Friday, November 09, 2018

Isla Graciosa

With the help of our Cruising Guide to the Canary Islands purchased in Gibraltar, we chose our first anchorage of the Canary Islands to be Isla Graciosa at the southern tip of Playa (Beach) Francesa under cool and cloudy skies (N29°13.027' W13°31.606') where we arrived November 7th.

This is quoted to be Canary Islands' most beautiful anchorage. Waves crashed on the reefs on both sides of the entrance to the anchorage where golden sand beaches welcomed us to the Canaries.

The islands here are fairly barren with an obvious geologically volcanic landscape which makes for great hiking and biking.

Jordan made the strenuous hike up 1 of the calderas but I decided to stay on the quiet beach. He said the hike was difficult as the volcanic rocks were constantly slipping underfoot.

View down to Sea Turtle from above

Descending the backside, he hiked over to the rugged west shore where the prevailing winds assault the craggy cliffs. There he discovered a blowhole. While looking down at the waves, a couple good ones gave him a dangerous close-up encounter, leaving him refreshingly wet! Check out YouTube for video (

The next day, we took the dinghy around to the small sleepy village port, Caleta del Sebo. A labyrinth of sandy streets separate the all-white, low rise buildings accented with mostly blue. Daytrippers were coming and going on ferries that cross from the further south big Island of Lanzarote.

Even a white dog!

Sleepy Caleta del Sebo

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

To Canary Islands

We said goodbye to the Med and Gibraltar November 2nd at 09:45 but not before taking advantage of Gib's cheap fuel. Heading out of the bay to the strait it was a nice sunny and breezy sail.

The exit strategy through the Strait of Gibraltar can be challenging (see our last post). We got some wise advice before we left that we should stay close to the north shore and head straight out before making the left turn. It feels counter-intuitive not to sail the straight shortest route diagonally across but we followed the advice and it proved correct.

We watched other sailboats that left the same time as us for the Canary Islands and they didn't know or follow the advice. We could see them fall far behind us as they headed out crossing the Strait right away on, no doubt a straight line they had plotted. One of those boats who probably watched us making good progress finally altered course to follow us.

Even though, we still had to motor-sail against a 2.5- to 3-knot current at times, beating into 18 knots of wind. Eventually we were far enough to bear to port and fill the sails for a close haul to round a point off the NW tip of Africa at 19:30.

Sailing off into the sunset

You have heard of things happening in threes. Well, our first during a stiff breeze, a staysail sheet block broke and the violently flogging sheet, narrowly missing Jordan, whipped the strata glass on our dodger so hard it blew a hole in it. (He has since repaired the broken block.)

Our second was when the autopilot mysteriously quit. It has been known to do this for no reason. It's like it says Okay, I just want a break. With several days ahead before landfall, having no autopilot was not a pleasant prospect. We have a wind vane, but in real light or no winds, it doesn't do the job. However, after shutting the autopilot off for 15 minutes and restarting it, it was back to normal.

Our third was when the GPS then quit! Our backup GPS was being repaired, plus we had ordered a new backup that had not yet arrived, so this meant we had none to work with our digital charts on OpenCPN. The solution was to use OpenCPN on another computer where thankfully the GPS worked. What next??!!

We have experienced a variety of weather: warm and sunny, chilly, dreight, and sometimes downright cold. What? you say. Well dreight is a Scottish sea or weather related word told to us by our friends on SV Tahira meaning dull and wet. We have had to run our interior bus heater for warmth occasionally, the first time we have done so since Chile, about 6 years ago. As we're heading south, we were hoping for and expecting warmer weather than this.

On a warm day

On a chilly day

On a dreich day

The trip was also a mixed bag of conditions that had us sailing only part of the time, then either motor-sailing or just motoring, the latter doing too much of. And the seas were jabbly. Another Scottish word from SV Tahira meaning uneven, disturbed.

No luck in catching a fish, but Chanty discovered one that jumped onto the deck during the night and the next morning she found it, albeit dead. She devoured it in ravenous consumption.

After a 5-day passage, we made our first anchorage on November 7th at 10:30 Gibraltar time. (The Canary Islands are 1 hour earlier so we changed our clocks to 09:30.)

Friday, November 02, 2018

Final days before Canaries

With memories of the Rock, we traipsed around Gibraltar taking in more scenes. From street level, we snapped a photo of the Moorish Castle high up above on the Rock (that we also visited during our time on the Rock).

Medieval fortification

An area called Casemates Square is very popular with numerous coffee shops, restaurants, high-end shopping, and of course regular tourist shopping. There are a lot of older buildings with history including the old police station.

Street scene

Old police station

We have noticed that Gibraltarians are very polite and always hit the brakes to let pedestrians cross, even when not at crosswalks. This is not so in many other countries.

Our new sails, a Genoa and staysail, finally arrived from Leitch and McBride and we were ready to depart Gib...

