Yet More of La Gomera
25th to 30th November
This island of La Gomera grows on us. There are sailor folk from northern Europe who’ve been here a long time. They didn’t get further than here on their Atlantic voyages – although incidentally, Columbus set out from here. An Irish couple, “…ooh! we got here 8 years ago and liked it, so haven’t moved on yet…”. And there were Danes alongside who’ve been here even longer. The pilot book suggests one of the problems is the little marina gets overcrowded because people arrive for two days and stay two weeks (or much much longer). The charming town of San Sebastian is on the doorstep. There’s regular music and cultural activity, good shops (at least until you need boaty bits), fabulous mountain walks, quiet beaches and plenty of sunshine. The marina staff, Rebecca and Vanessa, are fabulous and sometimes think we’ll be here forever.
Notwithstanding all this, M and I do want to get a move on now. Before going south though, M is taking me back north to Tenerife for tricky work on my electrical innards. He can’t do it himself, despite many hours checking, testing, and reconnecting wires.
While staying around there’s been action: As well as some more long mountain walks for M, Andy Altenhofer, the delightful and versatile, law-a-bit-unto-himself, ever-in-demand German mechanic supremo has been on board and helped fit more solar panels on my stern. It has slightly detracted from the pristine beauty of my backside but, given the dire limitations of wind generators, it’s good to have peaceful daytime power from these panel things. (Really you know, us boats are better off being both beautiful and functional.)
A highlight for M has been that we’re in La Gomera as we near the start of another Transatlantic Rowing Race.The rowers will leave from here for Antigua in mid-December. Twenty rowing boats are assembling on the quayside, right next to where my solar panels are being fitted. (Ben Fogle and James Cracknell may have drawn your attention to it when they took part as a pair about ten years ago). Chatting to several of the rowers is a delight. All appear calm, normal, modest and unassuming. Mind you, you cannot tell what’s going on in their minds. Most are in their 20’s or 30’s, fit young men. But there are very fit women too, and a boat with four rowers, all servicemen who’ve lost their legs in conflict. You can look at the website and find out more there. They are extraordinary and we really hope they’ll all arrive safely. Just give them a thought if you sit feeling overfed, indolent and sleepy after a massive Christmas lunch!
Minor gripe though:- Why do so many major endurance-type events become commercialised? They cost a lot for participants to enter (for this rowing race it’s many thousands of pounds, I gather), the event gains publicity and popularity (some people have them on ‘bucket lists’), certainly they raise money for many good causes, and tend to be called ‘epic’, or ‘iconic’. I’d put things like the sailing ARC trips (about 1,200 sailors on over 200 boats left Gran Canaria last weekend) and even the London Marathon or climbing Everest into the same big commercial bucket. What happens to people who simply want to do these things without the fuss….
…..Which takes us on to telling you about Graham Walters of Leicester, who was sitting quietly in a local outdoor bar with a small cup of coffee. He is a long-distance rower like no other. He’s rowed the Atlantic several times already, twice alone. He’s even older than M and now wants to be the oldest man to do it. To talk to him, you’d think he was going to row over the Serpentine to feed the ducks on the other side; amiable, gently smiling face, unflappable. He’s not in the Talisker event (it’s too expensive, and it’s hard and time-consuming for a retired Leicester carpenter to raise the sponsorship funding); his freeze-dried rations, which he bought as a job lot from previous expedition, were ‘best before 2005’ – but he says they seem fine, “…not very tasty though”; his boat is old and low tech (not self-righting like modern ones, but Graham has “…fitted a couple of inflatable bags and a gas cyclinder…which should right it”, if he capsizes); asked him “What do you do if you feel like a day off from rowing?” A: “Well you can, and if injured you have to, but it takes longer to get there then…” (he hopes to do it in 100 days); to cap it all the local authorities here are saying they won’t let him leave (he wants to go the day after the Talisker rowers); apparently the last time he set out, a few years ago, “…they sent a gun-boat after me, impounded my boat and I had to pay 5,000 euros fine..”. If authorities don’t relent he reckons he may have to go back to Gran Canaria and start from there. Here is a web-site about one of his previous exploits. An extraordinary man, really extraordinary.