Archive for January, 2011

Life in Las Palmas

Posted in Fun, Photographs, Surfing with tags on January 31, 2011 by maidofmettle

I wasn’t really expecting to stay long on my second visit to Las Palmas, but I’m enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would. Usually voyaging is very much about moving on – it’s the first time since the Guadiana that I’ve actually returned to somewhere, but quite a contrast to that – a big bustling city and marina rather than beautiful countryside and free anchoring. It’s often the people you meet that contribute a lot to my impressions of a place though, and that’s probably especially true now I’m on my own. There’s certainly a friendly and interesting crowd of people here.

Having enjoyed a few evenings on other boats and thinking of leaving soon it also seemed like a good time to invite people round to Maid of Mettle. Although we briefly fitted seventeen or eighteen people aboard for Caroline’s birthday last year I think this might be the record for actually fitting people in comfortably. Seating and serving drinks and nibbles for eight people plus kids actually worked pretty well, making for a very nice evening.


Taryna, Dave, Petra and Sarah

(the kids have gone back to another boat by this point)

Hilary, Dave and Paul

We’re planning a group excursion into the interior of the island soon, which should be a great day out. I’m looking forward to seeing more of the interior – other than one walk around and into a crater I’ve mainly only seen the coast and beaches outside of the city – I think I’ve seen much less of the rest of the island than Chris and Caroline still. The beach is nice though, and I have been fairly busy..

I’ve always been interested in trying surfing at some point, probably even before I gave snowboarding a go. Not that I was imagining having done that would be much help in the water – in terms of balance surfing is supposed to be more akin to off-piste snowboarding, which I can’t claim any expertise at except reliably being able to fall off before hitting a tree. The beach here is probably the handiest good surfing beach to a harbour, as well as the excellent qualification of being where I am now as opposed to where I might go in the future. So I decided to give it a try…

Well, surfing is certainly harder than snowboarding. And much, much harder work physically – whether walking or paddling out, quite possibly with a strong cross current, paddling to get going or springing up to stand on (or fall off) the board. One thing that is definitely similar is the initial difficulty in ‘relaxing’ when you’ve just stood upright and started moving.

Unfortunately it’s even harder than snowboarding to take photos of, so here’s one of the beach, complete with big rollers and two-tone sand.

Surfing beach – La Cicer

On the domestic front, I need to take the cooker apart again to clean some bits and probably replace several. I think one burner is partially blocked, and the other one has an impressive paraffin leak. It’s a very safe fuel and cooker, but it does require some patience… Fortunately I had my contingency plan in place a week or so ago – an electric hotplate which should hopefully also cut down on the need for stove servicing, as I can use it instead whenever I have shore power. It made a very nice stew with dumplings the other night. Hang on, that doesn’t sound like hot weather cooking….

Now with this last bit I’m obviously not looking for any sympathy, just extending to you the possibility of a little schadenfreude – the weather has actually been relatively poor here lately. It’s unusual for depressions to come this far south even in winter, but there are a succession sweeping through at the moment, bringing strong winds and rain though not actual cold. The last couple of evenings have had that kind of feel – sitting in the cabin at a secure mooring (and Las Palmas is one of the safest harbours in the Canaries) with the wind howling outside is much like sitting by a log fire on a chilly day.

Happy New Year

Posted in Fitting out and maintenance, Fun, Photographs with tags on January 18, 2011 by maidofmettle

Starting with the rest of Christmas day, having put the Smurf flags up and moved Maid round to a new berth it was already time to head to the beach and join the beach party. Despite only knowing Dave and Taryna the group was pretty easy to spot, the cricket pitch being a bit of a giveaway. Good weather for lounging next to it in the sunshine, and then for a refreshing swim before a Gents v.s Ladies cricket match.

