Friday, October 30, 2009

Photos of Canary Islands

Photos of the Canary Islands. Click here to view the photos.

Getting ready

In addition to the successful replacement of the propeller anode, we have been busy with preparations for our upcoming passage to The Gambia followed by Cape Verde and Suriname. We are planning very conservatively to ensure that we have enough supplies to last us until we arrive in Suriname at Christmas time even though we will probably be able to get many things along the way.

The boat has been an almost constant disaster for the past week, strewn intermittently with tools, laundry, food provisions, and visiting fellow travelers helping each other and exchanging ideas. We have come to the conclusion that you can never be completely ready, you never have all of the cool gadgets and provisions that other people have but it is great fun to discuss and taunt each other on these subjects.

Among our tasks have been the replacement of the anode on the propeller, installation of the new autopilot, installation of mosquito nets, reparation of the water tanks, installation of a back-up auto pilot, refilling the cooking gas tanks, marking the anchor chain, designing and hanging fruit nets, buying enough food and drinks for the next two months (not to mention finding places to stow it), studying the charts and pilots and planning an SSB and marifone communication plan to keep in touch with the other boats along the way. There were also a vast number of other small but time consuming tasks and all in all we have been buzzing busily.

There are five boats that are travelling on Friday and Saturday to The Gambia (travelling at varying speeds and expecting to arrive at approximately the same time), two Dutch (s/y Victory and Tangaroa), one Dutch and Danish (s/y Mjolner), one Dutch and Canadian (s/y Pjotter) and one new boat who's crew usually lives in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada (s/y Atmosphere). The harbour in San Sebastian is also chock full of other boats, many of them whom are heading via various routes across the Atlantic as well. There is a wonderful community feel and an incredibly unselfish support network of people helping each other get ready in small ways by lending of giving supplies, exchanging ideas and often even spending days together sorting out more serious problems. This is the way the world should work.
Time to cast off the lines and leave La Gomera. This is one of the loveliest spots we have visited so far and we leave with very fond memories.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

More La Gomera with Jop and Mim

With Jop and Miriam we sailed back around to the anchor spot in Valle de Drand Rey. As soon as it was dark enough, Seb and Jop donned head lamps and cast fishing lines over the side. They didn’t catch anything but we saw some amazing iridescent fish with seemingly glow in the dark skeletons hovering around the boat. Amazing looking creatures. We spent two days in the bay heading to the beach, scrubbing the bottom of the boat and zipping about in the dingy.

On our way back from Valle de Grand Rey to San Sebastiaan and we heard the welcome zzzzzing of the trawling line. After a scramble to slow down the boat, get cameras, gloves, buckets etc. Seb slowly reeled in the rapidly wriggling line and there appeared an absolutely beautiful bonito of approximately 3,3 kgs. Seb was careful to be as humane as possible with the bonito and performed the bloodier tasks at the back of the boat. Emma was fascinated by the process but she did remark “Papa, I don’t think I like fish anymore” when he was finished.

Back in the marina that evening we dined on cucumber and tuna sushi followed by grilled tuna fillets. This was honestly one of the very best fish I have ever eaten. It was a slow meal eaten in the cockpit under the stars.

We also managed to get some important things done during Jop and Miriam’s visit. Seb and Jolp spent two days puzzling through the installation of the new autopilot. During our underwater scrubbing session in Valle de Grand Rey Seb had discovered that the anode (soft metal that keeps the adjacent metals from corroding) around the engine propeller was loose. We thought we would need to take the boat back to Tenerife and haul her out of the water to fix it – very bad, time consuming and expensive news. Fortunately, Jan-Bart from the Victory has a lot of diving experience and offered to swim under and take a look. Over the course of more than four hours and a lot of puzzling he and Seb were able to unscrew the propeller and replace the anode. They concluded the tasks justly happy with their work and almost hypothermic. Finally, Miriam and I spent an afternoon designing and building a mosquito net for the cabin entryway.

