Circumnavigating Lanzarote on Velvet Lady: Dolphins! Sunshine! Sailing!

7 Feb

(Dear Readers, As with all posts on this blog, no discounts, inducements, or brown paper bags of cash were received from any service provider mentioned. This blog is commerce free!)

The itinerary for January in the Canary Islands was built around the bookends of La Gomera Walking for our first week and the grand finale, a week sailing around Lanzarote island with Lin and Richard on their yacht, Velvet Lady.

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During the European winter, out of Rubicon Marina on Playa Blanca, at the southern end of Lanzarote, Lin Parker and her partner Richard Andrew run weeklong sail trips on their 55 foot Oyster. British built, British flag and British company. Guests book one or more of their six spare berths. No previous sailing experience required. Trips fully catered and all special diets accommodated, including vegans!

Lin is an accomplished round the world yacht racing skipper (see Global Challenge) with 26 years professional experience. Richard was an electrical engineer who sailed as a hobby before starting the business with Lin eight years ago. We’re in safe hands.

It was our very good fortune to join shipmates Linda and Jill for this adventure. A third woman, their friend Yvonne, was forced to cancel at the last minute. Jill and Linda are both based on the south coast of England, near Christchurch and Isle of Wight respectively, and are keen and experienced sailors. They also proved to be a lot of fun!

The week went something like this.

Day One: Met on Velvet Lady over afternoon tea. Dinner on board then settled into cabins. Stuart had reserved longest bunk. Relieved to find he could both stand up in our cabin and lie with legs fully extended. He’s a poor sleeper at the best of times so this was a priority. Two of the cabins have en suite while third (ours) has adjacent bathroom. Luxury! Fourth cabin empty this trip. Northerly winds forecast for entire week so all set for planned counter clockwise circumnavigation. Last two trips didn’t manage it due to weather conditions.

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Day Two: Leisurely breakfast and shower in marina facilities (top notch) followed by thorough safety and boat briefing and fitting of oilskins and life jackets (worn at all times when at sea and outside the cabin except when moored – very sound rule). Take anti-seasickness pill as I do every day at sea whether I think I need it or not. Four hour sail up east coast to Puerto Calero Marina. Lin skippered. Steady force 5-6 with one metre seas on bow. Two thirds mainsail and three quarters yankee up. All sails roller furling. Boat speed sensor not working but guess about 6-7 knots. Sunshine. Spotted tall ship HMAS Falcon under sail in distance. Pizza lunch under sail. Dolphins playing about the boat. Both the common grey, short-beaked kind and, just prior to making harbour on just one tack, a lone Risso’s white dolphin appeared to welcome us in. Tied up by 4pm for tea and cake. Does it get any better than this?

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Jill on helm.

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Linda takes her for a spin.

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Day Three: Even more leisurely breakfast as grey sky misting rain with better winds forecast for afternoon. Time for yoga on pontoon and stroll about. 11:30am departure just after the beautiful wooden ketch Kamaxitha came into marina. Richard skipper. Patches of sunshine but mostly grey day with gusting force 4-5 winds and 1.5 metre seas on the bow with some bigger swells. Schools of small, grey short-beaked common dolphins buzzed under and around the boat, leaping out of the water. Square rigged tall ship HMAS Tenacious passed on horizon going south.

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Raquel has made a tiny English haven in her lovely cafe above the marina.

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On Stuart’s helm Velvet Lady banged down on a wave which finally released the boat speed sensor from whatever barnacle growth had trapped it. Doing 6-7 knots until tack to make the marina entrance. Gusting winds pushed us to 8 knots and we heeled over a bit harder. Lin’s head immediately popped out of the cabin like a meerkat. Her message was clear, we had too much sail out, so yankee reefed in a bit. Another uncomplicated entrance into brand new marina in Arrecife, the main town of Lanzarote. Tied up snugly by 5pm.

Strolled beside tidal rivermouth past small boats marooned on mud flats to a string of tapas bars. Settled on one offering vermouth casero. Young male singing voices drifted across from neighbouring bar, two men on guitar and about six others singing folk songs, just for fun. Back for another sumptious dinner on board, all Canary style dishes. Stuart’s plan to lose his ‘Xmas belly’ this week is already in jeopardy.

