News from Lanzarote and La Palma

Collage of Steve and I at Playa Blanca Lanzarote and our cat Squeak

La Palma December 2017

Dear Squeak

How is finca life treating you? We both miss you so much but we think we made the best choice for you. As we were coming down the south east tip of the island of Lanzarote,  we entered the WAZ wind acceleration zone and it was so lumpy you wouldn’t have liked it. We were only going around the next corner to a beautiful beach to anchor. We tucked in behind the headland as tight as we could but it was still rolly. 

Playa Blanca is a beautiful place with bleak bare hillsides and a really wild look about it and it has one of the few white sandy beaches on the island.  It was such a lumpy night next morning we moved to the opposite end of the beach. It seemed a bit better there but the forecast was for the wind to get up. We spent a couple of days trying to get some jobs done but as the wind got wilder we just couldn’t hack it any longer. It was definitely not your kind of weather. We gave up and called the marina on the radio to reserve a place. Next thing we know we can’t leave the bay  because the anchor is stuck under a ledge. High drama!  In the end, we had to leave the anchor behind and high tail it into the marina before the storm really kicked in.

It took two days once the weather had calmed down, trawling up and down with the dinghy heads in the water, arses in the air looking for it.  We did eventually find it and get it back on board. So much for a holiday, we were knackered! 

Then we had a pretty lumpy sail to La Palma. It calmed down a bit by the middle of the second day but you wouldn’t have liked that trip either. In fact nearly all the sailing we have done this whole trip has been lumpy.  Bella Bear has been winging about it like mad. She reckons you got the best deal. She wants to know why she couldn’t have stayed home too. Hugo Bear has been feeling rather poorly most of the trip. Bella keeps running off with his sea legs cos she doesn’t know where she left her own. She refuses to give them back so Hugo has been suffering.

Where we stayed at Marina Rubicon there is a lovely Passeo that runs all along the seafront for a couple of miles or so to the small town of Playa Blanca.  All along the passeo someone has put little cat houses with cats names painted on them and food and water dishes inside and a little bed. There was Freddie’s house and Joeys house a whole array of them. We saw lots of pussy cats there, you’d have made tons of mates and all of them were big and fat and rather well fed, like yourself.  Actually we have seen loads of cats everywhere we’ve been and all of them look healthy and fat.  I thought the Canine Canary Islands would be full of dogs but no it’s all pussy cats round here.

As we approached the Island of La Palma it was dark again. The last day the sea had calmed down a lot and we had great wind so we picked up a bit of speed.  Whatever we do we don’t seem to get the timing right to arrive in daylight.  This time arriving in the dark was a really beautiful thing. As we closed the island you could see the tungsten yellow street lights dotted along all the lanes all around Santa Cruz and it was like someone had spread a lace table cloth over the island. I tried to take a couple of snaps but they didn’t work out.  Like so many of the beautiful  things we experience travelling on a boat, you have to be there to see them, blink and they are gone. 

La Palma is famous for its clear skies and has been made a world heritage site for star-gazing.  They have minimal street lighting to avoid light pollution etc. but as much as it’s beautiful there, nothing compares to the beautiful night skies we sailors see in the middle of the ocean. They are just another thing, impossible to photograph, on a constantly moving boat.  I reckon for most of the best things in life you’ve simply got to be there.

We arrived in La Palma at silly o’clock in the morning. It’s a tiny little marina with lots of three point turns required to get yourself on and off the waiting pontoon and into a berth.  Well we managed it, no scrapes, but it was a bit exciting in the middle of the night.  I’m absolutely knackered and done in from the trip so I’ll sign off for now and get some shut eye for a few hours. We will be off exploring in the morning so I’ll tell you all about it in the next letter.

We all miss you like crazy, especially Bella because she says now she has to get the blame for everything.

Take care, lots of love.

A&S x

Collage of Caves, a Crator and Cacti taken on our Island tour of Lanzarote

Island tour – a Change is as good as a rest

How many times have I quoted the old saying, that the Cruising life = fixing your boat in Exotic places?  Well we finally got to see a little of this exotic place in which we now find ourselves fixing our boat and it was fab! Lanzarote  the most easterly of the Canary Islands is a bleak and barren place  peppered with  volcanoes  some of them active as recently as 1824 which has left  more than a quarter of the island  covered with lava and ash.  A lot of the island looks more like a moonscape than regular earth. This landscape combined with the fact that they only get on average 16 days of rain a year on this island, makes it a very dry and dusty place.  In no time at all, every inch of the boat, especially the forward facing surfaces that are blasted by the wind while at anchor were caked in ochre dust and after only one day we could write “also available in white” all over the boat. 

In spite of its dust and bleakness the island is incredibly beautiful and the people give it real character and charm.  Although the volcano ash makes for very fertile ground, very little grows there because of the lack of water.  A very few weeds manage to populate the landscape despite the harsh environment. In the north there are fields and fields of cacti formerly for the cochineal beetles surrounded by dry stone walls made of lava rock.  In the centre and south of the island grape vines have been planted, each surrounded by its own little wall on three sides to give it protection. As Lava rock is porous it soaks up what little moisture they do get and gives it up gradually but pretty much every speck of green on the island needs to be watered.

The islands beauty comes from the different shapes and colours of rock formed by exposure of different minerals or different rates of cooling when the volcanoes erupted thousands of years ago.  Most of the beaches on the island have black volcanic sand, though we did anchor off of Playa Blanca for a few days. This beach is rather obviously named because it is one of the few beaches on island with white sand that shows its original topography before all the volcanoes poured their mayhem over most of the island. 

We hired a car for a day and did the tourist thing. I have to warn you that Steve and I have both done a lot of travelling in our lives and seen some stunning places. Because of this we are very picky sort of tourists and have become rather hard to impress.  Tourist attractions have to be going some for us to give them the thumbs up for wow factor but on Lanzarote our thumbs are definitely up. 

We bought a ticket that allowed us to see three places on the Island for the handsome sum of €21 which seemed like a good chunk of cash but at the end of the day We feel we definitely got our money’s worth.

We visited the Cueva De Los Verdes, the green caves that were in fact ochre and red and yellow and white and every shade of brown and grey in-between.  Actually the caves were a huge array of colours due to the iron oxide, sulphur and mineral salts seeping out of the rock. The only colour they were not, was green. The name green comes from the family that made the caves their home many years ago. The caves have offered shelter to many of the Islanders who used the caves as a refuge from the marauding pirates in the 16th and 17th centuries. 

These caves formed by air pockets trapped between the lava were very different to the normal stalactite, stalagmite formations in all the other caves we have seen. These caves were by far the biggest and longest, we have ever had the pleasure to visit. The caves start at the centre cone of the volcano and run all the way for 6km down into and under the sea. We were able to visit about a kilometre of it and it was truly impressive.  In some of the caverns you could see three stories above and below you.  For the benefit of tourists like us, the Cabildo of Lanzarote, in collaboration with the artist Jesus Soto very sensitively installed lighting, sounds and footpaths to make it into a spectacular visitor attraction. The deepest part of the caverns where it seems you can look down deep into the bowels of the earth is a surprise all of its own.  Very impressive!

Our second destination was the cacti garden.  The garden is a gorgeous space which was created by the artist Cesar Manrique that beautifully blends art and nature. Hundreds of different species of cacti from all over the world are planted in a big tiered bowl, reminiscent of an old quarry.  You can look down from each level and admire shapes and colours below.  There was lots of inspiration here for my garden back in Portugal when we return.

Our final tourist trap was the national park of Timanfaya the site of the most recent active volcanic eruptions on the island between 1730 and 1736 and again in 1824.  The park covers a huge area and you are taken on a bus tour on a tiny windy road with spectacular views down steep ravines and into crators through the ash scattered land.

It was a bit of a surprise to be herded onto a bus, but in hind sight we were very glad not to have had to negotiate all those hairpin bends ourselves. The road seemed rather treacherous in places but fortunately the bus driver knew it well and was able negotiate the tight steep turns with seeming ease.  Being driven meant we were able to just take in the awe inspiring views all around us and the commentary in multiple languages was very informative.

  Back at the visitor centre a few bore holes have been drilled, into which they pour water; and after a few seconds, a huge boiling hot geyser spurts out of the hole into the air.  This shows how just under our feet, the volcano is still ruminating and could erupt at any time.

