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CANARIES

Captain's Log, Halloween, 1998
La Gomera, Canary Islands

We left Funchal on Thursday noon, and had a very fast run to La
Gomera, 304 miles in 52 hours, a record for us. En route, we thoroughly cleaned the bilges and topped off the batteries, so the boat is happy with us. While here, we will also clean the Funchal harbor gunk off the sides of the hull. Midway here, we ran into an easterly wind with a haze of very fine red dust, the Harmattan wind from the Sahara desert, which plagues the Canary Islands from time to time. Not really surprising, since the west coast of Africa is only 200 miles to the east of us right now. We picked up the coast of Tenerife on radar at sixteen miles, but never saw it, even though we passed within 4 miles. We couldn't see Gomera until we were 2 miles away. Under normal conditions Pico Teide, the 12,000-foot volcano in the center of Tenerife, can be seen as far away as 100 miles. We are tucked snugly into the fine, cheap, modern, new marina in San Sebastian de Gomera, where we will stay for 2 weeks or so. Connie is flying in next week, and we look forward to exploring the island with her. From here, we can also take ferries to the 2 other equally remote islands of the Western Canaries, Hierro and La Palma. We may also go to one of the larger islands, Tenerife or Gran Canaria for boat supplies before moving on. The skiing here is not very good, and it's hot and muggy at the moment, but we can take all the cold showers we want, so no hay problema.

Hasta luego,
MR

 

Captain’s Log
17 November 1998
La Gomera

We're still here. We like it. A lot.

MR

.....Editors note: We apologize for the sad decline in the quality of the recent Captain's Logs. We have revoked funding for this pitiful expedition, and a tactical thermonuclear device has been launched, which should remove the literary blight known as "the crew of Tammy Norie" once and for all. We hope you will enjoy "The Adventures of Flossie the Flying Cow", which will be taking over this web site shortly.......-Pirahna Bros. Press

 

Lubber's Log, November 19th 1998
Gomera

Okey dokey, here ya go, it's the BRAND NEW (trumpet fanfare), NUMBER ONE (choir of angels), episode of FLOSSIE THE FLYING COW (Madre de Dios!!). Nope, actually, sorry to disappoint you but this is really just Shifra's first Lubber's Log -quick mom, get the camera!- and if any cows show up they're going to get REALLY hungry here on the southern slopes of Gomera. Well, following in the brave, stinky footsteps of my dear cousin I'm going to take you for a brief jaunt around the North Atlantic.

Although I haven't gone for three day hikes into Cauldrons of Hell, I think I've come about as close to seeing hell as any human can. While mum was here last week (no, no, no, that wasn't hell) we decided that we'd take a day to go see Tenerife since Da and Joel had already been there (and done that). Well, at six o'clock on Thursday morning I staggered out of bed with bleary eyes and a slight sunburn itch tugging at my fingers from the day before. Well, we got on the ferry over to Tenerife just in time to see the sun rising over Teide. The tallest mountain in Spain, Teide is the crowning glory of Las Canadas del Teide National Park, and probably one of the coolest words ever thought up -at least, it's really cool to say. As the ferry pulled out of the dock the mountain was still silhouetted against a slowly lightening orange sky, which blended to yellow and pink. Then BAM! the first rays of the sun hit the upper slopes, bathing the faint covering of snow in rosy light. As the sun crept higher more of the mountain and the jagged peaks surrounding it were revealed, until finally the sun freed itself entirely and shone down without mercy upon the west coast of Tenerife and our destination, Los Cristianos. Los Cristianos could be kindly described as Miami's soul sister of the eastern Atlantic, or less kindly, as, well, I'm supposed to be a role model for the second graders (hi Ms. Larsen), so I won't repeat the descriptions we thought up while driving through.

After the ferry dropped us off in Los Cristianos we headed toward Teide and the Park. I swear it was some of the most incredible scenery I've ever seen. As we entered the park jagged teeth of rock jutted out all around us. The early morning sun backlit the thin pine trees struggling to thrive in the sandy, volcanic soil. The road wound around a bend and all of a sudden we were in a valley where the trees were stopped abruptly by an ancient flow of lava. Teide dominated the landscape to the right of us while cliffs -ancient caldera walls perhaps?- rose out of the dust to our left. Cascading down from Teide's slopes were rivers of tormented red rock overlapped by one long line of black which emerged about halfway down the mountain and ended a few hundred meters later, as if some twisted God had wanted to play traffic controller and said "Okay, that's enough for today, stop here." Well stop it did and God must have gone on to his coffee break because since that day in the late 17 or 1800's there hasn't been a single eruption. Well, that wasn't the only incredible part of the valley. Where the tortured flows of spiny lava hadn't reached, orange and yellow and red sand formed a base for broom bushes, a plant unique to Las Canadas. The bushes looked like tiny green alien spacecraft resting on the perfectly flat sand plain. Across this barren paradise the road rushed on, hedged in only by the cliffs which rimmed the valley in striations of red, brown, orange and the occasional splash of lime green- proof of iron ore deposits.

