Canaries to Cape Verde by JoJo

Passage Canaries to Cape Verde, January 2015

We have been late ever since we left England on 2nd September, last year. Most yachts leave the Canaries at the beginning of December for the Caribbean.  I did not want to cross the Atlantic until after Christmas so as to ensure that the trade winds were well settled in. So I did not particularly want to be early, but we now found ourselves in Mindelo, in Cape Verde in mid-February.  The main reason for this has been waiting for good weather windows.  Not perfect weather, but trying to avoid big swell and strong winds.  Despite this, we have had strong winds since leaving Madeira!
Arriving at Cape Verde.

Graciosa, in the Canaries, was beautiful and we had a wonderful time there. But just as we were ready to move on, the wind came round to the east and south blowing hard for a week.  This brought with it a huge amount of African Sahara dust, which coated the boat (traces of which still remain in the rigging).
We left Graciosa expecting to see more of the Canary Islands and find somewhere nice for Christmas. However the weather had other ideas.  The locals told us it was the coldest Christmas for decades.  There was also a lack of the NE trade wind.  Instead, we had many days of easterly wind bringing more dust, low visibility and few safe anchorages.  So we decided to stay in Arrecife, Lanzarote for Christmas.
We did miss family over Christmas, but we had a lovely time.  We were anchored beside other interesting boats and there was much socializing. But come the big day of 'The Three Kings' we were more than ready to leave.  We decided to go via Las Palmas on Gran Canaria, to provision quickly and then find somewhere nice to spend Finbar’s birthday on the 13th January. 
Our passage to Las Palmas was fast and furious, with massive seas. We left on the morning of the 7th January and arrived at 9am the following morning.  We were in company with many other boats that had also been waiting for favourable winds.  There was also a race of classic yachts starting on this day for Antigua in the Caribbean. So we were in good company as we rolled our way west.  It was a 'run' most of the way down the south coast of Lanzarote.  We 'reached' NW through the gap between Lanzarote and Fuertoventura.  Then 'ran' down the north coast of Fuertoventura, across the shipping zone to Gran Canaria and Las Palmas.  The wind was NE6-7 we had a reef in the main, the staysail up and were sailing at about 6 knots through the water.
Arriving in Las Palmas was a bit of a culture shock.  We anchored in the designated area, right in the city centre with a motorway thundering along just behind the man-made beach.  We did not like it much.
We were determined to stay a few days and leave! But as we arrived in Las Palmas our engine was not keen on starting.  Simon decided that he should have a look at the starter motor.  It was burned out! By the time we had it tested bought a new one and fitted it – the weather was no longer in our favour.  The wind had gone back round to the SE and was blowing hard.

On the up side we met a lovely American sailing family with children, Anneleize (13 years) and Jabez (11years). Lochlann was very happy with this and they had a lovely time together.  Finbar, a bit older was more focused on getting ahead with his new OU course.  Our lockers were full of food, we had loads of fruit and vegetables – about 100 apples and oranges, water and fuel was full.  We were ready to go to the Caribbean.  As we were a bit later than we had hoped, we planned to sail direct to Martinique. But two days before our departure date, we finally got Finbar's study plan - this put a spanner in the works.  His assignment dates meant that we would have to stop off in Cape Verde after all.  Lochlann was excited about this change in plan because we would probably see Anneleize and Jabez again, as they were also headed for Cape Verde.
The passage from Gran Canaria was another fast and not particularly comfortable passage.  There was a big NE swell and various and changing cross swells that made life on board a bit like a Buster Keaton film. Trying to have a cup of tea was not always successful. We had more water on deck than ever before, mainly water coming in the side rails from the rolling. At one point we were under reefed staysail and three reefs in the main in maybe a force 7/8, then the wind increased further and we spent a night with just the reefed staysail up - and we were still thundering along at nearly 6 knots! Well, Island Swift coped amazingly well, and it was good for boat and crew to be tested a little.  However, Simon did ask when the 'wonderful trade wind sailing' would start! Eventually, on the last day sailing before arriving at Mindelo we had a glorious sail. The seas were still big, but much more regular.  We still had one reef in and were moving along at a good speed.  It felt wonderful, I really did not want to arrive.
Arriving Cape Verde
We kept the reef in so as not to arrive in the dark as the Cape Verde islands are not particularly well lit.  On watch in the early hours I could see the loom of Mindelo, and lights on some of the islands, but none of the lighthouses were visible.  As dawn broke, the amazing silhouette of the islands became visible, and as we sailed ever-closer, the sun came up and so did the colours of the land. We had wind and tide in our favour and were sucked into the narrow channel between Santo Antao to the west and Sao Vincente to the east.  We still had the reef in because I had read that the acceleration zone between the island can be very strong. It was very strong! We lowered the main and sailed in under staysail alone, and anchored close to a Tall Ship in this beautiful protected bay.
Now we really did feel a long way from home, and ashore it definitely did not feel like Europe any more!
Written by JoJo, February 2015

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