Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The “ Great International Race to Jandia”

Sim's account of the Great International Race to Jandia

Jandia (pronounced Handia) is a lighthouse on the southwestern tip of the island Fuertoventura. It is on a bearing of 107 Degrees Magnetic from Las Palmas and said to be 60 miles. We were asked by the Real Club Nautico de Gran Canaria to enter for the race, as were all the other visiting yachts. We understood that this was the first of what was to be an annual race there. The start was scheduled to be at 7.30 in the morning. On the night before, all the crews were asked to attend a meeting for briefing. There were 14 boats entered, of which 8 were club boats and the visitors. The boats in order of size were as follows:

Barracuda, 72 ft (Ketch), American, Wood
Lady Ann, 68 ft, British, Wood
Alondra, 39 ft, Spanish, Wood
Tirma, 39 ft, Spanish, Wood
Gran Canaria, 27 ft, Spanish, Wood
Ramon, 27 ft (Tumlaren), Spanish, Wood
Esperanza, 27 ft (Tumlaren), Spanish, Wood
Willeca, 26 ft 5 ins (Invicta), Swedish, Glassfibre
Stella Mira, 25 ft 9 ins (Stella), British, Wood
Coronado, 24 ft (Coronado), Spanish, Glassfibre
Mistral, 24 ft (Mistral), Spanish, Glassfibre
Almerica, 21 ft 6 ins ( Cinder), Danish, Glassfibre
Atlantis, Nimble Trimaran, Spanish, Plywood
Vendaval, Nimble Trimaran, Spanish, Plywood

A small Spanish naval vessel was to escort us, and as most boats had walkie talkies, this would act as a radio control vessel.

At the briefing it was decided that as Jandia was just a beach with no shelter, the race would be to Morro Jable, a village about 8 miles farther along the coast where there was a small cove. The meeting ended with punch and snacks. The island television news' camera took shots whilst the meeting was in progress.

I had asked Ann and Hugh Bayldon, the only English members of the Real Club Nautico de Gran Canaria if they would crew with us. Both are rising 60, but very keen sailors, owning an 18ft Tiburon day boat and a Snipe. To sleep them we had spent most of the afternoon moving about 2cwt of gear from our pipe cots where it is usually stowed and transferred it to the Tiburon.

As Ann and Hugh live about 10 miles out of the town, we had arranged to sleep them for the night. It was dark when we returned from the meeting to Stella Mira. Penny and I offered to sleep on the pipe cots, but they insisted that they should, saying that this was nothing to being on safari in Africa (I learnt later that Hugh had shot over 30 elephants whilst in the service there) they seemed to think it was all great fun, 'Jolly and all that'.

We were awakened the next morning by a club mariniero (boatman) who had rowed out to tell us that Hugh had left his car lights on all night. We knew that the boatmen would be in great demand this morning and as we had not intended going ashore we had deflated our dinghy. So to relieve the congestion on board, Hugh took his gear with him, to complete his toilet ashore. He had to queue for half an hour to get a boat back though.

The club boats are used mainly as day boats and are therefore stripped of gear. When there is a race, the club members draw lots to select skippers and crews. The previous day, mattresses and so on had been ferried out. As far as we can gather there are no cooking facilities on board, the crews each taking their own ready cooked food or snacks with them.

To start races here, no guns are used, the signals being visual only, flags being flown from a starting launch, 10 minute Flag - White, 5 minute flag - Blue, Starting flag - Red. I assume that no two watches on this launch give the same time, as I have noticed a variation of as much as three minutes in these five minute intervals. (I kid you not)

By half past the hour, most boats were sailing up and down the harbour. The Invicta on the next mooring to us, had as yet shown no signs of life, so we began to shout to Willie the Swedish skipper, thinking that he had been out on the town the night before with two Polish brothers, (from a smaller boat) who were going to crew for him.

