Wednesday 10 January 2024

Happy New Year!

The bit between Christmas and New Year is normally a busy time for us as there is family and friends to visit and birthdays to celebrate. But, this year was different as we were in a marina, on an island where we didn't know anybody. Still, we would make the most of it and enjoy ourselves.

Boxing Day is not recognised or celebrated in Spain and everything goes back to normal on the 26th December, so I planned a day out in San Cristobal de La Laguna, set in the hills above Santa Cruz.

It was the former capital of the Canary Islands and is the third most populated city of the islands.  The city centre where the historical attractions are found, was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999. It's often described as ‘Florence of the Canary Islands’ because of the number of churches, convents and old historical buildings. I would be in heaven!

Catching the tram from Santa Cruz, we slowly wound our way through the streets of the city and up the hill towards La Laguna. The views of the city laid out below were pretty impressive, although Mark would say the views of the Atlantic were far more impressive. 

First stop was visiting the Cathedral, Catedral  de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios. Originally built as a humble Chapel in the 16th century, over the coming centuries the Chapel would be extended, each time adding grander structures. In 1819 the Chapel became a Cathedral by bull of Pope Pius VII and the diocese of San Cristobal de La Laguna was created. 

What gives it its ‘Florence' feel is the neoclassical front and its large dome, covered in copper plates,  imitating the cathedrals of central and northern europe.

Inside, it is a very grand Cathedral.  Not quite as grand as those I've seen in Malaga, Granada and Palma but nonetheless, pretty impressive. There are nine side chapels, each adorned with statues and seating for prayer, but it was the Chapel of Our Lady of Remedies that was most breathtaking.  A baroque altar piece from the first half of the 18th century, carved in gold, it is the largest altarpiece in the Canary Islands.

Next up, after coffee and with the promise of a beer afterwards for Mark, was the site of the Iglesia de la Concepción. Established by Alonoso Fernández de Lugo after the celebration of the feast of Corpus Christi in 1496, the church of the Conception was founded in 1511.

Our main interest for visiting was to climb the five flights of stairs in the tower to see the views.  We were not disappointed. From the top of the tower, we had spectacular views of La Laguna, Mount Teide and the surrounding countryside.

The church houses the largest bell in the Canary Islands and to our surprise, it still works and is very loud when you're standing right next to it. They could have warned us!

It also houses some magnificent carved pieces. In particular, the ceilings and the pulpit were pretty amazing.  Wasn't to sure though about the tomb stone with the skull and crossbones, considering he was a captain! 

All churched out, we wandered through the streets until we found a quaint little restaurant away from the hordes of tourists and had an enjoyable leisurely lunch. 

Following day was my birthday. Compared to other years, it was a quiet day spent with Mark, but I got some beautiful flowers, great birthday wishes from family and friends and a chocolate birthday cake.

New year's eve and we agreed it would be a quiet one for us as we didn't fancy joining thousands of people in Plaza de Espana to watch the firework display, we would have a great view from the marina. However, earlier in the week we had been asked to move our boat as there was a party of eight Spanish boats coming in who wanted to be berthed together to celebrate New Year's eve. So we knew it may not be that quiet on our pontoon!

Our day started well, with a bit of shopping and a leisurely wander through Parque Garcia Sanabria . With numerous sculptures, tropical trees, plants and an abundance of wildlife, it is one of the most beautiful parks I've seen in a longtime. It's hard to believe that something this gorgeous is set in the middle of a capital city. Birds singing, Parrots squawking and frogs croaking, it was a symphony of nature's finest.

Back at the boat, we trimmed up Offbeat’s cockpit with fairy lights, tinsel and of course, the disco ball. We got a bit glammed up, put dinner on and opened the bubbly/beer and sat in the cockpit to celebrate the night and wait for the firework display at midnight. And that's when our plan started to unravel.

In the boat next to us, were a delightful Spanish couple,  Eduardo and Veronique and they just happened to have the same plans as us. We had spoken to them previously, but only in passing so this was an opportunity to get to know them better. We had our respective dinners and then started sharing sailing stories over after dinner drinks ‘un chippito’. Out came the brandy and rum and we were on our way!

By about 11.30, the party on the pontoon was in full flow so the four of us agreed that it would be rude not to join them.  Armed with wine, beer and grapes we made our way to the party.  We did get bit of a look from them, but as they were Spanish, Eduardo spoke with them and that was that. We were welcomed into the fold like long lost family.

