"Light Blue"

Mount Teide from La Gomera

Mount Teide from La Gomera

Living the Dream, part 6

Madeira to the Canaries

We must be getting better at the planning, as we actually set sail from Madeira, on the day and time we wanted to. At 0810 GMT (Greenwich mean time), we cast off and spent the first few miles settling into seaboard life again. Siobhán was eager to purge the water maker, as it hadn’t been used, while we were in the marina, as we had fresh water and electricity on tap. I was eager to use the cruising chute, if we could, as the weather forecast had promised light winds, so I dug that out of the sail bin, with the red and green sheets, so as not to confuse the novices (us) and prepared it on the foredeck. Although we tried, we needed to refine the use of the blocks aft, but as the wind rose anyway, there will have to be another time. Starting as day breaks, allows one to settle into the passage before nightfall, which we find makes for efficient watch keeping, housekeeping, feeding and rest breaks.

We were both glad to be away from the marina life again, although it had been very pleasant in Porto Santo and Madeira. Quinta do Lorde isn't as expensive as some marinas and all UK south-coast marinas, but mooring fees add up. Additionally, one tends to socialise and drink more and have late nights. We had some great evenings with Richard, Eilish and Matthew, and some close run cribbage matches between Richard and myself. I'm uncertain who is winning in the Anglo-Irish international travelling tournament. They also left Madeira on the same morning, literally minutes before us, also bound for Graciosa, in the Canaries. As we settled down and raised sails and organised our boat life, we saw them gradually disappearing towards the horizon. We were in no hurry and there was no race as we knew that we were both primarily cruising boats. We maintained an hourly log as we passed the western coastline of the nature reserve that is the Ihlas Desertas. We kept a course of 161º M (magnetic) until we cleared the islands and then changed course to 147º M towards Graciosa. Although the wind initially died away, by 1115, I had written in the log, "Main on preventer and full light wind genoa with wind in the north (8-11 knots). Reading in the cockpit (to Siobhán), ‘Love in the time of cholera’, very pleasant and relaxing. By 1500, we were creaming along comfortably at over 5 knots in the right direction with sunshine and fluffy clouds."

Barely enough wind for the cruising chute

Barely enough wind for the cruising chute

At 2230, we furled the lightweight genoa (LWG) and unfurled the working jib, going at the same speed but more upright with a NE wind (force 4/5 (11-21 knots). By 1030 on the following day we had covered 157 miles (distance made good) and were absolutely delighted with ourselves and "Light Blue". The wind continued to hold as an easterly force 4/5. By 12 noon on our second day, we had only 115 mile to travel to Graciosa and we remarked that this voyage was in complete contrast to our Lagos-Porto Santo trip. Graciosa is not a well-buoyed, well-lit island to approach in the hours of darkness, so we took steps to slow the boat, so that we would arrive in daylight by reducing the size of the jib by a third and putting a reef in the main (later increased to two reefs). But "Light Blue" was so tuned and the wind so steady that we continued to race along to our destination at over 6 knots. Grand sailing, but not within the plan, so as we approached Graciosa (about 10 miles off), we hove-to with the sails we had and stayed thus for 2 hours. So well was the hove-to arrangement that we only travelled a mile along our previous course in two hours. At 0600, we started sailing again towards the island and at 0900 we anchored in a quiet bay on the entrance to the strait between Graciosa and Lanzarote. 265 miles in 2 days was very satisfying for us both and showed the potential of the boat and, to a certain extent, our navigation.

It's a drag

We spent a very pleasant day at anchor in Playa Francesa along with another dozen internationally flagged boats. Richard from the yacht "Granuaile" went snorkelling and examined both his anchor and ours and told us that we were not dug into the sand but merely caught between two rocks in a pile. I went for a dive and saw it to be so and moved the boat to another position. It was to be a movement of grace and eventually led to our moving completely to a better anchorage 40 miles away. That night after a wonderful meal, Siobhán and I went to bed and slept like children, but at about 0100, we were awakened by the sound of two yachts' fog horns blasting. It is a familiar signal that a yacht has dragged its anchor and the owners need to start controlling the slippage of their boat before they end up on the rocks or damage other yachts.

