Montanditos

Sunday November 30, 2014

Playa las Canteras

I have a new love.  They are called Montanditos.  I’m not sure if I’m in love with the sandwich or the chain…it’s just too hard to separate the two in my mind.  Probably because in my mind there is no separation.  But let me go back to how we got here.

Obviously we had a not so fun few days on the boat during a bit of bad weather, so when we woke up today and the sun was shinning, mission number one was to get out and do some real exploring.  The kind that leads to you more than just a grocery store.

The morning started out beautifully with a cup of coffee enjoyed out in the sunlight and surrounded by local kids practicing their sailing.  Masses of them engulfed our boat as orders were barked out in Spanish, and as Serendipity split them down the middle, they continued out into rising sun and the chaos of the harbor.

sailing dinghies in harbor

sailing dinghies in Las Palmas harbor

Slipping on a sundress and flats since we’re still in metropolitan civilization and these items always feel slightly out of place on the dusty dirt trodden paths of the Caribbean, we brought the dinghy into the marina to hit the town.  It turns out that even though the marina here has a ridiculously low price tag of 7€/night, we can enjoy being at anchor in the harbor for only 2€/night.  And since the marina is stern-tie only with no finger docks, it was a no brainer for us.

Strolling the sidewalk next to the harbor we came across a group of people slacklining on the beach between a few palm trees.  We’d also seen this happen on the beautiful Playa Norte in Isla Mujeres, but these people were serious about it.  Jumping onto the line without any assistance of hands and then bouncing over 5 feet in the air, we had to wonder if they earned their keep on whatever random island they happened to be inhabiting at the moment by either putting on shows or asking for tips.  I wouldn’t have been surprised if they did well for themselves by either of those means.

slacklining Las Palmas

 As we wandered the blocks and blocks of this large city, we realized that even in a big city, everything in Europe still shuts down on Sundays.  Except the Burger King.  That was still open and calling my name although it was nowhere near time to eat yet.  I memorized it’s location for our walk back.  Surely I wouldn’t be forced to eat sandwiches on the ‘Dip just because we’d finally found the Hiper Dino chain that was basically staring us in the face during our grocery store hunt on Thursday yet we somehow still missed it.

Following the helpful street signs around town we honed in on the way to Playa Canteras, my main destination for the day and one of Gran Canaria’s most famous beaches.  The sun kept deciding to play hide and seek with us and every few minutes I’d go back and forth between shivering and sweating.

As we finally came upon the beach the sky was still embedded with clouds, not normally the grand unveiling one hopes for…but this beach was so amazing that even an overcast sky could not hide all of it’s beauty and possibility.  Cruising the boardwalk for less than five minutes, both of us were throwing out what could now probably be considered to be our catchphrase of “I wanna live here”.  The beach had large crashing waves and yet was protected by a reef that sat a few hundred feet out.  Dark rolling hills surrounded each side and lounge chairs and umbrellas dotted the sand while colorful buildings provided an eye catching backdrop.

Instantly smitten, we took off our shoes to traipse in the sand and see what else this coastline had to offer.  Apparently one major thing that was coming up there was a grandiose sandcastle building competition.  Maybe not so much a competition as an event?  And maybe not so much sandcastles as just things built from sand?  I’m still working on my Spanish, but the banner in front of one large sand-item under construction gave the dates of December 5th – January 4th or something, so we should be here to see it in it’s full glory.  We’re allowing ourselves at least 10 days in Grand Canaria before we jump on the first weather window across the Atlantic.

boardwalk to Playa Canteras, Las Palmas

Playa las Canteras, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria

sandcastles on Playa las Canteras

Just when the sun seemed to be poking it’s way out from behind the clouds and my stomach was going into full grumble mode, just before it gets to I’m going to pass out unless you feed me now!, we started searching the strip for a place to eat a late lunch.

I’m not sure what caught my vision first, the golden rays reflecting off the draft beers of the patrons outside, or the golden rays shinning off the poster showing the 0,50€ coin, but my attention had been grabbed.  Matt loves a good deal and I love a good beer, so this place was definitely worth checking out.  As we wandered closer and looked at the banners with more detail, we could see that Domingos, todos montanditos solo 0,50€.  Well, it was Sunday and we were sure we could eat montanditos, whatever they happened to be, for only 50 cents.

Trying to make sense of the menu was still like trying to read Greek to us, we had no idea the protocol on how to order a group off the offering of 100 different options, but luckily the chain was there to save us once again.  They had put together four different categories of five sandwiches, leaving me only to have to go to the register and point at each one.  I had been able to decipher enough of what each sandwich included to know that I wasn’t getting something I didn’t want to put in my mouth.  Like that time I went for sushi with a few of my girlfriends and almost ended up with a nori roll including eel because I liked the name but never bothered to check the ingredients.

After sitting at a table with our tall drinks and waiting to hear “Yessica, por favor” over the loudspeaker, I went to pick up what would come to be my new obsession.  I’m still trying to figure out and even remember what came in each of these little treasures, but let me tell you…they were all delicious!  If the five of them hadn’t stuffed me to the point of almost having to be rolled out of the restaurant, I would have gone back for more and more.  Both of us were in love with the food and and I even had to agree with Matt that the price was unbeatable.  For 8€ we had gotten 10 montanditos and 2 tall drinks.  But more than that, it was soooo gooood.

Montanditos, Las Palmas

Add in some more beach strolling to work off all the food we’d taken in and finding the pedestrian mall on the way back to the marina, and we’re pretty certain that we could actually live here.  Maybe we’ll just put Serendipity for sale in Gran Canaria and wait around here for her to sell instead of sailing her back to Florida to do it?  I think that plan is sounding better every day.

Las Canteras boardwalk

Matt riding toy sailboat Jessica on toy sailboat

kid's sailboat ride

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The ARC is Gone, Time to Invade Las Palmas

Friday November 28, 2014

11.28.14

We made it to Gran Canaria. It’s crazy to think this will be our last stop before our Atlantic crossing. I still have mixed emotions about going back across since it seems like we just got to this side of the ocean. Part of me wants us to get delayed to no end so that I can enjoy land based time for as long as possible. The other part of me wants to get it over with as soon as possible, not only putting our long crossings behind us, but also getting to spend more time in the Caribbean with friends and tropical climates before throwing ourselves into major boat overhaul mode for the rest of 2015.

