This is a line of articles discussing a sailing trip from Lisbon in Portugal to Arrecife on Lanzarote. Six new yachts manufactured by Dufour of France had to be delivered to LAVA CHARTER, a charter-company with German roots operating from Arrecife. This fleet of six brand new Grandlarge sailing yachts ranging from 38 to 51 feet has been sailed by dedicated skippers well known to the company who recruited their respective crews amongst friends and committed sailors. I was offered the chance to be part of one of this crews, manning a Dufour Grandlarge 460, the SY MOJITO.
Bye bye, Madeira. It had been wonderful three days! As we cast off early this morning the air is still moist. We are all driven by the impulse to sail on again. I guess that´s what real old salts are talking about when they say, that you´ll become “land-sick” if staying too long. We leave Quinta do Lorde marina as early as 11 o´clock. With an argument between Skipper and crew.
Wilfried was telling that at “straight” 11 a.m. we would be leaving. Everyone agreed. At 9.30, having done my private things already, I slowly began to ready the boat: Controlling all hatches, making galley and saloon sea-ready, getting my sailing cloth on, removing lazy bag and attaching the halyard – things like that. I was then helping Wilfried to get our fresh water tanks full, removing the shore power supply line … well, everything that needs to be done. Because I love it. I love every single thing to be done on a boat. But with Wilfried, some anger was slowly hiding and growing inside of him: He saw only me and himself. The rest of the crew was absent. Still having more than an hour to go.
Heading south in the blustery Atlantic Ocean
As finally Thomas, Martin and Ute arrived back, I was sitting in the cockpit. I was relieved that everything had been done and our Dufour 460 was ready to take off. Then it blew out of the Skipper. He snubbed on Thomas where “the heck Martin would be?”. Thomas of course didn´t knew as we were all grown up adults. He just raised his shoulders: “Don´t know. Probably checking email.” Martin arrived at the boat 15 minutes prior casting off. Wilfried couldn´t hide his anger anymore and took a mouth full on them three. In a rough tone he was got a vent on his anger – completely overrunning the three others who couldn´t understand what he wanted. They put on a sheep-like face, went down to grab their oilskin and off we went. Mood was low aboard as SY MOJITO dropped her lines.
Nevertheless, as we sailed away, Wilfrieds temper had disappeared completely. Which could be caused by the excellent sailing conditions: Flat running before some 25 knots of wind, we´d raised all of our canvas making a fast +8.5 knots pace. SY AVATAR was sailing with just Genoa and although they´d had a lead of roughly a mile, we came closer to them any minute. The boat was simply dashing along, leaving a whitecap foamy trail behind. Wilfried was whistling and I couldn´t wait for the moment when we were even and in front of our sister boat.
Huge waves were coming from abaft, rolling under our stern, virtually kicking it out of the water and raising the boat for six, seven meters. When the wave was approaching I could feel the sudden increase of windspeed, like a compactor of air running in front of the waves. Being on the peak of each wave it appeared as if the yacht was standing still for a moment, calm, no movement. I looked right behind our boat and down into the valley between ours and the next wave. Und then it went down again, the bow plunging into the waves, gently decelerated by the hull-shape, our prow producing a plume of spray. I loved it so much.
“Martin! What the fuck are you doing there? COME BACK IMMEDIATELY, are you a dumb-fuck crazy?!”, Wilfried suddenly shouted, his face turning red, grief and anger. We all were alarmed. What happened? Martin had left the cockpit and went to the shrouds, was standing there in the midst of this inferno, barely holding onto the shrouds with one hand. No life belt. No live vest. He looked at the Skipper and waved his anger aside: “All okay, I´m a surfer. I´m used to this … I can swim back to the boat.” Wilfried exploded: “Are you crazy or what! BACK HERE NOW!, I could produce an unwanted gybe at any moment. If the vang hits you, you are dead. DEAD! Now come back!”
Ilhas Desertas: Passing a great prehistoric Giant
Martin disappeared down below without a word. Thomas soon followed. Wilfried was nagging for some minutes, explaining how dangerous and foolish Martin´s behaviour had been. Which I could understand fully. On the other hand, the Skipper did go for a very harsh tone and added aggression to the very scene, which wasn´t very good at all. I didn´t wanted to have a conflict and concentrated on what I saw outside of the hull: Ilhas Desertas.
