Log #37f Madeira and Adrift to the Canary Islands

December 6, 2005 in Log Series 30-39, Logs by Series, Series 37 Portugal, The Logs

Puerto Mogan, Gran Canaria, Canary Islands

Dec. 6, 2005


Hi Folks,


We have left Tenerife and are back here on Gran Canaria for maintenance problems. Our water maker has died, can’t be repaired, and we have another one ordered, a PUR 40E, but expensive, 2500 Euros or about $3800 Canadian. In addition, our water pump seals have started leaking, and we hope we can get a repair kit for it here. The marina has no room until the end of December, and so we are anchored outside for the few days it will take (hopefully) to get the parts. Today is a national holiday and so things won’t start until the 7th. The holding is good, but the shallow bay is exposed and rolly. This is the port where we took off for Tenerife at 1030 at night as I could not stand the rolling any longer, and could sleep better under way than at this anchorage. So far it hasn’t been bad, and we have a stern anchor out to help us face into the predominant wave patterns. I am not happy with the Canary Islands as a cruising destination. It is a good way point for boats crossing to the Caribbean, with good chandleries, but in the months of October, November and December most of the marinas are filled unless you have made advanced reservations. There are not good anchorages, as most are like this one, a shallow bay on the leeward side of the island, but into which the Atlantic swells still roll.


In this log I have described our enjoyment of Madeira and our passage 275 miles down to the Canaries during which we had major engine problems. We are OK, but were greatly concerned during the passage.


I have attached three pictures relevant to this log, one of Judy working on the wind generator and another of the dramatic scenery of Madeira and one of the column supported runway over the water. I have so many good pictures of the dramatic scenery of Madeira that it was difficult to decide which ones to send. If any of you would like to get a few more dramatic shots of this glorious island, let me know and I will send an extra message with several attached pictures.


All the best,




Log #37f Madeira and Adrift to the Canary Islands

Puerto Mogan, Gran Canaria, Canary Islands

Dec. 5, 2005




We spent over two weeks on Madeira (Oct. 5 to 21) with a rental car, enjoying the island and the company of Henry, Judy’s dad, and our guest, Doug Caldwell, both of whom were eager to take us out to restaurants as we explored the nooks and crannies of the island. However we were especially pleased to be able to have Henry come on board Veleda (our home) several times; sometimes to watch and help as we did maintenance chores; sometimes for a pleasant barbecue on board and once for a most enjoyable day on the water. That day we motored to the dramatic barren but volcanic lava layered cliffs at the eastern end of the island where we dropped anchor in a secluded cove (Baia da Abra) behind a fish farm, with a Portuguese patrol boat at anchor as well, to enjoy a barbecue and salad lunch. After lunch we headed back, but this time under sail only as we silently glided along the magnificent coast line past Quinta do Lorde over to Machico and back to the marina. From there we had a view of the airport runway which extends over the coast line, buttressed by hundreds of columns so that planes land or take off at the end of the runway over the water (picture enclosed). The marinero who helped us back into our mooring gave us a friendly greeting and expressed a hope that Judy’s dad had a good time. Very friendly!


We covered the entire island, putting over 1500 kilometres on the car on this island that is only 57 km long, and has a maximum width of 22 km. We took a rather blah bus tour around Funchal, a big touristy city. We didn’t bother to go up the cable car from Funchal, but drove up the mountains behind it and through the national pine forest near the summit of the spine of Madeira. The views around every bend were spectacular as we stopped to photograph them and to take in the panoramas before us, down valleys and narrow chasms, out to sea and over the port of Funchal with a couple of cruise liners alongside. As we climbed (in the car) we came up to clouds surging up the valleys and drifting across the roadway bends as we rounded the sharp turns at the end of each gorge. The tall pines and eucalyptus trees created misty gothic bowers through the fog and clouds as these thickened while we drove along the paved narrow windy roads. The forest floor was needle clad on the steep slopes above and below the road, broken by the occasional outcropping of lava strata. On a couple of occasions we were in the dark moist clouds draped over the mountainous summit along the spine of Madeira, a damp foggy scenario, with visibility at times down to less than 50 metres. It made driving on those windy hairpin-bend strewn roads … intense. However, on one such trip we emerged above the cloud banks to see an undulating sea of cloud below us and the clear sunny blue sky and more spectacular peaks above us. Magnificent!


