Canaries to England

21st April to 11th May 2023

Henrietta and I left the Canary Island of La Palma, bound for England, before the end of April. It’s about 1,600 miles, four hours by aeroplane, maybe two weeks or so by Henrietta. I thought perhaps we’d stop in the Azores on the way.

I’d decide later whether to stop, but several sailors had told me of a small island called Santa Maria, one of the Azores archipelago that I’d never visited, so it was tempting. (In the end I did stop, see later.)

There’s little wind to start with but we slop along northwards at about two knots basking in hot sunshine. I’m always loathe to start the engine – dirty, smelly, brutish beast.

A few days out and a flying hitchhiker joins us. He’s a fragile and exhausted looking little fellow. As a  bird spotter of limited talent, I can’t identify it. He’s probably blown far from his home and friends, and seems a bit lost. Surely not, do birds ever get lost I wonder?

After a few hours he grows accustomed to life on board and joins me in the cabin, resting quietly as I cook an evening meal. He’s not interested in the food I offer: crumbs of bread, finely chopped grape, boiled rice and vegetables. I name him Blip, not sure why.

Blip – a lost House Martin

Blip stays the night, sleeping over the bunk next to me, head lying peacefully over his back. The next morning he seems stronger, more alert, and when I look up from my book an hour later, he’s gone. We’re over 200 miles from the nearest land and he doesn’t seem very sure of himself, so I’m a bit concerned. Sure enough, like one of Noah’s doves, he flies back after half an hour, aware that there’s no land or friend within range. He seems stronger than a day ago and goes for a few short flights.

Another day and night passes, but Blip doesn’t seem to have an appetite, whatever I offer. So I’ve decided to take him to the Azores where he’ll perhaps find a new family and food he can enjoy. It seems a good reason to go to the Azores.

But the next morning, despite everything, he lies awkwardly on his side on the saloon berth. He’s dead. Not even a twitch of life. I feel very sad, he was an easy companion.

(Today, writing a fortnight later, bird watchers in St Agnes tell me Blip was a House Martin. He’d have been migrating from sub-Sahara Africa to Northern Europe. Blown off course or with poorly navigation he would have been hungry and tired, and as an insect eater, no wonder he didn’t fancy the food I offered.)

A couple of days later (and after more rain than I’ve seen in the past four months) I reach Santa Maria, the southernmost of the Azores islands, described as “The Sunshine Island of the Azores”. On arrival the sun does indeed shine once more. Formalities are soon done; the marina at this early stage of the season is pretty empty. 

Charming half empty marina and port

The Azores (Portuguese) are a mere 500 miles north of the Canary Islands (Spanish). That much latitude makes a big difference to climate. High season in the Canaries is winter; in the Azores it’s summer. Before May few visitors are around. It is delightful. Streets are clean and fresh, countryside green and fertile, flowers bright with colour. Portuguese people are almost invariably calm, friendly, helpful and generous; here even more so.

I enjoy a few coastal walks. A deserted museum with chatty curator. Lots of coffee, beer and usual boaty anecdotes with fellow sailors. The whole island is less than ten miles long, scattered with small hamlets of freshly painted houses and pots of flowers. Total population 6,000.

Fellow walkers & sailors
Traditional Azores windmill

After a week it’s time to move on. With a deadline for getting to England I’m not inclined to re-visit the other islands of the Azores, not this time. 

From Santa Maria it’s another 1,200 miles to southwest England, perhaps ten days or so. And, since forecasts that far ahead are unreliable in the North Atlantic, I just left, reasoning that there was bound to be a bit of bad weather somewhere along the way. Just go. Otherwise you sit around for ages waiting for that perfect moment – which never arrives – especially in early May.

In the event, weather gods were pretty amenable; my luck held, and it was a good brisk sail. Though it was hard to adjust to chilly weather, too much strong wind, big swell and two days of steady grey relentless rain, we reached the Scilly Isles in eight days.

Another choppy day in the Atlantic

Now I’m anchored at the little Scilly island of St Agnes. In a month or two it’ll be chockablock with anchored yachts, but now Henrietta is alone. This morning I find a fine cold day made fabulous with a rainbow and the screeching of overexcited oystercatchers. There are busy shag and excited guillemots diving for their breakfast too.

Peaceful empty anchorage- bliss!
Scenes from St Agnes
Ever popular Turks Head

Slowly from here I’ll head on eastwards.

6 thoughts on “Canaries to England

  1. Dear Michael,

    I am a ‘quiet’ follower of yours for years now, meaning I barely leave a comment. Don’t take this the wrong way. I enjoy reading your posts and they are always good fun.

    I do have a question as I am slowly approaching retirement myself and want to wander off in my boat. It’s a dull question about insurance. I believe my Pantaenieous insurer has specified that as a single hander I am only allowed to sail for 18 hours before taking a break or the insurance will forfeit. And the of course there is the geographical area limitations.

    May  I ask you what you have done about insurance esp. as a single-hander? Surely you must have 3rd party liability insurance and with whom do you have something?

    Sorry to be asking such a boring question.

    All the best,



    1. Dear Antoni,
      Initially I had comprehensive with Pantaenius but premium and excess and exclusions kept increasing.
      Now I have third party with Pantaenius. Most marinas require third party.
      I’d estimate that less than half of long term blue water cruisers have comprehensive.
      Hope that helps,


  2. I had a lovely time sailing aboard Henrietta in Indonesia. Many thanks for your hospitality. I have being following your adventures since. The Sillies are lovely. I was there for the first time last summer. Enjoy having the place to your self. Ann


  3. Another interesting blog, Michael, thank you. I really enjoy reading your adventures. Santa Maria is lovely. Glad you enjoyed the island You made good time to the Scilly isles and st Agnes is one of my favourite islands I’ve heard we may have a heatwave in the UK in the summer so it may not be too cold for you!


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