A few odd jobs then on to Gran Canaria

My collection of radar reflectors

Before leaving Lanzarote I bought and mounted a biggest ugliest radar reflector I could find. Short of hoisting my pots and pans there is little else I can do at this point. Fingers crossed that it’s enough to make me visible to radar.

I also installed a much sexier, but considerably more expensive solar panel in the space covered by the companionway hatch (when it is open).

Not too shabby if I may say so.

Behold!

New solar panel

Nothing like a few boat chores to suppress the heart and stimulate the mind. Besides, there’s no more whiskey aboard.

It took me 24 hours to sail to Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. My plan was to arrive once the ARC rally fleet had left so I could be sure of a berth but I had not counted on the marina being closed. Yes, closed! But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Just as I rounded the breakwater (at approximately 11am), I ran into the entire fleet of ARC participants as they made their way to the starting line. Looks like my timing was a little off. No matter, I’ll just join the festival, take advantage of the photo opportunity and watch the procession from the comfort of Eileen.

The 2010 ARC Rally leaves port. Trouble is, there's no wind!

I spotted the young Swedish crew of “Wind” (who I’d met in Nazare). Music blared from their boat as they waved to the crowd gathered along the marina breakwater. I also found myself alongside “Summer Song” (the only other ARC entry I’d met on my travels), and exchanged a warm greeting.

In the following hour or so I watched just about every other boat in the fleet file out and head to sea.

With only a few stragglers remaining, I made a dash for the marina entrance only to have my first attempt at landfall thwarted by an angry “marinero” in a RIB.

I could see the veins bulging from his temples as he shouted… “The marina is closed, go away, you come back tomorrow, leave now…”.

Closed? Who cares if the office is closed! I just want to tie to one of the recently vacated pontoons and sleep.

The official seemed to be getting increasingly agitated at my reluctance to leave, so rather than be responsible for triggering a brain embolism in all the excitement, (those veins on his forehead are really popping out!), I reluctantly complied, motoring to the extremely crowded anchorage on the other side of the breakwater.

See mum, I can be magnanimous on occasion. ;)

What all sailors do in Gran Canaria, wait...

Five hours later I made my second attempt, and as it was probably Mr “not so sociable’s” coffee break, I made it to a pontoon unmolested.

I’m now in Las Palmas Gran Canaria doing what all sailors do here (unless of course they are part of the ARC); hanging out at the Sailors Bar waiting for the elusive trade winds.

More news from Lanzarote

20 years ago...

From my favourite cafe, just beside a modern monstrosity of a shopping mall, complete with mini-golf and artificial illuminated palm trees, I look across at what’s left of the only “real” building in sight.

Tagged for demolition!

Complete with battered SOS sign decrying attempts to demolished it to make way for more condominiums or another kitsch tourist attraction, it makes a sorry sight. On the back wall of the cafe is a photo taken twenty years earlier showing nothing but the aforementioned condemned building on a wild foreshore.

Ah, to have seen Lanzarote then… I feel I’ve arrived 20 years too late.

Luna and Danny

No more unspoilt anchorages and wild beauty to be found here. I guess I will have to travel considerably further to find that, if it still exists!

My musings are interrupted by laughter prompted by the antics of Danny and Luna, (the bars avian celebrities). Danny has an extraordinarily large vocabulary but is currently amusing the crowds by meowing like a lost cat and responding to any chuckles with  a mad cackling of his own.

I'm next!

Well tended gardens surround white sandy beaches and a plethora of holiday makers gorge themselves at the restaurant bars overlooking neatly arranged rows of sun beds and beach umbrellas.

The fit are busy keeping that way in what looks to me like a playground for eight year old children.

The not so fit wile away the hours window shopping for trinkets in air-conditioned comfort, sheltering from the spate of unseasonably warm weather under the ever watchful eyes of bronze wilder beasts.

It's evolution!

You either love it, or you hate it. I’m doing my best to fall into the former category, but I’m not sure I’m succeeding.

Frankly, I can’t wait to move on.  Sailors recommending Lanzarote as a destination are surreptitiously sending you to loose weight at what amounts to an exotic health farm come retirement village.

