09 – 18 October 2011
MOROCCO TO THE CANARY ISLANDS
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 himself.
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!
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.