 Also at the visitor centre there is a restaurant which we didn’t eat at, but their menu offers a selection of barbequed meat and fish dishes cooked by the volcano. They have a huge hole in the ground with a wall around it that looks like a big water well with a grill over the top. The heat of the volcano cooks your dinner at a temperature of about 285 degrees.

We wound our way back through the moonscape land, past some of the islands larger vineyards to the marina after a busy day full of lasting impressions. We didn’t have time to visit any of the bodegas that day but we did sample some of their produce and I must say the local wine is very pleasant indeed! We can’t let you taste the wine but we can give you a flavour of our day out in our latest YouTube video  that accompanies this blog. 

Why not go there next and take a look? 

Cacti Caves & Craters       Click to view 

 

Picture of our blue red and white spinnaker flying in a blue sky with fluffy clouds

Day four of our trip and the wind is finally starting to free up, swinging round to the eastward allowing us to finally put some westing into our course. We can now head away from Morocco towards the Canary Islands and escape those dreadful fishing floats.  This is what was forecast on the long range weather before we left and what we have been waiting for all the while. 

It started to turn north east in the early morning, a good sign, but there wasn’t much of it.  As the day progressed it continued to swing more east and build little by little.  As we had been dying to head west for several days we turned for our destination and let the wind follow us.  By mid- morning there was just enough to stop the motor, hoist the spinnaker and keep it flying.  Erik was a little in awe of the size of our ‘circus tent sail’; I think it looks a bit like a circus tent.

 Even though there was still only about 8 or 9 knots of wind it was dragging us along nicely at 4.5 or 5 knots in the little gusts.   I love the moment when the motor stops and all you hear is the slight flap of the sail as the top corner starts to turn and the sound of the water rushing past the hull.  That’s what real sailing is about!  As the day continued the wind kept coming eastwards little by little and was increasing in strength  too.  We were just finishing up lunch and were now horsing along. The wind was generally about 11or 12 knots with the odd burst of 15 though the 15’s were starting to be a little more frequent and Steve said “I think we should take in the Spinnaker it’s starting to get windy” I think, I said something like lets hang on a minute it’s only the odd 15 and it probably will die off in a minute. 

Next minute there was a small pop. I thought Steve had let the jammer go on the halyard to take it down as the sail was starting to gently lower into the water.  We dived onto the foredeck and started to pull the mountains of wet fabric onto the deck.   That pop was our favourite sail ripping all across the top and down both sides of the luff OOOOOOOOps!

If you are thinking about reefing, get reefing! Its probably already too late!!

We continued with just the main and foresail but it was much slower than with the spinnaker and instead of arriving that evening as planned, it took us till the early hours of the morning to arrive, almost exactly to the minute 5 days after we had departed from La Linea.

After checking in and a few hours well needed kip we headed into town with our granny trolley loaded with the spinnaker in search of the sailmaker.  We found him easy enough, but  it wasn’t good news.  With the height of Atlantic crossing season fast approaching he was absolutely snowed under. He said he couldn’t even look at it for 10 days and then he estimated it would cost about €1000 to fix.  That was much longer than we wanted to stay and a lot more money than we wanted to spend.  That sail is 11 years old and has had a hard life. It has done two Atlantic crossings already where it flew for much of the way and a lot of Med sailing as well.  It’s looking a bit worn and tired and a grand for a patch seems like a lot of money to spend with no guarantees the next thin bit won’t give way next time we fly it.  A grand is also a very good start towards a new one if it comes to it.  So we bought some rip stop fabric and a ton of sail repair tape off the fellow and trundled off back to the boat.

We’ve never fixed a spinnaker before beyond the odd small sticky patch, but we have a sewing machine on-board and we took some tips off the sailmaker and we’ll have to learn to be our own experts at this too.  Cruising life requires you to become “Jacksperts” jack of all trades, expert at everything.  In the middle of the ocean with no help around you have to read the books and the manuals and become experts at just about everything from fixing the heads to mending your sails and everything in between.   No time for the grey matter to dwindle here, too busy becoming “Jacksperts”.