But while I’m here I guess it wouldn’t hurt to join in on the fun…

I’m next on the ski machine… :)

Crossing my Rubicon in Rubicon marina Lanzarote

Picture perfect Lanzarote

Lanzarote is one of those picture postcard places that looks absolutely fabulous in a travel brochure but in reality leaves you feeling underwhelmed, or perhaps that something somewhere is missing. Might I dare suggest it’s simply a soulless resort?

Perhaps I’m being a little unfair to the island. The recent severing of long held emotional ties to Belgium has darkened my perspective of late. There is always a price to pay for the freedom of sailing away from it all, and with an indifferent text message I’ve just been presented with the bill. It would appear I’ve “crossed the Rubicon” and over several glasses of fine single malt whiskey in the company of a Swedish neighbor, I wonder at the price I’ve had to pay to continue this journey.

Sailing to the Canary Islands (take 3)

 

The very barren looking Lanzarote

I left Agadir having learnt two very important lessons:

  • If you have cockroaches aboard, never admit to it. One French couple were the pariahs of the marina with nobody willing to invite them aboard for fear of being infected by invisible eggs carried underfoot.

and;

  • Never smile at unaccompanied women on the seaside promenade in Agadir unless you want to hear the whole story of how they are traveling alone and staying at so and so hotel and if you are interested… hmmm you get the picture.

Many of the resident cruisers gathered on the pontoon as Eileen put on a show to leave (i.e. I raised all four sails before leaving the marina), and to the sound of several ships horns (wow what a send off!), I set my sights on Lanzarote.

Two Norwegian registered vessels followed suit (minus the cacophony of horn blowing because they only motored out of the marina) and before long passed Eileen despite her best efforts at top speed under full sail. Never mind, time to reef and get some sleep anyway.

By 3am I had more company as a final member of the Agadir troupe (A fancy London registered 20m sloop) slipped by. I tried to raise them on the VHF but as they had electrical difficulties I could only hear the repeated pressing of their transmit button in reply to my greeting. So much for the last two days where an electrician had been hired to sort out their technical issues!

For two days Eileen of Avoca bobbed her way through surprisingly agitated seas toward Lanzarote. I passed as much time as possible dozing but strangely enough I always came suddenly awake when I needed to adjust my sails or deal with shipping that happened to be on a collision course.

Now either I have a sixth sense,

or the ghost of Bill Boyall (Eleen’s previous owner; who I like to think takes the helm when I’ve gone beyond the point of exhaustion), nudges me awake,

or such situations are happening continuously and I’m only aware of the ones that take place while I’m awake!

Take your pick.

 

Yet another artificial village at Rubicon marina, Lanzarote

In any case I was always lucky enough to be awake when shipping came dangerously close. Twice I had to ask if the vessel had seen me, and in one case the bulk carrier came within half a mile despite having adjusted its course to pass behind me. This is why I’m not a big fan of sailing in a flotilla like the ARC rally. All I need is another 200 obstacles without AIS heading the same way when I need to take a nap!

Despite the close calls, Eileen arrived safely at Rubicon Marina in Lanzarote on the 14th of November by 14:30 having averaged more than 100 NM per day (please applaud now). :)

Avoiding the ARC rally club in Agadir

Marina at Agadir, Morocco

I arrived at the marina in Agadir at 9:15 on the 8th of November to find another of those “build it and they will come” developments typical of southern Spain, with the difference that locals enjoy frequenting the waterfront cafe’s and restaurants. Must be a “hey look at me, I can afford to pay silly European prices for my coffee” thing.

Not to be confused with the main industrial and fishing port which is truly “another world”, the marina is clean and pleasant, the officials politely efficient and the comradely openness among cruisers delightful.

Upon arrival there are a few hoops to jump through, the most odorous being a search of the boat by customs, but Eileen passed despite the officials dismay at finding every available crevice jam-packed with provisions.

Biological fly and mosquito control

There were comments about needing to bring in a sniffer dog, but in then end, my enthusiasm to dig out whatever they requested was apparently enough to allay their concerns. Mind you, the white powder surrounding my store of salami and the vacuum sealed pre-cooked potatoes did raise a few questions.

Now I wouldn’t mind smuggling one of these extraordinary biological pest control devices (purchased locally), like some (obviously they must remain anonymous) others do.

It's another party on the Blue Boat!

With the red tape accounted for, it was time to get a feel for the place. First impressions, undeniably touristic. With a restaurant to cater for every nationality and taste lining the beach front, and a seaside promenade to rival any in mainland Europe, you could see town planners were working hard to attract the tourist dollar, and all in all it seems to be working.

