Thursday, December 15, 2011

THE BLOODY CARIBBEAN Me Hearties! Or, A Wet Bum and a Bottle of Rum

We’re doing over 6 beautiful knots of tropical sailing as we pass the legendary volcano of Monseraat. I’m in my underpants as I type, on our way to Antigua under clear skies of light blue. It’s 9:30 in the morning and the sun is wicked. As if all this wasn’t brilliant enough, there’s a new destination waiting to be plundered dead ahead. What adventures lay in wait…? Today we pass from the French Caribbean (Guadelopue) to the British Caribbean (Antigua). Fascinated to see how they differ. A few days in Antigua and I’ll fly to JAMAICA!  Unbelievable.

The availability and cost of airfares meant that I couldn’t swing Cuba. Damn. Next time!

As no doubt you all know, all the islands in this area are known as the Lesser Antilles. The islands are more or less lined up in a row (everyone got their charts out?) and as we sailed between them a day or two ago we could see Martinique, Dominica, Marie Galante, Le Saintes and Guadeoloupe all at once, lined up into the distance.

The view of the town of Grand Bourg from the Napoleonic lookout on Terre de Haut, showing Guadeloupe and Mari Galante in the distance. Guadeloupe was given to the French by the English in return for...Canada.  Seriously!



We spent our 7 first  post-Atlantic evenings in the fishing village of Grand Bourg on the island of Terre de Haut in Le Saintes group of islands. Caribbean colours, with their trademark in-your-face beauty, decorate colonial style houses and vintage fishing dingies, to a backdrop of steep hills of the richest green you can imagine. Flowers blossom all along the immaculately swept streets that run more or less parallel to the lukewarm tideline that laps the white sand, gently for the most part. One of my first impressions of the Caribbean (second actually, after a resoundingly impressed fucken wow!) is that the sea is teeming with life. Fish, squid, turtles, diving pelicans, big frigate birds, terns, boobies (the bird!) etc. etc….it’s amazing to live this close to wildlife again after so many years in a jungle of the urban variety (equally as amazing, for different reasons all together). Terre de Haut is small enough to cover in a couple of hours on a bike. There is an awesomely maintained Napoleanic fort on one hill, and a lookout way up on the hill opposite. I made the split second decision to climb it one day, pushing a bike. Suffice to say that I probably wouldn’t have done had I known how long and bloody steep it was, the view from the top will stay with me for the rest of my life. Luckily for you all I have photo evidence.


Grand Bourg. A French sensitivity to aesthetic combined with a Creoley, jungley, fishing villagy feel and a long history of Naval and no doubt piratical activity.


Grand Bourg is a beautiful and tranquil fishing village, we did however rock out at the Saturday-nightly Dance Party on the balcony of rum punch bar La Crique that fronts on to the water looking out over the boats at anchor, and whose coconut punch should be illegal, only for the fact that the black market trade in such a case would be impressive no doubt. The only 3 white dudes there, we didn’t hesitate to let fly with some of our more snazzy moves on the floor. A couple of Le Santoise (Saintes locals) chicks started shaking their not inconsiderable behinds as only Caribbean chicks can, no doubt in a show of gratitude at witnessing me cutting the floor up. The after party involving just us whiteys went down in the boat, and Dusty’s present to Herve of a bottle of Chivas Reagle (the details of which could fill a book on their own) got a punishing, before the inaugural Le Saintes Naked Midnight Bombing Grand Prix was held on (or should I say off) the aft deck. The water is so warm that we could’ve easily stayed in there all night. And we nearly bloody did.  Eventually Dusty took honors in the competition with his “horsies” that defied the very fabric of naked midnight divebombing in their sheer tenacity. We bonded as only men who have shared an amazing journey, and have seen each other drunk and naked, can bond. I have memories of trying to set Herve’s spectacular belly on fire with Chivas and a lighter – all in good fun of course.

French Caribbean tradmarks, accras (deep fried codballs) and Boutaine (??) sausage @ Chez Lulu, Deshaies.