When we left Playa Quemachia on Tuesday I was still a little apprehensive of the 25 kt winds and 3 meter seas as the last time we had those conditions was going from Sao Miguel to Maderia, a passage I’d still like to block from my mind for so many reasons. But as we raised the main and glided out from the anchorage and into deep waters it was actually a pleasant sail. The wind was coming on our back quarter and the waves were gently lifting us up and pushing us forward. I laughed to myself and though, if this is what our crossing back to the Caribbean is going to be like then sign me up, I can totally handle this!

As usual Matt was down in bed basically as soon as the sails were raised and we were on course, preparing himself to stay up late for the first night shift. I spent the afternoon alone in the cockpit, snacking on Maria cookies and watching the volcanic peaks of Fuerteventura disappear into the horizon. All of the shifts passed incredibly quickly, neither of us had any issue falling asleep right when we were supposed to, and before we knew it we could see the lights of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in the dark. Not even one of those situations where you can see a glow in the dark, but we could actually make out lights even when we were 30 miles offshore. The sail had actually gone so well that we had to slow ourselves down in order not to arrive in the dark.

Based on the insane number of ships showing on our AIS we did not want to get anywhere near shore without full daylight on our side. Matt even had to wake me up early to try and figure out all the lights in the water that were surrounding us in the dark. Trying to figure out what tankers were anchored outside the harbor and what ones were still moving, if the tri color light in the distance belonged to a sailboat, and if so how far it was from us, and if that ferry running up directly behind us knew we were there. The only way to describe this harbor is controlled chaos. I don’t think we’ve ever been to such a busy port. It seemed like all the vessels knew what they were doing for the most part, but the number of them was completely astounding.

When the sky eventually grew light and we could make sense of everything we were seeing, it was a mad rush to the harbor to beat out all the other sailboats that had obviously been waiting on the same weather window we had to make the crossing here. Assuming that the marina would have limited space even now that the ARC had left, we did not want to get turned away and literally have to travel all the way to the other side of the island to find another marina. Punching down the throttle we literally raced in another boat that was trying to pass us and caught the right side to be on of a departing tanker, while the other boat had to slow down and wait for it to pass.

Alligning ourselves with the hundred masts in front of us we pulled up to the marina and saw the numerous boats anchored out front. Confused on why they were all out there, we thought that the only available anchoring here was directly in front of a set of breakers and that these boats must be out here because the marina was overfilled and there was no other place for them to go. We figured that as long as there were numerous boats at anchor versus the marina, we would join them until a staff member came out to let us know we couldn’t be there. May as well steal a few days at anchor if possible.

Somehow even though this was an incredibly short passage, both of us were completely drained of energy for the rest of the day. We slept away most of it and barley woke up in time to make dinner before going right back to bed for the night. Yesterday we did get off the boat long enough to wander a few blocks and find a grocery store to stock us up for the weekend. We also tried to make a stop in the marina office to check ourselves in, but after taking a number and sitting in a set of plastic chairs for 45 minutes while not a single new person was called up to the desk and we were fifth in line, we decided to put it off for another day. Completely forgetting that it was Thanksgiving back home we did nothing special and enjoyed our normal nightly routine of a movie from our hard drive while eating dinner.

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Today we had wanted to get off the ‘Dip and do a bit more exploring except a terrible front was moving through the area and making conditions unbearable. During the afternoon it was just cloudy skies and winds around 30 knots, nothing to cause worry but enough to keep us on the boat. Through the evening and into the night though, things only got worse. Much, much worse. Even though we were inside a very protected harbor, the winds blowing through were so intense that I shudder to think of what conditions offshore were.

While I tried to settle into the settee with a bowl of popcorn and a chick flick on my Android. Even with earbuds nestled tightly in my ear I had to pause the movie a few times to check the howling winds outside since they were becoming deafening. Turning on the instruments we watched the wind gust up into the 40s….and then stay there. Through the next few hours it kept raising and raising until we were getting sustained winds in the 50s. At that point panic started to set in as we just waited for our anchor to drag or for one of the boats ahead to drag back into us. The winds were so powerful that if our bow even started to fall a few degrees off of direct wind, it would catch our hull and start to push us beam in. Back and forth we twisted from one direction to the other, all the time thinking of the strain on our anchor and chain.

There was one boat next to us that dragged further and further out of the anchorage and into the shipping channel, but unlike the storm we experienced in Play Francesca, it would be suicide to send Matt out in the dinghy to alert or try to help them. Luckily they became aware of this problem very quickly and began to move themselves back into the anchorage. For a period though they were fighting winds so strong that even though I’m sure they were motoring at full power, they weren’t even able to move forward, only keep themselves from getting pushed backward.

Chatting online with my blog friend Kit that’s in Tenerife and experiencing even stronger winds according to Passage Weather, she relayed that what they were receiving was sustained winds and gusts into the upper 60s. Jealous of the fact that they were in a marina instead of at anchor like we were, I quickly was comforted with our location as she told me that on the way to the showers, sheet metal was peeling off buildings and flying into the anchorage. Her and a visiting friend had to literally drop to the ground to keep from being hit by one. Not anything I would like to experience.

Both Matt and I were kept up by this storm until 4 am when we were no longer able to keep our eyes open and the winds were just beginning to subside. So…suddenly that Atlantic crossing isn’t sounding so appealing anymore. I think a plane ticket and hired crew to sail Serendipity to the Caribbean sounds much better. Now if only I could find a trustworthy crew to do this for free…..

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Last Days in Lanzarote

Tuesday November 25, 2014

Lanzarote, Canary Islands

Leaving the marina on Friday we had a bit of an issue of where to go next. We didn’t want to continue to pay to stay there although conditions hadn’t settled enough yet for us to go back to our old spot. With few spots that give protection from the SW winds we were encountering we thought that we might just have to sail up Lanzarote to a cheaper marina although that didn’t sound very fun either. Luckily Matt had gotten on Active Captain and found an anchorage on the east side of Lanzarote that I had been completely unaware of. I guess it’s not used very often, and only three miles or so from one of the main towns that does hold a marina (with cheap rates), so most everyone passes it by.