Our mad race across the valley floor, sadly, could not last forever. Soon we found ourselves threading our way slowly upwards between bizarre, twisted spires of rock -aptly, but not originally, named "Los Roques"- towards the base of Teide. As we approached the peak we could see the cable car swaying up to the top from it's base station before us. Since we were there for the full touristic experience mom and I parked the car in the immense, but still empty parking lot at the gondola's entrance. It was only ten in the morning, yet somehow a tour bus jam packed full of Germans had managed to arrive before us.

Nonetheless we got our tickets for the ride up and -just barely- got onto the next car. There were just two cable cars and so at any given time there was one going up and one going down. The ride only took about 5 or 10 minutes, but when we bounced our way over the support poles (ahh, memories of ski lifts back home!) it seemed like we would never live to see the top. Well, we got to the end of the line and stepped out onto the snow covered path that led to the very top. We scrambled our way around rocks and signs reminding us to "Keep Teide Tidy!" until we came to a small outlook roughly three quarters of the way up the mountain where, inexplicably, the path stopped. Friendly signposts told us -in 5 equally disappointing languages- that no one was allowed to go to the actual top because they feared erosion and such. It made sense, but I couldn't shake the feeling that we had just been thoroughly shafted. Not only that but we had skipped our chance to get our pictures taken with the traditionally dressed Canarian girl. Oh well. It was nice for me to be cold again though, I guess that little dose of snow will have to last me for a while.

When we came back down from -not quite- the top of Teide it was almost noon and the parking lot and road leading up to it were clogged with frustrated tourists and busses full of people just waiting to get on top of the highest mountain in Spain. It was a perfect day for it. Coming around the side of the island we had been able to see 3 of the other islands floating of in the distance. Even from only part of the way up Teide the view had been incredible, still, the sheer volume of tourism in that area switched all of my mental breakers to "cynical". Nonetheless, we were unwavering in our quest to "see the sights" and proceeded to take on the challenge of .... the Visitor's Center. Actually, we had timed it just right and were able to actually spend some time finding out more about the Guanches while everyone else was eating lunch. The Guanches were the people who had inhabited the Canaries before the Spanish came along. They were a fairly primitive people who, surprisingly, had no nautical interests. As far as I could tell they didn't have boats at all (yet they must have gotten there somehow!) and centered most of their existence around goat herding rather that fishing. Well, personally I'd rather sail than herd goats, but I guess to each his own. Anyway, after we'd conquered the visitor's center we decided that our work in the park was done and it was time to head back towards the water and home.

Shifra T.

Captain's Log
29 November 1998
Position: 26d 3m North, 18d 33m West 120 miles south of Tenerife
Steering 210 degrees, for Ilha do Sal, Cape Verde archipelago


Wind is the NE trade, dead aft, 20-25 knots, occasional gusts to 30.
Barometer is rock solid and the weather is fine.
We are tearing off the 780 miles to Sal with a bone in our teeth:
6-7 knots under double-reefed mainsail and poled-out genoa deeply
reefed.

After a furious last-minute round of negotiations with Pirahna Brothers Press, the threatened launch of the tactical thermonuclear device was called off and the missile rolled back into their garage. Their parting observation was, "we wouldn't throw away a good piece of equipment on this piece of #@&*!".We believe that was intended as an insult, but it appears that we once again have the freedom to write whatever pops into our waterlogged brains.Our apologies if you were among those many readers hoping for a direct hit.

The Canaries are among the islands now referred to as Macaronesia, very loosely translated as The Fortunate Isles. This group also includes the Azores, Madeira, and the Cape Verdes. While there is controversy about the exact sequence of their formation, there appears to be consensus that all these islands began with great volcanic events, in some cases combined with either uplifting or separating tectonic plates. The high islands, like Flores, Madeira Grande, and Gomera have been able to capture moisture from the clouds which form high on their upwind slopes, resulting in deep valleys where streams occasionally run. (Think Grand Canyon). The lower islands, like Porto Santo and Lanzarote, look more like the Sahara just over the horizon. The high, "wet" islands are suitable for farming, with some difficulty: terraces have to be made on the very steep hillsides by building stone walls and backfilling with dirt, and water has to be brought to the fields somehow. The levadas of Madeira are the highest evolution of this process. In Gomera, the more popular strategy is to impound water in reservoirs created by building dams in a stream bed to catch all of the occasional rainfall. The fields are clustered in valleys below each reservoir. During the 1930's and 40's, there was a sudden drop in the population of Gomera, from 30,000 to 20,000: the old-timers we talked to said it was partly due to men going off to fight Franco, but more because the climate became gradually drier, forcing many farmsteads to be abandoned.