It has to be said, bowling, and consequently batting, on a surface of soft sand is quite difficult. The Ladies team scored a respectable total of 11 with some impressive hitting from Sarah. With some quick scoring at the start we were feeling confident of our reply but then slowed down a bit towards the end. I came in with us one behind and a couple more batsmen behind me. I hit the first ball…into the sand about a metre away from the bowler. But I was able to level things up with one run from the next ball, and then get a rest from a no ball. The next one I hit, and ran, and back again – victory for the men : ) and time for the spirited debate on scoring to begin, though it didn’t achieve the controversy of the potato and spoon race later on.

The next event in the festive sporting calendar was kayak racing – though Chris and Caroline’s inflatable was back in England the combined resources meant that three kayaks were available for competition. This didn’t work out as a good number for Marilyn and I in the first race, with us getting somewhat sandwiched before Dave (on the left) powered to victory.

I teamed up with Caroline (no, another one) in the second race and we learnt the lesson of the first one – roaring away at the start we could take it rather easier on the way back from the green buoy while our rivals got in each others’ way.

Later on it was time for Christmas dinner with Dave (no, another one, yes, there are too many to keep track of, there’ll be another one along in a few paragraphs) and Taryna – Taryna cooked a lovely roast and I provided the Christmas pudding and brandy butter – before skyping Mum and then drinks with everyone else back on their boat.

Taryna and Dave

All in all a very nice day, and well worth the sail from Fuerteventura.

The Spanish generally seem to love fireworks, so we were expecting a good display to welcome in 2011. We hoped to have a barbecue on the outer wall of the marina but weren’t allowed, so people kept disappearing and reappearing with food. We certainly weren’t disappointed in the fireworks – there were a couple of displays pretty close and around 20 others visible in other parts of the city.


At some point during the evening I got talking to Dave and Scott, who turned out to be have left Gran Tarajal an hour or so after me before Christmas and rapidly disappeared off into the distance. I did in fact beat them in to Las Palmas by a few hours, but then they had spent the night tied up in Morro Jable rather than sailing…. keeps the cost down though : ) We enjoyed quite a few meals together on Maid or Dave’s boat.

Other than social things, one job it was very helpful to have assistance for was taking the outboard engine on and off – though it was surprisingly easy with a line taken from the mast to the other side of the pontoon to support a vertical rope holding the engine. Much easier than predicting when the man would arrive to collect or return it, or indeed find him in the first place – that day involved a lot of walking around Las Palmas, as the address on their website led me to a shut office. A committee of men in the frozen food place next door said they reckoned it was one way, but redeemed themselves when I’d ruled that out (half an hour later..) by deciding it must be in the opposite direction and even insisting on printing me out a map.

I was surprised to find that the 25th wasn’t the focal point of the Christmas celebrations here. Santa Claus has in fact only been delivering to the Canary Islands for the last 15 years or so, and he often only brings token presents, deferring to los tres Reyes magos – the three Kings or Magi. Their presents are opened on the public holiday for Epiphany, after a big carnival parade on the evening of the 5th.

There are times when I wonder about my tendency to want to sample local ‘delicacies’, and I think it is probably exacerbated by writing a blog, fun though it is. I also had the example set by Caroline – my partner in the second canoe race – declaring that she had something good to put on the blog while being given a birthday dunking in the sea – to think of. And I was feeling hungry. So I decided to try the, erm, pressed squid, sliced into strips and roasted on hot coals – you can see one hanging up in the top left and the result in the foreground. It was probably quite similar to pork scratchings, tough and quite salty, but edible. It doesn’t really compare to Pan de Higo (fig bread) though….

The parade itself was spectacular, and incredibly loud, I was glad I was stood at a junction rather than in between rows of buildings. My favourite entry was probably the fish, ‘swimming’ from side to side across the street on tricycles, though think the Spanish kids enjoyed the myriad cartoon characters hurling sweets at them, and the Magi themselves were magnificently dressed.

So, a belated happy New Year to everyone reading the blog, and a big thank you to Caroline for accumulating all those readers over a year and a half of very fine blogging : )

I have a new mobile number now while I’m in Spain – probably expensive to call but I’d hopefully be able to Skype back fairly soon afterwards – let me know if you want it.

