The Canary Islands – just as the Azores – have been the stepping stones for seafarers for their transatlantic voyages for centuries. Even today hundreds of yachts use the marinas of the islands for recreation and last preparations for the big leap over the Ocean. But it would be an insult to the beauty of the Canaries to reduce the archipelago to the status of a springboard for sailors. I went to Tenerife to take a first quick look at this sailing area by myself.
There are a load of mysteries surrounding the Canary Islands. One of them is the origin of the process of the formation of settlements. Who were the first Canarios? Where did they come from? Nobody really knows although there are a lot of hints. Since the Spanish Conquistadores did wipe out the native people of the Canaries, called the Guanche culture, archaeologists find it really hard to come up with clues. Beyond dispute is the extraordinary significance of the canaries for wind driven vessels: Phoenicians, Romans and all seafaring nations afterwards used the islands for maintaining trade routes to Africa and later to America.
Sailing around Tenerife
The Canaries consists of no less than 7 islands, from West to East its El Hierro (the smallest and least populated), La Palma, La Gomera (the island of the dropouts), Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote (the island of the Iron Man). Each of them has its own special character, landscape and taste. The Canary Islands are located between 28th and 29th parallel, some 180 miles from the African continent. The climate is unique: Everlasting spring with temperatures around 25 degrees Celsius and steady blowing trade winds. The perfect destination for your next (sailing) vacation, believe me!
We chose Tenerife for various reasons, one was of course the availability of direct flights from Hamburg, one another was the necessity to have a destination that would fit all needs of a proper family vacation with small children: Tenerife is perfect. For sailing, you should be able to find a proper charter partner on Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote for sure, even on the other islands it shouldn´t be a problem. Concerning Tenerife: There are a number of well situated and fully equipped marinas, such as Marina Los Gigantes, where I hired a Bavaria 50 and a skipper for a quick dash on Atlantic waters.
To put it short: It´s just awesome! Tenerife (and by speaking of Tenerife I mean all of the Islands of this archipelago) offers real bluewater feeling. The Islands have been formed by powerful volcanos. That means that water depth will drop immediately upon leaving the island: By casting off, your boat will instantly be submitted to Atlantic waves. And I mean real waves. Long amplitudes and – compared to the Baltic and North Sea – relatively big waves as well. This is great fun of course, but shouldn´t be underestimated for sure! Same goes for the wind. Oh yes, it´s the trade winds. But don´t be fooled by all this sailing literature of “barefoot route” and sailing downwind without effort. The wind can blow as hard as hell can be! There are cape and jet effects even between and long off the islands which can blow as hard as 9 Beaufort. I´ve seen it.
I therefore chose a guided sailing trip for my first encounter and I was good advised to do so. If you plan to sail here, you definitely should be a trained sailor capable of quick reefing maneuvers – the Canary Islands are no area for sailing newbies in my opinion, at least not without guidance from an experienced sailor. Doing your RYA here would be an excellent choice. And indeed, there are a number of offers available here. There is so much to discover on and around Tenerife. It´s so much that I really don´t know where to begin.
More than Sailing: Discovering Tenerife
Since this island is made by tectonic and volcanic efforts, you can expect a breathtaking landscape. More than that: Tenerife offers a wide range of so many different faces from green humid forests, deserted empty dry deserts to ragged mountains with deep canyons to volcanic marsian craters. I spent full 14 days on Tenerife, we´ve had a different destination on the island every day and we´ve whitnessed a completely different side of Tenerife. Planning your voyage should definitely include shore leaves!
Approaching land from seaside is always very special and cannot compared to any other way of entering a shore, that´s for sure. I´ve been able to see the Western shores of Tenerife by boat which was absolutely mindblowing: Los Gigantes is a cliff line with a vertical slope of up to 450 meters! You can virtually sail a meter away from this wall of volcanic stone. Every half a mile or so a huge canyon, or Barranco, as they say, will open up and offer spectacular views to the green mountains. A 3 hour walk from the mindblowing village of Masca down to the coast line is the most rewarding of all.
Of course, the King of Tenerife is the mighty Teide. It´s the main volcano of the island, rising more than 3.700 meters high. You can climb it by foot. Or reach it by cable car. Visit Guimar, where you can see the mystic Pyramides of the Guanche people which have been fascinating legendary Thor Heyerdahl and bound him to live here for several years. You may also take a look onto his legendary raft RA. Well, at least a replica of her. Proceed to Puerto de la Cruz to have fun in a bristling city or the Teno- and Anaga mountains for breathtaking walks. Taste finest wine in La Orotava or meet perfect solitude in Teno Alto: Tenerife has a thousand faces and each one is worth a close look.
