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December 2014

November 2014

Fortunately We Are On the Dock in Tenerife

IMG_8366Unfortunately, we may be here longer than anticipated. The past four days have been interesting – mostly in a good way, and when not in exactly a “good” way we can resort to “Thank Goodness it Happened Here!”

Fortunately, we had a great sail for the first 24 hours from Graciosa, and we and our sailing friends (and extra weather support) believed that we had a shot of making our way west and south to beat the nasty front moving in.

Unfortunately, the front came early, and the winds shifted two days sooner than had been predicted by all sources. On Wednesday morning, we found ourselves beating north of Tenerife, which should have been a clue, especially when we had to tack to avoid getting too close to the island. Shortly after noon  I was able to get the day’s GRIB files and realized that we were skunked.

Fortunately, we were only 40 miles from Marina Santa Cruz in Tenerife.

Unfortunately, the wind and waves increased  immediately after we had tacked to our new course, and we found ourselves beating in 20-35 knot winds and 6-8 foot seas.

Fortunately, we main and jib were already reefed.

Unfortunately, Casey, the auto-pilot does not like (is not set up to like) handling a beat in strong seas, so we had to hand steer. EW took the first shift and I worried about being able to handle it when he tired. We had to prepare for 4-5 hours of this.

Fortunately, EW dumped the main (let out the mainsheet so that sail wasn’t pulling – much) and we were still able to sail at 5.5 – 6.5 knots though it was much easier to steer the boat. When my turn came, I held her just fine for over an hour and a half until we had gone far enough past the point of the island for the waves to diminish. At that point we used the autopilot again and tootled along for another hour or more. (It all runs together.) At some point I opened two cans of chili and served it up with butter bread. We felt better.

Unfortunately, we would have to motor the last 12 miles as we had not been able to hug the coast on the way south. We took in the jib and turned to the west in 40 knot gusts. The winds come off the mountains and do strange and amazing things in the Canaries.

Fortunately, we were close enough for cell coverage and I was able to call the marine before they closed at 1900 (7:00 PM) and confirm they had a slip.

Unfortunately, EW realized on our way in that the alternator wasn’t charging the batteries. We are once again on a European dock with no access to local power.

Fortunately, locals told us about Jose, the alternator expert who is amazing.

Unfortunately, he may not be able to find the needed part on the island.

Fortunately, all of our neighbors are OK with us using the generator in the afternoon because ..

Unfortunately, while we are in the midst of a storm and very glad not to be outside, there is no sun and the wind swings from 8 knots to over 30. The wind generator doesn’t charge the boat with fewer than 15 knots and it cuts out when the winds top 30.

Fortunately, all Spanish, French, and German sailors – most of whom hardly hear the generator over the wind – were very forgiving.

Even more fortunately, of the two boats we would bother most, one is not living aboard and we’ve already made friends with and broken bread with the captain and crew of the other boat.IMG_8415

IMG_8421Most fortunately of all … on Thursday morning, I scooted to one of the most wonderful food markets we’ve seen and purchased everything needed to create a Thanksgiving for two: grande pollo, butterflied by the butcher, potatoes, squash, apples, fresh herbs, and white wine. I made a small feast, the first Thanksgiving I’ve commanded since the year we moved aboard. We shared two pieces of pie for Jose to take home to his wife, and invited our new best Irish friends, Kevin and Irene over for pie and wine after dinner. I’m going to keep feeding them because they are closest to the generator.

 

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So on this day after Thanksgiving, I am grateful for many things:

  • The opportunity to seen many parts of this side of the world on our boat with the love of my life.
  • La Luna once again offered up a broken part where we were safe and able to get a repair or replacement – someday.
  • Tenerife is a lovely island, with public art, some greenery, and  if we lived here we would have a dog.
  • In fact, we have a neighbor dog, Canello who is a beautiful, multi-lingual, 9-year-old Golden. He likes to have his ears scratched. I like doing it.IMG_8368
  • We are tied to the dock in a protected marina. (We heard one sail boat battled 30 foot waves off of Lanzarote and called for assistance. They were safely towed into the harbor.)
  • Family and friends who love us from far away, and keep us up to date on what’s going on in Maine, Florida, Buffalo, Boston, California (hint, Favorite), the Caribbean, and the Pacific.
  • Someday … someday … we’ll actually leave the Canaries and sail west to the Caribbean.

IMG_8394In the meantime, we wait to hear about the availability of parts, make new friends, and – once the weather clears – visit a bit of this island. This town has a tram! How cool is that?

