12th November. Las Palmas. Gran Canaria.
Another milestone reached. We’re in Las Palmas for the start of the ARC (that’s the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers). Still can’t quite believe we’ve sailed all the way from Southampton as a family. It really is great to be here and what feels like a proper pit stop. We’ve spent the past few days deep cleaning the boat and really taking things apart. More of that in a little bit.
I reflect that the past few months have absolutely flown by. We’ve sailed several thousand ocean miles now as a family and our fluency as a crew is really starting to come together. I recall when leaving Southampton Nichola being reluctant to go 8 inches above the deck up the mast. Now she is shimmying up the mast flaking the main sail with all the confidence and dexterity of an experienced sailor. The children don their lifejackets and clip on without being asked, Bluebell tying perfect bowlines, Columbus doing the mooring lines and fenders and operating the winches. Willow – who was our worry to start with now moves around the boat with ease and perfect balance – she is utterly comfortable and at home on a boat and when we are sailing, she is jumping up and down shouting sail faster, sail faster. We’ve come a long way and in many ways it still feels like we are just starting.
Our next passage will be our longest at sea and will test all of us in different ways. Nichola still needs to crack her mal de mer – we have good days and bad days and have the next plan to work through. Bluebell misses her friends and loves it when we meet with other boats and boat children. Columbus can’t find enough hours in the days to talk about fishing. For me, my challenge is the continual adjustment to being with the children 24 hours a day.
I did think that with our time away I’d have more time to myself, to be able to write, to think and get things done. That was a great plan apart from one thing. Well, 3 actually. The small people. The reason we are doing this. The reality (and I guess no surprise to any mother) is that 3 children take up pretty much all your attention and energy. Being with them 24 hours a day is a new experience and probably the one I’ve had the most adjusting to. For certain, when I was working I had far more time to myself – to think, to read, to write.
So, the lack of communications is none other than due to time …not forgetting of course Aretha – when she needs things doing, they need doing. You can’t really put off fixing those essential items as it’s what keeps you safe.
So, a quick whistle stop from the past 10 days or so.
Leaving Madeira, we had a slow sail South to La Palma – the Western most Canary Island. We had light winds from behind us which meant the engine was on for a good portion of the time. Great excitement as always at making landfall and the shout of Land Ho from the children as we approached La Palma (not to be confused with the City of Las Palmas on the Island of Gran Canaria). 10 miles offshore and we caught our first Dorado – Columbus continues to build his tally of ocean going fish.
It’s noticeable as we have headed further South the number of boats we meet has increased and in particular boats heading across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. There really is a very distinct community and as always the people we meet are extremely friendly and helpful. Conversations revolve around boats, rigging, downwind sail plans, destinations and routes, power management at sea, fishing and so on. We all have a vested interest in sharing and working our plans – once we are out there, you have to manage your boat and there are no chandlers mid Atlantic or engineers to come and fix things for you. That said, someone did mention to me yesterday that on the Atlantic crossing you are highly likely to be no more than an hour away from a ship or another yacht should you have a problem.
We stayed a couple of days in La Palma with our friends on Pentagram before heading east towards La Gomera and Tenerife. La Palma was the first marina we’ve been to with a McDonalds in the Marina – I think Columbus was still in disbelief that Nichola turned down fresh Dorado for a Big Mac!
San Sebastian on La Gomera was stunning. We had a super-fast sail from La Palma reaching at 9-10 knots and arrived just after dark. One thing to note about the Canary Islands is the wind acceleration zones around the Islands where the breeze can crank up by 10-15 knots in a matter of seconds as it accelerates around the side of the Islands. La Gomera was no exception and we found ourselves surfing downwind in 25-30 knots. Rock and roll sailing. When it’s dark and the breeze is on, you’re always relieved to tie up and get in safe and sound.
As we nosed our way into San Sebastian, the marinero (the local marina guy who takes your lines and shows you where to berth) signalled us in with a torch. In the dark it felt we were navigating into the smallest space possible and right next to the slipway. There is little margin for error and it’s warming to have a couple of people from the boat next to you to help with your lines and welcome you ashore.
