Leg 11: La Gomera - La Palma

We returned to Gomera with the idea of getting some rust maintenance done on Aspro’s deck. As much of this work involves the exiting activity “watch paint dry”, we preferred to do this in a port and surroundings we liked well. The kids recognized the place immediately and remembered the nice playground in the park. Leen decided to consult a Dutch couple for advice on their method of rust maintenance, only to find out they were actually rubbing their teak deck. Their boat being aluminium, they were unable to give any useful information, but it was still an interesting chat. It turned out they were also doing the Macaronesian round in the Atlantic, and much for the same reasons as we did. They had also decided not to go the Caribbean because of the heat, as they too had lived the experience of residing in tropical places.

The rust maintenance can be best described as dull though effective. All in all it took us about 6 days, from which we were completely inactive for 2 because we had to wait for the delivery of anti rust primer. The other four days were quite laid back, working for about 3 of 4 hours, after which we could revert to the exhausting task of “watching paint dry”. Being a through and through polyester guy, I must admit that my first experience with a steel boat is very positive. These 16 hours were the first we spent on this type of maintenance, which to me seems ridiculously low considering we have been living on Aspro for the past 6 months and have logged 3000 nautical miles. My appreciation for her has changed quite a bit. I used to call her “our sturdy Dutch steel box”, but much has happened since. We still consider her sturdy, but many other, much more flattering adjectives are now included in the description, quick and high quality only being the most important ones. Close hauled she can be best described as a rocket compared to many current designs of long haul yachts, while even downwind she is a very hard lady to beat. Even in light conditions she carries here weight exceptionally well. Much is off course due to here impressive sail area, which is more than many contemporary 44 footers fly. In short, we are now extremely happy to have chosen a thoroughly, Dutch built, steel yacht, as we believe we got the quality of a Hallberg Rassey for the price of a Bavaria. The few days of rust maintenance one has to spent every year is a very small price to pay. However, the small amount of maintenance needed is probably also due to the excellent quality of the builder. In my mind steel has all but one of the advantages of Aluminum without the latter’s huge disadvantage of its price.

After our maintenance intermezzo we spent another 6 days at la Gomera, mostly dedicated to laid back, family quality time. The play ground became one of our daily stops, and this rhythm was only disturbed by a quick trip to Tenerife to pick up spare parts for the autopilot. We had noticed drive’s clutch was getting very worn out, causing it to remain partly engaged in stand by mode. We opted to install a complete new drive, keeping the old one as spare. The item of the autopilot we have not replaced so far is the repeater, of which we carry a spare in our “emergency autosteering kit” anyway.  The end of our laid back period became quite exhausting, mainly due to spending our evenings with our Dutch friends Luuk and Anneloes up to the little hours.

Around the end of February the weather forecast showed a four day weather window to go to Madeira. We quickly made up our mind not to visit La Palma, and started sorting out the boat, securing everything and doing some shopping for fresh fruit and vegetables. After three weeks in Gomera, the moment of leaving got a bit tough as Lotte and Kwint had made quite some friends. We took off for Madeira around 8 am, 45 minutes later our friends from Luigi Presto. Kwinten soon got sea sick due to the cold he was suffering from. Little after we put the main up with one reef to help the engine get through the 35 + knots of headwind from the acceleration zone. Leen got seasick soon after, and when the reef line broke after about 20 minutes, we had to put the second reef in, after which the lack of sleep and physical efforts got Wouter also to give in to seasickness. When Luigi Presto called by VHF to indicate they were changing course to La Palma, as the wind was too high on the nose for their longkeeler, we decided to follow. The 25 knots wind now came beam on, making Aspro fly in stead of sailing, with the speed over the ground constantly above 7.5 knots. The sea was more agitated than the current wind would have caused, and two times a breaking wave hit us and threw us aside. Both Aspro and the auto pilot coped well. Our mind was taken off the seasickness by a passing pirate boot and a private dolphin show. It was a group of mothers with children, who were jumping out of the waves and around our boat. The shows clearly get better as the waves are higher. We were too late to make pictures, but thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

We were relieved to see that the island that showed up from the clouds was beautiful and green. Thinking of going to Madeira and ending up in a different harbour is less troublesome if the shelter harbour is worthwhile. We soon met a friendly Argentinean living on La Palma, who took Kwinten’s bedsheets covered in vomit home to wash… Afterwards we had to overcome a small mooring line problem, as the place first assigned to us only had one in stead of the customary two. Being the heaviest boat on the pontoon, we did not particularly like this situation.  After relocating a confotainer taking up two spots, we were able to moor ourselves on two lines, next to Luigi Presto, something the children did not regret. Luuk and Anneloes are becoming Kwinten and Lottes best friends, where they sometimes spent complete days, making Luuk and Anneloes willingly act as babysitters.

