Every island has something different to offer…

Chillin’ in Anguilla is easy to do with it’s white sandy beaches and stunning turquoise waters. This small British overseas territory is very laid-back and has a nice, friendly feel to it. We hired a car to drive around the island and couldn’t help but notice that it appeared more orderly than some of her Caribbean cousins. Generally speaking this island seems more prosperous than many we’ve visited so far. There are some very flash, upmarket resorts and luxury villas scattered along the coastline, some of which would give St Bart’s a run for their money. Not all are back to being operational yet. These days the coconut palms are not so much swaying in the breeze, but rather bent over backwards. Trees are still being straightened and propped up. Thankfully things are not nearly as hurricane ravaged here, including the wildlife. It was great to have turtles swimming around the boat whilst we were at anchor. The fishermen are back out there doing their stuff. The beach bars are mostly back up and running too. They sustained some serious hurricane winds on this island, but the houses are more substantial and solidly built, many with concrete roofs, so even though Anguilla is low-lying it faired better than the neighbouring islands. They still had their problems with looting and lawlessness in the immediate aftermath of Irma, but nowhere near as bad as other islands by the sounds of it. This place has a great reputation for SCUBA diving with a number of old ships sunk to create new dive sites that attract plenty of fish. I was unsure how good they’d be after the hurricane season, but need not have worried. The diving was fabulous. I have never seen so many lobsters in one place before! Plenty were hiding in the wreck I dived on, including one just hangin’ out, then scurrying across the ocean floor. Being in a marine park meant catching lobster for dinner wasn’t an option.

You’ve just gotta love a country that has a capital called “The Bottom” and when you’re driven there they actually say: “Welcome to The Bottom”. (Which is weird because you’ve just gone steeply uphill from the harbour, which is at the bottom of the island.) As you approach Saba her rugged, craggy peaks soar from the horizon. We both fell in love with Saba. Only five square miles in size, her beauty is found in both her 2,800 ft majestic peak and her treasures under the sea. This is an island (country) full of very friendly people, and almost non-existent crime. But then, if there are only 2,000 of you everyone’s probably going to know what’s going on. This tiny island was settled by hardy Dutch and a few Scots who apparently worked side by side with their slaves. When I first read the cruising guide I doubted we’d ever actually take Loki here, as the island is often subject to major boat-breaking swells (two moored yachts were lost on her coastline a year ago), but as luck would have it we had a good weather window and perfect conditions for our stay. We picked up a mooring off Ladder Bay, which until the 1940s was the only access point to the island. Here some 800 steps are hewn into an almost sheer rock face by which, for a long time, everything was transported to and from the island. In the image of “Loki” on her mooring you can just see the steps going up the cliff behind her stern. The anchorage is OK, so long as there isn’t a big swell. Needless to say we kept a very vigilant eye on the forecasts. (Photo credit for the aerial shot: sabatourism.com)

We were very fortunate to have a clear, blue sky day for our climb to the top of Mt Scenery, with not a cloud in sight and enjoyed walking through the lush tropical forest that is so often shrouded in cloud. The views from the top were breathtaking. Saba is a “special municipality” of the Netherlands, and you can have any colour house you like, so long as it’s white, with green trim and a red roof. The whole place is picture postcard perfect. It is spotlessly clean. Not even so much as a cigarette butt on the ground. (Are we still in the Caribbean?) One of the things I most enjoy about traveling is noticing how the small things differ. Here it was public transport, or the lack thereof. There are no buses, but everyone said: “just put your thumb out, most people will give you a lift” which was true. We even managed to hitch a lift with a garbage truck from the capital, back down to the harbour! And yes, the cabin was very clean.

We’d heard the SCUBA diving here was some of the best in the Caribbean and we noticed dive boats near a rocky outcrop as we approached the handful of moorings that are available. The first dive we did was awesome, diving on and around two rocky pinnacles that started in 5 metres of water then plunged 20 metres vertically down to a sandy bottom. The many colourful fish and coral we saw would rival anything I’ve enjoyed on the Great Barrier Reef. (Photo credit: SportDiver. The photo’s not mine, but is similar to what we saw.) They call Saba “the unspoilt queen”. She’s certainly an unforgettable gem. So glad we got to visit.

