Volcanoes on the edge of the Atlantic

A voyage in the Canaries aboard Bessie Ellen is so far away from the usual winter sun packages. You will be amazed at just how much diversity there is here in the far western group of islands offering you a very different winter  break.

Situated 180NM off the coast of Morocco, the western islands of Tenerife, La Palma, Gomera and El Hierro rise out of a sparkling cerulean sea and provide a a second home to Bessie Ellen. I have spent many winters here, and would be thrilled to sail with you to discover your own Canary Adventure.

None of our voyages run to an itinerary but if I provide an introduction to what you can expect, you will then be able to create your own unique experience

All the voyages will start and finish in the modern marina of San Miguel.  Chosen for its proximity to the airport and the shelter of the waters, it provides an ideal location as an embarkation point, giving a gentle start to your holiday.

Dolphin sailing next to Bessie Ellen

Whales and dolphins are abound here and none are more easy to find than the Pilot whale.  Not a true whale, but a species of dolphin, these quiet and gentle mammals are easy to spot in the calm waters under Tenerife.  As you set sail, the whales come close to the ship in large pods of up to 20.  They float or “log” on the surface in these groups, diving up to 2000 ft to feed on squid that live at great depth. Other whales of the larger species can be found to the south of Gomera and include Brydes, Fin and Sperm whales. Supper happy dolphins are easier to spot, the playful bottlenose form groups around the Masca cliffs, providing a great chance for you to photograph these incredible creatures in still, crystal clear waters. Spinner and Atlantic spotted dolphins tear out of the waves alongside us as under full sail, Bessie Ellen reaches up to 9 knots sailing between the islands.

The islands shelve very quickly into the sea and provide little in the way of snorkelling reefs, but there are a few spots to spend some time drifting on the swell, watching jewelled fish swim along the white rocky bottom.  If you are lucky, there are some spots where you can swim with manta ray and turtles.   

Sunset in the Canaries credit Gemma Turner

Leaving the glittering sea behind, it’s time to travel inland to visit some of the greener islands, and to get there, we sail.  Whether you are a seasoned sailor or have yet to set foot on a boats deck, part of the thrill of your holiday is taking part in hauling up sails and handling the ship’s Helm (wheel), learning some navigation and watching the ocean miles slip away. Over the horizon lie new lands ready to welcome you to their own ocean paradise.

My favourite island is La Palma, so green and unspoilt by commercial tourism and retaining the historical towns of 400 years ago.  There are two ports to choose from here, Tazacorte in the west where the banana plantations reach the shore and the black sand beaches offer inviting cool waters to swim after a hot day; or the more genteel capital of Santa Cruz, a typical  colonial  merchant town strung out along the shore, flanked by green mountains which soar up into the clouds. Although a little cooler, the city is a great place to wander through, sample some local wine and cheese or even take part in one of the many festivals held here.  A typical stopover here will include a day up at the top of the massive crater for a decent walk and stretch of the legs.  The crew hire a van and drive you to the very top of Taburiente, 2,400 meters above the sea.  This outstanding national park provides some great walks of different distances and levels of difficulty.  I know the area well now and choose the easier route passing round the edge of the caldera where the views are vertical to the sea below.  On a clear day you can even see Bessie Ellen in the marina. At the end of a 2 hour hike/ walk, the crew arrive with a picnic lunch before driving you back down the mountain, through the cloud forests of juniper and laurel. Take a brief dip in the waterfall before heading back to the ship for a dinner of something amazing from the local markets here.  Now, if you are not well and truly tired, and you should be, there are plenty of salsa bars in the towns to enjoy until the small hours.

View of the Canary islands

I am a great believer in the ship as a mode of transport set to arrive at unique places and explore. Gomera is one of these little gems of islands where you really feel you can relax.  I call it flip-flop island, a place where life runs at a much slower pace.  The island is small and public transport routes, combined with well structured walks, mean you can see much of the island in one day.  The top of Gomera is ringed by the cloud forest.  Stone peaks named by the Guanches with mythical names rise up out of terraced hillsides.  Palms and canes rustle in the breeze as you pass by on well worn tracks and, if you are lucky, you will hear the local whistling language, a language of trilling notes used as a way of communicating between the deep ravines and valleys.  From the lush green at the top, the landscape changes as you reach further down towards the sea becoming dryer and less fertile.  Cactus and lizards bake in the sun and the sea surrounding you, beckons for a swim.

As with La Palma, there are two very different places we visit.  The small town of San Sebastian is just delightful and is steeped in history – Columbus stopped here on all his explorations to the new world to take water and little his fleet.  He also had a lover here which may explain why! Life in town is simple, the gaily painted streets lead to a shaded square which seems to be the hub of local life.  Nothing can be more pleasing than watching the world go by here…that is if the crew let you! San Sebastian has become the beach of choice for our internship game of Frisbee. Played out on the sand at the edge of the bay, the townsfolk cheer as the Bessie Ellen arrives for a highly competitive game that is a cross between frisbee and rugby. Not for the fainthearted, and perhaps after a few bruises it’s time for a swim and a cold beer.

Sitting on the bow sprit

Sailing round the coast passing scorched red cliffs, the next stop is to explore the 18th century tuna factory, nestled at the bottom of a steep barranco. The ruined buildings are worth a visit and the fishing from our deck is just perfect. Sometimes we barbecue here as the suns rays bathe the beach in hot sun till late in the afternoon. Onwards to Vueltas and Valle Gran Rey, or valley of the great King.  And it is here, once the anchor is down you can dive out of the rigging into those velvet waters, cooling off after a hot day.  Snorkelling with manta rays is great here, plus there is the opportunity to walk up the verdant valley to steep cool waterfalls.  Once night falls, the stars here just glisten against the black sky.  The cool air is perfect to lie and gaze aloft, taking pictures and understanding ancient constellations. Why not indulge in a midnight swim under this starlit sky, which is mirrored with the stars below as the bioluminescence bursts into life and we float on an ocean of space.

El Hierro is far to the south and with the prevailing wind this island proves hard to reach. Restingua at the southern end made headlines recently when the underwater volcano erupted continuously for about 5 months. Now it has settled, this small community is a quiet place and it is here we get the best fish. Giant fish, wahoo and kingfish nearly two meters long chase brightly coloured lures. Tuna and bonito are exciting to catch and perhaps with help to land it will be your fish dinner today! Flying fish leap joyously from the waves, a sliver of silver against the onyx of the lava. Above though, a totally different world awaits. Small farms with sheep and goats range the lush green valleys, and it is this island that provides all the others with vegetable produce not imported. The bus runs from Puerto Estaca and along with children and chickens, the ride is exhilarating.

So, that’s my Canary life, but there is always more to explore and share with others, so if you find this your kind of adventure, why not give me a ring to talk over possibilities?

Lunch in a Spanish square on the Canaries

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