Atlantic Challenge 2011

N 43° 39' W 08° 59'

Part 7: Tenerife - Gran Canaria

January 13, 2012

The steak was tasty, if a little more done than I’d usually opt for. The fried tomatoes were nice too, as was the salad and side bread. In all a pretty good meal I reflected as I washed it down with some Spanish plonk. This was no ordinary dinner however, as the ingredients (with the exception of the wine and the peppercorn sauce) had been in a supermarket bin only an hour or so earlier…

I’d spent a couple of days in Santa Cruz, Tenerife and had been pretty unimpressed. The city itself was a bit big and city like, and although I walked for an hour I still didn’t make it out into the countryside- I gave up in the end and caught a bus back. Most importantly for me on my own, there was no central gathering point for sailors other than the marina pontoon. Other than meeting one like minded chap who was sailing around the world alone, it all seemed a bit desolate… I left very early on the third day to sail across to Gran Canaria. (I’d told the night security guard that I was planning to moor alongside a ship in the main harbour for a few hours, and he generously told me to stay where I was gratis providing I was out before he was relieved at 8 in the morning.)

I found a lovely harbour called Porto de las Nieves on the west coast of GC which was very picturesque. The village was cosy with a few nice bars and restaurants, and the anchorage set in wonderful scenery and was perfectly sheltered but something was missing; for the first time in the trip so far, I actually felt a bit lonely. Although I have come away on my own to get away from life as we know it for a while, it did make me think about the singlehanded aspect for a bit… Beautiful it may be, Porto de las Nieves was not for me at this time- I wanted to find somewhere with a bit more life. There was only one place for it, where I’d tried so hard to get to beforehand, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria!

As I knew it would be against the prevailing easterly wind I sailed early from Nieves to get there, and then remembered just why I dislike beating so much. Sailing close to the wind is not so bad in itself if you can “lay” your destination on one tack, but beating is a completely different ball game. It’s the speed that I can’t stand, or more accurately the lack of it. At one point I calculated my VMG (velocity made good) to see just how quickly I was actually going. Despite a boat speed of 4.2kts over ground when I took the zig zag into account I was only making 1.8kts towards my destination! Realising I could probably doggy paddle more quickly, I fired up the engine. I somehow managed to lose my spinnaker halyard up the mast [one of the ropes that goes to the top, over a pulley and back down which is used to pull sails up] so it looks like some climbing action is in store at some point! By 19.00 I was nosing into the harbour, and thanking the GPS for taking me right through into the anchorage in the dark. The harbour itself is absolutely massive- the biggest in all of the Canary Islands, but fortunately the sailors’ bit is sufficiently tucked away. So it was here I found myself anchoring among all the other Blue Water Wannabes- every boat had a self steering gear mounted on her stern, a wind generator or other tell tale signs…

I was quickly directed to the “Sailors’ Bar” by the adjacent marina, and as I had hoped was quickly meeting new friends. Such a contrast to Santa Cruz- every sailor hangs out there plus a few more besides. I was in for a bit of a challenge getting back to the beach where I’d left the dinghy however. I’d read the sign about access being closed after midnight and sure enough the chest high gate was locked. I swiftly vaulted it but it was only when I arrived at the top of the ramp that I realised that “access closed” meant just that! Not only the poxy gate I’d jumped, the “drawbridge” is pulled up too, leaving rather a large gap… The leap was about six feet, the drop onto concrete about fifteen. And I could see two police officers in their patrol car looking up at me. Hmmm. I’ve seen many people who have mistakenly believed they were Superman after a few beers, and just as many who have taken the wrong approach with the police. I did the only thing I could- walk back down, climb back over the security gate (cringe), and approach them with an apologetic smile and a shrug… What a great pair. After speaking for a couple of minutes, they said to jump in and they’d take me there. As it turned out it was a three mile round trip by road so I was most grateful when they finally tipped me out a hundred metres from where I’d met them!

In the morning I was in the cabin when I heard someone calling my name. I stuck my head out to see Sara Jane circling! A lovely suprise made even better when they invited me around to dinner later. This turned out to be the first evening of many I spent with them, and Sara and John have since become firm friends.

Although a promising start to my time in Gran Canaria, not everything was looking rosy; very shortly after I arrived I received the unwelcome news that my tenant had upped sticks and left. This was a real blow as she owe(s) me hundreds of pounds, and I’d been absolutely depending on the income to keep sailing. With the future of the trip in jeopardy I tried hard to look for the positives in the situation. It was a struggle for sure, but it came in the form of some great people who I would otherwise probably not have met…

The area around Las Palmas beach and marina consists of skippers and sailors, “ocean hitch hikers”, and the homeless. It was the last two groups that I felt I had most in common with, as like with them every cent now counted. What really struck me was how quick everyone was to share. What I love about sailing is the camaraderie amongst fellow yachtsmen. If anyone has a problem and wanders into a sailing club bar or the pontoon someone will help them sort it. The ethos amongst the homeless was even more profound; these guys would insist I share their only food (when they clearly didn’t have lockers full of it). Every one of them was a diamond, and really looked out for each other- something which you definitely don’t see on a day to day basis sadly.