On our last evening with Jop and Miriam, Jeroen and Luise were kind enough to babysit and we went out for a tapas tour of the San Sebastian cafes. As we sat dipping our bread and potatoes in mojo sauce and drinking ice cold beers at our Berlusca, our favorite café, a small group of people started singing, playing the guitar and moroccas just next to us. We spent the evening slowly eating through a variety of delicious dishes , drinking wine and swaying to the ballads of La Gomera.

Nana sans Dadcu, and La Gomera

Santa Cruz was very social harbour. We met a nice Swedish couple, met up for the first time since we are underway with the Waterman crew, another Dutch boat with children, and were delighted to see the big Pjotter on a pontoon across from ours on the second day of our stay. We had a good catch up with Kees and Marta and we look forward to seeing them again in Cape Verde or in Suriname.

After four days in Santa Cruz spent fixing things, cleaning and taking advantage of the last big stores and chandleries, we sailed an overnight passage around Tenerife to Los Cristianos. We hovered in the bay until noon at which time we headed in to pick up Nana (my mother). Under the auspices of having to fill our diesel tanks we were able to convince the harbourmaster to allow us to land. Seb filled our diesel tanks very slowly as Emma and I went to find Nana at the ferry terminal. Very sadly, Emma and Macsen’s Dadcu (my father) needed to stay in England and wasn’t able to join us in the Canaries. He was greatly missed and we are very eager to see him in Suriname.

Left Los Cristianos for a lovely sail over to La Gomera. There was no wind as we left Los Cristianos but we had amazing views of dolphins and pilot whales hovering on the surface and in view almost the entire day. The wind picked up in the ‘acceleration’ zone as we approached La Gomera as expected and we had a wonderful sail (hitting 7,1 knots with only the fore-genoa, although Nana was pushing for 7,2 knots). In the early afternoon Emma went down for her nap. She asked if the dolphins were also napping and concluded that only the little ones needed to nap and that the big ones are allowed to stay up.

San Sebastian de La Gomera, the capital of the island, is a lovely village with a friendly comfortable feel and well-equipped marina. There are an incredible variety of fish swimming in the clear water under the boats, including a trumpet fish that looks like a mix between and sea horse and an eel, and we felt like we were surrounded by a natural aquarium.

After one night in San Sebastiaan, we motored along stunning coast line around the island and marveled at the tall cliffs with bright colored stripes. Dropped anchor in slightly swelly inlet in Valle de Grand Rey in the late afternoon and enjoyed an absolutely beautiful sunset under the cliffs. Mom, Seb and I sat for ages on the gently rocking deck staring at the stars and had to drag ourselves away to bed. The next day was spent on the black sand beach tossing the ball and splashing in the waves before continuing the rest of the way around the island back to San Sebastiaan.

Our friends Jop and Miriam arrived on Friday and we rented cars to drive to a house in Las Hayas in the middle of the island. We had an amazing view from the house and there was a great deal of activity between Seb, my mother and Miriam to see who could take the most amazing shot of the sunset with their new cameras. We spent our time in Las Hayas chatting, eating and walking through the lush and green tangled canopies of the forests of the Parque Nacional de Garonjay, one of the last vestiges of the laurilsilva forests that once covered all of the Mediterranean. On our first night in the cottage we opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate the recent engagement of Jop and Miriam. Just before we took the first sip Jop made the moment extra special by asking Seb to act as his witness during the wedding ceremony. Needless to say, this is a very special honour for Seb and he accepted with a big smile on his face and a slight glisten in his eye.

Very early on Monday morning, Emma and I took Nana back on the ferry to Tenerfie and bid her a tearful good-bye after a short but wonderful visit. Comforting to know that we will see her again in Suriname in about 6 weeks, accompanied this time by Dadcu as well (Hooray!).

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Photos of Morocco

Final set of photos from Morocco - includes all photos of desert tour. Click here to view the photos.

Wonderful Willy and Angry Otto

Winds were slow but steady as we left Isla Graciosa and hoisted the colourful halfwinder to take advantage of some motor-free progression. After a tip on blade angles from a fellow Canadian-Dutch cruiser, Seb was able to get the windvane working properly. The windvane or windpilot is an autopilot that steers based upon the angle to the wind rather than the more common electric version that works by compass course. The Pjotter was finally silently steered and powered by the wind – what a great feeling. Emma was very impressed by the windpilot and promptly named it Willy.