The Ilhas Desertas are visible from Madeira, situated some 10 miles south of the island. We are sailing to their leeward side but with a mile distance to avoid turbulances. The islands have an awe-inspiring appearance. It´s forbidden to go there due to the fact that some very rare birds and seals live there. Even very rare spiders can be found here – well, nothing for me. We talk rarely. Doo deep the impression that something got broken when we left today. Martin and Thomas are in their cabin, trying to sleep.
As we have to adjust course to our new waypoint, the Selvagem Islands, we are on a flat running point of sail. “That makes no sense!”, I say to the Skipper as our mainsail is constantly shadowing the Genoa. “Yeah, you´re right: Let´s take it down!” As we haul in the main sail I set the traveller-sheet to extreme luv and fasten a line from the vang to the leeward clamp: “No tapping of the vang!” I am proud. The Skipper nods. The sea gets rougher and still we make some 8 knots with our Genoa-sail.
As we pass the 440 meter high cliffs of Deserta Grande I can´t help but to think of the island as one giant reptile, his body partially under water. A gigantic reptile of course: The ragged texture of the wind beaten land resembles some kind of prehistoric scalation. Even the colour matches my fantasy. There are a handful of rangers on these islands and permission to land is only granted to scientists, as I read back home. It takes hours to sail past the Ilhas Desertas and the sun was going down all too fast.
When night fell it was Ute as well who said goodbye to take a nap. Wilfried and me alone on watch. We were helming the boat since 10 hours now. I could make out SY AVATAR at the horizon far behind us, which added a good portion of satisfaction. As Martin entered the cockpit to take the first night watch from 8 to 12 p.m. I left quickly – leaving the Skipper and him alone and letting them a chance to clear their dispute and sort the conflict. With one ear I tried to hear what they were talking about, as I was peeling myself out of the oilskin. But except course and sailing orders, there was nothing. I tried to sleep, but I couldn´t.
Night watch? A night-long watch!
Martin ended his watch at midnight, Ute and Thomas went on duty. The boat was stearing itself and though I couldn´t find a true sleep, I occasionally dreamt away for some minutes, leaving me in a state of relaxed drizziness. Suddenly Thomas woke me up: “Lars, Lars. Take over please. It´s too cold for me. Thanks.”, he said and went into his cabin. I knew that he was talking about becoming ill a day ago. I guessed now it got him. Okay. I got up and into my clothing. “Hi there, Ute”, I greeted as I entered the cockpit. “Hi. Erm … do you mind if I go down as well ..?”, she said and went down, not waiting for my answer. Thomas and Ute had down just under 2 hours. Out of four.
I got myself a hot tea and grabbed one of the last precious apples, sat down behind the plotter and did what I always did: Checking the AIS-blimps. And there was something extraordinary happening: As it was tradition, I checked for course, speed, name, size and dynamic data of all AIS-contacts nearby. I learned, that a +200 freight liner was disabled – but making 7 knots. A tug was nearing in some 3 miles distance, but this boat was also barely making more speed than 8 knots. Both of them ships had been dead ahead in 15 miles distance. To add some spice, a Coast Guard Helicopter suddenly joined the party and flew with 175 knots straight from Madeira in direction of the disabled vessel. I was so fascinated that I forgot the time: The 2 hours of Thomas´ and Ute´s watch went by like nothing and the Heli took off just when Wilfried arrived to our regular watch. “Take a look at this!”, I invited him. The Helicopter rushed to overtake us in 10 miles distance, but didn´t head for the ships but for Tenerife.
When finally the daylight returned in full bloom, the sea had calmed a lot. The once 25 knot strong breeze eased to a mere 13 knots whiff and the boat was doing not more than 6 to 6.5 knots. Our 4 hour watch neared it´s end at 8 o´clock and as the wave height also went down, I hoisted the Spanish flag and took down the Portuguese. Life returned to SY MOJITO´s saloon as Thomas, Ute and Martin got up. From down below I could hear the jingle of plates. I saw the kettle producing boiling hot water. Minutes later them three sat around the saloon table, having a big breakfast.
Wilfried and I still steering.
Nobody asking if we could use a hot mug. Or something to eat. Oh dear …
After one hour silence returned tot he boat as the three again disappeared in their cabins. I went down to get Wilfried and me a thick sandwich and a tea. As the Skipper asked if he could take another nap too, I agreed (what else should I do) and resumed my watch. To have some fun, I deactivated the autopilot and tried steering by hand – which I found particularly interesting, but very hard to perform. After 20 minutes I again activated the autopilot. Our next waypoint came closer ever so slightly.
