At the end of November Matt Knight, owner of Pahi 53 Hecate, alerted us to a beautiful short video of Hecate and her exploits with big wave surfing. In the accompanying email he wrote: if you ever have any free time and want to join us aboard please don't hesitate to say”.
Matt and his film-maker friend Mikey have spent many months last year making a documentary about big wave surfing, with Hecate as the mother ship taking surfers to remote extreme surf areas that are hard to get to over land. Hecate would be in the Canaries in January, there would be a break in filming at that time. They made an earlier documentary called Beneath The Surface.
We, James and I, leapt at the chance and found cheap flights out to Lanzarote in early January. We also encouraged our, and Matt’s, friends Tino and Catherine to join us. They are the owners of Tiki 31 ‘Brillig’, whom we were with in Brest and Douarnenez last summer, see: wharram.com/news/2016/mana-24-launching
Down memory lane
The Canary Islands have played an important and emotional role in James’ and my sailing history. In 1956 James, with Ruth and Jutta on little Tangaroa were several months in Las Palmas before crossing the Atlantic (See: Two Girls Two Catamarans). They were there again in 1961 with Rongo, on a planned voyage round the world. This voyage was sadly curtailed due to the death of Jutta in Las Palmas. She is buried there.
We returned again in 1973 on our new ship Tehini and again spent some time in Las Palmas and in the new little marina in Puerto Rico on the south shore of Gran Canaria before heading off across the Atlantic. It was my first ocean sailing voyage; I was just 20 years old, so these experiences of foreign places made a deep impression on me.
Twenty years later we were back again. In January 1993 we arrived in Lanzarote on our new 63ft Spirit of Gaia. We sailed from there to Las Palmas and spent several months based in our ‘home port’ of Arguineguin on the south side of Gran Canaria and made voyages to Tenerife and back, we left in April to sail to Madeira and the Mediterranean for the summer. We made a close friendship with a pioneer big wave surfer, Sergio Urresterazu, who crewed with us on Gaia for many months.
The next year (1994) gave us some strenuous sailing in the Canaries. We had made arrangements, through Sergio, to take a group of ‘eco-warriors’ on a one month tour round ALL the islands, to draw attention to the pollution of the seas, the over usage of fresh water, etc. They called themselves ‘El Guincho’ (Sea Eagle) and their motto was “Revivir el Mar” (giving life back to the ocean).
This voyage was in August, when the politicians were on holidays and the newspapers would have space to report on the eco-campaign. Soon we discovered that August was the windiest time of year, so it meant a lot of hard sailing in winds of up to 40 knots in the wind acceleration zones. We started in La Graciosa and ended in El Hierro, we had from 15 to 18 people aboard, plus a second big dinghy and its motor, film gear, diving gear etc. We had a tight schedule with set times of arrival in all the ports, to be met by groups of fishermen and dignitaries. It was THE testing of Gaia as a sailing vessel and she proved herself very capable.
We stayed in the Canaries after that, swam with pilot whales off Tenerife, sailed a fantastic 10 day charter with a group of Germans to Gomera and La Palma, which gave us long term friends that all came back to sail with us again. In October 1994 we were invited to sail to the Pacific to join the ‘Gathering of the Canoes’ in Raiatea in March 1995. A voyage of 8,500 Nm, which we felt ready to tackle, we departed from Valle Gran Rey in Gomera in late December and arrived in mid March 1995 having sailed the 8,500Nm almost non-stop.
So the Canary Islands played a major part in our sailing history and have many poignant and emotional memories.
Arrival on Hecate
James and I arrived in Lanzarote on January 4th, two days before the others. We were met by our friend Sergio at the airport; an emotional reunion after 22 years. He took us to his home in La Santa overlooking the ocean and his favourite surf beach. Next morning we joined Matt and his wife Suzanne on Hecate in the marina in Arrecife.
January 5th is Three Kings day, a special day in Arrecife, the day children get their presents. The three Kings arrived by boat in the marina where there were hordes of excited children awaiting them. In the afternoon we sailed Hecate round to the anchorage in Arrecife and went ashore to view the colourful procession of floats through the town with handfuls of sweets thrown to the crowds, its finale was the three Kings on real camels.
I had expected that we would leisurely potter around the coast of Lanzarote in the 10 days of our stay, but Matt had bigger plans. He wanted to see Gomera! That is 260Nm to sail! How would we get back to catch our plane? We started by sailing up to la Graciosa at the Northern tip of Lanzarote, where Tino, Catherine and two other ladies would come to join the boat.
It had been blowing fiercely from the SE for weeks during which time Hecate had spent Christmas in la Graciosa, but our sail north was nice with only moderately strong SE wind. The channel between Lanzarote and Graciosa has some strange wind patterns. The SE winds rise over the high ridge at the North tip of Lanza and drop down the other side, giving sharp gusts where one would expect a nice lee. We anchored off Playa Francesca, the same bay we had anchored in on arrival from Madeira in 1994, the start point of our El Guincho expedition. We went ashore for a walk and to watch the sunset. Hecate looked beautiful anchored below us in the bay.
The others arrived the next day by ferry, we sailed Hecate out to meet it in quite gusty winds, but Matt knows his boat and sails her very confidently. We followed the ferry into the small harbour and spent the night in the little marina. By morning it was blowing a gale, pinning us to the finger pontoon. We waited all morning for the wind to abate and by early afternoon we were able to pull out against a still very strong wind.
