El Chupadero, Lanzarote: the bleak, volcanic vineyards    
Europe 2005 EUROPE 2005
The Caranies
Caleta del Sebo, Isla Graciosa 25th - 29th October 2005
Playa Blanca, Lanzarote 30th October - 13th November 2005
Las Palmas, Gran Canaria 13th November - 2nd December 2005
Puerto Mogan, Gran Canaria 3rd December 2005

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25th - 29th October 2005: Caleta del Sebo, Isla Graciosa


We spent four happy days in Caleta del Sebo on Graciosa – the easy, smooth, contented happiness that seems to come after a significant passage. The marina there had very few facilities; no water or electricity and only one shower/toilet a ten min walk away, but it was cheap at four euros per night. It was full of a wide variety of different types of boats, including the sort of nailed together boats standing more as a testament to human courage than nautical engineering. During our stay we watched the sunset from a tiny bar on the quay, swam in the clear water of quiet beaches and one day walked the whole length of the island watching a massive Atlantic swell crash on the desolate coast.

On the 29th October we motored into a light breeze south to Marina Rubicon on Lanzarote. Maggie and Anna (Mark’s mother and sister) were due to fly out to visit the next day and we spent the trip planning the week ahead.

Caleta del Sebo, Isla Graciosa

Caleta del Sebo, Isla Graciosa

30th October - 6th November 2005: Playa Blanca, Lanzarote

We had a great week together splitting our time between the boat and their smart chalet over the other side of town. We took the opportunity to do some exploring with Maggie and Anna. After a whistlestop tour of the island in the rain, we all enjoyed sampling the local wine and tapas at the delightful vineyard ‘El Chupadero’. We were all amazed at how anything could grow in the bleak, black volcanic landscape.

Rubicon Marina, Lanzarote: Maggie & Anna

Maggie & Anna, Rubicon Marina


Rubicon Marina, Lanzarote: Anna, Maggie & Nat

Anna, Maggie & Nat on board

7th - 10th November 2005: Playa Blanca, Lanzarote

On passage to the Canaries the prop shaft had made some strange noises and started to leak water. Short of a brief dive under the boat in the toxic marina on Graciosa I had successfully buried this problem deep in the darker recesses of my mind since our arrival. Shortly after Maggie and Anna departed on Sunday this problem burst into my consciousness and I began rushing around with a great sense of urgency but little if any sense of direction. “Errr….better start doing something”. Nigel Calder’s book was consulted and the leak quickly solved by a bit of routine maintenance on the stern gland, but a new and equally strange noise now emerged from the shaft. I became deeply worried that something was seriously amiss.

Luckily the boatyard were very helpful and reasonably priced and on Tuesday the boat was lifted out of the water to reveal….a perfect and nearly new shaft and bearing. Still concerned I arranged for an engineer to come to inspect the prop shaft and listen to the faint squeak as this large nearly new piece of steel turned in the large nearly new bearing – he looked confused – “what was the problem again?” he asked. I felt stupid very briefly before feeling relieved and happy.

We used this opportunity to check the rest of the boat, repaint the bottom with slippery anti-foul and service two seacocks in the heads. Gleaming and clean on the outside but a mess of tools and materials inside, Free Spirit was relaunched on Wednesday ready for the long Atlantic crossing ahead.

Free Spirit sporting her new look

Free Spirit's new look


Our not-broken-but-squeaky prop shaft

Our squeaky prop shaft

11th - 21st November 2005: Lanzarote & Gran Canaria

Although already running late for the ARC preparations in Las Palmas we delayed our departure from Rubicon (Playa Blanca, Lanzarote) for some days more: the wind had strengthened to the point where walking around the marina became difficult and we were enjoying our time with Nick and Ellen from Kika. Eventually the wind eased and although we knew the conditions may be poor we were running out of time.

We set out into a big confused sea at dusk on Sunday 13th Nov in company with Trond and Lesley on Coconut. The passage was no fun. Without a period of daylight to become accustomed to the movement we quickly felt the nausea and lethargy of seasickness. The wind was on the beam rather than behind us as expected and it varied wildly from 8 knots to 30 knots in the squalls necessitating frequent sail adjustments. Daylight brought Las Palmas. A port about as full of activity as any port would be with 225 boats preparing for an ocean crossing. We were berthed on the wall at the far SW of the marina with the largest of the yachts.

We enjoyed the reunions with yachts we met on the way, making new friends, the bustle of seminars and briefings, and the happy hours. One of the high points was meeting Kevin, a previous owner of the company that built our boat. He was wonderfully helpful and checked over our boat giving us advice. Less fun were the clubs and boat parties keeping us awake each night until 0430 while we tried to stock up on sleep in preparation for three weeks of night watches. As the start approached we booked into a hotel to get some sleep and clear our heads.