Will we find the mystic Treasure of Selvagem Grande?
This should have become the secret climax of the whole trip: A landing on Selvagem Grande. The Ilhas Selvagens are a Protuguese archipelago situated right halfway between Madeira and the Canaries. As with the desertas Islands, it is strictly forbidden to enter these waters let alone set a foot on solid ground. A permanent complement of rangers will keep a close eye on the sailing traffic. But Skippers Sven and Wilfried had been busy prior to our journey acquiring permissions to go on land: And that´s what we were all looking forward to.
I was so excited: Dropping an anchor for the first time of my life! Getting out the dinghy and relaying the crew to the beach where we would be welcomed by the rangers: Not least because we had brought a significant amount of fresh roast beef with us. I could taste the smell of this beef broiling over a huge fire made of dry driftwood directly in the sandy beach under a clear night´s sky … and maybe we would later, after sleeping in our bags right at the beach next to the glimming fire, next day go on to find the legendary golden treasure of the Cathedral of Lima buried somewhere here as the stories tell …
“Selvagem, Selvagem, Selvagem. This is sailing yacht MOJITO.”, I call on channel 16. Three times. Later our sister ship SY AVATAR joins in, they even try to get the rangers on the phone. No answer – no landing. No matter if we have permission or not. “Don´t be sad, Lars”, Wilfried says: “The swell is too high anyway, I wouldn´t have anchored here. Besides …”, he says: “Who would you have determined to be anchor watch and stay on board?” I look down the entryway into the empty saloon. I know what he means. We just ditch the southern Cape of Selvagem, then we gybe to set course due south – directly to Lanzarote. Finally.
Detorioration of Crew Spirit
Wilfried and I stay in the cockpit all day long. Excluding some 6 hours of sleep, I am awake for 16 hours now. Nevertheless, as night falls, Martin re-appears and retakes control of the boat. No word spoken. Thomas and Ute will relief him at 12 p.m. and as Wilfried predicted, they will again cut their watch into two and as Wilfried told me, this time I could stay in bed and he would take the rest of their watch. I join him nevertheless. And we are paid by the most overwhelming night sky I have ever seen in my whole life! No moon, pitch black, calmer sea. The Milky Way, shooting stars … it´s a wonder I cannot take my eyes off. Slowly the new day approaches and the sun begins to send down her warm rays. As she is up in full bloom, the wind has died completely.
Another breakfast (not for us) later, Thomas finally enters the cockpit, but doesn´t speak a single word. He will later put his earphones in and listen to music. Martin sleeps, Ute will join us. At least she is a bit talky. I get SY AVATAR the last time on the VHF. They did a full rounding of Selvagem and – other than us – went for the northern tip of Lanzarote to sail all the way down to Arrecife in one fast dash. We have different plans. I wish them Goodbye. Their Skipper will board a plane tomorrow – we have more days to spend so we take the long way ´round.
It´s a very sad mood aboard our yacht. It appears as if Thomas and Martin had joined an alliance “against” the Skipper and me. Ute tries to be friendly with everybody, but I can feel her discomfort in being placed between the two fronts. But there are no fronts at all – we aren´t even talking with each other. The fact that we eat and drink separately is bad enough, worse is the fact that they won´t clean our dishes anymore. Kindergarten.
It turns out to be a lonely sailing. The day proceedes and so does the hunger. As I go down to prepare a hot meal, I notice the nice contrast of the stark blue of the Atlantic Ocean behind the portholes of our yacht and the wooden interior of our Dufour when the sun will shine onto the surface. The beauty lies in the details. Half an hour later I re-warmed my pre-cooked Thai Beef-Curry, which the Skipper thankfully inhaled. Again, some hours later the situation got even worse.
Skipper was down in his cabin again to take a nap, I had the wheel. In the saloon exciting and exaggerated chatter was going on – up in the cockpit I neared my eighteenth consecutive hour at the helm. I couldn´t believe it! We even had run out of apples – the last source of taste, sweetness and pure joy for me. Anger grew within me and finally I took myself to the entryway, put my head down the hatch and said – seemingly angry: “Could please anyone of you guy relieve me from watch whenever you are finished with what you do down here?!” Thomas didn´t even turned his head to look at me: “We stand watch at night again …” “NO! YOU WILL TAKE THE DAMN HELM NOW AS I AM AWAKE FOR 18 HOURS NOW!”, I said loud and clear and stumped back to the plotter. I swear, if he´d replied again in such an unappropriate way, I wouldn´t have guaranteed for nothing …
Reaching Lanzarote by Sailing Yacht
But then it was Wilfried, easing the situation. He quickly got up and entered the cockpit. I was steaming with anger. Then he pointed to the bow: “Land in sight!” And there it was: First we saw Fuerteventure in the morning mist, then our final destination: Lanzarote! I was so relieved! Now it´s just some few hours and we will be in port again. I would take a long dump, will have the biggest ice cream in the world and finally take a deep, long sleep.