Now, the food. Oh my god. Caribbean creole cooking is debatably even better than the Portugese variety we got in the Verdes. And now I am firmly hooked on Ti-punch, basically a massive shot of local white rum (50%) with a big teaspoon of cane sugar and a squeeze of lime. If surroundings count for how good a drink tastes then I could’ve sat happily at (any of) the (many) bar(s) with a bucket of diesel, seriously though, I feel the dire need for you all to understand the sheer genius of this drink. But I guess you’ll just have to see for yourselves. I am currently amassing an arsenal of rum punch recipes to unleash in a double strike on a cold and unsuspecting Christmas Tokyo and a summer Christmas in Tassie. Look out.
It’s not the season at the moment, but there are mango trees, bananas, star fruit, and breadfruit. French bread and wine also grow on trees. In the water there are lots of fish. I jumped off the boat and found a little shark directly below me, probably wondering what the bloody noise was. There are turtles and pelicans that divebomb fish in the sea right in front of you. Massive frigate birds circle over head, waiting to hassle other birds with a less-than-secure grip on the fish in their mouth. There are literally thousands of massive conch shells discarded on the seabed, on the beach, decorating people’s gardens, polished and sold in stores. The conch is the coral vacuum cleaner. They eat the algae that would otherwise suffocate the corals. The people have taken too many conches and now the reefs are basically dying. Each conch take somewhere around 500 years to get to full size. The human race’s inherent talent for fucking the earth up is pretty astounding sometimes. But good luck trying to tell someone to stop doing something they’ve been doing for generations. Any whale fan living in Japan knows what I mean.


Deshaies anchorage, northwest corner of Guadelope. Le petit Jesu!
Adagio is at centre, of course.



The view of a Le Saintes evening swim, and the site of the official
Le Saintes Naked Midnight Bombing Grand Prix.



Friday, December 9th, 2011
Le Saintes – Guadeloupe - Antigua

Moving from Le Saintes to Guadeloupe, we pulled into Deshaies (“day-ay”) another gorgeous little fishing town. The first bar we walked into on the first night ended up becoming our base of operations in Deshaies. Ti-punchs, tapas and pizzas. Cool staff. We also met Eric there. Eric is a friendly French local dude who matched us drink for drink and then some. Later in the night he mentioned some interesting stuff about how it isn’t always easy living here and dealing with the locals, with the occasional runaround being given out. Hmmm, trouble in paradise? But I guess nowhere is perfect.

Many a rum later, and with all four of the staff from the bar following in a separate car, Eric and I drove around the headland (Dusty had probably wisely made his tactical withdrawal right as things started to fire up) to another beach where there was an amazing bar, the Green Cafe. 


video


150% percent Caribbean, with three dudes belting out some wicked French Caribbean Reggae, the proudly dreadlocked vocalist introducing himself to me as Thee Lion of Thee Caribi-an mon! Sunburnt people much like myself sweated it up on the floor and quenched thirst with rum and tequila and all kinds of fruity mixers. I ended up at Eric’s place somewhere in the hills for a jam session afterwards, damn good guitarist!
After five rums, two beers and four tequilas, and before he remembered that he had to teach in 4 hours we had promised to meet at the pizza n rum bar the next night and have a jam. He didn’t show. I know exactly why.

I woke up still very pissed. Nevertheless, despite basically being told that we were crazy by a couple of locals, we acted on a rumour of a secret waterfall a km or 2 up a river on a hill. Sounded like a pretty decent hangover cure. We found it. Try and imagine a secret waterfall behind a boulder at the back of a cave-like ravine holding a cool pool of water. That picture in your mind right now, we were there! It was straight out of a movie on how awesome the tropics are, perhaps enhanced just a little by my hospital-grade painkiller-induced sense of tranquility.


The cavern...


Those aren't white undies



The view out. gollum!

The funny thing was,  hardly any locals even seemed to know it was there.
This rumble in the jungle was nicely topped of with a chicken Colombo and a beer at Creole mecca Chez Lulu, then later it was back to the bar for more rums, pizza and tapas. I couldn’t but notice the staff were noticeably slower that night, refusing every my every offer of more rum. But that’s OK, this is the Caribbean. Nothing happens quickly.

We will be in Antigua in 4 hours. Next!






The view from Chez Lulu. Pelican divebombing fish left right and center.

Riding the breath of the gods to new lands! Kind of. Somewhere near Monseraat. (spelling?)





