We hop between the Canary Islands and discover their stunning natural beauty. We also learn about banana logic and a unique renewable energy storage system.

Santa Cruz de Tenerife (ESP) – El Hierro (ESP)

“We’re floating again!” The big blue boatlift of Varaderos Anaga has put Luci gently into the water. Is she as anxious as we are, after spending almost two months out of her element, high and dry on the wharf in Tenerife? During that time, we gave her a layer of eco-friendly SeaJet anti-fouling paint and repaired her. But we also left her alone while we went back home. Is everything still as it should be? As soon as we touch the water, Ivar checks the cabin. “All dry!” he shouts from below deck. A sigh of relief follows. We’re good to go!

More Maintenance

Our first sail in almost two months is to Santa Cruz de Tenerife marina. The 5nm-trip is hardly enough to get used to being on the ocean again. Still, it feels good to be on the move, albeit temporarily. Despite our extensive works at the ship yard, a few maintenance jobs remain. Ready for a change of scenery, we decide to do them in the comfort of the marina.

First stop: the chandlery at the edge of town to pick up a new anchor windlass. Carrying the thing back to the boat proves to be harder than mounting it. It fits exactly where the old one was. The same is true for a new piece of mizzenmast rig. We also grease the winches and get out the sewing machine to repair the genua. Yet our DIY skills fail when it comes to electronics, and we concede that it is time to get professional help. Fortunately, Pepe proves to be a Raymarine-wizard. He fixes the issues with our wind instrument and autopilot, which haunted us for six months.

Just as we strike through the electronic repairs on our to-do-list, the wastewater pump in the kitchen stops working. Annoyed, Ivar dismounts it and discovers that a part is broken. We don’t have a spare on board and it’s not available in local chandleries. To our shock, we hear that ordering a new one will take 8-10 working days. The prospect of two more weeks in one place frustrates us. Can’t we repair the bloody thing? Ivar takes the piece to Alex, the metal worker from Varaderos Anaga who welded our leaking exhaust water lock. When Ivar returns, his smile confirms what Floris was hoping: Alex fixed it!

Stocking Up

With our maintenance to-do-list completed – for now – our focus shifts. We spend time with our German friends Susanne and Falk, who once again spoil us and show us mystical pyramids and a lively beach town. We also make friends with our neighbours Mike and Jeanette from sailing yacht DutchLink. They are experienced around-the-world-cruisers and give us many good tips, including to stock-up on groceries in Santa Cruz. It is the last big town we visit before Brazil and the local HiperDino delivers to the boat. With the help of a useful provisioning excel-spreadsheet and after making an inventory of the current stock, Floris calculates how much we need to buy. Armed with a shopping list that contains enough food for us to survive the next 10 weeks, we head to the supermarket. After an hour in the shop, our cashier isn’t overly impressed with our two full shopping carts. Neither are her colleagues who deliver the boxes to the pontoon later that afternoon. We’re obviously not their first floating customers.

Back in the Rhythm

With Luci back in shape and all our storage cabinets filled to the maximum, it’s time to hop to the neighbouring island of La Palma. The trade winds blow a steady and moderate N-NE, but the mountainous islands create significant disturbances. Between the Canary Islands and around their capes, acceleration zones exist that can add 10-15 knots to the average wind speed. The lee zones of the islands, on the other hand, cast a large wind shadow that can stretch for tens of miles. For our trip this means that we need to tack our way around Cape Anaga, the most northern point of Tenerife, before we can sail westward to the north side of La Palma. It proves to be a tough ride that takes most of the day. Both of us have difficulties adjusting to the see and don’t feel very well. We’ve clearly been on shore too long. At the same time, the sea puts us back into the rhythm. After rounding the cape and a few hours of sleep, we get much more adjusted to Luci’s constant moves. From the north-western cape of La Palma we can finally sail downwind. And what a difference it makes! Even when the wind reaches 30 knots, it remains comfortable.

Here’s a video impression of our trip:

After a 32-hour sail, we anchor close to the entrance to the marina of Tazacorte. Its long breakwater provides good protection against the northerly winds and swell, also at the anchorage. Shortly after the anchor securely holds us in place, we test the water. As we rediscover swimming, we realise how much we missed the freedom of being at anchor.

Banana Logic

From the anchorage we see why the island is known for its bananas. From the beach rises a steep cliff, on top of which we discern leaves of banana plants. Curious to learn more, we kayak to shore. From the black, volcanic beach we follow a makeshift staircase up the steep cliff. On top, we are surrounded by thousands and thousands of banana trees. Next to the plantations a colourful building houses the banana museum, which we visit to get some answers to our questions about bananas.

Large panels in the museum explain that the banana plants are not native to La Palma, but were introduced by the British at the end of the 19th century. It proved to be a success, making bananas an important export product. Yet we realise that poisons are used in the monoculture plantations to fight pests and weeds. The logic to use them dates back to the 1960s, and this mind-set continues until today. But does it make sense?