We weren’t far wrong. They were, in fact, still on the slipway, trying to get a boat to bring them out. Willie told us later that when they did get aboard, and get the sails up, the anchor was stuck. Before he could sail over it, the Poles, in their hurry to catch up with the rest of us, just detached the cable and threw the lot overboard. When they finally got to Morro Jable they were unable to anchor and had to tie up alongside one of the big ketches.

Most of the boats, us included, had up main and genoa. Knowing that Hugh raced locally, I asked him to help us for the start. The Red flag, however, caught us on the wrong tack, and when we crossed the line there were only the two big ketches and the Trimaran Atlantis behind us. The ketches were so far up the harbour that they would have needed binoculars to see the launch, let alone the flag. As we left the harbour the starter was firing rockets to attract their attention. This late start did not hold them up for long. Within half an hour they passed us with all sail set, doing about 12 knots.

Outside the harbour we found a beam wind, force 5 on our port, with not too heavy seas. The fleet had already spread well out with the nimble Vendaval well to the front. Opinions as to course, obviously differed, some boats being well downwind. We gradually began to overhaul Mistral and Almerica. By the time Ann and Penny brought up bacon rolls for our delayed breakfast Almerica was 100 yards astern. Coronado was now the nearest boat in front of us. She is of American design, built in Spain and reputed to be a very fast boat for her size. She was skippered by Tony Arias, one of the club’s best helmsmen. About a quarter of a mile separated us.

Esperanza, skippered by Carmelo Gonzalez was about 100 yards in front of Tony. The distance between the three boats remained unaltered for the next 10 miles, but the rest of the fleet slowly pulled away from us. Try as we might we could not lesson the distance between us. I was sure that boat for boat the Stella was faster than the other two and could only suppose that our extra weight was holding us back. We were four as against three in the other boats, we were carrying 6 months supply of tinned food under our floorboards as well as 25 gallons of water. Our full cruising inventory is not exactly featherweight, either.

The two boats in front, now began slowly to separate. Coronado slowly pulling away downwind and Carmelo easing slightly to windward. We could see no obvious advantage in following one of the other so we continued steering on 107 which took us right between the two. Slowly we began to gain on Esperanza but Coronado held its lead on us.

After 25 miles, Esperanza and Stella Mira were level pegging, with about a mile between us. Tony was still slightly in front but half a mile downwind. For the next 17 miles our positions remained unchanged. Almerica and Mistral were so far behind that we could not see them. By this time we could make out the outline of the hills behind Jandia. It was now 2.30pm. Our log read 42 miles and we had a beam wind of constant strength (force 5) since we had started. As we came nearer the land we could now see the lighthouse dead ahead.

The wind now began to freshen. We put two rolls in our main but kept our genoa flying. Coronado also reefed at this time. Carmelo was now in the best position, instead of reefing, he was able to free his sheets a little, and head downwind. He slowly drew ahead. The position when we passed the lighthouse was: Esperanza a quarter mile in front of us, with Coronado behind Carmelo but well downwind. The only other boats in sight were Ramon about 250 yards in front of Carmelo and Atlantis on the horizon downwind. (She had broken a stay and was later towed to Morro Jable.) Beyond the lighthouse in the lee of land, the sea was almost flat.

We had barely gone 200 yards when we were nearly knocked down by a howling gust. We wondered what had hit us; Hugh, who was on the tiller, grabbed frantically to release the mainsheet. Fortunately the boats weather helm had forced us up into the wind and spilled most of the gust. Before we could even think of reefing, we were in flat calm again. Two minutes later, another gust struck us, but we had the sheet free and were able to spill the wind. For fifteen minutes we yoyo’d along, one minute doing maximum knots, the next nearly stationary. In one of the flat spells I looked to see what had happened to the others. Coronado was now nearly a mile downwind and becalmed. Esperanza was 300 yards in front, heeling right over, in short seas about 6ft high and desperately trying to reef.