It is a tradition in Spain that at midnight you eat a grape with every chime of the bell. Hence taking grapes with us. If you've never done it, you should try as it's no easy task, especially if you've had a few drinks. However, come midnight with mouths full of grapes, hugging complete strangers, we watched the fireworks and saw in 2024.

We called it a night at a out 2am, slightly worse for wear, but looking forward to what 2024 has to bring.

Oh, and the firework display was amazing!

Thursday 4 January 2024

Christms in Tenerife

December 2023

After a really tough 26 hour sail from Lanarote to Tenerife,  we arrived a little battered and bruised but excited to explore pastures new. With no time to waste,  we headed out on our first night to get our bearings and something to eat. We knew that Christmas in Santa Cruz would be special, but we weren't prepared for what greeted us as we left the marina.

To reach the town from the marina, you have to walk cross over a pedestrian bridge that is above the main road. The bridge leads into Plaza de España which is the main plaza in Santa Cruz, which was alive with music, foodstalls, pop up bars and a Christmas Market.  After the journey we'd had, it was a bit of an assault of the senses, but in a good way.

The square was lit up with thousands of lights in trees and the streets, on statues of the 3 kings, bells and carriages, Christmas trees on every corner and the most beautiful illuminated belen. There were people milling around, singing and dancing, children playing and riding on fairground attractions and just a general atmosphere of fun. 

We  had dinner in a great little restaurant in a little street lined with small bars and restaurants and full of locals.  Whilst eating dinner, we heard children singing in the builing opposite us, so Mark asked the waiter if the children were rehearsing for Christmas. He gave us a bit of a blank look, so Mark repeated the question again and pointed to the building.  Ah, no he said, that's not for Christmas,  that's for the carnival. 

Crikeys, if all this was only a prelude to the carnival, we knew that we were going to have a good time here!

After a good night's sleep, it was down to work, sorting out Offbeat and getting her ready to be a festive home for the next few weeks, as we had decided to stay until after King's night on the 5th January, possibly leaving on the 7th January.

I was dispatched to the shops to buy some Christmas decorations for Offbeat whilst Mark tidied and washed down the decks. But, true to form, I had to do a bit of exploring as well. I had a wander through the main shopping area and wasn't disappointed with the selection of shops.   All the Spanish high street names plus quite a few individual shops.  I was going enjoy shopping here, even if my bank balance didn't.

Armed with as much Christmas tat as I thought I could get away with, I headed back to Offbeat to get her ready for Christmas. By the end of the day, she was good to go!

Christmas in Spain would not be complete without a visit to see the Belen. It is a very important tradition in Spain as it sets out the Nativity scene. Most cities, towns and homes will have their own Belen. For some families, pieces of the Belen are passed down the generations and are added to each year.  

Unlike in England, where the nativity scene is quite basic, in Spain,  the nativity scene includes all aspects of village life.

A visit to see the Belen is almost on a par with going to Church at Christmas, with families making an outing of a visit. 

Time passed very quickly and before we knew it, it was Christmas eve.  We had a table booked at the restaurant we'd gone to on our first night and later there was going to be a bit of a party on the pontoon.

Dressed up in our Sunday best,  we headed off to the restaurant.  In Spain, they celebrate Christmas eve known as Nochebuena which translates to "the good night" by having large family get togethers and then going to Midnight Mass.  The giving of present is saved until the 6th January. 

The restaurant was really busy, filled with Spanish families and friends having lunch together. There was a great atmosphere and everyone was really friendly.  Safe to say, we had a rather spiffing time.

Back at the boat, we joined other boaties on the pontoon for drinks. It was nice getting to know our neighbours and to share stories and plans.

But, I had planned to go to the early Mass as I didn't fancy wandering around by myself at midnight, so I left Mark too it. Let's just say, he had a wonderful time and by the time I'd returned, he was a bit worse for wear!

Even though it was just us two, Christmas morning was busy with telephone calls to families and grandchildren and prepping Christmas Dinner. 

As much as I love our life, it's on occasions like this that I really miss being around the girls and grandchildren. But, having said that, we had a lovely day and went out for a walk in the evening. 

There was a big classical concert taking place in the car park in the marina, so we watched that for a little while and then went to the square where more live music was playing. There had been something on every night, different bands and cabaret acts, all free of charge. The square was buzzing, so we stayed there just to soak up the atmosphere. 

