Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Back in the Saddle

After the shake up we received on our way to Graciosa, neither Kate nor I relished the thought of going sailing again.  Slowly, though, as is usually the way, the passing of time eroded the unpleasant memories.  I can't understand why our brains work like this.  It seems an unlikely trait to succeed in the Darwinian selection process.  I would have thought that the caveman who went out on his yacht, got caught in a storm and felt like he was going to die, remembered it exactly how it was and never set foot on another yacht for so long as he lived would be more likely to survive to pass on his genes than the caveman who went sailing, took a right pasting, yet a month later thought it was a good idea to go sailing again.  Maybe the caveman who remembered all the bad stuff ended up starving because he was too frightened to leave his cave to go hunt a ferocious sabre-toothed tiger after his last encounter with one.

Me and Kate in a nice little park in Arrecife
In any case, when Warren and Faye, of Moonshine, asked us if we wanted to join them for their sail from Graciosa to Lanzarote, we jumped at the chance.  We were eager to see what it was like to sail on a larger, much heavier, twin-masted boat and also to learn from Warren and Faye, who have a great deal of sailing experience under their belts.  We had great fun and were pleasantly surprised that heading against the wind into choppy seas was about as uncomfortable on Moonshine as it would have been on Firebird.  Why is this good?  Well, it means that we don't need to add 'uncomfortable ride' to the list of cons in our list of for/against having a small boat.  In fact, the only real problem we have found with a small boat is the limited amount of storage space available for food, but even this problem could be solved if we put our minds to it and built a clever storage area.  It's also sometimes a shame that we can only accommodate two guests below decks and we can't sprawl anywhere when relaxing.  Now it's warmer, though, we could comfortably have four people over if we sat in the cockpit and ate off our laps.  Some of the benefits of having little Firebird, however, are:

  • Marina fees are considerably cheaper for us than anyone else we talk to
  • are the running and maintenance costs.  For example, when motoring, we use half the diesel of Moonshine
  • The size of the lines and forces involved in sailing are easy to manage
  • We can squeeze into crowded marinas and anchorages
  • Close-quarters manoeuvring is a doddle
  • Most importantly, you are never more than 1 step away from somewhere to puke if you're feeling sea sick below decks.  Seriously, we have both been surprised by how quickly the need to blow chunks hits and I know I sure was glad to be within lurching distance of the galley sink!

The Arrecife Gran Hotel: The same size as Kate's head
I'm not saying that Firebird is perfect, but instead my point is that where things aren't quite to our liking, they would not be solved by simply increasing the size of the vessel and that small boats, in our eyes, have a lot going for them.

We spent a very enjoyable week on Lanzarote with Warren and Faye, exploring the island, relaxing, and hunting down the best-value English breakfasts.  Well, to be fair, this last part was mainly driven by me and Warren, although when push came to shove, Kate and Faye didn't complain for too long after the hash browns started flowing.  Aside from shunning local food to instead opt for badly prepared, greasy fry-ups that we should be ashamed of rather than embrace, their reluctance was down to the fact that to get the breakfasts, we needed to venture into the heavily touristic areas, full of 'Brits abroad'.  By going there and having the breakfasts, we were essentially becoming what we proclaimed to abhor.

Stay healthy by running marathons and drinking beer
At the end of the week, Kate and I took part in the Lanzarote Music Marathon, which, despite the name, was only a half marathon, 5 or 10k.  Kate ran a very respectable 10k and I was doing OK on the half until I was reduced to not much more than a hobble with what I suspect is ITB syndrome.  Hopefully it's nothing too serious and will be solved by stretching and strengthening exercises.  It was a fun event with live bands scattered along the route to keep you going.  It was held in Puerto del Carmen, one of the tourist resort areas that does a good breakfast.  The organisers had obviously taken note of the type of person that visits this area and instead of handing out the usual energy drink or protein shake that you normally get given upon completing an organised run, they had a table full of beer!  When I reached for an alcohol-free can, the lady behind the table helpfully corrected me and said that those cans were for the children.  She looked most perplexed when I thanked her and continued to take my 0% refreshment!

Graciosa as seen from Mirador del Rio on Lanzarote.  You can see the marina we were in (left of centre)

After watching the carnival on Lanzarote, which was a mass of amazing costumes, drumming, and elaborate floats, we returned to Graciosa on the ferry.  One thing we enjoyed about our stay on Lanzarote was being able to have hot showers and, once back on Graciosa, we couldn't bear to take another cold one in the windy, half-exposed shower block that we had been using on the campsite there.  We held out for as long as we could manage while still being able to call ourselves civilised, after which time, we cast off our mooring lines and took Firebird down to Lanzarote.  We were really excited to be sailing Firebird again and it was nice to make the trip on our own, to prove to ourselves that we were over the trauma of our trip from Portugal.

Watching the J/80s race
We have been on Lanzarote for a few weeks now.  In this time, we have taken Warren and Faye out for a reciprocal sail on Firebird, so that they could see what life at sea is like for a Firebirdian and to offer commentary on any aspects where we could improve our sailing.  Some of the tips that Warren gave us were really useful, and I would much rather learn from his experience than to have to do it the hard way and learn from our own experiences.  We have also watched some J/80 racing, a J/80 being a small racing yacht.  Well, maybe that's a bit rich for me to call them small seeing as they are only 2 foot shorter than Firebird!  We watched the racing with Sven, a friend we first met in Baiona (Spain) and who happened to be on Lanzarote when we turned up, which was a lovely coincidence.  The useful thing about having Sven for company while watching the J/80s is that he's a real sailing guru, who has done a load of racing himself and whose boat is a pedigree racing thoroughbred, so he could explain the rules and tactics we were watching and act as our own private commentator on who was sailing well, who wasn't and why.  At one point, a yacht passing through the area got caught up in the middle of the J/80s, who were all frantically beating back and forth on their upwind leg, tacking only inches away from each other.  We were so glad that it wasn't us amongst that tangled mass off nippy J/80s, being bombarded from all quarters, with only a few seconds to work out who should be avoiding who between each narrowly-avoided collision.  It reminded me of a similar experience we had when leaving Falmouth back in September.

Remote controlled yachts
We also had fun watching some racing on a smaller scale, with local chaps battling their remote control boats in a bay off the front in Arrecife.  All in all, there has been a fair amount of sailing action and we're loving it.

We are really enjoying exploring Lanzarote and although we are no closer to formulating a plan of what to do after the Canary Islands, at least now we have been able to put our unpleasant sailing experience behind us and will be venturing out of our cave to hunt more sabre-toothed tigers in the future.

Well; what more can I say?