The First Atlantic Crossing – Spain to Canary Islands
Let’s go back in time…
This story begins after our narrow escape from mainland Spain.
In case you need a quick recap: We were to cross from mainland Spain to the Canaries through Gibraltar. Up until then, we had spent some time yachting around the Iberian peninsula, outrunning ever-evolving Covid restrictions, visiting friends, and endlessly chasing any resemblance of freedom.
The Canaries would be the last stop in Europe before crossing the Atlantic Ocean on my way to Brazil. Our time in the islands was supposed to be a swift hop along all of the islands with the Staatenlos… I even had a schedule 😂. Everything was perfectly programmed to even have time to get a few upgrades done to the boat along the way. I seriously thought we would be sailing to Cape Verde in no time. 🤦♂️
The stories ahead are classic examples that shit happens, and you just have to learn to make the most out of it anyways, always. Stay flexible and be water, my friend…😉
Anyways, you’ll know what I’m speaking about soon enough…
A mission to escape the coronoia of mainland Europe…
The start of this journey felt like a mission. We left the Benalmadena marina on the second last night of October, at a quarter before midnight. You see, there was a new inter-region lockdown taking effect at midnight on the 31st. This new stage of the lockdown enforced complete restriction of movement between regions.
We were worried that if we waited to leave after the official start of the lockdown, we wouldn’t be allowed to either enter another region or leave this region. We didn’t really want to risk getting stuck in Andalusia for the foreseeable future, so we played it safe and left the marina before turning it into corona pumpkins.
We had some extra crew members join; two Ukrainian girls and a Spanish guy. The Ukrainian girls were actually traveling through Turkey before coming to meet us; they were sailing on a boat there.
With our Corona restrictions knowledge, we could get them to us, bypassing quarantine and tests. We had them go through Bulgaria, which is EU, not Schengen, and from there, they were in the EU, and they could fly to Spain without issues. Had they tried that directly from Turkey, they wouldn’t have been allowed into the country.
So with a crew of five, the two Ukrainians and the Spanish guy, we embarked on our journey to Gibraltar. This leg of the journey was a simple two-hour sail south and westbound, towards The Canary Islands.
Gibraltar from a distance
Our only stop along the way was Gibraltar. We weren’t actually going to Gibraltar proper but instead to La Linea de la Concepcion, the sister town of Gibraltar. We anchored in a bay nearby to fill up with fuel. The bay was pretty busy and full of boats.
Sadly, we weren’t actually able to enter Gibraltar at that time due to Covid restrictions, but from our anchorage, we could at least see the rock in its full glory.
We caught some great views of it for both sunset and sunrise, quite the backdrop. All in all, it was really nice being near the town, even if we couldn’t experience it properly.
Side Note: Initially, when we were planning the route to go through Gibraltar, we planned to climb the rock and find a monkey to come back to the boat with us as our onboard mascot. Unfortunately, no monkey for us this time. That means we’re still searching for the perfect candidate. 😉
After walking around the streets of the sister town in the early evening, we left Gibraltar at sunset. We had waited until sunset to ensure a nice crossing on The Strait of Gibraltar (the waterway that connects the Mediterranean to the Atlantic.) It also separates Spain from Morocco and Europe from Africa.
That night we choose the best time to sail, as soon as the wind let up. Remember that the time you choose to sail at can make the journey either much faster or much, much slower. We basically sailed all the way out, with great wind and great current, making it to about 12 knots – which is quite unusual. This means we were going pretty fast down, all the way across Tarifa.
During this leg of the journey, we stayed closer to the Spanish mainland. We even got to see the iconic lighthouse of Tarifa. As we continued straight down the channel, we noticed that it was all still bustling, with lots of boats on the water.
On our end, we just wanted to get southbound as quickly as we could to then sail along the Morrocan coast into our next adventure. This trip would be the first ocean crossing on the boat for me. Until that time, I had never spent more than 30 straight hours in the open ocean on the Staatenloss. That was all about to change, and I was very excited about it.
A mildly uneventful ocean crossing…
The crossing itself was pretty dull. It took us a total of 94 hours to get over to the Canaries. We reached our first anchorage in La Graciosa in just under 4 days. La Graciosa is a small neighboring island of Lanzarote.
