The Canary Islands have been so much more than we expected. From the dramatic volcanic landscape, to huge imposing gorges, to the crystal clear waters… here is an article we wrote for Sailing Today explaining why it captured us for over a year.
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Cycle touring in El Hierro
Having been back on dry land for a couple of weeks and we have been reminiscing about the latest stage of the trip Western Canaries and probably the wilder Western islands compared to the East, though the landscape is dramatic there too. What looks like small dots on the map amid a huge ocean encompass their own countries or even mini continent of desert, volcano, pine and lush rainforest, often surrounded by flower meadows. This is El Hierro!
Of course a bike is a great way to travel, particularly where there is such diversity of landscape but the small islands have a surprisingly high altitude, rising steeply out of the sky.
A mixture of persuasion and foreign ignorance helped to find our Two bikes on the bus which strictly only allowed ONE! This did make the whole difference or I (or one of us!) would only be remembering a hot sweaty slog up for three days as oppose to abit of up and some then some of the spins of our lives going down through every topography that you can imagine.
At the end of the day we would be camping somewhere. The fun of camping is that you could end up anywhere, I mean really anywhere and that first night was spent on straw in a goat cave surrounded by little candles whose light
glistened off the contoured wall. I practised how I was going to explain and excuse why we were sheltered in the goat herders cave if he was to appear! A coat rested on a stick suggesting it might be inhabited. However, much more surprisingly given it was in the middle of nowhere is when the next day a cleaner appeared and started bustling around with flowers, taking no notice of us and then opening up a shrine with a huge gold framed picture of Mary in the cave next to ours.
As we left with our bikes, around the corner a huge celebration for the church had just started with most of the people on the island arriving who would no doubt have been visiting the caves too so it was lucky we cleared out in good time.
The rest of the day was spent wizzing down passed mini volcanos of all colours, gnarled trees blown over by the strong winds and then twisted around and then salt flats . An abandoned house turned art gallery of bizarre ‘objet trouvez’. Then signs to watch out for rocks slides likely from above the road pitted with where debris had fallen, suddenly our tired legs took as to 30mph without problem.
With the intention to stop for a spot of lunch we came across an area of historic healing waters, lunch inadvertently turned into a longer stay after a little overindulgence. However, during this we were lucky enough to discover one of the islands beautiful ‘charcos’ this is a swimming hole in the sea which is been tastefully installed often using the natural rock and wood to create platforms and steps into the sea. We were only just in time to enjoy it with waves starting to crash in giving an interesting frissant to the swim!
In the next two days a successful circumnavigation of the island was completed by pedal power. Are few more pics!
Diving in the Canary Islands
We’ve done a fair bit of diving directly from the boat in the Canary Islands but La Gomera is particularly good for it due to the various sheltered anchorages which aren’t frequented by other boats or jet skis.
By Way Of Biscay
Since Noway we have sailed down Brittany, crossed to Northern Spain and then Galicia. This piece in Sailing Day, March 2019, gives you a little snapshot!
Gran Canaria Offroad Motorcycle Adventure
The interior of Gran Canaria could easily be forgotten when you focus on the tourist developments at the coast. However, a wild and beautiful interior awaits those wishing to get off the road and venture into the volcanic hills! Here is a short trip over a few days via motorcycle…
Sailing Today: Fjord Fiesta
Following our journey up to the Lofoten Islands in Norway, we wrote an article for Sailing Today summarising the trip. This piece follows on from the previous one a year earlier entitled Fjord Focus.
Motorcycle Tour into Peneda-Gerês National Park
We sailed into Porto (Portugal) and Emmie wanted to take some inspiration for some new pieces of work so quickly setup in a creative working space in the old town. Meanwhile I rented a new Royal Enfield for a trip into the Peneda-Gerês National Park.
The park is in the far North of Portugal bordering Spanish Galicia. It is a region of mountainous outcrops with a good population of Wolves, wild horses and historical villages with a history of barley farming.
