Monday 3 November 2014

En route to the Canary Islands

We are sitting in the Waterfront Café in Queensway Quay marina, Gibraltar. Three meals a day, it has replaced the galley on Juno while we prepare for our trip down to the Canaries.  There is a large cloud that hangs perpetually over the Rock, casting its shadow over the marina while all around bright sunshine blazes down on the Spanish mainland.  The European summer is definitely on the wane and we are looking forward to sailing south to warmer climes.

The wind is gusting around the marina, halliards clatter on masts, our ensign flutters imperially and the swell rolls us gently us at our mooring. This morning several yachts left the marina, heading south and I am impatient to leave. The weather is good for our trip: the easterly wind is still squeezing its way through the straits for another 24 hours before it turns and blows hard from the west, locking us into the Mediterranean if we stay any longer.  The dominant weather system in this part of the world’s oceans is the Azores High, a semi-permanent high-pressure system that wanders the Atlantic, around 30 degrees North in the winter, bringing north easterly trade winds running down the African coast.  The remains of a cold front from Ireland to Madeira is upsetting the trades at the moment but it is forecasted to lose its identity over Portugal today as the Azores high becomes better established, hopefully giving us a quick passage down to Lanzarote.

We are now at sea in the Atlantic, off the Coast of Africa’s Maghreb Desert, south of Casablanca.  We have covered four hundred miles with two hundred and fifty to run. It is mid afternoon, hot and sunny and very peaceful.  The wind has dropped and the engine is running. The storm off the coast of Portugal is sending a long swell that emerges from the ocean behind us, lifts our stern, then lumbers beneath the hull and rolls away towards the south. I am on watch, Andrew is working on his laptop and there is a happy sounds of chopping coming from the galley with interesting fragrances wafting up the companionway.

We had a very boisterous departure from Gibraltar on Saturday with gusts of 40 knots to the west of Tarifa and since then we have been sailing fast, covering 30 miles in three hours on a broad reach yesterday afternoon with 20 knots of wind on our starboard quarter.  Early this morning the wind eased as forecasted and we started the engine to maintain our rate of progress south. A large low pressure system centred over southern Portugal will bring strong westerlies to this part of the Atlantic tomorrow and we want to be well clear by then.  This same weather front is also squeezing the Azores high out to the west, interrupting the trade winds, which is why we have little wind and the engine is on.  I have considered deploying our light wind spinnaker but with the big swell running I think the sail with just snatch and collapse so we persevere with the engine, consuming seven litres of diesel every hour but in the knowledge that at least it is cheap diesel, bought in Gibraltar free of tax. Without our sails to power us we are slow; wallowing in the Atlantic rollers and our ETA for Lanzarote is now Wednesday morning. If we had left Gibraltar six hours earlier we would probably have been able to stay in the band of strong northerlies and we would be choosing a restaurant in Lanzarote for Tuesday evening.

Despite the lack of wind, life on board is good. It is noticeably different having two girls on board during an ocean passage and I must say that I like having Kerry and Fatty with us. For canapés yesterday evening we had tomato pastries, supper was chicken pie, coffee this morning was accompanied with freshly baked pains au chocolat, and lunch was cold gaspacho followed by tuna wraps.  As I write, Kerry has passed me a cup of tea and a plate of toast and honey.  I hope these homely delights will continue to St Lucia. The long silences on night watch have been replaced by the background chatter of women at talk, which is simply different.  Each subject seems to be given much greater attention and girls seem genuinely interested in a level of detail about the most humdrum events. Andrew is quite good at affecting the same level of fascination over the banal, whereas I find my attention wandering as my thoughts turn to more practical matters aboard.  When Paulus joins us in Las Palmas for the transatlantic crossing he needs to be prepared for the new regime. I am hoping that Consuelo can train him in the skills required.

A condition of Fatty coming on this trip is her insistence that she be accompanied by two companions, so we have had to make space  for Thermo and Zoll.  Thermo spends his time in the galley, sitting regally on the work surface, pampered and protected from the boats movement by foam pads and lashed to the cooker for additional protection in case he lurches off his perch. Thermo is a high tech cooking contraption whose only contribution so far has been a large bill, but Fatty tells me that the salesmen assured her that it would make her life richer at sea as he scampered off to the Isle of Wight to see his next victim at Ningwood Manor.  The second addition to the crew is Zoll, who also occupies valuable space on Juno, this time in the environs of the first aid locker.  Fatty’s logic is that with four fifty-somethings on board, it would be simply irresponsible to embark the shores of Europe without a defibrillator. This has taken over as the most unnecessary item on board from the ghoulish body bag that we managed to offload in St Lucia. For the last ARC in 2012, this reinforced plastic was handed to me by Saz as a condition of Stevens’s participation with the benefit that it was seepage proof.  I hope that Zoll proves to be just as unnecessary.


  1. I bet it wasn't as windy as Liverpool is on a daily basis!

    1. not as windy but just a tad warmer maybe?

  2. Salesman indeed! aka Superyachtchef. Best wishes for a smooth 'crossing'.
    Kind regards