There was a very small town accompanying the anchorage, something I can’t even remember the name of but somewhere along the lines of Playa Quimacha. As we sailed around the peninsula and up the coast, past an enclosed fish farm and into the anchorage, we noticed a few small homes and restaurants by the shore as well as what looked like a resort jutting out of one of the hillsides.

We expected to quickly get our anchor down and enjoy the rest of the afternoon with a Wuld beer and a sunset. Things didn’t go quite as planned. As we’ve been finding with just about every anchorage in the Atlantic Islands, the only shallow water (as in 35 ft) is butted right up against shore and then takes a dramatic drop off. As we puttered closer to shore we saw that what would have been a perfect anchoring spot in front of the resort was blocked off with buoys, probably a partitioned swimming area. Changing direction we had to head off to the far corner of the anchorage by a grouping of rocks and another boat. We didn’t want to be ‘that boat’ that anchors directly next to the only other boat in an anchorage (the sheep issue), but it was the only spot left that would be shallow enough to get the anchor dug in.

Trying to stay a fair distance from them we let the anchor down and went through our usual process of letting it set and backing down on it, when all of a sudden Matt was making frantic motions for me to switch to neutral. It turns out that our chain had gotten itself wrapped around a gigantic boulder sitting at the bottom and we were more or less screwed until it came free. The first and most obvious answer that went through my mind was to have Matt simply dive down on it and let it free. He doesn’t have much of an issue getting down to 30 feet, and if we were in tropical waters that’s probably what he would have done. A quick check of our gauges though showed the water temperature had now dipped from 72°, which is bad enough, down to 67°. Not impossible to swim around in for a few minutes, but definitely not pleasant either. That was now a last ditch resort.

If we did have a saving grace during this debacle it’s that the water is still crystal clear, even at 35 ft, so we could see exactly what was happening below as we looked down from the deck. Scratching our chins and just staring for a few minutes, we decided the best course of action would be to find out what part of the boulder the chain was coming up from, and then gently motor further in that direction and hopefully loosening it. With me behind the wheel once more and Matt at the bow giving directions we would make small movements in different directions to get the chain to unwrap. Forward, neutral, run up on deck to take a look, back to wheel. Reverse, neutral, take another look.

Not that I minded the act of having to do this to free ourselves, we had plenty of time before the sun was to go down and I knew we’d become loose eventually, but I hated to imagine what the other boat probably thought of us. Look at those silly Americans who have to anchor directly next to us in this wide open harbor, and can’t even properly get their anchor down. I almost wanted to shout over to them, “This isn’t normal, we’re usually very good at this process!”. But instead I kept my head forward and awaited further instructions.

In the grand scheme of things, the time to free ourselves from the boulder was actually much quicker than I thought it would be, or could have been. 10 minutes after we had originally got ourselves stuck we were free and off to find a sandy spot. Which did happen to be only a few hundred feet from the other boat since there happened to be a shoal that jutted out from shore and didn’t leave many other options. Once it was deemed that we would not swing into this other boat or into the shoal we let our guard down and went to enjoy the last 90 minutes of daylight with a Wuld and a new radio station we just found that pumped out electronic music all day.

The anchorage itself was very beautiful, with tall rock formations, dark sand beaches, and a cool dark teal color to the water which reminded me glacial areas that one would find near Alaska. There were a few terrible swells that rolled through during the rest of the evening, the kind that could send plates sliding off counters and shattering on the floor (we actually have had that happen to our Corelle dishware before), but somehow my seasickness seems to have departed for the moment, so instead I glued my eyes to the deadlight to watch how they were affecting the other boat and laughing in surprise when a few of them threw the boat far enough on it’s side that I could see the beginnings of their keel.

Yacht WinWin by Fuerteventura

Lanzarote, Canary Islands

sailboats at Lanzarote

We ended up spending the whole weekend in this spot as we waited for a weather window to open up that would carry us the 100 or so miles to Gran Canaria. We figured that during one of our afternoons sitting around we could run to shore and visit one of the little restaurants and use their internet while enjoying a beer or coffee to find out when we could make our escape. There were two issues with this plan though. One of them was that after our first night there we could not find a period of more than an hour where it wasn’t raining on us. Every time we’d start prepping ourselves to get in the dinghy and motor in we’d see a huge rain cloud coming over the horizon and then tell ourselves that we’d wait for it to pass and then try again. This happened for three days until we couldn’t take it anymore and were ready to go in, rain or shine. Never escaping the rain storms, we landed the dinghy on shore just as a new shower was starting and became soaked as we walked up the road to where the few restaurants were situated.

Sitting down at a table and ordering two steaming cups of coffee, we talked to the server and found out that not only did that particular place not have wifi, but it wasn’t available anywhere in that town. To get a signal you had to go to the next town over, three miles away. Bummed out and a little confused about what we’d do for the weather, we enjoyed the rest of our shore excursion while watching the dishes come out to the other patrons of the restaurant. It seemed that one very popular item was a large fish that was coated in salt and then lit on fire at you table before the server put it out after a few moments, scraped off the salt, and placed it’s toasting insides on your plate. It looked and smelled delicious, but no amount of persuading would get Matt to order it. He really is only into fish when it’s fried. And preferably freshly caught by us and therefore free.

In the end we were able to send out messages to my dad through our satellite phone and let him know the path we needed to take and what kind of winds we were looking for. Although we wouldn’t have been able to move all weekend anyway because of some very strong winds between the islands, a window finally came up for us to leave today. Our first overnight passage in a month. Instead of whining and complaining about having to spend a night at sea like I probably would have a year ago, all I could think of this time was ‘We’ll be there tomorrow morning. I can actually sleep about half this passage away. This is going to be so easy!’. Oh how things have changed.

storms over Lanzarote

Lanzarote, Canary Islands

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Stuck in Marina Rubicon

Friday November 21, 2014

Besteaver 18 in Marina Rubicon

Although we could have stayed in the Papagayo Peninsula forever, or at least until the madness that is the ARC leaves Las Palmas and we can move ourselves there, mother nature seemed to have other plans in mind. On Wednesday morning we were commenting how the wind was coming out of the south and kicking up a bit of swell, making things on Serendipity just a bit more uncomfortable than they had been even the few previous days. It became a bit of a game through the morning, to see how much we could tolerate. The only other option other than to put up with it would be to move ourselves to a marina and we were on a kick to see if we could go our whole time in the Canaries without having to enter one.