The route took me along the Douro River and then North via small villages and into the National Park. I cut through off road to the Santuary of Nossa Senhora. Every year, in the first week of September, several hundred pilgrims from all over the region and from neighbouring Galicia flock to this place of pilgrimage. The dedication to Nossa Senhora das Neves (Our Lady of the Snows) originates from the Middle Ages, spreading the legend of her apparition at this site, where a small chapel has been built. The present Sanctuary, built in the nineteenth century, is topped by a church with a monumental flight of steps.
The route on bike was was approximately 50% road and 50% dirt with plenty of lakes, historical villages, swimming spots and lots of windowed ladies walking around dress in all black!
The bike was a Royal Enfield Himalayan which is a half touring and half dirt bike but light weight and good for solo adventures were it can be maneuvered up small tracks and over rough ground easily.
Cycling the Picos De Europa
After sailing down the Brittany coast and then spending a few days enjoying La Rochelle, we departed in the evening with a good forecast for at least 3 days. The Bay of Biscay is notorious with sailors but being only 230 miles, how hard could it be! The first few hours we very rough but only because of a headland we had to clear, and once around, it was plain sailing.
We first saw the snow capped peaks of the Picos De Europa towering out of the sea on the horizon. Since the sea was calm we were able to enter the small Spanish village of Ribadesella, the nearest harbour to the Picos de Europa national park.
We then did the hard slog of 50km up, up, and up to the start of the national park and then spent another few days exploring and camping in the Mountains.
Sea, Cycle & Ice
“Wow look at that enormous lenticular cloud” I shouted. It appeared to be sitting atop the range of mountains that seem never ending as we sailed up the Norwegian coastline, into the Article Circle. We both starred in awe and simultaneously, each raising an eyebrow and tilting our heads, said, “that’s not a cloud, that’s ICE!”
I can’t say what time of day it was as we said goodbye to the night a week previously. Sunlight was now 24hrs a day and opened new doors to adventure.
What we were looking at was the Svartisen Ice Cap, large enough to be seen from space easily. It didn’t take long to check the charts and figure that we could sail right up the edge of it, where a glacier ran almost to the sea.
We found a good mooring for the boat and made a plan. The aim was to hike up the edge of the Ice Cap, traverse it and summit Mt Snotinden, Svartisen’s highest point. After a long climb we reached the refuge at the edge of the Ice Cap.
We’ve stayed in may mountain huts, some little more than a pile of logs in Patagonia and others, more akin to a hotel. This however was something else.
In true Norwegian style they had build a superb little refuge with a kitchen, solar, wood burner and beds. We need not have lugged up our sleeping bags and camping stoves. However, for all its glory there was no other souls in sight.
We prepared our kit of set off early the next morning. We wanted to cross, summit and return in a day. We started well and fast but taking care to ‘rope up’ initially for fear of crevasses. We could clearly see the summit at the far side of the ice cap and through the clear air it seemed perfectly achievable in a only a few hours.
5 hours later and we were still a way off! Distances are deceiving when there are no other objects to gauge against!
Cloud swept across the cap like sand storms, disappearing as fast as they came. The last section appeared short and gentle from a but it turned out to be a steep incline to the summit which we did in zero visibility. Reaching the top it cleared to give us glorious views across the entire cap and an appreciation that, in fact, we had come up quite a lot when most of the day felt we were on the flat. This would work in our favour on the return so we settled in to enjoy the view a little longer.
Afterall it was never going to get dark so what was the rush?
Once again distances deceived us. What looked like a short steep descent where we might get 3-4 turns, turned out to be a huge snow face. Emmie hurtled down, becoming a tiny spec. I followed suite and we were soon gliding our way across the ice cap back towards the refuge!
A Race Against Time!
Featuring in Practical Boat Owner magazine, we struggled with our exhaust manifold just before setting off back to the UK. It was still only late August at the time but 2017 was especially turbulent in the Atlantic and weather windows back to the UK South Coast from Norway were scarce!
Bob Shepton & Dodo’s Delight 2
Following the original Dodo’s Delight recorded by The Wild Bunch and Bob Shepton whilst on expedition to Greenland, we now present our little tribute. Of course with the same song which is enshrined in our hearts but in a new location and with a new crew including, of course, the mighty Bob himself!
