Cruising the Canaries

We catch up with Two Drifters as the crew prepares to sail across the Atlantic

We catch up with Two Drifters as the crew prepares to sail across the Atlantic.

Venturing down to the Canary Islands on a boat usually means one of two things: you want to continue sailing in warmer weather throughout the winter months, or you are getting ready for a much longer passage and it’s one of the last stops before crossing to the Caribbean.

For us it’s the latter, and we arrived in Lanzarote early October with three months to explore the seven islands before joining Cornell’s Odyssey rally from Tenerife to Barbados in January.

We were hoping for a little downtime before the mad-cap planning needed for an Atlantic crossing.  But we’ve found we are being kept very much on our toes as we need to pay even more attention than normal to the unpredictable weather, winds and the sea-state.  

The prevailing wind across the archipelago is north-east, but when it changes to a southerly be prepared to run into a marina as there are very few tenable north coast anchorages.  In addition, the Atlantic swell that runs between the islands can make anchoring very uncomfortable. 

Once the ARC rally – with its 250-odd yachts – has left Gran Canaria in late November the islands can be quieter.  However, with many individual boats now leaving it till much later in the season to cross the Atlantic to catch the trade winds, December proves to also be a busy month for boats.  Safe to say that if bad weather is predicted then best to reserve a marina place as soon as possible. 

What cruising in the Canaries does offer is challenging and exhilarating sailing as there are powerful acceleration zones between the islands.  This means you could be sailing in a gentle Force 2 or 3 one moment, and the next you are reefing in and dealing with 30 knots of wind.  This is also why the Canaries are very popular for sail training as you get to experience many different conditions across a few days.

The sea-life is just as awesome with an abundance of dolphins and pilot whales to be spotted as well as excellent fishing opportunities.

So far as visiting the islands, with its dramatic volcanic backdrop, Lanzarote was an unexpected pleasure with lovely beaches and white-washed, low-rise buildings.  Yes, it can be very touristy in places, but if you can see past the hordes of holidaymakers, then you will really enjoy exploring this charming volcanic island from the water.

Just seven nautical miles away, Fuerteventura is more traditional; shabby in parts, but with warm, welcoming people and an extremely good line in beach bars! It also has the Canaries’ cheapest marina at Gran Tarajal.

Gran Canaria, avoid the busy capital of Las Palmas and head to the south west coast where one or two quieter anchorages and marinas can be found in between the sprawling resorts.  And that’s much the same too with Tenerife, with the better places to stay being on the southern sides.

However, our favourite by a nautical mile is the small and beautiful island of La Gomera. It’s simple, charming and with an interior that is a haven for walkers.  It has a very laid-back appeal and welcomes sailors and the few tourists that visit with open arms; the perfect spot for planning our next adventure across the Atlantic!