We Can Cope With This

If only every day started like this.

Leaving Morocco was a bittersweet experience in many ways, as we had really appreciated our stay in the country. Not just the charming, hospitable people, but also the fascinating culture and magnificent scenery that we experienced on our treks inland. But the anticipation of getting back under way was powerful, too, and that gradually got the upper hand.

The passage from Agadir to the Canaries is generally a close reach, making for fast and furious conditions when the northerlies are fresh. And with the usual Atlantic swell from the northwest, it can be a rolly voyage if the winds are light. Due to the usual unavoidable delays that tend to affect all cruisers, we had to opt for a ‘least worst’ forecast, with light winds predicted for the first half of the voyage, with a sizeable swell on the beam—not ideal. But with the longer term synopsis predicting the wind would swing into the west, it was time to go.

So we set up Pèlerin for light conditions and headed out. Neither of us likes to start the engine unless we really have to, so we have invested a lot of time and effort in improving her light airs capability so that we can sail as much as possible. And we switched on the AIS and warmed up the radar to cope with the shipping and often poor visibility in the offing at Agadir.

All Set Up and Ready To Go

And we needn’t have bothered with any of it. The visibility stayed crystal clear the whole way and we saw one ship. The light weather genoa stayed in its bag and the spinnaker sheets and blocks might as well have stayed below in the dry, too, as the wind began to build as soon as we had cleared the land at Cap Ghir, and peaked at a steady 20 knots true during the first night.

Two reefs in the main and yankee, with the wind just forward of the beam we were blasting along, and with the centreboard partly raised our Windpilot self-steering gear was handling her perfectly. The swell was easily manageable and no solid lumps of water made their way aboard, just the odd thump of a wave under the bilge to remind us that there was any sea running at all.

An inky, starlit night became a bright sunny day, with puffs of cumulus above an indigo sea, broken only by the shocking white of the odd breaking crest. The wind eased a little through the day, allowing the sea to settle down, and life for the watchkeeper was easy with nothing in sight to disturb the peace. For the many of you who have experience of this type of sailing, I’m sure you’ll agree that this is as good as it gets, and for those of you who aspire to the same—you’re going to love it!

Making The Right Call

The only tactical decision necessary was just how far above the direct track to sail. With wind, swell and the Canaries Current pushing us south, and with the wind predicted to back slightly, my instinct was to follow the maxim drummed into me from my English Channel days to ‘always arrive to windward of your destination’. Tired and soaked through after an uncomfortable Channel crossing, and with your favourite bistro/pub/chip shop closing in a few hours’ time, the last thing in the world you want is for the wind to head you in the final hours—the collective groan can be heard ashore. So I always like to keep her head up until the result is beyond doubt, which can exasperate others, less used to sailing in such contrary waters.

So we bickered amiably about when we could free her off and ease up a little, Lou pointing out not unreasonably that this was NOT the English Channel so the same rules need not apply, whilst I repeated (like a parrot) my immutable law of the heading wind. In the end a compromise of sorts was forged, that on seeing the first lights on Lanzarote we’d bear away.

As it was we were way ahead of our scheduled arrival time, and so needed to slow down to arrive in daylight, as night entries into unknown places, unless it’s absolutely necessary, are not our cup of tea. So with lights in sight, we dropped the main, eased the sheets and slipped down the coast of the island, enjoying a peaceful, smooth ride, both of us cheerfully convinced that it was our personal judgement that had brought about such a satisfactory conclusion.

All’s Well That Ends Well

Once in and settled down, we agreed that this had been a great sail—one of the best yet. Not in the sense that we had learned much physically, as nowadays we are able to enjoy a smooth, polished patina of familiarity with Pèlerin. But in terms of our own voyage, perhaps a lot. We are learning to take our time, cope with changing conditions, not to over-analyse, and to just enjoy each passage in its own right—and perhaps these are lessons that are as valuable as any in this wonderful cruising life.

Like what you just read? Get lots more:


Meet the Author

Colin Speedie

Colin, European Correspondent here at AAC, is a deeply experienced offshore sailor who holds a Yachtmaster licence, and a gifted photographer and talented writer who has added a whole new dimension to Attainable Adventure Cruising. In addition, since Colin and Louise are from England and had their OVNI 435, Pèlerin built in France, they bring a European perspective to our site. You can read more about Colin and Louise and their business at their website.

10 comments… add one
  • Lou Oct 31, 2011, 4:28 pm

    It certainly was one of the best sails, as Colin says. I think so often, when making the next leg in an open-ended long-term passage, you get so used to just building yourself up so that you’re ready for anything. In open water, you need to be up to the task of helping your boat guide you through to better conditions.

    You psyche yourself up, so that you’re prepared for the worst all the while hoping for the best. But the ‘best’ so rarely happens; so that when it does, you have to pinch yourself hard so that you realise, ‘Wow, THIS is why we’re doing this!”. Repeated visits by large pods of dolphins, and beautiful star-lit nights both nights, along with meteor showers that will stay burnt into my memory for a long time. May there be many more nights like that…

    (and that bickering on when to bear away, that WAS amiable, right?!)