 

silhouette of our Starboard winch set against a colourful sunset
Beautiful sunset day 3
Collage of a beautiful red Cactus, the bear Volcano tops and the boats Anchored infront of the town of Arrecife

 

We arrived in Lanzarote almost exactly 5 days and zero minutes after leaving the Bay of Gibraltar.

Setting off from La Linea in darkness at Sparrow fart, we  wove our way through all the anchored ships. We tried to avoid being run down by the fast Cats to Morocco,  that sneak up on you at 20 knots. It seems as though they would happily run you down if you were not paying attention.  We headed to the North African side of the Straits to get the best advantage of the currents, though Africa was still hiding in the early morning mist as we approached.

 As soon as we left the bay of Gibraltar and headed west, we had the wind behind us and we were cruising along at a lovely speed.  As we approached the North West corner of Africa the wind had picked up and the swell had kicked up a fair bit too. This was the first test of Erik’s sea legs.  Never having sailed before we had filled him full of Stugeron and breakfast,  and although he was looking a little bit pasty, he was doing fine.

 Erik is the young lad we took pity on in La Linea and gave him a lift to the Canaries as his ride had fallen through.  We only met  him on the pontoon the morning before.  We pondered on the merits of taking  him, but we figured this leg of the trip was  still a bit of a shakedown for our ‘Pearl’ and if anything did go wrong, an extra pair of hands wouldn’t go a miss. So on-board he came. 

Actually we were just heading out for fuel when he approached us so we told him to run round to the supermarket to get some provisions and we would pick him up in an hour.  When we returned he came staggering up the dock, laden down with 12kgs of water, two bags of shopping, a huge backpack on his back and a small one on his front.  Having run most of the way from the supermarket, he was a puddle of sweat.  We headed for the anchorage as it was much easier to slip away from there, early in the morning and Erik went in for a swim to cool off.

Back to the trip, We had good wind to start us off and we were powering through the swell nicely, then all of a sudden, mid- afternoon, as if we had gone over a trip wire the wind died.  It wasn’t the usual gradual petering out and fading to nothing, we crossed a line and suddenly it was gone.  In all our sailing careers I don’t think we’ve ever had it stop dead like that, from one second to the next.  All through the trip, the wind came and went. When it was there, we sailed and when it died out, we motored. Much more diesel was consumed than we’d have liked but hey- ho, that’s how it goes sometimes. The motoring was also giving our mysterious shortage of electricity a little boost from time to time. We had installed brand new batteries just before leaving and couldn’t really explain this little niggle.

When we set off the grib files showed  good wind for our trip, but Ophelia was obviously still messing with the weather men, as none of their predictions were correct.  Each time we were able to download new grib files  via the SSB (single Side Band Radio) they had changed their minds about what the weather was doing.

As night time approached on day one of the trip we were about 100 miles off the Moroccan coast.  With no moon it was really dark and the night sky without any light pollution was awesome. The Milkyway right above our heads and all the millions of stars were so bright and clear.  As if looking in a mirror the sea all around us was glittering too.  It was far too rough to reflect the night sky, but the phosphorescence in the water as we splashed along was like another set of little stars all around us.  The magic you feel when you are surrounded by stars never gets old. 

Then all of a sudden we were surrounded by loads of other little white lights flashing all around us. It was reminiscent of the boat scene in Phantom of the Opera where they sail their boat through a sea of tiny little lights. 

Boat Scene from Phantom of the Opera
Boat Scene from Phantom of the Opera

Play Video

Click to see the clip from Phantom of the Opera on our Just Bella Vista Facebook page

There were literally hundreds of them as far as the eye could see. Scary as we didn’t know what they were and they don’t appear on any of our charts.  We couldn’t work out whether they were little fishing boats or markers for nets that we shouldn’t run into, whether they were joined together, or not, or what?  Trying to navigate through them while sailing so close hauled without going through the wind was a complete nightmare and we took one or two of them, rather close.   The silver lining to those couple of close calls was that we were able to establish that they  are not linked together but simply lines of hooks with weights and lights on, not connected to anything, as we were in very deep water. We think they just float with the current catching fish as they go and the fishing boats come and collect the catches from them.

For three nights they plagued our passage but on the fourth day the wind freed up a bit and we were able to sail west away from the Moroccan coast.  To be continued… 

Next episode – disaster strikes! ….