Wednesday, January 21st, 2009
Las Palmas is a huge modern port. Of everywhere we have gone in the past few months we have been impressed by the Spanish port infrastructure as being solid and up to date. The Picton Castle put in here to see what the place was like and because there really aren’t many anchorages in the Canary Islands for a ship like this one. On an overcast day the ship sailed right up to the huge breakwater under topsails in good sized seas before ducking around the corner into the smooth shelter of the large harbour. We had a good passage from Essaouira, Morocco. We dropped the hook in the designated anchorage inside the breakwater but it became immediately clear that with all the yachts anchored there as well that this would not be a good, secure berth for the Picton Castle. It would have been fine if we had it to ourselves, but this was, naturally, not to be. If we dragged or even swung one way we would damage yachts, another direction lay a stone breakwater and in the last direction lay the harbour limits where anchored ships could not be. The weather, although getting warmer, was predicted to be unsettled, making our swing around all the more likely. Soon enough we arranged to go along side at the head of the harbour. After we got safely moored it picked up to blow pretty hard for a few days. There was a certain amount of surge at the wharf keeping the duty watch busy with chafe gear and replacing a parted hawser, even though our hawsers are quite oversized. This condition was partly due to our location in the basin – but that is where the port authorities wanted us as other ships were coming and going and there was no place to anchor. So it goes.
Full Rigged Ship Danmark and Best Dressed Dogs
To our delight and surprise the Danish State Full Rigged Schoolship Danmark was in port too, along with the English Barque Tenacious. It turns out that the Danmark was in winter lay-up in climes a bit more benign than winter in Denmark. Our crew met up and traded ship tours. Also the German Brig Roald Amundsen pulled in for a day with a medical issue to attend. Again crews traded ship tours. Las Palmas was great for Christmas shopping, getting laundry done, phoning home (very cheap), catching up on emailing and internet stuff which is so important today, people watching and generally hanging out with your shipmates. We had to get some visas sorted out for Senegal for some of our crew and, of course, there was minor shopping for the ship. Las Palmas seems to be a Mecca for every manner of bohemian and alternative lifestyle. You see some of the most remarkable outfits on people and the little dogs too. Best dressed dogs we have ever seen. All was friendly and peaceful and pleasant.
We just sailed from the island of Gomera in the south of the Canaries group here. After a fine overnight sail from Las Palmas we anchored at a little place called Vueltas or Punta Trigo on the SW coast which was quite dramatic. We have the Christmas music playing all the time in the hopes that it will become annoying to all onboard, therefore fulfilling a longstanding Christmas season tradition. We have a little tiny Picton Castle Christmas tree with little red maple leaves on it and all the ship pins collected at tall ship events on it as ornaments including Schooner Bluenose II pins and a little uniform-cap gold fouled anchor from the Russian 4-masted bark Sedov at the top – looks pretty sharp. It is, however, a bit odd to listen to the Platters sing Jingle Bells out here at sea off Africa, this is so on so many different levels. Crew have been baking on night-watches so there are plenty of Christmas cookies about.
Sailmaking is proceeding apace with the bending of a new hand sewn spanker, just finished. The forward head on the port side of the focsle got stripped down to bare metal and is being smoothly overhauled. Soon at work on a new topmast studding sail boom. Our 20 foot wooden skiff just got a complete overhaul bottom-side up on the hatch and caulking, now tight like a drum. We have a good gang aboard, all keen about the ship and seagoing. We should be on the edge of the tradewinds but we have an upper level low developing over us promising light southerly winds. So we may need to motor a day to get to a breeze. It’s about 800+ miles to Senegal and should be a good sail and conserving fuel is a huge priority these days. We topped up on diesel at Gibraltar and want that gas stop to last the rest of the trip… this just in – winds have faired and picked up and now the ship is bowling along to the SSW as she should be.
Canaries – A Classic Transatlantic Port of Call
All said and done the Canaries are alright – all the eastern Atlantic islands are weak on good anchorages and are very European even off Africa. Our crew have had a really good and interesting time here. Pretty logical to put in here if making a western-bound Atlantic passage from Europe or the Med and do not really have a taste for adventure. There really is not a hint here that you are off Africa – this is a Spanish Mediterranean sorta place with all the tiled piazzas, architecture and sidewalk cafes. More Africans in Copenhagen than here. Lots of dramatic scenery, though. Gomera reminds us of St. Helena, which is not a complete shock as it’s part of the same geological system, the mid-Atlantic ridge. High steep volcanic rocks (astern of us not more 150 yards the cliff goes straight up to 1400 feet in dry striated brownish rock). It’s all dry and shrubbery except curious little damp micro climates here and there with both cactus and palm trees. Seems that there is a patch of unique pre-Ice Age forest on the top here, the last anywhere, very special woods is this. We can only imagine what rare Galapagos type uniqueness must have been specific to all these islands a long time ago. Mauritius had the Dodo, what was on these islands including Madeira and Azores a heap of years ago before we paddled our canoes out here? Plenty of northern Europeans trying to stay warm here, a few stalwarts from the 1960s holding fast to lifestyles and ideals, winter and full time residents here, all very nice and friendly though rarely a word of Spanish to be overheard. Exquisite wooden fishing boats here, 20-30 foot open launches beautifully modeled and put together and beautifully painted and kept up.
Back at Sea
Now, in good winds out of the ENE and fine balmy temperatures of 22c /71f and sea temps to match we are happily at sea under all sail. Seas are modest and the sky is plenty blue with a enough puffy white clouds to be encouraging. The mates are starting celestial navigation classes. We have broken off ‘daymen’ to work and thus learn more about sailmaking, rigging and engineering. Christmas preparations are moving ahead as we sail onwards.
Bound Ever South and Westward
Many vessels, when sailing for the West Indies, make the Canaries their last eastern Atlantic port before heading off to the west. This was Columbus’s plan and route and he made four such voyages over twelve years. There must be ruts in the ocean hereabouts from all the ships of the 19th century and yachts later from this passage.