POST SCRIPT: Yes, you will note that we have not moved the bed back. We thought it was too much work to remove the dinghy motor from the master stateroom, and move the mattress, and put it back in four days. We take turns. Last night I had the lovely sea bunk and EW had the settee. Tonight we swap. We occasionally meet each morning for a cuddle in the sea bunk. (Once again with the oversharing.)

 

POST-POST SCRIPT – Finally getting this up on Sunday morning here (0940 my time, 0440 your time). Storm, rain after the storm and spotty Wi-Fi as a result prevented getting on-line at the marina. The alternator is working perfectly. Jose is brilliant! We plan to leave for Guadeloupe on Tuesday, December 2. Today, we are sight-seeing in two cities (One just a tram ride away.). Won’t get to the mountains as they are horribly clouded over still. Next time. If we visit the Azores again as planned, we will head straight for Tenerife after Santa Maria –despite the ridiculous tax.


Leaving the Canaries

Regarding that last post (rant)I feel like such a witch-with-a-B. Many cruisers do enjoy the Canary Islands, and if your from Britain, and don't want to live all winter in the cold, then I'm sure the Canary Islands are a wonderful retirement option. Brilliant!

That was bitchy, still. Dang it. My apologies to those who love the Canary Islands. When we cross again to visit the Azores, we'll be better cruisers in the Canaries. I promise.

We are safely at sea, having set out only an hour later than planned, but leaving 15 hours earlier would have been optimal. There's some nasty weather heading down into the Canaries and we have been plotting our course to get beyond a certain point west and south ahead of the 35 knot winds and lumpy seas. This isn't a major storm, and the winds aren't going to be on the nose, I'd just rather not experience them. EW, my captain, believes everything is just fine and I'm sure he's right. We set a plan and we're working the plan, just as intended. I just want to be south and west of the Canaries and making our way across the Atlantic with the trade winds.

La Luna is doing fine. The auto pilot is doing the work, and we hope that tomorrow will be sunny and windy and let the solar panels show their stuff. Tonight I have pork loin roasting in the oven with potatoes and onions, and broccoli ready to steam in a pot on the stove. Like all starts, I get to have the first night watch from 1800 to 2400. We both need our sleep.

Yesterday we prepared the boat for an evening departure, and planned to hoist the dinghy and motor and finish the deck work when we returned from our trip to town. However things took longer than we intended and we would not have been able to make everything fast before dark. EW elected to wait until morning, and I respected that. Unfortunately I had already made up our comfy sea bunk, a process that involves lowering the dining table, removing all the cushions, installing the lee cloth, replacing all the cushions, adding two for the table top, and then moving our entire mattress system from our queen bed to this long double. The extra width of the mattress curls up against the lee cloth and provides cushion when we are heeling to port. (The settee cushion provides cushion when we are heeling to starboard.)

EW told me not to bother to take the bedding back to our stateroom, saying that we could have a cozy night.

Ninety-five per cent of the time we fall asleep entwined. (I know, overshare.) Sometime in the night we separate. Entwining was lovely on the cozy bunk. Separating proved to be impossible. We bumped into each other. We twisted. We entwined again. We dozed and woke and dozed and woke. Finally, sometime after 0200, I remembered our wedding night. We hadn't planned an immediate honeymoon as Favorite, then 10, was with us for the summer and many loving family members and friends had traveled hundreds of miles to be with us. At the last moment, EW decided we needed to get away for a night and got tickets on the Scotia Prince, the ferry that ran from Portland to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. He wanted me to see what it was like to be truly at sea.

We had fun, but the last minute tickets resulted in a room with bunk beds. On our wedding night. Sometime in the wee hours I told him, "I love you, and will forever, but not in a twin bed," and moved up to the top bunk. Last night, I climbed out of our sea berth, grabbing my pillows and the extra blanket. "Where are you going?" asked EW. "Just over here to the settee." It's not quite as wide as a twin bed, but it's plenty long enough and I had much more room there then I did with EW in the sea bunk. We slept.

Remembering voyages past, and our wedding over 29 years ago isn't a bad way to start our second Atlantic crossing together. The Harts are once again at sea.

I send this shortly after 0700 UTC on Tuesday November 26. We are located at 28 degrees 47.79 North and 015 degrees 34.66 West. Made your pies yet?

The Canary Islands

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First, a recap: We sailed from the Azores to the tiny island of Graciosa, arriving on the 10th of October.

October 17th we sailed to Marina Lanzarote.