We saw a number of very extensive ghost settlements and terraces which looked fairly recently inhabited, a depressing sight when one considers the heroic effort of carving out terraces in the hillside to begin with (not unlike what happened in New England in the 1800's as better land opened up out West and people got tired of growing rocks). In the case of Gomera, people emigrated to Venezuela and Tenerife or shifted into tourism-related work. Agriculture is far from abandoned, however. Where water can be gotten, there are banana groves, large vineyards, citrus groves, and lots of goats (we encountered one herd of nearly 200).

Although it is too steep and craggy for anything more than a small landing strip, tourism has also found Gomera, with crowds of Germans (and other pasty-faced white people like ourselves)arriving by ferry from Tenerife. For the active hiker/masochist, the island offers a dramatic, vertical landscape, with walking trails through either desert, mountains, or the lovely laurel forest which grows on the northern slopes of the island. This is a carefully guarded treasure, being one of only 2 remaining examples of this type of forest which used to cover the entire Mediterranean basin. Madeira Grande has the other.

The Canaries have had more in the way of human history than either the Azores or Madeira, both of which were unpopulated at the time of Portugese discovery. The original inhabitants are genetically African, blue-eyed Berbers from the west coast of Africa. This stone-age culture, known as the Guanches, were "discovered" and subdued (i.e., exterminated, mostly) by the conquistadores in the 1400's. On Gomera, some traces of that culture can still be found in the form of unique foods such as almagrote, a whistling language known as "silbo", and some folk music and dance that is primarily rhythmic and not very Spanish-sounding. One of the early visitors to the island was C. Columbus, who almost didn't make it to the Caribben because of his obsessive attachment to Beatriz de Bobadilla. Some speculate that he made 3 more voyages as a pretext for visiting Gomera again.

These islands for centuries marked the Western border of the known European world, giving rise to numerous legends. They have been variously called Atlantis, the Garden of the Hesperides, the Elysian Fields, the Fortunate Isles, and one of them was probably St. Brendan's Isle. (Gomerans make a pretty good argument that is was Gomera itself). It is imaginable that the Tir na Nogh of Irish legend, the enchanted place to the west, was one of these islands, perhaps in the Azores, which actually look a lot like parts of Ireland. We found some ancient maps while we were here, one of which gave Flores (westernmost Azores) as the prime meridian (now Greenwich), and the other Hierro (westernmost of the Canaries). In the pre-Columbian mindset, the end of the earth would not have been much further west.

We ended up staying for 3 weeks in Gomera, which included a wonderful visit from Connie, who also brought along some much-needed supplies and equipment. Then on to Santa Cruz, Tenerife, for final resupply, topping off of propane, diesel and water tanks, and food supplies, before pushing on for the Cape Verdes, where all these things will be harder to find. This passage should take about a week, and our itinerary is still up in the air: we'll clear in at Sal, and we'd like to see the volcano on Fogo, but the rest we'll play by ear.

MR

 

Joel's Log, November 28th, 1998
Tenerife

I went fishing a few days before we left Gomera- Piled my tackle and fishing-pole, snorkel gear and speargun into the dinghy and took off around the island. My unspoken goal for the day was to spear a squid, but I would have been content with spearing a big fat grouper or hooking something fat with my line as I drove around. It was a fine sunny day and I probably ended up motoring almost 15 miles out around the island before I found a really sweet spearfishing spot up in a little bay with an abandoned settlement. So I chucked the anchor over and hopped in, puttering around in the water looking for yummy fish to bring home for dinner. There was plenty to look at, but everything I saw was much too small.

Suddenly out of the gloom below me I caught a flash of white, reacting instinctively I twisted and dodged while firing my spear over my shoulder. The death struggle with the ferocious hammerhead began- No, just kidding, no sharks in the real version, hope I didn't scare you. For real I was just diving and looking under boulders in good hiding places, when all of a sudden this completely strange creature just sort of materialized in front of my eyes, about 3 feet from the bottom. It was the length of my forearm (wrist to elbow), and sort of a mottled brownish purple, it had a big fat body with a translucent skirt around it, and short, stumpy arms/ tentacles. We both surprised each other and backpedaled a bit, then hovered and stared at each other. It took me a moment of staring before I realized it was a cuttle-fish. So I raised my spear and popped him. He squirted ink everywhere, man. It was a 5 minute trek with flippers back to the dinghy and he still had some ink in him when I loaded him aboard. I decided that he was close enough to a squid to count so I headed home.

Took me a little while to get back but it wasn't too bad in the sunshine. And this fish just kept changing colors, he ended up being white with brown tiger-stripes. Pretty cool. The coolest part though was cleaning him. And I'll spare you the details of that. Never did get to taste him though- I was literally on my way from the dock to the frying pan with him and I slipped and flung the huge plate of fresh Calamari into the harbor. Uggh.

Curse of the Devil Fish. I hate anti-climax, but sometimes life is just like that, eh.

Joel

 

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