This blog is brought to you by our Tinto crew member Steve!
Our Arrival and Preparations to Depart
January 12th 2019
The first day of our Canary Islands adventure begins. The two crews arrived at Marina del Sur, Las Galletas, on Tenerife at various times during the day having flown from all corners of the UK, nearly all on different flights. We were warmly greeted by Will, Pete & Charlie from Sailing Holidays who were strategically placed at the bar overlooking the marina to intercept anyone who looked remotely lost and were wearing anything resembling nautical gear.
Our yachts Tinto and Camino, both Dufour 412s, were ready for us to board and start to make our home just after 1600hrs. The crew lists were confirmed and we finally got to meet our fellow crew members, claim berths and begin to get to know each other. The Sailing Holidays team had already done a provisions shop and so we made shuttle runs to the hire car and divvyed up the stores and stowed them on board.
The first evening was low key with boat briefings left until the following morning, a group meal was in order at a local restaurant with us hardy Brits eating outside wearing fleeces and commenting that ‘It’s not as warm as I thought it would be!’ We didn’t make the same mistake two weeks later.
Everyone was up bright and breezy the following day, bottled water was purchased and after our safety & yacht briefings we left the marina at 1030hrs on a bright morning with a moderate wind blowing at force 4-5.
January 13th to 14th – distance covered 140nm at an average speed of 5.87kn
Our instructors Will & Pete had prepared our first passage plan which we had been briefed on the previous evening and so it was that we set a course for the island of El Hierro. As new students our instructors were understandably keen to assess our abilities and so we each set about practicing man overboard under motor and sail, crash tacking, gybing and the ‘Williamson Turn.’ One of our fenders and a length of warp made a makeshift man overboard who became affectionately known as ‘Bob.’
Practice session completed and instructors satisfied as to the competence, or not of their charges we headed towards El Hierro. The crews settled into a routine of one hour at the helm each and began to get to know their boats better and the vagaries of the rigging and reefing systems.
Night watch rotas were sorted with the crews working in pairs, so it was generally three hours on and six hours off, trying to catch some sleep and ignore the rolling of the boat and the regular crashing particularly when you were kipping in the forepeak……oh and the snoring of other crew members.
We had planned to arrive at Puerto de la Estaca, enter the marina, turn around and then head for the island of La Palma, purely to practice coming into a marina at night. However we had a slight enforced change of plan and temporarily moored up at 0145hrs to carry out some running repairs to Camino’s steering mechanism. Will & Pete showed their knowledge of boats, how they work and more importantly how to fix them.
We left El Hierro at 0440hrs set a course for La Palma and arrived at Marina Tazacorte on La Palma’s west coast at 1315hrs on 14th January. We encountered some challenging and exhilarating sailing on our first passage with winds up to force 7, gusting 8, generally over our stern quarters so the occasional involuntary gybe was experienced by both crews and despite being heavily reefed we reached a maximum boat speed of 10.6Kn.
The crews had welcome showers, an enjoyable group meal at a local restaurant fronting onto a black sand beach and an overnight stop for an undisturbed night’s sleep.
January 15th to 16th - distance covered 63nm at an average speed of 6.25kn
Each of the boats allocated skippers for our next passage and so the learning began, plans were drawn up and briefed out to the crews. Skippers were responsible for:
- ensuring procedures for leaving the marina were followed
- checking on the weather forecast
- checking tidal predictions
- checking for any potential tidal currents (the Canaries current flows at 0.5–1.0Kn in a SW direction)
- checking for any potential wind acceleration zones (prevalent in the Canary Islands)
- the proposed course for the day and any subsequent changes
- anticipated duration of the passage
- any features / dangers to be aware of
- safe harbours en route in case of emergencies
- watch rotas
- directing the crew
- establishing procedures for arriving at the destination marina
- contacting the marina to book berths
- the safety of the crew
We departed Marina Tazacorte at 0850hrs and sailed around the north end of La Palma beating into a force 6 until we were about 6NM off the northern coast where we tacked to get round Punta Cumplida. We arrived at our next destination, Santa Cruz at 1855hrs.
January 16th to 18th - distance covered 222nm at an average speed of 5.92kn
After another overnight stop, ‘refreshing cold showers’ and a group meal we stocked up on provisions and departed at 1200hrs on an approximate heading of 080ºM towards Lanzarote for our longest passage which was to take us over 37 hours. The wind generally blew between force 3–5, NE or NNE, so we sailed between close hauled and broad reach for the whole passage.