Realizing that we should soon be in this disturbed water, I hastily lowered the genoa and lashed it to the pulpit. Not a moment too soon. Almost immediately we were battering our way along waves which all the time seemed to be getting steeper but not longer. The mountainous coast was barely half a mile to port and with an off shore wind, we should have been in sheltered water. But this wind was funneling down through the many valleys and knocking up short steep seas, on which we literally bounced from crest to crest. When I looked up at the mast, it was whipping like a fly rod. I hastily reefed the main down to the third batten, no easy job, the way we were bouncing about.

In the middle of all this, Ann kept repeating “Isn’t this exciting; I never knew it would be as thrilling as this”. I thought “ Me too, neither”. I relieved Hugh on the tiller. His watch having been nearly up when this had all started and he was beginning to feel the strain. With reduced sail (only a third of our main left flying) the boat handled reasonably comfortably and we had time to look around again. We were amazed to see Esperanza, still only 300 yards ahead, so becalmed, that she had turned and was facing, almost, the way she had come. Ramon was also becalmed, and Coronado, although sailing slowly, was way behind and well downwind of us. As we watched, Ramon and Esperanza, found the wind again, but only a gentle zephyr which barely gave them steerage.

Penny, Adolpho and Ann Bayldon with Las Palmas in the background

Now it was our turn. We left the area of disturbed water and our impetus carried us 200 yards into what could have been the Sargasso Sea, from its calmness. We sat and watched the other two pull away, making toward shore, where the water appeared more ruffled. This may have been only a mirage though, as they soon became stationary again. Our own sails flapped a little, and we began, again to move slowly.

For half an hour or so, this drifting match continued. First one, then another boat getting a cats paw. The leaders of the fleet, could now be seen, anchored in the distance. Ann was still saying, “Isn’t this exciting, isn’t it jolly”, every so often. The cats paws came from any and every direction. It seemed to us that the course which gave the shortest distance must be the best one, so although advised to go inshore, by a motor fishing boat, which passed us, we kept pointing the boat toward the anchorage. This policy seemed to pay off, as we gradually caught and passed Esperanza. Ramon now had the luck to find a private wind of her own, and slowly pulled away from us all.

As we neared the anchored boats we could see the finishing line well past them denoted by a dinghy and a buoy, both with flags. Within 400yds of the line we could see our opposition, all behind us. The nearest was Carmelo, a quarter of a mile away, then came Coronado, then Mistral and Almerica, who had caught all of us up during our drifting match. At this point our luck finally ran out and we remained as if anchored for the next 20 minutes. First Coronado, then Mistral, closely followed by Esperanza, and finally Almerica, passed us and crossed the line.

As if to spite us, a gentle breeze then came up, and carried us over and down to the other boats. We selected a vacant spot and dropped our hook in about 4 fathoms. By the time we had lowered our sails it was 8 pm and pitch dark. Our log registered 55 miles. The first 45 of these had taken under 8 hours. The last ten, about 4 ½ hours.

As we had existed on snacks during the race, we thought we would now go ashore, have a look round, and get a meal. According to Hugh, boats to and from the beach were suppose to be laid on, but after 10 minutes spent shouting “ mariniero” and “ bote” with no response, we became discouraged and were just about to inflate our Avon (dinghy), when a dark shape loomed up out of the darkness. It turned out to be the dinghy of a powerboat which was usually moored next to Hugh’s Tiburon back in Las Palmas, and whose hired hand had recognized his voice. We all piled in and soon landed through fairly heavy surf, on a steep beach. About a mile further along the beach, so we had been told, was a hotel.

As we started in this direction, other lost souls joined us in our trek (confusion, confounded). Rounding a headland, we saw brilliant lights coming from a very large building, several stories high, and stumbling over boulders and patches of soft sand, eventually reached it, only to find that it was still under construction and not yet opened. As we stood wondering what to do, a car came along a dirt road and stopped. Out jumped Thomas Navaro, the skipper of the Trimaran Atlantis. (Whose only words of English are “ I am going to the country”, interpolated as often as possible into any English conversation he can break in to, but a really nice chap). He had apparently commandeered the village’s only taxi and learned that there was another hotel about 2 miles down the road.