November 4th (finally) we sailed back to Graciosa, with the intent of staying as long as possible before provisioning and taking off across the ocean.

November 17th, we sailed back to Marina Lanzarote, earlier than intended due to strong southerly winds. We stayed on the dock, provisioned, played tourist for just a bit, and left on the 21st, motoring south for two hours to get fuel, then motoring north back to Graciosa to fix a few things and prepare the boat for the crossing.

In the Canaries we sometimes struggled not to become “Ugly Americans”. And our impression is not fair to the Canaries, especially as we’ve only seen two of the islands. (Only one if you consider that Graciosa is part of Lanzarote.

First of all, we have not seen any canaries of the feathered variety. In fact, the Canary Island Group is named after the island that is now known as Gran Canaria, and that island was named by the Romans after the multitude of huge dogs roaming about. There’s even a statue of these large, black dogs in Gran Canaria. So, we weren’t in bird islands, we were in dog islands. This was ironic, as you will see. 

Marina Lanzarote is on the northern end of the city of Arrecife, conveniently located near the marine stores, some excellent hardware stores, Antonio’s Solar business, the stainless steel company, and walking distance (once one knows the route) to four grocery stores, and IKEA -- of all things. To check into or out of  the country, one must take a taxi or walk over two miles to the cruise ship port, farther north.

We had arrived on a Friday, not in time to reach the Port Police, so we spent the weekend visiting with cruisers we had met in Graciosa, walking around our end of  town, and enjoying or avoiding the loud grand opening experience at the Marina and it’s somewhat more important shops and restaurants. (Including a Burger King. We cruisers began to call the place “Mall Lanzarote”, not in a good way.) During that weekend we experienced the electrical problems on the dock and blew our transformer. By Monday we knew that we’d be staying in the Marina to install solar panels, and finding things.

IMG_7895On Monday our tasks were to check into the country and get propane. As has been discussed, one proved to be ridiculously easy (especially since we were clearly illegal) and the other impossible. The walk to the cruise ship terminal was at times picturesque, but since there was no cruise ship in port, the lovely walkway ended at a locked gate, and we trudged through the dusty edges of an industrial park to reach the vehicle gate, which was open. IMG_7900No issues. It’s all part of the adventure. (Note, the photo above and the one below left were the picturesque parts. Really.) We were declared legal, and headed to the road and the round-about. After asking directions, we reached a convenience store, about a mile from the cruise ship terminal, where one can exchange butane bottles from DISA, the local supplier. They do not fill tanks there, but the clerk nicely directed us to the factory –  located a half mile from the cruise ship terminal – in the other direction.

Still all part of the adventure. Reminded me a bit of getting propane in Hampton Virginia. Sort of. So we trekked back around the round-about, down the hill and toward the DISA factory, to be told in no uncertain terms (despite lack of language skills on both sides) that we would not be able to fill our tanks in the Canaries.

The adventure began to wane.

This island has no trees, except for the occasional ornamental Australian Pine and various palm trees along the sidewalks. The countryside is barren: rock, sand, and stone. For interest there are ruins of stone walls that had been around gardens or salt flats a hundred years ago.

We walked back, over the dirt road in the port industrial zone, to the lovely walkway created for cruise ship passengers, and then on a sidewalk in a shopping district at the edge of town. By then it was 2:00 and we had succeeded only in getting our passports stamped. After lunch, we set off for a shopping district that included the IKEA, two grocery stores, and I thought a lot of smaller shops. We had a list.

We had actually been at the doorway of the IKEA store during our morning trek., but couldn’t find it coming from the other direction in the afternoon. We ended up walking about a mile too far up hill,  stopped at a bar for sodas, and got directions sending us back down the hill and (ultimately) into a construction zone.

We were giddy. EW had reached IMG_7907pissed off and gone to not giving a farthing (complete with faux British accent), taking him back to a good mood. As we waded in ankle high dust along a dirt road with a highway just to our left, past an old landfill toward IKEA (we could see the sign), EW said, “You know, if I lived on this island, I wouldn’t even own a dog. It wouldn’t be fair to the dog!” I cracked up. “Seriously,” he continued, “There’s nothing to sniff here!” 

