Travels with S/Y Thetis

Thetis only

2005: Porto Santo to Las Palmas

This web page contains the logs of the second leg of a 53 day transatlantic sailing trip that I took with S/Y Thetis together with my friend Manos Castrinakis. The logs cover a period of 16 days. Most of these days were spent waiting for a gale to dissipate. In the last 3 days we sailed from Porto Santo to Las Palmas in Gran Canaria.

The logs are illustrated with photographs and maps they also include some historical and geographical descriptions of the places visited as well as several links to other related web sites.

Map of E Atlantic with route
In the Canaries

Friday January 14, 2005 Day 8

First thing in the morning we went ashore and cleared customs. The customs officer was very friendly and spoke good English but he was a slow typist and he practically had to type our life history into his computer.

We then went to the marina office where we met Nelson, the friendly attendant. The marina, to my great surprise, used Macintoshes. Once again all of Thetis’ particulars had to be entered into the computer. We paid 30 € for two days. They must have been burned by boats departing without paying because they insisted on keeping the boat’s papers. We also wanted to get some fuel. But for that we had to move the boat alongside the concrete quay which, according to Nelson, must be done at high tide, so we should wait until 2 PM. He told us that we must move to another, larger “finger” pontoon but we could do it after re-fueling and he would come and help with both operations.

Back on Thetis we attacked the alternator. We removed it and opened its case. Using the multi-meter I found that two out of its six Zener diodes were inoperative. With some difficulty and a few false starts we replaced them from the spares, reassembled the alternator, and re-installed it. Anxiously we started the engine. Yes, the alternator did work but despite the new diodes its improvement was marginal. It generated only a fraction of the current that it should. Either I had missed some diodes or the problem was more serious. Very frustrating! I was not sure what to do next. What I was sure of was that we needed to have plenty of generating capacity for the next crossings. I could get into the internet and order a new alternator from the US but when would it arrive? Should we wait for it here or have it send to the Canaries? What about customs, etc?

By that time it was almost 2 PM. We went looking for the fuel man. He was nowhere in sight. I spoke with Nelson, who promised to try and call him. Nelson eventually not only found the fuel man but helped us untie the boat and met us at the fuel quay and help us there also. The fueling arrangement here is rather unusual. The fuel comes from subterranean tanks but it is pumped by a trailer to which hoses are connected. We refilled the Thetis’ tank and all four jerry cans. All together we got 120 L.

After refueling we moved the boat to her designated “finger” pontoon. Nelson met us there and helped us with the lines. After all these maneuvers we had a much deserved hot shower, with plenty of water, and a late lunch at the marina restaurant. The friendly waitress turned out not to be Portuguese but Moldavian. During lunch we debated what to do about the alternator. My brother Nikos had been telling me, while preparing for this trip, that it would be prudent if we had a small gasoline-driven generator (genset) to be used for charging the batteries without running the main engine. Now, with the defective alternator, this idea had become rather relevant.

View of the Harbor in Porto Santo
View of the Harbor in Porto Santo

We then walked to the town, about 20 minutes away. At a hardware store we saw a 750 W genset for €900. It weighs 25 kg. This may be a solution to our alternator problem. We will have to think about it. We had a glass of Madeira wine at a bar and then a light pizza dinner at an attractive restaurant.

Back on Thetis we soldered the 40 A circuit-breaker, which I had bought in Gibraltar, between the DC panel and the DC/AC converter. We also soldered the loose power connection to the Ah meter. I then sent an e-mail, using GPRS, to my brother Nikos asking him his opinion about the genset we saw in the town.

Sunset from Porto Santo
Sunset from Porto Santo

Saturday January 15, 2005 Day 9

The Navtex predicted strong SE winds. I connected to the Internet and looked at the weather. Not good. A strong SE gale was developing in the next few days. This was corroborated by our barometer, which had fallen down to 1012 mB from yesterday’s high of 1023 and the day’s before’s of 1028. We were uncertain about what to do. We could depart for either the Canaries or for Funchal in Madeira and hopefully arrive before the gale or we could wait here, where it seems to be safe, for the gale to blow over. The forecast showed the gale lasting at least until Wednesday.

Main Square, Porto Santo
Christmas decorations still in the Porto Santo Main Square

We walked to the town and sat at a café debating our options. While there I received a call from my brother Nikos in Greece. He had located, in Athens, a direct replacement alternator, the same brand, Balmar, and the same size. It costs 1100 € in Greece, substantially more than in the US. He had also located a small Yamaha 1000 W genset which weighs only 13 kg and costs 950 €. Nikos is the CEO of Veravia Aviation, a small cargo airline whose customers are courier companies. He believes that with his connections he could easily send us a package either here or in the Canaries. He strongly feels that we should have both a new alternator and a genset. He thinks that there is an advantage to having them sent from Greece instead of the US. Not only can they come faster, especially with his connections, than if they originate from the US but since they come from an EU country they will not have to go through customs. If I were to decide to proceed in this plan, he can get them on Monday morning and have them shipped by Monday evening.

