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

Lovin’ London & the lively Balearics

  • We always love visiting London. Not just because it’s a fabulous place to go, but especially so because I have family there. The opportunity arose whilst we were waiting for the rigging to arrive from Denmark and it was lovely to catch up with Peter, Martine, Robert, Brian, Lorna & Charlie. If you were following the tennis then you’ll know we had great weather whilst there. A lot of the time we were just happy to wander around London, taking in the sights. There really are some quite stunning buildings, both old and new. So many things to see and do, so many places to go. The British Museum is wonderful, with assorted ancient treasures from all over the world. It’s impossible to take it all in in one go, so it’s a good place to start whenever visiting London. The Tate Modern & Tate Britain never fail to please. Really loved viewing the 2017 Award entries at the National Portrait Gallery. Extraordinarily good contemporary portrait paintings, including some with startling photo-realism. You can check it out online at: www.npg.org.uk

Our Melbourne friend, Laurie, gave us his “City of London” tour, sharing interesting snippets of trivia. I probably wouldn’t have even noticed the old iron butchers hooks that still line the historic Leadenhall Market. We also enjoyed some lovely long walks on Wimbledon Common and elsewhere with my brothers and various family members. And it was fun watching my brother, Peter, in action in his role as co-chair of the International Wine Challenge Awards dinner. Thanks for giving up your spot Martine!

All too soon it was time to head back to Mallorca as the new rigging arrived just after we got back. A few days later the mast was back in the boat and we had some time to spare before rig testing was completed so we visited Cap de Formenta, the northern tip of Mallorca, with it’s rugged coastline and breathtaking views to seaward. I also loved sauntering among the cobbled streets of old town Palma, peering into the courtyards of what were once grand homes with their handsome wrought-iron balustrades and marble staircases. In this part of town you can also see the Muslim influence with the old Arab baths, which historians believe date back to around the 10 century, and the wooden Ottoman-style bay windows that are everywhere.

We then welcomed Sammie & Matt aboard. So glad they could join us this year given that last year we’d flown back to Melbourne when they were meant to be sailing with us. Our first stop after departing Palma was the National Park at Cabrera Island, 30nm to the south. We haven’t come across many national parks where you can pick up a mooring in the Med so it was worth booking ahead to secure a spot. We enjoyed both the sail down there and a good walk out to the lighthouse. Next we headed for Ibiza and Formentera. No foam parties for us, but we did find some amazing azure waters. You can see why everyone raves about Formentera with its broad expanse of sandy beaches and turquoise shallows. There were some seriously big yachts here, but we felt a bit out of it, not having out very own water slide!

We farewelled Sammie & Matt at Alicante before heading south then west to Gibraltar. We’ve been amusing ourselves with the never-ending boat list whilst here, with the help of Tim N who joined us last week. The maintenance schedule is looking good with the engine alternator, starter motor and liferaft all now fully serviced. We managed to get in a walk up to the top of the rock yesterday. Great views – and enjoyed watching the cheeky monkeys, especially the one that knicked a pearl earring straight from the ear of the poor unsuspecting girl upon whose shoulder it was sitting!

So, having greatly enjoyed four & a half years of sailing around the Med and travelling more than 9,000 nautical miles, it’s now time to head out into the Atlantic and head south for the next four days down to the Canary Islands. Looking forward to some good sailing hopefully!

Hope all is good at your end. Take care out there.

Adios,

Kate

Postcard from Palma – and a couple of other places

It’s great to be back aboard Loki and I’m feeling so lucky to once again be enjoying the combined delights of sailing and travelling. Gaeta, Italy, just a couple of hours drive south of Rome, is a delightful sort of everyday place where Italians take their holidays. There are lots of quaint little laneways and vaulted passageways with not much English spoken which can sometimes make it a bit interesting getting things done, but that’s very much a part of the fun of travelling. The town has a solid military history as evidenced by the very large 1st century Roman general’s mausoleum that stands atop the hill of the peninsula, but also by the present day NATO base. We stayed in an apartment in the “newer” part of town (which dates back to the 7th century) whilst we we getting the boat ready. Fitzy particularly liked the butcher’s shop with the large vats of wine. Makes perfect sense to buy your food & drink at the same time! This year we came back to Loki and a fully reconditioned bow-thruster that Fitzy had to put back in the boat, a repaired engine fridge compressor, plus we needed four new house batteries. But it wasn’t long before Loki was back in the water and we were raring to go. At this point Alan W & Paula joined us and we readied the boat for heading west.