The resulting release of laughter and endorphins just made us laugh more when we realized that all of the small shops in the “shopping district” were closed for the day.   (Spanish shop hours are strange; some stores close for four hours in the middle of the day, others don’t open until 4:00 and still others close early in the day. We shopped in IKEA, where I was able to purchase three much needed kitchen items for under 10 Euro, and we were able to purchase about a third of our groceries next door. When we were done, a nice security guard at the store called a taxi for us, telling the dispatcher that the driver should look for “dos gringos” with groceries. (Above, the picturesque walk up the hill that took us too far for IKEA. Yes, I requested EW pose to show the exercise equipment. This is a cool idea. This park is a wide lane between a divided street. It’s brutally hot during the day, but one could jog or walk and stop for a workout in the morning or evening. That’s as green as Lanzarote gets.)

A bunch of British folk have retired here on purpose. There is a English language radio station, complete with ads letting you know that haggis and Christmas crackers are available for the holidays, an English language newspaper, and a surprising number of folks in the shops speaking the Queen’s English. I stood in line at a shop with one mother and daughter and asked if they were on vacation. “Oh no. We moved here.” Without thinking, I burst out, “Why?!” (There’s that Ugly American, again.)

All in all, we figured we walked eight miles during our first Monday in Arrecife. They were hard, dusty miles.  

IMG_8063OK, this is pretty, It’s the lagoon in town. These small fishing vessels have a channel from the ocean, under two bridges to this harbor.

Still the Canary Islands aren’t our favorite destination. I’m sure in the future that if we aren’t enamored with a town or island,  we will say, “If I had to live here, I wouldn’t even own a dog.”

 

 

OH! The photo at the top of the page was taken when we motored past the small (only) town on Graciosa. 


Bouncy Anchorages

For the first time in months, EW and I successfully exited a marina on the day we had planned. Perhaps we shouldn't have. We paid our bill on Thursday, and skillfully backed out of a tight slip on Friday morning, heading south for two hours to the only marina with fuel. We filled the diesel tanks, and motored back to Graciosa in no wind.

The anchorage had emptied earlier in the week because south winds were predicted. They came as promised while we were safe in the marina. Yesterday, as we neared the bay, we were surprised to see just one boat in the anchorage. This could be good -- as in we're first and get the best spots; or bad -- as in we missed a memo.

We kind of missed a memo. Strong southerlies are untenable here and we avoided that. But we anchored with building winds from the west, and have experienced 24 hours of bouncing and rolling. I have photos of our neighbors' boat which show too much bottom paint for a boat not heeling under sail. It's been thank kind of day. It also has poured in the desert, causing gully washes on shore, and sandy brown water in the anchorage. La Luna is fine, the Rockna Anchor is our new best friend, and we have taken this as a lazy day. Most of EW's pre-crossing tasks are on deck; one involves going half way up the mast. That is not happening in these winds and seas. As for my tasks. I did a couple, but it's no fun bouncing from counter to counter, or mast to settee, when you don't have to and aren't underway.

We read. we ate oatmeal for breakfast, and had a chef salad for lunch. Dinner may be popcorn. We did not launch the dingy, rig the jacklines, or prepare the ditch bag. We don't have a schedule. We will get into the town here at least once for Wi-Fi and phone calls. We have a few things to fix, and that is our excuse if the marine police show up. (After all, we have had our passports stamped for departure.) We do have a few things to fix, so our excuse is true, and only a fool would have left the anchorage in these conditions. Passage Weather says that the winds will shift to the north tonight, which should reduce the motion, but we still may see 20-25 knot gusts on Sunday. We are not fools and will go when the going is good and not before.

We also used this time to further discussed our destination in the Caribbean, using our copies of Chris Doyles guides and some research I did on Noonsite. With all due respect to the beautiful islands of the Caribbean, I'm over high anchoring fees, and restrictive cruising grounds, so we aren't stopping at Barbados. On this side of the Atlantic, European sailors have frequently asked us which are our favorite islands and we answer, Grenada and Guadeloupe. So we are going to land at Guadeloupe and spend a week or so in Grande Cul-de-Sac Marin, that large bay in the north. Then we will sail to Nevis and St. Kitts, which we have never visited. From there we'll make a quick stop (24 hours max) in Sint Maartin to pick up some paint, and then we'll head to the Virgins.

Timing is iffy, but we won't be in St. Thomas for the holidays. As for leaving here, we remind ourselves that we don't have a schedule, we certainly won't leave on Sunday, and I suspect we won't leave on Monday. Figure 17-21 days for the crossing, then three weeks to make our way to the Virgins, and I figure we'll be there by the 10 - 17th of January. The only bad thing about that is we may miss meeting up with dear friends who will be in the San Blas in February. Hope they hang there for a while, because we will be moving west in early February.

