Anticipation and Adrenalin - Madeira to the Canaries 13th November 2003

It is 3am. The night is so black that the faint glow from the instruments almost dazzles you. The deck moves violently, and you have to hang on to prevent yourself from being thrown around, or worse, overboard. If you are thrown overboard there is no-one to see you. You are in the Atlantic, 100 miles from the nearest land. People are attempting to sleep below, relying on you to keep watch. The wind kicks viciously, and a wave comes over the side, drenching you. Behind the boat, a black billowing storm cloud obscures the stars. Over the horizon comes a sail of flaming gold.

You start, what is it? Why doesn’t it show on the radar? Have you been asleep to miss something so large – or are you asleep and dreaming? It is actually getting bigger as you look at it. Its coming straight towards Intrepid. Now its even higher – it must be at least 100 metres high, huge flaming golden orange. It’s crescent shaped, just like a sail. There has been no notice of anything like this. Who should you alert? What should you do?

The full crescent lifts right off the surface of the sea. You suddenly recognise it for something you have seen thousands of times before – but never from this perspective. The colour is slowly changing to silver. No need to wake anyone. One hour more on watch before you wake the next person. This time you are the one to see the moon rise. This is why you are here. Perfect!…………………………………………….

Sunset on Sunday 19th October had come at 7.30pm, just early enough to show the huge bulk of Teneriffe, unquestionably a volcano, edged in the golden orange of the setting sun, although still 55 miles away. We had left Madeira on Saturday at 10am, and the wind, once away from the effects of Madeira (wind always bends around islands and headlands, and so you can never be sure which direction it is coming from until you are well away from them), blew from the west at about 20 knots. Ocean winds are much steadier than over land, and this wind continued to blow for the next 36 hours. We hardly touched the sails as we skudded along at 7 knots or so, covering 162 miles/day, with only ourselves for company. I cooked roast chicken for dinner, then slept while Nicky did the 9pm to 2am watch, then woke me for the 2am to 7am. 5 hours is a long watch, but with the only other person asleep in the aft cabin, the person on watch has the run of the rest of Intrepid, and we can make tea, read a bit etc. We usually reduce the amount of sail we have up before night, so that if the wind increases, Intrepid is still well balanced, but with the waves from almost behind, the motion was not easy.

We passed right between the lonely Salvagem islands on Sunday morning, a bit larger than I had reckoned, but still a bleak pair of rocks, the larger one some 160 metres high, 1 mile wide by ½ mile long, 100 miles from any other land of any description, surrounded by assorted other submerged and semi submerged rocks. There is supposed to be a warden on the island to check our permit, but with the 20 knot wind, any anchorage was going to be tenuous at best, and we imagined the poor man watching what was probably the only boat he would see that day pass on without stopping, (as had the 3 boats before us).

We are now some 200 miles further south, and the temperature is noticeably warmer, the more so when the sun burns away the clouds, and Intrepid races south in bright sparkling weather. We have only seen one 1 other boat in 36 hours, and perhaps 2 or 3 birds, a few more round the Salvagems. We do odd jobs, write, read, cook. I cook paella for dinner at 7pm, just as the sun sets framing Teneriffe, then the wind dies and we start the engine. When I get up at 2am the lights of Gran Canaria are clearly visible from 30 miles away, and we adjust our speed to get in at 7am which is first light. The stars are brilliant, and I am reminded that the British Observatory is now in the Canaries, because there is too much light in the UK to see the sky clearly.

The rising moon always manages to catch me out, its quite heart-stopping at this moment when its on the horizon, and its quite my favourite sight at night. This time it is almost flat on its back, rising in the east and within half an hour its well up in the sky, its familiar silver now glistening a path across the almost flat sea towards Intrepid, its bright light overcoming the stars one by one. A cruise liner and container ship glide slowly past, each on their schedules, my mobile phone springs into life, and I am really pleased to get a message from James that he has successfully completed his solo bike ride from Southend to Bath this weekend (which must have been tough). We are back in touch with the world and all’s well.

Gran Canaria is the largest of the Canaries, shaped like the head of a cat looking at you, with the capital, Las Palmas on the right hand of the 2 peninsulars that look like the ‘ears’. We slowly motored down the 4 km long jetty that protects the huge harbour from the east, (Gran Canaria is the major trans-shipment port to/from Africa), avoided a swiftly exiting ferry, and nosed our way to Pedro’s fuel dock in the marina. Pedro is something of an institution here, he has been fuelling boats to cross the Atlantic for the last 30+ years, and he organises a dinghy race just before the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) that descended into chaos last time we went, but was messy and fun. Sure enough Pedro was there to meet us himself, (although the marina staff weren’t there until 9am), and the Port staff advised us to find our own choice of berth at one of the 4 pontoons to the north of the marina which (together with the quay) are reserved for ARC boats. We chose Pontoon 16 (which we had last time in 2001), and a kind Brit called Russ from a Sigma 38 called Steamy Windows helped us with ropes. There were about 8 other ARC boats on the pontoon – and about the same number of NARC’s (non-ARC boats).

