Friday, 11 November 2011

Beach Party Time on Graciosa ….. October 2011

cricket at happy hour, Graciosa 18 October – 01 November 2011

We slipped into the anchorage at Playa Francesca on the northern most island of Isla Graciosa in the Canary Islands chain early in the morning after our 4 night passage down from Rabat in Morocco.  There is nothing more rewarding than a spectacular anchorage and flat water after an ocean passage.  We have completed our 2nd step in the Atlantic and have made it to the Canary Islands.  

This island group of volcanic peaks rise steeply from the sea with dramatic landscapes and an amazing collection of soil colours and earth contours, making for an ever changing backdrop, the time of day, angle of sun, amount of cloud cover; all changed our vista by the minute.  Add to that a deserted beach of golden sands between the rocky lava flows, a temperature in the low 20’s, clear but slightly chilly water, 23 other cruising boats in the anchorage – we certainly felt like we were cruising again.2011 Canary Isles-1

For the first few days we had settled weather, it was a wonderful time.  It is the northern most anchorage in the Canaries and is a very popular first stop for all the yachts migrating from Europe to the Caribbean and South America and so each day there were new arrivals and departures. Sundowners/happy hour was spent late afternoon gathered on the beach, guitars were brought in, as were cricket sets, soccer balls, volleyballs, kites – it was a great time of the day for everyone, especially the many ‘Kiddie boats’the nickname we give yachts with children of all ages who are being home schooled on board, and receiving an education of a lifetime.  

For the boats starting out from Europe it was a great introduction for them to the true cruising lifestyle, away from busy towns or cities, ports and marinas, experiencing their new self sufficient life living at anchor.  For those of us that have spent a few seasons in the Mediterranean it was great to get away from packed anchorages, charter boats, noisy jet skis and nightly discos on shore and remember how it had been before we arrived in Europe.2011 Canary Isles

The village of Caleta del Sebo was just under 3 km’s away, so a very long dinghy ride or a 40 minute flat walk, there are no roads, just a small network of sandy marked tracks – its great.  We wandered in several times during our stay, it had everything we needed.  After a 7.30am dinghy departure from Balvenie on Sunday morning, with fingers and toes crossed, we were delighted to find a cafe open with the final of the World Cup Rugby on the big screen.  We sat glued to the screen for 80 minutes with some French supporters and, along with over 4 million other New Zealanders were thrilled to watch the All Blacks win the World Cup, well done guys, it was your time.Celebrating the Rugby World Cup victory with Chinnock Wind  Back in the anchorage Skipper ensured that everyone knew the result with a dinghy flyby of the New Zealand flag!

The days just slipped by, we had a day of southerly winds which saw us hunker down and do anchor watch, then that was followed by a few days of a large Atlantic swell rolling in, making landing on the beach impossible by dinghy but the local surfers had a great time. It was the first time we have shared an anchorage with surfers, certainly not ideal conditions to remain there at anchor but it was such a lovely place and we just weren’t ready to leave.   Whenever we could get ashore we would make the most of the great walking, we ended up doing the walk to the top of the volcano, Montana Amarilla, three times, the views were spectacular from up there and well worth the climb.  2011 Canary Isles-2

One day, in company with Tony off Tactical Directions we walked into the village and hired mountain bikes for the afternoon and set off cycling around the volcanoes at the top of the island.  It was a great afternoon out, we sat enjoying our picnic lunch on a deserted west facing beach, the swell was still up and the surf was crashing in, Montana Amarilla sat proudly in the distance, the sun peaked through the clouds – it was just beautiful.  We carried on along the sandy track, quite a workout on a mountain bike; we stopped at a natural stone bridge that has formed a blow hole and watched as the force of the ocean crashed up through this small opening then drained away to nothing; we carried on to Pedro Barba, the only other settlement on the island where some of the properties had the most wonderful cactus gardens; watched a local fisherman haul in a huge tuna while fishing off the concrete dock then, after making it to the top of quite a mean climb it was downhill all the way back to Caleta del Sebo.