Heading back to the marina, we were treated to a wonderful firework display. Rather fitting end to the day. 

Wednesday 3 January 2024

Lanzarote to Tenerife

19 December 2023

Having studied the weather carefully, we had picked a weather window where we expected light winds for the first part of this 24 hour journey, with the wind picking up to a useful sailing wind in the late afternoon and overnight and strengthening further in the next morning.  It was forecast to be a north easterly wind which is perfect for sailing with twin gibs (goose wings) and makessailing at night easier as there's no need for me to go on deck.

I spent the day prior to us leaving setting up the line and poles, so once at sea we would be good to go!

After saying our goodbyes to Leslie and Peter and getting the marina to shift a couple of superyachts so that we could get to the fuel dock to fill our tanks (with the crew of the superyachts looking down on us) we cleared the port entrance at 1150 and set a course for the channel between Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. 

About a mile out of the marina, the first problem became apparent; the rudder on Kirsten, our windvane ( see the Rabat to Lanzarote blog) popped up out of the water. Something had gone wrong with the hinge. After a few minutes hanging over the back of the boat I could see the problem - a stainless steel catch had straightened out under the loads coming down from Rabat. I could also see the solution - a couple of holes in the hinge fitting to bolt it all together.  Sounds simple, eh?  Well it took me 50 minutes and a great deal of increasingly vehement swearing to get those two bolts and nuts in place. But we got back under way eventually, and my mood got back to its ordinary resting grumpiness pretty quickly.

As we approached the channel between the islands, we saw a huge mass of sails. Two, maybe three regattas were under way. But as we turned westwards, they seemed to melt away, leaving plenty of space for us to chug along under engine. The wind and waves were pretty kind in the lee of the two islands, so I took the opportunity to rig the two heavy poles that we would be using when, according to the forecast, the wind would veer from northerly towards eastery and increase.  And, sure enough, by 1640 the wind got up and we ware able to unfurl our lovely twin Yankee sails.

As we got further away from the islands, the waves got bigger and, coming at us from the side, made Offbeat roll uncomfortably.  I adjusted the sails and Kirsten, the self-steering gear, and turned with a ‘taa-daa” to Teresa. She had seen the hours that I had put in refurbishing Kirsten, had endured all my offloading of problems about it and the mess of tools that cluttered up the boat for days on end, and had the grace to appear to be impressed at my little victories. And now she was seeing the result for the first time. “ Well done sweetie. Very nice. Shall I get the tea on, now?” Hmph.

We bowled on through the evening and with darkness approaching, I reefed the sails to make controlling the boat a bit easier in the dark.  By 2200 we started to see the navigation lights of ships ahead of us and we prepared to cross a fairly busy shipping lane between Fuerteventura and Gran Canaria. It took three hours before we were clear of the ships and could take turns getting some sleep.

During the early hours of the morning the wind started to drop. The problem with the wind dropping was the waves didn't reduce at all, and its the sails that keep the boat stable in rolly seas. So by the time the wind failed us completely and we reverted to the engine, the boat's motion was very uncomfortable.

After an hour of motoring, the wind came back quite strong from the same side as the waves (islands do funny things to the wind. And to waves, for that matter, as they reflect off cliffs and can cause odd cross-wave patterns and confused seas that we were experiencing tens of miles from land. Ancient navigators - the Polynesians, most famously of all - could see such patterns in the waves and divine the location of islands days before arriving.) Then the wind dropped again. Then picked up a bit. Unfortunately with all the rolling, Teresa lost her footing, slid off the seat in the cockpit and straight onto the mainsail traveller, which is a thick heavy metal bar. There were a few expletives and tears, but luckily nothing broken.

As we were approaching another shipping lane and could make out our destination, Tenerife, I put the motor back on and we motorsailed the next five hours, sometimes the sails giving us good speed, sometimes the motor making up for the wind dropping. 

As we started to be able to make out details on Tenerife, the sun started to break through the clouds that marred the second half of the journey and our spirits rose after a tough 16 hours.  The wind gave us one last blast as we sailed by the huge harbour complex of Santa Cruz towards the marina entrance. We tied up in the marina at 1500 and by 1515 were eating beer, wine and crisps to celebrate a short but challenging sail, marvelling at the city laid out in front of us.