However, none of this really interests me. I prefer socializing with other sailors and discovering what the locals do, to eating in restaurants with my invisible friends.

Fishing for cats?

So what are those marina officials in fancy uniforms doing when they are not searching through your boat? Well, this one evidently passes the time keeping the local population of strays well supplied with fresh fish! He told me that this ginger one was his particular favourite.

I met the very simpatico Greek and French crews of Troll, (seen here removing rust spots from their fine vessel), and Bajada (see link below). The odds are that I will see them again in the near future as they are considering taking the same route as Eileen of Avoca to Brazil. I hope so!

The enthusiastic crew of Troll

What I found especially interesting in Agadir was that I’d stumbled across this gathering of younger and more adventurous cruisers. Crews without a set plan or timetable, that were determined to avoid the formalized Caribbean “milk run” itinerary. Just have a look at this web site (in French but the photos tell the tale), to see what I mean:

http://bajadarepart.over-blog.com/

I also discovered an unofficial underground sailors club than can only be described as the “avoid the ARC rally” crowd.

Up until now I’d only met a couple of entrants to this years ARC rally, but apparently most of the popular Canary Island anchorages (such as the one on Isla Graciosa), are so packed with ARC entrants that when the wind shifts and the yachts swing into their new position, everyone is in a panic.

Marinas are overflowing with “party crazed” (marina employee quote) ARC crews until the 21st when the 250 or so official participants and who knows how many unofficial “let’s tag along-ers”, leave Las Palmas in Gran Canaria.

My agoraphobic tendencies make me a shoe-in for  “avoid the ARC” club membership, so I’ve decided to time my arrival in Gran Canaria with the moment everyone else leaves!

I once had a boat in Africa!

Moroccan fishing boat

Four days is not a long time to be at sea, in fact, you are just starting to get into a comfortable rhythm when all too soon you are back near the coast weaving your way through yet another maze of fisherman’s pots and missing out on much needed sleep so as to keep clear of myriad other small craft. (Boats without active AIS or radar are invisible to my current array of electronic anti-collision sensors so it’s old fashioned eyeball power that’s needed for coastal watch keeping).

It took all of “day one” to find sufficient force in the forecast easterlies to switch off my engine, but better late than never… yes…no… maybe?

Below is an extract of the wind forecasts showing how easterlies accelerate through the strait of Gibraltar and on into the Atlantic. It was in this same acceleration zone that I tore my mainsail eight months earlier, so I know that what looks rather benign in a forecast can be quite severe in reality.

Winds accelerate through strait of Gibraltar

By “day two”, with two reefs in the mainsail and both foresails set, I made excellent progress (100 NM plus) due south. While shipping traffic was heavy, I had plenty of advance warning from my AIS receiver, so sleeping for several hours at a time was not overly risky.

It's not easy being green...

Lucky for me, because the cross-swell was causing me to turn a ‘whiter shade of pale’, and getting out of my bunk is always more difficult when I’m feeling sorry for myself.

So much for my newly formulated curry and beer seasickness cure theory! Still, I can’t complain too much because compared with others I’m only very mildly effected by motion sickness, but it still takes much of the fun out of sailing when you are not feeling 100%.

By “day three” the sea and my stomach had settled, but I was forced to switch back to fossil fuel power to encourage any significant forward momentum. By now I was following the northwestern coast of Morocco well clear of any shipping lanes, but that didn’t stop one behemoth from attempting to ram my little blue boat. Nothing that a timely call over the VHF couldn’t fix:

“Hello SKS Tiete, this is the small sailing boat Eileen of Avoca one mile off your starboard bow… Just calling to check whether you have seen me?”

Silence…., The AIS and my radar detector are now beeping incessantly. A few second later….

“Err Motor vessel SKS Tiete, I’m the sailing boat with the red sails right under your bow…”

“Yes sailing vessel… I see you now and am adjusting my course to pass by your stern…”

Large vessels must only keep a close watch on their radar screens, because the radio operator seemed completely surprised to see me with his own eyes. He even felt the need to advise me to be extra cautious around traffic lanes because I was almost invisible to his equipment.

