Cruising the archipelago of the Canaries

Dick and Irene Craig
Sun 11 Oct 2009 11:20

The evening we arrived at La Gomera, we had a super meal in a restaurant, recommended by a chap who had lived in South Africa but who now lives on the island. He and his sister look after a motor cruiser plus a couple of other boats, berthed in this marina.

We had hoped to meet with Austin but he couldn’t get away. The people who had chartered his classic sailing boat had too much to drink and not looked after their 11 year old. She subsequently fell into the water and ended up underneath one of the pontoons. Following her rescue she was taken to the local hospital and is now fine. However, her family wanted to leave the marina and anchor so, sometime approaching midnight, Austin and his colleague had to move the boat to an anchorage in a nearby bay.

Next morning we hired a car and drove around the island, mainly on elevated roads in the mountains, with their fair share of hairpin bends.

Perhaps La Gomera doesn’t have as many tunnels as does Madeira but based on tunnels per square mileage, there cant be much in it.

The scenery is just stunning with the most indescribably beautiful mountains and ravines. From almost everywhere on the island, there is a wonderful view. Mt. Teide on Tenerife, some 25miles away, looks as if it is just a backdrop to the mountains on this lovely island.

We drove through the national park and the dense forestation, some 600+metres above sea level. “More a cloud forest than a rain forest” said Philip and he spoke the truth. The predominant trees in the forest are related to the laurel and with their evergreen leaves, stay green all the year.

There is a shortage of water here, so the moisture which supports this forest must come from the clouds, not that there were any around during our stay here.

Sadly there is an aging population here as most of the young people leave, looking for an easier way of life than toiling the soil.

A considerable number of terraces have been built, to assist the agricultural way of life and although many are cultivated, with grape-vines and plantations of bananas, as well as other crops, most of the terraces have either been left fallow or perhaps are now just neglected.

There are a couple of other ARC boats here in this marina at San Sabastian, as well as one or two that are planning to cross the Atlantic independently. Everyone is very friendly and it is impossible to set foot on the pontoon without chatting to someone else who is also on a boat here.

Monday is a fiesta, a Saints day and all the shops are closed except the local supermarket which remained open until 1pm.

We had lunch on board and then left San Sabastian to travel to an anchorage near Valle Gran Rey, about 14 miles down the coast. The passage was not very pleasant with wind over tide and we were punching unto a force 6. We saw the small marina of Puerto de Santiago, after having traveled about half way to our destination. We hoped to shelter there for the night but we were not permitted to stay so we continued on to our anchorage, just outside of the marina of Puerto de Vueltas.

There were already a few sailing boats at anchor and we joined them, putting out a kedge anchor in addition to the main anchor, so that the boat would face the swell, rather than the wind.

While we were at anchor, during the hours of darkness, a monohull, also anchored here, sank to the bottom of the sea. The Spanish equivalent of the RNLI made a search during the night but returned in the morning to continue to locate the sunken vessel. We subsequently received a Navtex “Uncharted dangerous wreck, 8 metres long, showing a mast at low tide”.

We spent an uncomfortable night here and left by 9am to make passage to El Hierro, the smallest of the islands in the archipelago.

We arrived at the marina of Puerto de la Estaca around 5pm. The marina office is only open during the morning but a port policeman directed us to a berth against the quayside and took our lines. As the tide went out, it was necessary to attach another line to the bow and it was no mean feat, pulling the boat towards the quayside, against the wind, so that Dick was able to climb a ladder, set back into the concrete wall, to access the top of the quay.

Next morning, Dick went ashore and formalized our arrival and arranged for us to hire a car for the day.

A chap arrived from the aeropuerto and drove us back there, to collect the car. At first it seemed as if there was a problem with the power steering but the “city” button had been left depressed by the previous user. I have to say that subsequently, we were very glad of the power steering.

We traveled to the main town of Valverde and down to Porto Restinga, where we stopped for coffee and looked at the boats in the harbour. There was a large sailing boat tied alongside the wall of the quay and three smaller sailing boats tied up to one of the pontoons. Also, in the bay were another two monohulls which looked as if they were on moorings.

From there we drove upwards, across the mountain ridge towards the lighthouse at Punto Orchilla. It was a very scarey ride. Not only were the roads narrow and winding, in many places there was nothing between us and the sea below.