2011 Canary Isles1

Eventually we knew we would have to leave and a forecast for a 5 metre swell heading for the Canaries finally pushed us on our way.  There will be time for many more beach parties soon, maybe with a coconut palm or two swaying in the breeze, steel drums sounding in the background, and warmer waters lapping at our feet – we will never get to the Caribbean if we don’t leave Graciosa!

Cruising Info for Isla Graciosa, Canary Islands – October 2011

29 13.004N  13 31.755W 15m sand.  We did move in closer as space became available, some of the bottom was rock and in most of the eastern part the bottom is rock.  Dinghy landing was best on the far left beach, the far right dries out very rocky but the 2nd from the right wasn’t too bad and closer if walking into town.  The path to climb Montana Amarilla (172m) is by the far left beach, it is circuitous and takes around an hour with time out for admiring the view.  It is medium difficulty, a little steep in places and slippery shingle. PA300013 The path /road to Caleta del Sebo is at the far right, follow it around then veer off to the right at some vehicle barriers when you can see the town in the distance and walk along the beach.  It’s about a 40 minute walk.  In town on the waterfront are a bakery and one small supermarket.  In the back streets are a butcher, Pharmacy, ATM machine, Post Office, 2 more supermarkets one of which has a machine in it for topping up any cellphone/datasim supplier and Rosa’s Internet Cafe (not always open but unlocked wifi signal seems to be on all the time so just sit outside).  The backstreets are a maze, but it’s not a big place.  There was Vodafone signal in the anchorage our our worldwide Gymsim worked fine.  Everyone else's Vodafone Spanish dongle worked in the anchorage, but ours didn’t, no surprise there, topped up with €40 from machine in village and it still doesn’t work, more money donated to Vodafone!  We hired our bikes from the place on the far left behind the beach in the harbour, 8€ each, same price at other places.  We did Route C on the map they give out, it took us 3 hours with lots of stops.  There are ferries from Caleta del Sebo to Órzola on Lanzarote.  There did not appear to be anywhere to “check in”, so all yachts waited till their next port of call (eg Puerto de Naos or Marina Rubicon on Lanzarote or Las Palmas on Grand Canaria)

Thursday, 3 November 2011

From Land Cruisers back to Ocean Cruisers ….. Oct 2011

leaving Rabat, 14 Oct 2011

09 – 18 October 2011


We had a marvellous time away on our inland travels in Morocco and enjoyed staying in Rabat but the northern hemisphere winter is fast approaching and it is time to start migrating further south.  Friday the 14th, (thank goodness it wasn’t Friday the 13th) had the lowest predicted swell across the bar entrance to Rabat, and the winds, whilst light, would be favourable for at least 4 days. So…holidays over, it was once again down to the serious business of circumnavigating. We began our preparations. We would sail on the afternoon high tide for the Canary Islands 470 miles away to the south west.Fog rolling in off the land, Morocco - Canaries

Six other yachts also planned to leave using the same 6 hour tidal window and because the check out formalities can take a while the skippers met and agreed a departure sequence i.e. catamarans first because they have less draft. monohulls second as the tide approached its highest point, then any unprocessed catamarans last. We all ensured our paperwork was in order to speed the process. It is necessary to tie up at the small Customs Dock to clear out once you have left your marina berth and, would you believe it, over night a yacht had arrived and was still being held on the customs dock with paperwork issues.  So this meant only one boat at a time could tie up - oh well – and so the procession began. We were 5th to check out which timed well with the tide almost at full height, and we just sneaked onto the dock before two more new arrivals got escorted in over the bar.  The marina staff and officials sure had a busy day. We motored down the river toward open ocean as the afternoon call to prayer sounded out over Rabat, this would probably be the last time we would hear the prayer call during our circumnavigation – we will always associate it with some of the most interesting, exotic locations we have visited.the raising of the MPS 15 Oct 2011

