San Sebastian La Gomera 28 05.357N 017 06.519W

Mon 23 Nov 2015 17:12

Date:                Monday 23rd November 2015


Position:          Moored in Marina La Gomera, San Sebastian Harbour


I realize that it has been some time since my last blog over two weeks in fact. It is remiss of me not to have update you all sooner but since arriving in La Gomera I have taken a kind of holiday before getting stuck in and making my final preparations for the Atlantic crossing, so please forgive me.  I left you last en route to La Palma, which was 250nm from Madeira.  It was an interesting passage with one or two incidents occurring to get to old heart pumping.  The passage should have taken about two and a half days and the weather information predicted very light winds so I was expecting to do most of it under engine.  I set off from Quinta do Lorde marina at 12 noon on Wednesday the 4th November and my expected ETA at Santa Cruz harbour on La Palma was around late afternoon on Friday 6th November giving me two nights at sea.  The first incident occurred late afternoon on the first day just as I was preparing supper.  For some reason I took a glance at the alternator regulator panel and the message displayed said, “alternator overheating”.  I immediately leaped up into the cockpit and turned the engine off before any serious damage could be done.  When I removed the engine cover the problem was immediately obvious, there was a crack in the water pump drive belt so the water pump had not been doing its job properly.  This was no big deal as such but had I not noticed the alternator was overheating it could have ended up a much more serious problem and at worst seizing up the engine.  This was an issue that had played on my mind when motoring for hours at a time.  It is not possible to keep looking at the instruments all the time and I knew that the alarm that should sound if the engine overheats was not working.  My fear had been justified and I was lucky that I had looked at the alternator panel just at the right time.  I have now ordered a new sensor and alarm, which I will fit before leaving on the long haul across the Atlantic.  Anyway, I changed the belt out and while I was at it I changed the alternator belt too as I knew this was also coming to the end of its useful life.  The job took around an hour to complete and we were soon up and running again and back on track for La Palma.  It was not long after this that a gentle breeze set in.  Nothing special around 8 knots but just enough to keep Celtic Dawn moving along nicely.  I decided to set the sails to give the engine a good rest and we sailed along at between 2 ½ to 3 knots which, while not that fast was a pleasant change from having the engine on all the time.  I then reassessed my passage plan.  I have mentioned before that I do not like to enter a new harbour in the dark if I can help it.  I worked out that in order to arrive at Santa Cruz before dark I would need to motor all the way but if I motored at my usual cruising speed it would be touch and go so I would probably have to push the engine a little harder than usual.  The engine would have been more than capable of doing this but the recent incident had made me a little jittery so I decided against this course.  My second option was to slow the speed down a bit and spend another night a sea planning to arrive early morning instead.  The sailing conditions were perfect for this so we had a peasant sail for the rest of the passage cruising along at between 2 or 3 knots in lovely gentle conditions.  It is in conditions just like this that I have noticed a phenomenon that is rather peculiar.  It may be just me but other sailors may have noticed it as well.  I first came across it when I was involved in the Atlantic Rowing Challenge in 2007.  When I was off watch lying in the aft cabin as the boat gentle moved along I had the impression that I could hear people talking.  You know when you are on one side of a door and you can hear people on the other side talking but not quite loud enough to hear what they are saying, well it is just like that.  It is the same on Celtic Dawn when the conditions are right and there is not too much crashing about I hear these strange noises that sound just like people talking.  I can imagine what you are all thinking right now, a bloke sailing all alone hearing imaginary voices!  Well maybe you’re right I have been alone at sea for sometime now.  


I mentioned there were two incidents that occurred whilst I was on passage.  The second happened during the first night about 35 - 40nm out of Madeira.  I had been dozing in my bunk for a while when the alarm for the AIS went off.  I got up and looked at the chartplotter to identify the ship that had caused the alarm.  She was 20nm from my position and of no concern to me.  But while I was up I decided to go on deck to have a good look around and as I got into the cockpit to my surprise there was a series of white, quick flashing lights stretched out in front of me.  There were about 10 or 12 in total all in a line covering about a 2nm range.  I was startled for a moment because I had checked my route on both the paper chart and the electronic chart before I left and neither had shown any lights in this area.  I started to think what they could be.  They could not be fishing boats, as there were no other navigation lights shown.  They could be fish farms I suppose but this far from land that was unlikely.  They could indicate a pipeline but we were in 3000m of water so that was unlikely as well.  But what ever they were I was closing in on one of them fast.  I went below to check the charts again and confirmed that no lights were charted in this area.  Back on deck again I took the wheel until we had passed the one immediately ahead then reset my course and put Henry back in control.  Strangely enough the same thing happened as I was closing La Palma.  About 35 - 40nm out a similar series of lights were visible and again they were not charted.  I have still not found out what they were precisely but my theory is that they could be something to do with approach lights for aircraft flying into Madeira and La Palma given that both sets were in a straight line.  I will keep investigating until I find out the answer.