We had a few more days hanging out around St Kitts waiting for the right weather pattern before we headed south, then we were off to Montserrat. We’d last visited here in 1998, which was not long after the volcano ended 400 years of dormancy. Having seen what it was like in the aftermath we were keen to revisit and see how the small island nation had faired since then. The island has an immensely strong Irish heritage, so much so that they take a week to celebrate St Patrick’s Day! Many Monserratians who left the island after the volcano became active come back for the festivities. We met people from New York, London and Atlanta who had all come home to party. Just love the way the girls do their hair!

The other thing that Montserrat is famous for is its musical legacy. Sir George Martin (“the fifth Beatle”, who produced every record they ever made) set up his famous AIR recording studio here in the ‘70s. The roll call of who recorded here is a long list of rock & roll royalty: Paul McCartney, Sting & The Police, Elton John, Dire Straits, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, to name just a few. Local filmmaker David Lea has set up a cafe which is like a shrine to the local musical past filled with photos, memorabilia and also found objects salvaged from the now ash-buried capital of Plymouth. There is even a photo of Little River Band with Glenn Shorrock sporting a pair of budgie smugglers! Had to go back to the boat and dust off the “Diamantina Cocktail” album after that. When we were last here in 1998 we managed to sneak into the exclusion zone of Plymouth, (only a year after the volcano blew). I have a photo at home of the clock tower, very similar to the one with David Lea standing in front of it, possibly taken around the same time. But after further eruptions it’s now it’s all completely buried. Nothing to see here. Considering these people have to put up with volcanic eruptions as well as hurricanes I think they are amazingly laid back!

So, think back to the last time you were standing in a Customs & Immigration queue at an airport, waiting to enter a country, passport in hand, surrounded by equally jaded travellers, with jack-booted, gun-toting officials everywhere. Instead, why not just go to the local clothing boutique and sit at a computer for 5 minutes to check in? Voila! You’re all done, welcome to Deshaies, Guadeloupe! We like to take the piss out of the French for their laissez-faire attitude, but every now and again it’s nice to be reminded that there once was a simpler time where officialdom didn’t permeate every aspect of our lives. Guadeloupe is an island shaped a bit like a lopsided butterfly. We toured around parts of the left-hand wing, taking in some lovely walks and watching locals enjoying the beautiful waterfalls in the well looked after national park.

But the part we enjoyed the most was Les Saintes, the small group of islands to the south of Guadeloupe, which is just like a small slice of France dropped into the Caribbean. Terre de Haut is a quaint fishing village, which has nice walks with terrific views and a great selection of well-priced restaurants. Just love the brightly painted Creole houses, many sitting right on the beach.

You can saunter along the waterfront and see the daily game of fisherman versus iguana (the fisherman has to distract the iguana with lettuce so he can chop up his catch in peace).

There’s a great hike up to the top of the island for stupendous views. After enjoying a week here we eventually dragged ourselves away.

As you sail towards Dominica you can see the outline of the spindly trees running along the ridges of the mountains. What you’d normally describe as green and lush, now looks green and shredded. The aftermath of Hurricane Maria is still very evident, even from a distance. When you round the headland into Prince Rupert Bay there’s a guy in a small boat who calls out: “Welcome to Dominica! I’m Lawrence of Arabia. I can help you with a mooring.” He’s a member of P.A.Y.S, the Portsmouth Association of Yacht Services, a group of river guides who formed an organisation to provide services to cruising yachties, including: mooring buoys, boat taxis, organising tours, dingy security, etc. (formed out of necessity after a “bad incident” a number of years ago). These guys are really friendly and helpful. Titus directed us to our mooring and organised a tour of the island for us the following day.

