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Cruising the Canary Islands on Pahi 53 Hecate

By Hanneke Boon

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/site/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.

Black and white photo of Tangaroa
Tangaroa in Las Palmas harbour 1956.
James greeting a man in a canoe approaching Tangaroa
Dr. Hannes Lindemann in his Klepper canoe alongside Tangaroa in Las Palmas 1956, just before he left to cross the Atlantic.

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.

View of Las Palmas from Tehini, 1973
Tehini approaching Las Palmas in 1973
Tehini and two other Wharram cats at anchor
Tehini (centre) anchored in Las Palmas together with two other Wharram catamarans in 1973.

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).

Spirit of Gaia moored at a pier
Gaia moored alongside the pier in Arrecife in 1994
Hecate moored at a pier
Hecate anchored close to the same location in 2017

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.

The crew of El Guincho
Sailing with the El Guincho crew in 1994, Sergio on right.
James and Sergio
Reunion with Sergio in La Santa in 2017

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.

Three kings on a boat
The Three Kings arrive by boat.
Light up sea horses in a procession
The colourful procession through the town
A king on a camel in a procession
The Kings rode 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.

Matt at the bow of Hecate
Matt scans ahead on our sail north.
Hecate stern view in Lanzarote
It was a beautiful sail up the east side of Lanzarote.
James and Suzanne in the cockpit
James and Suzanne chat in the cockpit.
Port bow view from Hecate sailing along the coast
The passage between Lanzarote and Graciosa.
Distant shot of Hecate anchored at Playa Francesca
Anchored off Playa Francesca.
James and Hanneke on shore
We go ashore for a walk to watch the sunset.
Sunset at Playa Francesca
Sunset

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.

The girls on deck
All the girls together.
Tino and Matt on deck
Tino and Matt.
James on deck
James scans the horizon as we sail down to Fuerte Ventura.
Isabel on deck
Isabel loved the big waves and swimming.
Suzanne preparing lunch in Hecate deckpod
Suzanne has prepared us some lovely lunch.
Hecate sailing into the sunset
We sail into the sunset for a night sail to Tenerife.
View of Tenerife off the starboard bow
Arrival in the early morning off the rugged north tip of Tenerife.
Mount Teide
We sail down the NW side of Tenerife, until suddenly huge Mount Teide comes into view. On the lower slopes are extensive tourist developments and acres of ugly greenhouses covered in beige shading.
Under and between the hulls of Hecate
At the western corner of Tenerife the wind accelerates and we rush along at over 10 knots to round the corner.
Matt lowering the mizzen sail
Matt lowers the mizzen to anchor in a little cove for a swim.
Hecate anchored next to huge cliffs
Anchored in the lee of the huge cliffs of Los Gigantes.

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.

A big rock face on the north point of Gomera, off Hecate's bow
Approaching Los Organos off the NW corner of Gomera.
James looking at the basalt columns
James remembers the last time we sailed here.
Huge basalt column of rock look like a church organ
The massive basalt columns do look like a huge church organ.

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.

Hecate at harbour in Valle Gran Rey
Hecate on the wall in the harbour of Valle Gran Rey
Catherine being prepared for her wedding on deck
Catherine the bride is prepared for her wedding
Food and drink for the wedding being prepared on deck
Food and drink is ready to be shared
A band playing on deck of Hecate under sail
The band plays as we gently sail out to sea
The wedding ceremony underway
Out at sea Matt presided over the wedding vows and gifts were exchanged
The newly weds sat together on deck
The wedded couple exchange some quiet thoughts

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.

The destroyed harbour wall off the bow of Spirit of Gaia
The morning after the storm the harbour wall was no more than a reef - 1993
Marina San Miguel
Marina San Miguel in 2017

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.

James and Tino in their dryrobes
We left Marina San Miguel and sailed up the coast. The ‘Dryrobes’ that Tino and James are wearing were brilliant, easily worn over any, or no clothes, they keep you warm and cosy. They were designed for surfers to change out of their wetsuit inside the robe and keep warm.
The crew have breakfast after an early morning swim in the cove off the west side of Gran Canaria

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.

Hecate sailing under spinnaker towards the shore
We sailed into Arguineguin under spinnaker
Anchorage at Arguineguin
Anchored where we used to anchor with Spirit of Gaia

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.