ship's log

Friday 1 October to Wednesday 13 October - Madeira to Gran Canaria


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Friday 1 October

After a morning doing the rounds of Customs, marina officials etc., we are plugged in to electricity and water, and ready to explore Madeira. Michele Booth, who is an old friend of ours from Zimbabwe, comes down to see us in the late morning. It is wonderful to see her again. She relieves us of half a ton of laundry, and Sarah and Hannah. We scrub the boat from top to toe, and head in to Funchal for lunch.

Funchal is a lovely town, with lots of cobbled streets and charming houses. Very clean and neat. It has quite an African feel about it.

In the evening we are invited out to dinner with Michele and her husband Peter, who is a director of one of the big hotel groups. They have recently completed a beautiful cliffside house which overlooks the ocean from quite a height. Also at dinner is an old school friend of Nick Gambier (Caroline's father), Adam Blandy, and his wife Christina. Adam's family have been based in Madeira for six generations, so know the island extremely well.

The girls are invited to spend the night with Michele, who has two sons Mark and Daniel, just a bit older then our girls. It feels very odd to see them tucked up in the guest room in their pristine borrowed pyjamas and huge beds. Real luxury.

Saturday 2 October

Michele has very kindly lent us her car so that we can explore the island, so we head off through the interior to Sao Vicente on the north coast. The drive is spectacular, with mountains rising either side of the road, until we come to the windswept North coast. Apparently it is one of the best surfing beaches in the world, but you have to be a professional because, as Michele pointed out, if you don’t get off your board in time you are dashed on the rocks!

We loop back through Paul de Serre on a high, flat road which bisects the island. Its bleak up there, with just a few cows wandering around in the clouds above the tree-line. Some great views though.

The girls have had a great time with the Booths, go-karting, swimming and reacquainting themselves (temporarily) with Cartoon network.

Sunday 3 October

Plans to do a walk in the hills are foiled by bad weather up there, making walking difficult and dangerous. We spend the morning seeing Funchal and buying some fishing tackle. The Marina is full of fishing boats which go out daily for marlin, wahoo, and tuna. They come back with some enormous catches, so people come over regularly from the US and all over the world to try their luck.

In the evening we take Michele’s family out to dinner to say thank you for their excellent hospitality. We go to a local place tucked away up in the hills, and the patron takes us to his Wine cellar afterwards to taste the Madeira straight from the wooden kegs there.

Monday 4 October

The highlight of the day is lunch with Adam and Christina Blandy in the grounds of the magnificent house on their estate, Palheiro, overlooking Funchal. After a delicious lunch we walk around the garden and the newly completed golf course and hotel in the grounds. The gardens are world renowned and get 50,000 visitors a year. There is a chapel in the grounds where Adam and Christina were married, which is being refurbished, and as we walk past this, the Mynah bird that has recently taken residence in Palheiro flies right past us. It really is a paradise.

In the evening we round off a lovely day with cocktails at Reads hotel, until very recently one of the Blandy business interests, which has wonderful views of Funchal at night.

In the evening we bring the girls back to spend their first night on the boat since we have arrived. They have loved staying with Michele, but its time they got used to their bunks again before we put to sea tomorrow.

Tuesday 5 October - On passage from Madeira to Gran Canaria – 100 miles to go. Lat: 30 deg 14’N, Long, 16 deg 44’ W

Today we leave for the Canaries. Marie flew back to the UK, having decided very sensibly that after five days of chronic seasickness on the way down, it did not make sense to tempt fate with another 300 mile passage. We shall really miss her. I am particularly glad for her that we have had such a good time in Madeira.

The Booths come down to look around the boat and wave us off. We spend an hour at anchor outside the marina cleaning the hull and doing a photo-shoot, then we are ready to go at lunch time. The forecast is for steady to strong NE winds all the way, so we should have a fast passage.

We want to say a special thank you to Michele and all the Booths, and to Adam and Christina Blandy, for making us so welcome in Madeira. A wonderful place, and we will certainly return some day.

As Madeira fades into the twilight, we soon pick up the trade winds, and storm towards Gran Canaria at well over eight knots!

Wednesday 6 October

The wind is steady from behind us at 20 knots, so we make good speed all night long. For some reason, Max the Monitor self steering vane is not performing, so we need to hand steer all night. I may be something to do with the sea state, which is a little confused. There is quite a big Atlantic swell. Max is fine for about twenty minutes at a stretch, oscillating through an arc of ten degrees either side of the chosen course. Then all of a sudden it fails to recover from the bottom of the most downwind swoop, and threatens to throw the boat into a gybe. After much head-scratching, and experimenting with different vane sizes and positions, we conclude that it is the combination of the sea state, the point of sail, and our speed (we are averaging 8.5 knots) which is causing the problem. We decide to try again once we have passed the Islas Selvagem and hardened up to a beam reach.

Islas Selvagem are some small islands which belong to Madeira, but are in fact closer to the Canaries. They are National parks and can only be visited with a special permit, but we have decided not to pop in this time round. They are fairly bleak and windswept, with some rather jagged rocks off-lying. Not for nothing are they named ‘The salvage islands’!

We pass them early on Wednesday morning, and start to harden up towards Gran Canaria. Max starts to behave himself a bit better on the new point of sail, which is a relief. By this time we are having one of the best sailing passages of the trip. Blue sky, deep blue sea, and some ocean rollers to surf along. Wonderful stuff, and spirits are high.

Soon we can pick out the lights on Tenerife off to starboard, and we start to see some ships converging on the same spot. A night of fast downwind sailing and we will be in by dawn.

Thursday 7 October

Just after first light we arrive at the entrance to Puerto de la Luz, Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. As we furl the sails and motor in, I start to recognise the features and the smells of this place. I spent a week here before crossing the Atlantic under sail for the first time in May 1984.