We were enjoying our second cup of coffee out in the cockpit, watching the waves coming our way starting to form cresting white tops, and both of us knew the game would be coming to an end as this was not only becoming unbearable, but possibly dangerous to stay. Calling Marina Rubicon on the VHF we asked if there were open slips and told them we were on our way and to expect us shortly. As Matt made his way up to the bow to raise the anchor it was diving in and out of the waves and splashing water all over him as I had to rev up the rpms just to get us moving far enough forward to bring it up. When I finally got the hand signal that I could start making my way to the marina I looked at the instruments in time to see the wind gusting over 40. Fully exposed to this as we were, we were grateful that we didn’t wait any longer than we had to try and get out of there.

Navigating the narrow entrance to the marina with waves now rolling on every side of us, we tucked into a slip just in time to watch the sky grow completely black and the winds really take off. Rains bucketed down and I had the satisfaction of enjoying this tremendous storm from somewhere safe now. When conditions settled down a little later we found our way up to the grocery store, something we were going to have to come to this side of town for in the next few days anyway, and stocked Serendipity back up with breads, meats, and even some cheap wine and sangria. For the rest of the night we let the rain rocket outside while the pressure dropped significantly, as we sat calmly at the dock enjoying a nice dinner and the use of internet. Hot showers followed which was almost, almost, worth the trip into the marina itself.

Conditions were not expected to improve the following day, in fact there were signs posted everywhere about the low pressure system moving through the area and mariners should take caution and put extra lines and fenders out to protect from possible damage. One night at the marina turned into two, and although we tried to enjoy our easy access to land again, nothing but dark skies and rain followed for another day, forcing us to sit on the boat, computers on lap, glasses full of sangria. Well, for me anyway.

Marina Rubicon, Lanzarote

storm over Marina Rubicon

Today the clouds finally broke lose and let the sun out again. Being the guests who stay just until the moment of check-out, we used our morning for a nice leisurely walk back to the grocery store to stuff our bags with everything we couldn’t the day before, and take one last hot shower. It is a little sad that bad weather had to force us in here as the grounds actually look very nice for when you can get out and enjoy them. There’s a nice pool surrounded by lounge chairs, an outside market set up two days a week, and a lovely path that runs from the marina almost all the way to where we had been previously anchored. The marina is in fact set in a community, full of white washed condos and apartments, which is probably why the cost to stay here is twice as high as any marina we found in Portugal (or that you can find in the rest of the Canaries, so we hear).

We tried to get as much out of our sunny morning as we could, wandering all the paths and looking at the much more expensive and better kept yachts on the far side of the marina. Matt even found a Besteaver sitting in one of the slips. A certain type of aluminum boat that he’s been drooling over for a few years now. And not only that, but it happened to be the same exact one that he has multiple photos of downloaded to his computer, of this particular boat floating through icebergs in the Arctic. I think these photos are meant to show me what our aluminum boat might be capable of, although I still have little to no desire to see ice floating by me from the deck of my own boat. Stick me on ’18’ as crew or charter for a few weeks on a trip to the Arctic  though and that’s something I might be able to get into.

Marina Rubicon, Lanzarote

Besteaver 18

paths around Marina Rubicon

paths around Marina Rubicon

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What’s Your Most Exotic Sailing Location?

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Having only been sailing on Serendipity for four years, just two of those as full time cruisers, we’ve mostly stuck to the east coast of the US and parts of the Caribbean. Although we’ve been to so many beautiful places and I count myself lucky almost every day that we’re out here living this lifestyle, there haven’t been many places on our list of travels so far that I would categorize as exotic or far flung. In my mind those areas described as unusual or excitingly strange tend to relate to isolated regions of beauty, normally a remote set of islands probably somewhere in the South Pacific. But we had never been any place that met that kind of criteria. At least in my mind at the time.

So when LOOK Insurance Services gave a list of their Top 5 Most Exotic Sailing Locations in the World and asked us to lend them a hand with what we thought our most exotic location was, one area shot straight to the front of my brain. I remembered that we now have been to an area of isolated beauty that’s unfamiliar, fascinating, and definitely romantic. The Atlantic Islands of Portugal.  Lying approximately 800 nautical miles off the coast of Portugal, they should be a top sailing destination for every cruiser and even fit into my mind’s criteria of exotic. Yes they are isolated, yes they are kind of far flung, and Yes, THEY ARE GORGEOUS!!

The specific Portuguese Atlantic Islands I’m including in my list the Azores Archipelago and the Madeira Island Group, and here are a few reasons of why we love them so much.

 

The sea life is amazing.

It never fails that no matter what port we’re in between any of these islands, there are always tours set up for whale watching, dolphin watching, and seal spotting. And with good reason too. They’re everywhere! Coming in to the ports of Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel Azores, and Funchal, Madeira, we had pods and pods of dolphins leading the way in. To the point that I actually got sick of watching them, which should really be a felony, because really, how can one ever become sick of watching dolphins glide and jump through the water? Plus even though we arrived fairly late in the season, we actually spotted whales! Short finned pilot whales mostly, but for a couple that couldn’t even spot a single bald eagle while traveling up the Potomac where they’re supposedly hanging off every buoy, getting even one whale sighting in for us was huge.

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The views from the water are staggering.

I have never been any place that has offered such great views of said place from the water in my life. When you come up on any of these islands from the water you’re normally greeted with sheer cliff drops into the water and rolling green hills of farm and/or white buildings with terracotta roofs flowing inland. It’s almost like stepping back in time to an era before resorts and hotels and super-malls blocking out any area of civilization, to when it was just nature and and the locals living off the land. Don’t get me wrong, there are still some resorts and hotels and mega malls tucked in here and there, but you can’t tell it from looking.  If we didn’t have to go through the trouble of getting in and out of a marina berth, I could honestly spend my days just cruising back and forth along the coastline.  If there was ever an area for daily pleasure cruises, this would be it. 