I saw three ships come sailing in, on Christmas Eve, on Christmas Eve

Posted in Fun, Photographs, Sailing, the Atlantic Ocean with tags , on January 9, 2011 by maidofmettle

It was pretty strange being in Gran Tarajal after Caroline and Chris had gone back to England. It’s a nice small town, with a great holiday atmosphere coming up to Christmas, and I had a nice evening with Thomas from a boat moored a couple of spaces along from us, but there was the definite feeling that it’s easier to leave than to be left behind.

Gran Tarajal Christmas festivities – a concert by the island’s school of music

Happily I had been invited to join friends moored in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria for Christmas day, and the forecast looked good for leaving on the 23rd. Thomas and I started meeting most often criss-crossing back and forth from the town getting supplies etc, though I was only thinking about shops being shut over Christmas – he was hoping to be a few hundred miles away from the nearest shops on his way to the Caribbean by then. Probably a bit of a stretch even for a reindeer-powered food drop.

So, on the 23rd he helped me cast off and I motored out. The initial fiddling around with sails phase took a long time. The sails I’d got ready based on the forecast and the wind I felt in the marina on departure proved to be rather too small to make the boat actually move, not a good start…. So I got bigger sails, put them up and started idling very slowly down the coast, about half a mile away from Thomas. It was feeling very slow… probably more so for me than him, as my passage plan was based on hours (hopefully around 36) rather than weeks!

Normally photos of the sea make it look flatter than it felt. This one is probably about right though.

Still, we eventually made it down to the bottom of Fuerteventura. I considered going in to the port of Morro Jable for the evening, but it would have required a lot of motoring, entering a new place in the dark, and probably ending up entering Las Palmas in the dark the next day as well. It didn’t seem worth it, since even though I was going slowly it was very calm. I just hoped I wouldn’t encounter much in the way of waves once I got clear of Fuerteventura, since there was so little wind the boat would probably have stopped nearly dead (rigor mortis would probably be preferable to rolling) in the water.

But…..the wind came up a little more – as you may of course have guessed from the title. And the swell was certainly there – but really no waves, just long, very gently rolling seas. And so we sailed – or rather Horace did. I made sure he stayed south of the shipping route between Las Palmas and Morro Jable, and largely let him get on with it, getting out of bed to check up on him every half hour or so. This seemed to work pretty well – there were a couple of ‘watches’ in the night when I felt fairly exhausted, but otherwise I felt pretty good..

It was beautiful sailing though – just up and down and over the waves, with only barely noticeable noise and motion below. It felt a shame not to have shared it with the others, as it was easily the most beautifully peaceful whole voyage that any of us have made on the trip outside of the River Guadiana. Probably a perfect introduction to solo sailing overnight, but I might enjoy it even more in the future when I’m a bit more used to it – the isolation was still feeling a bit strange.

The sunrise was a nice bonus – I’ve usually been off-watch for that when we’ve been sailing (and in bed if not!)

The next morning (Christmas Eve) was much the same, and by the afternoon the coast of Gran Canaria was becoming clear, and the sails of two other boats closing in from the north. Horace just made it into the harbour without making me tack (he’d been steering basically the same direction relative to the wind direction since 0300), and then I followed the other boats onto the waiting pontoon, as the marina office was shut for Christmas. It was quite nice knowing I’d be able to just stay there for the night actually. The boat in front was a big catamaran, so there were plenty of people to help take my lines – in fact enough of a surplus that it felt more like an audience! – but berthing did go fine. It definitely felt good to have made the trip overnight without any real difficulties, and in about the time frame I’d planned. The conditions were so smooth it probably wasn’t much of a test of my enjoyment of longish trips single-handed, but definitely a nice start.

I decided to leave putting the Smurf flags up till Christmas morning though.

Christmas morning on Las Palmas

I’ll hopefully have some more photos of Christmas Day in time to do the next post.