For now, we are relaxed and rockin' here in Graciosa. I'm good with that. As a matter of fact, I didn't sleep well on the dock and was up reading nearly every night -- for hours. Last night, we both woke up to check the anchor and our position, but afterwards I went right back to sleep and dreamland. (I did have a dream in which I was in an office, disturbed that my hair was constantly windblown even though the papers on my desk were not effected.)

EW and I came up with a new game: You know you married a cruiser when ...

You know you are married to a cruiser when she gets a better night of sleep at anchor in 20-30 knot winds than she does when the boat is in a slip at a marina.

Are you married to a cruiser? How can you tell? Inquiring minds want to know.

I heard EW{}POL::""|
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Farewell to the Canary Islands

IMG_8317We haven’t loved  the Canary Islands, but we’ve met wonderful people, installed solar panels that are working, and have gotten things done on the boat. We’ve even played tourist a bit. Just a bit. Frankly, we didn’t give the Canaries a chance. At times I’m afraid we’ve been Ugly Americans; we were mostly focused on boat projects and finding parts; we stayed on the boat too much; by necessity we’ve stayed too long in a marina. It’s time to leave.

We had two lovely, quiet, productive weeks in Graciosa. We celebrated EW’s birthday with grilled Azorean steaks, lovely red wine, and cake. EW obsessed over the solar panels and their output, and there were too many hazy, cloudy days. Still, the panels and the wind generator kept up with most of our needs, and the dingy motor worked, so we could ride to town for Wi-Fi and light groceries.

While having this quiet, boat work, contemplative time in Graciosa, EW and I thought about our Atlantic Circle trip and ultimately decided that we didn’t want to sail to Brazil and Argentina, but would rather sail back to the Caribbean. Our plan is to visit some of the islands we haven’t explored, hang a few weeks in the Virgin Islands, and sail west to the San Blas for a while. There, we’ll join Jaime and Keith on S/V Kookaburra, Carrie and Carl on S/V Firefly, and perhaps some of our new friends from the Canaries. We don’t plan to go through the canal, but would be delighted to once again help other boats transit it.

IMG_8116Which brings me to old friends. When we arrived back in Graciosa just before EW’s birthday, I noticed a seaworthy white boat with red trim and mentioned that she looked like a fine boat. After we anchored, EW realized that we knew that boat! She’s S/V Bear, formerly owned by Chuck and Diane, our neighbors at South Port. EW crossed with them from Tenerife to Antigua, and we both helped them transit the Panama Canal. IMG_8120

Now she’s owned by a family, also from the states, and we chatted with them as they were raising the anchor. (They had a lot of chain out and came close to our stern. All good -- the better to chat with them.) According to the woman on board, “Rust is the new black.”Bear looked happy , and ready for another adventure and yet another crossing.

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As are we. Sailing in the Canaries is better in the summer when the winds are more constant and less threatening. Like the Azores, there are few comfortable anchorages and none that are safe in a strong southerly. Strong southerlies were predicted for Wednesday of this week, so we joined the other sailboats in exiting the otherwise lovely anchorage. When we left, only 7 boats remained and most of them were getting ready to raise the anchor.  Since we had to go back to Lanzarote for final provisioning and to check out of the Canaries, and since we were now planning on crossing to the Caribbean, and since it’s just a matter of a week or so before yet another round of southerlies, we’ve decided to leave the Canaries. IMG_8157

As I write this, it’s Thursday, November 20th. EW has gone to check out of the marina so we can trek on over to the Port Police office and check out of the islands. We’ll get the veggies, fruits and other cold stuff on the way back, visit with dock mates this afternoon and evening, and leave the marina on Friday. Shhhh. Don’t tell the Port Police, but we’ll finish preparing the boat at Graciosa, and begin our crossing on Monday or Tuesday. As before, I’ll update the blog via our SSB and pactor modem. Though we told folks in our email list that we were sailing to Barbados, we might end up on St. Marten, or Guadeloupe.  Our first port of call may be up in the air, but we are definitely heading west.

It’s time. But that doesn’t mean we are done with the Azores. EW has agreed that we will make another Atlantic Circle in a couple of years. Who know where that will take us? Life is good at sea.


The Hermione Project and Other Crossing Groups

IMG_8013The Canary Islands, and to a lesser extent, the Cape Verdes islands are gathering points for folks crossing the Atlantic. This is a busy time in the marinas, and Marina Lanzarote was filling up as we left to return to Graciosa. Two weeks prior, the marina had allowed us to move to a dock where we could use the Honda generator, and where our neighbors were one workboat and ten or twelve local racing boats. After the sailboats left for a race back to the nearby island ofIMG_7954 Fuerteventura, we shared the dock with Pablo, Marco and their crew as they worked on their new, second or third hand workboat. They’d purchased her from an Englishman. Pablo speaks fairly good English and is a delight – a diver, business owner, and racing sailor. He reminded me of Favorite, so after we became friends I did gently ask him whether he knew “about his boat’s name”.

