La Gomera Log
Aloha Captain Koo, October 15, 2007
Life is good and days are warm in the Canary Islands. When I wrote last I was awaiting arrival of Englishman Roger Shaw, who I had met on another yacht in Sicily, to sail to Lanzarote Island 650 miles away. We sailed the next morning in brisk northeasterlies, and had a lot of shipping traffic the first day crossing the Strait of Gibraltar shipping lanes that have over 70,000 ships pass by annually. We had a fast 3 ½ day passage downwind and broad reaching with double reefed main and poled out genoa, logging 168, 172 and 185 mile days and a bit to Puerto Calero Marina on the Island of Lanzarote just 60 miles off the African coast. After a day to look around, Roger flew out to London.
The Canary Islands may have the most ideal of island climates. Called eternal spring, in that nights are comfortably cool and days around in the low to mid 80s year round. The islands are volcanic, very stark and desert-like in the east, dramatic and forested in the west. They are part of Spanish Europe, so there are lots of people on most of the islands, totaling over 250 million, but the two largest cities are about Honolulu sized at 850, 000 so there are lots of empty spaces and small villages. The Romans knew of the islands, but apparently never landed. They were home to a people called Guanches, of Berber stock. The first European visit was by a Genoese ship in the 13th century. The Spanish took over in the early 1400s, wiped out most of the Guanches, and were well settled in when Columbus stopped by in 1492 on the way west. After Columbus, the islands began to really hum as a stopping and trans-shipment point to and from the Americas. In the 1550s, Sta Cruz on the small island of La Palma was felt to be the 3rd most important Spanish port. Now tourism is the biggest business, but bananas are a large business as well. The waters are very clear for diving but, at 27 to 29 degrees north, there is almost no coral growth.
Puerto Calero is a first class marina. The nearby town had most marine supplies. In the European Union they seem to feel that people are not responsible enough to keep and fill propane gas tanks. The penalties for filling American tanks are severe so I had been concerned about running out of cooking and barbeque gas, though I hoped to have enough to make it to the Caribbean. A German boat in Calero told me that the rule doesn’t apply to the Canaries and the N African Spanish enclaves, and he took me to have the tanks filled. Thanks Ziggy. It was like Xmas! Lanzarote is a large lava and sand island. There is very little water here, though a wine grape industry does thrive in a small part of the island that, with a lot of tourism, supports the 100,000 permanent residents. In the 1730s a major volcanic eruption caused the population to go to other places for a while. But made the soils that now yield the treasured wine grapes. I sailed to the south of Lanzarote to anchor off Playa Muheres for a few days of swimming and a few days at the posh Marina Rubicon for my 68th birthday. I felt I had enough of lava and sand so skipped stopping at Isla Fuerteventura, next to Lanzarote, and did an easy overnight sail to Isla Gran Canaria.
The winds tend to funnel through these islands, so I had a brisk sail for the 110 miles, and arrived at Las Palmas de Gran Canaria at morning twilight, entering the large Puerta de La Luz yacht harbor before the marina staff. At 14.5 Euros per day this marina was the best moorage bargain since Italy, where some are free. Las Palmas is a big city of one million including adjacent suburbs. The central area is a peninsula about 10 blocks wide having sandy beaches on each side. My mind was a bit boggled trying to determine what all those people do on this small island in the Atlantic, and the answer is still not clear to me, though the traffic sure feels like something important must be going on. The shopping here made it possible to complete a number of items on my work list that had been patiently waiting. A hydraulics shop made new high-pressure hoses for the water maker system with stainless fittings. I even had a special set of tools made to allow easy adjusting of my rudder packing gland, so organized am I. As a break from projects, I rented a car for two days and toured the island.
Gran Canaria lives on tourism, and those centers are, as one would expect, touristy. However, away from those beach areas, I found the island to be grand. The west coast is mostly steep cliffs and canyons of old lave dropping into the sea. Crossing over the top through worn, stark, mountains I passed small pockets of green and small villages, great café stops. Climbing the mountains from the east side, above the coastal urban areas, were lovely forests dotted with villas and small villages. Up here there is snowfall in some winters. The small mountain town of San Mateo is one of those places that invite me to move in. It was surrounded by small mountains, many terraced for crops, all in rich greens. The last volcanic activity was thousands of years ago. The Caldera of the old volcano at 6-7000 feet provides views of El Teide, the 12,270-foot peak on Tenerife, 70 miles away. There were small ranches in the bottom of the caldera giving small dots of green in contrast to the old lava.