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Day Four: Early departure from Arrecife as we have 43 nautical miles to make today to our destination, tiny La Graciosa island off the northern tip of Lanzarote. Winds strongest so far, force six gusting to seven with two and a half metre waves on bow. Lots of water over bow and into cockpit. Yankee, staysail and main up but well reefed. This is the day to be sea sick if inclined but all manage ok, even after eating hot dogs for lunch (Richard kindly made me a delicious avocado salad with humus and bread). Lin and Richard took a half day each as skipper. Hard work for those on helm. I had a brief turn but happy to leave it to others! Tacked off coast until we could head for gap between cliffs of Lanzarote and La Graciosa. Mixture of sun and cloud. Many dolphin sightings, one I captured on video as three dolphins leapt out of the water at same time. dolphin video
Others also spotted a pygmy whale breaching near the boat (I only saw the splash as it re-entered the water). Drenched by a wave so I went below to warm up. Best place to be was horizontal so lay on floor in our cabin and warmed up. Protected by the island the wind and waves dropped considerably and the last hour of eight hours under sail was gorgeous as we coasted along steep volcanic cliffs to La Francesa, a small sandy bay on La Graciosa’s south side, our anchorage for two nights. Spotted catamaran high and dry on rocky section of the bay. Have to check it out. Wind still northerly 20 knots with gentle rocking motion to send us to sleep.

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Day Five: Wind got up in the night for a bit. Disturbed Stuart’s sleep. I slept through. Anchor solid. Scheduled day off sailing. After breakfast Linda, Jill, Stuart and I taken ashore in pairs by Richard in dinghy. Richard and Lin had quiet day on board. Beached catamaran, Colibri, (French flag) is tethered to rocks but quite damaged, hatch wide open and not cared for. Would love to know the story there. Walked to tiny whitewashed waterfront village for coffee, then hiked up and around caldera of one of three extinct volcanos on the island. Very windy at top but not a taxing climb. Few hikers. Flock of goats with shepherd and one farmhouse. Passed a young chap alone on summit wearing only tshirt! Sunny lunch with well chilled beers and white wine at fish restaurant by harbour. Stuart had his pick of fish from catch of the day. I was so relaxed I tried to pay the bill with Australian dolllars. Strolled back to beach where Linda and Jill went swimming and entertained us with their synchronised swim routine. Tshirt man descended from volcano near our beach and walked by. Got chatting. Swiss traveller staying alone on La Graciosa for a week. Loves it, especially the fact there’s no one here! Back on board for hot showers and tea. Quiet evening, no other boats about, unchanged weather conditions, 20 knots. Non-scoring scrabble before dinner.

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Day Six: Mixture of sun and cloud. No other boat joined us at anchorage overnight. Day plan is to run all the way around the west coast back past Playa Blanca to anchor in Playa de las Mujeres. Head west through gap after breakfast. Lin skippers. Imposing layered cliffs. Wind still 20 knots but one metre seas now on beam as we tack to round north western end of the island. Sitting on 6-7 knots. Lin jokes dolphin show scheduled for after lunch.Yummy toasted sandwiches. Dolphins! White striped sided and very interested in us. Every time I see a dolphin I think of the killing cove in Taji, Japan, and the cruelty of capturing these wondrous creatures for human food and entertainment. I hope one day we don’t need Sea Shepherd’s vigil at Taji but I thank them for it. Swap to Richard as skipper. Round the lighthouse corner then we run a straight line to southern tip of island. Surf following seas. Not a single boat sighted all day. Helming on approach to Marina Rubicon when Fred Olsen ferry steams straight at me. And behind me…. Stuart wins guessing comp for time under sail – six and a half hours. Two other boats already anchored in bay. Scrabble before dinner. Wind dropped to ten knots for first time all week. All tucked up by ten pm.
Day Six: Mixture of sun and cloud. No other boat joined us at anchorage overnight. Day plan is to run all the way around the west coast back past Playa Blanca to anchor in Playa de las Mujeres. Head west through gap after breakfast. Lin skippers. Imposing layered cliffs. Wind still 20 knots but one metre seas now on beam as we tack to round north western end of the island. Sitting on 6-7 knots. Lin jokes dolphin show scheduled for after lunch.Yummy toasted sandwiches. Dolphins! White striped sided and very interested in us. Every time I see a dolphin I think of the killing cove in Taji, Japan, and the cruelty of capturing these wondrous creatures for human food and entertainment. I hope one day we don’t need Sea Shepherd’s vigil at Taji but I thank them for it. Swap to Richard as skipper. Round the lighthouse corner then we run a straight line to southern tip of island. Surf following seas. Not a single boat sighted all day. Helming on approach to Marina Rubicon when Fred Olsen ferry steams straight at me. And behind me…. Stuart wins guessing comp for time under sail – six and a half hours. Two other boats already anchored in bay. Scrabble before dinner. Wind dropped to ten knots for first time all week. All tucked up by ten pm.