A couple of years ago I’d read in the Leader about a sponsored “sleep out” that had taken place on the Racecourse football ground, where participants had spent the night under the stars. The point was to try to raise awareness of what it’s like to be homeless and I had been sorry that I had missed the opportunity. So when I was chatting to my friends one day about what life was like for them and they suggested that I give it a go, I really didn’t have to think for long.

It wasn’t the most comfortable night I have ever spent for sure, despite my sleeping bag and the cardboard I’d been given to lie on. It definitely made me think; I had left my wallet on the boat and was with the others so I had no security worries. I was a grown man able to look after myself. Even if it was cool, the temperature was nothing like as cold as back in Wrexham where so many people live  year round without shelter… A sanitised experience perhaps, but a very valuable one which opened my eyes.

The day after I arrived I had asked a couple in the boat anchored just ahead of me what I should do regarding checking in. They said I could either go to the office and pay 3 euros a day for dropping my hook into the sand, or I could wait for someone to come and ask me for it (strangely I chose the latter option). I decided very early on that I would split the savings I made with my buddies and cook for them- easy when you have a stove and utensils…

My quest for new experiences of course is what led to the meal I mentioned at the start of this update. The sheer volume of food which is binned is unbelievable (in the UK for example supermarkets throw out a staggering 2 million tonnes of perfectly edible food per year). Las Palmas was no exception to this horrific waste, but at least the concept of “recycling” as it’s known locally is much more widely accepted- albeit on an unofficial level. Recycling as we know it has always been a subject of interest, so when I was offered the chance to go along  I thought I’d better see first-hand what happens with this type!

We agreed to meet at 8pm- the optimum time for the end of day food- and made our way to the town. It felt uncomfortable at first to be rooting around in the waste skips, and I was a bit uneasy & embarrassed doing it with people passing by us. On the plus side, most of the stuff was wrapped carefully (as I said the staff are aware so try to do their bit) and a lot was still in the packaging so perfectly clean. One girl Bouwien told me “the next time you see someone with a sign saying ‘hungry & homeless’ send them over here!” Although this method of feeding myself is not for me (yet!) it certainly has a place for the genuinely hungry. I really believe that the whole situation of starving people on one hand, and “Best Before” throwouts on the other is a criminal waste & hope something can be done about this ludicrous global situation. Soon.

Las Palmas was a great place for those looking for an adventure to come together. Boats leaving every other day for The Gambia, Brazil or the Caribbean and no shortage of willing crew. Amongst the hitchhikers was one unlikely group; a whole family! Bruno (aka ‘The Mad Frenchman’) his wife Maude and their two small children had left France in May last year in their battered old VW camper, had driven hundreds of miles before taking a ferry to the island where they hoped to find a boat “onwards”. A real salt of the earth, I had commented how smart Bruno’s  top was one day when he promptly removed it & quite literally gave me the shirt off his back. It’s a tall order to ask a skipper to take on a whole family but I hope that someone will give them a chance- and you can’t fault their adventurous spirit.

If I was ever worried that Christmas travelling alone would be a lonely event I needn’t have. On the 23rd December I joined Sara John & Harry for a fantastic “pre Christmas” roast dinner aboard Sara Jane. On Christmas Eve I secured Makatea alongside Uylesse (my German friends’ boat- also anchored) and we had a party. Between us all we made some pretty spectacular dishes and ate them sitting on each of the facing decks- just like a regular dinner but without the table! There were 16 of us in total, and luckily that included a violinist, a guitarist, a percussionist, and a digeridoo player for good measure… A great time was had by all, even if I did need the kill or cure treatment of a swim and two laps of the beach before I felt better the following morning. Later on Christmas day I enjoyed yet another spectacular dinner aboard “Twisting Shadow”, David & Chloes’ 28 footer they are sailing across to the Caribbean as I type.

In my opinion there is nothing inherently remarkable about Las Palmas (the anchorage is sandwiched between the city to the west, and a large container port to the east). It is the people there who made it so special for me. Although new faces were arriving every day, many of my friends were moving on by this point and so once again it was time for me to make tracks too. I enjoyed one last party on New Year’s Eve, and left the following day.

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