Penny on the tiller
The following 2 posts are letters Sim wrote from Las Palmas in the Canary Isles.
This letter was to Sim's brother in law in Australia
No doubt Phyl has shown you the letter in which I told her of our trip to Vigo, so I will carry on from where we left there.
We left Vigo about 6 in the evening. The forecast given us by the yacht club secretary was 2 to 3 westerly, visibility good, and to remain thus for 2 or 3 days. We thought we would have a nice pleasant reach, with full main and genoa and a calm sea.
In a flat calm we motored out toward the entrance of the sound, which is guarded by large rocky islands (Islas Cies), about 5 miles out from the yacht harbour. We thought that these islands were probably sheltering us from the breeze. And they were: as soon as we got out through the narrow passage, we were nearly knocked flat by a force 6 northeaster. By the time we had reefed down, we had blown downwind, and could not have got back, even if we had wished. It would be dark shortly and this stretch of course is notorious for its dangers, so we headed out to get sea room.
When we had made about 15 miles S.S.W and considered it reasonably safe, we dropped sail, and leaving the ship lying to, I went below, where Penny had already started cooking a one pot meal. After scoffing this I went up to have a last look round and then kipped down, fully dressed. I had seen a flashing light on our port quarter and I got up several times during the night to check that the wind hadn’t backed. The light gradually drew eastern.
By daylight, the wind had dropped to force 4 so we raised sail and headed south. Our most direct course put the wind dead behind us, and we found it most difficult to sail like this. Although the foresail could be successfully boomed out, the main would try to jibe, despite a preventer from the boom end to the Samson post. The strain on the sail over a long period was too great for peace of mind so we started to experiment.
We were now in the Portuguese trades and except for one day they blew steadily from the north. Never less than force 4, mostly 5 or 6. The main sail was lashed on the boom and the genoa (160sq ft) and the working jib (100sq ft); both hoisted on the forestay and boomed out, were adequate from 4 to 5. According to how much the wind freshened we took down one or the other. On the exceptional day we started off with a force 2 wind in which we set main and spinnaker. The wind freshened; we took down the main and ran on the spinnaker. The ventimeter soon read force 5 and we tore along like an express train for most of the day, the sail swelling and contracting as the gusts caught it. From the front, it must have looked like a belly dancer's abdomen writhing sensuously.
About 6 pm the wind increased and I was getting worried as to how I could get it down, when the problem was resolved for me. There was a terrific bang and the leach blew out straight before us. The snap shackle on the sheet had come adrift. I went forward and fought with the sail for about ten minutes before I could smother it, Penny meanwhile on the tiller trying to keep the boat from broaching to.
Our self steering gear gave us no help at all. But by now we had found that we could manage by taking 4 hour turns at the tiller for two days and two nights, and then we could recuperate on the third night, by dropping all sail and sleeping whilst the boat looked after itself. It usually turned sideways to the sea and just rolled as they passed under us. We were held in our bunks by the canvas bunkboards, and were so tired that we would sleep despite the movement. During the rolling, anything that was not fastened down securely would eventually crash down to the floor between the bunks.
We would of course, hoist our radar reflector and light the Tilley storm lamp, which we then fastened to the coach roof with shock cord, in case any big ships should come our way. The Tilley was marvelous and stayed alight in any wind we have so far had. But now that we were using Spanish paraffin, we have to go up and prick it several times a night which is a nuisance.
As we got nearer to the Canaries, the wind increased, and for 48 hours we ran under our small jib. Only 40 square ft, but the log still showing around 5 knots. The sky was overcast and we were unable to take a sight, but our direct reckoning put us somewhere north of Lanzerote. Our transistor would not pull in any B.B.C programs; these being blanketed by the Spanish and Portuguese stations, but we eventually identified the Las Palmas station. Our nearness to Lanzerote which according to the pilot, is mostly desert, was confirmed, when we found our decks covered with red dust, one morning.
The sky remained overcast and with no sight our position was highly doubtful. We thought that we were west of Lanzerote and that Las Palmas was S.W by W. Our R.D.F batteries were flat, due to the set being inadvertently left on, but our transistor receiver gave a null where we thought Las Palmas should be. According to our direct reckoning we thought we might be able to see the mountains if we headed in this direction for 40 or 50 miles. (We have since found that they are shrouded by mist most of the time). After 35 miles, visibility was down to 2 miles. If Gran Canaria was in front of us, we didn’t want to run into it in bad visibility at night, so we dropped sail and threw out our drogue so that we would not drift too far. In our tired state, we got to wondering if our reckoning was out and if we were, possibly, on the reciprocal of the radio bearing in which case we could be heading west, away from Gran Canaria
The fact that we both overslept the next morning was probably a good thing. Besides feeling much better for the long sleep, the wind and current, both, had carried us to the south, and the null was now farther north than last night, so Las Palmas could not be behind us. Hoisting sail, we moved off, keeping the radio on and sailing by the null. Visibility was even worse than the previous day. The wind increased. Reefing down to about half of our mainsail only, we battered our way along with the wind and sea just forward of our beam. As dusk approached, Penny, who was on the tiller, saw a light through a break in the mist, on our starboard bow. We headed up toward this and after another hour we were able to identify this as the lighthouse at the Isletta, Puerto Luz.
