Andy: Gibraltar to Las Palmas de Grand Canaria

Ron Stubbington
Tue 17 Nov 2009 13:46

28:07.679N 15:25.617W


It’s now 8 days since we arrived in the Canary Islands and already the memories of the tough journey down from Gibraltar are starting to fade.  Here at the marina, and in the city, it’s just so different from our 7 day passage at sea.  The hospitality and friendliness of the local people (and the ARC organizing staff), the weather, the food, the entertainment have been a delightful tonic to make us actually want to go back to sea for another 3 weeks!  Unbelievable.  Because on the way down there were times I’m sure when each of us privately thought what the heck are we doing here and headed into.  For me that was putting it mildly J


We left the harbor at Gibraltar Tuesday Nov 03 early in the morning with a calm sea with a beautiful moon still hanging in the s ky around ‘The Rock’.  

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Some 720 nautical miles (1,350 Kilometers for the landlubbers, or about Victoria to Edmonton) to our destination.  Our first task was to navigate out and through the Straits of Gibraltar which is very much like Haro Strait only longer.  Significant currents and wind to contend with.


And the geography is intimidating.  Africa and a huge continent beyond on the left (Morocco), and Europe and Asia on the right (Spain).  The sense of history as you sail those waters separating the Mediterranean “Birth of Civilization Countries”  from Africa, Europe and America is impressive.  And towards the end of the Strait on the Spanish side is a very large, very old Roman lighthouse/guard tower standing over it all reminding you of your somewhat small place in the scheme of history.  >From their, unfortunately, the seas and weather conspired against us.


It could have been significantly worse, no question about that.  But it was certainly significantly uncomfortable.  On the second day the winds picked up into the 20-25 knots range and over the next 6 days grew steadily into the 25 to 30 range.  With short half hour to one hour increases into the 30-35 knots area, the maximum gust we saw was 38 knots.  The seas picked up and I’m sure were best described by the term ‘confused’, albeit again I’m sure it could have  been much, much worse.  Where you would like to have long, slow big rolling waves we ended up for most of the time with relatively short high and steep seas coming from different directions.  Sometimes from the NE, sometimes from N, then over to ENE.  And all at the same time.


“Wave? What Wave?”


The winds were behind us effectively all the way down so we had to sail slightly off wind.  And what all of that meant is the boat rolled, yawed, rocked, rolled, surfed off the waves, got knocked to port or starboard by waves and oh yes bounced up and down.    For those of you who have sailed in the Strait of Georgia in rough weather, or Strait of Juan de Fuca think about the ugly days you were out there.  Then take those 4 to 6 hour crossings and do it for 6 days.  Add in wave hights of 2-3 and likely 3-5 meters with short wave periods and  you will have a pretty good idea of how it felt.  We did get one or two rain squalls go over us, and several waves splashed off the sides of the boat and drenched us as the wind picked it up off the splash and blew it in our faces but for the most part it was dry.  And fairly warm unlike the cold of the pacific northwest rough weather. 


Captain Ron asks that age old question:  “Brian, Brian are you sure we go right, I mean starboard, I mean thataway ?”  To which Brian dutifully responds: “Sure, Whatever”.  Andy risks getting thrown overboard for compromising and insensitive photo taking opportunities.





Now in fairness, sailing stories are a lot like fishing stories.  I’m sure I make it bigger each time I tell it.   But those are my memories of the crossing.  At the same time there were short 30 minute periods when the sailing was just wonderful.  The wind would stabilize at 18-20 knots, the waves would turn into big but long, rolling swells all from the same direction off the port or starboard quarter, the boat would be well balanced sail wise and easy to steer and you could clip along as though you were on the interstate (in boat speeds for us that was 6.5 to 7.5 knots). 


Many of you know I take blood thinner medication (Warfarin aka Cumoden), and I think taking rat poison on a boat at sea might be a fitting allusion for my journey to this point, but suffice to say by the time we arrived I was black and blue all over.  I’m in the V-Berth at the bow for sleeping and even their I think I picked up bruises bouncing around regardless of how well I wedged myself in with luggage, baggage and pillows.  On shore and in the showers/swimming pool afterwards I’m sure some people thought I had lost a battle and maybe the war with my calm quite gentle significant other J 


Four of us brought the boat to the Canaries.  Ron, Brian, Dave and myself.  We ran two watches of two people and our watch schedule was 6, 6, 5, 4, 3.  Which means that Ron and Brian took the first watch from 6:00 am to Noon.  Then Dave and I took second shift Noon to 6:00 pm.  Then  Brian-Ron 6:00 pm to 11:00 pm, followed by Dave-Andy 11:00 pm to 3:00 am and finally Ron-Brian 3:00 am to 6:00 am.  At that point you keep alternating the sequence for the second day but you are now on the opposite set of watches.  It worked quite well because in the heavy weather you needed two people on watch both alternating steering and trimming sail occasionally.  It was hard work on the wheel in those conditions and we all tired quickly.  With the strain of the sleeping pattern change, getting sleep in those conditions and using a lot of energy just moving about the boat in rough seas we all tired quickly.  But credit to us, our spirits remained strong and upbeat and we never once took out our anxieties and/or frustrations on each other.  And as I write this it occurs the boat performed pretty well too.  Some minor breakdowns but nothing major.  We broke our main sail furling line to the cockpit, but could still reef/furl the main by going up on deck.  Certainly a challenge and inconvenient but quite manageable.  We forget to turn off the water maker once so ended up with water sloshing around in the head.  As soon as we realized the source and emptied the bilge no problem.  But at first you kind of go .. hmmmm   where’s this water coming from !!!???


Night sailing was in a good mix of variable conditions.  Some starlight sailing, some bright moon against puffy clouds sailing, but mostly it was very dark with squalls and showers around.  I’ve always been a “steer by the horizon or sighting” skipper with occasional glances at the compass to maintain the correct course.  At night, with no horizons, you really do have to steer by compass alone otherwise you do a drunken sailor dance along your track.  Many thanks to Dave for showing me tips and techniques on how to do (sail by compass alone) that.  I think I’m reasonably proficient at it now and it’s certainly a skill that will come in very handy in the future.  Very, very different that steering under power in calm seas. 


And finally landfall in the Canaries.  The seas were large and sloppy to the end but after rounding the breakwater at about 9:00 AM Monday morning everything started to look up.



Well enough of the preparation journey.  As I said at the start all is well.  The wind and wave forecasts and expectations for the big crossing are much more promising.  Kevin, the fifth crew member, joined us last night and Myles will join us on Thursday.  Anticipation and excitement are rising and we all feel fit and ready to go on!  Silly really, isn’t it ? J  The bright and positive side is that perhaps we have the worst behind us, and at the very least we know we can handle the tough stuff which in itself if very comforting.


More later from yours truly.


Andy  (On board Erasmos Tuesday Nov 17th, 7:00 AM)