Flashback February?

Today it’s snowy and windy. For the past month we’ve seen far too little sun – days have been short and skies have been grey. So my thoughts turned to sun, and then to sea and memories thereof, and I decided to repost this from our other, older cruising blog. From December 2006 and January 2007:

Harbour, Las Palmas, photo by R. Mair

Harbour in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria; photo by R. Mair

Las Palmas, Gran Canaria.

Las Palmas is not one city, but many. Within it lie older towns, such as the Cuidad del Mar created when the area was being settled in the fifteenth century. Different areas are dominated by different styles of buildings – you can walk through modern apartment buildings into an area of elegant, balconied facades and then into the heart of the old city with its narrow cobbled streets and buildings whose walls lie right along the roads. Within walking distance of the anchorage and marina you can take your choice of visiting the busy commercial area and municipal market to the north east, walking north to swim or walk the beach at the Playa de las Canteras, or heading west or south west to visit the parks and museums of the Cuidad Jardin or Cuidad del Mar. There are areas of beauty, well-groomed promenades and striking sculptures, but stray too far from the main streets around the port and you are aware that the dangers of a city lurk here too.

Gabinete Literario, Las Palmas, photo, R. Mair

Gabinete Literario, Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, photo by R. Mair

But then as soon as you arrive you are aware that this is a bustling city, complete with not two but four rush hours when traffic jams the highway along the waterfront – as in Spain, many businesses close in the middle of the day then open again in the afternoon. The beach by the anchorage was a busy place too, especially afternoons and weekends. But most days all would grow quiet as evening progressed into night, kayakers ended their training sessions, sailors out of the Club Nautico or the Club Varadero ended their practices, and basketball or soccer games in the facility on the beach ended; only the port remained busy as ships and tugs and pilot boats came and went. Sometimes we could hear the reverberations from their engines echoing in our boat. After everything else grew quiet, unless the weather was nasty, the beach and its surroundings were the playground of the restless youth, parking their cars by the Real Club Nautico or walking down the stairs from the street. Some mornings you could see that the graffiti makers had been at work – some social commentary, a few pieces of art, a lot of tagging. Late at night or early in the morning a tractor would groom the sand and the garbage bins would be emptied; then the beach would return to its daytime self, home for fishing boats and workshops and marine sports clubs and visited by a few local bathers and fishermen.

Parque de Santelmo, Las Palmas, photo by R. Mair

Parque de Santelmo, Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, photo by R. Mair

We usually took our dinghy into the beach when we went ashore, and it was because of this that we were lucky enough to be invited into a workshop where one of the local wooden racing sailboats was being constructed. Using a combination of gestures and our minimal Spanish and his slight English, we learned that they had almost finished planking the hull, and would be caulking and painting soon. This was a boat similar to the ones we had seen sailing in Arrecife – races between them are part of the sailing calendar, and help to keep the art and craft of constructing them and the skills of sailing them alive. Using a lateen rig and crew for ballast means that they sail very differently from the boats we are used to.

Time ashore included time spent at the Club Maritimo Varadero, where for a minimal fee we enjoyed the pool, sauna, showers and the pleasant club house with its wi-fi access – nice way to get to the internet, and less expensive than buying drinks everyday at the bar down the road – though some people might have preferred that alternative. We also found time to visit the Las Palmas Casa de Colon, where he is supposed to have stayed when he put in here to do repairs (that sounds familiar!). One room has been made into an interesting and well done replica of part of the inside of one of his ships; other rooms illustrate aspects of the history of the times, and there is a small exhibition of art from the sixteenth to the twentieth century with some very intriguing pictures. It was interesting that any visits to the Azores do not seem to have been recorded here!

Catedral de Santa Ana, Las Palmas, photo by R. Mair

Catedral de Santa Ana, walking toward Casa de Colon, Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, photo by R. Mair

Las Palmas takes its sailing seriously. Cruisers find a home here with access to all kinds of services and stores, and the Real Club Nautico is a centre for serious racing as well as training – while we were there they hosted Laser and Tornado championship races with sailors from across Europe competing. In the same complex as the marina there are other clubs, including one which houses a fleet of the Canaries lateen rigged racing boats, and was being used as a departure point for a rowboat getting ready to cross the Atlantic. Like us, many cruisers wait until the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers has left to come here to provision and prepare for a crossing to the Caribbean, so we had the pleasure of seeing again many friends and acquaintances we had met in other places. And of meeting new friends.

