500 years ago.

            

Earlier in the day we had walked around to the commercial port (whose main occupant was a Thomas Cook cruise liner) where began a Kafkaesque search for the frontier police. Having spent four nights already in the Canaries without actually clearing in (we later learnt from an update of the pilot book that yachts are not supposed to anchor off Gacisia unless they have obatined permission 10 days in advance), we were keen to do so mainly in order to be able to clear out when the time came to head on down to the Cape Verdes, the advice in the Pilot being that checking in at the Cape Verdes is made easier if one has an official-looking checking out document from the last port of call

            

We spoke to the various port and police officials whom we encountered along the route of our exploration, being directed hither and thither until at last we alighted upon a firmly locked door bearing the emblem of the frontier police. Kate observed that a window around the back of the building was open. Breaking into the police station seemed like a Bad Idea, so we gave up on that particular quest. In the end, we never did check in or out of the Canaries, but this was not a problem in the Cape Verdes as we have EU passports and the Canaries are, after all, part of Spain and therefore the EU.


Micromegas 5

 

On the afternoon of the 10th November I went in search of water. There is no fresh water in Puerto de Naos, but my attention was drawn toward some tallieres (workshops) on the end of the main dock. Rowing across in the tender, I was surprised to find myself in a thriving wooden boat builders. They allowed me to fill some jerry cans, though the practise was clearly not encouraged. I later learnt that this was because they are trying to discourage the liveaboards, of whom there are several in the harbour, from coming in search of water, all of the water being delivered to the workshop by tanker.

            

Outside the workshop I met identical French twins, whom I had seen around the port (wearing identical clothing), Emanuel and Maximilien Berque. They were working on their tiny little catamaran, Micromegas 5, which they had designed and built themselves. They planned to sail her across the Atlantic and back, whereupon she would become the smallest ever ‘proper’ sailing boat to sail across and back with two people, at an overall length of 5.3 metres.

            

The twins explained that they do not class the ‘micro-craft’ that have been across the Atlantic as ‘proper’ sailing boats as they are really just buoys which drift across with wind and current (still quite an achievement in my book!).

            

Emanuel and Maximilien hold a number of world records already. A few years ago they sailed across the Atlantic in a 4.8 metre craft with no navigation equipment at all. Not even a compass. They are both very strong astro navigators, evidently, for they arrived in exactly the right place on the other side. As they modestly put it, they were merely using techniques used by the Phoenicians in 3,000 BC. But, in doing so, they set the record for the smallest craft to have sailed across the pond with two people on board (and probably the only vessel to have made the crossing without any aids to navigation).

            

On Micromegas 5 they have one hull each, with b