He looked chagrined and said that he did. They will change her name to Tandem Alpha, to signify that two strong men own her. He and his crew didn’t mind the generator – and in fact they made more noise than we did, and we didn’t mind that. IMG_7936

As the days progressed and the marina began to fill, more and more cruising boats joined us. One French gentleman asked why we ran the generator, but he was out near the end of the pier and assured us the two hours she ran in mid-day didn’t bother them at all. Over the next few days, more and more French boats were placed near us, one docking stern-to right across from us.

The first day they arrived, I went over and apologized for running the generator, explaining that our transformer had died and we had no choice but to run Jenny while we installed the solar panels. They were very forgiving, only asking whether we ran it at night. Upon assurance that Jenny would only be operated up to three hours a day between ten and four, we were forgiven. (It had been our experience in the Azores that the French were more disturbed by the use of the generator than any other nationality.)

Now that we were good neighbors, they told us that they were crossing the Atlantic in order to head up to Virginia for the Hermione Project. At least 20 boats from France  will join this replica of Lafayette’s ship and follow in her wake from Virginia to Lunenberg, Nova Scotia, stopping in New York, Boston, and Castine along the way. It sounds like a great thing to do, and certainly patriotic, but they won’t see much of Maine as their schedule is a little tight.

In addition to what EW and I called the “French Contingent”, other sailors from other Atlantic rallies filled the docks. There were folks participating in this year’s ARC, most of whom will leave directly from Lanzarote, while others will first stop in the Cape Verdes; and folks from Jimmy Cornell’s Odyssey – some just doing the Atlantic crossing, and others planning on joining his around the world odyssey.

IMG_8010EW and I have no plans to join a formal rally, but were delighted to be asked to join the “Atlantic Crossing Group”. This Google Group of sailors was formed in 2013 by a couple sailing to the Caribbean who wanted to stay in touch and share ideas with others who were crossing. The folks we partied with three weeks ago in Graciosa all belong to this group. We were welcomed with open arms and made new friends from the US, Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia, Germany, Ireland, and Turkey. A number of them were very helpful during our double quest for solar power and butane. There are musicians in the group, and we took over one of the docks one evening for an impromptu jam session. This was our kind of group.

When I signed on, I noticed that the description calls us “over the hill” sailors. I both resembled and resented that remark and said so in a group posting. Now I have to come up with a new description. It’s that kind of group – do-it-yourselfers and delegators – our kind of people. While we truly enjoyed all the people we’ve met, my favorite new sailing friends are Lucy and Ben. I’m appalled that I have no photos of them. They are from Great Britain, and are good sailors, except they can be known to shed quite a bit. One of the boats from Great Britain have not one, but two Labrador Retrievers on board. Big, gentle, loving, tail-wagging labs. I fell in love. Their people,Jack and Fizzy,  are neat, too.

IMG_7997As always, EW and I will set our own course, point of departure, and destination – but we’ll keep in touch with our new friends via sailmail and SSB. Life is good at sea.

At left and above, a gathering of the members of our group who were at the marina. Other members were en route from Gibraltar or Morocco, anchored in Graciosa, or sailing in the Canaries or Cape Verdes. It’s an independent kind of group.

At the top of the post, looking from our “meeting” to boats on the dock at Marina Lanzarote.


Powered by the Sun, Outfitting La Luna with Solar Panels

IMG_8103If we knew how easy this would be, we’d have installed solar panels years ago. What stopped us? We thought we really needed an arch over the stern in order to get enough power from the panels and having an arch built increased the cost by a whole bunch of lots (as cousin Jeff says).

Installing a simple arch would probably still be less expensive than installing a real transformer, and one of our main goals was to find a safe way to get power in at least some situations while on the dock. I think back on our time in the Azores when we had to tie up due to weather or harbor rules. Solar would have helped us in every port except Sao Jorge, where we went into the marina due to bad weather. There was no sun, and the high cliffs and break wall prevented gramps from performing. In every other marina we’ve visited on this trip, we could have generated enough power to forego the transformer. (And we did so on the last two days at Marina Lanzarote.)