Boy, if we thought St Martin was badly hit, these people really copped it. It’s now six months after the event, but you could be forgiven for thinking it was a few weeks ago, the devastation is still massive. Parts of the island reminded me of the Australian bush after a bushfire. Lots of trees stripped of limbs and leaves, with fuzzy new growth appearing along their trunks. All their crops were wiped out, so there are no bananas, mangos, papaya, cacao beans, etc. which is not only bad for the farmers, but also the local bird life as there is so little for them to eat. But a local will happily climb up a bay tree to get some fresh bay leaves for you. We visited a chocolate maker, who could only show us his empty bean drying shed and how his equipment normally worked. Happily he still had some product to sell us.

So how many different kinds of rum flavours are there? Well, apparently if you can grow it, you can soak it in rum. We stopped at a rustic cafe for lunch where they had an enormous variety of rum flavours each with special “medicinal” purposes. Passionfruit, nutmeg, lemongrass, basil, etc. I couldn’t get excited about the garlic flavoured rum, but the ginger rum punch was OK. Like everywhere else in the West Indies, once you finish talking about the rum just mention Sir Viv Richards or Joel Garner and you have an instant conversation. They’re all still made about cricket. (Max D, you’d be in your element!)

No point in going on a tour of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” film sites here. None of the locations look like they used to. But despite the massive destruction that has affected so much of the island we enjoyed some of the natural attractions, taking a dip at the Emerald Pool (you get a terrific neck massage when you sit just underneath the falls) and the Wooten Waven hot springs. You can only imagine what this place used to look like, as much of the landscaping was destroyed, but the hot springs still felt good!

In the final stages of our tour I spied a young teenage boy perched on top of the remnants of a palm tree in the middle of a river. He’s old enough to remember Hurricane Erica (2015) & Hurricane Maria (2017). I wonder, how many more will he see in his lifetime? This is not a wealthy place and unlike some other Caribbean nations it doesn’t have a rich parent country to assist with aid. The bigger question is: “How will these people ever get ahead?”

We’ve had some great sailing between the islands and have worked out the weather patterns. There are usually wind shadows in the lee of the islands, but the forecast is often a bit underdone once you get out into open water. So 15-20 knots between the islands, gusting a bit more, has been the norm. Just need to keep a lookout for the occasional swells that come down from the north Atlantic. There are no land masses to stop them, so when you get a good blow up north they just head south and wrap around the islands. Choice of anchorage becomes very important!

I hope you’re all enjoying a well-deserved Easter break and all is good at your end.

Thinking of you!

Kate

Posted in 2018, Caribbean, Sailing | 5 Responses

The Islands of the Haves and the Have Nots

Thanks everyone! It was great to get your responses to my last post. I’d thought describing 17 days at sea might have been a bit boring. But it seems you were there with us all along! After spending a few days in Antigua and enjoying being back on dry land, it was time for the pod to start breaking up. We farewelled Maudie as he commenced the long trek back to Oz. Meanwhile the O’Donohue family took possession of their charter vessel and we all set off for the dual island nation of St Kitts and Nevis. The day we arrived at Basseterre Harbour the port was not accepting incoming yachts due to too much traffic from the (five!) cruise ships. With more than two million cruise line passengers sailing these waters annually the Caribbean is the world’s largest cruise ship destination. Because the BVIs & Dominica had their cruise ship docks destroyed during last year’s hurricanes the remaining islands are now inundated. There can be as many as 8,000-10,000 extra people in a town in one day! Whilst I recognise that tourism is the lifeblood of the local economy for many of these islands, it does actually change the character of the place you’re trying to visit and not necessarily for the better. When you go back one or two streets it’s very evident from the modest homes of the local people that there’s a vast difference between the locals and us visitors. They do need tourists. A real case of haves and have nots.