We then walked back to the marina. At the office I met Mr. Miguel Mendes Moreira, the marina director. He is very friendly and helpful. We had a long chat. His advice was that shipments from the EU to the Canaries take a long time and do not avoid customs because the Canaries, although a Spanish territory, are not technically part of the EU. The Madeira islands on the other hand are Portugal and EU. So, any shipment here will not only come faster but will not have to go through customs. He also advised against going with Thetis to Funchal because the harbor there develops a very nasty swell with the SE wind. We could, if we wanted, leave Thetis here and take the small ferry to Funchal. We decided to wait the gale out here, ask Nikos to ship both the alternator and genset here, and to take the ferry this afternoon to Funchal. We gave the second set of keys to the marina and a diagram of the boat indicating where I keep various lines.

After securing Thetis, we boarded the 7 PM catamaran ferry to Funchal on the main island of Madeira. We arrived there at 8:30 and took a taxi to the Winsdor Hotel where we got an adequate room for 55 €. After we got installed in the hotel and left our things we walked to the harbor, where we had a very nice meal at a waterfront restaurant. Funchal marina was very crowded with many boats rafted. It was fairly windy and there was indeed a lot of swell. The city, at least the small area we walked to, is very attractive and clean with paved black and white cobblestones.

Sunday January 16, 2005

Map of Madeira
The Green Slopes of Madeira
The Green Slopes of Madeira

We rented a car and drove around the island. As soon as we left Funchal we were amazed by the steepness of the mountains and their lushness. There were banana trees and vineyards almost everywhere. It seems that every available surface is cultivated, at least on the S side of the island.

We first stopped in the picturesque fishing village of Câmara de Lobos where Winston Churchill spent some time painting. Then we stopped at Cabo Girão, an impressive cliff. We continued driving W until Ribeira Brava, where we took the road north towards Serra de Agua up in the mountains. From there we went up and W over the desolate Paúl da Serra plateau and the green area of Cascata do Risco, then down to the N coast to the rocks of Porto Moniz. The surf breaking on these rocks was amazing. We had lunch in a restaurant built over the rocky promontory with windows surrounded by the surf. The view was breathtaking; the lunch was not bad either.

Câmara de Lobos
Câmara de Lobos
Cabo Girão

Cabo Girão

Serra de Agua

Serra de Agua

Porto Moniz
Porto Moniz

From Porto Moniz we followed the road along the N coast, going east. We stopped at the nicely restored miniscule village of São Vicente where we took a walk. Then we drove to Santana, where they have preserved some of the typical thatched houses, and from there we took the highway back to Funchal as it was already getting dark.

In the evening we walked to the marina area and had a fish dinner at another waterfront restaurant. The wind by then was blowing fitfully and all the boats in the marina were rocking wildly.

Today is my 63rd birthday.

The Angry N. Coast

The Angry N. Coast

São Vicente

São Vicente

Thatched House in Santana

Thatched House in Santana

Monday January 17, 2005 Day 10

We got up early and drove to the harbor to catch the ferry back to Porto Santo. Alas the ferry was grounded because of the bad weather. We were afraid of that. I did not want to leave Thetis unattended any longer, especially with deteriorating weather conditions. So, we drove to the airport and caught the 9:05 flight to Porto Santo.

Thetis with 15 Lines It was good that we returned because when we reached the marina, after a short taxi drive from the airport, we were faced by a situation that was not pretty. A brand new spring line was broken, two of the six fenders were missing, the port bow navigation light was broken, the pulpit (the railing in the bow) was slightly bent, and there were several scratches on Thetis’ bow. The marina manager, Señor Miguel, had deployed our primary anchor from the stern and had tied several extra spring lines. But the wind was gusting to 45 knots from the SE and the small chop within the harbor was breaking on the “finger” pontoon and on Thetis’ stern. There was no way to get either in or out of the boat without getting drenched by the spray. Despite these lines she was alternately being squeezed on the pontoon to her right or she was in danger of hitting the large metal pillar to her left. I strung all possible lines, 15 all together. Now Thetis looked like a spider in the middle of her web but at least she was relatively safe from further damage although she was bobbing up and down. We will have to be very careful lest some of these line chafe.

