Monday, 3 November 2014

Straight out, then turn left

Enki on the Spanish side of The Rock, ready to roll

Morning breaks late; high tide is already 2.5 hours gone

The road map of the straits

These guys are not moving - yet

Gibraltar lies behind us

We've finished, it seems, with the Mediterranean. Goodbye Greece, goodbye Turkey. Sob. People do come north from the Canary Islands, they do enter the Med through the straits of Gibraltar, but realistically we won't be. We've made the call. We want to cross the Atlantic this season.

Atlantic contenders at Marina Lanzarote

At the Marina Lanzarote, that's hardly a novelty. Everyone else does too. That's why they're here. We're in the company of ocean-going boats. A surprising number are multi-hulled, especially along the pontoon earmarked for participants in Jimmy Cornell's Atlantic Odyssey which leaves Lanzarote on November 16.

We haven't seen a lot of catamarans in the Med - it's too expensive to moor them, I guess. But the Caribbean is famous for its anchorages, and at anchor nobody's multiplying length by breadth to arrive at a number of euros which must be handed over for the privilege of getting out of the swell and the weather. Then the spaciousness of a cat's living quarters will come into its own. We'll be glad to stop chanting Enki's vital statistics too - "length 15 m by beam 4.5 m". Not just because Enki's a big girl, and costs accordingly to park in a marina but also because there are many harbours along the coast of Spain and Morocco which can't and don't cater for boats over 12 m long.

Domestic prep before we leave for the Canaries
Ah, Morocco. When we checked into Gibraltar, we nominated our next port of call as Rabat. We had Morocco in our sights well before we left Turkey. Got the guidebook, got the charts. But as the week drew on, and we waited for the swell crashing onto the coast of north Africa to subside (entry to the port of Rabat is barred with swell over 2 m), and then we waited for high tide to line up with sunrise so we could safely exit the straits of Gibraltar without being swept back by the incoming tide and with the benefit of daylight to cross the shipping lanes...well, we realised how little energy we had. Not enough to "do" Morocco in a week. And did we want to anyway? Did we want to catch a train to Fez for a couple of days, and all the while be watching the weather, knowing that it's as difficult to get out as it is to come in through the shallows and across the bar which protects river-bound Rabat from the pounding Atlantic?

We kept it simple. You can't do everything. You do what you can, and move on, gratefully (sometimes the cliches help). We scratched Morocco, as we'd scratched Tunisia. There will be better times to visit North Africa, we told ourselves.

The sun on its way down under

So that left us with a direct trip down to the Canaries. It's a bit over 600 miles from Gibraltar to Lanzarote, the northernmost of the Canaries (well, not quite, but Lanzarote rather than Graciosa is the first feasible stopover). We didn't hurry. We kept sailing in light winds, we enjoyed the first night of smooth seas (I don't think I've ever slept so well between watches), and when we got caught at the centre of a weak low pressure system, we kept our heads. Keeping our balance became more difficult as the swell rose and then got all confused with the wind, and by the last - and fifth - night, when the forecast northerlies really started to pump we were almost used to the rocking and rolling swell. Almost. Alex had trialled a few sail configurations, and I'd learned that the boom brake is something you have to actively engage. All useful stuff.

Running before the wind - try it this way

There's never a good time for a gas regulator to spring a leak

Odd cloud formations, and the barometer continues to fall

This was as flat as it got...slept well that night

The biggest menace down this coast however is fishing nets, so we kept about 50 miles offshore. Alex dodged the only tuna net he spotted (how long is it, he asked himself - 2 miles, 3 miles? what do those flashing lights tell me?). Others have not been so lucky with nets. But it's not just nets. Patricia and Didier, a charming French couple we met in Benalmadena, got unlucky with 10 m sheet of plastic (the polythene film that covers hothouses down the coast of Spain). It wrapped around their prop.  Their sprightly crew, Serge and Marcel (both over 70), dived on the mess with a bread knife, but still, Maskali came into port under sail. This is something we hope to never do again, by the way.

Happier times - Maskali's new boom arrives at Benalmadena

When we're on watch we're constantly monitoring marine traffic  - tankers, passenger liners, cargo ships, ferries, fishing boats, other yachts and power boats. All except the very smallest craft are identified clearly on the AIS (praise be to its inventor).  But there are things you can't see which can tangle a boat up in knots - a random piece of plastic submerged just below the surface will do it, even a plastic bag, and then there are fishing buoys, and loose strands of net, all potentially treacherous to a boat's sensitive underwater parts. Better to be lucky than rich, is one of Alex's favourite sayings.

Why does a butterfly alight on a boat 40 miles offshore?

To be dinner for a bird....which then dies on the boat 40 miles offshore

So here we are, in the Canaries. How long has Alex been talking about "getting down to the Canaries"? This is the start of what he's been wanting to do for a quarter of a century (yes, he's that old!). What we've been doing until now is, frankly, much more to my taste. But I'm okay at sea. I'm better at sleeping than I used to be, and I'm better at doing a few other things too. Not enough yet, but  I learn quickly when I need to learn. Alex generally is on top of everything. He'll say otherwise, but I'm continually surprised at how much he sees that I don't. He's always looking around the boat, thinking ahead. Helps not to be reading, of course.

We know there are people who worry about us - "the thin woman and the man who is prone to be flat on his back", as our friends Dale and Joanne put it in a recent email. We understand why it's hard to have confidence, to trust us on our boat. But honestly, it's ok, people.

There are many eager youngsters floating around looking for a free ride to the Caribbean. If we meet people we take a liking to, and whose experience we think will enhance our trip, we will consider taking on crew. We know it will ease anxieties. But there are other considerations too. Like our sense of adventure, and our own competence.

Hove-to off the port of Arracife, waiting for opening time of 0800
Dawn visitor - he flew into Alex's chest before dropping to the deck
Then there's the boat. You couldn't ask for a better boat than Enki. She's high maintenance, but she's worth every dollar (make that dollars, plural) we've thrown at her. We look at the company she's keeping in Lanzarote, and we know she's up to the voyaging ahead of us. Very much so. It's up to us - the thin people - to make sure we are too. Which is another reason why we skipped Morocco. We're playing it safe. Very safe.

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