    • Colin Nov 1, 2011, 11:47 am

      Hi Lou

      Another take on a great passage, which shows just how personal these times are. Night watches when you’re not too busy are great times for reflection.

      And of course it was amiable – is it ever otherwise?

      Best wishes

      Colin

  • Victor Raymond Nov 1, 2011, 7:39 am

    Colin and Lou, Great account of your sail. We experienced similar conditions about this time last year travelling from Gib to Lanzarote. Winds typically on the beam or slightly forward, winds pick up at night, warm air felt coming off the African Coast.

    If you have a chance visit Playa Francesca on Graciosa Island just across the Graciosa Channel from Lanzarote. Wonderful beach, warm swimmable water and other cruisers waiting for the trades to set up to make the Atlantic Crossing.

    Are you planning to cross over to the Caribbean?

    • Colin Nov 1, 2011, 11:45 am

      Hi Victor

      Glad you liked the post – thanks very much.

      Yes, it’s generally a good leg, just a slightly tighter angle coming from Agadir. As we came in from Morocco we had to head for a port to clear in, as opposed to simply coming from an EU country, and in any case work demanded our arrival. And I’m currently getting everything ready for what I hope will be a very brief haul-out ready for the off.

      We’ll hopefully visit Graciosa yet (everybody loves it), although the local authorities are starting to enforce the requirement for a permit to visit. In the past this hasn’t been the case, but this year they have begun to tighten things up, as in their view perhaps everyone loves it just a little too much.

      Plans are still for west Africa then on, but as always we have to balance what we want to do with what work allows us to do. But, fingers crossed, we’ll be able to keep going.

      Kindest regards

      Colin

  • Victor Raymond Nov 1, 2011, 1:17 pm

    For better or worse we sailed with the spinnaker day and night (I wasn’t the captain). As you know, the faster you go the more the apparent wind moves forward. So we were constantly adjusting our heading as boat speed built up. Then of course invariably the wind would die momentarily, the sail would crash with a big bang (just to make sure everyone below knew what was happening), and the helmsman would have to quickly turn to leeward 30-40 degrees to fill the sail, starting the whole process all over again. It was wild and the captain finally lost his spinnaker in the Pacific with these antics.

  • Colin Nov 1, 2011, 4:11 pm

    Hi Victor

    I used to sail with people like that, but we called it racing! And as long as you know what you’re letting yourself in for, that’s OK, and it can be great fun. But it’s hard on the boat, hard on the gear and hard on the crew – it’s hard to relax when your hands are gripping the coamings all the time!

    We use our spinnaker and light weather genoa whenever we can in safety and comfort, and that works well for us. But as soon as we can make similar speeds under working sail, then down they come – and we call it cruising.

    With only the two of us we have to husband our energies and ‘take an even strain’ as they say where I grew up. It’s one thing to push your boat hard during a day sail, when there’s a bar and a bath at the end of it, but on passage you have to take the long view – and relax…

  • Paul Mills Nov 1, 2011, 5:58 pm

    Hi Colin,

    I’m really glad to hear that you and Lou had a great time exploring inland Morocco. I have traveled widely in the desert and mountains of North Africa in my Land Cruiser – and invariably found the more remote I got – the greater friendships I formed with locals. Morocco is a fantastic country and, unlike some, I rarely experienced the hassle that some tourists seem to attract … it’s just a pity that I can’t hang the Cruiser from my rear arch and get the best of both worlds, not to mention save on some fuel costs getting there and back…

    • Colin Nov 1, 2011, 8:57 pm

      Hi Paul

      We loved travelling in the interior, whether it was the mountains or the desert – or the ancient cities like Meknes for that matter. And I’m sure we’d both agree that your comment about the more remote the place, the warmer the welcome, is absolutely right. But it often seems to be that way, doesn’t it?

      We had no hassle at all outside the cities, and even then very little. Quite the opposite in fact, where so many people came up to talk to us and help us get the most out of the place – especially in the Berber areas. For us, as a country to visit from a boat it had an awful lot going for it.

      As for taking your Land Cruiser, you’ll just have to get a custom built Ovni with some suitably reinforced davits…

      Best wishes

      Colin

  • Victor Raymond Nov 1, 2011, 11:34 pm

    Colin,
    You are right about the racing part. The owner and skipper was a former Hobie World Class racer and it is in his blood. As for a relaxing time, it was not. However it did show me what punishment a production yacht could take day after day and not break apart. Nevertheless, I decided then and there that was not for me. I wanted a more comfortable ride in a boat I KNEW would not come apart at the seams.

  • Colin Nov 3, 2011, 4:08 pm

    Hi Victor

    You’re right that production boats can take far more punishment than we often give them credit for. But it’s also the case that older cruiser/racers that have been driven hard by successive owners need to be looked at very carefully before buying, as (like charter boats) they have already had nine lives.

    And having confidence in your boat is critical when the weather turns bad, which is when heavy-duty construction comes into its own.

    Best wishes

    Colin

Only logged in members may comment: