Thursday, November 25, 2010

La Palma: repairs, tapas, volcano, and wine

Happy Thanksgiving! At this point it still looks like we’ll be leaving La Palma in the morning, so I’d better write about this place before we go on to new experiences. We’ve enjoyed our time here, but haven’t done all that much.

First, it took a couple of days to get together with the mechanic to fix our fuel leak. He found a couple of things and fixed them all, but couldn’t find a coolant leak that John has noticed, so we let that go. While we were waiting for the mechanic, John figured out the problem with the generator, but we need a part to fix it, so we’re deferring that to Las Palmas (de Gran Canaria), our next stop. If we can’t get the part, he has a work-around.

Besides hanging out with Jim we’ve been doing some stuff with another couple from California: Mike and Linda on Aquila from Ventura. They invited us over for sun-downers one evening, and then I discovered that a ruta de las tapas was going on here in Santa Cruz. This is the tapas competition that we enjoyed in Cartagena last spring, and I was pretty excited to find it here now. So the five of us (Orinoco, Solstice, and Aquila) went out for tapas last Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

The group sans John, the photographer: Shirlee, Mike, Linda, and Jim

The tapas we were eating, called Pescado salado a la crema de boniato. That’s fish salad something. Yummy, for short.

Yesterday we rented a car so that we could see a little bit of the island. Among the Canary Islands La Palma is known as the green island or the pretty island, and it’s both. Like all of the Canaries, it’s a volcano. We headed straight for the top and the collection of observatories that are there. Well, not straight. There is no straight on this island. In order to get to the top, we traveled an amazingly twisty road, even for people who are used to mountain roads. The views were spectacular.

Who knew the Atlantic was so blue

Tenerife in the distance

The mountain drops sharply to the water with not much arable land in between.

Telescopes for observing gamma rays

Multi-national observatories lined up on the ridge

And the caldera is right behind them

Looking north toward Madeira

On our way down the mountain we continued toward the west and stumbled upon the wine country of the island. We stopped for a bite to eat at a little restaurant and ordered tapas that had John raving: fried cheese (queso asado) and riblets with potatoes (costillos con papas). The sauce (called mojo) that they used on both dishes made all the difference. We even found a winery (Vega Norte) with a sales and tasting room and bought a few bottles.

Costillos con papas

This evening the group went out for tapas again to celebrate Thanksgiving. We managed three stops before our tour was cut short by a real downpour. We’d had dark clouds, wind, and sprinkles all day, but tonight it really dumped. As those of us from Oregon know, it takes rain to make things green; we just hope that the weather will clear for our departure in the morning.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Madeira to La Palma: We’ve arrived!

We made it! We arrived at Marina La Palma this morning in 20-knot winds and rain. Welcome to the sunny Canary Islands! It isn’t cold, just wet, and we’re glad to be here. In the pre-dawn hours yesterday our generator refused to start, so our passage became a little more tense because we had to run the engine a few times and lose fuel in order to charge the batteries and keep our instruments working. Otherwise, we would have been like those early explorers (except by then we had actually seen La Palma in the distance and we have a hand-held GPS).

The winds kicked up just after 6 o’clock this morning, my watch, and we were doing 4 knots downwind at times when I wanted to go slow so that we would reach the harbor in daylight. Sunrise was at 7:33 behind heavy clouds, and we tied up at the marina’s reception dock at 8:30, so the timing just worked out. We’re now in a regular berth, two down from our friend Jim on Orinoco. As soon as we tied up, we took our coffee/tea over to his place to do a little catching up. He has a very nice enclosed cockpit, a cozy feature that is fairly common on boats from Canada and England. We can’t see the marina’s wireless Internet from the boat, but somebody just turned on an open router so I can send this and catch up on e-mail and Facebook before taking a nap.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Where are we going? The doldrums

We were headed to La Palma, Canary Islands, when we discovered the fuel leak and then the wind died. At the moment we're less than 100 miles from La Palma and have a little wind. If the wind dies or changes direction, we may decide to go on to Tenerife where there are reported to be more yacht services. John thinks we can get the needed repair made at La Palma, and right now that's still the favored destination.