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The climate is a perfect balance of warm and cool.

You’d think that with such a northern latitude, equivalent to where you’d find yourself in the US anyway, would have fairly cool days and much cooler nights. Not quite, as the Gulf Stream runs just close enough to the Azores leaving them in a subtropical climate all year meaning it is warm but not overly hot. Spending most of August and September in the Azores we’d experience highs in the mid to upper 70’s and low’s in the upper 60’s. Getting to Madeira even later in the season in October, approximately 600 nm south of the Azores, we experienced much of the same there. This meant that the days were warm, even hot sometimes when the sun was beating down on you, but it was never stifling and there were always pleasant sea breezes blowing off the harbor. The nights cooled down just enough that it reminded you fall might be around the corner, that perfect temperature where it’s nice to bundle up in a sweater but know you’ll be able to peel it off the next morning.

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The landscapes are incredibly diverse

Think of basically any kind of landscape you’d like to see on a trip or vacation, and it’s likely you’ll be able to find it here. Large volcanoes towering out of the sea? Check. Deserts surrounded by beautiful jagged cliffs? Check. Opulent forests sprawling into rolling green hillsides? Check. Golden sandy beaches leading into clear (sub)tropical waters? Check. Isolated villages that look like they haven’t been touched in a hundred years, or large and upscale metropolitan cities? Check and check. At least one area in these islands, and usually multiple, will give you all of these and more. It’s literally the place that offers everything.

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The cities are like something out of a storybook.

Do you remember the photos I shared from Picturesque Horta? How incredibly surreal and beautiful everything looked? Trust me, that wasn’t just for the cameras. Every direction you turn your head in these areas holds parks, markets, beautiful old world architecture or churches that have been standing for a hundred years, and all of them looked like they were set up to be part of a movie except it was actually real life.  There hasn’t been a single area in any town or village we’ve visited where ours jaws have not been on the floor due to their charm and grace.

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Island hopping is easy and enjoyable*

Situated in an area with steady north to northeast tradewinds make moving east, west, or south between the islands incredibly easy. Granted, we did most of our traveling through here in the fall where the weather was a little stronger than normal, but plan your visit from mid-late spring through summer and you’ll find reliable 15-20 knot breezes under brilliant sunny skies to carry you from one destination to the next. In the Azores, the nine islands are clustered together in three groups meaning that most sails are within sunrise to sunset distance of each other, but never more than a day and a half apart. Getting between the Azores and Madeira is about a five day travel, but if you’re moving south you’ll have the wind and current at your back to push you smoothly along.

*Don’t base this on our own travels of the area where every weather forecast was wrong and we ended up with strong winds on our nose. That’s not the norm.

ESL 8

 

The cost of living is not very high

I may not categorize this with the extreme cheapness we were experiencing in Central America, but I’d say that our costs here are on par with, or even a little lower than what we were paying in the US.  Our main expenses were groceries and marina charges, and although I might have to consult our monthly costs, I think we’re on average below what we were in Florida.  We’d heard that Europe is expensive, and when we arrived here we were blown away with the cheap prices we’ve been finding everywhere.  I will say that we’ve heard Portugal has the lowest cost of living between countries in the EU, but to only have to pay 1€ for a bag of sandwich rolls, 1€ for a bag of potato chips, 1,25€ for a bag of coffee grounds, or 0,60€ per bottle of beer, we’ve been doing pretty good.

ESL 11

 

I could go on and on about the million other tiny reasons of why we fell so deeply in love with this area. The history, the cleanliness, the safety, plus it’s European flavor. Trust me, the cheap espressos, wine, and cheese have not gone unnoticed.  Plus all of the impromptu (and free) festivals, concerts, and other events always going on.

Needless to say, if the season and our Visas allowed us, we could spend months and even into years enjoying these island groups. Besides Guatemala, it’s the only place we’ve ever seriously considered buying property because we never wanted to leave.

Unfortunately they’re not on a highly traveled cruising route. The best way to get to the Azores is heading east across the Atlantic, although Madeira wouldn’t be too far out of the way for those making their way south upon leaving the Med. So if you ever find yourself with the opportunity to visit any of these islands, hop on that chance right away. I promise it will be something you’ll never regret.

But now that I’ve shared our favorite and most exotic sailing location with you, I’d like to know, what’s yours?

ESL 4

ESL 13

*I will note that if there is one big downside to cruising this area it’s that protected anchorages are very hard to come by. If you sail here be prepared to spend a majority of your time in a marina. The upside to this though is they usually cost a fraction of the price they do back in the States. Our 34 ft boat was usually 14€/night.

 

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Just Can’t Get Enough

Monday November 17, 2014

sunset over Playa Papagayo

That’s right, we’re back in Playa Papagayo. We just can’t seem to get enough of this place. When the swells at Los Lobos started to become a little too unbearable, coupled with the fact that we knew we’d need to go grocery shopping in the next few days, we couldn’t think of any place we’d rather be. Well, we would like to be on our way to Gran Canaria, but not until the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers departs, because I am not ready to deal with that kind of crazyness right now.

Unfortunately the swells we were trying to escape just five miles away aren’t a whole bunch better in this spot as the winds have been lightly blowing from the south and the west where we’re completely exposed to them. There hasn’t been any seasickness on board though, and I’m taking it as a challenge as to what’s coming in the next few weeks. I know I won’t be lucky enough to experience two completely calm crossings in a row. But if I can just get used to some light rocking back and forth then I might be ok. The funny thing is I seem to be handling them better than Matt half the time. My succubus powers must be increasing.

Most of our afternoons and evenings have been spent in the cockpit just enjoying the fresh air around us. It still doesn’t cease to amaze me how much I can not get enough of this simple act after spending three months in marinas where A.) There was nothing much to view from that spot; B.) It was too cold and/or rainy; and C.) There were so many cruise ship tourist wandering past our boat that I felt like an animal on display at a zoo if I were to venture outside the cabin where they could see me. But this….sigh…this has been heaven. And the views here are unimaginable. Especially the sunsets reflecting on the mountains and rocks.

