Spain to the Canary Islands

At the end of my last blog post, I was hoping to be writing this from Madeira and here I am writing from La Graciosa in the Canary Islands. As Heidi quite rightly pointed out “planning and sailing are incompatible”.

We left Ayamonte early in the morning with a forecast promising plenty of wind from the north west and a two to three Meter swell. Perfect conditions for a quick crossing to Madeira. As we crossed the bar at the end of the river we were met with a south west wind which was exactly against us so we began tacking tnrough the short steep swell. The rest of the day nothing changed. We all got well shaken and Max was queasy with sea sickness but still managed to catch a fish.

By the next morning the wind had changed to the north west and we were making good progress in the right direction. Our last sight of land had been a glimpse of a lighthouse at Faro the previous evening but at about three o’clock we passed a buoy anchored at a depth of over one thousand meters. This was on the charts and gave us an exact position.

The second and third days were the cruisers dream. Wind enough from the correct direction and a light swell. We dried out everything, Heidi made delicious food and the boat sailed its self. Even Max was able to leave his bunk to catch another fish and Neill could take relatively accurate sun and moon sights with his sextant to fix our position.

On the evening of the third day we saw a cold front approaching with cumulo-nimbus clouds heaped up and a long black wall below. We dropped the main sail and furled the foresail as precautions and then sat and waited.

As soon as the front reached us things became less comfortable. The wind immediately increased to 25 knots and the swell began to build up. We could lie down but no one could sleep. The cockpit was regularly full of water and every few minutes a wave swept over the coach roof with some leaking in to the battery box which we had to continuously bail. It became impossible to hold our course and we turned and ran before the waves heading more south than west.

Just before first light on the fourth day the AIS system warned of an approaching ship. Eventually we saw her lights when we were on a wave crest. Both AIS and our eyeballs suggested a collision course so we called her up per VHF radio. When we asked if she had seen us visually or on radar we were told “We can’t see anything. There are just big waves out there.” To which we answered “We know. We are in amongst those waves”. Heidi shone a torch on to the tiny bit of foresail we were carrying and eventually they saw it and turned to pass behind us. Their final comment on tne radio “Have a nice trip. Enjoy sailing!”

After breakfast we tried setting a bit more sail and turning in to the waves back on to our original course. All we achieved was a complete battering so we went back to the small bit of foresail and running south. Heidi lost her grip while standing in the heads (bathroom) and shot out through the closed door, landing on the floor and looking at a surprised Max and Neill. Neill lost his balance with a jug of water in his hand and bounced off the chart table before landing on tne floor wet and with a cracked rib. Nobody lef the cabin without being clipped to the boat. At midday we reduced the foresail to “nothing” and were still running almost due south at five knots driven by the wind and waves.

At three in tbe morning of day five the wind had dropped slightly and the swell was a managable two to three meters. We were 220 miles from Madeira but just as far from La Graciosa to the south. We decided to continue south to be sure of meeting our friends in Tenerife next week.

All the fifth and sixth day we sailed south as the wind slowly dropped. Finally the only sail that the wind allowed was our light cruising chute and even with this we were only making two to three knots. At least we could dry everything out and sort out the chaos that had accumulated during the previous days. Neill could also finally take some accurate sun and moon sights.

On the morning of the seventh day we could see the island of Alegranza ahead of us. The wind was against us though so we tacked slowly backwards and forwards making very slow progress. Finally at six in tne evening, with only eighteen miles to go, the wind died completely. We cooked and ate dinner, drank a bottle of wine and watched the sun setting and the changing colours of the sea, sky and islands. At eight there was still no wind so we motored in under a full moon and anchored off a tiny village on La Graciosa.

Seven days and 688 miles of adventure. There were some great moments and some not so great parts but we are looking forward to our next long trip.

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