With the wind and sea very high and battering at our starboard bow, we now had spray sweeping over us continuously. As we got nearer, the lights of the town became more distinct and we started looking for the leading lights, without success. According to the pilot there was a long mole, stretching south, from the lighthouse; to make sure we missed this we kept well to the south (which was a mistake).
Obviously seaward of the city was a line of bright white lights which we took to be lampposts on the mole. Starting the engine, just in case, we headed south to round them. It wasn’t until we were about 150 yards from them that we realized that they were small fishing boats, each with a single light as bright as a car’s headlight, presumably to attract fish. At about the same time we saw what could be the light on the end of the real mole, way up to the north, mingled with the neon lights of the town. Keeping the sails up in case the engine failed, we slowly motored up against the wind and swell.
It took us an uncomfortable two hours to make up the ground we need never have lost had we recognized the mole light against the background of the town. Entering a strange harbour at night, even with a good chart, can be a hair raising experience. Leading lights always seem to get lost in the myriad street and shop lights, neon signs etc. The Admiralty Pilots, if anything, seem to frighten one more than ever, with the lists of dangers one can meet. When you look around in the morning, you wonder what happened to all the hazards of the previous night.
The Pilot mentioned a small boat anchorage at the head of the harbour, so when we reached this we started to look around for yachts. In a small basin, we saw some cabin cruisers moored near what appeared to be several trawlers. Being just about fit to drop, we tied on to a vacant buoy, and literally fell into our bunks. It was 3.15 am. The harbour noises penetrated our sleep at about 10.30 the next morning, and when we looked out we found that we were moored amongst several motor cruisers, but what we had taken to be trawlers, were in daylight, minesweepers and other small navel boats.
After breakfast, thinking that we might have taken some water from the spray the previous night, I tried the bilge pump and was shaken when I found it took nearly 200 strokes to clear it. Later in the day, when we had time to look beneath the cockpit, we found a steady trickle coming in through the gland.
I presently rowed ashore, as no one seemed to have taken any notice of our ‘Q’
Flag. I landed at some steps and asked three chaps in uniform if they spoke English. One did. I was asking him to direct me to the yacht club, when an officer came up. He pointed at me, and said “You English, out!” I started to ask him where we should go, when he interrupted me, by repeating “Out, You English, get out” and put his hand on his pistol. I went; I was livid, but thought discretion the better part of valor. On the way back to the Stella Mira, I spotted a boy on one of the gin palaces. Drawing alongside, I said “Real Club Nautico.” And he indicated by signs that we should go out of this basin and round the corner to the right. We learnt later that we had spent the night in the arsenal!
Going out under power, we got back into the main harbour, and could see, lower down, a sailboat, to-ing and fro-ing. As we approached, we identified it as a Tumlaren, and following it we found a corner of the harbour where 6 or 8 other yachts were moored. The Tumlaren crew were obviously curious about us, and when they sailed near we repeated “Real Club Nautico?” They assented, and indicated that we could anchor. We dropped our hook, and prepared to have another go at getting ashore. This time we hit the jackpot and were soon being made welcome at the yacht club.
Well that’s how we came to Las Palmas. We had been thirteen days at sea. We have made lots of friends since we have been here. Penny has a boyfriend and is in with the gang of Spanish boys and girls her own age. She goes out every night, but youth here is to be in by 10.30 or 11 pm, so there are no really late nights, except when the yacht club has a do, and then we go on till about 4 am, complete with fireworks. I mostly sit, and talk boats with other sailing types, while Penny dances. I think she will be as glad as me to move on though I am dreaming of the day we sail up the Swan River and I can get my old crew back.
Last night whilst Penny was out, I improvised an oven from a large quality street tin, and that afternoon I made some pastry and a jam tart with a pot of home made jam we had given to us. I put in too much fat and it was more like shortbread. Tonight I have to attend to the prize giving at the club to collect our second cup. If we carry on like this everywhere we stop, we can open a jewelers shop when we get to Perth (if the weight doesn’t sink the ship).
This is certainly the longest letter I have ever written. Perhaps what I lack in frequency, I can make up in quantity. I still haven’t told you in detail of the things that happened and the people we met, both here and in Vigo, but it has taken me a fortnight to write this much in between whiles. Most of this will probably bore you any way. If it does, please tell me, and please ask questions as this helps me to write. If you think that any of what I write is worth publishing, I leave it to you. Personally, I have my doubts. To me, its seems all I’s and we’s. I do not seem to be able to instill any humour into it. Whilst, in fact, we often laugh our heads off when something happens, in retrospect we can’t recapture the funny side.
If we could make a note of it at the time, it might help, but it’s often as much as we can do to hang on, let alone write anything. You’d never believe how difficult it is, even, to take a sight and work it out, in only a force 5 wind.
Anyway enough for now. Our love to you all. We’ll be with you as soon as we can make it.