1. Ipswich to Canary Islands (1 – 30 Oct 2013)

We are now in the Canary Islands, having sailed here from the UK via Lagos, on the western Algarve in the south of Portugal.  We aim to cruise and explore the archipelago for the winter, before sailing back in May to Ipswich or wherever!
Route: Ipswich to the Canary Islands

After three particularly cold winters in Suffolk and having used much of each year’s summer sailing firstly around the UK and then cruising the west coasts of Sweden and Norway, we now feel in need of some winter sun!  The Canaries appear to meet that requirement. They are also sufficiently close to the UK in sailing terms (as compared to the Caribbean) to allow us to get back to the UK in time to enjoy a full summer, for a change, based at our Calshot beach chalet on the edge of the New Forest.   The fact is that we like England in the summer – rain or shine!

Our beach chalet viewed from Island Drifter (see below)
On previous visits to the Canary Islands we have used them simply as a staging post for Atlantic crossings on our own boat and on yacht deliveries.  While, on each occasion, we took “time off to look around”, and indeed liked what we saw, we didn’t have time to get to know the islands properly.

After returning on 7 August 2013 from our 3-month Norwegian cruise (see we spent a hectic week unloading and sorting out issues on Island Drifter before having her lifted out of the water on to the hard at Ipswich Haven Marina. We had to do so in order to repair the sacrificial strip at the bottom of the keel where we had again “kissed” a rock in Norway.  In our defence, it has to be said that Norwegian cruisers reckon that if you don’t periodically hit a rock you’re not trying hard enough!

Damaged keel before repair
We also scheduled and arranged for work to be done during the summer in our absence – work we’re not qualified to do ourselves.  The principal jobs included lifting out the engine in order to replace the leaking (corroded) oil sump and effect a major overhaul; totally replacing the old fuel supply and filter system (following the problems we had in Norway); and replacing and upgrading the boat’s 240v electric charging system for use with shore power.

Belatedly we then went to Calshot for the rest of the summer.  Since we had spent a significant time during the previous winter effecting some major refurbishments and improvements to our chalet, we had, unlike in some previous summers, very little work to do during our “holiday” . We were therefore able to concentrate on social and other activities with increased enthusiasm. 

We finally left the beach on 18 September and returned to Suffolk to load and prepare for sea.   Once back in the water we took the boat down the River Orwell to give the engine a good test run before a proper sea trial to Southampton.   As intended we finally left Ipswich on Tuesday, 1 October 2013, accompanied in the lock by a Border Agency patrol boat, which was going out to look for illegal immigrants in the Essex marshes.  

In Ipswich Lock with UK Border Agency Patrol Boat
To begin with we put up with a wet and bumpy sail into an easterly wind, weaving our way on a moonless night through the sandbanks at the mouth of the Thames estuary and then passing inside the Goodwin Sands around Foreland to Dover. From there on we benefited from the easterly and had a pleasant downwind passage to Ocean Village Marina in the centre of Southampton.  Our three-day sea trial disclosed, as is normal, a number of issues that needed attention – but fortunately nothing serious cropped up and the engine and the new fuel supply system (our biggest concern) worked like a dream.  

After a two-day sort-out in Southampton Helen left by train to Harrogate where she had a long-standing commitment to dog-sit for Henry and Sarah while they went to Las Vegas on holiday. Since the weather was fair, I pushed on single handed west to Falmouth.  

Initially on the way down the Solent I pulled in close to the shore at Calshot to wave to Will and Lesley and their friends who were at our beach chalet for the weekend. Fortunately it was a high spring tide and I was able to get within ten metres of the beach and still have 0.1 of a metre under the keel. Ostentatious I'll accept, but I've always wanted to sail up to the beach outside our chalet!

Island Drifter approaching Calshot beach
(see also earlier photo of shore from boat)

The remaining two-day passage to Falmouth was an easy beat into light winds and on a flat sea.  Since the forecast for the following week looked favourable, in terms of northerly winds, I decided not to wait for Helen but to continue south from Falmouth across Biscay while the conditions were right – rather than wait and then have to go round the Bay via the French and Spanish coasts (as we did last time).

For the first two days across the Western Approaches, past Ushant and the Continental Shelf into the Bay itself, it continued to be easy sailing on a beam reach.  Thereafter the wind moved to the north as forecast and I was able to pole out or sail on a broad reach downwind for the next three days to Finisterre.  

Video: crossing Biscay, before the wind increased

During that time the wind gradually increased from a northerly Force 4 to a Force 7 and then a Force 8 for the five or so hours it took to get round Cape Finisterre itself.  It was pitch dark with a 5-metre swell from behind.  Our Hydrovane (wind-powered self steering) worked impeccably throughout. I sat below and read a book, simply checking around outside every ten minutes.