Hanging the Genoa

...but we had one more stop to make across the border in La Linea Spain. Once again we walked across the airport runway when the light turned green, then breezed through Customs with only a flash of our passports, and we were in Spain.

Judy in pedestrian crossing with green 'Walk' light

Our destination was to our favourite tapas bar, Carlos and Eduardos. This thriving 3-generation business is celebrating their 55th anniversary. Sipping our wine, sampling liqueurs, and enjoying our tapas, we watched as everyone was busy, busy, busy and so happy and friendly. We will miss this place for sure. Be sure to Google it for directions if you are ever in the area!

3 amigos - Jordan, Carlos, and Judy

We walked back to Sea Turtle in the pouring rain with full and satisfied bellies.

Chanty has a new friend. A beautiful golden coloured large dog! They chase each other up and down the dock and she bats at his nose. No claws though, just playing. Hilarious. Yet she hisses at other cats here and won't make friends.

The next morning, we were prepared to leave on passage to the Canary Islands, however the morning voltage reading was quite worrying as the failing house batteries were down too low. So for the sake of a delay of 1 day, we thought it best to bite the bullet and get new ones while we could here in Gib.

Jordan located a knowledgeable seller who had AGM deep cycle batteries in stock that would be a suitable replacement. Actually better in the sense that they are sealed and don't need topping up like the existing ones. It took most of the day and evening to do the install and top up the charge.

So our departure was in the morning to take advantage of favourable conditions to get through the Strait of Gibraltar. The current in the narrow Strait is predominantly eastward because the Mediterranean Sea evaporates more than what rain or runoff can compensate for. So westbound boats through the Strait can find themselves fighting an incoming current but they can also encounter severe chop caused by current over undersea irregularities.

To mitigate these conditions, the conventional wisdom is to head out to the Atlantic Ocean through the Strait at about 2 hours after high tide and with an east wind. Well, the weather window was now good for the passage to the Canaries - with the exception of a wind coming off the Atlantic through the Strait.

But we went for it, and finally sailed away from Gibraltar under bright sunny skies on November 2nd for a 4- to 6-day passage to the Canary Islands.

Friday, October 19, 2018

The Rock of Gibraltar

We spent a couple of days mid-month exploring the infamous and fascinating Rock of Gibraltar. There are many interesting sights accessed by narrow roads, walkways, and trails.

First we rode the cable car close to the top where, eventually, standing on the spine at the top, we got some great views looking back into the Med from which we came, and across to Africa about 23 km away and north to mainland Spain. We walked for hours going from one end to the other, up and down trails from 1 sight to the next.

The Rock of Gibraltar

On our way up

One stop was at St. Michael's Cave, a large natural cavern where millennia of water seeps through the limestone produced stalactites and stalagmites which are now illuminated with colourful lights. St. Michael's was used as early as 40,000 BC by prehistoric man and is only 1 of more than 150 caves in the Rock.

1,000,000 visitors per year

Crossing the 71-m so called frightening suspension bridge over a 50-m gorge we found to be very non-frightening but great views looking down on the town.

Easy walk across for the brave-hearted

There are so many monkeys in the upper regions, mostly around the tourist sites. They seem to be an attraction for the tourists, many who can't wait to go to the Apes Den. These are Barbary Macaque monkeys (not apes) and not indigenous to the Rock.

Grooming buddies

As monkeys usually are, these are mischievous and opportunist when it comes to snatching anything edible. One we didn't see managed to very quickly grab half our lunch and run away. They will eat anything. Another very quietly snuck a package of strong cough drops hidden in our backpack pocket - which he persisted in eating while making a hilarious sour face with his mouth in a large O-shape - Oh my goodness, what did I grab this time?! Another we saw enjoying an ice cream that he obviously absconded from an unwary tourist.

These scoundrels are routinely fed fruit by staff to keep them up there on the upper slopes so that they don't invade the town below. They also have a sterilization program so that their numbers are limited to around 300. These unique Old World monkeys are tailless, just as apes are.

I wonder what's in here?

Much of the history of the Rock has to do with military control and occupation. In the most recent episodes of war, great huge guns were placed on the ridge during the 2nd World War. These guns could lob shells across the strait to Africa, just over 23 km.

Africa in the distance

On our second day visit to the Rock, we toured military battery tunnels dug during various war periods, most notable the Great Siege and World War II. We saw only a small fraction of tunnelling but apparently the mountain is a Swiss cheese of passageways and rooms carved out over time.

Looking down a long passageway

We were recently told that the Rock has more kilometres of tunnels than kilometres of roads in all of Gibraltar and that the not-so-secret underwater submarine caves that enable subs to sneak in undetected then surface within the protection of the Rock.

The Great Siege tunnels were dug by hand in the 1780s with crowbars, sledgehammers, and gunpowder blasts.

Hard at work

All along parts of the tunnel there would be openings for cannon firing. Original plans were to place a gun on top of an area called the Notch but upon reaching the area, it was decided to place 7 guns within the big rock outcropping where only the barrels would protrude out the Notch instead, giving a 180 degree view.