Still, while we made the decision to go solar in the blink of an eye, we worried, fretted, asked questions of our new boating friends, and did a lot of on-line research.  John and Gill, on S/V Petronella, a lovely old ketch, don’t use as much power as we do (i.e they don’t have freezer) and they never plug in to the dock. I was greatly interested in that their solar panels are also attached to steel bars on the aft quarters of the boat – not high on an arch. John told us about his system and “introduced” us to HandyBob. We did our own research and relied on these  three blogs/websites: Handy Bob, Roads Less Traveled, and S/V Hotwire.

We had passed a solar office on our long, fruitless trek for butane, so we knew there was a provider who had provided panels for boats. Fortunately, while his office manager speaks no English, she was able to convey that Antonio, the owner, installer, and all-around good guy, would be in “a las quatro”. We visited Antonio many times “a las quatro” over the rest of the week. He was very patient.

IMG_7921Antonio only sells two brands of panels, and only one in the size we wanted. We talked with other boaters, read the blogs and articles, and decided not to focus on the kind of panels – other than making sure they’d still work if part of the panel was shaded.   While we researched, EW met Manuel, a clerk at the Inox (stainless steel) shop, and we plotted, measured, purchased parts and rod, and EW quite easily installed the steel rod in place of the top lifeline. Both of us had thought that would be a much more labor intensive and much more expensive project than it had been. As soon as we were done, we went back to Antonio for the final purchase. (At left, EW and the 12-foot poles.)

We relied most on HandyBob and RoadsLessTraveled. RoadsLessTraveled actually made some of the mistakes HandyBob mentions when they first installed solar panels on their boat. They should have slogged through HandyBob’s posts. He’s a bit of a curmudgeon with an ax to grind, who has lived in a RV with his wife, traveling the US for many years, totally off the grid and rarely, if ever using a generator. He has little respect for those who sell and install solar systems in the RV market, and doesn’t care who knows it. Every article of his starts out with some version of “I know this is too long, deal with it.” Every article is too long, and every article rants about difficulties he or his friends have had with solar installers in the RV market. Reading HandyBob is a bit of a chore, but worth it; he provided good information and it was backed up by our friends on both sides of the Atlantic, and the other sources.

  1. In panels, brand doesn’t seem to matter, but purchase ones that don’t totally crap out when a little shade is present . We have two 140 watt panels. We’d like three. We probably don’t need more than that as long as we (EW) installs them correctly.
  2. Cable matters. Cable matters a lot and bigger is better, especially from the controller (some call it a regulator) to the batteries. Length of run also matters and cable size must increase with a longer run. (Even I know this is simple electrical stuff. According to HandyBob, most RV solar installers don’t get this.) We have a run of about 12 feet from each panel to the controller, and only 2.5 feet from controller to the batteries. This is important. We used 4 guage cable from the controller to the batteries. This is also important.
  3. The controller matters. For our purposes, we didn’t need an MPPT controller, but did need one that would allow us to set the charge level for the batteries. This is another of HandyBob’s pet peeves – battery charging levels in many solar panel controllers are pre-set, and they aren’t set as high as the battery manufacturers suggest. The point of charging the batteries is to maintain them at the highest level suggested by the battery manufacturers – not the level suggested by the controller manufacturers. We opted for a Steca brand Tarom 45/45 controller.

IMG_7973HandyBob foams at the mouth when installers insist and persist in using small cable; running long runs of cable and coiling the extra cable instead of cutting it, and using a less expensive controller. The result is poor output, encouraging folks to purchase more panels than they need. Antonio seemed to agree with all of this, and sells a brand of controllers made in Germany that seem to be very good. Unfortunately, he did not sell the more expensive model that allows us to set the battery charge point at 14.6. The installer Antonio sells comes with a pre-set of 14.4. It took a bit of convincing, but we managed to convey to Antonio that we would spend the extra 220EU (ouch) for the 45 amp controller that would allow us to set the system for our AGM batteries. He had to order it from the mainland and will get it to us while we are here at Graciosa. We expected we’d have to wait to use the solar panels, but he surprised us by loaning us the smaller controller until the proper one arrives. I love Antonio.

He and his crew came to the boat three times to make sure the welder attached the mounts to the right place. EW (bless his heart) cut the holes in the deck, did all the wiring, and walked miles seeking parts. The result: 14 days after we started the quest, we were living off the grid, cranking out power. When there is full sun, the wind generator stops working automatically, when we have a bit of a cloudy day, both solar and Gramps work to boost the batteries. (Above, Antonio, EW, and Fausto installing the starboard panel.)