The barometer had fallen further, down to 1008 mB but by late afternoon it started to rise. Also in the afternoon the wind was blowing less hard. But the Navtex forecast now called for the gale to continue at least through Thursday.

I spoke with Alice in Washington. She was back from visiting our daughter Cynthia and grandson Alexander in Durham, NC, but she sounded tired and remote. I also spoke with Nikos in Greece. He was looking into shipping the alternator and the generator to either Las Palmas in the Canaries or to here. We tried calling the marina in Las Palmas but had trouble because the numbers given by the Atlantic Islands Cruising Guide were not correct. We got a number from the marina here and eventually spoke with a Mr. Domiso Domaso in Las Palmas, who told us that there will be no problem finding a berth for Thetis, but he also confirmed that receiving a package from Greece could be a problem since the Canaries are not within the EU duty free area. We called Nikos again and gave him this information. He will look into it.

Tuesday January 18, 2005 Day 11

The wind was still with us, 25 knots SE with frequent gusts to 34. The spray was also still with us. We gave our laundry to the marina restaurant (yes they do laundry also) and they promised to have it back to us by tomorrow. We had a message from Nikos. He made arrangements for the alternator and the genset to be shipped here; they will be leaving Greece this afternoon. We also replaced the broken red navigation light fixture from a spare. The problem now was that we were out of spare red light fixtures. I always like to have at least one spare, preferably two, when going out at sea.

The S Coast of Porto Santo We took nice hot showers at the marina facilities and then walked to the town and bought fresh bread. We spent most of this frustrating day closeted inside the cabin keeping and eye on Thetis. We did not dare leave her unattended. Also, somehow we had lost the shore AC power and were running on battery. The marina promised to look into this. They were also looking into a replacement for our broken red navigation light fixture. They had recovered one of our two missing fenders. Nikos called me. He had made arrangements with the TNT courier service. They had already picked up the generator and alternator and they promised delivery, here in Porto Santo, by Friday. However, the extra distance from Funchal to Porto Santo will cost us an extra 200 €.

Manos spent most of the afternoon with his computer plugged into the AC power at the marina restaurant, the Pato. At the restaurant we met David, an English expatriate, who has been here for 7 years. He took me to the Club Nautico, also within the marina area, I had seen the building and it looked deserted to me. Not so. They have a nice computer room with 3 Windows computers and 3 iMacs. They were connected via DSL to the Internet. But they seemed to have problems with the iMacs. I promised to try and help them. They invited me to bring my own iBook any time and use their DSL connection. I did so and checked the weather. The forecast was not good; now the gale was expected to last until Friday.

Back in the boat the barometer kept rising, reaching 1025 mB. At the marina office the young lady recommended a local restaurant, the Forno. Since the wind was less severe in the evening, Manos and I walked to that restaurant. They specialize in grilled meat. A long vertical spit is brought to your table and placed on a special stand. You pull from the spit pieces of meat with tongs and put them on your plate. It was delicious.

Wednesday January 19, 2005 Day 12

We had the same noisy, windy, and wet night as the one before, although in the morning the wind was less, just 15-25 knots from the E. I did various odds and ends in the boat while Manos and his computer went to the Pato Bravo, the marina restaurant. Later I too took my iBook to the Club Nautico. I connected the iBook to the DSL and had no problem accessing the Internet. The only problem was that I was running OS X on the iBook and they were running OS 9. It was hard to make sense of their system because I had not used OS 9 for a few years and all the menus and dialogs on their iMacs were in Portuguese. But even though I set one of their iMacs to the exact TCP/ IP settings as the ones of my iBook it still could not access the Internet. Very puzzling! I was not sure what to do for them.

The marina in the meantime had fixed the electricity problem and now Thetis had AC again. I ran the water-maker and filled the water tanks because the water-maker does not like staying idle for more than a few days. The water meter had stopped working. I looked and found out that somehow it got disconnected. I fixed it.

I joined Manos at the Pato and we had lunch: fresh sardines and beer. We also treated David to a beer. We also got our laundry back.

In the evening the wind was up again but it did not reach the forecasted 38 knots. No further news from Nikos about the shipment. We walked to the town intending to have a pizza but the pizza restaurant was closed. We had dinner at the Bainana.

Thursday January 20, 2005 Day 13

Map of Porto Santo

The night was less windy than the previous nights and the noise level was almost normal. In the morning I connected the computer to the Internet via GPRS and got a message from Alice but none from Nikos.

