Arrival, Lanzarote and Fuertaventura
The Canary Islands
In the 1400s the Spanish laid hands on the group of islands, which sit off the South West coast of Morocco, and have kept them ever since. Initially they used them as a bunkering station for their expeditions around Africa and to the Americas. Christopher Columbus launched numerous expeditions from here. The origins of the name of the islands is not clear but it seems to have nothing to do with the bird. Possibly related to the ferocious dogs (Canis in Latin) kept by the early inhabitants, The Guanches. It may also be related to the name of the Berber tribe (Canarii) that the Romans sent to the islands as slaves. Those Romans sure get around!
Cooled by constant NE winds the climate is fairly mild and the water is a cool 23C when we arrive. The winds make for interesting sailing and do rather dictate your itinerary through the islands. Acceleration zones around the southern corners of the islands are common and windspeeds build significantly in these areas. Anchorages protected from the N quadrant are a must, but may still get the swell wrapping around the land!
The islands are volcanic in origin and a matter of weeks before we arrive in the area the island of La Palma, in the NW of the group has suffered serious eruptions leading to evacuations and loss of homes. We decide to give that one a miss.
The Canary Islands are the main staging point for the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) for pleasure boats to cross the Atlantic to the Caribbean in company and with some shore support. After a couple of quiet years and cancellations due to Covid, the rally is proving very popular again and despite offering several departure dates is booked out well in advance. While we won’t be joining them they certainly make their presence felt - all of the boats and crews involved fill the marinas and bars, keep the workshops busy, book out the rental cars and generally boost the local economy before heading off mid-November.
Getting there - 28 October to 1 November
The journey south from La Linea in Spain (just across the border from Gibraltar) will be our longest crossing in ITIKI so far at 584nm! The crossing of the Bay of Biscay from La Rochelle (FR) to A Coruna (ES) was “only” 361nm and took us 2.5 days. We are expecting 4-5 days although winds are going to be lighter than we would like, but after almost 2 weeks in a marina (getting our new batteries fitted) we are keen to get going. Landfall and first anchorage will be Playa Francesca, on the small island of La Graciosa, which sits at the northern end of the Canary island group, just off the coast of Lanzarote.
We are ready to depart a bit before noon after a final shore run, but we are not off to a good start. Initially the starboard engine MDI (electronic engine starter) would not switch on – we just had a blank screen so it looked like it had failed, which has been a common problem for some time with the Volvo engines. There have been a significant number of recalls under warranty with some FP owners going through multiple failures. Fortunately with some jiggling of the wires and a dose of electrical spray we got it to light up and could start the engine. Phew.
We came out of the straits of Gibraltar under full main and Gennaker goosewinged. The wind and swell stayed mostly behind us with gusts of up to 28kts (TWS), but averaging 18s. We were making good time and sailing well, although there were lots of ships to dodge coming out of Gibraltar, but we are soon past the worst of it and on our own. Over the last 3 years this area that has been increasingly “plagued” by Orca “interactions” with smaller vessels, including yachts. The animals have been ramming the rudders and causing extensive damage, often disabling steering and we were concerned about having a confrontation*. Fortunately though they seem to have migrated further north over the last few weeks and we see nothing. It’s not long before we are out of sight of land and feel like we are well into our journey. There are four of us so we are doing 3-hour watches, with a couples’ shared watch in the middle of the day. This leads to a changeover so we do not do the same watch times on consecutive days. With 4 people it is a luxury to have 3 hours on and 9 hours off! I can even sleep down in our cabin, despite the noise of the autopilot and creaking windows.
* If you are interested in knowing more about the Orca “interactions” check out this article in Yachting Monthly by Andy Pag. We met Andy and his partner in Mindelo and again in Barbados.
We lost the breeze during the night as forecast so motored some, sailing when we could. The starboard engine MDI has gone dark again, hopefully just a loose wire after all of the activity in the engine bay recently, however it needs investigation during daylight. The fuel gauge also showing empty, despite being full of duty free fuel… Water temperature is already up to 22oC.
We mostly motored during the day with the breeze light and on the nose. We were eventually able to sail but it’s still a bit choppy. We got the starboard motor going with the bypass switch (the one we fitted in Hammamet), and then the MDI came alive. Also got the fuel gauge working, that was just a case of a loose wire at the nav station. Now just need to get this fishing rod into gear!
We motored into light headwinds through the night. At least it drowned out the whine of the autopilot so sleep was possible. Heady unfurled at 06h45, not breaking any speed records but at least not burning fossil fuels. There is a nasty chop which we don’t quite have enough speed to power through. Everything is damp and clammy but we are otherwise fairly comfortable.
We had the main and the genoa up all day with windspeeds of up to 15kts true. Our boat speed was constantly being knocked off by the short chop on top of the groundswell. We even put in a tack which must be the 4th one we have ever done! Had some dolphins visit us before sunset and play in front of the boat for a while. Breeze (and chop) eased in the early evening and we changed to a 2 Volvo reach chasing, some more breeze.
We motored again through much of the night with very low windspeeds. Dropped the main which started flogging and driving us nuts. Dimly lit and unlit fishing buoys appear without warning and sometimes too late to dodge them. We are off the coast of Essouira, a fishing port in Morroco that we visited back in 2019. The lack of wind is very frustrating. We appear to be just on the edge of some new breeze though so hopefully it will fill in. Fortunately the swell is not too uncomfortable.
Later in the day we finally found some breeze and the kite went up around 3pm. So good to have the engines off. The fishing rod is set up but apparently we are missing a stainless steel tracer to stop the fish with sharp teeth (?!) from taking our expensive lures. Hmmm not sure Tuna is going to be on the menu this trip! We dropped the kite at the midnight watch change as the watch crew are not yet night certified in the Parasailor, having only seen it for the first time today! We changed to gennaker and came up a bit.
