Friday 11th August
Ambition II sailed from Funchal in the late morning, giving the swell a little time to moderate after the stronger winds of the past week. After motoring some 5 miles south, clear of the heights of Madeira, the NE wind picked up so that we could use some sail, but a choppy swell came with it and it was necessary to hand-steer all day. The Islas Desertas were only dimly visible in the cloud to the NE. Finally, towards dusk the wind pilot was able to take over, but at least we had made good progress towards our destination, Tenerife, a little under 300 miles away.
It was a lumpy night with little sleep, and R had no appetite for breakfast! But the swell became more even and the waves less high during the second day, which brought us about 10 miles west of the rocky Islas Salvagens (not close enough to see in the fading light). Overnight our speed dropped with the wind, sometimes under 3 knots. Next morning, we started the engine in order to complete the last 60 miles in daylight, especially as we were undecided on our exact destination.
Apart from a flying fish on deck, here was little sign of birds or other forms of life in the open sea, but on the approach to the NE tip of Tenerife there were the usual rafts of young shearwaters, and sometimes considerable groups of hunting adults. At sea there was only about 7 knots of wind much of the time, but we were about to experience one of the locally notorious Acceleration Zones, where winds are funnelled around the very high islands. We had 25 knots of wind as we rounded the top end of Tenerife, some mile and a half offshore. Ahead as we rounded the island we could see several large vessels anchored; these turned out to be two oil rigs and several oil exploration and support vessels. Our track would lead in amongst these behemoths.
Approaching Santa Cruz de Tenerife
We had a couple of possible anchorages in mind, one just past the headland (Bahia de Antequera), and another off the beach at Playa de Teresitas. The first looked too exposed for an overnight stay with the wind in the NE, although there were several motor vessels moored, perhaps just for the day. We explored the second but did not have confidence in the holding (mostly rocks). So we motored on past the extensive industrial docks and came into the Marina Santa Cruz. This is located at the inner end of a long harbour containing two more oil rigs!
A2 in Santa Cruz, note plank for painting the hull
Despite the industrial setting, we found ourselves right at the heart of the city of Santa Cruz, with good access to shops (including chandleries etc). This was to become our base for 3 months, as we could get a discounted rate and have a secure berth in the local high season. This avoids the concern over getting a place when the Atlantic Rally season comes this way. We spent the next few days exploring the city and taking the bus (@ 75 cents a ride) to the artificial bathing beach at Teresitas, several shiploads of Sahara sand protected by a rocky reef. The water was a bit murky with a green algal bloom that was hitting the local headlines, but out on the reef it was cleaner and there are lots of colourful fish to see.
Playa de Teresitas (pigeons taking the shade)
Friday 18th Aug
Friends J&D, from the Roach Sailing Assn back home, arrived at Tenerife South airport, to stay with us aboard Ambition II for a week. After a swim at the beach, we all went out for a fish dinner at a nearby restaurant and made plans for a trip to the island of Gomera. Next morning we set off hoping to go north about Tenerife, but were soon met by strong winds and very lumpy seas, causing some loss of breakfast. So we turned back to port and postponed the trip until the weather eased. We took the tram to La Laguna, which was the original capital of the island. This was uphill but also inland, lacking the sea breeze and therefore even hotter than Santa Cruz. We made our way round the historic streets, visiting a rather random and low-cost selection of the sights, including a church and the local tourist office. Mobile phone shops were also on the itinerary while R sought a local SIM – as long as the air con was good, we’d go anywhere. We were lucky to get lunch at a justifiably popular cafe before becoming heritaged-out and going downhill to the beach.
Cool courtyard in La Laguna
On Sunday we set off to the south, rolling downwind along the coast. Ahead loomed the Red Mountain, a conical rock that stands sentinel over the south coast of Tenerife. Rounding this we found calmer water, and went on to Marina San Miguel (attached to the local golf course). After a drink at the marina bar, overlooking the Yellow Submarine (which does underwater trips), we had a brief swim in a little cove of black sand by the marina.
The Red Mountain
Next morning we motored round the coast, smelling the crops of tomatoes growing under netting right down to the water. Off Los Christianos on the West side, numerous local boats of all shapes and sizes take out whale-watching trips. We also set off towards La Gomera at this point, and were fortunate to encounter a pod of pilot whales, including a young one, just a couple of miles offshore. We were so busy enjoying the sighting, we didn’t reach for our cameras quickly enough to get a good picture. The wind was light near Tenerife, but grew stronger as we reached the middle of the strait between the islands, and became quite ferocious as we neared La Gomera’s acceleration zone. Only as we approached San Sebastian did the wind ease off – all was calm and peaceful as we entered the harbour, but we were told off for failing to call the port authority on VHF! Actually we have had so much trouble contacting ports and marinas on the radio, due to inaudible or undecipherable replies, and sometimes just too much chatter on port frequencies. However, Marina La Gomera was pleasant and welcoming, has good facilities and is right next to the beach and town. The fish in and around the marina are especially colourful and we had an interesting time watching them and attempting to get underwater camera footage. The little town of San Sebastian is very pleasant with some interesting old buildings. We enjoyed several good meals in the cafes in the square and by the beach, local seafood on the menu. We had heard about the Gomera whistling language (Silbo), but were surprised to hear the bird-like calls of the park gardeners, no doubt coordinating their lunch break!