After only a couple of days bobbing around out here, our respect for the early explorers has really grown. (We always did appreciate the dangers of what they did.) Can you imagine floating around for days without wind? Those guys didn't even know how far they were from anywhere. It's a big empty ocean. We haven't seen another vessel in the past 24 hours, but I did think I heard an engine (sound travels quite far). John wondered if it might be a submarine...or my imagination.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Madeira to La Palma Day 2: Becalmed

We left Marina Quinta do Lorde yesterday morning a little before 11 o'clock on our 250 nautical mile passage to La Palma in the Canary Islands where we will be meeting up with our friend Jim on Orinoco. The wind had more southerly in it than predicted (easterly was the forecast), but it wasn't bad, and we could motor-sail our rum line. In fact, at about 2 o'clock, I shut the motor down and we kept sailing at over 5 knots. Yippee!

John took the opportunity of the motor being off to have another look at the engine compartment--and discovered diesel in the bilge. Drat! We have a leak. After testing (engine on/engine off), he determined that the leak was in the fuel return, which has happened before (we had it fixed in Olympia, WA, and Cherbourg, France), but he can't fix it himself. The engine runs fine, but we can't tell how much fuel we're losing, and we need the engine to dock, so we'll be getting to La Palma on sail-power alone.

Except that the wind died at 7 o'clock this morning. We've been bobbing around since then, drifting a bit in the right direction. Our chartplotter says that it will take us about 2,000 hours to get to our next waypoint at the rate we're going. Not to worry. We have plenty of food and water, and the wind will come back sooner or later. The latest forecast calls for 20-knot favorable winds in a day and a half. Before then we hope to get a little something. All we need is something over 5 knots to move this heavy boat.

Meanwhile, we've alerted Jim that we'll be late, and this is really no big deal. We've been becalmed before. It's good practice for our patience.

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Monday, November 8, 2010

A week in Madeira, so far

Dinner on Avocette was great. What a beautiful boat! And excellent hosts. We were sorry to see them leave Tuesday morning, but we understand. They had already been here more than a week, and it was time for them to move on.

Following Chris’s advice, we rented a car for three days of touring the island. It is spectacularly beautiful even in November, past the peak time for flowers. The first day we made a quick stop at the chandlery in Funchal where we found one item on our list of four. They had harnesses, which we didn’t want, but not tethers, which we did want. They had fuel line, but not the clamps to hold it in place. Altogether an odd shop. We really wanted serious biocide to treat our tanks, but they didn’t have that either. We hope we’ll have better luck with that in the Canary Islands.

Past peak but still pretty

Don't know what this is, but it's nice

From Funchal we drove west along the south side of the island as far as Calheta. I wanted to see the marina there to compare it with where we are. Although the marina at Calheta has a town with it, it also has surge, and we’re happy where we are at Marina Quinta do Lorde, especially now that the marina manager is going to be a cruising station host and extend a discount to members of our cruising association, Seven Seas Cruising Association.

Quinta do Lorde is way out here on a peninsula

On the way to Calheta we went to the top of Cabo Girão, the highest “sea cliff” in Europe at 580 meters and second highest in the world, or so the tourist brochure says. We aren’t sure what qualifies as a sea cliff, but it’s certainly very high and the views are awesome. (I’m having difficulty finding words to alternate with awesome and spectacular. I’ve been saying “wow” a lot here.)

Cabo Girão as we approach it

Looking down from the top

After Calheta we headed up to the central plateau, Paul da Serra. There are lots of places here where you can see across the island from north to south simply because there are so many tall peaks. The sides of the plateau also drop off steeply so you see the ocean surrounding you and feel like you’re on top of the world.

John jumping off the top of the world

You can't see these rugged mountains from sea level

The Madeirense, as the people here call themselves, are quite the road builders. There are so few flat areas, and roads must go up or under the mountains. The result is highways through tunnels with steep grades and bridges across valleys. These are the fast highways. Lots of two-lane roads simply use switchbacks to climb the nearly vertical slopes. Even the runway for the airport is suspended over the ocean and straddling a valley.

The vineyards are something to see too. Like everything else here, they’re vertical. (We haven’t done a serious tasting of the Madeira here yet; maybe tomorrow.) We knew about the grapes, of course, but we were surprised to see fields of banana trees on the lower slopes on the south side of the island. They also grow sugar cane and avocados.

Madeira vertical (that's a vineyard next to the house)


The second day we went to the north side of the island. The destination was a theme park that the tourist info lady said was like an outdoor cultural museum. We were expecting something like the Zuider Zee Museum in Enkhuizen, Netherlands. Instead it was a mostly cheesy theme park without rollercoasters. One of the exhibits, though, did have a lot of history of the island, and we enjoyed that. The scenery along the way there and back was, of course, spectacular too, so the day wasn’t wasted.