The Lonely Planet raises some interesting points about sustainable cruising. Apparently most cruise ships burn low grade bunker fuel and emit more carbon per passenger than aeroplanes (not including the flights to/from the ship). There are new cleaner fuel regulations being phased in, however smaller Caribbean nations are being pressured into not adopting these (I hope this is not the case!) Cruise ships also generate an enormous amount of sewerage, solid waste and grey water. Whilst some countries have regulations on sewerage treatment (in 2016 Princess Cruises was fined US$40 million for illegal sewerage dumping) there’s little regulation in the Caribbean. They suggest if you’re planning a cruise it’s worth doing some research about the cruise lines’ environmental policies, recycling initiatives and energy sources. Knowing that customers care about these things will eventually have an impact.

So they say “there’s an adventure in every bus ride”. This is definitely true in St. Kitts. If you’re looking for some local colour & flavour you’ll find it here. The mini-buses all have slogans and/or religious psalms plastered across their windows. There is no timetable. When they’re full they go. And they’re all driven by young men who think they’re Fangio! What better way to visit the local sites?

For many years the sugar produced by wealthy colonial masters fuelled the economy. You can catch a local bus up to one of the old sugar plantations (we loved the stunning gardens at Romney Manor) or circumnavigate the island. The massive Brimstone Hill Fortress is also worth a look. The British started constructing the bastions and fort in 1690 using slave labour and it was the site of a month-long siege in 1782, which ended in surrender to the French. The other grim reminder of the island’s heritage are the stone warehouses where slaves were once sold. They still stand on one side of what is now “Independence Square”. Dotted all around St Kitts & Nevis are roadside food stalls (shacks) where you can get anything from freshly cooked kingfish or lobster to fried chicken. Who needs Western fast food?

Our next stop was St Bart’s, playground of the rich and famous. It’s always interesting to take a look in the local real estate office window to get an idea of the lay of the land. Want to rent an apartment “from US$23,000 per week”? Not likely! Little old Loki is very much dwarfed by many of the vessels in these waters. We shared a bay one evening with “Limitless”. At 316 feet she’s one of the world’s largest privately-owned yachts built for the billionaire who owns Victoria’s Secret. Gawd, there must be an enormous amount of money to be made from bras & knickers! But the one that really blew us away was “Le Grand Bleu”, built for a US telco baron. Included amongst her range of onboard water toys is a 22 metre yacht sitting on the deck. OMG! Loki’s 15m long, yet this yacht looked “small” compared to the overall size of the mothership. It seems there are the “haves”, the “have nots” and the “have absolutely anything you could ever wish for”.

From there we headed up to the hurricane-ravaged island of St Martin after being advised that they were indeed ready for visitors. It’s incredibly sad seeing the devastation post Irma and Maria; damaged and sunken yachts still litter the lagoon, many are neatly packaged together, patiently awaiting removal. In some areas where once there were pleasant beachside eateries, there’s now just a heap of mangled buildings. However the people here are very resilient, many have picked themselves up, dusted themselves off and some places are open for business again. But for others it’s now been five months with no home, no job and no income. And it’s less than four months to the start of the next hurricane season. I couldn’t live here. By accident of birth I’ve been fortunate enough to be born in a lucky country.

Since we’ve arrived in the Caribbean the weather has been unseasonably and incessantly windy. We’ve been under the influence of a high pressure system bringing what the locals call the “Christmas winds”, with blustery 20-30kt nor’ east to easterly winds, gusting quite a bit more at times. Usually they’re finished by the end of December, but not this winter. The forecast predicts lighter winds over the next few days, so we’re hoping for some pleasant sailing conditions to take us up to Anguilla tomorrow. Hope everything is going well at your end. Please drop us a line and tell us your news.

Ciao for now,

Kate

Posted in 2018, Caribbean | 5 Responses

Welcome to the West Indies!

So, picking up from where I left off with my last post, after a week’s worth of long days in Tazacorte getting everything prepared we were well and truly ready to head off into the wild blue yonder. It was really nice to finally be on the water and underway. The adventure of our Atlantic crossing had begun! We settled into a routine fairly quickly, running watches of 2 hours on, 6 hours off during the night (luxury!), then a loose hourly watch system during the day. Day 2 the breeze picked up to around 20-25 knots and for a couple of days we had a very lumpy and uncomfortable seaway with the boat lurching and slewing around. I was very glad that I’d prepared a couple of dinners in advance because the conditions weren’t very conducive to cooking. Not much sleep was had by anyone. Martin & Maudie sighted a whale on each of the first two days, but apart from that there really wasn’t much to see other than acres of blue ocean.

Time passed uneventfully until the evening of day 3 when we managed to break the top two battens in the mainsail. The following morning we dropped the sail so the lads could very deftly effect an innovative repair, (using a batten poker and bit a teak from the old nav station), which slowed us down for a bit. But three hours later we rehoisted the main with one reef and were back to full pace. Needless to say, we now have two beefed up new battens. When doing long distance ocean miles, everything is a scarce resource to be managed, whether it’s spare sail equipment, water, food, diesel or gas. Every picture tells a story and by the time we got to day 5 we still had two full water tanks and we hadn’t even run the water maker yet! We’d fallen into a regular routine: Eat, sleep, sail, repeat. Whilst feeling very virtuous about our frugal water consumption the reality was that daily showering had been just a bit too hard up until then. The only thing nicer than a hot meal at sea is a hot shower. Player comfort level started to improve.

It was day 7 before we sighted another vessel. We’d begun to think we were the only ones out on the high seas, but the cargo ship “Barbara” crossed our bow, bound for Amsterdam. The next afternoon found us in a breeze that was beginning to fade, so we kept heading sou’ sou’ west to keep in the pressure. With 13-16 knots it was perfect weather for the asymmetric spinnaker. We sighted another couple of yachts off in the distance not flying kites and it wasn’t long before we’d overhauled them. By day 9 the breeze started to crump. At times it seemed like we were headed for Buenos Aires. Not much wind and from the wrong direction, so a good opportunity to do some motor-sailing and make some water. Crew showers all round again.

Amazingly each day passes quite quickly and there’s really no time to be bored. After a few hours steering, a bit of navigation – including downloading & reviewing weather, reading a book, a bit of cooking and next thing you know, the day’s over. Martin and I also amused ourselves with brushing up on our celestial navigation skills. We’ve got good nav systems on board, including satellite phone and wireless, but in this totally electronic device-connected world that we live in today it’s quite nice to know that if all else fails you can still work out where you are on the planet with just the sun and a sextant – note to self, I need to do lots more practice of this!

So what’s it like living on board a yacht at sea for more than two weeks? A bit strange at times because you’re whole house is moving every moment of the day & night. Whether you’re on deck sailing the boat, in the galley cooking a meal, getting a weather report, doing the dishes, or brushing your teeth, the boat is constantly moving. Lying in your bunk, especially on the weather side, it feels like there’s a giant, maniacal, sadistic puppeteer overhead, randomly lifting the corners of your bunk whilst it’s being rolled from side to side. But the sound of the water rushing past the outside of the hull is quite soothing. You actually do get some sleep. You also feel quite disconnected from almost everyone else on the planet. Has Kim Jong Un started World War III? Has the stock market crashed? Who would know? And of course there’s never a dull moment with the Maudie & Martin show on board. Lots of philosophical discussions. I’m sure we’ll have all the problems of the world solved in no time.

We ate very well during the crossing. In fact we ate a lot. (I’m pleased to report that Martin’s tapeworm was well catered for). But because you’re up at weird hours of the day and night and because you’re always moving (even in bed), you seem to need more fuel. Martin was particularly handy in the galley, turning out dough for focaccia and homemade pizza, amongst other things. Maudie’s signature dish was the pumpkin and goat’s cheese risotto, whilst Fitzy’s Moroccan tagine went down a treat. I was also quite chuffed that the bread I made turned out to be quite edible. Margherita (the pressure cooker) was a terrific 5th crew member.