This was filmed on route to Norway to find new lines to ski whilst Bob was in training for an expedition to South Georgia! Bob’s account of our crossing to Norway can be seen in Sailing Today – click here.
The original rendition can be seen here: vimeo.com/152958661
This article was written by the intrepid reverend Bob Shepton on our passage to Norway in search of remote and pristine snow capped peaks falling straight into the sea. It was first published in Sailing Today, October 2017.
Click on spread below to read the full article:
My trip from Inverness to Norway came about almost by accident. Initially, I was hoping to fl y out to Gåssten, a converted Swedish minesweeper, for some ski touring in Norway with Fjord Adventures. At the same time I received an email:
‘We are on the way north to the west coast of Scotland, do you know where there are any moorings we could pick up?’
Obviously a man after my own heart not wanting to pay marina or mooring fees. We duly met up in Oban where Tim had moored Shadowfax, of Lord of the Rings fame but this was a boat, by the Oban Sailing Club, which I had not recommended as you are duty bound to give a donation for picking up one of their moorings. During a pleasant chat over coffee, Tim suggested
“you want to get to Norway and we do not have offshore experience, why not hitch a lift across with us via Shetland.”
So I did. Having given them a hand the next day up Neptune’s Staircase, the locks at the start of the Caledonian Canal, I joined them a few days later in Inverness. Next morning at 0900hrs we locked out of the Caledonian Canal. Chris, described by Tim as being as strong as an ox, and he certainly kindly did more than his required share of the watches, arrived by plane at this point as we were waiting to take the final sea lock out into the Moray Firth.
We then soon came up to the long Kessock road bridge across from Inverness to the Black Isle before getting out properly to sea. As I approach bridges like this there is nearly always an optical illusion and I wonder whether it’s high enough and whether we will pass safely underneath. It brought back memories of passing under various bridges in years past – the road bridge across to Manhattan after the Statue of Liberty coming up the Hudson River to New York, by contrast the much lower bridge in the Faroes, with us fortunately stemming the tide slightly for a controlled approach, to get up the long channel splitting the islands, and of course in Holland, though one in particular stands out here as we did bend our VHF aerial under it owing to a slight error of judgement.
Once through I embarrassingly suggested that “technically perhaps we should be passing the other side of that buoy?”, conscious that the buoyage runs clockwise around the British Isles, but of course the channel turns southwards here, counter-clockwise, to go up channel to Inverness so I was firmly put in my place. Now as a lowly crew member who prefers to sleep half sitting up I was assigned the only possible bunk to fit such criteria, in the forepeak which is usually not the most comfortable berth on a boat, especially as it turned out when passing the eastern entrance to the Pentland Firth with its fearfully strong tides. The boat rolled strongly from side to side, presumably affected by the strong pull of the tide, and it was necessary to jam my arms hard down either side of my body within the slot made by the cockpit seat cushions already jammed in place to make a good sea berth, to prevent rolling violently, myself, from side to side when trying to sleep. But we had a pleasant sail up to the Shetlands though with variable wind, and to the owner’s chagrin requiring quite a bit of motoring as well.
First Fair Isle loomed out of the mist to port and then on a pleasant evening we came up to Sumburgh Head. On the chart were the words ‘Area To Be Avoided’ just to the east of the headland, but when we phoned the Coastguard to check about this we got the impression they did not really know why it said that either but advised ‘Exercise care at that point’! So we proceeded on to Lerwick and into the south harbour to moor up against the quayside, being careful to lay a spring so that we would not be pushed into a large catamaran immediately forward of our bows. It was interesting that after the catamaran had left the next day all the other boats there were Norwegian. There was a suspicion in the air that the fact that the booze is much cheaper in the Shetland Islands than in Norway could be part of the motive for their visit, especially as the first thing the big catamaran had said to us the night before as we tied up after a two day passage was,
“Hurry, the booze store closes any minute now!”
Lerwick, originally known as Leirvik meaning Muddy Bay – I imagine some Viking Chief had jumped down from his boat and got his feet dirty – also had all that we needed by way of supermarkets to renew stores. We also took the opportunity to hire a car and have a look around the main island of Shetland doing the tourist thing of visiting the Sumburgh lighthouse and noticing how the trees were bent over double because of the strong winds. Now Emmie, the lady of the boat, was no mean artist, specialising in painting old buildings in acrylics with her paintings exhibited in galleries in UK and America. It was a pity therefore that we did not have more time to spend in the Shetlands as there were numerous old buildings and ruins of characteristic dry stone wall construction and she could have had a field day there.
One evening there was the intriguingly unique experience of eating in the Gurkha Kitchen, a restaurant run by a Gurkha family who had settled in Lerwick. By contrast the forecabin had now become the Chinese Torture Chamber, as with the north wind blowing us away from the dockside the bow mooring line kept squeaking and squealing as it see-sawed through the fairlead at irregular intervals depending on the gusts. You waited, tensed up, for the next squeal just above your head, reputedly reminiscent of the water drip on your head in the Chinese Torture of olden days. In the end I abandoned the forepeak and moved my bedding to the saloon amidships to get some sleep, being careful to cover the new material on the seat cushions first of course on this smart boat!
After three days of waiting for a weather window, a favourable forecast arrived on the owner’s smartphone and it was time to go. As we motored out in the evening light it appeared they had got the buoyage wrong again, as we were going north up the channel coming south into Lerwick and the buoyage was red to port and green to starboard. But in fact this was not so much a channel into Lerwick but a way through from south to north with Lerwick a possible stopping off point on the way and so the clockwise rule still applied. All very confusing; ocean sailing is much easier! A ship with a huge bridge-like construction and small deck site aft made its way out to sea before us to port, presumably something to do with the oil industry.
At this stage we were in some 30 knots of wind but this was due to moderate, and as it was from the northwest, we were shielded by the Shetlands from big seas and swells, and anyhow this Seastream 43 with its 17 tonne displacement was much bigger and more stable than my 33 foot Westerly. The wind duly moderated overnight and we again enjoyed a variable but pleasant sail across towards Norway. There was a slight anomaly in the forecast with a southerly wind promised which never arrived but one night watch approaching the coast of Norway was especially memorable.
We were slipping along at 5-6 knots in a fair breeze with the oil rigs like strings of Christmas lights to port and starboard, sea state slight, not a cloud in the night sky and a nearly full moon shining benignly down to give us light. I was reminded of trying years ago on my very first Atlantic crossing when ocean navigation was all by astro to shoot the moon off the coast of Newfoundland, to cross it with a position line from a previous sun shot to obtain our present position. But the moon moves very fast and my maths was always weak and it was hopeless. Luckily we came up to Cape Race at the southern tip of Newfoundland next day in daylight, and certainly the sea and spray were racing past it at the time. So we made it, Portland UK to Portland USA (Maine) without mishap, and all the way back as well in spite of my having to hang onto a shroud with one hand and shoot the sun with the other in stormy winds on the nose all the way from half way across the Atlantic to the chops of the Channel.
More motoring in the morning against the north wind which was meant to be southerly to close the lovely Norwegian coast and to make our way northwards towards Ålesund.
That evening we put into a small enclosed harbour by a cluster of houses on one of the first islands we came to as we moved inland. We were greeted and welcomed to Norway by a couple on their motor boats who took our lines and helped us tie up alongside. The whole scene and situation was so typical of this brilliant country, people and coastline.
The next morning we made our way in sunshine to Ålesund, where I jumped ship onto Gåssten by previous arrangement. And what a way to go ski touring in Norway, being transported up and down the fjords in a well appointed, comfortable ship, looked after by Sven the skipper, Tash and Annie, I felt like royalty, and with a group of marvelously mad Italian girls as fellow ski tourers, and one or two slightly older British gentlemen to leaven the lump.
On the other hand I did discover that I was older than I thought I was and might have to revise my plans for ski touring in South Georgia in the Antarctic spring. But that’s another story…