Cape Verde to Canary Islands

Swells breaking on a reef

We leave Mindelo on the 1st of December towards Ilha do Sal in order to have a better wind angle to sail to the Canary Islands. I am not yet convinced about the weather but it appears that we may have a good window leaving either the 3th or the 4th of December. 
We are open to one of the following options:

  • leave on the 3th
  • leave on the 4th
  • clear-in again in Cape Verde in Palmeira and wait for better weather conditions

The prevailing wind going to Canary Islands is from North-East almost exactly from the front. With strong wind waves can also be quite high especially considering the presence of swells from North-west almost always present. We need to wait for a low pressure system in the North Atlantic to push the center of the Azores High down and/or east creating either very light wind or wind from East for few days. I am told that this is not very common and you either get s*t weather when you leave Cape Verde or when you arrive to Canary Islands. We have always expected that this passage would be uncomfortable and we have to go even in conditions normally not ideal as long as they are safe. At now a departure on the 3th or the 4th May will have bad conditions at the arrival.
We stop at Baia Gombeza in Sao Nicolau for the night, we anchor in front of a small village and stay there all the next day to fix two battens that came out of the main sail just after we left Mindelo. Both just installed in Mindelo and clearly cut too short by the local rigger.

Richard (the tallest on board) fixing the batten after we extended it.

We had a fantastic first day sailing at up to 12 knots with little waves followed by a sunny day swimming and getting ready for the crossing.
On the 3rd after looking at the latest forecast, I decide that it was not yet time to leave and we sail more east towards Boa Vista just south of Ilha do Sol. We arrive to Boa Vista and we find a very high swell coming from north-west breaking everywhere. At 5pm I decide that we just tack to north-west leaving directly towards the Canary Islands.
As we were almost always connected with our phones I could download new forecasts every 12 hours and we had 6 days of the passage with good conditions and only the 7th day with stronger wind from NE, but not too strong to be dangerous. Obviously you can only trust a forecast for three or four days, but it was as good as we could hope.
We motor or motor-sail NE for almost 4 days and sail north for less than 3 days towards Hierro as we cannot go more east than that given the wind we have. One of the nights it is quite rough, Eidos sailed very well most of the time at just under 45 degrees and often with up to 30kn of wind with gusts of up to 35.
At Day 6 we fish a big dorado, possibly close to 20kg. Andrea that took it on board was radiant.

We see dolphins few times, have amazing nights with clear sky with plenty of stars, usual sunrises & sunsets and great meals. We had few uncomfortable moments however considering the reputation of this passage it was great. This was our longest passage upwind with Eidos and it was obviously a very good opportunity to learn more about the boat, the new way of reefing works very well as well as the changes made to the lazy bag.

For the first six days we did not break anything, then the Genoa sheet snapped and unfortunately also damaged the Genoa, a small cut but it will need to take the big sail down again.

The last 20 hours of the crossing is motoring again directly against 15 knots of wind to go to an anchorage south of Tenerife. And finally on the 10th other 35 miles motor-sailing to arrive to the marina of Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

We will stop here for few weeks waiting for family members to join us for Christmas and New Year’s eve, while waiting we will fix the Genoa and clear some of the items on our still long list of work to do.

A special thank to Andrea and Richard that joined us for this crossing, I hope to meet them soon with their new cats!
For the next months we plan to just cruise the Canary Islands and enjoy nice anchorages, good food and few land excursions.