The breeze was up and down over the second week. We enjoyed some very pleasant sailing with a full main and goose-winged jib, romping along and making miles in the right direction. There were also a few frustrating times when the pressure dropped and had us heading away from our end goal. But most of the time we made the best of the breeze we had and kept our boat speed above 5 knots. All in all, we pretty much sailed most of the way from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean with very little motoring. I’ve got some video footage of us sailing, but the internet is so slow here, I don’t believe I’ll have the opportunity to upload it anytime soon. It’s funny how the waves never look as big on camera as they are in real life.

After 17 days at sea we finally sighted land and arrived safely in Nelson’s Dockyard, English Harbour, Antigua. Not sure which I enjoyed more, the journey or arriving at our destination. I loved every minute of our Atlantic crossing, especially the last day, (even though it seemed to take forever), which was good fun steering down waves with rolling Atlantic swells. A big thanks to Fitzy for all his pre departure planning and preparation which got us here without a big butcher’s bill. And a huge vote of thanks goes to Maudie & Martin for helping make our Atlantic crossing a safe, memorable and pleasurable one. As you can imagine the social experiment of having four people in a confined 48 foot space without alcohol for over two weeks ended abruptly on the night of our arrival. We celebrated our successful voyage with much gusto!

Fitzy & I haven’t been here for almost twenty years, so it’s nice to be back. I love the sense of history in English Harbour, with it’s collection of old naval dockyard buildings, complete with sail loft pillars. Some of the yachts here are simply amazing. So how many crew does it take to load the provisions onto a super yacht anyway? I counted 12 on deck on one yacht. There were probably more below. I couldn’t decide between the yacht with the swimming pool or the helicopter. It’s definitely another planet over here!

We’re now looking forward to spending some time exploring the region again. Hope all is good at your end.

Cheers,

Kate

P.S.Thanks Martin for sharing some of your images.

Posted in 2018, Sailing, Uncategorized | 8 Responses

Let the Adventure Begin!

So here we are in Tazacorte, on the island of La Palma, in the Canary Islands. The day has finally arrived. After many months of planning and preparations it is time for Loki and her crew to start the next adventure – crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Our trip across to Antigua in the Caribbean is approximately 2500 nautical miles, or in landlubber speak about 4630 kms. If you drove from Brisbane to Perth you’d cover about 4300 kms, so it’s a bit longer than that. Depending upon the weather we get it will hopefully take us a bit over two weeks of sailing.

Loki is now back in the water, her sails are on and some very time-consuming and somewhat convoluted maintenance tasks have been undertaken, thanks to Fitzy, Martin & Maudie. Great to have a good team on board with a handy skill set! A new hot water service, bilge pump and a brand new auto-helm have been fitted. The antenna for our new Iridium satellite comms device has been installed along with new engine water hosing. Plus various multitudinous tasks, the details of which I won’t bore you with. All stuff that involves crawling around in small spaces and/or drilling into inaccessible areas of the boat. The provisioning is now done and looking at the forecasts the trade winds seem to be settling in nicely, so if the weather Gods smile upon us we should have a good trip across.

So after a week’s worth of very long days getting the boat ready, and now that all the grunt work’s done, we are all really looking forward to getting out in the ocean. The day has finally arrived. Saturday we set sail. Starting to get excited now! As the wise man Mark Twain once said: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bow lines, sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” We are ready. Antigua, here we come!

Hasta luego!

Kate, Fitzy, Maudie & Martin

Posted in 2018 | 5 Responses

Following Columbus……….

They say “all good things must come to an end” and as much as we’ve enjoyed our time in the Mediterranean we can’t stay forever. The final chapter for this season has seen us depart the Med and turn south into the Atlantic. Our friend Tim N. joined us in Gibraltar before we headed off. Luckily the weather Gods smiled upon us for our trip down to the Canary Islands and we had good conditions with solid nor’ easterly trade winds of around 15-20 knots, settling in at 20-25kts, and at times a bit more. We ended up not venturing into Morocco, so three and a half days later we arrived at Lanzarote.