Pico Branco at a distance I walked to the town and rented a motor-scooter at 20€/day to explore the island. Manos was not interested in land explorations and stayed in his usual place at the Pato. I rode E past the harbor and then along the NE to Sera de Fore and to Pico do Cabrita. I left the scooter and walked on the rough footpath up to Pico Branco along the steep cliffs. From there I was treated to a nice view of the rocks and the surf. This, the NE side of the island, is very desolate and it is almost a moonscape. I continued on the scooter to Canacha and Pico do Castelo, where I took another hike in the pinewoods.

Pico do Cabrita

Pico do Cabrita

The Cliffs of Pico Branco

The Cliffs of Pico Branco

Pico do Castela from the town
Pico do Castelo from the town

When I later returned to Thetis there still was no message from Nikos. I sent him an SMS asking how I could trace the package, which is due here tomorrow.

Columbus' House
Columbus’ House in Porto Santo

In the afternoon I continued my exploration of Porto Santo. First I stopped in town and visited Christopher Columbus’ house, which is now a museum. It is not very big but it has several displays that outline the long history of the Madeira islands. After the museum I rode the scooter W along the south coast to Punta da Calheta, another place with very impressive breaking waves. The waves break on the shallows between Porto Santo and the little island Ilheu de Braixa. On the way back I deviated and went N then W, over the hills to Cabeca do Zimbrallnho, with a view of Braixa and beyond. Then I rode to Morenos, a desert like area with lots of cacti and aloes.

Punta da Calheta
Punta da Calheta

Cacti at Morenos After returning to the harbor I went to the Club Nautico and connected my iBook to the DSL. Still nothing from Nikos, but I looked up the weather. For the first time in days it now looked encouraging. The forecast called for the next 3 days for force 3-4 ESE in the Madeira region and 1-2 SE for the Canaries. On Sunday the wind should back to ENE. I made another attempt to fix the problem with the club’s iMacs but had no success. When I left the club it was almost 6 PM. On an impulse I walked to the marina office to warn them to expect a package delivery for us tomorrow. It was just before their closing time. Imagine my surprise when the young lady told me that 2 packages addressed to Thetis had already arrived in the afternoon. They were indeed what we were expecting. A new Balmar 100 ampere alternator and the cutest blue Yamaha portable generator. Manos and I carried them triumphantly to the boat.

Now, with a favorable weather forecast and the packages in hand we can, unless the actual weather does not follow the forecast, depart tomorrow in the early afternoon after we do some shopping. We will need gasoline canisters for the genset, fruits and vegetables, a stock of Madeira wine, etc.

Very pleased with these developments, we bundled up and rode the scooter to Punta da Calheta, where we had a celebratory dinner at the O Calhetas restaurant, reputed to be the best in the island. We ate a Madeira specialty: a stew of prawns, mussels, clams, and octopus with beans and rice. It was very good.

Friday January 21, 2005 Day 14

View from Cabeca do Zimbrallnho
View from Cabeca do Zimbrallnho

The first thing we did, right after coffee, was to check the weather. It looked good so we planned to depart. We then filled the generator with oil. After that we both rode with the scooter to the town for shopping. We had a hard time finding 2 small jerry cans for gasoline to be used for the genset but eventually we bought a 10 liter metal can and a 5 liter plastic ones. We also bought a 5 m AC extension cord so that we can connect the genset, to be operated in the cockpit, with the charger which is located in the left cabin without using the long 50 m reel extension cord. We then went to the supermarket and bought fresh bread, fruits, cheese, etc. We also bought several bottles of 10 and 15 year Madeira wine to be used on the boat and as gifts for home.

We then sat at the café, where I had a cup of espresso and Manos had breakfast. We bumped into Señor Miguel, the marina manager. I told him that we were planning to depart in the afternoon but I was concerned about how to raise the anchor from our stern. He assured me that he will send attendants with a boat equipped with a windlass and they will raise the anchor. Part of the service. I left Manos at the café with the groceries and I took the cans to a gas station and filled them. I then took them to Thetis, left them there, and returned to town for Manos and the groceries.

After we returned to the boat we tested the genset. It worked very well, but since the batteries were already charged it was hard to evaluate its effectiveness. We cleared customs, which took all of 2 minutes, and settled our bill at the marina office, an extra 140 €. The young lady called the attendants but Miguel had already dispatched them and they were raising Thetis’ anchor. As it was it took the 2 attendants and us 2 the best part of half an hour before the anchor and its chain were stowed in the chain locker.

After stowing the anchor we both went to the Club Nautico for a last check on the Internet. We checked the forecasts. They called for light winds with only 2 m waves all the way from here to the Canaries. We sent e-mails to our families advising them of our departure.

Back on the boat we started untying all but 3 of the 15 lines that we had used during the gale. It took some time to remove them, coil them, and stow them. But finally we were ready to go. We hailed the attendants on the VHF and they came to help us cast off.