During our al fresco wine-fest each evening, Matt would partake in his favorite act of taking out the binocs and watching ‘the show’ on shore. The show that we’ve noticed from our first time here happens every single night without fail. Some girl and her boyfriend will come to one of the coves in the mid to late afternoon and do the usual lounging and swimming activities that we did ourselves. But as the crowd begins to thin as others make their way back to their hotels to clean themselves up before going out to dinner, the girl will slowly become more confident and have her boyfriend begin photographing her in this picturesque landscape. It usually starts with her just standing on the beach or maybe wading into the water with the basic hands on the hip pose.

But, as the crowds disperse even further, the girl always gets more brazen. The poses become maybe a little silly. Cartwheels and handstands. Then once they are the only ones left in the cove they become sexy, laying and rolling in the sand as they both assume there is no one left to see them. I swear this goes on every single night and we’ve actually begun taking bets in the late afternoon of which couple will be the one performing the photo shoot in a few hours. Somehow I always seem to loose this bet. I guess Matt has a talent for seeking out hidden brazenness in girls.

We’ve been extremely enjoying our time here and have no reason to leave anytime soon. It is sad that we might have to miss out on a few of the far west Canary Islands since they seem to share landscapes that are closest to the Azores, but we’ve heard anchorages are almost impossible to find over there and we have a good thing going at the moment. Besides, as Matt likes to keep telling me, as soon as the new boat is up and ready to go we’ll be right back to the Azores on our way up to the Baltic Sea. I’ll let him keep dreaming just a little longer.

drinking wine with Georgie

Matt with his binocs

 

Georgie in the sunset

sunset over Playa Papagayo, Lanzarote, Canary Islands

sunset over Serendipity

dusk at Playa Blanca, Lanzarote

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Isla Los Lobos, Fuerteventura

Saturday November 15, 2014

Isla Los Lobos, Fuerteventura

It was nice to have the conveniences of Puerto Rosario, but we were more than ready to get out of the industrial port and trade it for something a little nicer on the eyes. Our next destination was Isla Los Lobos at the northern tip of Fuerteventura. It was a placed we had originally passed on our way down and tossed back and forth in our minds if we should stay there. Our 20 year old guide book listed it as a nice day anchorage, but with too much swell running between the island and the mainland, not a place you’d like to stay overnight. But with the idyllic posters the guy at the information center showed me, accounts of a friend that had just been there, and the fact that we saw about a dozen masts there when we passed it the first time, we knew we couldn’t give it up.

Waiting for winds that would allow us north again, we figured a clam would be the next best thing and turned on our engine at the early hour of 5:30 to give ourselves plenty of time for the 20 some mile hop. We had currents pushing us all the way down Lanzarote and feared they may work against us on our way back up the island. No need to fear though as we traveled at a swift five and a half knots at 2,000 rpm and made it in just over three hours. I guess my math was wrong as well and the trip was only 15 miles. Oops! sunrise over Fuerteventura

sunrise over Fuerteventura, Canary Islands Coming in we had to be very careful of reefs and shallows on each side of us, breaking waves showing the danger we could be in if we drifted too far off course. All the guide books had listed this area as extremely popular for all kinds of extreme water sports and we were starting to see why. High winds wrapping around, strong currents, breaking waves. No wonder a world famous kite boarding championship had just been held in this stretch the previous week. Inching our way into the anchorage we dropped near the back in 40 feet of crystal clear water and took the rest of the day to relax, nap, and watch the charter/party catamarans that would bring tourists over from the mainland for a few hours to swim, drink, and play incredibly loud music. At least it was good though, none of that 80’s stuff that we can’t seem to outrun here.

Isla Los Lobos, Fuerteventura

Our second day I was ready to get out and do something. There’s been lots of lying around beaches or touring city streets in our docket lately, but not much exploring. I had been very excited to get on to the island itself to see what it had to offer. After drifting precariously close over reefs and darting in and out of what we thought were coves in the dinghy, we finally found a spot to land and found out that all the island of Los Lobos had to offer were rocks. Lots and lots of rocks. Not even the pretty kind either. As we walked down the dirt paths it felt as if we had been deposited in a landfill of rubble.

bay at Isla Los Lobos, Fuerteventura

trails at Isla Los Lobos

Back at the boat we took in a quick lunch and were right back in the dink for some snorkeling. During our hunt for an entrance to the bay at Los Lobos we had gone over tons of coral as well as seen multiple dive boats anchored outside of the area. A pretty good indication that there must be something of worth in the water. Donning our wet suits and masks we slipped below the surface of the water and into quite a shock at it’s temperature. A chilly 72°! I remember the days when I wouldn’t even get into Lake Michigan until it was pushing 75°. Sucking it up, I skimmed along under the water and just gave myself more motivation to cross the Atlantic once more and get back to those balmy 82° seas of the Caribbean.

Although there was no color to the coral surrounding us, there were definitely fish abound. On one of Matt first dives down to check out a rock he even found an octopus hanging out under there, something that’s been on his bucket list of things to see in the water. By the time I went down to catch a glimpse of it as well it had already hidden itself out of sight. Instead of searching for it even further as Matt was, taking dive after dive under the water and holding on to the rocks to keep him submerged while he looked in every nook and crevice, I was happy to float at the top and watch the parrot fish which swam below me.

For water that was so cool we stayed in a lot longer than I expected for only having ¾ suits, about 45 minutes in total. We also found the local drinking hole, hundreds of glass beer and wine bottles nestled into the sand just below a set of flat rocks that hung out at the surface. I’m pretty sure Matt could have gone a few more rounds through the bay, but he must have noticed that I was beginning to shiver and keeping my arms wrapped around myself the whole time, so he led us back to the dinghy where I took in a fresh water rinse and some sunbathing up on deck to warm myself back up.

anchorage at Los Lobos

beach at Los Lobos, Fuerteventura

In the evening just before sunset I ushered us both out into the cockpit where I had a nice little spread set up for us that I had been waiting for the perfect surroundings to appriciate. Having made up some bruschetta and toasted french bread earlier in the day, I went to pair it with the bottle of Maderian wine we bought in, where else, Maderia. Opening the top with it’s thick resealable cork, I poured us each a full glass and we went to toast in the glow of the setting sun. Then taking big sips of our revered wine, we simultaniously went back and forth between spitting it out and gulping down what was left while our throats burned like fire. No one had told us that Madeiran wine was actually more like a port. Thick and strong with a heavy liquor taste. We had both been prepared to enjoy it as if it were a chilled Rosé.