I arrived at Santa Cruz at 8am on Saturday 7th November and after obtaining permission to enter the harbour from harbour control I made my way to the marina at the far end of the port.  Santa Cruz is a fairly large commercial port and also accommodates a lot of cruise liners.  In fact I had followed one into the harbour that morning and over the next four days there were at least one or two cruise liners in every day.  The marina is quite new and the facilities good but it has one problem, which is noted in the pilot book and I can confirm from personal experience.  Even in calm conditions there is a constant swell in the marina and it affects the whole of the marina not just the pontoons near the entrance.  It is strange because the marina is at the far end of the port so it is well protected from the open sea and it also has its own breakwater.  But even so boats in the marina are constantly moving around which puts a great deal of stress on your lines and cleats.  In fact, the pilot book says that in bad conditions it is better to leave the marina and take your chances at sea and although this course of action would not usually be recommended, in this instance I can quite believe it might be the best thing to do.  Santa Cruz de la Palma is a nice town to visit and I am glad I stopped here but it is not a place I would be inclined to hang around in.  It is one of those towns I would describe as a “long weekender”.  Great for a couple of days but by then you will have seen everything there is to see and it is time to move on.  There are two main streets that run parallel to each other full of the usual toot shops and plenty of boutique clothes and shoe shops.  Ann and Irene would love it!  Of course the bars and restaurants are full of the passengers from the cruise liners and you get the impression that the whole place is set up just to cater for this particular trade.  I had not taken much noticed on my first day ashore but on the second day, as I visited a few of the bars and restaurants I began to get a feeling that La Palma had a connection with Cuba in some way.  It was the photos and paintings on the walls that first gave me this feeling and the music some of the bars played reinforced this impression.  There were also one or two shops selling Havana cigars and one chap in the market place rolling cigars and selling them to the tourists.  My curiosity was finally satisfied when I asked one of the barmen, who spoke particularly good English, if there was indeed a connection with Cuba.  The answer I received was not quite what I was expecting.  I thought it would be some historic connection perhaps to do with the slave trade in some way or perhaps a long standing trading connection.  No, the actual answer was much simpler than that.  In 1952 Fulgencio Batista ran for the presidency of Cuba and facing a certain electoral defeat he lead a military coup and made himself president.  It is well know that he got into bed with the American mafia and actively encouraged the building of hotels, casinos, restaurants and associated businesses.   Cuba and in particular Havana, became the place to go to make money.  A lot of people from the Canaries and in particular La Palma, emigrated to Cuba to work or set up businesses.  Everything was fine until 1959 when the revolution led by Fidel Castro took control of Cuba and everyone fled the country.  Many of the people who had emigrated from La Palma returned to the island and with their newly acquired wealth brought up the best bars, restaurants and other local businesses.  I detected from the inflection in his voice that this had caused a degree of resentment from those who had remained on the island and I can quite understand this.  To see people leaving La Palma for economic reasons then returning because they had been kicked out of Cuba, now wealthy by comparison to the islands population, buying up the good businesses, of course it must have been difficult for those left behind to swallow. 


Anyway, I spent another couple of days in Santa Cruz de la Palma and left at 6am on Wednesday 11th to make my way to San Sebastian harbour on the island of La Gomera about 50nm SE of La Palma.  After a good days sailing I arrive that Marina La Gomera at 4pm tied up the pontoon and felt like I had returned home.  I just love this place!  I don’t know what it is but it just feels comfortable, a place where I could spend time and not get bored.  San Sebastian is not a big town but it has everything you need.  Plenty of bars and restaurants to keep you busy, a few twee clothes shops, hardware shops, half a dozen supermarkets and a public market.  A good place to lay up for a few weeks to stock up on final provisions before the long haul.  In fact I managed to acquire a vital piece of equipment that has been missing from the boat ever since I left the UK.  I have been on the lookout for these items for ages and even in the big towns/cities I have visited despite searching hard I didn’t find any anywhere.  I had given up all hope of finding any when suddenly, while I was rummaging around one of the hardware stores in San Sebastian, there they were, six of them all nice and shinny sitting on the shelf.  Six nice new sparkling martini glasses!  Not only that but there was a stainless steel cocktail shaker to replace the glass one that I broke awhile back.  So I brought the lot and set off back to the boat in preparation for the evening’s cocktail hour or two.  As I sat in the cockpit ice-cold martini in hand reflecting on the past six months I thought to myself “life doesn’t get any better than this”!  Have I mentioned that before?


One of the things I like about San Sebastian, and I suppose this goes for Spain in general, is that family is important to them and families do things together.  Take last night for example, Friday night.  I decided to go out to eat and as I was walking through the main town square you could see all the local families out for the evening.  Mum and dad were siting outside one of the bars drinking coffee, beer or what ever was their fancy and children of all ages were running around the square having a thoroughly great time playing with their friends.  They were making a bit of noise but not in an unruly way and their parents never had to step in and tell them off or keep them in check the children basically behaved themselves without being told.  It was good because you never felt threatened or even annoyed.  The other thing you never see is people drunk in the street despite alcohol being freely available.  I mean, every bar, café and restaurant, and there are quite a few of them, sell alcohol but no one seems to abuse it.  If you go to any town center in the UK on a weekend, sadly the situation is very different.  The drinking culture amongst our young people seems to be to get as drunk as you can as quickly as you can.  Why is it that when it comes to alcohol we get it so wrong?


Anyway, enough of my soapbox talk I am off to the beach for a swim.  Yes there are a couple of nice beaches here one right by the marina and the other a short walk away.  Unfortunately they are not made of beautiful golden sand but rather black volcanic sand, which takes a bit of getting used to.  The temperature here is still in the mid to high 20°C although it has been a little cooler over the past few days because of the tremendous winds that have been passing through.  However, the temperature of the seawater is around 22°C.  Your testacies still do that shrinking violate thing though when the first wave hits your crotch but once you’re under the water is lovely.  Sorry, what’s that! Oh the weather back in the UK is not all that good, ah pity!


I must leave you now as I have things to do.  I’ve had my holiday so now its time to get to work and start to plan for the crossing in earnest.  First thing I need to do is to work out a twenty-one day menu plan so I have an idea of what provisions we need and make a shopping list.  Well it wasn’t going to be too long before I mentioned food again was it. 


Bye for now.


Signing off Ted

Celtic Dawn moored at the marina in Santa Cruz de la Palma

Some interior shots (looking aft)

Looking For’ard

Another view for'ard

The galley doesn’t it look clean!

The navigation station

Another view