Stunning view on the north side

The last day with the car we did a levada walk. The levadas are a system of concrete ditches that bring water from the mountains of Madeira to the fields. Footpaths run along side them, and levada walks are one of the must-do things on this island. We picked an 11 km walk of moderate difficulty and drove to the bottom of it to see what facilities were available. Fortunately for us, there was a taxi stand, and a taxi appeared as we were getting out of the car. For 30€ the driver took us to the top, where he pointed out that we should do the short walk (3 km round trip) to an overlook first and then head downhill. The view from the overlook was breathtaking and definitely worth the extra steps. In fact, vertigo is one of the hazards of the levada walks. The easy and moderate walks have cables to hold on to where the path is especially narrow and the cliff steep. The difficult ones don’t.

Overlooking everything

This is how steep it is

Something to hang on to in case of vertigo

Catching the water from a waterfall

Even the levada has tunnels

Yet another awesome view

Now we’re back to doing boat chores and errands until Wednesday. Then we plan to take the bus into Funchal and ride the cable car up the mountain in order to ride the wicker sleds down. We should also have time to do some serious Madeira tasting. It looks like Thursday will be a good day to leave. (Big swell from storms up north is expected between now and then.)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Rabat to Madeira

People did give us quizzical looks when we said we were going from Rabat to Madeira. I don’t remember asking why not. If I did, they didn’t have an answer. Madeira is mostly west and a little south of Rabat, and the prevailing winds between the two are northerly. Before we left, the forecasts all showed northerlies, except for a few hours of light westerlies one day, with harbor-closing swell forecast for Rabat after Thursday. We thought it would be a relatively easy 500-mile passage, so we left Rabat at high tide Wednesday afternoon.

At first it was everything we thought it would be: light air that required motor-sailing in the beginning. Then at some point in the first couple of days, we had good wind for sailing without the motor, and life was good. I even e-mailed the marina to be sure that it was OK for us to arrive a day early. We were keeping a westerly course so that when the forecast northerlies arrived we would be able to do some real downwind sailing at last. Then the forecasts — and winds — changed.

We got the westerlies, and they were light for the first few hours, but then they kicked up to 15-20 knots. And the seas started building with swell from the north-northwest. The Met forecast (a forecast out of the UK that we receive as e-mail on the SSB radio) gave the conditions and forecast for the areas we were crossing as “not gale.” That’s because all of the areas north of us were having gales or even storms. That’s why our swell kept growing.

In order to make a speed over ground in excess of one knot, we had to zigzag. We did this running the motor and with only the mainsail because with just the two of us we didn’t want to run tacking drills all day and night. That got our speed up to 3 or 4 knots most of the time, but it definitely lengthened the trip. I figure we made about 50 miles net during that nearly 24-hour period.

When the wind finally moved to the north enough that we could actually turn off the engine and sail, we were consistently making 6 or 7 knots, and John saw the highest speed of 8.3. That was great! The only problem was that the sea, which was 2 to 3 meters (6 to 10 feet) when we were motoring, became 3 to 4 meters. Solstice handles the seas just fine, but it’s noisy with lots of banging and moments of weightlessness. Not good for resting when off watch. Adding to that discomfort was that we were on a close reach or beam reach most of Saturday. (Apologies to non-sailors: the important part is that it kept the boat tilted at a difficult angle for moving about.) Märzen always had company on her settee since our v-berth was untenable. Now we hope she’ll sleep alone in her regular bed tonight.

The sail actually became pleasant again around sundown on the last night. Once we were in the shadow of Porto Santo, the seas flattened right out, and we were still speeding along. Unfortunately, we reached Madeira before dawn, so we drifted around until light. During that time we could have returned to the v-berth (one at a time), but it felt damp up there, and Märzen cried when we left her alone.

This morning, after we docked, I discovered that the leak we noticed in the v-berth during the passage extended along my side of the berth. No wonder it felt damp! The cushion and sheet are dry again now, but the weather here has been threatening rain all day, so we had to dry everything inside. Thank goodness for the dehumidifier. It wasn’t the only leak we discovered, so we’ll be doing some repairs before we leave here. We also discovered that the fuel in one of our tanks still has problems, so John will also be working on that. We promise that we’ll do some sightseeing while we’re here too, though, even if the photos end up looking like Oregon because of the weather.

The marina here, Quinta do Lorde, is quite nice and very quiet. The marina staff is also friendly and helpful. The best thing, though, was seeing our new friend Chris Smith waving to us from Avocette of Portsmouth as we finished tying up. We knew they were here, but we didn’t know if they’d still be here when we arrived. Even better, they invited us to dinner tonight!