Saturday, December 03, 2011

Rum-soaked greeting from the Caribbean! The Story So Far...










Well, we bloody did it!  We got across the Atlantic on a yacht. Here's how...


Day 23:  On the road again


Back out on the open ocean. A constant slow speed roller coaster powered by the wind through 360 degrees of ocean and sky and perpetual motion. It’s a man’s prerogative, especially in outdoor adventure-type situations such as this, to find awesome places to have a piss. I have noticed the view standing on the bottom step of the stern (men’s outdoor toilet) staring at the middle of the Atlantic from sea level as we hurtle through the sea is pretty impressive, particularly with member in hand.
A different kind of exhilaration than stepping on to a new island, out here it’s more a passive experience.  You just have to sit on deck and you can’t help but be mesmerised by the massive energy and different forces at work, of which we happen to be skimming the mere surface. As your body gradually learns the location of anything grab-holdable (members aside) and to readjust itself at a second’s notice on a whole variety of angles coming one after the other, so your brain attunes itself to the more primeval concept of time measured in terms of light/dark/light/dark /sleepy/hungry/sleepy/hungry etc. etc. Your conscious brain, freed from the lack of interruptions and distractions that make up every day, uses the respite to catch up on thinking. Contemplation. A timeout. If the Atlantic I’ve experienced so far was music, it’d be stoner rock – powerful rhythms you can chill out to. It’s a much simpler way to live. I feel like I’m disposing of a decade of Tokyo Lifestyle Fatigue (TLF), generally brought on by way Too Much Fun (TMF). I find it easier to snooze in the bucking cockpit under the tropical sun, 3 feet from the surging ocean, than I do on a Sunday afternoon at home. Is that weird?



From Mindelo harbor, just next to all the old dudes playing rummy and gambling. The boat in the center is Adagio.


We were basically ejected westward out the other side of the gap between Sao Vicente and Sao Antao, the winds squeezing through the passage and shooting us out the bottom at 8 to 10 knots, getting us 175 miles from Mindelo in 24 hours of wind spraying water and, at night, flying fish everywhere in the dark.  Dusty swears that on another voyage he had a flying fish fly in the window, hit him in the head and land in the bloody frying pan (Yes!!) Flying fish fly like they’ve been shot out of an underwater cannon, oversized wings seem to be tried out for the first time like a new toy, rather than evolved. The take off (getting the hell away from whatever is swimming up behind it) is obviously of a way higher priority than the landing.
The fact that I just dedicated whole paragraph to flying (frying?) fish demonstrates how much free time I have on my hands, and it’s made me realize that it’s been a long time since I’ve slowed down enough (have I ever in Tokyo?) to really look at something in detail. There is life going on all over this blue expanse, if you just let yourself become aware of it.


Day 25: Kamikaze Fish

One sure-fire way to become aware of the nature out here is if it hits you in the head, as it did Herve last night. A 30 cm flying fish came out of nowhere and divebombed him straight in the side of the head in the middle of his night watch. Classic! I TOLD you flying fish were crazy.
A waylaid flying fish. Note the crazed expression.
In the evening I had the lines out even though we were going too fast to fish. That didn’t stop some monster of the deep (OK, I exaggerate, but a big bloody fish) giving the line a good yank for a while before pissing off. The next one will be mine!

A late night drop in. Note the crazed expression...



G'day. Where's your frypan?
Awesome wings for a fish!


Got me a barra! Went down fantastic with another little mahi mahi on the bbq.  La petit jesu!


Gday, where's your wasabi? 
Starting to get the hang of catching decent fish now...



Did I mention how fantastic our time was in the town of Mindelo on the island of Sao Vicente in the Cape Verdes? It’s in the middle of nowhere, which is why I firmly recommend it to anyone. Interesting episode just before departure when we decided to get rid of the left over escudos (Portugese currency) by giving cash to random people in the street. The lady selling bananas on the corner, the old dude in the dark and musty bar near the street market, Sydney from the fish market and the dude who sold me a sharktooth necklace the day before. It was a bit weird , but big smiles were made bigger with cash. Many a “Bon Voyage!” and “God Bless You My Friend!” later, the 20 hours we spent in Mindelo are already in line to be filed in the did that really happen? box of wicked experiences.

Mindelo street market. Got some napalm chillies here.