We sailed overnight to Bonifacio on the southern tip of Corsica, a fabulous natural harbour with the ancient town perched somewhat precariously along the high cliffs. Having a dolphin escort as we approached was a nice welcome to the islands. I find it very humbling to sail into a harbour and see it pretty much as it was seen by the likes of Homer or Napoleon. “We enter the harbour so well known to sailors, a sheer unbroken cliff rises all around and there is a promontory situated at each side of the entrance to the harbour, creating a stranglehold on the access.” (Chapter X of “The Odyssey”). Interesting old photographs displayed in some of the restaurant windows hark back to earlier days of peasant farming, rather than the tourist hotspot of the modern day. The views both of and from this town are quite breathtaking so we divided our time between the old town atop the cliffs and the lively waterfront.

The hot summer days have kicked in here already and as we sailed along the coast of Corsica we were entranced by the awesome skill of the water-bombing planes skimming along the sea to fill their tanks then dropping their loads on the coastal bushfire. After enjoying some time in and around Bonifacio it was time to farewell Alan & Paula who headed off to Palma for a couple of weeks chartering. (Or so we thought, but more about that later). Meanwhile, we sailed across to Castelsardo, Sardinia, with it’s pastel-coloured houses strewn down the hillside, before another overnighter to Menorca.

The last time we were in Menorca was in 1989 when we first sailed across the Med with a couple of young Swedish doctors, Tumas & Jakob. We had a great time on a boat called “Just For Fun” (very apt!) and said we needed to come back and do this with our own boat. The only thing I recalled about Menorca was a brief overnight stop and the need to get underway before the howling mistral wind approached. So it was really nice to spend a few days here exploring the island, which is less touristed than the other Balearic Islands. Mahon, the island capital, is an extraordinarily well protected natural harbour that has been influenced by a long succession of masters over the years, including Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Visigoths, Moors, French and the English. It was returned to Spain in 1802. Handsome door knockers hiding private patios and neoclassical facades only tell part of the story of the island’s rich history. We also loved visiting the charming towns of Ciutadella and Binibeca, the latter designed in the late sixties and built with blindingly white houses to resemble an old fishing village.

Our next stop was Palma, Mallorca for the main event of the season which is to replace our rigging, and that meant pulling the mast out. A good thing to do before ones goes across the Atlantic Ocean. Palma is one of the best places on earth to get stuff done on a boat. It’s like a yachting Mecca, and everyone who does stuff on boats speaks English! Pleased to say the mast pull all went very well. Now we just have to wait for the replacement rig to arrive from Denmark. Once the mast was out we busied ourselves attending to the long, long list of things to do, e.g. arranging to have solar panels fitted to the bimini, having the watermaker serviced (4 visits so far), cleaning the inside of the water tanks, etc, etc. We were delighted to have Karen & David join us for our second week aboard “Hotel Loki”. Even though we’re not going anywhere, it’s still a million dollar view from our mooring at Real Club Nautico, surrounded by yachts as far as the eye can see.

Whilst K & D were aboard we explored parts of the island, taking a day trip on the Victorian mahogany train that’s been running since 1912. The route meanders through a mountainous countryside of ancient olive groves and citrus trees before arriving at the attractive town of Soller which dates back to the 13th century. Another day we hired a car to visit the honey-coloured towns of Valldemossa and Deia, which are set on green-grey slopes beneath the limestone peaks of the Serra de Tramuntana, the mountainous spine that runs along the west coast of the island. The old monastery at Valldemossa was once home to Frederic Chopin and writer George Sands, but it was the Carthusian pharmacy that was perhaps the most intriguing aspect. It has a collection of Catalan ceramics, glass bottles and jars for ointments and extracts that look like they were used only yesterday. Hard to imagine just 13 monks, bound by the oath of silence, rattling around what was once a former royal residence. One of the highlights of the island is the extraodinarily picturesque and at times potentially hair-raising drive to Cala de Sa Calobra. With an elevation of over 1000m, Tour de France winner, Bradley Wiggins, goes up the 12km of twisting, hair-pin bends in about 26 minutes!

During this time we also caught up Alan & Paula a few times, good for us but not so good for them. As luck would have it Paula had the great misfortune to have a fall during her first day on the island which required surgery, so that meant they didn’t get to go on their charter cruise. But Paula is one helluva tough person, and you can’t keep a good girl down! Cheers to you Paula. If I can have just half of your positive energy I’ll be doing OK! Wishing you all the very best for a really speedy recovery.

After a week that went all too quickly we then farewelled Karen & David, who were heading further east to take in a bit more of the Mediterranean culture. Safe travels guys and don’t work to hard at the conference!

As always, don’t forget to go my website to see all the images if you get the email notification. Hope everything is good with you and yours, wherever you are and whatever you’re up to.

As they say in these parts,

Hasta luego!

Kate