Six years of volcanic eruptions, from 1730-1736, wiped out many of the local subsistence farmers, creating an interesting lunar-like landscape with hundreds of volcanoes dotted throughout the massive lava fields on the island. About a third of the productive farming land was wiped out, but the Canarians are a hardy lot and it didn’t take them long to work out that the volcanic soil was perfect for growing grapes. They constructed curved dry-stone walls around each vine, to protect them from the prevailing northerly winds. We’re told each vine yields about one and a half to two bottles of wine per year. Something else that grows well in these islands is the rather weird-looking native dragon tree, the oldest of which is estimated to be 800 years old. Since medieval times the sap of this plant has been used for medicinal remedies and dyes, lacquers and varnishes. It is rumoured that Stradivari used “dragon’s blood” to varnish his famous violins.

Before we left the Med we’d been doing a bit of research on the Canaries and were surprised to hear how hard it can be to get a berth at Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the biggest town on the  largest island of the group. Each year this island hosts the start of “the ARC” (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers). About 300 yachts turn up to cruise in company across the Atlantic every November, the theory being safety in numbers. But how could a marina with 1250 berths (huge!) possibly be full three months beforehand? As soon as we arrived it readily became apparent. A large part of the marina is occupied by very small motorboats but there are also many, many sailing vessels that looked like they couldn’t sail outta sight on a dark night. There is a whole pontoon full of yachts that have been seized and impounded. Perhaps because they haven’t paid their marina bills? They certainly didn’t look very seaworthy! The expression “boat graveyard” comes to mind. Dreamers who had the big plan, but hadn’t quite got it together. When you’re talking to people around the marina the first question they ask is “when are you planning to cross?” Once you’ve travelled the 600 nautical miles down here you quickly realise there’s no going back, unless you want a total head butt against the prevailing trade winds. You’re committed.

These islands have a strong link with Columbus, as this was where he stopped before heading west, into the great unknown. Remember, in 1492 many people still believed the earth was flat! There’s a good museum at the old Governor’s house where Columbus is believed to have stayed, with lots of info about the three trips he made to the Americas. They’ve re-created a below-deck replica of his cabin, but I wonder if it was this homely in reality. Sadly, Columbus died alone and dejected still believing he had discovered the western route to Asia. Another interesting museum is the Museo Canario with its section about the indigenous “Guanche” people. Before the 15th century these islands were populated by people thought to have been Berbers from North Africa, who were pretty much obliterated by the Spanish conquest. There are assorted exhibits of mummified remains complete with hairy skulls, which are curious, if not a little gruesome.

Approaching Santa Cruz de Tenerife you see a massive white structure guiding you towards the harbour entrance. It’s not until you’re on land that you can appreciate the enormous white wave of the Auditorium. Can’t help but wonder if they didn’t draw some inspiration from the Sydney Opera House. Tenerife is also famous for great trekking in the lush mountains of the north, the majestic volcano of El Teide and the lovely hill towns of La Laguna & Orotava. I had the delight of hiking from Cruz del Carmen to the hamlet of El Batan in the rugged Anaga Rural Park. Quite spectacular scenery through one of the oldest laurel forests on the planet. In the old days they used to grow flax to produce linen here, using the large amounts of water that flowed through the ravine to power the mills. It seems amazing that today anyone stills ekes out a living in this beautiful but isolated environment.

Further south, standing at over 3,700 metres, Mount Teide is the highest mountain in Spain. Apparently about 4 million people come to visit El Teide every year, and it is a popular place for cyclists doing high altitude training. Unfortunately the day that we visited the cable car wasn’t running as it was too windy, (have I mentioned they get quite a bit of wind around these parts?) but the scenery driving through the National Park made the trip worthwhile. Also love the distinctive Canarian architecture in the small towns featuring ornately carved wooden balconies and doorways with colourful exteriors. Intriguing to see the water filter of yesteryear featured in some of the old houses. Just drip water through volcanic rock & voila, pure filtered water! They’ve been doing this for centuries. So why do we persist with the waste that is bottled water?