The winds became rather light and we switched back to our electric autopilot (now named Otto) to stabilize our course. We still have to tweak Willy a little . Otto must have been a little angry to have its position usurped and it conked out completely after about 2 hours. Back we went to Willy and together we completed a very restful night under full sail. Otto, the temperamental autopilot will undergo an overhaul/ replacement in Tenerife.

Again, no dolphin sightings on the way to Tenerrife. I hope that they are not angry with us.


Our stay on Isla Graciosa was short and we headed off the next morning for a 150 nautical mile sail to Santa Cruz in Tenerife.

After four months (excluding preparation time), five countries, over 2000 nautical miles, huge adventures, numerous dinners , co-babysitting, lots of laughs and an incredible amount of kaas-verhalen and ouwe-hoeren it is now time to part ways with the Elena. We essentially grew our cruising legs together and took on things together that we may not have thought of or considered to do alone. Elena will leave the Canary Islands and cross the Atlantic to the Caribbean on November 23. She will then continue through the Panama canal for a 3-year round the world journey.

Our last ‘family’ night with the Adam, Leonie, Rosa, Mees and Pieter was marked with a sunset barbeque (complete with champagne) on the beach near the Caleta de Sebo harbour The next morning, they all stood on the dock as we waved a very tearful good-bye and motored away. Elena, this has been an incredibly special time and we will miss you terribly. Fare thee well dear friends, fair winds and wonderful adventures. Pjotter out.

Going to the Dogs

Our passage from Agadir to Isla Graciosa on the Canary Islands was a smooth one. There was absolutely no wind so we ended up motoring the entire 220 nautical miles. Surprisingly we saw no dolphins and caught absolutely no fish, in an area that was once one of the richest fishing areas of Europe. We did, however, see several very large and medium-sized turtles. They are interesting creatures that seem to pass the day just floating out in the middle of the ocean in waters up to 3500m deep. Closer to land were amazing flying fish that took off like birds and are able to fly for 100m.

Sighted land at 0725 in the morning, big barren cliffs looming out of the water out in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. Very impressive.

I have always assumed that the Canary Islands were named for the bird. In fact, the bird was named after the islands and the islands are named after dogs. An expedition sent by King Juba II of Mauritania (Morocco) in 60 BC encountered large dogs roaming the islands and brought two dogs back to the king, The name Insulae Canium, Island of the Dogs, persists today as Islas Canarias.

The Canary Islands are a common departure point for boats crossing the Atlantic Ocean, including some 200 participants in the Atlantic Rally Crossing and sadly also including our friends aboard the Elena.

(Ei)Land in zicht!

It is now 0725 in the morning and after a lot of motoring we can see the Montanas del Fuego de Timanfaya on Lanzarote. We will make our first landfall on Isla Graciosa. It is a beautiful sunny morning after a rather uneventful journey. No dolphins, no fish, no wind but we did see a lot of turtles just floating in the ocean. Our ETA at the moment is 1045.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

The Land of the 1000 Kasbahs

Pick-up was at 0730 on September 24, by drivers Mohammed and Hassan driving two 4X4 SUVs, one for the Elena family and one for the Pjotter family. Packed our piles of luggage in and were on our way, headed for a 10 day tour of inland Morocco. Our first overnights off of the boats in three months!

The tour started with a beautiful drive through the Atlas mountains and the anti-Atlas to Ourazazate. The sides of the road were empty except for the lone goat herders walking off into the endlessness of the rock strewn mountainside. Every now and then we saw a Bedouin tent or a circle of rocks used for corralling animals. Stopped on a particularly scenic piece of mountainside and were met by a man carrying a chameleon and an iguana. The chameleon was very cooperative and changed colour as we moved it from green background to yellow. It had wonderful two-clawed feet that tickled as it climbed your arm. Fascinating looking creature, out of another time.