How about that! Eileen of Avoca operates in stealth mode. So much for the fancy looking tubular radar reflector fixed to the top of my shroud line. No wonder I’ve been constantly forced to play dodgems with so many commercial vessels. I’m going to have to purchase one of the old fashioned bulky tetrahedral types when I return to civilization. No big deal, especially since I’m also going to have to lower the mast to fix my tri-light wiring. Grrr. Just what I need, not only am I invisible to radar, I’m without my sailing lights. Good thing the steaming lights are still functioning.

By “day four” the wind had returned (15 to 18kts) and Eileen was racing downwind at an impressive 6 knots. I had the whisker pole out on the stay-sail, two reefs in the tethered main, and the jib sail goose-winged. As the swell increased, Eileen of Avoca showed me how much she likes to surf and my GPS recorded speeds in excess of 8 knots! I didn’t get much rest.

A Moroccan dawn near Agadir

Just 15 miles off the western coast of Morocco near Cape Ghir, I decide to modify my planned itinerary and turn Eileen toward Agadir. Lanzarote can wait… Why? No real reason… Perhaps because it’s just another 8 hours away, or because I’ve never been to Morocco. Just looking at my chart is making me increasingly curious. So why not go and have a look? Agadir it is.

By 9:15am I’ve arrived in Africa and entered another world. This was definitely a good move and I’m looking forward to exploring this exotic town . I’m sure to dig up something interesting to photograph so stay tuned for my next report.

  • PS Just as an aside, I was surprised to find that I had mobile phone reception more than 20 miles off the Moroccan coast. Handy to know for anyone else wandering down this way.

What happened to all those regular updates?

Approaching Lagos... Canaries exit...stage left

I’d like to say that I’ve been alone, cut off from the world valiantly battling heavy seas for weeks at a time, tempering my physique whilst exercising my mental mettle, but the reality is that I’ve been tremendously busy making unplanned social detours at every opportunity.

Following a night of pontoon festivities, [where alcohol refreshments were enthusiastically consumed by sailors young (that’s me) and old (i.e. everyone else… OK, not you either Marta…) and gathered for one last bash under the twinkle of party lights and thrum of music emanating from the little blue boat], the majority of southerly migrating yachts (three out of five) left Cascais on the 2nd of November bound for the Canary Islands, (Madeira had become a no-go zone due to forecast heavy seas).

After a teary goodbye by the throngs of well wishers gathered to witness Eileen of Avoca’s departure [(that would be the crew of Angel of Rio and Apodis), and enthusiastic (if somewhat imaginary) jostling by hoards of fans crowding the shoreline (now I’m harboring illusions of fame and grandeur but do bear with me, the phenomenon is generally transient…), eager for just one last glimpse of number 9 putting to sea], I spent a thoroughly undignified and sleepless night dodging all manner of royal annoyances including cruise liners from the Duchess and Empress, to the Princess and you-name-it-ness, all apparently intent on running me down.

The high priestess and priest of 'yea almighty' Lupin

Despite managing a respectable 100 nautical miles in just 24 hours under just tri-sail and stay-sail, I quickly satisfied my quota for ‘hours logged in a confused swell’ (yes, I’m ready to accept the label of wimp!), and took a left hand turn round Cape Vincent, setting course for Lagos to satisfy a newly devised theorem on mollifying seasickness with ice cold larger ashore. After promising initial trials at the marina cafe, I managed to significantly expand on my basic proof, concluding that the miracle cure for nausea at sea is to be found in hot vindaloo at an Indian restaurant, courtesy of old 3-day friends, (oh… and only after a foundation of several refreshing pints).

The official version of my story reads: faulty wiring with Eileen’s tri-light forced me to put to shore on safety grounds, but upon exhaustive testing and intense scrutinizing (I flicked the switch back and forth a couple of times), the mysterious intermittent problem resolved itself. There, you see! Having a technical background specializing in troubleshooting does pay off!

Determined to make the most of this unscheduled stopover, I went hunting for the crew of Riviera Magic (wintering afloat), to pay homage to the resident feline deity “Lupin”. Those of you who have been diligently reading all my updates (ah… dear mum), will recall that I met the high priest and priestess (Brad & Diane), serving yea almighty Lupin, on Riviera Magic in May while sheltering at La Coruna. I am pleased to report that Lupin is well and may consider an extended public tour after sufficient rest this winter.

Heading for the Canaries... Take 2

At dawn I made my second attempt to reach the Canary Islands… For the moment, lets just say I didn’t quite make it.