Not much happened in those four days; we basically had a digital detox enforced by a lack of reception. Back then, we didn’t have the satellite device we have now. We were actually supposed to have had it by that first crossing; alas, it didn’t arrive in Malaga on time; so, we had to forward it straight to the Canary Islands, but that’s another story…
Back to the crossing. Every day was the same. We alternated the night watch. My shift was mostly the one from 7-12, and it was pretty uneventful, mainly making sure we didn’t crash into cargo ships.
Oddly enough, it was a different story on our way to Cape Verde; we basically didn’t see any boats on that crossing. The trek from mainland Spain down to the Canaries was much, much busier. Plenty of boats to crash into if you’re not paying attention.
One night we actually ventured into unknown AIS territory – AIS is an identification system for boats. We have it on the boat, both a receiver and transmitter, so that when another boat has it, they can see us on their radar and vice-versa.
On this one night, an AIS target showed up on our chart, but we couldn’t see it physically; it was very dark, and we couldn’t spot it at all, even though it said we were 500m away.
At 200m in the distance, and we still couldn’t see anything… at 100m, we started getting a little scared. It briefly crossed our minds that we could be getting ambushed by pirates! After all, we weren’t too far from the Morrocan coast; maybe some pirates had seen us and wanted to rob us!
At the end of the day, we realized that pirates probably don’t have AIS systems 😂. Moreover, at 10m away, we were finally able to see what it was. It turned out to be a buoy with a big fishing net floating in the water.
It had an AIS system attached to it so fishermen can find it. Quite random seeing this thing floating in the middle of the ocean. This whole incident brought a little excitement to an otherwise bland crossing.
Thankfully, during the four days, the winds were not too crazy. Definitely not the best, but manageable. There were showers every day, and we had to use the motor pretty much every day.
We were mostly going at about 5 knots each day and got to see a lot of nice dolphin pods coming by. Essentially, every day, we would see big pods playing below us.
They would follow for about half an hour each time, and it was never enough… we could watch them play and ride the waves for hours; it was so cool.
We also got to enjoy movie night and delicious food while at sea,
even boat-made gourmet pizzas were on the menu!
expect the unexpected…
On the second last day of the mini-crossing, our mainsail broke. We were not expecting this at all! The winds weren’t crazy either, it was actually pretty mild winds and waves, but I guess the combination of the two was too much. Keep in mind our old sail was very, very old, about 14 years old.
When I got the boat, I actually didn’t do much to it, and the previous owners used the boat as a charter boat, meaning they invested very little money in its upkeep.
In fact, the sail already had a hole on it, luckily only on the downside – if you reef it (meaning you have similar things to a reef under the boat), you can sail through a half reef of ¾ reef before the sail has to come down. We managed for the remainder of the crossing, but this still meant we had to get a brand new sail.
After four relatively uneventful days crossing to the Canaries, we arrived in La Graciosa. That morning, as we approached the island, we could already see Lanzarote and another small little island nearby.
La Graciosa is very barren, with basically nothing on it other than two volcanos. It was still a cool landscape and quite beautiful. It also has a really nice bay, which is where we anchored during our time there.
We finally anchored in La Graciosa at around 3 PM on day four. The bay was quite busy; there were about 20 boats anchored. The swell was also quite high but still good enough to anchor.
That afternoon we had some nice lunch aboard the boat and simply enjoyed having arrived in The Canaries.
I spent some time that afternoon playing with my Manta. It was my first time using it in the Atlantic Ocean. Thus far, it had only known Mediterranean and Adriatic waters.
We enjoyed the area around our boat, and just before sunset, we took the dinghy to shore, left it there, and hiked up the first volcano near our anchorage. We made it up for sunset, and it was stunning. The landscape was magnificent, almost like a desert with sand dunes. The volcano had this reddish sand, very unique scenery all in all.
The ascent of the volcano was quite strenuous for me, nothing I couldn’t handle, though, since it was only 15 minutes. 😅 The hardest part was that we were determined to make it on time for sunset.
Either way, it was absolutely worth it simply to enjoy the amazing views of the Lanzarote cliffs across the way, plus some other islands during Golden Hour.
We could also see the bay from there, and I actually took some pictures of the anchorage; check it out.
There is not too much to tell from that evening; up at the top of the volcano, the wind was quite strong. We stayed at the top of the volcano until after sunset, and before it was getting too dark, we ventured down again, going back to the boat in the dark. We had a nice first evening in The Canaries, celebrating a safe passage with some drinks and delicious dinner on board.
The next day we were ready for our next destination, Lanzarote!