Boating life amongst the volcanoes

John & Susan Simpson
Mon 4 Oct 2021 19:10
With the volcanic eruption on La Palma being so much in the news, the question we’ve been asked most from home is whether the volcano is affecting our plans.  Thankfully the volcano is just over 200 miles from where we are and we have seen nothing of it.  Nor is it likely to change anything as our route from here to the Caribbean takes us no closer to La Palma than we are now, the island being to the West and we will head South.  

All of the islands in the Canaries are of volcanic origin and I was really struck in Lanzarote by the tenacity of mankind to create an existence in the harshest of environments.  On the face of it Lanzarote is bleak.  The soil is black or very dark red, the sun beats down all day long and a hot wind blows across the island.  And yet the local people developed a means of farming which reaps the benefits of the mineral deposits from the lava flows and uses the natural qualities of the ash to grow crops.  This method of dry farming called enarenado was developed in the 18th century.  Plants are grown amongst tiny granules of volcanic ash which absorbs humidity and prevents evaporation.  Low walls encircle the crops to shelter them from drying out in the winds.  When I first saw a guy tilling what looked to me like a bed of cinders I couldn’t believe that he actually intended to grow anything but apparently it works!  We tried some of the local white wine made from grapes grown on the island and it was delicious.

We loved our time at Rubicon Marina, Lanzarote and made the most of the variety of restaurants which surround the marina basin, as well as catching up with friends on other boats.  As we had Casamara lifted out there we spent most of our time on boat maintenance.  We repainted the anti-fouling on the hull, cleaned and polished the topsides and replaced the sacrificial anodes (these prevent the seawater degrading the metal fittings on the hull). She looked fabulous as she went back into the water.  It was hot work and we were pleased at the end of each day to have rented a villa with a small pool whilst Casamara was out of the water and in the boatyard.  We would go back to the villa at the end of the day for a dip in the pool.  The water was absolutely freezing but very refreshing.

After - note that we also raised the red anti-fouling line to be flush with the wide blue line on the hull.  As we are carrying more live-aboard stuff nowadays we are lying lower in the water and we were seeing weed growth above the anti-fouling.  It was either that or ditch some of the musical instruments!

We left Lanzarote just after 7 am and headed towards Las Palmas on the island of Gran Canaria.  This will be Casamara’s location until 21st November when the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers starts - next stop St Lucia! Our sail across from Lanzarote was about as perfect a voyage as you can get.  The wind and sea swell were in the perfect direction for fast sailing and the sun shone all day.  It took us exactly 12 hours to complete the c.100 miles, averaging 8.3 knots an hour.  

This map shows our route from Lanzarote to Gran Canaria (and location in relation to the La Palma volcano).  The red arrow points to an interesting navigational hazard - a submerged volcano!

This is how the chart looks for the area between Gran Canaria and Fuerteventura.  The depth of the sea goes from about 3000 metres to 20 metres on the right of the submerged volcano.  The pink lines indicate a traffic separation zone for ships so that they avoid the shallow water.  Las Palmas, Gran Canaria is a large port with much large commercial shipping so this is a necessary safety measure.

Arriving in Las Palmas marina we were greeted on the Reception pontoon by one of the Marineros (marina staff), which was lucky because Casmara’s bow thruster chose that moment to break down.  The bow thruster is a small engine in the forward hull which moves the front of the boat sideways and we use it when manoeuvring in close quarters.  This particular berth was one of those, a tight corner that we needed to reverse into with a strong wind pushing the bow of the boat the wrong way.  Fortunately, John was able to manage the boat skilfully while the Marinero tied us to the pontoon and we lived to tell the tale!  It’s said that sailing around the world is just maintaining your boat in remote locations, and it’s certainly true that it’s a constant task to keep the boat functioning.  The frustrating thing about the bow thruster failure is that we now have to have Casamara lifted out in Gran Canaria for the repair.  Ah well, at least it gives us chance to admire her newly painted bottom again!