Hecate has two 30hp diesels mounted in the centre deck, with long shafts and big props hinging down. This set up is very powerful and reliable, much more so than our feeble two 9.9hp 4-stroke high thrust outboards on Spirit of Gaia. We would never have considered leaving that harbour under those strong wind conditions, but Matt did a perfect reversing manoeuvre out through the harbour piers.
I won’t bore you with the fine detail of our voyage, I will just add the photos, which say it all. In brief, we sailed from Graciosa down the west side of Lanzarote and Fuerte Ventura, from there we did a night sail to the north of Tenerife, then down the NW side of Tenerife to anchor in the wind shelter off Los Gigantes. Matt loves to make brief stops when he sees a nice cove under cliffs, for an impromptu swim. We had several of those in the most beautiful places.
From Los Gigantes we crossed over to La Gomera, where I pointed out the beautiful basalt formations of Los Organos (the organ) on the NW headland; One of the best basalt formations in the world. We had been there before with Gaia and they are easily missed if you don't know about them. Next stop was Valle Gran Rey on the SW of Gomera.
An impromptu wedding
Valle Gran Rey has been the Hippy hangout of the Canaries for many years; it is still the favourite place for many New-Age types, mainly Germans, but also French and English. Hence the food shops are full of German health food goodies and the gift shops sell quality exotic clothes, jewellery etc. It is a very buoyant, exciting place.
We went ashore for a meal by the harbour in the evening and were entertained by a wonderful French four-person band playing jazz. We got friendly and during the evening a plan was hatched. Tino and Catherine had been harbouring a plan to get married and they decided there and then that it should happen on board of Hecate the next day, with the band playing music on board.
Next morning we all sprang into action decorating the boat, buying food and dressing the bride. Within a few hours all was ready. Bunting made out of an old sheet in the rigging, colourful flowers and palm leaves scrounged in the town. The bride with braided hair decorated with flowers; wonderful food dishes set out on a table, the band tuning up to play.
We eased off the wall under stay sail and gently started to sail out, the band played and a group of French dancers started dancing on the quayside, another lone trumpet player joined in. It was as if the whole harbour was part of this wedding.
Out at sea Matt presided over the wedding vows and gifts were exchanged, Matt had even found a beautiful ring for Catherine in town.
Another poignant memory
Soon we had to sail on, we had to be in Gran Canaria for our flights back in just a few days. We spent the next night in Marina San Miguel on the SE side of Tenerife. James and I were particularly interested in seeing this harbour again.
In March1993 we had taken shelter here from a severe SW gale that made the anchorage in Los Christianos very dangerous. At that time San Miguel (then called Amarillo marina) was just a harbour wall made of large boulders, no marina, no other boats. We anchored Gaia with several anchors and waited out the gale for three days. We got friendly with the owner of this unfinished marina, Antonio Tavio, who drove us to Los Christianos to see people surfing in the anchorage. In fact an old Tehini, which had been left unattended on a mooring in Los Christianos, broke loose and was destroyed on the beach.
After two days the gale turned SE and started to pound against the wall. As the tide rose, waves started to crash over and soon began to take the boulders with them. The final night was an ordeal, in the dark we could hear the waves crashing and the deep rumble of rolling boulders, we had two anchors set to windward, but the warps were short to keep us from touching a rock astern. We ran both outboard motors for several hours to ease the strain on the anchors, we were surrounded by white water as the waves had swept the whole top off the wall, but fortunately soon after midnight the wind began to ease and we were able to reset our main anchor to windward.
Next morning the harbour wall was no more than a reef. We had nearly lost our beautiful Spirit of Gaia; in the night we had all prayed that her Hawaiian launching chant, which had invoked the gods to protect Gaia, would be strong enough to do so. It was, and Gaia survived.
So to motor into Marina San Miguel on Hecate, 24 years later, it was hard to imagine the drama that had taken place here. Now the harbour wall was massive and built from concrete. Hundreds of boats were moored on pontoons. I asked after the original owner, Antonio Tavio, but was told he had died 5 years earlier. So there was nothing there now to keep us and we left early the next morning.
The strong winds we had had earlier were gone, we waited up the coast for a while hoping they would return, but by night-time we started our crossing to Gran Canaria, under motor. Soon after midnight we got to the west coast and with the help of Matt’s accurate plotter were able to anchor in a small cove, which on waking in the morning was exquisite. The crew went for a walk up the valley, while I had a beautiful naked swim with the fishes on the underwater reefs.
Final stop: Arguineguin
Our last stop was Arguineguin on the South side of Gran Canaria. This had been our homeport for several months on Spirit of Gaia in 1993 and 1994. I was glad to see it had changed little, the harbour still the same with a collection of anchored yachts, the town and inner fishing harbour also little changed. After a last farewell meal ashore we left next morning to fly home.
Though Arguineguin had changed little, the coasts we had sailed along were now largely covered in tourist hotels and developments, both here along the south of Gran Canaria and particularly in Tenerife. I don’t think I would ever like to come here as a land tourist, it is just too crowded now.
We had a wonderful sailing time, it invigorated James to feel like an ocean sailor again, and we must thank Matt and Suzanne for inviting us and for looking after us so well.