Top of the Notch with openings below

World War II tunnels, built with the help of machinery, were eventually joined to the Great Siege tunnels and in total there are now 55 km of tunnels. There are more than just tunnels. There are large rooms for hospital, supplies, and occupation for a virtual city where up to 16,000 soldiers could hold out for months. There are also tunnels for escape as the last option.

Jordan in World War II tunnels

From the tunnels, we could look down to the airport runway below. This scene will be different in the future as a new road is being constructed below the runway at the far eastern side of the peninsula. So soon there will be no more waiting for planes to land or take off by cars and pedestrians trying to cross the border between Spain and Gibraltar.

Busy runway crossing

After our second day of long trekking on the Rock, it was nice to be settled in for the evening on Sea Turtle.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

GIBRALTAR - Gib-ahoy

We moved Sea Turtle about 2.5 NM from the Spanish town of La Linea to the Ocean Village Marina in Gibraltar (Gib) under very windy conditions on October 3rd, N36°08.972' W005°21.318'. (Unfortunately there is nowhere to anchor in Gib which normally is our preference.) The Marina is just on the other side of the Gib airport runway that virtually separates the 2 countries.

Runway in center crossing east and west

Sea Turtle moored as plane lands

We have now been meeting more passage-making sailors here compared to the hordes of vacationing sailors in the Med. It is the time of year for those of us who want to do the Atlantic crossing to start exiting the Med and head down to the Canary Islands as the jump-off point. We have met a few Canadian sailors too.

Throughout the Med, we have had very little tide differences, but with Gib so close to the Atlantic, we are now seeing about a 4-foot tide range.

Gibraltar is actually a UK territory. It is in the EU but outside of the Schengen Group of countries that control immigration. As a small peninsula (less than 7 sq km), the 'Rock' dominates not only the skyline but the land surface area. Available land for development is at a premium.

Gibraltar is short on hotel rooms so one enterprise's solution was to build a 7-deck cruiseship named Sunborn and dock it permanently here. In luxury, it offers 5-star rooms, restaurants, a Casino, conference rooms, spa, etc. Built in Malaysia, its only passage was from the deck of the world's largest transport ship to the dock at Ocean Village Marina here where it will stay. Website:

Sunborn - floating hotel

Gibraltarians drive on the right side of the road, as do Canadians, but of course in Great Britain they drive on the left. As Gib is a territory of UK, they get a lot of visitors from there. Consequently they can easily get confused by looking in the wrong direction before crossing a road. So to keep the Brits safe, "Look Left" or "Look Right" is painted on the beginning of the proper crosswalks. Hmmm, wonder how many Brit casualties did it take to initiate that?

As a tourist, Gib offers a lot to see for the size of it. Because of its unique dominant geography and strategic land/sea location, many historical events have occurred here, We spent a couple of interesting hours at the Gibraltar Museum learning about it. Over many centuries, the Rock was occupied and fought over by a wide range of inhabitants: Moors, Spanish, and British to name a few.

Going back much further, evidence was found here of Neanderthal life. We saw such displays of medieval artifacts (tools, bone fragments, skulls) discovered in the shore caves. The Museum is actually built over a 14th century Moorish bathhouse where we descended down into.

Elaborate Moorish bathhouse (copied from internet)

We spent another couple of hours strolling through the Botanical Gardens where some very interesting plants and trees have been planted with some well over 200 years old and plants brought in from other parts of the world as well as indigenous species.

Scene with Moorish brick castle and key in grass

1 of many interesting plants

We needed to slow our pace of travel so knowing we would be in Gib for some time, we undertook some boat jobs and equipment updates including a new instant hot water heater, some new electronics and nav aids, a new Genoa and staysail, and watermaker parts and repair.

Some cold weather settled in so Jordan thought it was time to hook up the bus heater (cabin heat that comes from the engine). While doing that, he noticed a broken engine mount but fortunately was able to just barely get it off for repairs without having to lift the motor.

We also learned of a new-ish product by Garmin that we think is well worth mentioning for passages. It is the Garmin InReach Explorer+. It looks like a small handheld GPS but it is actually much more. It works like a satellite phone (in fact uses the Iridium satellites) but for texting. It has an SOS button essentially working as an EPIRB, giving a Mayday and GPS fix but with the additional feature of being able to text back and forth as you float in your life raft. For us, we simply want to text either land bases (or other boats) for weather checks or perhaps sign up for a weather package.

So we phoned Mountain Equipment Co-Op (MEC) in Victoria and paid for one and our sailor friend Glen Wilson who was back there for a visit picked it up and will bring it back to the Canary Islands where we will meet up with him before we do the crossing. The unit costs much less than a satellite phone and you pay for a usage plan by the month which you can start and stop anytime. The cost of the variable plans are also very reasonable (check it out on their website).