Sharktooth necklace dude. Solid people for the most part. I like.

Vive la revolucion! Back of a potato truck. The Verdes.




Day 28: Escalator Across the Pond
We are now sailing under spinnaker, a sail made for these trade winds. Big, handsome and fast even in light winds. Basically it just tows us down wind in the direction of Guadaloupe, which is due west. Makes for tough sailor photos too.

That glorious sail the spinnaker. Silently towed us downwind for three days and nights. 



Sailors come in all shapes and sizes. Guess which one is the chef...


Day 30: Fisherman’s Tales
An important prerequisite for qualifying this voyage a success was fulfilled last night. I got a fish. A fish bigger than most of the kids I teach. It took an hour and a half, about half a kilometre of line and a can of beer, fed to me at intervals by the fantastic support staff. 25-30 kgs of Spanish mackerel. Several times larger than all the other fish I’ve caught on the trip so far put together and the biggest fish I’ve ever seen pulled on to a boat. I feel more relaxed now that my alcohol-fueled promises to friends back in Japan (who love a good fish!) have been kept. Massive f**kin’ fish – check!
Mackerel steaks as thick as your calf for lunch… gotta hurry up and eat it so we can bag a BIGGER one! Firmly from the Mary O’Doherty school of fishing.








One of the highlights of the day is finding out how much distance we’ve come in the previous 24 hours from noon to noon, and how much distance/time remains until tropical paradise in the Caribbean. All this is worked out using the log, which we make an entry into every two hours, and the onboard navigation system. Our record is 188 miles in a day. We average about 165. Not too shabby! As of writing this we are pretty much exactly half way between The Verdes and The Leeward Islands of the Caribbean. 1047 sun-drenched miles to go. I’m running out of body parts to sunburn.


The log




Day35: Converging on the Caribbean
A few hundred miles off the Leeward islands of the Caribbean, the northern trades run into the southern trades sometimes forming what’s called a convergence zone. The air is forced upwards as the winds collide, taking heaps of water with it, which is then dumped in short sharp bursts of rain-filled bedlam, known as squalls. 

Squalls. The grandkids of cyclones (or typhoons for all you in Japan)


These little bundles of blackness, can create their own little weather systems which means the wind can go through 360 degrees in not long at all, as I found out when Dusty woke me to help change sails, while we went in the opposite direction back towards Africa (bugger that!). We were playing bumper cars without about three at once at one stage, sometimes dodging between them, sometimes running straight into them. It reminded me of the time I went to see the Japan national schoolboys team play the All Blacks retired allstars. It was even more fun and games as night settled into one big sideways-rain infused blow, which we later learned over the radio was a tropical depression (can I call it a storm? Storm sounds much tougher, but I'd be lying). I had an amazing time steering on my watch that night, to save wear and tear on the autopilot. Belting through the blackness, thinking about getting the snorkel out while copping the odd wave in the face, the whole wild wavescape briefly illuminated every few seconds with a lightning lightshow to rival a Muse concert. All the while the idea was to keep the wind behind us while still aiming as close the palm trees and rum as possible. Even the flying fish were getting amongst the action, getting blown way up in the air and dropping straight out of the friggin sky! As they plummeted back toward the earth, I wonder if they knew what was waiting as they leapt out of the water.
Nature, mother to us all, giving us a little to think about after the gifts she’s given us so far on the trip.


Fancy dress party




Japanese goodluck charms. All the protection we need. Worked a treat!





Occasionally a little bird would drop in and hang out for a few hours, no doubt catching it's breath for a while during a journey that is no doubt much much longer than ours. We guess that this little sparrow was on his way south from Russia for the summer...respect little guy.
The Iles de Saintes (The Saints), a tiny group of islands off the coast of Guadaloupe have been chosen as the first landfall.  I’m told they have great snorkelling and cold beer. I’m in!

Dolphins often appeared after a blow. Checking we're OK perhaps?



Day 36: Last Day at Sea


The sun rises for the final time during our crossing, over the tropical depression that provided the fun and games over the last two days.


