Sunday 24th Sept
Having come straight down to Tenerife from Funchal, we had missed the eastern Canary Islands, and wanted to remedy this if we could find a weather window. We gave up on a plan to go earlier in September because of battery problems and a forecast for strong winds. This time it looked like light winds for several days, so after a trip to the market and a light lunch, we set off from Santa Cruz for the 130 mile motor upwind to the southern end of Lanzarote.
For a short while we managed to set the staysail, giving some stability, but soon had to furl it in, our course almost directly into the prevailing NE wind. There was still a 1-2 metre swell from the north, so we rolled uncomfortably. After a dinner of leftover “spag bol”‘ we took 3 hour shifts through the 11 hours of darkness, but neither of us slept much! By morning the swell had gone down a bit, and our speed improved from 4 knots to 6. The wind too had reduced to under 10 knots by the time the mountainous islands came in sight, Fuerteventura to the south and Lanzarote to the north, the strait between them just a couple of miles across.
We headed for the beach anchorage of Papagayo. There was a favourable anchoring spot near a grey aluminium yacht, which we headed towards. The yacht had a familiar look, and we soon recognised Alisea, whose crew G&A we had met in Madeira. We anchored nearby, and soon rigged the boarding ladder and swam across to say “hello”. Later G picked us up in their rib for a few drinks. We had left Funchal on the same day, but Alisea had headed for Graciosa, a small island and nature reserve just north of Lanzarote. They had done the proper thing and obtained a permit to visit the island, but on arrival it seems most people had not bothered about the permit!
Next morning, we launched our own dinghy and rowed ashore. The drill is to land in the surf, turn quickly then R rows out of the breakers and anchors the dinghy before swimming ashore (much to the amusement of the regular holidaymakers on the beach!). On this occasion, we caught a wave from behind as we landed which provided J with in -built cooling for the next hour or so. Only one cove was marked out with buoys for dinghy-access. It didn’t look very appealing from Ambition, however when seen from above it was obviously the best -sheltered place to land and was used by entertainingly over-crowded ribs from the trip boats. We had a pleasant walk to the southernmost point of Lanzarote, with views across the strait to the small island of Lobos, and Fuerteventura wreathed in mist. The beaches here welcome nudists and they blended in better than J with her anti-sun full coverage of clothes and hat. We returned to the boat via a welcome cup of tea aboard Alisea.
Papagayo beach – the safe route ashore?
In the afternoon we motored across the bay and checked into Marina Rubicon. Since our time on the island would be short, we sought out a tour operator and booked on a coach trip for the next day. In the evening we looked for and found another yacht, Caitlin of Argyll. Owners B&D who we had also met in Funchal, were aboard and were kind enough to invite us aboard for a G&T.
View of Graciosa from the Mirador
The tour was an unusual choice for us; it was dedicated to the life and works of an artist, Cesar Manrique. We had heard that this guy, a contemporary of Picasso, had a huge influence on the development of Lanzarote, and in particular, had successfully prevented high-rise buildings from blotting the landscape. It turns out that he also contributed several landscape and architecture projects which benefit this and other Canary Islands today. Some of the projects we visited made use of volcanic cavities under the lava flows which dominate Lanzarote, including a house he designed for himself and several large public spaces underground. All of these sites were lovingly maintained with gleaming white paintwork and raked gravel ( which R was admonished for unknowingly disturbing). The trip included the Mirador viewing platform, converted from an old artillery post high in the north cliffs, with a breath-taking view over Graciosa. In a lava tube several kilometres long, was a tide pool in which we saw albino crabs (a species unique to this cave). There was a museum above the lava tube which had interesting photos and diagrams showing the processes of volcanism and the locations of the Canary Isles volcanoes – including the numerous under water sea mounts. In all these spaces were artworks created by Manrique, mostly abstract but well worth the time to see.
Public space in a lava tube (white dots in the pool are albino crabs)
In passing we saw how grape vines are grown in this parched land: each individual plant is set in a hollow, often within a circular stone wall to keep off the wind. Terraces, mostly abandoned, covered many hillsides, but a few were still in use, though bare in this dry season (only a few months starting in November provide any rain here). Weeds are not a problem.
Each grape vine growing in its own enclosure
The roads are mostly good, often crossing vast black lava fields where nothing grows, occasionally coming to an oasis of palm trees and sculptured gravels – a municipal roundabout! At one point however, our Dutch guide announced that we were going on the “bad road”, steeply descending along many hairpins. J closed her eyes and thought of Holland. But our tour took us the whole length of the island with plenty of time at each stop and was money well spent.
In the Cactus Garden designed by Manrique
Back at the marina we had a late meal with B&D at one of the many restaurants, and discussed possible destinations and routes. Boats from Las Palmas de Gran Canaria were already arriving, having been evicted to make room for the ARC rally (which stars at Las Palmas with several hundred boats). We were undecided next morning, but set off at 14:00 in a vaguely westward direction. The latest GRIB file suggested that the light winds would prevail into next week, so we turned left, towards the southern coast of Gran Canaria…