Our neighbours were a Danish family – Haften, his wife and wait for it….their 4 children. And people thought we were nuts. Within minutes, our children were on the pontoon with their kids and off trick and treating. This is Halloween sailing style. We’d decorated the boat with Halloween stickers and were ready with sweets. It didn’t take long for all the boats to team up and 15 children were walking the pontoons – parents in tow tapping up all the boats in the marina. Great excitement and I think it was close to 11 before the children settled down.
The next day saw us on the fast ferry to Los Cristianos on Tenerife to meet a friend of mine and his family for lunch. Rob (who runs a business enabling you to cycle around the world), his wife Olivia, their 3 children and Olivia’s parents were fabulous hosts and we had a day living in the luxury of the Bahia Del Duke (misspelt for sure) in the pools, the beach and the restaurants. It was really great to connect and talk ideas, plans and adventures and for the children to play.
Back in La Gomera that evening we got to spend more time with Haften and swap plans. They are heading through the Pacific after the Caribbean crossing too and I’m sure we will see a lot more of them. It’s fascinating to meet so many people from other countries doing what we are doing – Danish families, Dutch, French, Swedish, Norwegian and so on. It really does seem that English families doing this are in the minority.
We spent several days in San Sebastian exploring the local streets, beaches, and the Church (where Christopher Columbus went just prior to his journey across the Atlantic). A truly lovely and relaxed place and full of boats heading West. We really feel now we getting in the zone for crossing the Atlantic.
One of our highlights is meeting up with people from home and it was with great anticipation that the children were standing on the quay waiting for the ferry to bring Aunty Sharon to come and join us for a few days sailing. I think the previous 24 hours had been interspersed every 15 minutes with “is Aunty Sharon here yet”. Over the next 5 days, Sharon joined us as we sailed to Tenerife (spending a couple of nights at anchor in strong North Easterly breeze) and then a night at anchor in Porto de Sardina. The first day was fast downwind sailing. The next 3 days were beating to windward. Less fun. Particularly for Nichola and Sharon who were both sick. Back to single handed sailing! The children absolutely loved having Sharon on board and it was great for us to have extra hands to absorb the energy of the children.
So, the final sail with Sharon was into Las Palmas – the home of the ARC and for our final preparations before the Atlantic. There are hundreds of boats here and we’re on a pontoon with the family boats. The children are at ease scuttling along from boat to boat and have forged strong friendships already as have the parents meeting sharing plans and stories. There is a good camaraderie and we have found many kindred spirits.
Last Sunday we watched with our friends, the start of the ARC plus. The ARC rally that goes via the Cape Verde Islands and leaves 2 weeks before the ARC. You can feel the anticipation and buzz around the dock as everyone gets ready and does all their final preparation and then heading out South to the tunes of loud music over the harbour sound system. It all brings back memories of the start of each BT Global Challenge leg.
So now more boats are starting to pour in (including our friends Paul and Caroline on Juno who we’ve been sharing plans with for the past 3 years now) and we are feeling for once we are ahead of the game. Aretha has been cleaned from top to toe. We have passed our safety checks, we’ve had Jerry, a professional rigger give Aretha a thorough check over and the guys from Oyster are on board this afternoon to go through things with us.
We’re all in good spirits and enjoying the company here and looking forward to family and friends joining us next week as the regatta atmosphere builds here. It’s fabulous stuff.
PS – We just found out that Willow is the youngest person on the ARC and the children are going to carry the British flag for the opening ceremony of the ARC – there is a parade through Las Palmas.
PPS – love the story out here of the 4 Norwegian guys who bought their yacht out here 10 days before the ARC plus and are now out in the Atlantic.
PPS we have Aretha fully dressed with flags and have decided that right now we seem to have the largest flags in the marina – it makes for an easy landmark!
How to tie a bowline by Bluebell
Sailing in La Gomera – Sharon at the helm