I’m sitting outside in the cockpit typing, as the final sunrise of our Atlantic crossing explodes in yet another indescribable display.  As kids we get told that the sky is blue and the ocean is blue and clouds are white. That just doesn’t cut it. Almost every hour there is a subtle shift in tone or color or shadow that casts a different ambience on everything. Barring major catastrophe we will reach The Saints tonight, and the crossing will be over. There is not quite enough wind to sail, in complete opposition to yesterday. Hang on a sec, what’s this!!? A pod of whales just went past! Seriously, while I sit here and type these words I just saw some whales for the first time! Much larger and slower, cruising more majestically along the surface than the jumping and twisting dolphins, and blowing air; three of them including a baby. Herve will be pissed. His only gripe of the trip was that he hadn’t seen any. The sun’s been up for ten minutes and it’s already getting warm. It’s 7:00 in the morning.
13 hours later…
Whiskeys on deck under the moonlight at the mo…to a soundtrack of that wicked and suitably Caribbean dub group Mute Beat. Heading past Guapeloupe now, the lights of The Saintes shining in the distance. This is the best thing I’ve ever done…

Sitting in one of the most beautiful anchorages I've ever seen right now. To be continued...

Friday, November 18, 2011

LEG 2: CANARIES TO GUADELOUPE



Day 14

It’s a strange feeling, Watching the sunset behind the last hills for at least 3 weeks, while directly opposite a massive purplish moon, perfectly full tonight, rises out of the ocean. 


Nature puts on the farewell fireworks.


It’s been a wicked ride so far, and I already have so much to digest, notwithstanding Herve’s  fantastic olive oil and garlic-saturated cooking. Though it’s a journey of a different kind from here on in. Wind, wave, weather wise what will wappen will wappen (just couldn't resist getting some more 'w's in there). Lliterally all we can do is ‘ride it out’. We’re heading south, hoping to come across the slightly stronger winds closer to the Saharan coast. We’ll probably go as far south as the Cape Verde Islands, maybe even stop there (Africa!) before swinging westward with the trade winds, eventually complete the 3,000 mile ark by curving north past Trinidad and Tobago to Antigua, where we will sit on the beach, snorkel, fish, drink rum, call loved ones and try to remember how to walk on hard ground that doesn’t move beneath our feet. Until then though it’s hopefully some solid winds, a couple of big fish and no cyclones. I never thought I’d be doing this…


Day 17
Is this wind the beginning of the Trades? Hope so! Made a flying entry into the tropics (22 degrees North) early this morning, reaching speeds of ten knots in the darkness. Great fun! Our 4th day at sea on this leg. Just as the Passageweather software predicted, the wind picked up yesterday about midday after a couple of slow days and as I type we a doing an average of 7 or so knots for the Cape Verde Islands, where Cap’n decided to make an impromptu landfall because a) when else are we gonna get this close to the Verdes!? And b) we forgot to buy his favorite fruit yoghurt in the Canaries.
Harry Hydrovane (wind-powered self-steering system: basically a small sail that connects to it’s own rudder at the stern and steers for us) has undergone several DIY improvements involving weights, plastic bottles and gladwrap. He is faring somewhat better, but needs to sack up a bit if this is the kind of wind we are in for. Still too much zigzagging and not enough straight up the guts.
A couple of fish have shown interest, including one massive bugger that chomped our biggest lure (RIP monster killer). I pretty much ran out of line so he decided to bite through it and be on his way. Herve thought it might’ve been a marlon, and according to him he’s not often wrong. A second spate of repairs to our beloved, tow generator-mangled Magnum DeepdiverÔ lure proved fruitless (he just won’t dive for us anymore) and a burial at sea is planned complete with a 13 gun salute later this afternoon.
Herve’s cooking is as always exceptional. Roast Chicken, Roast pork, Fresh bread etc. We must’ve gone through litres of olive oil and a couple of kilos of garlic so far, no doubt this has something to do with the copious amounts amount of wind being generated and what I’ve fondly coined the “Herve Winds” or “Herves” for short –  currently around 5 to 7 knots and strengthening.
Hope to reach the Verdes by Thursday AM. We need a fish or two.