At the end of November, one of the world’s largest yachting events leaves from Las Palmas. It is the ARC Rally for cruising boats, 250 this year, a highly organized event that crossed the Atlantic from Gran Canaria to St Lucia in the Caribean. Lots of boats arrive early, in warm northern European passage weather, to leave their yachts in reserved slips and go back to home until November. As a result, the marinas on Gran Canaria get pretty jammed up. So, after 2 ½ weeks I escaped and sailed the 70 miles to Marina Atlantico at Santa Cruz on Isla Tenerife, a nice daylight passage on August 28. Tenerife is the most visited of the Canaries. The southwest coast, called the Playa de Americas, is a big city of high-rise hotels and condominiums that make Waikiki Beach in Hawaii seem tiny by comparison. The primary tourist market is the British. Fish and chips shops abound. The rest of the island seems, for the most part, to treat beach tourism lightly apart from the auto and tour bus traffic. Tenerife has around 950,000 residents, 550,000 in Santa Cruz and the adjacent city, La Laguna. Al l Spanish cities have a park or major square called Plaza Espanya. The one in Santa Cruz de Tenerife is across an expressway from the marina in the city center. Sadly is going through renewal and upgrading for a few more months, so I found getting around a little difficult. It will be lovely when completed later this year. The rest of the city is very nice. Santa Cruz became very prosperous during the Americas trade period and has lovely boulevards going up the steep hills, wonderful parks and some beautiful homes. I actually thought the restaurants to be more consistently good than I found in Barcelona. The shopping for yacht supplies was very good. It has an opera house that seems to be in the Sidney Australia style. It is a city I would sail back to. I rented a car for a day to check out the island and go to the Mountain Teide, which at 12,270 feet is Spain’s highest peak. I started the drive up the mountain on the wet north coast then wound up through many towns and villages to the park around the peak. On the way you pass through a number of climate areas. At one spot I stopped for café and looked out over cotton clouds, with clear blue above. That village was in a pine forest that was valued for supplying square rigged sailing ship masts. There was little undergrowth. The trees seemed to be strait enough to peal and use for masts and spars. The caldera itself is mostly ancient, but doesn’t seem so. The top of the mountain is dry so there has been little erosion of the lava. There is a gondola to go up the last 800 meters, but I put it of as a trip to do with guests. Coming down the mountain on the east side I passed through a large wine growing area. Many of the terraces had gone fallow. Maybe tourism is an easier way to make a living.
The marina life here was nice as we established a community of cruising friends. Pals on Rahula dropped down from Madeira and Stan Meek came by from Gibraltar. I did some sightseeing and meals with Americans Tommy and Maryanne form Audacious and refreshed AmerEnglish.
Seattle pal George Tamblyn arrived for a week visit on September 24th. We did a whirlwind look at Santa Cruz, drove much of the island and Teide. We still missed the gondola ride to the top and the wind was too strong to operate the lift. I checked out of Marina Atlantica after 3 ½ weeks and we powered the 45 miles to Marina Del Sur at Gallateas for diving. We did two tanks with Yaki (Yaki Dive) and had a great time, lots of sea life around a wreck. George managed to get nipped on the back of an arm by an aggressive turtle that drew just enough blood to be interesting. Perhaps it was a she. After a night to rest we sailed 25 miles to San Sebastian on Isla de Gomera. Gomera is a big change of pace. The island has only 18500 people and the lovely town 4500. Both the marina and town are beautiful. Even the café is lovely, under some very old leafy trees. We rented a car for an island drive. This is a very scenic place. There are really almost no resorts. Although tourism is important to the local economy, it is really not very apparent. There is a ferry from Tenerife that seems to bring day tourists. There are no big hotels. Driving the rugged island we went through many small villages, many suspended on hills that almost qualify as cliffs. There are great views to Tenerife and Isla La Palma. to the northwest. The park at the top is green and coolish. We stopped for lunch at Santiago, a village of 560, where we had a great meal in a cave restaurant. That night we had dinner in the best steak restaurant I have found in Europe so far. The next day we did two tanks of diving with a local dive shop that actually gave us to waypoints for all their regular dive sites. This is a great spot. On 10-2 George was off on the early ferry to the airport on Tenerife. It was a great visit.
The same day Amelia and James Gould on Rahula caught up with me in time for a 29th birthday party for her. They are vibrant, bright and great fun. Also, their pictures are better than mine. Check out http://www.philipresheph.com/rahula/index.htm. We did the island drive again. This time we hiked to the top. A, the burden of having young friends! James and I did a couple of tanks of diving off of Jubilant. Last weekend we attended a Festival for the local Lady of Guadalupe, held at a small seaside chapel at the top of the island. It involved free bus ride with MANY locals, then a change to a small bus for a cliffside trip along a one-lane road (that washes out each winter when it rains). We unloaded at the end of a road, and then hiked down a very steep road to the spot. The ceremony was leaving the church and parading around with dancers that went on for hours. There are moving pictures of the event on Rahula’s site. I was a great and tiring day. Rahula sailed for Gambia West Africa four days ago and things seem a little quiet.
So, Alvin—I am restless and wish we were sailing for the Caribean now, maybe with a stop in Gambia to check out the hippos and the Cape Verde Islands for diving. Alas! However, New Year’s Day should also be a great time to sail. I’m excited.