Matt poured his glass over the side of the boat while I continued on with mine, taking very light sips as if I were drinking straight rum. It wasn’t bad once you knew what you were in for, but I’m beginning to think this one bottle could very well last six months. Not to bad considering we paid about 6€ for it. Other than the initial surprise and fire in our throats, the evening was soon remedied when Matt had a Pepsi in his hand and I was chasing my wine with water. Good thing we never had the chance to bring that bottle to one of the parks in Maderia to drink like we had originally planned. I think we would have put on quite the show for any unsuspecting tourist that might have had their blanket spread next to ours.

sunset over Fuerteventura, Canary Islands

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One Week in Puerto Rosario, Fuerteventura

Wednesday November 12, 2014

Tapas in Fuerteventura

For a town that we only stopped in to check into the country, we spent way too much time in it.  Being an industrial town that drops off loads of cruise ship passengers each week yet we have no idea what they do because we spent  8 days and couldn’t find anything to do other than wander the mall, we really spent to much time here.  But so it goes.

When Matt asked what our next destination was after Playa Papagayo, I looked at my trusty map drawn up by Island Drifter and saw that on the neighboring island of Fuerteventura there were two ports of entry and only one of them was suitable to anchor in.  No more marinas here for quite awhile, thank you.  It was a windless day as we sailed down, until we were only a few miles from the port and the clouds rolled in and winds kicked up.  We were both thankful to find a calm spot to drop anchor and just prayed that winds would not shift to the east during our stay there.

Getting off the boat and going in search of the port official and then the Policia Nacional, I found that it is indeed impossible to check in to the Canary Islands.  Just don’t even bother until you get to Gran Canaria, it’s not worth the trouble because no one will have any idea what you’re talking about.  But the good thing about the whole debacle is that I spent about an hour in the tourist information station talking to an extremely helpful man named Jose who gave me all the ins and outs of Fuerteventura.  And suddenly it became clear of why a cruise ship comes here.  This is the only port that can handle a ship of that size, and everyone is immediately shipped off to other parts of the island where there were more interesting things to do.

I loaded myself up on brochures and bus schedules and planned our week here although Matt was planning to get out, with the boat, asap.  The other good thing about stopping in the information booth is that Jose gave me the low-down on his favorite local restaurant, a place that served tapas for only 1€ on Mon-Fri.

As it turned out, every day we were there we thought we’d be leaving the next day so we never took one of the tours by bus although there were plenty of things we would have liked to see.  Instead we toured the town which had some parts that were actually pretty nice, and wandered the giant mall where it felt to strange to see Christmas decorations already going up.  We did manage to find the tapas restaurant, El Expresso, and twice in the week sampled random items off the menu and enjoyed beers, usually ending with only a 10€ tab including the tip.

In the afternoons, if the sky wasn’t completely overcast, we sat in the cockpit and watched all the local children partake it the town’s yacht club where they’d learn different water activities.  In droves we’d see them launch themselves out into the water in kayaks, sailing dinghies, and windsurfing boards.  Sipping on wine and nibbling on bruschetta we’d look on as they’d skim by our boat, laughing and yelling in Spanish.  It was really great not only seeing an opportunity like this offered to the local children, but to see how many were taking advantage of it.

The week we ended up staying in Puerto Rosario was still lazy and relaxing, but in a completely different way than we had been enjoying in the Papagayo Peninsula.  Here our days consisted of taking advantage of the incredibly cheap groceries at the local Hiper Dino, about 60% of the price of the same chain in Playa Blanca, and sitting at the local cafes to enjoy some tapas or coffee & milk while playing around on our computers.  I am sad that we didn’t get to explore more of the island, maybe check out the northern coast where they filmed the movie Exodus last year, but I know there’s still plenty more sights in store for us in our time in the Canaires.

Fuerteventura, Canary Islands

coast of Fuerteventura

Puerto Rosario port, Fuerteventura

Spanish tapas

water sports in Fuerteventura

Matt

Fuerteventura

 

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R&R in Playa Papagayo

Tuesday November 4, 2014

Papagayo Peninsula, Lanzarote

As if spending three days fully relaxing at Playa Francecsa after we’d just made our way over from Madeira wasn’t enough, we’ve been doing nothing more but the same ever since we arrived here in Playa Papagayo.  Unless you count forcing yourself off the boat to lounge in sandy coves with sparkling seas in front of you hard work.  Oh, and there was that one trip into Playa Blanca for exploring, a lunch out, and internet.

Our first full day in the Peninsula it was a little overcast, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to get out to do a little exploring.  Not that there seemed to be much more than just sand and a few rocks to the untrained eye, but according to the Canaries guidebook that our dear friends on Skebenga bequeathed us, there was a very popular and eye catching cove at the southern end of the point.  It seemed as if everyone visiting this island had the same guidebook I did since even though it was a bit out of the way, the beach was crowded and the one restaurant overlooking had every table full.

The cove itself was beautiful with emerald green waters dotted with rocks and coral, sporting the random head and bum of someone snorkeling through it.  The somewhat hazy sky did dampen my perfect shots a little though, and after making Matt stand on a rock at the top for 25 minutes waiting for the sun to come back out so I could get that perfect guidebook worth shot of the cove, I relented and we walked back to the dinghy and scouted a place to head back the next day with beach supplies in tow.

Playa Papagayo, Lanzarote

Playa Papagayo, Lanzarote

Playa Papagayo, Lanzarote, Canary Islands

Playa Papagayo, Lanzarote, Canary Islands

Playa Papagayo, Lanzarote, Canary Islands

Getting fully back into beach mode we spent the next few days tucked into one of three coves along the coast.  Although they seem inacessable, we’d still find small crowds of Brits and Spaniards that would either take the death defying (ok, not really) hike down from the top of the cliffs, or wait for low tide and stroll over the exposed and flattened rocks.  It was still more secluded and much cooler looking than the main beach though, so every day we’d load up the dinghy with our sport-a-seats and a cooler full of beer and snacks, and land ourselves there for a few hours of lounging.