Will threw in an impromptu man overboard at one point to test out our skipper Gorgeous Pete and his crew, so Bob was called into action once again, although he lost his legs in the process!! To help our challenged cooks we heaved to for a while to just chill and eat.
We arrived at Marina Rubicon at the south end of Lanzarote at 0130hrs on 18th January and tied up at the waiting berths for the night before moving into marina berths the following morning.
We spent the day and the following night at Marina Rubicon for some well-earned R&R, a few beers, a pleasant group meal and a catch up on some sleep.
January 19th - distance covered 46nm at an average speed of 5.58kn
We left the marina at 0945hrs after replenishing the snacks stores and a few other essentials. We paused just outside the marina for a spot of anchoring practice in preparation for a planned stop in a couple of days and with the wind on our nose at force 3-4, tacked up the east coast of Lanzarote for what by now seemed like a short hop of 46NM arriving at Marina Lanzarote at 1800hrs.
Both crews had by now settled into routines and whilst duties on board were generally shared we found that each person had their own individual skills and that little something to bring to the team.
January 20th - distance covered 38nm at an average speed of 6.08kn
At 1000hrs we left Marina Lanzarote and once again beat up the east coast before bearing away about 1NM from the Roque del Este off the north eastern tip of Lanzarote. The scenery as we sailed through the Estrecho del Rio, the channel between Lanzarote and Isla Graciosa, was stunning and under grey skies the Famara massif presented an imposing backdrop to our passage.
The two crews chose different options for the night’s berths on Isla Graciosa. Camino spent the night in the marina at Caleta del Sebo which resembled a Mexican town from a wild west film with a population of about 700 people, low white washed buildings and dirt tracks for roads, the only thing missing was the tumbleweed.
Tinto’s crew opted to free swing at Playa Francesa about 2NM further on and so anchored up at 1615hrs with a solitary catamaran and another yacht for company.
The crew then had to take a turn each on anchor watch during the night. I recall a peaceful hour sat reading in the cockpit taking in the remoteness of our location and waiting for the blood moon to appear.
January 21st - distance covered 122nm at an average speed of 6.15kn
The crews agreed to rendezvous at 0500hrs so Tinto watched for Camino to show up on the chart plotter, weighed anchor and both yachts set a course of 240ºM heading for Gran Canaria and the marina at Puerto de Las Palmas. The blood moon showed its face as we left Isla Graciosa and with the wind varying from force 2-4 and behind us all the way we surfed to Gran Canaria on big rollers.
As we approached Las Palmas we were hailed on the VHF by a solo rower who was attempting to cross the Atlantic. He had diverted to Gran Canaria due to illness and problems with his navigation systems. He was concerned that we were a large tanker as he was not able to properly identify us due to the problems with his AIS system. We allayed his fears and the crews eventually met up with him later that day when he arrived in Las Palmas.
Las Palmas is the seventh biggest city in Spain and a busy port. We arrived at midnight and with the port and city lit up strained to identify the navigation lights and then after contacting the port authority and the marina, picked our way through the shipping that was entering and leaving the harbour.
Despite being one of the larger marinas in the Canary Islands and the starting point for the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) there were no marina slots available however Will & Pete managed to secure overnight berths for us on the reception pontoon.
The crews settled down for the night then the following morning after a brief trip to the Super Dino for stores spent the day resting, enjoyed some tapas and the odd cold beer. In the evening after a 30 minute stroll turned into a one hour hike we had a delicious meal served by an attentive and knowledgeable waitress who talked us through each dish at restaurant Los 5 Sentidos (The Five Senses).
January 23rd - distance covered 103nm at an average speed of 6.00kn
After a relaxing day in Las Palmas we slipped our moorings at 0500hrs and headed north to round the top of Gran Canaria bound for La Gomera. We had a steady NE wind blowing between force 3-6 all day and so had a great sail downwind, goose winged for the first time. Although Will’s understated comment of ‘Really!’ as he popped up from the saloon with the wind blowing at 25kn did say a lot.
For the first time we really felt the effects of the wind acceleration zones between Tenerife and Gran Canaria and also had to be aware of our position in relation to the TSS (Traffic Separation Scheme) that runs between the islands.