IMG_8130EW is tickled and obsessive. If I lose him, he can be found hunkered down on my side of the bed, reading the amps being produced by the solar panels. Cloud events are now known as “Cumulous Interruptus”, which sounds slightly nasty. Jenny, the Honda generator is now safely installed in her below deck home and we haven’t used her in 6 days. (At left, a sunny day in Graciosa. Woo-hoo!)

Some of the European boats have simple (read less expensive) arches, mainly used to hold their solar panels. When we do that, we’ll add another panel, and bigger wire from the panels to the controller because it will be a longer run. (We had trouble finding wire as big as we would like to use, but what we have is fine.) When we upgrade, we’ll install a 12 volt water heater element so that once the batteries are charged we can heat water. That idea came from our friends Keith and Jaime on S/V Kookaburra. They and I are now persona-non-grata with a number of men from Europe since I told their wives about the hot water option. Oops.

This post is too long. You’ll just have to deal with it. (HandyBob is contagious)

More photos from the project.

IMG_7947EW spent a lot of time learning about wire size in Europe, and using “Spanish for Cruisers” to plan his shopping trips each day. The book was invaluable to him. He had breakfast with it nearly every day.

First, he had to remove one wire holder from each side, cutting and filing the metal to allow him to attach the pipe holder.IMG_7914

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We were able to use the end attachments at right on both ends of the pipe. Once they were in place, we walked back up to the Inox place and purchased pipes cut to size.

IMG_7939Sort of.  They were a tad long. Fortunately, when we had asked the marina to move us to a slip where we could run the generator without bothering folks, they put us next to Pablo and Marco who had recently purchased this workboat for their dive business. Pablo immediately offered EW a grinder and the cord to use it. For the win!

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EW adjusting the slant on the panel for our time at the dock, where Gramps and the solar panels worked well together to provide us with power.

At the top of this post, a sunny day in Graciosa with solar panels cranking out juice.

Lots of juice.

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Moonset over Graciosa. Looks like a sunny day in the offing. If I can’t find EW, I’ll look for him back with his new best friend, the Steca Controller.

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Back Home at Anchor

Being at anchor in La Luna is "home" and we are delighted to be home. We finally left Marina Lanzarote, on November 3rd, 17 days after arriving, and 14 days past our expected day of departure. We had sailed there from Graciosa in order to check into the Canary Islands, gather groceries and provisions to last three weeks, fill our propane tanks, and to take in a bit of the larger island. We were most concerned about checking-in as we were two weeks past our Schengen sell-by date when we walked to the office of the marine police on that Monday, with documentation and trepidation both in hand.

"This is not a problem," the charming gentleman said. And stamped our passports with such vigor that EW suspected he'd dented the desk. By this time, we had met a number of US, Australian, and other non-EU sailors who had all spent a few years in the Med. They had tried to calm our fears by saying that most countries just didn't bother with the 90-day rule for cruising sailors on their boat. (Folks leaving from airports can have serious problems.) Still, we were technically illegal and our new friends tempered their comments with "most" and other qualifying words, which meant that some sailors could have challenges, so EW and I were definitely nervous. No need. We are now legally in the Canaries and I don't anticipate any problems getting checked out when we had to Cape Verdes or directly on our way back across the Atlantic.

Before met with the marine police, we had power issues on the dock at the brand-spanking new Marina Lanzarote, and the frequent outages fried the transformer we had purchased in the Azores, and fried EW as well. This of course, is a huge challenge as without a transformer we have no way to get power on a dock and can't stay in a marina with 220 power for more than a day or two. Two days later, we found out that Spain will not fill any US propane tanks. Ever. It's a new law -- so new the marina management wasn't aware of it until we and at least one other crew had walked miles toting tanks to the Disa "factory."

The short story for this short post is that we spent the next two weeks installing solar panels and trying to get butane in our tanks. These are stories for longer posts, with photos. For now, we are back in anchored off the desert island of Graciosa. This will be a time to write, to prepare the boat for our crossing, and to confirm our course. We can get email on the phone and will check it daily. I will write real blog posts and we'll walk through the sand to town a couple of times a week to check in via the laptop, post blogs, and make calls back home. We have solar power, a Spanish butane tank and the connections to make it work with our system, new walking sandals for me, all the provisions we need for two to three weeks at anchor in Graciosa, and a considerably lighter cruising kitty.

Ah well, life is good at anchor. And you should see EW check the voltage coming into the boat when the sun is out. He's so excited.