As with every landing, the words “land in sight” have a certain impact on the crew. All will come on deck to see the land, as if they hadn´t seen land for years. It´s the same story since humans go to the seas. But other than our first ever landing on Porto Santo a week ago, this time it wasn´t joy that made the people come out and sit on the deck: It was the hope to leave the ship and to get away from its people.
We finally took down the Genoa as well and fired the engine. Nobody bothered this awful sound every true sailor should dismiss. But we had a different agenda: We wanted to enter the harbour as fast as possible. I remember Wilfried telling a story about a friend of him who was always sailing by himself. “Why sailing with people?”, he allegedly said: “When I see all these charter boats arriving with so many people on board. Right after the boat is tied up, all are leaving. And each of them in a different direction.” I guess, that will be the fate of our crew now too.
The was no real anticipation of Lanzarote. Thomas cowering at the mast in the shadow, Martin laying on the bow, looking into the but blue waters. Ute was silent, probably counting every minute till landing. Wilfried and I had a tacit covenant. It was clear that we both would be sticking together even after landing: Eating, taking a shower and sleeping. That was the program.
As we steamed down the southern cape of Lanzarote we could see Rubicon marina in a distance. “Ready the boat for landing”, Wilfried announced. And as I began to take out the fenders with the help of Ute, first a bit reluctantly, then with a certain diligence, Martin and Thomas lent their helping hands. As Wilfried was steering the boat into the marina, the old “get the fenders to the opposite side”-announcement came and I could see Thomas´ eyes rolling. No, I stated silently, it is time to make landfall indeed!
Before Ute could jump off the boat, I went into screaming mode again: I was clearing the aft line after jumping to the jetty when I noticed the boat drifting away from pier side. Nobody was working on the bow. Nobody? No, they both were standing on the boat. Doing … nothing! I yelled at them to get the fuck this ship tied up correctly – not until then nobody moved. I couldn´t believe my eyes: They would rather let the boat drift away and hit the jetty with its stern than to help? “Skipper hasn´t advised us”, they told me later. Ah. Work-to-rule mentality. How nice.
Can we restore what has been broken?
As we´ve had our boat brought to her final berth, it came as predicted: Thomas and Martin instantly left the yacht. Ute as well. I must admit, I really enjoyed having the yacht for ourselves. Wilfried would prepare a huge sandwich with thumb-thick sliced goat cheese, jambon and pickles. A treat. I would make the first coffee in days and we just quietly sat down on the teak benches and enjoy the sun. Later we I took my dump and finally crawled into my sleeping bag for two or three hours of well deserved sleep.
When we got up, hunger plagued us again so we set off for a BBQ restaurant to have the largest Entrecote in town, which we´ve got. I got drunk from a beer whilst sitting in the sun and I finally gave the rest to my stomach when I ordered a huge cup of ice cream. What a nice thing this was! No discussions, no awkward moments, no anger anymore: We´ve done it. We´ve reached the Canary Islands!
As we were back on board Wilfried invited me to a party which we joined at the evening. The crews of SY DON CARLOS – the flagship – SY CAMINO and SY TOTUGA had all been tied up here in Rubicon and we´ve had a huge dinner (for me just a bunch of small lamb chops, please) with large amounts of beer and wine. I got the information that due to electricity shortage and for educational reasons, on the 38 feet Dufour no automatic steering was allowed. Even the chart plotter had been deactivated: A true training trip with 100 per cent hand steering. I envied them a bit. I also learned that DON CARLOS came under fire by heavy gusts and large waves. One reason for most of the crew to leave the boat here in Rubicon. (Wilfried and I would sail her back to Arrecife some days later).
At the next morning, the final clarifying discussion took place. At least, Skipper and Martin could each underline their views of the things that had happen. Although Martin didn´t completely understood what made the Skipper scream as his risk-awareness as being a windsurfer had been extremely low. On the other hand, Wilfried was pretty solid on his position that a “strong-German-announcement” had been appropriate. I added, that no matter how low the mood is and what we might think of each other – a yacht must under all circumstances be run accordingly. There is no choice of watches. I think they agreed. And did not.
