Monday 18 November 2019

Lanzarote to Las Palmas

It’s 3 a.m. when we cast off our lines and motor out of the marina under a full moon. Our friends Max, Heloise, Chris and Claire have woken up early to see us off and as we leave the shelter of the breakwater, the wind is already starting to build. We are finally leaving Lanzarote, heading south 100 miles to Las Palmas on the island of Gran Canaria for the start of the ARC.  The wind has been blowing hard for the past week and we are expecting a fast ride in a big following sea; and that’s exactly what we get.

Puerto Calero marina on Lanzarote has been a wonderful place to berth Hera over the past year. We have travelled out to the island frequently, enjoying the warm winter sunshine and slowly working through a long list of improvements and repairs to the boat. We have also met a number of skilful craftsmen including Jan, Clive, Pedro, Jean-Michel, Olivier, Fletch and of course the staff in the many marina restaurants who now greet us as old friends.   Caroline and I are delighted that Jan has agreed to join us for the trip to Las Palmas.  He has worked with us on the boat bringing his knowledge and experience but also a great sense of humour. By good chance he is also a catamaran enthusiast and has worked on Catanas in the Caribbean so his help has been invaluable. Together we have installed new solar panels, batteries, electronics, an SSB and a long list of other improvements that I simply could not have achieved on my own.

We are still in the lee of Lanzarote as we motor-sail south and I set a reefed genoa until we see how much wind we will have once we are clear of the land.  We pass the lighthouse on the northern tip of Fuerte Ventura and head out into the open Atlantic. The waves, which are being driven south by strong northerly winds all the way from Portugal, have developed into a confused sea due to a westerly swell, and the motion is uncomfortable. I switch of the engines expecting to need extra sail but as the propellers fold, our boat speed remains steady at around 8 knots and then starts to climb as we clear the shelter of Lanzarote.

Very soon we are doing 10 knots and we watch the speedo in fascination as we surf down the big waves.  Being relatively new to sailing catamarans offshore it is hugely comforting to see how well Hera is handling the conditions.  Of course we knew that she wouldn’t heel but what I didn’t anticipate was the stability and the sea keeping qualities of a Catana. As we surf down the face of big four-metre waves, rather than burying her bows, the stern drops and her bows lift as she surges forward. Occasionally a wave hits the underside of the bridge deck with a bang, which I find slightly alarming at first until Jan reassures me that these are simply the sounds of an offshore catamaran dealing with the conditions with ease.

The wind is now up to 35 knots and we watch the boat speed touching 15 and 16 knots as we surf down the waves.  I think about reducing sail further but the boat doesn’t seem to be under any strain and so we settle down for breakfast at the saloon table as Hera carries us swiftly and safely towards Las Palmas.  From here we have good visibility and I can see that watch keeping in heavy weather will be reasonably civilised.  We take it in turns to go out into the cockpit and check for any hazards but most of the trip is spent sitting in the saloon chatting about our plans to sail across the Atlantic and then possibly on to the Pacific in 2021.

Despite the relative comforts of Hera it is a relief to enter the big harbour at Las Palmas. As we approach Gran Canaria the big seas have been piling up in the shallows creating 5 metre waves, but as we round the breakwater everything goes calm and we prepare to dock.  The ARC fleet is around 200 boats this year so the marina is already filling up with some big boats and lots of catamarans; all flying flags and there is a general air of anticipation.  We say an emotional good bye to Jan and as i turn off the instruments one page on the chart plotter catches my eye, and in particular the figure on the top right of the screen.

Mervyn joins us this week and then Nick, Stephen and Andrew come next week.  I am sad that Caroline will be leaving on Tuesday but she has done an amazing job buying the provisions for our trip and making the boat ready for the arrival of our crew.  We are getting ready to go.

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