Shifty winds during the night so sails were goosewinged by our morning watch change. Light conditions continued during the day but we are still sailing. A good opportunity to see what the solar panels can pump into the new batteries today without the engine running, although it is looking a bit cloudy.
We sighted land at 13h24 local time at 35nm to go to our anchorage. Sunset is fairly early here though and there is no twilight to speak of so its dusk as we anchor and Google Earth is helpful in picking a sandy spot to drop the pick in the dark.
We thought that this was a great shakedown cruise in preparation for our upcoming Atlantic crossing, although in hindsight it was actually a bit too easy. Still it was a good introduction to ITIKI for our crew. The watch system worked well and we used a whole range of sail configurations in a variety of wind conditions. The IridiumGo and PredictWind weather forecasts proved useful and easy to use and relatively accurate. We did not have really strong winds so no reefing was necessary, and we hope that the swell across the Atlantic will be at a better angle and longer period than the short chop that we have had. It was a good way to ensure everyone has their sea legs, getting sorted with sea-sickness management and nerves as well as getting familiar with the boat and how things work.
We spent a couple of nights in the anchorage just recovering on the boat, no one felt like going ashore initially. The boys tried to fit the port prop anode, which we lost in the marina in Spain, but no luck. Seems it needs some modifications as it is not quite the right shape. The water is not that warm here so there is a limit to how much time they can spend in it. It’s exhausting trying to work underwater with a mask and snorkel, and getting covered in anti-foul in the process.
We went for a short walk ashore the next morning to check out the volcano and coastal caves then headed to Lanzarote. We intended to anchor outside the marina but the anchorage looked a bit dodgy and very industrial. Further south we went to our second choice but we were waved away by an enthusiastic police woman. It turns out this port area is now being used to process the many refugees that are making the journey from Morocco and Western Sahara to the Canaries. Hmm, running out of options we consult Navily and go a little further south and anchor of the beach at Playa Concha, 23nm from our initial anchorage. It’s a reasonable spot and fortunately a calm night.
We tried to rent a car to do some touring but it seems there is just nothing available, with all of the ARC boats in town. Soni and Martin have rented a motor bike to tour the island though so we head to the fuel dock at Marina Lanzorote to refuel and check in. Keith stays on board while we go and check in at the passport office. This involves a taxi ride around to the other side of the port. Meanwhile the fuel pump breaks down so Keith also jumps in a taxi and comes over to the passport control. That was handy, very quick and no dramas at all, even with my obvious Schengen visa overstay (I have 2 stamps in my brand new passport!). The fuel pump is still not fixed when we get back so I walk up to the supermarket and buy way too much stuff, struggling to carry it back. By the time I get back the pump is fixed and Keith has been booted off the dock so we do a radical "touch and go" on the end of one of the marina arms, helped by a friendly local without a word of English! We head south under gennaker to a protected bay to wait for the intrepid travellers who will take a bus south to meet us. The weather is quite unsettled and we get some rain squalls along the way. We also experience the infamous“ acceleration zone” at the SE corner of Lanzarote (or exhilaration zone as one sailor has put it…). These acceleration zones are areas known for localised, higher windspeeds and are often popular with kite surfers. We good boat speeds before turning the corner into a more protected area. The Rubicon anchorage is just outside the marina and is quite popular.
The next morning we take a short trip ashore at Marina Rubicon for cake and coffee as well as a few provisions and then we head east away from the noisy town anchorage to a beach anchorage called Playa del Pozo. We are expecting some stronger northerlies over the next few days so need to plan carefully for those. It’s definitely winter weather now, cloudy and cool. Water temperature is 23C although it's not that tempting to go in as it is pretty cool when you get out.
Keith drops us on the beach, which is challenging as there is a bit of surf running. The 3 of us take a walk ashore along the beach and over the headland to one of the most famous beaches in The Canary Islands - Playa de Papagayo. The cliffs around it are quite high and spectacular, the water crystal clear. There is a large vein of volcanic rock running through the beach which almost looks like a steel plate. The beach is very crowded and the landscape is seriously dry - not a blade of grass to be had anywhere!
A strong N’Easter is now blowing, but it’s just a short distance (7nm to be exact) to go to our next destination of Caleta de la Rasca on Lobos, a small island off the NE corner of Fuertaventura. It’s a secure anchorage but it’s very bouncy and quite exposed. We try to go to visit the lagoon area on the south east corner of this tiny island but it’s too exposed and dangerous to go in the RIB, so we cross the bar of a smaller bay on the NW corner and bring the RIB up onto the beach. From here we can walk around the southern end of the island, which has a volcanic crater at the south west corner. Otherwise it is rocks, rocks and more rocks, it’s almost as if someone has come along with a bulldozer, created a path of rocks and made piles of more rocks either side. Still not a sliver of greenery in sight. There is a small restaurant and “beach” here but not much else, although we can visit the lagoon area more safely by foot than in the RIB.
We left our anchorage early after a very rolly night, and its 57nm to our next stop. We were able to sail under Gennaker initially before changing to the kite. The winds are certainly very consistent in this area with 15-20kts TWS NE most of the way. The northern part of Fuertaventura’s coast has a large area of sand dunes, quite the dessert scene, with a dramatic volcanic backdrop. The rest of the landscape is volcanic, much as we have seen before. We were wondering if the sand that has accumulated has blown in from the Sahara. We anchor off the town of Morro Jabel, north east of the marina and again it is very rolly and gets worse as the breeze drops overnight. There certainly is a dearth of protected anchorages in these islands so we are getting used to being rocked to sleep!
Lynda is slowly getting used to the transition from working to not working and racing to cruising.