Saturday, 22 November 2003

A Graham Taylor fortnight…….

Misty morning on the Guadiana
OK, to get you in the right frame of mind for the crossing from the Guadiana to the Canaries you need to do the following. Install a sea saw, connected to a malfunctioning motor. Instead of gentle lifting you up and down it behaves erratically and sometimes dangerously stopping and starting, twisting or turning with no apparent reason, a close friend stands by armed with a sea water bucket which they alternate with a fire hose and douse you at the most unexpected moments. You must also install a wind turbine to ensure you stand a serious risk of being blown off your seat and that the water hits you with additional vicious force. Finally crank up Chris Rea’s wonderful “Road To Hell” and settle down for the next 12 days. Or so it seemed to us as we sailed slowly down to Lanzarote from Spain. 580 miles the distance between the two points on our charts turned out to be a very real 983.
But to start at the beginning. We left the Guadiana in company with Lilly B one sunny afternoon. Both boats sailed away from the entrance and a fine sight we will have looked, sun on the water and sails as we reached out into the Atlantic.

The forecast we had had gave us about 3 days to enjoy ourselves before a small low appeared. In the event we had about 36 hours during which tie we suffered a serious loss when our fly swat fell overboard. Despite going about, and causing Lilly B to come galloping to assist, fearing the worst, we were unable to find it and had to suffer the misery of flies for the evening. By morning our companions on LB had left us and we had the ocean to ourselves. That evening we witnessed the gathering of heaped, huge and very black storm clouds. Out of nowhere I heard myself say to Bee “I’m going to get the self –steerer working” and within minutes I had. We were amazed as Hannah responded to this simple gathering of stainless steel, plastic and plywood. No event in history can compare to that moment! Sailing with Hannah will forever be BS or AS and we can well understand how people come to worship inanimate objects as Stanley came into being. We were ecstatic as the drudgery of hours at the tiller would now be a faint memory but little did we realise how much we were to thank Stanley over the next week or so.
 The seas built up, the favourable wind swung round to head us, increasing in force, leaving us unable to distinguish sea from sky and the heads’ls were changed, the main reefed and slowly we headed toward the Moroccan coast. At one point we were reduced to staysail alone, as the wind grew stronger. At other times, under main and stays’l we could sail either 150 degrees or 310 degrees. Our course lay at 220 degrees. It seems for several days we struggled over the same piece of water, guided by Stanley, who not only did all the steering but enabled us both to go forward to reef or change headsails. What a difference! The whole job became much easier, almost pleasurable and certainly much safer. Once, when we were both moving forward to take the storm jib off as we were burying the bowsprit, we were hit by tremendous squall, seas flattened and the crests were blown horizontally in a driving spray before a wind that temporarily dumped Hannah on her side. Absolutely frightening and yet there is an strong element of exhilaration too, not of taking on the weather but simply being part of something so powerful that it can literally leave you breathless.
But the days went on. We called up passing ships to ask for weather forecasts and were told a low was stationary over Gibraltar, we scanned the clouds looking, desperately, for any indication of a change. We shook out sails, we reefed sails, we had all our headsails lined up on deck ready for use and still we seemed to get no nearer. Day after day we had seen the weather building, the seas growing as evening came. In the end the effort of changing sail became too much and we settled for a combination that kept us moving at 3+knots. One yacht we spoke to, Running Bunny gave us a forecast and then rang back 5 minutes later to say they had had an update from the States saying the front would be coming through in 3 or 4 hours. 
It did, with a wildness that convinced us to heave to and rest. But that was it, the weather began to improve and we gradually shook out the reefs, hoisted the genny and roared on to Lanzarote. Land hove into view for the first time since leaving Spain some 11 days previously.
Of course we didn’t manage to arrive in daylight and we worked our way into an anchorage for the night. And the gods left us with a final snub by making us lay out the anchor 3 times before it finally held. Sleep came as heads hit the pillows having almost nodded off into the pasta bowl. Even Toots who had survived the journey more or less intact slept long and deep. After getting drenched, confronting a flying fish on her deck and then being carried through the streets of Lanzarote for a rabies booster jab there is no truth in the rumour she is digging an escape tunnel……..
 you wouldn't put a milk bottle out in this weather
So we arrived, wrote out our list of jobs to do and began shopping for the next stage. The tri-colour has been repaired, the solar panel bought cheaply in Portugal keeps the batteries topped up and we have bought, from the local copy shop, charts and a pilot book of the ICW in the States. We’ve sealed the skylight that poured water down onto a sleeping Toots when we shipped a greeny. Toots was not amused and we hated the incursion of water below decks. But as ever in these storm situations it is usually the crew that find the going hard whilst the boat gets on with what they are designed to do. Hannah, left to herself and Stanley’s touch, simply got on with the job and kept us safe and for the most part dry.
So Lilly B was here and had been for several days. They like us spent a lot of time wondering how the other was doing. They, despite suffering seasickness in most of the crew made good time and are currently anchored in the next harbour up. Lanzarote hasn’t changed since our last visit 10 years ago and remains a favourite. Having sorted out the jobs and rested we will leave in a day or so to visit a few of the other islands, Gomera, Hierro and La Palma before heading south with the trade winds to the Cap Verdes.
A week on from our arrival the legacy of Stanley’s intervention in our lives is with me still. In all our previous sailing on Hannah I have remained faithful to the tiller and directed Bee as to which sails needed changing. She, of course, relishing anything physically demanding simply got on with the job. Now with two of us working the foredeck it is undoubtedly easier and safer but my hands have still not recovered from the constant immersion, hard ropes and physical effort involved. I’ve often said we have a role reversal in our house but I was generally referring to Bee and sport, particularly football. Now I find it is my hands that are dishwasher soft whilst Bee, calluses an’ all just gets on with it. But it will pass no doubt and we are looking forward to the next few months of reputed trade wind sailing. 
 Toots has recovered, shows no inclination to go ashore to concrete docks and spends much of her tine kipping in the day only to race around deck in the evening. Boats are arriving, some leaving and we often meet up with people we last saw 500 or 600 miles north. As with any port we find those who have stopped, picked up a mooring buoy and settled into the local community.