Fruits of La Gomera
It’s a relatively small island, so JW,D&R went for a whistle-stop tour in a hired car. Throughout this hot, dry island, the roads climb high through steep valleys and through tunnels, constantly opening up new vistas. From the north coast we could see another tall island, La Palma. We got stung by the Aloe Vera cactus, while trying to sample their fruit. Other fruits such as avocado and mango were to be seen growing in a public garden near Hermigua, and we hung over a precipice to sample wild figs! At Valle Gran Rey we watched an amazing array of fish below the quay, including stingrays which the local fishermen feed daily. On the highest slopes, the laurel and giant heather forest grows, much of the time in cloud. We had a short walk amongst the trees to a cliff with a distant view of the island of El Hierro. Everywhere the rocks describe scenes of ancient cataclysm, tall volcanic plugs and layers of fractured rock laid down by thousands of years of eruption. We returned from the drive hot and dusty, looking forward to the daily swim in the sea, but full of the amazing sights.
Valley eroded through layers of volcanic rock, La Gomera
Next day we motored round the coast to the little port of Santiago, and anchored off the beach. We passed several good anchorages along the way, the south coast being well protected from the prevailing wind. After a swim from the boat, we rowed the dinghy into the harbour and had a light lunch at a harbour café (built around a cave), then swam some more around the harbour. Back on the boat we pottered back to our berth in San Sebastian, and a last meal out before JW&D had to head back home. We had enjoyed the good company for the past week, and were sorry to wave them off on the Gomera-Tenerife ferry next morning.
The motley crew
Friday 25th Aug
It was time to return to Santa Cruz de Tenerife, where we had an engine service booked. We sailed fairly early from San Sebastian while the wind through acceleration zone was relatively light, and headed NE for Los Gigantes, hoping to get a view of the spectacular cliffs and sail south along the coast. This proved a bad move, as there was a southerly breeze running against us all along the shore! We had to motor into this headwind all the way to the Red Mountain, where we anchored off the beach for tea and a swim. Actually this is quite a nice anchorage. Just before dark, as the winds were generally abating, we set off up the east coast, returning to our marina berth at about 2 am.
We settled down to life in Santa Cruz. The excellent ‘African’ market provided most essentials – fruit and vegetables, cheeses, meat and fish, much of it (though not all) locally produced. These were supplemented by visits to the “Dino” and Carrefour supermarkets and ubiquitous Spar shop.
From the quayside we watched the departure of the square-rigged ship “Liberdade” of the Argentina Armada (Navy), her trainee crew manning the spars Shotley-fashion and officers resplendent in white duck. Commands were piped to the crew as the smoky old tugs set her on her way, the huge Argentinian flag flying from her stern, bound for Rio. Later a new-built tall ship “Union” of the Peruvian Navy came in, flying an even bigger flag! All who served on these ships must have a terrific pride in having done so, what a pity that the UK government fails to see the huge value in sail training on such ships.
Union departs with her huge flag
It was while watching “Liberdade” that we bumped into S & A, who we had met briefly in Funchal. Over the following days we had meals and drinks together on several occasions, plus visits to the swimming beach and Palmetum, and a walk in the hills.
The Palmetum was developed on a former rubbish-dump, covered over to form a hill on the shore next to the town. City waste -water is used for irrigation and the ponds and plants support a variety of wildlife. Palms and other trees from around the world are planted here, a huge collection of species, well labelled and maintained. It made a pleasant and instructive day out.
In the Palmetum, Santa Cruz
J opted out of the walk in the hills, a wise decision as the paths clung to cliff-faces in some places! Catching the tram to La Laguna and a bus to Cruz del Carmen, the 9Km walk commenced high in the clouds, through steep deciduous forest on slippery paths in the light rain. As we descended the cloud thinned, giving occasional glimpses across deep valleys. In one place, we came across a small farmstead with goats penned in, the ground bare where they had stripped the vegetation. Other smallholdings we passed were still working the old terraces, using plastic hose to bring irrigation water from distant streams. The descent brought us to drier and hotter valleys, opening up to the sea, and passing several natural caves in the volcanic layers, some with evidence of former use as habitations, and some still lived in. The paths were steep and hard, our legs were to suffer for several days after this walk! Eventually we came down to the sea at Punta del Hidalgo, where fortuitously a bus was waiting to take us back to Santa Cruz.
First glimpse of sea on the walk from Cruz del Camen
In between shopping, walking the city parks, the occasional swim etc, we embarked on a list of maintenance jobs…