It took us about 5 seconds to realise that it was Light Blue that had dragged its anchor. What did we do? Did we flounder? Did we ground on the rocks? Did we smash into other boats? No! We switched on the engine and motored away from the rocks behind us and towards which we were being blown by the increasing wind over our bows. As we did so we raised the chain of the anchor and finally manoeuvred to another spot in the anchorage between a French 40-foot sloop and a German catamaran. We would maintain an anchor watch and having dressed in wet weather gear for warmth, I sat in the cockpit and watched along transits to ensure that we were not dragging again. We had 30 metres of chain down in 4.4 metres of water, which I believed to be adequate in 20 knots of wind with not much fetch. I then recorded 29 knots of wind from the east and at 0150, 34 knots of wind and at 0205, 35 knots of wind still from the east. As I saw that we were not holding our ground in that position, I called Siobhán and told her that we were not safe in this anchorage and would move out to open water, there being no adequate space in between the other boats.

A collage souvenir

The lightweight genoa poled out beautifully and goosewinged with the main

We then circled outside the anchorage awaiting the reduction of the wind, gathering our thoughts. The wind did not abate during the next hour in which we completed 5.52 miles, circling outside the anchorage. I decided that the anchorage was not tenable and we would sail south the 40 miles on the western side of Lanzarote and take refuge in the anchorage of Playa Blanca on the south side of the island. There are no refuges on the west side of the island but the wind was a constant easterly and so we were not on a lee shore. In fact the sail was very exhilarating and we reached the southern end of the island in good time. We were aware of the "acceleration zones" around the sides of the Canary Islands, but miscalculated just how far offshore they reached and how strong they would be. Lesson learned! The acceleration zone overlaid with the easterly near gale produced a very heaped sea-state with buckets of water across the deck and over the spray hood. We finally arrived in Marina Rubicon in Playa Blanca after 11 hours sailing and some very frustrating tacking. Even within the marina the wind was howling and two days later it still is. Moreover, the boat and we were completely covered in a fine red dust from the Sahara blown in on the sirocco and encrusted with salt. The sirocco dust gets everywhere and makes the climate look like a dull English rainy afternoon, except that it is dry, hot, dusty and makes one irritable. A shower is a great relief. Anyway, that is where we are now and we are very relaxed, having walked along the purpose built promenade to Playa Blanca port and the tourist village. We have heard from our friends Richard and Eilish in Playa Francesa, Graciosa, who saw our unfortunate slippage in the anchorage, but are still there, trapped by the increasing adverse winds.

After we had left, all the boats were ordered to leave the anchorage and move across the strait to the Lanzarote island side, presumably to give them some shelter from the easterly wind. Since they have moved they have experienced 63-knot winds, their anchor chain spring has snapped in 59 knots, they have 60 metres of chain out in 4 metres of water and they have had no respite. I think that we were fortunate that our anchor dragged and we made the right decision to move to open water, albeit we experienced force 6-8 knot winds during our 40 miles to Marina Rubicon. Experience supported by calculated decision-making always feels better than forced and unplanned experiences.

Sipping cerveza in Lanzarote

We’ve settled in nicely to this marina in the last couple of days and have planned and carried out many of our routine maintenance jobs. Our autohelm Seatalk repeater on the steering pod, which had worked on and off since our circumnavigation of Ireland, has finally given up the ghost and every time we switch it on, it whistles. Today, I took it completely to pieces and wiped everything inside and out, but still it whistled. A local electronics expert took it away this evening and brought it back an hour later, with the Monty Python verdict: "This piece of equipment is an ex-repeater, it is no more, it has passed on, it is no longer of this world." He also said, refreshingly, "No charge," as he only charges for successes.

We have planned to miss out a couple of islands, Fuerteventura and Gran Canaria and will head directly for Tenerife, probably leaving on Friday 17 November. It is 129 miles at 260º T (true). We will prepare the boat completely there and finally sail to La Gomera, where we will pick up Adam, my eldest son, who will have completed a week’s sailing course out of La Gomera, to acclimatise him in preparation for the ultimate sail, in our mind, across the Atlantic. We will all set sail in about three weeks time, dependent upon the weather.

I finish this report, sitting in a bar in Lanzarote, sipping Coronita cerveza in the shade as it is so sunny and warm outside. Heaven, probably not, but it is very pleasant. Speak to you all soon.

Lawry and Siobhán, November 2006


Siobhán providing
victuals for the crew

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