So, we spoke to other yachties and locals, and we knew a bit about the “acceleration zones” around the Canary Islands. To quote the pilot book: “when brisk northerly winds meet high volcanic peaks they have no option but to go up and over or divide and funnel around and between the islands, increasing in strength. These can push the wind force up by 25 knots in a matter of 200 metres”. Yup! Who’d have thought that round islands have corners? But when the wind hits the extremities of the island there is a very pronounced local effect. We’d seen a bit of it around Lanzarote, Fuerteventura & Tenerife, but our approach to La Gomera made for some exhilarating sailing! Fitzy later remarked that I should have taken a photo of the spume coming off the waves, but at the time taking photos wasn’t exactly front of mind. Especially with the local fast ferry arriving travelling at 31 knots! Nonetheless, La Gomera turned out to be one of the highlights of the season, so well worth the effort to get there.

This was the last place where Columbus loaded up with water and supplies before heading off to discover the New World. The church where Columbus and his men purportedly prayed before they sailed away can still be found amongst the small, quaint streets of San Sebastian. Apparently, after Columbus, La Gomera didn’t really have much ongoing contact with the modern world until the 1950s when they built a small pier opening up the way for a ferry service. Today this place is a Mecca for hikers and nature lovers. The ecological treasure that is the Garanjonay National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986. It’s intensely green forests are due to a combination of the mist, high humidity and constant temperature all year round. Walking along the densely wooded trails of lichen-covered laurisilva trees you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve been transported onto a set of “Lord of the Rings”. The forest is an absolute delight, but before you know it, you round a bend for another jaw-dropping view. The park is meticulously managed with even the fresh water supply appearing to sprout from a tree. As one of the local walkers remarked to me: “es muy especial y preciosas”. It is very special and precious indeed. Absolutely stunning scenery.

 

Our last stop for the season was Tazacorte, on the island of La Palma. This is the most western Canary Island from which you can clear Customs & Immigration before setting out across the Atlantic Ocean. Loki is now out of the water and securely tucked up behind two ginormous breakwater walls and we’ve really enjoyed having some time to explore what’s here. This is an island of giant telescopes, volcanoes, 850 kilometres of awesome walking trails and bananas. Plenty of bananas! Apparently about 40% of the island’s workforce depend on the banana crop. At the heart of La Palma is La Caldera de Taburiente, “the cauldron of Taburiente”. The Lonely Planet states that: “It was first given the moniker in 1825 by German geologist Leopold von Buch, who took it to be a massive volcanic crater. The word ‘caldera’ stuck, and was used as a standard term for such volcanic craters the world over.” It is in fact a semi-circular ravine, 8 km in diameter and over 2000 metres from top to bottom. Very impressive! The highest point of the island, Roques de Los Muchachos, is a great place to view the soaring craggy peaks and cavernous gorges. It’s also home to one of the world’s largest telescopes. Being so far from major cities has its advantages when studying the night sky. There are some parts of the National Park that are full of forests of Canary pines making it a an absolute delight to walk in.

The southern part of La Palma is a different story, dominated by Volcan San Antonio and Volcan Teneguia, last erupting in 1949 and 1971, respectively, adding a few hectares to the island’s size. There’s an easy walk to the edge of the San Antonio crater, but thankfully no visible activity going on these days. The island’s capital, Santa Cruz, boasts more of the colourful waterfront houses with traditional wooden balconies that we’ve seen all over the Canaries. In the corners of some balconies there is still an enclosed space that was once used for a toilet, from which sewage would then flow directly down onto the street. Yucko!

We’ve been watching intently as events have been unfolding in the Caribbean with four hurricanes so far this season. A number of the destinations we are planning to visit next year have been severely hit. “Decimated”, “annihilated” and “destroyed” are some of the adjectives we’ve been hearing. We can only imagine how devastating it must be for the people whose lives have been torn apart by the destruction. I think we’ll need to do a bit more research before finalising next year’s itinerary.

So, having sailed over 2,000 nautical miles in the Med and down to the Canaries, it’s now time to head back downunder. We are very much looking forward to catching up with everyone upon our return!

Adios!

Kate

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