A heart-melting Welcome in Arrecife
At least we could talk again. Not as freely as and easygoing as we did when we began our journey some 10 days ago in Lisbon, but at least we talked. The next day brought some fair winds and for the first time ever we were able to place our boat on a close hauled point of sail. With just 13 knots of true wind the 460 Dufour accelerated to 6.5 knots, thus overtaking two other sailing yachts with ease! It was fun to have her hard at the wind and I truly enjoyed her heeled. It was a matter of a few hours to get her to Arrecife.
We had all been touched by the warm welcome made by the LAVA CHARTER employees. The showed a large sign and waved. Landing the boat this time was a no brainer as all of the crew joined in to have her tied up safely. And now. The trip was over. As sad as it was. Thomas analysed his app: “We sailed exactly 923 miles.”, he announced: “And we´ve made 8.803 meters altitude change.” We looked at him: “It´s a running app … “, he answered with an excuse. All the waves added to the height of the Mount Everest.
And here we were. Arrecife. I would stay just another week long. Thomas, Martin and Ute would be leaving tomorrow. Skipper Wilfried, as being a part-time Lanzarotian, had his Bavaria Cruiser right vis-à-vis our boat at the club to stay there. The LAVA CHARTER crew invited us to the big welcome-party after we sailed the Dufour 512 to Arrecife the next day as well. But what to do with our prime beed meant for the Rangers of Selvagem? I had an idea …
Each Dufour Grandlarge 460 has an integrated BBQ-station: You just pull down the bathing platform and fold away the two seating caps: Voila. A fully equipped grill (powered by gas), a fresh water sink and a prepping plate. What a location! Standing there, preparing meat and vegetables, having a beer whilst the strollers were passing by looking at us having a nice BBQ as if we were aliens. Well, at least now all of the strain seemed forgotten.
We told stories oft he last days. Our top of the pops moments when out of sea, the most beautiful place, the most beloved moments of the sailing trip. One bottle of wine after another was empty and surely some other folks from other yachts and LAVA-staff joined in on our BBQ-session. Although the stern section looked awful, I relaxed as well and we finally had a perfect conversation. Next day – leaving day. We cleaned the boat, packed our stuff and tried to make the yacht appear like they should: As brand new charter yachts ready to take out sailors in the Canaries. We had just been the transfer crews. Nevertheless, SY MOJITO is and will ever be “my” Dufour 460 and thus she will carry at least a tiny bit of my spirit with her, with every new crew having booked some unforgettable weeks on her.
My first ever Offshore Sailing Trip. Simply. Addictive.
Returning from my first ever real offshore sailing trip – what remains? First of all: The addiction. It´s a completely different thing to be sailing out on the Atlantic Ocean with its huge grand waves. This deep blue, I´m unable to describe. The feeling of the vastness of the Ocean. Next land a thousand kilometres away. Four thousand meters of water under one´s keel. This is pure fascination and not comparable to the Baltic Sea. I am addicted. “Let´s go on to the Cape Verdes!”, I said to Wilfried. And I swear, I would have left had he joined me. No one can imagine this fascination. And – which is hard, now that I returned to my old life – now I know what real freedom is, how nice and untouched by all the atrocities of our civilization a life can be. So easy. To true. It felt just right being out there. And it was here where I promised to myself: I will sail my Kings Cruiser down to the Cape Verdes when he is ready to go. That was the promise I´ve made to myself in this clear, wonderful, pitch black night under Orion watching.
Ute, Thomas and Martin: All the best for you guys! Wilfried: Thanks for the uncountable hours of stimulant conversations and for sharing the same humour as me. LAVA CHARTER – thanks for providing me with the opportunity to join SY MOJITO´s crew. And finally, my beloved MOJITO sailing yacht: You are the best of all Dufours! May you be sailing safe for all time.
All previous and the upcoming articles on this sailing trip from Lisbon to Lanzarote can be browsed by clicking on this hashtag #dufourcanaries
Special Thanks to LAVA CHARTER for the chance to sail on one of their boats. For information and offers on charter trips on the Canaries on these Dufour Yachts please visit www.lavacharter.com A unique and special discount for my readers of 1.5% on all LAVA CHARTER bookings may be acquired by stating web code NOFRILLSSAILING along with your booking.