Once I was past Finisterre the wind reduced as forecast to a Force 4 and I was able to sail south parallel with the coast. At regular intervals I was accompanied by dolphins playing around the bow wave of the boat.  

Bottle-nosed dolphins off Portuguese coast
Since the forecast remained favourable I decided that rather than stop in Bayona, as originally intended, I would keep going. I therefore hoisted the light-weight genoa and sailed on a broad reach in a Force 4 for the next three days, keeping up to 30 miles off the west coast of Spain and then Portugal in order to avoid fishing boats, pots and coastal traffic. With our radar alarm on I felt fairly comfortable in the good weather sleeping for longer intervals during the day when the boat could easily be seen as she steered herself south.
Travelling down Portuguese coast 
with the light-weight genoa

As it was dark when I rounded Cape St Vincent and then travelled east on a beam reach for the remaining twenty miles to Lagos, I continued to keep well out to sea in view of the minefield of poorly marked fishing pots that are indiscriminately placed off the coast.  I waited until dawn to close with the coast and enter the river mouth before stopping on the waiting pontoon at Lagos. The 1300-mile passage from Ipswich took 13 days including the two in Southampton.

Dawn sky on arrival at Lagos

Lagos is one of our favourite stop-overs which we used regularly when delivering yachts to or from the Mediterranean. It is a trading, tourist and fishing centre, with an attractive old town, an excellent marina and one of the best boatyards we’ve come across.  Only a short walk from the marina is the Meia Praia, one of the Algarve’s finest beaches – five miles of soft sand with inexpensive but excellent wooden beach bars and restaurants dotted along its length. The weather is generally excellent, having the benefit of hot sunshine and a cooling breeze off the Atlantic.  It does however have quite a bit of rain for a couple of the winter months – hence our decision to continue to the Canaries in search of the sun.

Marina de Lagos, Algarve

Lagos marina is nicknamed “Port Velcro”. No wonder! I soon recognised people who were there when we came through in Island Drifter, and stayed over Christmas 2009, on our way to the Caribbean.  During the summer, when the marina charges double, the long-term cruisers and live-aboards, who flock to the marina for the winter, go off sailing again, anchor locally or take their boats out of the water (leaving them in the boatyard) while they return home by plane.

After Mike had been in Lagos for a couple of days, I joined him having  flown from Leeds/Bradford airport on a budget flight to Faro, from where I took the train all the way to Lagos station – only 100 metres from the marina entrance. This very convenient, scenic and cheap transport link is another reason for the town and marina’s popularity.  Soon after I arrived, we met up with our friends Peter and Ayli, who now live in the town, and enjoyed a traditional grilled sardine lunch together – one of the port’s specialities.  We’d first met Peter in northern Spain in 1999 and ended up sailing in company to Lagos where he “swallowed the anchor ”.    

Barbecued local sardines
Fortunately we, unlike ARC participants (the 250-boat Atlantic rally that leaves the Canaries for the Caribbean in mid-November), were in no particular rush to leave Port Velcro!  A good thing too, since the winds changed from northerly to the south soon after Mike arrived in Lagos.  It would have been difficult, if not impossible, in our cruising boat, to have effectively gone south in such conditions.

Lagos’s five-mile beach (Meia Praia)
However, apart from two days when it poured in biblical quantities, the weather at Lagos was glorious for the two weeks that we stayed there.  Each day we swam in the surf and walked along the beach afterwards. It was also significantly more pleasant working on the boat in the sun and a cooling breeze than in the chilly east winds of Ipswich.  The list of jobs required on a boat never seems to end. Believe it or not, there are still 29 items to be addressed.  
We left Lagos after breakfast on Saturday 26 October, just as the wind changed to the north and was forecast to remain so for a week. After motor-sailing for the first twelve hours, we got out of the Portuguese wind shadow and sailed for the next four days in a NE Force 6 to 7 with 4 to 5 metre waves behind us – a spin-off from the “Violent Storm Force 11” which hit the south of England and Biscay at that time.   It always amazes us how events so far away can influence  weather 2,000 miles away.

Forecast of wave height between Biscay and Portugal

It was a fairly “bumpy” sail and so each night we played it safe and reefed down in order to avoid broaching and getting flattened – as happened four years ago on our way to the Caribbean via the Canaries. This time we simply enjoyed a fast downhill sleigh ride.