Christmas decorations, Las Palmas, photo by R. Mair

Christmas decorations in one of the squares, Las Palmas, photo by R. Mair

Winds out of the south helped us make the decision to leave when we did. Unable to get our HF radio repaired (how we missed being able to talk to Herb), we planned to leave with other boats who would be talking to him. But they were in the marina, and the weather that encouraged us to leave encouraged them to stay – as well as the fact that last minute repairs to one of the boats were not complete. We left the harbour early in the morning on December 16, motoring into swells that were already increasing, and set off to begin our journey to Antigua with two days of sailing in lumpy seas and good winds.

Across the Atlantic.

When you set out on a longer voyage you cannot predict what kind of weather you will meet. As it turned out we did meet some heavy weather on this voyage, but only twice and only for relatively short times. Our first Friday out the winds began to build, and the seas grew higher through the day. By afternoon we were sailing with trysail and tiny jib, and the waves were high enough to interfere with the windvanes ability to steer. The coming night would be moonless – making it difficult to see the waves and steer the boat through them. For the first time, we put our drogue out, and were glad to find out it worked very well. The night was far from peaceful, with water slapping the boat from behind and beside, but we could close up the hatch and rest inside in some comfort while the storm blew itself past us, and as usual by next morning the weather was much calmer. Our only other brush with heavy weather was the day we ran into some “convection activity” – high winds and pelting rain, and it caught us with our jib poled out trying to make the best of the lighter winds preceding it. Richard steered until there was a break and we could get the pole down; then we hove to and once again let the bad weather pass. And afterward the sun shone again and the sea was as calm as if the weather had never been.

Sunset at sea, photo by R. Mair

Sunset at sea, photo by R. Mair

If we had two days of bad weather, that means we had twenty-six days of good weather. The winds blew a little more or a little less; the waves were a little higher or a little lower. When we could we flew our biggest sail, our drifter; other days we travelled with our sail reefed. After New Years Day we spent the rest of the journey with a reef in our sail – that was the day part of our boom track broke off the mast (the boom was attached to it at the time). Richard made temporary repairs, using the part of the track still attached to the boom, and we travelled a little more slowly the rest of the way.

If New Years was a little more eventful than we liked, Christmas was peaceful. We sailed quietly most of the day, stood our usual watches, and made ourselves a special dinner which we topped off with sinfully delicious triple-chocolate turron. Our only regret was not being able to be in touch with family and friends, especially our daughters. But we had decided that waiting until after Christmas to cross was simply to increase the chance of facing bad weather in the Canaries, and higher waves at sea. As we found out from friends, we were right about the bad weather. And it helps that we like being at sea.

Between Las Palmas and Antigua, photo, R. Mair

Between Las Palmas and Antigua, photo by R. Mair

It is difficult to describe what it is like out there. The water stretches out around you, constantly moving, constantly changing. Waves run across waves, and wind makes the surface dance. Occasionally another ship or boat breaks the vista – but we saw very few this trip. The sky is arches unbroken overhead, and you see the clouds move under it and the weather as it comes across the water. Everything is vast; away from the many small distractions of land there is a sense of privacy, time to explore your own thoughts, a sense of how little we are in relation to the world we live in. Sunsets and sunrises surround you, the stars overhead fill the sky on a moonless night, the moon provides more light that you are aware of when surrounded by manmade lights. You spend time standing watches, navigating, changing sails, cleaning, maintaining, taking care of yourself and the boat. Time passes, and then as your journey comes to an end you have to make the adjustment to dealing with shore life again…

We knew the end of our journey was coming when, two days in a row, tropicbirds came to visit us, and we saw frigate birds soaring on thermals high above the water in the distance. The wind picked up during the night before we made landfall, bringing us close to the island in the early morning darkness. We hove to, and in the hours before daylight passed to the south of Antigua. Come daylight we sailed again, and made landfall in Jolly Harbour on the morning of January twelfth. We were back in the Caribbean.

Jolly Harbour, Antigua, photo, R. Mair

Jolly Harbour, Antigua, looking out, photo by R. Mair

Posted by Into The Blue February, 2007

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About Margaret Mair

In love with the sensuousness of paint, intoxicated by the rhythm of words, entranced by the world of water, ever an observer and explorer.
This entry was posted in Looking Back, sailing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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