We visit Fran GarLaz, who runs banana plantation “PlatanoLógico”. The second we enter, we notice what makes this place very different. We have stepped into a jungle! Banana plants are surrounded by numerous other plants and trees. We see butterflies, smell flowers and hear birds. Was it always like this?

Fran explains that it was a conventional banana plantation when he took it over nine years ago. “I started planting various types of flowers and plants that are native to La Palma between the banana trees,” he explains. “I stopped using poisons and allowed the ecosystem to restore itself. Ever since, biodiversity has tremendously increased,” Fran continues. Fran helped nature a bit by planting broccoli, which attracts insects that would otherwise harm the bananas. Sheep and donkeys help fertilize the soil, while roaming ducks keep the snail population down. Fran summarises his agroforestry methods: “I try to maintain a balanced ecosystem and work with nature instead of against it.” Click here for a more in-depth report about Platano Lógico as a sustainable solution.

Energy on El Hierro

From Tazacorte it’s a one-day sail to our last European destination El Hierro. A firm and constant NE trade wind pushes us to the green and mountainous island, the smallest of the seven main Canary Islands. As we approach the marina of Puerto de Estaca, Floris gets excited. “I can see the wind turbines, the reason why we came here!”

The next day former council member and sustainability expert Javier Morales visits us on board. He explains that the island is too remote for a power cable to the mainland. “To become less dependent on expensive and polluting diesel for our electricity generation, we had to come up with a smart solution” he explains. “The preferred source of renewable energy here is wind power, since we have a lot of wind. And wind turbines don’t take a lot of space, which is scarce here. Our challenge was that wind is an intermittent energy source, while we need to provide the 10,000 islanders with energy at all times.”

A Unique Renewable Energy Storage Solution

Javier explains how they tackled it. “We decided to make optimal use of the natural and geological circumstances of our island. Besides windy, El Hierro is mountainous. That’s why we thought of using hydropower. We built a water reservoir at an altitude of 700 meters. Water is pumped there, using excess wind energy. When more energy is needed, water is released to the lower reservoir and electricity is generated at the hydropower station. The upper water reservoir therefore works like a giant battery.” The combined wind/hydropower system is the first of its kind in the world.”

We also visit the operator of this system, Gorona del Viento. Communications Manager Candelaria Sanchez gives us a tour of the hydropower plant and Engineer Albert Castaneda explains the details of the techniques used. Since the opening in 2015, they have been getting better at fine-tuning the island’s three energy producers: wind, water and diesel. On average in 2017, around half of the island’s electricity needs were supplied by renewable energy. There is still room to further optimize the wind-hydropower facility, so that percentage is likely to go up. Go here for our vlog and sustainable solutions article about this inspiring example.

El Hierro Explorations

The small size of the island allows us to discover each corner of it. Our marina neighbours Erik and Jenny are transforming an abandoned plot of land into a permaculture garden and we are invited to witness their efforts. The fertile land overlooks the ocean and we can already imagine visitors coming here to enjoy nature and live off the land.

On another day we attend a folklore event in Javier’s home town of Sabinosa. Its streets are lined with local people and those who grew up here and have come back for the festivities. They revolve around the church’s Madonna. A music and dance group, made up of young and old, kidnaps the Madonna to carry her on a two-hour-procession through the village. During breaks the townspeople hand out biscuits and drinks to the troupe and bystanders, like us. And no procession would be complete without a communal meal at the end.

We also experience why the island is known for its contrasts. The island’s stunning nature parks are as different as they are beautiful. Clouds accumulate on the north face of El Hierro’s mountains. The moisture in the fog is harvested by trees and plants. The sunny south side is much drier and only a few brushes can survive on the barren volcanic soil. In-between lie the forests of Canary pine. Javier explains that these areas are protected, so residential and agricultural activities are strictly regulated here.

The island’s sustainability efforts are further highlighted at the “Finca Experimental”, where fruit is grown organically and other organic farmers are supported with equipment and know-how. Javier also takes us to meet local fishermen. They explain that they took the initiative to create marine reserves and ban destructive fishing methods. They foresaw that these measures were needed to ensure the long-term productivity of the marine ecosystem, and thereby the future of their livelihoods. Hopefully, their success story will convince other fishing communities to follow suit.

Bye bye Europe

El Hierro marks not only the end of our Canarian island hopping, but also our stay in Europe. After almost two years, we’re ready for new territories. More than 700 nautical miles of Atlantic Ocean separate our last European port from our next destination, the African republic of Cape Verde. It’s farther than we have ever sailed non-stop so far. Yet the time is ripe to leave. The weather forecast promises stable NE trade winds for the next week. We wave goodbye to our neighbours and set course for Cape Verde. Africa here we come!

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