Even though I should be promoting good skin care and staying out of the sun as much as possible, I completely spent a few days drinking in as much as possible.  There are few things I love more than the feel of a warm sun on bare skin, and seeing as how we hadn’t had a beach in front of us in months and being covered in clouds for the latter part of our time in Portugal, I figured I could sacrifice a few days.  Slathered in SPF 30 from head to toe.

After the third day of doing nothing but soaking up sun and Portuguese beers, we decided to do a little wandering to the main beach to see what we could find.  Turns out, it was all people fully eligible for retirement that could not be coaxed into wearing a stitch of clothing.  Masses of them engulfed the sands as they could not be persuaded to sit still; strolling, swimming, and bending over all over the place.  It was kind of cute, really.  The way they ran into the water with all the enthusiasm of a four year old child who was just told they were allowed to have cupcakes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.   These silverhairs were camped on the beach with cups full of beer, a sun high in the sky, and good friends surrounding.  It was kind of like watching MTV Beach House: The Golden Years.

At the far end of the beach, after we’d passed the gauntlet of saggy skinemax, we were rewarded with a relatively easy climb to the tops of one of the cliffs which afforded rapturous views of the anchorage and beach below.  The wind up there was something else though, and Matt was literally worried that I’d blow away.  Trust me, it’s one place you do not want to take a spill.

I wish I could have included more photos of this area as it was so stunning, but it was also really hard to get any shots without  any T&W (ta-ta’s and wang).  So just take my word when I tell you it’s a place not to miss on your trip through the Canaries.  Unless you can’t handle ta-ta’s and wang.

Papagaya Peninsula, Lanzarote

Sagres beer & beach

Papagayo Peninsula, Lanzarote, Canary Islands

Matt & Jessica on Lanzarote

 When we finally dragged ourselves back to the ‘Dip in the late afternoon we wallowed in lazy time including naps, matinees, and many snacks.  When the sun started to go down we’d take our seats in the cockpit to watch the show, all the while helping to empty the 5L box of white wine we purchased in Portugal.

I know, cry for us all you want, we lead such a ‘tough’ life, but I think our time here is exactly what we needed.  A return to our type of cruising filled with swaying on the hook, days full of sun & sand, and nights full of starry skies.

sunset over Fuerteventura, Canary Islands

georgie

11.4.14 (7)

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Sunday Sandstorm

Sunday November 2, 2014

Playa Papagayo, Lanzarote, Canary Islands

There seems to be an odd sensation with the weather here in the Papagayo Peninsula where, even though every afternoon and evening is sunny and picturesque, almost every single morning has brought something resembling the apocalypse on the horizon. This desert landscape can look menacing enough on it’s own at times, barren and jagged and desolate. The setting sun can also make it look as something out of a daydream, perfect burnt oranges and reds creating a smouldering fire of boulders and mountain peaks. These mornings however, make our little 34 ft boat look as if it’s going to be swallowed whole by the enormous clouds that gather in the distance and edge closer.

Our second morning here I was up with the sun, which is quite an odd occurrence in our house boathold. Giving in to Georgie’s whines and mews as she stared at the plexiglass keeping her from observing these new and strange surroundings, I decided to join her for some fresh air and to try and keep myself from making too much noise down below and disturbing Matt while he still slept.

The scene to the east where the sun was making it’s way over the cliffs seemed normal enough, but then turning my head toward Playa Blanca in the opposite direction, massive clouds swallowed the sky. Very beautifully though. Bright oranges and yellows reflected off them as the sun was still shining in it’s full glory just above the horizon.  For a few minutes I sat up on deck trying to watch the direction these monsters were headed and wondering what kind of destruction they could hold for Serendipity if they came our way.

Staring for a good long while I noticed they should be moving away from us and I could fully enjoy watching the destruction they might cause elsewhere since it would no longer involve me.  The clouds that had looked like they were going to stomp down on the land and leave Lanzarote’s mountains and volcanoes flat eventually spread out just as the sun was rising high enough to meet them in the sky.  A large and sprawling rainbow began to form in the spaces between gray and blue in the sky and left me stunned for a good thirty minutes until it disappeared.

storm clouds over Playa Blanca, Lanzarote

Georgie in Playa Papagayo

rainbow over Playa Papagaya, Lanzarote

Georgie & rainbow

rainbow over Playa Blanca, Lanzarote

This morning however, it was the strong and powerful winds that got me out of bed with the sunrise instead of Georgie.  Since Matt still had not stirred yet I went outside to check everything out and see if it was one of those things where I could quickly join him back in bed.  It was not.

The winds on the water looked just as fierce as they sounded and after turning on our instruments I saw they were holding in the low 30’s and gusting up to 40.  On top of the winds, sitting just above the highest peak in the Papagayo Peninsula was a black mass that was definitely headed our way this time.  The colors of it all were so strange, not like the storms we’re used to, and I didn’t know what that meant for us.  Rain?  Tornado?  Voldemort?

As I watched the darkness grow closer and closer I kept waiting for the worst part of it to hit us, watching it come over the water and striking the boats in front of us.  Except, when it did get to us, nothing changed.  There was no rain, no increased wind, just a little decrease in visibility.  It took me a few minutes to figure out, but then it finally hit me.  A sandstorm!  Duh, I knew Lanzarote had them, I’d just read about it on Bumfuzzle’s account of their time on the island.  (It’s how I find out important information like they have a KFC)

Even though Matt would be much more upset about these tiny red particles of dust hitting us than a thunderstorm, or possibly even Voldemort since he would at least be kind enough to only leave wizard’s bodies in his wake which are easy enough just to roll overboard, I watched in astonishment as this sand rained down in the distance and illuminated hazy rainbows on the water.  Don’t worry Matt, I’m sure whatever threatening weather tomorrow morning holds will wash away all the dust.

sandstorm over Lanzarote, Canary Islands

sandstorm over Playa Blanca, Lanzarote

rainbow in a sandstorm

 

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