He bundled about 8 of us inside, and off we went, bouncing along the dirt road at 50 mph swerving every few yards to avoid boulders. We off loaded at the hotel, and the taxi went back for the others. The hotel was a single story hacienda style building, complete with swimming pool and all the trimmings. It was set in the middle of nowhere, was German owned and catered for German tourists, who came there for a quiet peaceful time. They certainly didn’t get it that night, or the next.

Penny and Ann Bayldon, were the only women to come on the race. The local yachtsmen seldom take female crews, regarding this type of race as an excuse for a stag party. In any case the stripped club boats would be too uncomfortable for the average women. Perhaps that’s why they strip them; the party was still going on when we left, after having our meal. When we got back on board again it was nearly midnight.

Penny had been taken sick with violent stomach pains towards the end of the race and still had them when we went ashore. One of the Spanish boats belonged to a doctor, (a specialist from the Las Palmas hospital) and he examined Penny at the hotel, diagnosed acute appendicitis and recommended that she transfer to the naval vessel and go home in that. As it was too choppy to transfer, she stayed in bed and gradually recovered (when we were back in Las Palmas, Hugh took her to his doctor who said “Poppycock” and diagnosed colitis.

During the night, Ramon, whose crew had found lodgings in the village, went adrift and when found and towed back, had lost a jumper strut, and had to have her mast lowered and be eventually towed all the way home to Las Palmas by a power boat.

In the morning we went ashore again and had a look at the village. It consisted of 30 or 40 adobe huts, with a church and a mission run by nuns. I don’t think they had had as many visitors at one time before, ever. Beyond the village were bare, brown, arid mountains, and beyond that we were told, is desert for 20 or 30 miles. The beach would be beautiful if it weren’t for the village refuse dumped on it. From the boat it looked lovely.

We spent the day swimming and beachcombing (away from the village), and in the evening went ashore again for a meal. This time all the boys were quieter, and we were able to get a better picture of the rest of the race. The winner was Lady Ann, Vendaval was 2nd, Barracuda having blown out 2 genoas, was 3rd , Alondra 4th, Tirma 5th, Gran Canaria 6th , Ramon 7th, Coronado 8th, Mistral 9th, Esperanza 10th, Almerica 11th, Stella Mira 12th, and Willeca 13th. Atlantis retired. Both Lady Ann and Barracuda had recorded force 9 on their anenometers coming through the rough patch. On Willeca, Willie, the Swede had gone below to nurse a bad hangover. The two Polish brothers, who claimed that they had been professional yacht skippers in Denmark, took the boat so far north, that the escort vessel was said to have spent hours searching for it. They arrived sometime during the night.

On this 2nd evening, most of the skippers, said that they would start for home well reefed, and take their time. All, but the Barracuda had been gone 15 minutes when we pulled up the anchor and with working jib and the main reefed to the 1st cringles we worked our way back to the lighthouse. The wind was nowhere near as strong as before, and in the few bad gusts we eased our sheets and kept going. Once past the lighthouse, we settled down to a steady force 5 again, and though using much less sail area, we took about 1½ hours less on the return trip, sailing really comfortably. Apart from Hugh nose diving into the stew, and getting it all over the galley ceiling and in his hair, when we were hit by a bad sea, all was plain sailing. We passed 4 boats on the way home. It seems that the extremes of calm and storm that we met off Jandia, are quite normal for the southern coasts of most of the islands here. Anyway, it was all good experience.

I think that with normal racing inventory, and a clean bottom, we would have put up a much better show. The effects of our extra weight, were most apparent in the calms off Morro Jable, in which conditions, I believe Stella’s would normally excel.

As you can see from the picture everyone gets a cup for participating. Sim is 3rd from the right at the back.


xdw said...

great story! looking forward to more.

Can you talk about your navigation?
what sextant? How accurate were your sights, what tables did you use, what clock, ever try lunars, etc

xdw said...

great story. looking forward to more

can you describe navigation
what sextant
how accurate were sights
what tables
what clock
ever try lunars

Penny said...

I have published a post with all those details next