Map of E Atlantic with route
Route to Canaria

We departed from Porto Santo at 1430. The wind, as predicted, was a light 10-12 knot breeze from the E. We raised the full mainsail, opened all of the genoa, and turned off the motor. We were sailing at about 5.5 knots.

In the evening the wind increased to 15 knots and we were doing 6.5 knots. I made rigatoni with an olive oil and garlic sauce and took the first watch. The only problem was that the tri-color navigation light on top of the mast stopped working. This was not too serious because the regular navigation lights were still operable. Normally we use the masthead tri-color only under sail since it conserves electricity and makes the boat more visible. We will address this problem when we arrive at Las Palmas. I was very, very glad that we were finally under way. While I felt very frustrated that we had lost almost a week, I believe that waiting out the gale was the prudent thing to do.

Saturday January 22, 2005 Day 15

While I was asleep in the early morning hours, the wind died and Manos rolled in the genoa and started the motor. Not much else happened during either on Manos’ or on my watch. At 0600, however, we had to change course to avoid 2 ships that were going NW, on a collision course with Thetis. This was the only traffic that we had seen since leaving Porto Santo.

Later in the morning we crossed the 100 M mark from Porto Santo. The sea was fairly calm but the wind veered S which was not very good. The sky was almost clear. On we went with the engine droning.

By the afternoon we were halfway to Las Palmas. The temperature was comfortable, 23°C (73°F) inside the cabin, 69% relative humidity, and the barometer down to 1015 mB. We had been running the engine at 2000 RPM, which keeps the fuel consumption low. At 1600 I sent our position with the Iridium to both Corinna and Nikos. Corinna promptly sent us a new weather forecast confirming the continuation of low winds. Alice called from Washington. It was nice to hear her voice in the middle of the ocean. They were expecting a snow blizzard in Washington.

By 6 PM, half an hour before sunset, we had used only about 40 L. Nevertheless, we siphoned one jerry can into the tank.

In Porto Santo Manos had bought some chopped meat which he now prepared into a ragú sauce to be served with spaghetti. We had a very nice dinner. I took the first watch once again. By 11 PM when I woke Manos, we were about 9 M from Salvagem Grande and we could see its light. The Savage Islands are bird sanctuaries and we were planning to stop there but now with the one week delay we were forced to miss them. Too bad because I was looking forward to a hike there.

Sunday January 23, 2005 Day 16

After I came back on watch, I noticed that the wind had backed to SE and was at 8-11 knots. I trimmed the mainsail, opened the headsail, and turned off the engine. Bliss! We were quietly sailing, making better than 5 knots. We were 105 M now from Las Palmas, our destination.

Later in the early morning we were doing 6.5 knots. It was a beautiful clear night and the fairly calm sea was illuminated by the moon as Thetis gracefully glided onward. I listened to Spanish music which seemed rather appropriate.

Later in the morning we were down to 6 knots and we estimated arrival at 9 PM. We tried the genset and it worked very well, with the charger charging the batteries at over 30 A. We operated it for just one hour because I wanted to calibrate its fuel consumption. The day was sunny and pleasant.

Around 1600 the wind decreased to around 8 knots and backed further to the E. With this we lost our speed and started the motor once again. We were just about 18 M from Gran Canaria and Tenerife, but nothing was visible. The GPS lost its satellite signal and had trouble acquiring it again. I tried our spare unit but it had the same trouble so at least our equipment was working. It must be trouble with the space segment. This problem continued almost all the way to the Las Palmas harbor.

As we approached Las Palmas in Grand Canaria we could see the lights. This whole area is very much developed and heavily populated. The harbor is very large and busy. It has lots and lots of high intensity lights that make a night approach difficult. Distinguishing the flashing red and green navigation lights is almost impossible. We inched our way forward slowly, avoiding the numerous ships anchored outside the harbor. It was very hard to decide by watching them on the radar whether they were stationary or moving slowly. Finally we were overtaken by a fast ferry with a flashing amber beacon. While this was somewhat frightening it was also good because by watching her we figured out where the harbor entrance was.

We entered the harbor with the help of the radar and found the entrance of the marina [28° 07.6' N 15° 25.5' W] which is a harbor within the harbor. The fuel dock was empty and we tied to it side-to without any problems. It was 2200 and we had come 298.4 M from Porto Santo.

By that time we were famished. We boiled some spaghetti and served it with the leftover ragu sauce from last night. We were also dead tired and we slept like logs.

Las Palmas Marina
The Las Palmas Marina
Courtesy of Manos Castrinakis