Foolishly we had not checked the weather all week, perhaps we felt under the caring wings of the ARC, so when on the day before departure we were shown the charts we both fell quiet. The whole room of 500 people fell quiet. Just where we expected a high pressure to give clockwise and favourable winds we saw a low pressure giving anti-clockwise and unfavourable winds. We left the briefing stunned and completed our preparation of the boat for departure the next day, working through until darkness.

On return to the hotel the subject of the weather came up again and we talked in hushed voices about delaying our departure; an act of great heresy and not easy to consider. We decided to start the ARC at the back of the fleet (like we had a choice!) and consider the weather and our options carefully while we sailed along. This time was the hardest, as Free Spirit sailed along well gaining on several yachts and we felt part of such a wonderful event. We turned the boat around after two hours feeling very quiet and sad but once again in control of our voyage. We had a deep feeling that the weather was not right for us; there was no evidence of trade winds, the sea temperature was above normal and in a year with the highest number of hurricanes on record we feared this unsettled weather could do almost anything.

Rubicon Marina, Lanzarote: chilling with Nick & Ellen in Cafe del Mar

Chilling in Cafe del Mar with Kika










20th November - 1st December 2005: Las Palmas, Gran Canaria

If deciding to stay was difficult then deciding when to leave was to prove even more taxing. For the first week it was easy; as we watched the weather daily on the internet the central Atlantic depression deepened to a dangerous tropical storm (now the named storm Delta), moved around aimlessly as if looking for something, then started heading straight towards the Canaries – apparently it had spotted us. Tropical storms don’t occur in late November and they don’t hit the Canary Islands – our books helpfully pointed out. We tied the boat down as well as we could and held on. The storm passed very close to us and during the initial hours it picked up a nasty sea which came straight into the marina and hit our pontoon; the warps snatched and the boats rolled perilously close to each other. Then as the wind changed direction it came down the hillside in violent gusts and threatened to push our boat backwards into the pontoon. With the help and advice of our neighbours Albert and Ramon we managed to haul the boat clear. The following morning we heard of the extensive damage at nearby Santa Cruz, Tenerife and felt lucky to have escaped unscathed.

As Delta sped off eastwards to flatten someone else we looked at the weather chart with renewed hope. The weather didn’t look perfect but without Delta it looked a great deal better. We prepared the boat once more, bought another batch of fresh vegetables and got ready to leave. If only things were that easy! Delta had spawned another depression some days before and as we watched, instead of dissipating this was now deepening to become tropical storm, and later hurricane, Epsilon. This was our most difficult moment; the boat was ready again, yet another flotilla of our friends had set off and we were having doubts. We set off immediately to a bar. After several clarifying beverages we decided to move to La Gomera (another island in the Canaries) and depart from there when Epsilon had moved. Departing from La Gomera would make our transatlantic crossing two or three thousand metres shorter and we would be following the route taken by Christopher Columbus some five hundred years earlier, but most of all it would get us the hell out of Las Palmas.

Bad weather brewing in Las Palmas

        Bad weather brewing





Provisioning for the crossing

Provisioning (again)

2nd - 4th December 2005: Puerto Mogan, Gran Canaria

We didn’t make it to La Gomera. During the night passage we discovered that our mast top light didn't work despite pressing the on/off button about a hundred times thinking it might work 'this time' (you know the feeling). Weeks of preparation and still you get caught out on one little thing, or in our case, one big thing. It was absolutely essential that this navigation light worked for our transatlantic as, without it, other boats would find it difficult to spot us in the dark. We tried hard to look on the positive side; we were lucky it happened now and not while we were out there. 

Being Saturday we figured all the shops would be closed by the time we reached La Gomera so we kissed our Christopher Columbus plan goodbye and hastily changed course for Puerto Mogan on the southwest corner of Gran Canaria. Through the night I kept watch while Mark worked on the problem below hoping that it was a simple wiring connection gone wrong. With our hopes fading fast, we slipped into Puerto Mogan at dawn and moored alongside a concrete wall allowing Mark to shoot up the mast to confirm the worse of our fears. Somewhere in the mast the wire was damaged.

In a sleepless blur we somehow managed to find a hardware shop, buy new wire, remove the old wire from the mast, sweat a lot, swear a lot, thread the new wire into the mast, and finally connect the wires all before lunchtime with success. Free Spirit was an utter chaos below with the headlining off, breakfast dishes and numerous coffee cups unwashed, and tools scattered everywhere. But we didn't care as we had a light that worked and the weather forecast was finally improving. Hurricane Epsilon was predicted to move away from us and dissipate over the next few days. Exhausted we dropped into bed. Out there, just beyond the harbour wall, an ocean waited for us and tomorrow, come what may, we were going to cast off our lines and let it take us on our journey.

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