Day 20
Been at sea a week now. It’s very difficult to capture open ocean sailing with words or even photos. The ocean is around 4 km deep in some parts, and we have sailed over underwater seamounts higher than Mt. Fuji. The winds have largely settled in to 20 knots of nor easterly and we hadn’t changed the sails for 3 days until we jibed on our final approach to the Capes Verdes. Yep, going to Africa! Eta is around 11pm tonight. Good sailing all round so far with the odd broadside by the solid Atlantic swells to keep us on our toes and tightly gripping our sunset whiskeys. Averaging about 8 knots which is too fast for fishing but can’t complain as the water rushes by us sending the flying fish scattering, including a couple on our deck . I’m just about to shove some wire down the length of one, connect a big hook and see if I can’t catch something bigger with it. A couple of really big dolphins (I thought they were whales) gave us a good show as they launched out of the water a few times on their way past, probably checking us out as we were them. Belly smackers to be proud of.
 beautiful
Day 21: Mindelo!
We had an interesting time coming in last night with the strongest winds of the trip so far at 30 knots in the pitch black passage towards the anchorage between , Fogo and St. Vicentethe two islands where we are currently at anchor. Mindelo is the capital of St. Vicente, a town of Portugese heritage who speak an amazing Portugese Creole language. My impression at the one hour mark is  volcanic landscapes covered in tropical flora and fauna, inhabited by laid back people with big smiles. 

That thar be a foine Spanish galleon me mateys! Aarrrgh! Harbor in Mindelo.


I have been here one hour and already I know that our stay here won’t be long enough. I also realised that in the tropics the moon waxes/wanes horizontally, with a top half and a bottom half. It was a bottom half moon tonight, a Cheshire Cat smile.  Is only the top half full on some nights? To me the fact that people for centuries have looked at the sky and used the information obtained to navigate across expanses of ocean of which I’ve still only seen a very small portion, is astounding and awe inspiring. You set a course and sail as close as you can in that direction allowing for variances in wind.  It was a good feeling when the Verdes rolled over the horizon after a week at sea. Glad we have GPS etc., I’d be shithouse with a sextant.



Day 22: Le petit Jesus un culotte du velours!
This is French. Literally it means “Little Jesus wearing velvet knickerbockers” and it is used to refer to something as being pretty bloody special, as indeed the sight of a mini Jesus wearing said costume would be. Mindelo is pretty bloody special. I love this place for reasons that I will never be able to fully convey here. The fact that it’s in the middle of nowhere means that it is not touristy at all. 


Enough said.


You step off the boat straight into the real deal. The language is Portugese officially but everyone speaks a kind of Creole. We found an amazing little place for lunch which had one dish one the menu, coral trout Creole style. 


Mut Zapp! (Bloody delicious!) 


Then we commandeered a bloke with a ute full of potatoes and onions and headed off over the volcanos to a few of the beaches, past ladies carrying big loads of bananas on their heads, through little villages of run down stone huts, kids playing in the dust and washing hanging among corn fields dotted with windmills, none of which seemed to be turning despite the decent wind. No seemed to mind either. 




Onion truck island tours inc.

There is very little money, and the harbor full of yachts is an easy target for people trying to make a buck in pretty much anyway you can imagine, but in my very limited experience of the place I’d say the people are happy. Definitely friendly.
Ponche! (Rum punch) or Groque (grog) are the two local tipples, and they kick your arse in a good way. The punch is the authentic stuff, made with lots of molasses (a kickback to the sugarcane slavery of the islands’ history) and limes. 5 bucks will get you 1.5L. I could go on and on, but we’re about to leave and I have to wash clothes and buy food (and punch). So here are some photos. Definitely no more stops between here and the Caribbean, more than 2,000 miles straight west.



Cheap rum punch and veggie market. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Back to the Story...

Days 5 and 6: Viva La Graciosa!



Accessible only by boat, this small island on the very northern tip of the Canaries is AWESOME. The volcanic nature of the place makes it part Medditeranean-esque seaside village, part moonscape, all brilliant. We arrived at the anchorage in a passage between the top of Lanzarote island and La Graciosa on the afternoon of Nov. 2nd, and after 5 days at sea, no sooner had the anchor hit the sandy bottom when I had a large glass of rum, jumped off the side of the boat, and went fishing – in that order, but not at the same time. Well the rum and the fishing part was pretty simultaneous, I just couldn’t work out how to swim while holding my rum without getting it all salty. Five nice-sized Black Bream later and we had the next day’s lunch sorted. They couldn’t get enough of my left over Gibraltar steak.