As we passed our original departure point on Tenerife about 2NM on our starboard side at around 1900hrs the wind died on us for the first time on our trip and so we motor-sailed the last few miles until we arrived at Marina La Gomera at San Sebastián at 2210hrs.
This was to be our final rest day and the crews each did their own thing. Tinto’s mob took a taxi trip to sample the tapas and beer at Mirador de Abrante on the NE side of the island with spectacular views across to Tenerife. What we thought was a short trip turned out to be a mini tour of what is a stunning island with dramatic scenery. Our first bit of sight-seeing of the trip. Camino’s crew explored San Sebastián with the more energetic walking up the hill that overlooked the town to the south.
January 25th - distance covered 32nm at an average speed of 7.68kn
The wind once again deserted us for our last short passage back to Las Galletas. We left La Gomera at 0900hrs and motored back to Tenerife and whale watched our way back to base, arriving safe and sound at 1310hrs.
The crews celebrated the end of the trip in their own ways, Camino cracked open the champagne and Tinto the cans of lager. We emptied the fridge for our last meal on board which was a melange of culinary delights; pizza, frittata, olives, cheese, cooked meats and who knew that baked bean wraps could be a thing.
We had covered a total distance of some 766NM at an average speed of 6.21Kn and had some fantastic sailing. The mixture of short and long passages, upwind, downwind and night sailing was amazing and an unforgettable learning experience.
Our Mile Builder Crews!
Living On Board
For seven relative strangers to be thrown together aboard a 41ft yacht, albeit with a shared love of the sea and sailing, could have been a recipe for, if not disaster then potential niggles. Having shared meals and stories with both crews and Will & Pete during the trip it is evident that both crews gelled as teams and although dealing with things in different ways just got on with it and thoroughly embraced and enjoyed the experience.
The idea of hot bunking may not suit all individuals but the Dufour 412 was plenty big enough for seven crew members. Whether you claimed a berth for the entire trip or shared cabins during night watches to leave the saloon free there was always somewhere to lay your head. Whilst wardrobe space was at a premium there was ample space to stow your gear and the Sailing Holidays advice on kit list was just about right.
Cooking on board could be challenging particularly in a rolling sea but we all took a turn and ate really well, a meal tastes great after a days’ helming and hauling in sheets, reefing lines and halyards. There were the standard two pot gastronomic delights with rice or pasta served with curry, coconut & chilli chicken, bolognese and chilli con carne.
Some crew members were more adventurous and Bill decided to serve up a roast dinner. He roasted four poussin in the oven (half each) and served them up with mash (courtesy of Yvonne) and braised cabbage. We convinced him that on two gas burners the addition of carrots was a step too far. With Tinto rolling around Bill dished up the mash, stuck the chicken to the plate with it and added the cabbage for colour….delicious.
Pete discovered that soaking chick peas for 24 hours to make a curry is not ideal when you’re on board a yacht with limited space. Lovely curry though.
These meals were supplemented by steak butties, bacon sarnies, Will’s eggy bread with tabasco, pizzas, frittata, a delicious smorgasbord of meats and cheese and of course snacking on various biscuits, sweets oh and lots and lots of tea and coffee.
The boats were strictly dry during our passages but there was time for a sociable drink to celebrate at the end of a day’s sailing. There is something extremely satisfying about a can of beer or a glass of red at something o’clock in the morning having moored up for the night.
Both crews were accompanied by dolphins during the trip and we regularly had them playing in our bow waves or jumping in the air for what always seemed like just for the fun of it. The bottlenose dolphins were smaller than those we had all seen in Greece and at one point we had a group of about six with us for about an hour.
We saw pilot whales a couple of times and on our last day across from La Gomera to Tenerife spotted at least a dozen with one surfacing at our bow and then again a couple of metres off our starboard side.
Would I Recommend it?
This is a new venture for Sailing Holidays and from a client view point a great addition to the holidays and experiences on offer. If you want some challenging sailing with like-minded people then this is definitely for you. The organisation as always with Sailing Holidays from booking through to meet & greet to the actual sailing side was excellent and Will & Pete are extremely professional and good at what they do. The success was due in no small part to how they led us, imparted their knowledge, fashioned us into teams and above all had our safety as their paramount concern. If you’re considering the mile builder trip I would say go for it you won’t regret it.