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Day Seven: Some boat wash rocked us awake early morning otherwise all calm. Grey day with only 10 knots of wind, least of the entire week. Yoga on deck. Planned morning swim from boat postponed until we (hopefully) get sunshine later. Uneventful circumnavigation of Los Lobos island between Fuerteventura and Lanzarote. All take turns helming. Wind 10-25 knots and small sea. Lunch on deck as usual. Richard shouted ‘dolphin!’ but no further sightings. Some sun late in afternoon but not enough to head to a beach so kept sailing. Few boats and some ferries to avoid. Wind picked up on my helm at one point which got a bit too exciting but a reef in the yankee plus tack and all steady again. 8 knots achieved on Jill’s helm. Lots of chat about Lin’s experiences as skipper of ‘Isle of Man’ in the 2000 Global Challenge eastabout race. Fascinating to hear her account of the race as I’m reading Lin’s copy of Dee Caffari’s memoir, ‘Against the Flow’ which recounts Dee’s solo, nonstop circumnavigation westabout against prevailing winds and tide. Back in Marina Rubicon at 4:45pm. In bar Vino Blanco above our mooring by 5pm! Celebratory drinks and long hot shower in marina facilities. What joy it is to wash your hair after a week. Final speed scrabble game before dinner together on board as tomorrow we go our separate ways. Jill and Linda fly straight to UK while we have another night in Hesperia Hotel, Playa Blanca, before heading to our walking week in the Trossachs, Scotland. Lin and Richard will prepare for new arrivals on Sunday and have a brief break before doing it all over again.

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Hearty thanks to Skipper Spice and First Mate Rich for sharing their home with us and ensuring we all had a ripping good time. You also organised the weather very well!

Take a look at http://www.velvetadventuresailing.com if you’re interested in sailing Velvet Lady in the Canaries, off Norway, or on one of her ocean passages. To our shipmates Linda and Jill, cheers for the belly laughs, some new expressions (‘as useful as a chocolate teapot’ has entered our vernacular), your home building advice and for sharing your stories. ¡Hasta pronto chicas!

PS: If you ever find yourself in the Playa Blanca/Marina Rubicon area of Lanzarote try to do the stunning coastal walk, Sendero Papagayo, starting from the seafront promenade and continuing eastward. The track hugs cliffs and beaches. Archaeological sites are signed along the way. Completing the walk managed to convert our sea legs back to land legs!

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6 Responses to “Circumnavigating Lanzarote on Velvet Lady: Dolphins! Sunshine! Sailing!”

  1. Heather watt February 7, 2015 at 9:10 pm #

    Seems a wonderful sailing trip. finally laid our footings this week. where are you off to now?

    • Sharon Tickle February 7, 2015 at 9:49 pm #

      Yes Heather, memories to cherish for a lifetime. We are in Callander with Tristan and Catharine. Lots of fresh air, snow and mountains! Congrats on laying your concrete! Love to you and George. Sxx

  2. Karina Rowe February 8, 2015 at 7:13 pm #

    Wonderful blog post. I sailed on VL this past summer in Norway. But didn’t take nearly enough photos. It looks like you had a wonderful week and a great adventure. I will follow along on your travels. Thank you!!

    • Sharon Tickle February 8, 2015 at 9:36 pm #

      Thanks Karina. Norway looked amazing, especially the pilot whale. We are lucky people indeed! ST

  3. The Mothership March 3, 2015 at 2:01 pm #

    The catamaran that was on the rocks in Graciosa was a french guy sailing with 2-3 tourist hitchikers from Agadir. I think he was anchored when/around when it happened in the dark of the night. You would think it was impossible, but anyway I feel sorry for him, he was heading for Brazil, but I guess that one is on hold now.

    • Sharon Tickle March 3, 2015 at 6:15 pm #

      Hi Mothership, thanks for that info. Such a sad sight. Rule of the sea, if it can happen one day it will! Sxx

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