Rum, classical guitar on the stereo, sunset, bream, rum, moonlight, bream, rum, music, brum…you get the idea…
The next morning (sunny, again. Hating me yet?) we unhooked Freddy (mercury – the outboard motor) and winched Bob (the blowup zodiac dinghy) into the water and Dusty and I headed ashore, leaving Herve the gouty one to look after the boat. After a brief stroll to check out the volcanic scenery, including a real life sea shanty (made of rocks and shells with empty wine bottles outside and all!) I made a sunburnt stroll into town to get bread to go with the bream for lunch, which were cooked up to perfection on the BBQ. 


Hopefully I’ll find somewhere with internet soon (found it!) so I can put some photos up, because words just can’t describe how beautiful La Sociedad is. 


Soft, white sand leading from clear blue water up to palm tree-dotted streets of one-storey, whitewashed cubist (?) houses with sky blue doors and window frames, all immaculately maintained, with the odd elderly Spanish gentleman on his promenade (the evening stroll Spanish take after their siesta and before dinner). Even veteran adventurers Dusty and “The Canaries are all just black sand and drunk Irish tourists” Herve had good things to say.  Best paella I’ve ever had too, although admittedly that’s not 
saying much.



Day 7: Volcanos and surf
After making contact with Joy, another Cygnet, Tasmania local (seriously, what are the chances!? We’re everywhere!) who was staying at Rubicon marina at La Playa Blanca on the southern tip of Lanzarote island, we decided we’d drop in for a visit because we have a yacht and we can go anywhere we want. We woke to the forecasted gusting souwesterly wind and crashing waves on the far shore of the passage we were anchored in. Rounding the top of Lanzarote to a cranking soundtrack of Mastodon, Animals as Leaders and QOTSA, past large volcanic craters dotted with the odd church (please god, don’t destroy our humble village with fiery boulders and molten lava, amen) we hit the top speed of the trip so far with 8.6 knots, as 6 foot barrels peeled left and right along the petrified lava coastline, the same offshore wind that fed our sails lifting plumes of spray off their tops and misting up the air, adding to the whole primeval vibe. In fact, the water around Lanzarote is 2 degrees warmer than the other islands, purely due to the volcanic activity.


Lighthouse on a volcano. Tough.

The east coast of Lanzarote is more developed than La Graciosa, though all the buildings still maintain that same square, white design. Hundreds of them all together look amazing and add to the uniqueness of the place when contrasted to the martian countryside, though I couldn’t help but wonder if the similarity occasionally gives rise to issues with trying to find your own home after a hard night on the aguardiente. That stuff kicks arse. Tastes kind of like potato vodka and draino, only with a higher alcohol content and a worse hangover.
We made it into the marina at a little past 7pm. Coming in was a little more dramatic than it could’ve been, but nothing a touch of paint won’t fix. After being at sea for a while it’s a strange feeling when you get ashore, kind of like being really drunk when you’re sure everything else is moving. The marina routine was starting to consolidate: beers, chat, bottle of red, Herve charms waitress, dinner, digestivo (fancy word for strong alcohol consumed after dinner). As the oldies went to bed I wandered off on my own around the coastline to a place with live music, sat back, and quietly came to the conclusion that La Playa Blanca was kind of like a adult version of Tokyo Disney Sea, with bars instead of rides and fat European tourists instead of crying kids.



La Playa Blanca. Disney for adults.



Day 8: Viva Espanol!
Functional wifi seems to be rarer than the Spanish gold doubloons that filled the galleons who stopped here on their way to and from pillaging the Americas all those years ago. But funnily enough, it works fine on this rock outside the marina laundry, so here I sit, resorting to beer to maintain sanity after a quick trip to do the washing festered into a full day of laundro-tedium, the details of which no ones needs to be subjected to. I found a little Italian place for lunch right on the water overlooking the marina, the most memorable part of which was the gayest Italian/Spanish waiter on Lanzarote island, possibly the Universe. Priscilla, Queen of the Canaries.  Though while I’m on the subject, Spanish people have impressed me with their friendliness and vivaciousness. Seriously, that’s the right word! Coming from Tokyo where some (not all) neighbours I’ve known for years won’t say konnichiwa if they can avoid it, I must’ve said hola! at least 100 times to no one I’ve met before or will meet again. It’s good. I like it. Respect to the Spaniards. Must be the siesta, and the awesome weather, and the food…


Not much to complain about.

