Sailing in Paradise

BLog for John & Julia Freeland sailing in Mary Ann II

31 May 2013 | Nevis
30 December 2011 | Bridgetown Barbados
30 November 2011 | Mindelo, St Vicient, Cabo Verdes
13 September 2011 | Lazarote, Canaries
31 July 2011 | Croatia
07 July 2011 | Sardinia
30 June 2011 | Italy
31 March 2011 | Greece
15 March 2011 | Intaly
31 December 2010 | Lefkas Greece
11 November 2010 | Ithica Greece
10 October 2010 | Corinth Greece

Notes from the Cabo Verdes

30 November 2011 | Mindelo, St Vicient, Cabo Verdes
November 2011

Greetings from the Cabo Verdes,

In our last message from Mary Ann we had hoped for about a month in the Canary Islands and then to head for the Cape Verde Islands which are about 750 miles south. Only a very few boat crossing the Atlantic don't stop over in the Canaries as it is the minimum 'southing' to catch the trade winds. The Canaries have been a regular "jumping off" spot for the Americans since Christopher Columbus's first voyage. Well despite being part of the EU things tended to take forever to arrive by air freight so we ended up spending a couple of months in the Canaries. On the whole we were thoroughly charmed. As a mass tourism destination for Europeans, somewhat analogous to Hawaii in the US, we had rather low expectations for the islands. This was perhaps lowered even further being part of Spain's tourist industry. What we encountered were friendly, warm people who were proud of their islands and in most instances had not allowed every square inch of beach to be covered with concrete, egg carton-like construction. There were even interesting museums and art galleries, a well entrenched café culture and lots of natural beauty.

As a sailor you get a slightly different feel of a place and its inhabitants than as a hotel guest. In Gran Canaria we spent a month trolling the boat chandleries, sail maker, electronics shop, numerous hardware stores, electric shops, finding a stainless steel supplier, TIG welder, a machinist, etc. Although these are certainly service industries, they survive in small places by providing things which often nobody else has. Being charming and gracious does not happen because they have quarterly training sessions on 'customer satisfaction' - no they are kind, proud people with a sense of community who are generous with their smiles and their help.

The Canaries are not tropical they miss that distinction by around 250 miles but the climate was very hospitable and winter is not dissimilar to that say in the Bahamas. In fact one climatological institute declared it one of the best climates on the planet. There are seven main islands all volcanic in origin and like Hawaii there is current volcanic activity on El Hiero, the smallest island. The largest island, Tenerife, boasts the highest mountain in all of Spain and the massive area surrounding this volcanic cone is a moonscape which reminded me of some of those other-worldly areas in Death Valley. Although relatively dry, say compared to the Caribbean, the higher mountain slopes on the windward side of most of the islands are covered in beautiful pine forests and dotted with quaint towns and villages often with a conspicuous lack of unfettered development. There are even a number of rain forests on several islands. The Canaries certainly do have their areas of gross overdevelopment with sections of concrete coast, lined with tourist restaurants, trinket shops and bars but on the other hand without those, there would be no £79 flights back to the UK. Everything seems to come with a price. Despite seeing very little rain in months and virtually none in the Canaries, the one day that Julia got a chance to go horseback riding in southern Tenerife, it rained so hard the riding got cut short an hour (she still loved it.)

We often have a theoretical conversation of "when we're too old for the cruising life" where will we settle? We have fallen in love with lots of places and have nixed plenty, but the Canaries have won their way to the top of that list. As we age and health care concerns become more of an issue, then being part of the EU is a big consideration so I suspect that the Canaries may just stay at the top of the list.

Our passage to the Cabo Verde islands was on the whole uneventful but demonstrated how despite their size, the oceans are one giant driver of climate and weather. Modern technology, which is much more reliable than in the nineties when I last cruised, allows us to get reasonably accurate wind predictions for about a week ahead. These predictions have been more accurate in the ocean than they were in the Med. We left the Canaries on a 750 mile trek to the Cabo Verdes expecting light winds for a day and then trade wind type conditions for about the next five. The passage took 6 day and 7 hours. What we didn't quite expect was that a very strong low pressure system, which had formed over northwestern Atlantic, 2000 miles away, would send large swell from the northwest, which when combined with the normal wind driven waves from the northeast would give us the feeling of spending six days in a washing machine. No safety risk or real hazard but not the most relaxing of passages. I say no risks but in fact cooking is a concern in rolly seas (my only serious injury in 50 years of sailing was a scald) and the other is that insidious old villain - fatigue. We both got through a few novels and watched few decent videos, collected six flying fish off the decks, watched some beautiful starry nights and followed the same route as Columbus, Vasco de Gama, Magellan, Humboldt and Drake along the Portuguese trades.

So far the Cabo Verdes feel very much like Africa more than the European feel of the Canaries. The wealthiest country in western Africa, the GNP per capita is $1400 (US). We are on the island of Sal which means salt. Their only export for years was - you guessed it - salt. They used to pump sea water into an extinct volcanic crater and let it evaporate. The onslaught of modern refrigeration to preserve meat and fish instead of salt killed this industry but it is an interesting attraction, complete with a tunnel into the crater. The port town is not very prosperous but no one looks malnourished except some of the poor dogs. There is a fairly small area of shanty-town near the main town which we're told is mostly Nigerians and Senegalese. Mussolini built an airport here for the southern transatlantic air routes when refueling was an issue and this has spawned the current tourist industry. The mass development has only affected the southern end of this island and us yachties feel like we might as well be in Senegal up here in the north. The coast line is really spectacular and we were quite mesmerized by the geyser-like plumes of breaking surf at one of the rocky coves. The main attraction of Sal is its kite surfing beaches which look quite fantastic. As the wind is coming from the Sahara desert then over only 175 miles of ocean on its way here this island is very dry and even boasts a reliable desert mirage. Many of the other 10 Cabo Verdes islands, being much higher get much more rain especially on the sides facing the trade winds. Despite there being lots of dogs here, which appear generally ignored, the children in the port vie with each other to pet him and to hold his lead, a real local celebrity. Thus far: friendly people; no boat boys extorting money to 'watch' your dinghy like the Caribbean and the classic tropical attitudes towards bureaucracy - we've been trying to check into the country for three days.--Manana, manana....

One of my favourite saying is "we have no plans and we're sticking to them." So maybe we'll leave the Cabo Verdes in early December, maybe later. If they do turn out to be "like the Caribbean before it got spoiled" well we probably won't rush off. We'll see.

Wishing you all fair winds.
Julia, John and Murphy
Vessel Name: Mary Ann II
Vessel Make/Model: Westsail 32
Hailing Port: York
Crew: Julia Freeland
After have spent the past two years sailing the med and then crossing to the Caribbean, the cruised 6 months in the windward islands, then 7 months in the UK. We're now back in Grenada getting ready to cruise the Leeward Isles. [...]

Who: Julia Freeland
Port: York