The Aegre Voyage: Chapter 10 Notes

On to the Canary Islands

A short 300 nm downwind passage far off the west coast of Morroco enlivened midway by a blast of the Sirocco. This is a warm humid wind that can reach hurricane strength, blowing from the North African Sahara, usually northward to the Mediterranean and south coast of Europe. But it can blow from the west coast of North Africa out into the Atlantic, as it did for us, coming out of nothing on a clear night and blasting us south at breakneck speed for a day or two. Quite enough drama for a short passage thank you.

Map showing the course of The Aegre from Madeira to Tenerife
Map showing the course of The Aegre from Madeira to Tenerife

We needed to avoid the Selvagen Islands, just a few miles east of our direct course. As I mention in the book, legend has it that pirate gold is buried on these remote uninhabited islands. E. F. Knight’s The Cruise of the Alerte (pub.1890) relates the story in good detail, but the tale itself comes from the testimonies of Robinson and Cruise, both held in the UK National Archives. You can read an excerpt from the Alerte all about it here. E F Knight’s book is primarly about a treasure hunting voyage to the desert island of Trinidad, off the north east coast of South America. You can learn more about the Selvagen Islands and their possible pirate gold in a more recent (2010) book here .

Santa Cruz Fishing Harbour, Tenerife. today.
Santa Cruz Fishing Harbour Tenerife today

With the Sirocco on our beam we near surfed into the shelter of Tenerife, and then were becalmed just outside the fishing harbour which also served as the anchorage for visiting yachts. It was a short bus ride to the town of Santa Cruz. Above is a recent photo of this harbour. Today there appears to be a marina in the top left hand corner. This didn’t exist in 1973, and back then our small collection of international yachts huddled in the bottom left corner, as below.

Yachts at anchor
The Aegre in the fishing boat harbour near Santa Cruz Tenerife Canary Islands

It looks almost benign in the photo above, but it was far from it as I tell in the book.

However it was sheltered from the wind, and the water calm, and thus a suitable place to experiment with setting our proposed squaresail. Sailmaker Kip Gurrin back in Orkney had cleverly made our gaff headed flax storm mainsail with a dual purpose. For its alternative use it could be set upside down as a squaresail. Spread out on the floor of Gurrin’s cottage on the shore of faraway Scapa Flow, the rain beating on the roof, I imagined it drawing us ever westward as we ran before the North-East Trade wind, surfing down the big blue rollers, flying fish on either beam, a sort of mis-placed miniature Viking ship heading across the Atlantic to Barbados.

Now, six months later, its time had almost come. But I’d never tried setting it. But here now in the calm of Santa Cruz harbour, it was time to experiment.

Some changes were needed at the top of the mast. Using the storm gaff yard as a ‘bosun’s step’, and with Julie on the halyard, I went up the mast as needed.

Man going up yacht mast
Going up The Aegres mast using the stormsail gaff as a Bosuns step

Then back on deck I set the gaff storm sail upside down hanging from the lugsail yard forward of the mast. I raised it with twin halyards and sheeted it with the jib sheets. Meanwhile the boom was lashed down on deck and the topping lift joined to the mainsheet to make a sturdy backstay.

Squaresail set in harbour
The square sail trialled in Santa Cruz harbour

It took a while to set up on our little deck, experimenting with various ways of rigging it. But the final result looked snug and strong and I was optimistic about its potential in strong following winds.

Reading aboard a small yacht
Planning the next voyage to South America

Now feeling like ocean voyagers, we shared books with the crews of other crusing yachts. I still remember the content (but not the name) of the one I’m reading here about cruising southward down the east coast of South America towards Cape Horn. It looked like it might be more interesting than the West Indies. Maybe another time we decided.

But it was the oil on the water and the 24 hour noise of the tuna boats discharging their catch that I cannot forget. The oil attacked the fabric of the dinghy and coated the waterline of The Aegre. The quiet and clean open ocean beckoned and we were soon off again, now heading for the West Indies.

For more see The Voyage of The Aegre: From Scotland to the South Seas on a Shetland boat – see the book.

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