A great tapas dinner was the setting for discussions on how to avoid the debacle (and bow scraping) of our arrival into the marina the previous day. I finished my La Playa Blanca experience with a night time stroll along the coastline, past bars of retiree couples avoiding eye contact with each other while guitarist/singers belted out other peoples’ pop songs to varying degrees of success. But I was only half listening. Most of my attention was on the sea. New waters and new vistas awaited the next morning.


T A P A S


Day 9: Lanzarote to Fuerte Ventura
Refuelled and watered, we headed out of the marina and southward down the east coast of the island of Fuerte Ventura, aiming for an anchorage in the town of Gran Tarajal. With the wind on our back we brought out the spinnaker; 140m2 of sail that balloons directly out the front of the boat, picking up any tail wind and immediately giving us 2 or 3 more knots of speed. (1 knot is 1 nautical mile or about 1.8km/hour). We hit a new speed record of 9.6 knots (nearly 18 km/hour).
There is an ancient European maritime belief that women bring bad luck to a boat, no doubt made up by henpecked seamen desperate to get away from wives and domesticity in general. It’s bullshit. Joy, the Cygnetian I spoke of earier, had decided to join us as far as Gran Canaria, and not long after she came on board we hit our speed record, and then the fish struck. First a smallish but decent enough bonito, then 15 minutes later a mahi mahi (finally!). Not as big as the one that got away, but decent enough.  Both fish were fantastic eating that night. The bonito we did Japanese style with soy sauce and fresh grated ginger. The mahi mahi (one of the best eating fish there is) went on the bbq with a squeeze of lemon. Bewdy!



This is just the beginning...


That evening we anchored just off Gran Tarajal, much less Disneyland than La Playa Blanca, despite the neon merry-go-round/disco type thing blaring Spanish pop till the wee hours.  The east coast of Fuerte Ventura is dotted with tiny villages, almost enclaves, of little huts tucked between the volcanic formations. Villages that obviously had not been party to the massive funds injected into the resorts further up the coast, but by the same token had an air of permanence, which can’t be said about some of the tourist spots, now that the funds in Spain (and Europe, and the world?) are seriously drying up. Or so it seems back in the real world.



It's the second house on the left. The white one. Can't miss it!




Herve hailed a local fishing boat in the hope of scoring some crayfish. They didn't have any...



Top Gun on a sailing boat.

Fast sailing, good fishing and another awesome sunset were toasted with beers and chorizo in the cockpit, as we edged further south towards the trade winds that were to ‘carry us across the pond’ in a few days time.


Days 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 : Fuerte Ventura to Gran Canaria. Waiting for the wind…

Sitting amongst more civilization than we’ve seen for a while, in the anchorage at Las Palmas, the capital city of the main island of Gran Canaria. I’m attempting to burn the remaining white parts of my body to match the bits already done. It’s working. Arrived here from Fuerte Ventura last night and broke the speed record for this yacht in doing so. 11.7 knots, held by yours truly! (Suck it Herve, hehe). The wind has dropped so after typing it will be in town for an explore and to pick up more supplies. Still gotta fix the radio and get the snorkel on and scrub the slime of the hull.
Whenever entering a new port, the first thing you do is search out the 'Sailor's bar'. Every decent port has one. 


A few coldies here and then drink driving in motorized dinghys. Great fun!


Have met all sorts of interesting characters in the bars around the marina in Las Palmas. Got drunk with a skipper of a big racing yacht, and had beers with some English blokes who just chartered a catamaran to head across the Atlantic with the aim of learning to sail and scuba dive on the way to the Carribean to be treasure hunters.  Bars full of fascinating people getting drunk. Good stuff and makes for interesting banter.


 Part of the main bach in Las Palmas. 6 foot point break going off on the point too.




Korean people running a Japanese restaurant in Spain.  Ordering sushi from a Korean in Spanish was fascinatingly confusing. Can anyone spot Hello Kitty?



Now hopefully the wind will pick up and we can leave.  See you in the Caribbean.