Met our guide, Brahim, in Ourazazate and after a nights rest we drove on through the Draa valley to Zagora where Brahim, Mohammed and Hassan live. Stopped at a Kasbah hidden away in the valley to have lunch with a Berber family. Houses and restaurants are set up in an incredible cosy way. There is one large room in the middle surrounded by little cosy nooks for more private moments. It is so comfortable to sit and lie on the floor on carpets to eat your meals. It has a very intimate feel and is extremely handy as you are then closer to the level of the children, which they really enjoy. There was also a high terrace on the top of the Kasbah and as we sat and drank the required post-lunch mint tea we watched the clouds darken along the valley, saw great forks of lighting streaking down and heard the echo of booming thunder. As we drove the rain stared bucketing down. We’d done some off-road exploration to get to our lunch location and had to drive quickly through the recently dry river beds as they can fill to a level that makes them impassable in a hour or so. It rains in the region only a few days per year so this was really cause for celebration. Brahim also explained that rain significantly reduces the risk of sand storms. Life in the desert appears to be similar to life on a boat, surrounded by seemingly endless expanses, highly weather dependant and there is always a shortage of drinkable water.

On the morning of the 25th we were given turbans to protect ourselves from the sun and we drove out into the Sahara. Stopped briefly at a well where a man was watering a pack of approximately 30 dromedaries (we thought they were camels but Morocco only has dromedaries). Dromedaries only drink once a week but when they drink they consume 120 litres p.d. The man was pulling up what we estimated to be 25 liter jerry cans full of water which meant he had to drop the bucket almost 150 times (including water for the four donkeys that happened along).

Our camp was very basic but perfect for our needs. It consisted of three Berber tents for sleeping and one cooking/ eating tent. There was of course no running water or electricity. All the same, the cook, Mohammed was able to create amazing tajine dinners and we ate Berber bread cooked in the sand (crunchy but delicious). We closed off each day in the desert drinking sweet mint tea under the stars and having good chats after the children were asleep. We sat close to the tents but didn’t need baby phones as the nights were so still.

The little monkeys loved climbing the dunes and sliding and rolling down. It is a very fine sand that seeps into every possible crevice and we were all completely covered. They never bored of the dromedaries and donkeys and squealed with delight every time we caught a glimpse (which was very often) of them wandering past through the dunes or sitting in groups in our camp each morning. Our second morning in the desert started with an hour long dromedary ride through the dunes which delighted the adults almost as much as the children.

Left the desert and bid a sad goodbye to Mohammed and our guide Brahim. Brahim commented that our children are very flexible and easy to travel with and he estimated that this is a result of the greater voyages that we are making. This pleased all of the parents immensely.

Headed into the imperial city of Marrakech. Arrived in a rather dirty parking lot and wandered down a dingy street until we arrived at the Riad Si Said. Beautiful place, hidden behind a small door. In the short time we had we decided to focus on exploring the medina and the various souqs within it. A visit to the main square is a sensory overload, pounding drums, snake charmers, henna artists, wagons with stacks of oranges of dried fruit, fortune tellers, and some very sad and cruelly chained Barbary apes. The streets of the medina are lined with shops full of beautiful shiny things; tea pots, jewelry, cushions, scarves, tablecloths, rugs - an interior decorators dream. This is all geared at tourists who appeared to be the only customers in the souq and were generally pestered by the frequently aggressive salesmen. Overall, an interesting city to visit briefly but we strongly preferred the people and the places we met outside the city.

Last stop was a two day visit in the high Atlas mountains, at the Kasbah de Toubkal, about 3200 metres above sea level near Jebel Toubkal the highest mountain in Morocco. The enormous mountains come in the most stunning array of reds, blues, purples, greens and greys and all swooped down into a lovely lush valley full of apple and walnut trees. We spent two very short days taking long walks in the steep and winding paths (always accompanied by two donkeys to help carry the tired children) and gazing out at the stunning views. One of the loveliest places that I have ever been. Closed off our Moroccan adventure back at the starting point in Agadir with a heartfelt goodbye to Mohammed and Hassan and a feeling of both regret that the tour was ending and real pleasure to be back on our trusty boats ready to sail again.

We were all completely enchanted and fascinated by Morocco, the people, relatively untouched pockets of culture, the many beautiful and varied landscapes and the delicious food have been some of the highlights of our travels to date.