Las Palmas

Mike and Liz Downing
Sat 8 Nov 2008 11:50
Las Palmas on Gran Canaria. We left Madeira at 12.00 on 3rd November and arrived here 2 days later on Wednesday at 15.00. We sailed, according to the log, exactly 300 nautical miles, virtually due south most of the way. We left Madeira after almost 2 weeks of high winds and high swell, so the seas were up, but the winds were fair around 20 knots from the North. Due to the direction we were able to have both our headsails up and both poled out - the poles stop the sails from collapsing when in the troughs of the swell (and filling again with a loud crack). They also provide stability and balance and keep the boat moving well. It's the first time since leaving the UK that we have been able to set the sails this way. Having changed the boat's rig to be able to sail downwind like this, it was very satisfying to sit back and watch her go. We do not use the mainsail when sailing like this and so don't have to worry about gybing when we roll with the swell. Balancing the 2 headsails did dampen the rolling motion quite considerably which is another reason for setting the sails this way. (When sailing downwind with the swell behind you, most boats will roll from side to side by as much as 30 degrees each way. Generally it's not that extreme, but every now and again the bigger waves will cause a significant roll and you just have to make sure you're not taking something out of the oven when it happens!) The 2 headsails give us 1067 sq ft of sail, so plenty enough without the main. Shame the wind only stayed from the North for about 8 hours! It came round to the east and we had to dispense with the poles, although we left the windward pole set the whole trip on the hope that the wind might change back. It didn't and after a day the winds dropped right down and we ended up motor sailing to make sure we got into Las Palmas in the light. Glad we did as it is a major commercial harbour with container ships, oil tankers, cruise liners and fishing boats of every description. We passed 5 huge oil tankers anchored just outside the harbour. Wouldn't want to meet one of those coming the other way on a dark night!

The first night out was totally clear of clouds and it's amazing the number of stars that you can see when the moon isn't up. The second night was cloudy and we could see the loom of the city lights of Las Palmas from over 40 miles out.

We were unlucky with our weather in Madeira. The wind never stopped blowing and during the last week we had heavy squally rain every few hours. It wasn't walking weather - apart from getting soaked, the chances are that we would have been blown off the paths, the wind was that strong. So we hired a car for 3 days and did it the easy way. The scenery is fantastic, the highest peaks are about 6000 feet high (where it snowed the weekend before we left - just 3 days after we were there), where the temperature was 23 degrees in Funchal and 4 degrees at the top (and there was a lovely open fire lit at the restaurant!). The scenery reminds us very much of Scotland. We went to the Jardim Botanico in Funchal, only 3 Euros to get in, a bargain. they have cacti, fuchsias that bloom all year round, bougainvillea (all colours) and palm trees (we didn't realise there were so many different ones) and of course, the national flower, strelitzia (the bird of paradise flower) is there in abundance. The marina in Madeira was odd as we said before. I can best describe it as like living on a film set at the weekend when every one had gone home. The houses along the quay side are all complete and very picturesque, but are all empty, waiting for the building of the village behind to catch up. We will include a picture when we get wi-fi access again. (The boat comms are too slow to send pictures.) We did not have any wi-fi access close by in Madeira, but it should be a lot better here in Las Palmas. We do not have wi-fi from the boat, but there is a bar nearby that has it, so we should be able to add a small selection of pictures from Lagos, Porto Santo and Madeira, and eventually pictures from here too. (We took 549 photos in Madeira and are trying to select 5 or so to put on the blog - not easy!)

Being 300 miles further South has made a significant difference to the weather - it hasn't rained for a start, and the nights are much warmer (being over 20 degrees). The forecast for the next few days is sunny, so we might just make it to the beach, a walk across the other side of the city. Today has been shopping, including Christmas shopping (we haven't forgotten). The main shops, including department stores, are only 10 minutes walk from the marina.

Las Palmas is important as it's the staging post for the trip across the Atlantic. We are taking part in the ARC - Atlantic Rally for Cruisers. It takes place every year and is a race from Las Palmas to St Lucia. For most of the yachts involved it is not a serious race and taking part is the important thing. There are yachts from 21 different countries taking part and there is even a procession of the competitors with the national flags being carried. For the 2 weeks before the start events/seminars are held on all aspects of crossing the Atlantic (from provisioning, maintaining rigging, routing and weather, communications, safety etc.) and most days end with a party of one form or another. So it is very much a party atmosphere as all the boats get ready together. The final night before the start is ended with a firework display across the harbour. The start is scheduled for Sunday 23rd November. The organizers of the ARC have a website that allows the progress of participants to be followed ( So you can follow our progress via that. We haven't decided yet weather we will send text updates to the blog while on passage (using the SSB or sat phone) and I suspect we will just see how it goes.

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