After a recuperation day we started with visiting the beautiful town of San Sebastian de La Palma. The front row edification is to be discarded, being comprised of high risers (+/- 7 stories). Behind it however lies the true old city centre, made up from colonial style houses and at least one church every 500 meters. God seems to have been regarded as the best protection against piracy after French pirates looted and destructed the place in the early 1500 hundreds. We even located a superb playground for the kids, though it was closed for some unexplainable reason. We gave it another try the next day, but it remained closed. Something fishy must have gone on, as one of the swings was covered in police tape, and we fail to see the logic of closing off a playground on weekend days.

The club facilities of the “Real Club Nautico de Santa Cruz de La Palma” are marvellous and extremely extensive compared to its single pontoon carrying about 30 mooring places. The pilot describes the club as “Mainly a social club”, apparently a British euphemism for snob club. We were very well received and can not say a bad word about it, but the dress code clearly showed the club to be off limits for the average habitant of La Palma.  We did not bother however, and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly with an afternoon in the swimming pool, be it wearing our shorties because of the cold water.

Our customary car ride along the island took us to first to the north side. We visited La Palmas observatory, but were a bit of a disappointed. We could drive passed all observatory posts, but could not visit anything. There also was very little explanation along the various installations. The hilltop of the area was a tourist lookout with a view of the Taburiente, a 10 km wide crater which was formed not by a volcano but by erosion. We then drove back down and visited La Palma’s north shore. By SMS we found out our Luigi Presto friends were covering the same route, so we decided to meet up for lunch in the picturesque “La Palma Romantica” hotel. This hotel comes very close to my idea of the typical establishment used by “Lady Moneypenny” to spend her winters. A nice, conservative styled, white building with an open fireplace in the main foyer and located in the middle of a green area. Unfortunately for its guests, the noise and activity level of the establishment was brusquely increased for the duration of our lunch…

After our first night in La Palma, we had been the only two visiting yachts in the harbour. Upon our return from our exploration, the marina started filling with more visitors. The next morning the counter stopped at an extra 7 yachts, most of them from Gomera, who had tried the crossing to Madeira much like us. The amount of visitors clearly outnumbered the available spots, and even though two boats moored alongside the quay wall, the pontoon was overcrowded. Therefore the space in between yachts was much less then desirable in a marina open to swell.

Nevertheless we continued our exploration and hit the southside of the island. Considering the prevailing NE, this is also the dryer, leeward side of La Palma. Still it remains much greener than any other of the Canary Islands, though the difference in fertility and temperature is very noticeable with the north. Covered in banana plantations, the views were less impressive, and we even passed through a stretch of pure lava ground, making us feel as revisiting Lanzarote. We arrived at the south light houses around 16:25 to visit the older one of the two which opens to the public. Kwinten and Lotte were much exited to have a chance to visit a real lighthouse in stead of only seeing it from the sea side.

We were in for a most unwelcoming and irritable experience however. Though the opening hours next to the door clearly stated opening times from 09:00 to 17:00, the person in charge tried to brush us of with pathetic excuses. Our fluent Spanish got us quickly into a lively argument, where the caretaker showed her true nature within seconds. Sparing you the anthology of insults, the spirit of her comments boiled down to the fact that all visitors should stay home, refrain from visiting La Palma and snatching away the ground from the locals. She added further insults to Germans and indicated we were worth nothing on her island, and indicated she would get paid whether she fulfilled her duties or insulted tourists. Consequently she and the cleaning lady sped of homewards, 30 minutes before the official closing time. We felt like we just attended a speech of the local right wing party representative, and were left with a bitter taste.

Back in port we found Aspro swinging left and right for about 20 degrees on the swell which entered the marina. The original design of the marina had the port entrance to the east, next to the breakwater. This however was changed in the construction phase to an entrance the west, near the shore. This however made the marina vulnerable and open to swells from the S through NE direction. Very little people had a good night’s rest overnight, as the swell grew worse and the too tightly packed boats started screeching each other. Our mast was well clear of our neighbours, advanced by about 2 meters, but Luigi Presto and Aspro kissed on various occasions, be it always with fenders in between. It only seemed a matter of time before we would hit hull on hull. It was also extremely uncomfortable to sleep, being swung from left to right by about 20 degrees. Wouter got up around 5:00, and together with our neighbours decided to head back for Gomera today. The winds would be unsuitable for crossing to Madeira for the coming 10 days anyway, and harder E-NE were forecasted. This would certainly bring more swell into the port. The plan therefore is to head to Santa Cruz de Tenerife in this 10 day period, to gain 24 degrees of height compared to La Palma for our crossing to Madeira.

Wouter’s lack of sleep and Leen’s pregnancy made for another trip with 100% of sea-sick adults. Dolphins saw us of from La Palma, and put on another spectacular show. So far we saw dolphins on almost all of our legs around the Canaries, and their shows grow more fabulous as the wind and sea state increase…

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