Sailing from La Rochelle to the Canaries
We departed from La Rochelle on August 4th after almost two weeks of preparation. Our only unmoveable goal was to be in the Canaries for the Atlantic crossing mid-November.
We initially planned multiple one- or two-days port visits. What we immediately realized is that one or two days just isn’t enough. The Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic coasts of Spain/Portugal are pretty serious sailing grounds, and both the crew and the boat needed a break after each passage. Going through marina formalities, cleaning the boat and catching up with what needs to be done generally took care of the first 24 hours… So, it’s only after the second night that we really felt relaxed and ready to explore in depth. We found that four nights was an ideal length for a short stop, and a week to 10 days was great for places that we really loved and when we wanted to explore further.
Here are our stopovers with a few remarks:
La Rochelle, France
- La Rochelle is a wonderful city, vibrant, full of history. The marina is absolute first class.
- It is by far the area where you will find the most ship chandlers and ship related businesses. We had all our post shipyard work done in La Rochelle (before our arrival) and bought everything we could think of… But then we had only 10 days and it flew by. We had many more boat related things left to buy later… The problem is, you will never have the selection you have in La Rochelle at later stops.
- If you are having a new boat delivered in France, I suggest taking at least two weeks of preparation, maybe more, to identify and correct as many problems as possible while the shipyard is within reach and to buy all the necessary supplies and spares.
A Coruna, Spain
- The natural stop after crossing the Bay of Biscay. We entered the marina just as a large depression was approaching and stayed put (as was everybody else!) for four days. It is the last rain we have seen until the Canaries.
- Very good marina, lovely city. Perfect logistical stop to do what needs to be done and recharge the batteries for the next steps.
Cas Cais, Portugal
- Passing Cape Finistère was the first big milestone of our trip. After beating into the wind in the Bay of Biscay, we finally were in the Portuguese trade winds.
- Great stop, wonderful city and an easy 30-minute train ride to Lisbon with all the coastal villages in between.
- The marina is excellent, it can be windy, but the staff is competent and always there ready to intervene with their dinghy when a boat is in difficulty.
- We loved the area and extended our stay to a full week.
- Unfortunately, we skipped Porto on our way there as we realized then that we would have to do fewer, longer stopovers.
- What a contrast once you turn the corner at Cape St-Vincent… The swell, the waves, the wind; all disappeared at once. Although we had no pleasure motoring, we were more than ready for a bit of a break from the constant North Atlantic swell and waves.
- Vilamoura is really like a huge resort, with a perfect climate (we did not see a cloud in ten days), tons of restaurants, and some nice excursions around. The marina is not cheap, but it is perfect and the best wi-fi access we’ve ever had.
- Over ten days, it gave us a chance to develop a routine and take a vacation from the harsh sailing conditions we had faced up to then. We would have departed sooner but were forced to stay there to wait for some replacement parts. All in all, we are happy that we were forced to vacation for 10 days.
- The marina is not in the most appealing area of town, but it is walking distance to the old town. And what an incredible town it is… It feels somewhat preserved from the tourist’s invasions, full of Maritime history. It has an authentic aura.
- We spent four nights; it was just enough to visit the city extensively.
- As Cadiz is a point of entry/exit from the Shengen zone, this is where, as a non-European, you should go to custom/immigration to get your passport stamped out of the Shengen zone if you are heading towards Morocco or Gibraltar.
- Just an overnight stop to get us closer to the Gibraltar Strait. We stayed on the boat.
- As there was a Levante (winds from the east) in the Strait of Gibraltar that gave no sign of giving up, we then headed south to Morocco instead of Gibraltar.
- An incredibly beautiful, brand new marina. Welcoming and kind people who are always trying to help. A beautiful city and fascinating Medina. And a real contrast from all the European stops.
- Formalities in and out are more extensive than Europe, and somewhat variable, but the process is still quite efficient (maybe 30 minutes).
- We spent just over a week. The marina was not expensive, the best bang for the buck by a wide margin.
- We again extended our stay to a week and loved every minute of it.
- We were very lucky to be able to reserve a space in Queensway Quay marina, and to have local friends to help us discover Gibraltar.
- Visiting such a place with rich maritime and military history from our sailboat was really special. It should not be missed.
Ceuta, Spain (on the African continent)
- A complete surprize for us as we had no expectation.
- Lovely, full of history, good marina, and we were just after Labour day when the flow of tourists dies down.
- We stopped at Marina Arrecife for four days, it was a gorgeous marina, a gorgeous town and a gorgeous island. We would go back there anytime.
- We then anchored for three days at Playa Papagayo on the southern tip of the island, a beautiful, quiet anchorage.
- We reserved a space in Marina Santa Cruz de Tenerife over a month in advance as the Canaries get extremely busy in the Fall with boats all waiting to cross the Atlantic. We chose the island of Tenerife as Gran Canaria gets overloaded with all the sailboats from the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC).
- Santa Cruz is a perfect city to provision and prepare the boat for an Atlantic crossing. The marina is functional, it is surrounded by a commercial port and the air quality suffers from all the ferry and cruise boats. But it is convenient, and a stone throw away from town.
- We spent almost a month and a half in Tenerife and we really enjoyed our day to day life in this city and its surroundings. It is also a good hub for flights, so we did go back to Canada for a visit with the family during that time.
We departed for our Atlantic crossing towards Martinique on the morning of November 15. We chose to aim for Martinique because our Nautitech partner, Neo Marine, is located in Le Marin, the best hub for boat work in the Windward Islands. We had a long list of maintenance and repairs ready for them.
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