The forested area along the spine of Madeira is a protected reserve of Laurasilva at the altitudes from 700 to 1300 metres, covering two thirds of the island, designated as the Nature Park of Madeira. These forests of pine, eucalyptus and heather are also the largest preserve of Laurel trees in the world, thus the term Laurasilva. (Note – These trees are the same ones that provided the Greek and Roman athletes, generals and kings with their crowns of laurel wreaths. The trees are also known as bay trees, from which the dried leaves provide a nice savory, pungent spice for cooking. I always use bay leaves in my spaghetti sauce. Mmm!)


We did the north coast, going both over the mountains and through the valleys to Sao Vicente where we explored through the Lava Tunnels and the excellent display on the volcanic origin of Madeira. West from there along the north coast we went to the NW extremity at Porto Moniz, and around to the spectacular vista from the lighthouse at Ponta de Pargo, situated on the rocky cliffs several hundred feet above the Atlantic swells angrily crashing with translucent white spume on that treacherous cape. We saw several traditional A-framed thatch roofed houses. One time after driving to the summit of Achada de Teixera (1785 Metres) in the clouds, I noted when we got down to lower levels that the break pads were quite hot and smelled of burnt rubber. I will have to use lower gears to slow the car down on long descents. Two of the nicer restaurants we had meals in were at Poiso and Estalagemda Eira do Serrado. Poiso was the restaurant in which we enjoyed one of the best estapadas, and sent pictures of it in my previous log. The Estalagemda had the most spectacular view, perched on the pinnacle of  Eira do Serrado over 1000 metres high, and overlooking several chasms on the edge of this gigantic caldera.  Another day we went east along the north coast from Sao Vicente, over past Sao Jorge to Porto da Cruz before going up through the mountains to come down to the SE coast at Machico. At Machico we went to a small but interesting whaling museum, as this was one of the major industries of Madeira before the whaling moratorium. One of the activities we did not have a chance to do was to hike along the many levadas (small aqueducts) that insinuate themselves through the mountain slopes and ridges, bringing mountain water runoff to the many high farm terraces. These levadas are open conduits with pleasant well-trodden paths beside them allowing good hikes through the mountains without steep climbs. We could see many of these as we drove through the otherwise rugged terrain. Madeira is without doubt the most spectacular island we have visited (including: Cuba, the Bahamas, Bermuda, the Hebrides, the Channel Islands, the Balearics, the Aegean Islands, the Aeolian Islands, Cyprus, Sardinia, Corsica, Elbe, the Canaries, and Isles Cies off the Spanish coast)!


One of the maintenance tasks we completed was the re-installation of our wind generator. This was Judy’s pet project, as I still think the minimal power it puts out is insignificant to our power requirements and is more bother than it is worth. It might put out 3 amps in 10 knot winds and maybe 5 to 7 amps in 20 and 30 knot gusts, but over a 24 hour period would rarely provide more than a total of 10, maybe 15 amps of power, whereas we use up to 80 amps of energy a day at anchor (refrigeration being the big consumer). To mount it we needed a high platform to reach up to the top of the tower. We found such by climbing the bowsprit of Bonnie Lynne, an American charter brigantine with Veleda tied alongside (see the picture of Judy doing the installation). Thanks Earl and Bonnie for your co-operation. Incidentally, Bonnie Lynne was unlucky and was hit by an unexpected major storm coming out of Gibraltar before reaching Madeira. No one was injured and they were able to repair the upper deck damage and dry out the below decks bedding and cushions when an open hatch took a large green roller that swept the length of this 65 foot ship. It is a beautiful vessel with raked masts in traditional early American naval design.


Passage to the Canaries


We left at noon of Oct. 21 for the 275 mile passage southwest for our planned landfall at Isla Graciosa, the most northeasterly of the Canaries. The first day we motorsailed mostly, into light SW winds, trying to sail only for short periods of time, but only able to do 3 or 4 knots. By next morning, the 22nd, we had a wind shift to NNW, but still very light through which we motorsailed. This area around 30 degrees north latitude is often referred to as the Horse Latitudes, as the winds are so light that sailing ships would be becalmed for long periods of time, and the crew resorted to eating the horses on board to avoid starvation. Our only excitement came when we saw a pod of dolphins feeding, but they did not come over to visit or play.