Las Palmas is not a beautiful place, but it is a well-functioning port, and has its charms if you are prepared to seek them out. It is one of the most popular ports for yachts about to cross the Atlantic, as it has good facilities for provisioning and final maintenance.

We have been extremely lucky to have been offered a mooring at the Club Maritimo de Varadero, by Jorge Cantero, a friend and business colleague of my brother Andrew. Jorge runs Marks and Spencers here on the island, and is also a very keen yachtsman. Moorings here at the club are usually impossible to get, and visiting yachts usually have to go alongside the harbour wall with limited facilities. On our mooring we find we have electricity and water. At the end of the pontoon in the newly built clubhouse there is a swimming pool, gymnasium, restaurant and bar, and even a sauna! God knows how I am going to persuade the crew to put to sea across the Atlantic after they have been softened up by this little lot.

Friday 8 October

We give the boat a really good clean out, which takes all morning. Everyone has jobs, including the girls. Sarah is responsible for the dinghy, which has successfully recovered from its last major surgery, and seems to be holding its air pressure without a problem.

We plan to be based here in the Canaries for six weeks, before heading out across the Atlantic with the ARC, a race involving about 225 other yachts. Our aim in joining the ARC is to provide a bit more safety from having other yachts to maintain contact, to hook up with other children who may be on other boats, and also to introduce some competition to the crossing.

We have got down here early to avoid the October storms in the Mediterranean, and to have a chance to slow down the pace as we gear up for the big crossing. We intend to cruise the islands here with various friends who are going to come out to join us, starting with Nick Esch and Sarah Howard who arrive out a week from now.

Tomorrow is Caroline's birthday, so this afternoon Sarah and Hannah and I set off on mission to buy birthday presents and a cake, the culmination of lots of planning over the last week, most of which has been conducted in stage whispers. We find an excellent supermarket in El Corte Ingles, and soon we are well prepared for our first family birthday on board.

Saturday 9 October

We say goodbye to Mark early in the morning, as he takes off for the airport and home. He has been an excellent crew and a tremendous support as we started feeling our way into a different routine on the first really long passages of the trip. The fact that it has gone so well is in no small measure down to him.

Caroline is treated to breakfast in bed and gets lots of birthday e-mails from friends.

We spend some of the day at the pool, and have a big birthday tea complete with cake and candles.

I managed to find a bar in the main square with a satellite dish. After much gesticulating I managed to explain to the proprietor that there was a very important rugby match on Eurosport, and would he mind switching over from MTV. He was not sure at first, but after 2000 pesetas had changed hands he was quite sure it was a good idea, and I settled down to watch England face the All-Blacks. A great match to watch, and we soon had a little crowd of curious Spaniards watching the proceedings. Even they, ignorant of the rules as they were, could not help but watch in awe at Jonah Lomu’s match winning try. A shame as I thought England played a good game up to that point.

Sunday 10 October - Wednesday 13 October - In Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. Lat : 28 deg 08 N, Lon 15 deg 2 W

The last few days have been bliss. We have settled in to a routine of teaching the girls in the morning, doing maintenance jobs on the boat, taking breaks for a swim and planning for the crossing.

Caroline is taking the lead in teaching the Maths and English, and I am doing special topics. For example, I am working on the seasons, the weather, climate, and the passage of time at the moment with Sarah. The main prop is the blow-up plastic globe, and its relation to the sun, for which we use the deck compass as a proxy. My aim is to show how they are all linked together. Somehow being on a trip like this offers plenty of opportunities to reinforce lessons like this, in a way which is more difficult in a classroom. We are using the computer and CD-ROM a lot, which livens up the lessons and keeps the interest going. So far it is going well, but I will leave Caroline to write more about the teaching later.

Caroline is going to start writing an occasional series, offering her perspective of events on the trip. It will start with this posting (see ‘Bird's Eye View’ below)

When Nick and Sarah arrive, we will probably set off for Tenerife, so the next log will probably be written from there.

Bird's Eye View

I’m not entirely sure about the name ‘Bird’s Eye View’, as I had determined to call this small column ‘Caroline’s Cookery Corner’ seeing as I’m without doubt the least domesticated person I know! Still, for better or worse, ‘Bird’s Eye View’ it is. On the subject of cookery, if anyone has some handy hints to pass on, on how to keep a hungry crew happy on tins, they’d be well received. The best one I’ve had so far is how to cook bread in a pressure cooker, which I haven’t plucked up courage to try out so far, but will report the results if or when I do. The other point to bear in mind is that they have to be able to be prepared in a washing machine set at 45 degrees!

The Spanish don’t seem to go in much for tins, though, and in the Atlantic I’m hoping that we repeat the success of the 9kg tuna that we caught on the way to Menorca. It was so huge, took so long to bring in and bled so much all over the cockpit that the children have been decidedly unimpressed with the meagre hauls since. Their favourite part is Jonathan killing the fish with the winch handle, and the more blood the better. Hannah’s diary has a big red splodge on the page about the tuna. Sarah and Hannah are not foodies by any stretch of the imagination, but having experienced the thrill of the hunt they have become the boat’s fish experts. They are able to inform us what it is that we’ve caught, and whether it’s good to eat once they’ve eaten it (they always declare ownership of the catch).

Still, in case we’re unsuccessful on the fishing front, the meat counter in our local supermarket here in the Canaries is so well stocked with enormous legs of cured ham that there’s not much room for the butcher to manoeuvre. Perhaps I’ll stock up on a couple of those, although that brings up another favourite boat issue - stowage ……. and that's another subject altogether. More another time.

Bird's Eye View ends

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