Wildlife to be seen at Tenerife
Apart from a rich cultural heritage, Tenerife offers so much for the lovers of nature: It´s far more than an ordinary island. Some 20 per cent of the floral beings and wildlife are inherent species – they won´t be found anywhere else. Though a lot of plants have been “imported” to the islands, some very interesting lifeforms can be seen here of which the Iguana is the least exotic one. I found it particularly interesting to witness how much life there can be in the midst of the destruction of a volcanic holocaust: Plants, trees, insects, deer and beautiful flowers will conquer a burnt landscape that otherwise looks deserted and fully destroyed.
Whilst sailing there is a nearly 100 per cent chance to see whales (mostly Pilot Whales). For me it was the first time to be amongst a complete flock of whales: Some 10 to 15 of these impressive and beautiful creatures have been swimming, diving and even kind of playing right next to our boat. Even the humming of the engines of no less than four tourist-laden whale watching boats would not distract the whales or scare them away. It´s a great and touching moment to meet this alien yet some kind of close lifeform.
We also sailed through a school of Dolphins, which was also nice to see how fast and easy these mammals would swim next to our boats, dive deep only to cross our courses and reappear at the other ship´s side. Playing with the waves, jumping and having fun: A wonderful moment worth every effort at last. Tenerife and the other islands will repay you manifold to honour your visit, no doubt about that.
I want more!
Tenerife as the whole Canary archipelago belong to the European Union as a part of the state of Spain. Travelling there for EU citizen is effortless and demands no further action concerning Visa or other things. American citizens as well as other people will meet the same regulations as with visiting any other EU-country. Tenerife has a modern international airport, Lanzarote and Gran Canaria as well. Reaching the other islands by smaller planes is a no-brainer, taking the fast Norwegian-run ferries is cheap and a nice trip. I want more of that please!
You will find very lush and very friendly people on Tenerife. The food is excellent: Homegrown food (such as the small, yet very very sweet tasting Canarian Banana) meets the highest standards. All other amenities in terms of food are available in any supermarket – there is no shortage of anything on Tenerife and other islands here whatsoever. However, one is advised to save fresh water as this precious stuff has to be created by de-salting facilities (or, less pleasant, by oil-burning plants). Anyway, no matter if you decide to go out eating in one of the uncountable Canarian restaurants to try the local food – a very tasty mixture of Spanish, fish-driven cuisine influenced by Moroccan and African flavours – or to try to prepare your meals by yourself using the rich variety of raw food … it will be a feast.
You can either have a round-trip which I would recommend to last at least 10 days, better be 14 days. What about island hopping? But be aware that each mile sailed with the wind in the one direction has to be fought back from the mighty God of Winds. It is advised to plan 2 days for reaching back for every day sailed away. If you plan to visit the three main islands and you want to see at least the main attractions, better be here for no less than 3 weeks.
Chartering a Sailing Yacht in Tenerife
Upon seeing the deep blue waters (in which you can swim all year long) I instantly decided to return. I´m pleased and thrilled to be a member of a 5-people crew on a 46 feet Sailing Yacht set to cast off in Lisbon heading for Gran Canaria in March 2017. You are interested in collecting some miles in and around Tenerife? Come here, it´s definitely worth a visit! There are many charter firms offering their services with a wide price range. Depending on what kind of boat you are seeking, I would always recommend to go for a larger charter firm with new boats (like German company LAVA Charter for example, based in Gran Canaria and starting in March ´17 in Tenerife as well). You don´t want to save money on safety, won´t you?
Sailing in Tenerife as well as to the other Canarian Islands will be easy, apart from the necessity of being a versatile sailor (I´ve mentioned the sometimes tricky sailing conditions concerning strong winds and waves). There are a lot of nicely equipped marinas, nearly all of them offering the services of Marineros who will land and cast off the yacht if you wish. Prices are considerably low here, leaving Europe is always saving Bucks.
So I left Tenerife with one crying and one laughing eye: It´s hard to return to a winterized Germany with 4 degrees Celsius and coping with a 24 degrees Celsius difference, warm sunshine and smiles by the people. But I know that I shall return in the not too distant future – in style with a sailing yacht. In the meantime, I crave for the deep blue Ocean, the long waves and the tempting sun.
Do you have sailing cravings too?
Interesting Articles on that topic:
Sailing around the Danish Island of Fyn. In a Class 40.
What makes a Good Skipper?
Planning my first Sailing Passage.