Passage south: the darkness disappearing at sunrise    
Europe 2005 EUROPE 2005
Passage South from Portugal to the Canaries
Depart Lagos, Portugal 20th October 2005
Arrive Isla Graciosa 25th October 2005
Passage duration 5 days
Distance sailed 540 nautical miles

Page 4 of 5


20th - 25th October 2005


The last week in Lagos was quite tense, broken only by the occasional walk down the beautiful coast. We had delayed our departure several times through bad weather and we began to believe we would never leave.

In retrospect we planned our passage very well - we developed a good system for tracking and analysing the forecasts, we gathered information on alternative ports, we carried extra diesel and our departure time and date gave us a better passage than many others - but at the time, as we watched other boats come and go, we started to believe that the weather was ok and we had lost our nerve.

We eventually departed in company with “Blue Iguana” and “Belmore” on Thursday 20th October at 1230ut into a north-westerly wind and a lumpy confused sea. Given that the wind was forecast to back to the southwest for a time before settling to a favourable north-easterly we headed out west in the hope of gaining enough room to be able to sail this headwind when it arrived. Not unlike our departure from Falmouth to cross Biscay the awkward cross sea and overcast sky mixed with our apprehension at this long passage soon challenged our stomachs. Nat was unwell and I limited my queasy visits to the chart table and galley as much as possible. It would be difficult to make a cheese sandwich any faster than I did on that first day! Around midnight we had some anxious moments as we tried to cross a 20 mile long convoy of large ships heading for Gibraltar – after an hour we finally found a gap in the traffic and raced across.

Friday was spent either motoring or sailing in reduced wind and although the sea remained confused we settled into the routine of the boat and felt much better.

On Saturday the headwind arrived and we found ourselves sailing slowly in the wrong direction - towards Africa. Around this time we noticed that the propeller shaft was rattling and letting in water, and we got a weather forecast detailing a storm due to hit the Canaries in only four days time. For a short while, the problems seemed insurmountable and we dreamed of a little house in Stamford with a fire and a bath. But then, just as the things seemed at their worst, the sails filled, the boat stiffened, and the wind veered allowing us to make a better course. We started to smile. Before long the wind was behind us and we worked hard to spread out a large area of sail. Free Spirit accelerated pushing through the waves with determination. Our new speed promised an arrival before the storm and closer inspection of the prop shaft suggested, with regular observation, it could wait. As the hours passed, and we realised that this fair wind was here to stay, we left our doubts and worries behind and looked ahead to the horizon and to our next landfall.

The remainder of the trip we settled into a pleasant routine. Our watch system split the night into two parts with me covering 2200-0200 and Nat awake 0200-0600. During the day I watched from 0700-1300 and Nat from 1400-2000. Between these periods were times for us to enjoy meals together.

Since the second day we had spoken to Nick and Ellen on “Kika” over the radio twice daily. They were heading from Gibraltar to the Canaries at the same time and our chats were always fun. During our night watches I danced around cockpit while listening to loud music through the headphones of Nat’s Ipod and gazing at the millions of stars overhead. The shooting stars were breathtaking as they left a trail from one side of the sky to the other. During the day we tended the sails, read and watched birds fly past skimming the waves.

At dawn on the fifth day land appeared out of the haze: the Canaries! The wind died and we motored the last few hours into the small harbour of Caleta del Sebo on the island of Graciosa , arriving at 1300ut – exactly five days after our departure from Portugal.

See below for daily logs while on passage.

Walking along the Lagos coast

Leaving Lagos









Lanzarote & Isla Graciosa appear on the horizon

DAY 1: 20th October 2005
Left Lagos at 1330 in company with Blue Iguana (40') and Belmore (26').
DAY 2: 21st October 2005

Motoring into light SW wind. Sea has smoothed out nicely. Just about to enter sea area Casablanca. Travelling with Blue Iguana again after losing each other last night. Spoke to Kika earlier, they are somewhere out off Rabat on way from Gib to Canaries. Our paths should converge in 100M or so. Boat running well and new watch system going smoothly. Bright moon last night so hoping for same again.

Sailed until midnight. Now motoring into W-SW3. All well. Settling into routine nicely.

DAY 3: 22nd October 2005

Sailing close hauled in light winds since 0200. The accumulated fatigue mixed with the quiet of sailing gave us both some good hours of sleep. Still sailing although now headed by SW wind and heading south. Waiting for the forecast northerlies. The sun's out and we've just been visited by around 30 dolphins.

The wind veered eventually and we could sail our course again but now it's eased and we are motorsailing. Very clear night. Quite close to Kika now, we've been chatting twice daily on SSB.

Dolphins keeping us company
DAY 4: 23rd October 2005

The wind came good as forecast. We've been sailing well since around 0900 when we hoisted cruising chute and poled out genoa on opposite sides. This with 0.5 knots fair current gave us good speed even in the lulls. Just before dark we lost chute and hoisted poled staysail to slow the boat and make it easier to handle through the night. Nat spotted some crazy dolphins which leapt through the air backwards. Just finished dinner of lentil, pot and cauli curry with rice.

DAY 5: 24th October 2005

A good days sailing for both ourselves and Kika; they are about 15 miles away and we chat on SSB twice daily. Watch system going well. Watching approach of awful weather north of us and glad we set off when we did.  Recently rigged poled staysail and genoa for the night. Previous log stated we "lost" the cruising chute - I meant that we took it down. Bertha's still safely with us!

DAY 6: 25th October 2005
After almost five days at sea we raised the Canaries this morning at first light. We are celebrating with beans on toast. The wind has dropped though and I feel that we shall be watching the islands from a distance for a while yet. ETA 1400. Heading for the little island of Graciosa to the north of Lanzarote. We will stay here for a short while with Kika. Bit tired now but otherwise it's all good.

We arrived in this unique little town on the moonscape of Graciosa around 1300UT. It's hot here in this ramshackle marina which nobody got around to completing. Soon we are out to celebrate our arrival with Kika- then SLEEP.



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