Onwards towards the west coast of Ireland ... errr I mean El Hierro

Caramor - sailing around the world
Franco Ferrero / Kath Mcnulty
Thu 29 Jan 2015 23:35

27:38.38N 17:58.84W

The uplands of El Hierro a.k.a. the west coast of Ireland - check out the cactus!

We weighed anchor and let the breeze push Caramor out to sea. We busied ourselves setting up both poles, as we were going to fly both our genoas, poled out either side of the boat and hopefully the wind would push us all the way to El Hierro.

On our way to the Canaries we spent quite a lot of time considering the best way to sail downwind. Caramor is a Bermudan sloop which means she has a main sail and a foresail, the large foresail is called a genoa. We have two genoas, a very large heavy one (150%) which is the one we mostly use and a lighter, slightly smaller one (110%) which is stowed in the cabin. To sail downwind we could use the main sail boomed out on one side of the boat and the genoa poled out on the other (the pole is removable) or we could use twin genoas poled out either side (the main woudn't be used, saving a lot of wear and tear). We decided to try the twin genoa system so bought and fitted a second pole in Gran Canaria. If the wind is light we can use the spinnaker.

The set up involves vast numbers of ropes, three each for the poles, two each for the sails and they need to be rigged in the right order otherwise we would end up with an almighty tangle when we hoisted the sails.

Franco was putting the finishing touches to the rig when the wind died completely. Frustrated, we started the engine. I'm sure if you spent a bit of time sailing round the Canaries you would soon work out the wind patterns, meanwhile the local weather stations continue broadcasting the usual "north-east 4-5"!

As El Hierro came into sight, the wind picked up, perfect, on the beam. We correctly predicted that it would get stronger as we got closer and we agreed that this time we would reef promptly. At 18 knots we put in the first reef, at 24 knots, the second, as we reached the southern tip of El Hierro it was very occasionally gusting up to 30 but Caramor was sailing beautifully so we didn't put in a third reef.

The small and pleasant harbour of La Restinga is immediately behind the southern point, we hoped the wind would ease but it didn't. Rather than miss the harbour entrance we sailed in at 8 knots. "Ooops it's rather tight in here!" All was going well until we furled the genoa, pull as we may, we simply couldn't furl the last bit of the sail which left us with a rather ungainly lump of sail flogging relentlessly in the strong wind - not our most elegant arrival. Our neighbours-to-be, a French family on a classic 46 foot cruiser called 'Gamine' tut-tutted, they don't approve of sailing into harbours, engines are for that!

José, the friendly security guard helped us tie up to the pontoon.

La Restinga, El Hierro

The fresco on the new harbour wall is rather appropriate - small boats bouncing on huge waves!

On inspection we discovered that the rope that coils the genoa was fully extended making it so it impossible to fully furl the genoa. We were concerned that something had slipped or been damaged. Having tamed our wayward sail and went to bed. The next morning we carefully read the furler manual and realised much to our surprise that the whole thing was set up on the wrong side of the boat, the rope was routed at the wrong angle. We moved everything over and the sail furls much easier.

We had also had a problem with the first reefing line which seemed to be jamming. Franco dismantled the end of the boom to find that the first pulley had been subjected to superhuman forces. (I blame the effects of the El Teide fumaroles - see ........)

Damaged pulley on the left

Location of reefing lines pulleys at the end of the boom

Sailing boats ... never a dull moment, always something to fix.

Franco needed to get some Pesda Press work done and I still had plenty to do to ready Caramor for our ocean crossings but we couldn't leave this beautiful island without exploring. The El Hierro tourist information website provides a satellite photo with the walking routes and roads marked. Excited, I showed it to Franco who groaned - the map didn't show ups, downs, or anything that might be important when going for a walk and relying on infrequent buses to get home.

At breakfast time, he asked "So, what are we doing?" "How about we catch the bus to San Andres, (the highest village on the island and more or less in the middle), then walk down this cliff and then back up it over here." "Sure" he said. So off we went.

No risk of missing the connecting bus as the driver is the same! you buy a ticket on the first bus then another on the second.

From San Andres we easily found route no. 8 labelled as a circular walk as we expected. The description said it would take eight and half hours but our bus left in seven (could be tricky). The cliff is the caldera of an ancient volcano, half of which collapsed into the ocean millennia ago. The path is the ancient route of an annual exodus, the inhabitants would spend the winter on the coastal plain then move 'lock stock and barrel' to the summer grazing on the upland plateau. 

The start of the walk near San Andres

Looking down from the viewpoint into the ancient caldera, the other half of the rim disappeared into the ocean

The steep path down through laura silva forest - can you spot Franco?

The difference in climate from San Andres to the bottom of the caldera was striking, on the plain we found extensive gardens growing grapes, pineapple and bananas. By the church was an interpretation panel showing the different walks, we checked where we should head next and our route was not shown as a circular. "Hmm, must be a mistake" said I.

A strange church, the belfry is at the top of the hill


The next section was along the main road which wasn't as bad as it sounds, after all the total population is 11,000 and not everyone has a car.

A surprise awaited us at the turn off to our path back up the cliff. A large sign declared the path closed because of rockfalls but the barrier tape had been cut. Spaniards take a very relaxed approach to health and safety which could mean that if the path was shut it was because it was serious.

With three hours to go before our bus we marched purposefully past the sign. The track was in need of maintenance, erosion had taken out large chunks and we had to creep gingerly round the face of the slope. Looking up it was all but impossible to guess where the path meandered. The air was full of the scent of pineapple.

This plant releases a sweet pineapple scent but when the leaves are plucked they smell like ragwort

We were delighted to reach the top, at the back of our minds we had been expecting a crucial ledge to have been swept away. 

Looking back down the way we had come up

We were looking forward to coffee and cake while waiting for the bus, but a sign brought us back to reality: 5.9 km to San Andres.

We dedicate this photo to Gareth and Thelma (honest, it isn’t Tan y Coed!)

The landscape war more ‘west coast of Ireland' than 'Canary Islands' and the temperature matched, it was freezing! (well maybe not literally). We piled on all our clothes and found a cafe opposite the bus stop. The barman was friendly and funny and from La Laguna on Tenerife and it entertained us until the bus arrived. We ordered a slice of 'gofio' (the local flour) cake each and he brought us a coconut slice 'on the house'.

Back at La Restinga we warmed up under a hot shower before heading out for a pizza. Both pizzerias were shut so we had fish instead. Franco rated his seafood grill as the best in the Canaries.

On 30th January we will set sail towards Cabo Verde (weather permitting).