Lanzarote and the countdown begins...

Sun 6 Nov 2005 22:01
Today is exactly two weeks before the ARC is due off. We are still in Puerto Calero on Lanzarote, which is not quite as planned.
We came here about ten days ago to meet Penny's mum, Julie, sister Sally and Sally's toddler, Charlie. Julie had rented a villa a few minutes walk from the marina. There were enough beds for all of us and a bath! It was great to see them. The children had literally been counting the days. It was Sally's birthday while they were here and Anna and Eddie had good fun making paper chains to decorate the villa, baking a cake and all that. 
We hired a big car. One day we drove up to the volcano in Timanfaya National Park. This last erupted in the 1730s spewing ash and lava over an area of 200sqkm. The affected land is flat but covered in lumps of black solidified lava. It's full of bubbles and you see cut pieces used for steps or swimming pool edges to provide grip. At the top of Fire Mountain there's a restaurant, Islote de Hilario, where they barbecue the meat or fish over a hole in the ground and the floor is hot to the touch. It's still over a 100c just a few metres below the ground.
Another day we went to a group of caves formed by lava flow in the north of the island. Everyone (except me) went on the 1km underground tour. The caves were used by the island's original inhabitants, the Guanches, to hide from slave-traders and Spanish colonialists.
The Guanches, from what I can gather, were a rather strange lot. They're thought to have come from North Africa. By the time the Spanish came they'd completely lost the ability to sail and no boats have ever been found. Given that Fuerteventura is very clearly visible from where we are in Lanzarote and all seven main islands spread over no more than 250 miles East to West, that is odd. Also, according to one book I glanced at while Eddie and Anna were sifting the souvenirs, the Guanches attitude to law abidance varied widely. On Lanzarote, a first instance of theft was punished by removing one eye and a second by removing the other. Whereas on La Palma theft was 'regarded as an artform and not punished'. We're not going to La Palma. Some Guanches used long poles to vault from rock to rock and over gullies. And others communicated across valleys by whistling. By all accounts, those with Guanche blood and those without now all get on quite well.
General Franco was military governor of the islands in 1936, at the time he planned and then led the nationalist revolt which sparked off the Spanish Civil War. In Tenerife, according to the excellent Atlantic Islands by Anne Hammick, 'black bows were to be seen adorning the national flag following his death in 1975'.
Ms Hammick also draws attention to the relative paucity of place names - 'Some care needs to be exercised to distinguish between La Palma the island and Las Palmas the capital of Gran Canaria, between Santa Cruz the capital of La Palma and Santa Cruz the capital of Tenerife, and regarding the use of the names Gran Canaria and Tenerife to describe the islands, the provinces or both'. Not quite as weird as the two Wangfords in Suffolk but confusing enough.  
The artist Cesar Manrique is the local hero on Lanzarote. The island government accepted his advice to restrict building over two stories and despite a few British Pubs etc in Playa Blanca, it's about as attractive as a volcanic rock can be. Puerto Calero, where we're staying, could be the smartest bit of the island. It appears to be named after its very-much-still-alive owner/developer, and now contains an enormous Iberostar hotel. This is currently not very full and you can get a room and full board for 40e a night. The marina is not too bad at 20e. Retirement homes appear to be taking over from holidays as the main business. The population of the islands has doubled in the last seven years. You can buy a bungalow for 23,000e and the Daily Express is depressingly available. Whether it's a good long-term move to base your economy on British and German pension funds, only time will tell.                      
After the caves, we drove to an observation point designed by Senor Manrique overlooking the straight between Lanzarote and Graciosa. It's a great view. We were quite jealous of the boats still in the anchorage. Afterwards we stopped at the first restaurant we found and had an excellent lunch - grilled meat and the two local mojo sauces, garlic and chilli.
Julie, Sally and Charlie's flight was cancelled and they left about 10 hours later than planned, which was pretty miserable for them. But I think they had a good time otherwise. Charlie missed Robbie, his dad, who had to stay at home working. They brought us a lot of stuff  - a mainsheet block and an anode for the propellor amongst other things. A trip like this would be very difficult without help like that.
We got the boat lifted for a day in the yard attached to the marina. Penny put on a coat of anti-fouling while I changed the anodes and pretended to do other 'more technical' things. It cost 200e but was worth it, I think. Most of the anodes had pretty well gone and there was no grease left in the propellor. 
We also got the local Volvo agent to look at the very small leak from the fresh water pump on the engine and he decided it needed replacing. He wouldn't order it until I'd paid for it and because time is short I did straightaway. It cost a ghastly amount and we're now stuck here until it arrives and is fitted. But he promised it would only be 2-3 days and could be fitted very quickly once it arrived. I hope we'll be able to set off for Gran Canaria and the start of the ARC by Wednesday. If it does get fixed it'll be a good thing - there are far fewer Volvo agents on the other side of the Atlantic. But it's a worry. We were also hit by a boat on a nearby slip going out to race in high winds. It appears to have done no more than bend up a lifebouy holder, which I've fixed, but if it had damaged the Hydrovane the trip would be off. There are times when I feel everything is hanging on a few slender threads. 
We've used the extra time here to start stocking for the trip. Penny has completed her meal plan and we're hiring a car tomorrow and will go to the Hyper-Dino in Arecife. We need about another 100 ltrs of bottled water. We've also decided to get 1 small tin of beer per adult per day. The children will have a treat for every 1 degree of longitude but they have to spot when they're passed.                  
Had there not been the problem with the engine, we were planning to leave on Thursday but it's been blowing 7s and 8s outside so we might have stayed anyway. We've about 100 miles to go to Gran Canaria and will do it overnight. Apparently, Canaries weather is least predictable in October and November.
We've met a nice couple called Peter and Veronica on a Hallberg Rassy (but not, thank god, brand new). He's done 9 Westward crossings and 7 Eastward. They've given us a lot of tips for the trip and the Caribbean. In between stocking up and fixing/preparing, we've been snorkelling off some rocks just south of the marina. You can see the bottom about 7 or 8 m down and there are fish everywhere. Anna and Eddie have new gear and are enjoying it a lot.       
The Navtext has been warning 'all ships in the area maritime zone of canary island/spain se coast look our for risk of locust plage (sic)'. No locusts (or frogs) spotted so far. Pictures follow.