Video: downwind sailing

The only downside to the passage was that Mike didn’t land any fish! He hooked three but they must have been significantly bigger than “anything” he’d caught before. Each one took out his 300 metres of line before finally breaking the (weaker) short wire trace at the end (i.e. we didn’t lose the line and the fish simply ended up with a foot of wire trace and a sore mouth – until such time as our “eco-friendly” hook rots and breaks away). In some ways we were not sorry they got away – Mike fishes for the pot, not for sport.  A nice 5–10lb tuna would have been ideal but you have no control over what takes the bait.  A giant tuna would have fed a crew of twenty – not just the two of us.

The last tuna Mike caught - it can be done!
Since we were uncertain whether there would be space in a marina we called ahead by sat phone to check out options and book a berth for the first night. As it happens, this wasn’t necessary because the marina we chose, which is still under construction, was only half full.

Helen calling on sat phone to book a marina berth
We made landfall in Lanzarote at Arrecife (the capital) on the island’s protected south-east coast. Our pilot book (the invaluable Atlantic Islands by Anne Hammick) makes the point that with the lava reefs and rocks within the harbour itself one should not enter at night on one’s first visit.  Since it was now dark and the alternative was to heave-to overnight outside the port, we decided to work our way in carefully, through the harbour entrance past the modern container and fishing ports and on into the old Puerto de Naos in the centre of the city. It wasn't that difficult and as usual we wondered next day what all the fuss was about.  However, at night and the first time one is always cautious. 

We berthed on an empty pontoon in Marina Lanzarote, a new marina in the process of being constructed. Building of the marina and associated facilities commenced in July last year and it is expected to be fully functional by March 2014, including all the shops, restaurants, bars, swimming pool, gym and apartments associated with such a development.  It seems to be progressing to plan and when completed should be really excellent. No doubt, however, the 50% discounted price currently on offer will no longer be available!

Marina Lanzarote, Arrecife - under construction
We’ll now sort out ourselves and the boat and get our bearings before exploring the Archipelago for the next five months.

The Canary Islands Archipelago


  1. Wow, The Canaries - just like that! We are impressed, and a bit envious. 0 degrees and ice on the decks here in Oslo... It would be interesting to hear how you dealt with your fuel mystery. Hopefully we can meet up at some stage and hear the full story. Enjoy the sun! All the best, Hans and Eli

  2. Great to be reading your blog again. I loved the photo of the bottlenosed dolphins. Have a good winter. Carol Littlewood.

  3. This nomadic life seems to be suiting you as you both look incredibly well. Enjoy the Winter sun. Derek and I are just off to enjoy the last day of the Formula 1 in Abu Dhabi. It will be our last one as Derek has finally decided it's time to retire and return to the UK. Diana x

  4. Does this mean I wont be getting an invite to Christmas lunch ? !!!!!!!!!
    I love reading your blog stay safe and enjoy .. So pleased you met up with
    Charlie love to you both xx

  5. 5 months exploring.. can't be bad. Chapter 12 has moved to being chapter 3. The adventure of my life time is gradually getting nearer to finishing. Ian's gearing up for more free time and lots of sailing in semi retirement. We went down the Orwell in September, in the company of 5 other Wayfarers. We're now designing and making our own tent for cruising. Look forward to meeting up next year. Cheers Ginny & Ian

  6. Sahula in Ipswich, Skipper in Australia. Great blog. Be there next summer!

  7. Hello!
    I am happy for you, very interesting blog, and nice fotos or videos!
    Maybe possible for me sailing to Canarian Islands, in beginning of 2014, and to meet you!
    All the best,
    JF, on "Papy Boom"!

  8. Hello!
    I am happy for you, very interesting blog, and nice fotos or videos!
    Maybe possible for me sailing to Canarian Islands, in beginning of 2014, and to meet you!
    All the best,
    JF, on "Papy Boom"!

  9. Hello!
    nice to read your blog, very good sailing!
    Maybe I will sail to Canaries in the beginning of 2014, and hope to meet you...
    All the best,
    JF on "Papy Boom"

  10. What a long single-handed jaunt down to Lagos, nice conditions though. It is to be hoped that the proximity of Morocco, may intice you to take a 'cultural break' from the Canaries cruising for a while. Perhaps Agadir (Marrakesh) on the way back (currents allowing). Lots of Love and a HAPPY CHRISTMAS in the WARM! Grahame & Monica (Bermuda)

  11. It looks warm and wonderful love jude xxx

  12. Well done Helen and Mike. The blog provides invaluable information for those of us who contemplate a similar passage. Alas, given my current work commitments, I fear that I may not get beyond the contemplation stage for some time yet! Have fun. Keep safe. Rudi F