The ARC is something of a ‘good news, bad news’ story. The good news is that it helps organise 250 sailing boats to cross the Atlantic in such a way that we can provide mutual support, and also provides advice and bureaucratic fast-tracking. The bad news is that if you are not with the ARC you are not only excluded from all this, you are at times moved from the berths that are reserved for the ARC boats. So NARC’s are understandably anti-ARC, and to some extent they are right because even without the ARC organisation, many of the boats would provide mutual suppport and advice anyway, and creating the ARC has turned the whole thing into a bit of an exclusive club which is the reverse of the orginal concept. On this occasion our enjoyment of the ARC atmosphere and contacts prevailed over egalitarianism.

Las Palmas is a big city and our folding bike is really useful as many of the shops are a mile away, and even the toilet and shower block is ½ mile away. Well….its useful for me, as Nicky can’t ride a bike and has to walk. We raided the 4 local chandlers for boat bits, and the central market for some really fresh fruit, all from different Canarian islands, including bananas, lemons, oranges and avocados as well as the more obvious tomatoes and lettuce, hosted various boats for sundowners most nights, and searched Las Palmas for a sports bar to watch the Rugby World Cup which is going on in Australia.

On Sunday, the day of the England/Samoa game, we thought we had arranged for a local bar to be open with the TV on at 0915 when the game started, but unfortunately when we arrived, the patron had overslept, and the bartender was not prepared to wake him to wake him up. A motley bunch of people from neighbouring yachts kept turning up and we started to get text messages from a friend in UK on the score, which initially showed 10-0 to Samoa. open up In desperation we went to a 5 star hotel which we figured must have satellite TV, and I asked on behalf of 10 blokes and 1 girl to book a room for 2 hours. They must have thought we were from the royal family or a football club, suffice to say that from the raised eyebrows we got the massage that they don’t do that sort of thing in the Canaries………..

They did point us in the direction of an Irish Bar, which mind-bogglingly was shut even for the Irish game against Argentina, (and therefore we suspected only Irish in marketing, not in substance), and finally resorted to the refuge of the computer nerd, and went to a games parlour which had internet coin in the slot, and ‘watched’ the England game via the Planet Rugby website text commentary (with 1 minute delay). We cheered and shouted and groaned, but it really was a bit like drinking a pint of no alcohol beer, more frustration than satisfaction, even though it was better than nothing. We carried the party through lunch to dinner at a nearby Chinese, and finally discovered a bar that lured by promises of enormous purchases of beer at 9am next weekend promised they would open for the next rugby rounds. We shall see……

Our BBQ bolted onto the back rail is in use most nights, and the day before we left to go to UK for a 2 week pre-ARC visit, we discovered we still had lots of meat uneaten, so we had an impromptu end of pontoon party with kebabs, gate crashers, and a brilliant star lit cockpit to sit round.

We flew to UK to see family, and managed to see a few friends (not all unfortunately), and had James to stay at the the Cruising Association’s Limehouse Basin cabins which are only 1 mile from Tower Bridge, then with Bob and Cindy whose fine boat is in St Katherine’s dock, even closer (although the guy protesting for improved access for Dad’s disrupted our travel a bit). We journeyed to Essex, Surrey and Oxford in a zig zag pattern, finally having to do a bit of home-spun garage breaking at night to get into the lock up garage in Bath where we leave our car when we are way. The key was somewhere else, (I know….) and a rather bemused (but very helpful) local Bathian (?) helped us to finally lever it open, we tried to explain all the noise to neighbours (not very successfully I am afraid), and James drove us up to London along the M4 at what seemed like 100mph, (probably only 95 mph).

After a fair BA flight to Madrid, Iberia managed to close our ‘connecting’ flight before we arrived, even though the plane was still on the ground, explaining that our luggage would not make the transfer and for reasons of safety and security they could not allow us to travel without our luggage. We argued to no avail, waited 4 hours in Madrid, arrived in Gran Canaria and queued for our luggage only to find that in spite of all the protestations, our luggage had come on the earlier flight. I suspect that our connection had closed early, and safety and security were only a convenient excuse. Air travel is faster than boat, but at 1200 miles in an eventual journey time of 14 hours, (average 85 mph) James would beat Iberia Airlines if he could only drive over water.

We arrived at Intrepid at 1130pm, to find that we had chosen our crew well. Bernard and Beryl had arrived at 8pm expecting to find us on the boat, but had transferred to the bar, a party was in full swing on pontoon 17, interboat romance was in the air, the newspapers we had brought from England were eagerly snatched up for news of the latest scandal and sport, and we were off to a good ARC build-up.

As I write, it is Thursday 13th November, we have completed about 15 of the 20 tasks we aimed to do before the start to make Intrepid as safe and as comfortable as we can. The first of the excellent ARC seminars has started, our rig has been inspected, we have had a thorough safety inspection, (both passed), and we have a full programme of events in the 10 days before we set off.

We send best wishes to everyone, those we met in our short visits and those who we were unable to get to see this time, I will be writing brief but more frequent emails as we cross the Atlantic so let me know if there is any particular aspect you would like to know about as we go across – I cannot guarantee fish, but will do my best to describe anything else.

Andy and Nicky Gibb Thursday 13th November, Gran Canaria.

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