A mid-ocean swim and a major problem


In midafternoon we turned the engine off and dropped the sails to go in for a midocean swim. Lovely. When we do this, we have a boarding ladder rigged for easy climbing aboard (or for wimps like Judy, to slowly enter the water), and leave long lines trailing in the water so if the boat does move a bit with any breeze or current we can grab the lines to pull ourselves back to the boat. We have a garden spray canister filled with fresh water that we can spray ourselves down with after we get out. Also we leave one person on board at all times as a safety precaution.


After we got out and dried off in the sun with a cool drink, I tried to start the engine. It wouldn’t turn over! We had been having intermittent problems with the starter switch for some time, but if it did not turn over after the first time, it would always catch after two or three tries. This time … nothing! No click, no groan, nada, zilch, zero … even after multiple tries over a half hour period. We were less than halfway to the Canaries, and no engine, in the Horse Latitudes, and we didn’t even have any horses on board to eat if we got desperate. (Actually we carry supplies that would last us for months if necessary.) It was going to be a long trip of 140 miles at 2 or 3 miles per hour if we were lucky. As we heard no click from the starter motor itself, we assumed the problem must be in the switch. After removing the instrument panel to see if we could find the fault in the switch, we gave up. We noted our position at 31 degrees North, 15 degrees West, and hoisted the main and genoa to slowly get under way. We shut off the refrigerator as power consumption could be a problem if we ran the batteries down over a two or three day period without being able to turn the engine on to charge them. We would need some battery power for self steering and our GPS navigation system. However, we could hand steer, and just turn on the GPS for periodic navigational checks. We also have a hand held GPS as well as a hand held VHF radio, so we could survive if all battery power was lost. (We even have a sextant aboard which both Judy and I knew how to use at one time, but have not used it in the eight years we have been away.)


After being under sail for a half hour, we were still wracking our brains to think if we could short circuit the starter motor direct from the batteries. Doug thought that the problem was the starter motor itself, rather then the starter switch. As we had the engine compartment opened, Doug asked Judy to tap the starter motor with a hammer or screwdriver. She did so with a screwdriver. When I turned the ignition … it started! Thank you Doug! We were under way with engine power once more.


Landfall in the Canary Islands at Isle Graciosa


During this second night the wind came up a bit stronger to force 3 from the NW, which would have allowed us to sail … but we were afraid to shut the engine off in case it did not start again. So we continued to motorsail along in a good wind, leaving the engine on and in gear at idle revs to help us along at 5 to 6 knots, a good speed. We were anchored in Bahia del Salado on Isla Graciosa (29 Degrees 13.44 Minutes N, 013 Degrees 30.75 Minutes West) by 1630 the third day, Oct. 23, having covered the 275 miles in 52 hours for an average speed of 5.3 knots, thanks to all our motorsailing. (Note – I have had it reported that the symbol for Degrees [ ˚ ] and my Minute symbol  [ ’ ]  that I use do not come out properly on some computers. Thus I will spell out the words Degree and Minute for future latitude and longitude positions.)


Before we entered the Graciosa channel between Isla Graciosa and Lanzarote, we heard a VHF call to another boat from Aventura. We responded to find out that John and Laurie were at anchor in Bahia del Salado, and indicated it was a good location. We met John and Laurie in Ostia last winter when they kept Aventura over in the river at Fiumicino. I was one of the SSCA Commodores who recommended John for his Commodore’s pennant in the SSCA. As we sailed around them on entry, John advised us to stay a bit offshore as the inshore holding was not as good. After anchoring he came over to invite us to a beach party later that evening. A good time was had by all, especially the kids, as John and Laurie have two children and several other US, British, Australian, and another Canadian boat had kids aboard as well.


Our first impression of Graciosa was of an African desert; sand dunes, some occasional scrub brush, no trees, with low flat box-like whitewashed buildings set up along the shore. There is a stunning barren mountain (hill, 266 m high) behind the town with curved strata of sandy yellow, ochre red, royal purple and midnight black striations which absorb the rays of the sun to emanate lighter, darker, and richer hues depending upon the angle of the sun, At sunset the hill and its layers have a reddish glow looming above the darkening desert sands.


More about the Canary Islands of Graciosa and Lanzarote in my next log.