Loop North round Tenerife then South to Cape Verde
1st to 12th December
We have been in La Gomera quite a long time. It’s time to move on. But it’s sensible first to fix everything properly before the next big bit of the trip. M couldn’t alas, fix the AIS, SOG, COG stuff (for non-sailors, this is electronic magic that among other things, somehow shows where ships are, and shows them where you are – I’ll show a photo). And, the island of La Gomera has no magic experts so it meant another trip back to Santa Cruz, the capital of Tenerife. Not that that matters, as Santa Cruz is a wonderful city, especially colourful now with pretty and harmonious Christmas decorations (imagine…Christmas shopping in your T-shirts and flip-flops!)
From the island of La Gomera, it’s about 65 miles to Santa Cruz, but M, with characteristic change-of-mind and weary of the beating at south end of Tenerife, took the long way round, up the west coast of Tenerife rather than east coast, an extra 20 miles or so. The west coast of Tenerife is relatively empty and the volcanic landscapes up to Mt Teide are inspiring.
Overnight I anchored in a tiny bay off San Marcos, Tenerife – a bit rolly of course! It looked like a little tourist village, with pizza restaurant on the front, but it was late and too rough for M to land. Local fishing boats don’t moor or go ashore the normal way either; instead, they are hoisted in and out by a crane on the quay. What happens is this: straps from the crane dangle just above the sea and, as the fishing boat surges and rolls in the swell beneath, the fishermen on board reach for the straps and quickly fix them to the boat, signal to the crane operator who promptly lifts them a metre above the water. Presumably the fishermen then check their angle-of-dangle, and if OK, up they go, swinging away and over the harbour wall. It looked like a very unnerving way to end a long day’s fishing. This lift-out/in procedure happens at night too. Bright flood lights went on before dawn as a boat was lowered to the waves. (A pity, M’s photo doesn’t show it more clearly!)
Up before dawn ourselves, we headed north up round the top of Tenerife and down south a bit on the other side. It’s a trying and tiring sort of sail as mountains, spectacular as they are, forever change the strength and direction of wind. North of Santa Cruz some very skillful paragliders were swooping and soaring on the thermals and updrafts among the mountain ridges (they’re the specks in the photo)
Next day, Pepe, a very quick and expert electronic magic man, came aboard and fixed AIS. (In case you’re interested, he deduced it was a contact inside a special multi-wire cable connecting two devices . He reckoned it was too short and under tension; and was something M would never have found, and didn’t have replacement cable anyway).
Whilst a longer stay in Santa Cruz was tempting, it was time to get a move on, so, weighed down with fuel, water and food, and with emigration paper from good-natured Port Police (good gracious, paperwork!), we headed out before dusk.
This is M’s biggest ever single-handed trip. It’s about 800 miles to Cape Verde. He has all the concerns he had when leaving Portugal on a long trip a month ago. Sleep? Safety? Sanity? The reality: – sometimes challenging but memorably marvellous. Sleep? An hour or two here and there (not such a big deal for an insomniac who has to get-up-in-the-night quite a lot anyway!) Safety? Wear a harness when scampering about on deck (well, not quite scampering….crawling really) and don’t drink (a welcome holiday for the organs of a borderline alcoholic!). Sanity? Of course! You marvel at the magnificence of vast empty powerful ocean. One sailing boat overtook us; it was over 50 ft long, with pink spinnaker up, and the only boat we saw within 20 miles in a week.
At night: the great sparkling dome of stars in dark tropical night sky, a few satellites twinkling across; by day: the ceaseless roll, and gurgle and swoosh, of passing ocean swell, scattering flying fish, their wild and chaotic flight so completely at odds with the swooping majestic ballet of the occasional shearwater; and, on nearing Cape Verde, a sea turtle flapping gently beneath the clear blue sea and, in our wake, a solitary fish (M doesn’t know what it is. Dorado? Nearly a metre long, lighter flashes along its back, effortlessly swishing along with us.) It’s a joyful thrill to see such sights. And, though the wilder spells sometimes make it exhausting and very slow to make a meal or wash, or even move, below deck, there is twice the satisfaction when it’s done. (Since cracked ribs on bit from Portugal to Canaries, M is even slower and more careful these days!)
Not wishing to reach our destination in the dark, a sail came down and just a little bit of furled genoa slowed me so we reached Ilha do Sal, at dawn. Ilha do Sal, the pilot book says, is “the most northeasterly of the Cape Verde islands…and covers some 216 sq. km”.
I’d sailed over 800 miles (sometimes quite slowly, as we are still trying new ideas for downwind sailing; and at night, we don’t have too much sail up). The engine was on for less than one hour, just in and out at each end. I’m now anchored at Porto da Palmeira, one of the few places in Cape Verde where we have to get inward clearance (coming in your own boat seems more complicated than as an aeroplane passenger). It’s a bit of a one horse town (well, no horse, but lots of skinny exhausted unloved dogs, heads down and dejected, slumped around in African dust). Helpful boatman and general assitant, Jay, welcomed me in his inflatable (M communicates in appalling schoolboy French) and Jay points out where to anchor, then sells bread, suggests where to go and what to do…..more about Cape Verde next time….