We passed through the forest which was not as dense as in La Gomera and mainly consisted of pine trees. In a couple of places, the pines had been cleared and on a plateau, almond trees were growing. We could see where trees had been felled, chopped into logs and left, piled by the side of the road. Some of the more recently felled piles of logs, still had branches with pines needles attached.

Just below, on the edge of the forest, a lot of fig trees were growing. There were so many that one has to believe that they are grown commercially.

The last five kilometers of the road to the lighthouse was unmetalled. In fact, the ash and clinker, probably courtesy of the volcano, was possibly flattened, to make the road.

Punta Orchilla, at the western tip of El Hierro, even until the 15th century, was considered to be the limit of the known world and from 1634 until 1884, when Greenwich was internationally recognized as prime meridian, Punta Orchilla held this status, along with several others at that time.

When we arrived at the lighthouse, set within lava flow, it was closed and in the process of being renovated for use as a restaurant and museum. We had braved those sheer drops, to come here, to collect a certificate stating that we had visited the most western part of Europe, for naught.

 It seems that the certificate is now issued from an office in Valverde. The map given to us by the tourist office at the aeropuerto was not the latest issue and was out of date. No certificate but then, what would we have done with it even if we had obtained one?

We chose the inner road for our return journey, rather than the coast road, fearing that the coast road might be even more frightening than the road across the mountain ridge. Passing through cloud at 1330 metres did nothing to relieve the fear factor caused by the sheer drops and clinker built road. Then, at last, the road was once again metalled and there were barriers on the side of the still winding road.

Finally, we returned to the marina just after 5pm. The tide had come in and our boat was swinging back and forth, in towards the wall and out again.

I am so pleased that we use big, round fenders. When the tide goes out, the fenders fall below the lip on the quay which is indented around 40cm, for the length of the wall. If we still used the cylindrical fenders supplied with the boat, we would have no protection from the concrete wall, as they would disappear into the gap.

At 18.30 we ceased to be the only visiting boat here, when a French couple on a sailing monohull arrived and tied up alongside, ten metres in front of us. They will have to use their dinghy to reach one of the ladders, if they want to get ashore. Even at spring high tide, without a ladder, the wall of the quay is too high to access the dockside for all but the most agile.

We left Puerto de la Estaca at 8am. I was lucky to be on watch at 10am, when three dolphin played around the bows for about five minutes before departing. We motor-sailed until 1pm, then sailed until within an hour of our destination. We punched through the sea with the wind and tide against us and the 54 nautical mile trip became a 74 nautical mile trip, allowing for the tacking.

We eventually switched on the engines just 9 miles from Santa Cruz de la Palma, in an attempt to arrive before it became dark. We tied up alongside the reception pontoon at 9.15pm.

Next morning, we moved the boat from the reception pontoon to a hammerhead. Philip kindly hosed the salt from the boat, Dick went ashore to complete the entry formalities and then we were off again, in a hire car, exploring another volcanic island.

The highest point on La Palma is 2400metres and Caldera de Taburiente, the largest volcanic crater in the world has a circumference of 27 kilometres. The heavily forested slopes of the ravines against the towering sheer rock of the mountains, make stunningly beautiful vistas.

We visited the two volcanos on the southern tip of the island and walked around the edge of the crater created in the 17th century. The volcano which erupted in 1971 was close by.

Saturday morning we left the marina soon after sunrise to make passage to San Miguel, on Tenerife, to the marina in which we had stayed 8 days ago.

Within two hours we were sailing and although the sea was big and uncomfortable, we were traveling at speeds up to 10knots. Mid afternoon Dick spotted six pilot whales but didn’t have time to call us as they only surfaced as we were passing them.

As we came into the lee of Tenerife, the wind changed direction and for the last four hours we had to use the engines.

We tied up alongside having covered 77nautical miles in eleven hours.

The berth was more comfortable than when we were last here as we were moored stern to the quay rather than alongside. Unfortunately, one of the lazy lines twisted round the starboard propeller while we were trying to berth, so Dick had to dive under the boat next morning, to free the line.

In many marinas it is a health hazard to have to enter the water but the water here is very clean and clear.



Lighthouse at the end of the world

Pictures of the volcano 1971