El Heirro 27:38.50N 17:58.70W
Sat 29 Jan 2011 19:54
The wind from San Sebastian, Gomera to El Heirro promised to be a light northerly - just what we wanted. The passage to La Restinga on the extreme SE point of the island was about 60 miles which, based on a slow speed of 4-5 knots, would probably take over 12 hours. The recommended place for yachts in El Heirro is La Restinga, and this has only recently been made possible by the addition of two large breakwaters to prevent the swell entering, and the replacement of the fishermen's moorings with two long pontoons. Because of this, we had no detailed charts of the entrance and so were reluctant to enter at night. We decided to start mid afternoon, sail slowly overnight and reach the port in daylight the following morning. This time the wind actually stayed in the right direction (after a bit of messing about) but blew at the wrong strength! We rolled and raced our way south, gradually reefing the mizzen, then the main and finally taking the mizzen down in order to slow our progress. Eventually we realised that there was no way that we would get to our destination in the light so we hove to off the north coast of El Heirro and spent a rolly 3 hours in the middle of the night looking at the lights of Valverde (the main town) twinkling at us from high up the hillside.
Our final approach was made in the early morning, rolling towards a rather austere little town, completely isolated at the end of a black volcanic range of hills and protected behind a vast breakwater. After much difficulty we picked out the entrance and motored into the calm harbour.
Where is the entrance?
La Restinga was delightful, a very quiet fishing harbour with lots of little brightly painted fishing boats coming and going daily and unloading their catches close by at the quay. There were only a few yachts here and we quickly became friendly with Dieter and Claudia on their Swiss trimaran and Brendan and Marina from Ireland. Ashore the little town seemed to be popular with German, Norwegian and Swiss walkers and had an excellent, four times a day, bus service from which various walks could be coordinated and services such as post and butchers in Valverde could be accessed. The full bus journey took about 50 mins due to the winding roads. No matter where you went, the fare was one euro! Through this bus service we met several other couples and became very friendly with Franz and Gerda from Germany who were staying in a little appartment overlooking the harbour. We had such a lovely time with Gerda, Franz, Claudia and Dieter, socialising often in the evenings on either of the two boats or in the apartment, laughing alot and making fun at each other's and our own race's perculiarities and languages.
The scenery here was again very different from the other islands already visited. The island rises almost sheer from sea level to about 1200m. The lower and coastal scenery is very volcanic in nature whereas on the high plain you could be forgiven in thinking that you were in the Lake District, dry stone walls, grass, sheep, cattle and horses (although the odd prickly pear or Aloe Vera plant might make you wonder). The top levels up to 1500m are covered in beautiful loose Canary Pine forests, often hidden by cloud. At the southernmost end of the island there are huge old gnarled juniper trees, a symbol of the island, bent into arthritic shapes by the prevailing winds. All over the island are "Miradors" with vast sweeping panoramas often over the edge of 1000m high precipices.
The time spent here was the usual combination of exploring by bus and foot, swimming, snorkling and socialising but for one new and adventurous (for us) activity. We hired a car! We took the plunge as, by bus and by walking only half of the island could be explored. The western part is very rugged, with only one small road, the rest being accessed by black gravel tracks winding through forests and zigzagging up and down the steep valley sides. We had the car for 2 days at the vast cost of 50 euros, including insurance and no excess! It was a lovely little polo (rather newer than mine!) but despite being small, it was a bit nerve wracking to drive along the narrow winding roads with a large drop on the passenger side as I, particularly, found it difficult to judge the distance on the right side of the car. (Neither had driven abroad before). Derrick, of course, was full of useful advice and encouragement?!
As sailors, we were keen to visit the most southwesterly point of the island. Here, close to the lonely lighthouse, was the original "0" meridian, placed here before the New World was discovered. It was thought to be the very end of the world. It was later moved to Greenwich.
The end of the world
To move on to La Palma, our next island, we needed to go 65 miles north which meant that we had to keep an eye on the weather. The winds here are predominantly from the north so that when we saw the opportunity, we needed to go. Yesterday morning therefore, we bade farewell to our newfound friends, having exchanged contact details and headed north towards La Palma hoping for the predicted easterly winds.