As soon as we cleared the river entrance, full sail was raised and once again Balvenie eased into her work as we pointed her bow south westward towards the Canary Islands. It was great to have the other yachts out there with us, always quite comforting being able to see another set of sails, even if only in the distance, and we kept in touch over VHF and HF radio during the passage.  We sailed until after dark then the wind completely died out so the motor came on for the evening.  We were just two days past the full moon, so the evening was bright and the miles ticked away.  Just before dawn we started sailing again, but it was a fluky morning with the winds coming and going, then the fog rolled in from the land and brought with it an easterly.  Eventually on day 2 we cleared the African coast, left the land and fog behind and picked up the steady Atlantic trade winds that for centuries have carried sailors across this vast ocean and will now be with us for the next few months.  MPS looking good, Morocco - Canaries 15 Oct 2011

It was the moment skipper had been waiting for!  Time to play with our MPS (multi purpose sail, a big coloured asymmetrical sail that floats off the bow).  We haven’t flown this sail since we did our passage from Australia to Indonesia in 2006 and it scared the hell out of me back then, I remember it as being very big, hard to deploy and almost impossible to snuff and retrieve.  Previous to that we had flown it from Vanuatu to Australia and my lasting memory of that encounter was when the halyard gave way at the top of the mast and it just all collapsed into the Pacific Ocean, let me assure you it is quite a handful trying to get all that wet, soggy sail back onboard.  Can you understand my reluctance in flying it again???  But the Skipper was not going to be denied !!!.

The light trade wind conditions were perfect, and even I hate motoring so it was time for me to toughen up and agree to fly coloured sails.  We were lacking in practice (obviously) but eventually we thought we had sorted everything out, raised the sail still with the “sock” down over it (that’s the white cover over it in the photo above, it keeps things manageable till the sail is hoisted, then there is a continuous line on the sock which gets pulled to the top of the sail, then the wind fills the sail and voila!, out pops “Big Red” – when you want to “snuff it” you do the reverse procedure which is not as easy as it may sound!!!).  So up it went, but the sock would not go up, it was somehow all twisted, so down the whole thing came, then up it went, down it came, up it went etc,etc, after about 40 minutes and lots more practice it was hoisted back to the top of the mast, the sock actually went up and “Big Red” appeared in all his glory. its getting busy out here Morocco - Canaries Oct 2011     

And there “Big Red” stayed for two days! or more alarmingly two nights!! The winds were consistent until the 2nd night when they started to build, just a little at a time so we kept an eye on him and kept stretching our cut off point when we would drop him, both of us secretly hoping that we wouldn’t actually have the challenge of snuffing him and dropping him in stronger winds!!  We all hung in there and eventually just before dawn on day 4 the winds eased to a more manageable level and we took a sigh of relief.  By 1pm we didn’t even have enough wind to fill “Big Red”,  so down he came and our trusty green Volvo engine had a turn instead for a few hours.  The one positive in motoring again was that a large pod of dolphins came to play and they stayed with us for a couple of hours, oh and I nearly forgot, we saw a turtle – miles out in the ocean, all by approaches to Graciosa, mmmm

We were able to sail again before dark on our last night, but decided to run with our more manageable white sails as we would be closing on land early morning and experience tells us that land can do some funny things to the wind strengths and directions and we wanted to be ready to deal with anything that came our way.  We had another great evening on our last night - but boy was it dark,.  The moon didn’t rise until around 10pm and it was also very cloudy, as skipper would say - “it was as dark as the inside of a cow”.

As the eastern sky started to lighten on day five the familiar call came from the watch … Land Ahoy!!  The first grey outline of the northern most island of the Canaries appeared on our port bow. We sailed down their leeward coast, giving them plenty of clearance, to our destination at Isla Graciosa.  We made our final approaches to the anchorage at Playa Francesca at day break, hoping that the crashing Atlantic swell we could see on the windward side was not entering the anchorage.  We need not have worried, we turned the final corner and discovered another paradise!PA200005

We travelled 476 miles in 3 days and 18 hours, our average speed was 5.28knots, which we were happy with in the very light winds.  We motored for 15 hours.

Our journey across the mighty Atlantic Ocean has begun.