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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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. 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)