As for the last passage I also include my daily notes. This are more for my personal memory and are quite repetitive as I write them daily during the crossing. `
December the 1st – Mindelo to Ilha de Sao Nicolau 
Yesterday we moved back to the marina to do the final provisioning, fill the water tanks (we still have not received the spare parts to fix the water maker), clean the boat and clear out Cape Verde.
At 7am I download the weather and we move out. For the last few days I saw a possible weather window departing on the 3rd or the 4rd of December, in both cases a departure from Ilha do Sal (East of Mindelo) would give us a better angle to sail north so we are sailing there for the next two days. I am still not convinced about the weather, especially for the arrival, for now we only plan these two days, if the forecast will not allow to leave we will check-in Cape Verde again in Palmeira.
We hoist the main with two reefs and move towards the south of Ilha de Sao Vincente, as soon as we head east we start sailing at over 10 knots with little wave and steady wind. It is quite amazing.
Andrea and Richard are both planning to buy a catamaran and they look very pleased. We still have phone coverage and I already see a video of Eidos posted on Facebook by Andrea with a picture showing our speed at 12 knots, these pictures always show the highest speed that give cruising catamarans the reputation to be much faster than the reality.
The speed drops as we are covered by Ilha de Sao Nicolau to the point that we need to turn on the engine for about an hour, then back sailing.
While sailing two battens of the main sail come out, they had been cut too short by the rigger in Mindelo and we will need to fix them somehow. I have spare battens on board but it means that tomorrow we cannot leave to Ilha do Sal and work on the battens.
We had a very pleasant sailing day and we arrive around 7pm in the dark at Baia Gombeza.
The anchorage looks nice however we have a very poor phone coverage, we plan to move tomorrow morning to another spot for better reception.
December the 2nd – Ilha de Sao Nicolau 
There are two other catamarans in the bay next to us, a very small one and a large one that leaves very early in the morning, we decide to move to his place just in front of Carrical, a tiny fishermen village. 
I can now download the new forecast without using the satellite phone. The 3rd and the 4th both look still good to leave with the 4th with lower waves but more risks of stronger wind at the arrival. I delay to tomorrow the decision, the two options are:

  • leave on the 3rd from Ilha de Nicolau with more waves at the start and some strong wind at the arrival
  • leave on the 4th from Boa Vista (we cannot go to Ilha de Sal anymore with the wind expected tomorrow) with less waves at the start and risk of stronger wind at the arrival

But we are determined to go.
We spend the morning fixing the battens, we have always 10-15kn of wind with gusts of 20 making difficult to work on the main sail. It is very nice how you always have to think at new ways to fix problems on board. By lunch time we have finished and we are very satisfied of the result. We may leave on the 4th just to have another day sailing to test the Main.
In the afternoon there is time to swim and relax. Marcella cooks a couple of meals to store in the freezer for her cooking shifts during the passage in case of very rough sea.
December the 3th – Ilha de Sao Nicolau to Boa Vista
I download the new forecast and we leave to Boa Vista. When we leave the anchorage the wind is more from the north than expected and for few hours we hope to go to Ilha do Sal, but soon the wind shifts as per forecast and we are heading back south. We sail as close to the wind with the autopilot set on wind-hold at about 43 degrees. I am very pleased to sea how Eidos is sailing upwind, this has always been my concern with catamarans. The battens are also working very well. We have another great day sailing with no engine. The 3mt waves in the forecast are very long and do not make the passage uncomfortable.
We arrive to Sal Rei where we intended to anchor around 4pm take the sail down and turn on the motors, the anchorage is just behind a reef where the swell normally breaks making it very easy to identify. However we expected calm sea behind the reef while the swells are so high that they break all the way to the beach. We can see three boats anchored in the corner of the bay but we do not see a safe passage to get there. Even in our position with 30 mt depth the swell looks massive and feels like being ready to break any time. Marcella and Richard look on the guide while I check on the map and we do not see other safe bays to anchor for the night. I decide to just set sail to  Canary Islands. 
We hoist the sail again and turn north/north-west going as close to the north-east wind as possible and planning to leave Ilha do Sal on our starboard side during the first night of the passage to the Canary Islands.
We look at the shifts for the watches, plan the shifts for the cooking and prepare ourself for the passage routine.
At 7pm I take another large forecast using the phone, nothing has really changed (When I have only satellite connection I only download few days of forecast of wind and waves for a small region around our position, while when I have phone connection I download a very large region, in this case all the North Atlantic, with all the 14 days available and also rain/clouds/CAPE – this gives some better understanding of the general weather condition). 
I plan to sail all night north/north-west, then motor for about 3-4 days against a wind of 10kn going to zero heading north-east (to prepare to the last three days sailing upwind), then sail north for other three days to Hierro or Tenerife depending on the wind direction with wind from east/north-east that according to the current forecasts starts at 10kn and goes up to 20-25 kn in the last day.
December the 4th – Cape Verde to Canary Islands (day 1)
At 3am we turn on the engine and close the Genoa in order to go more north and at 6am we close also the main sail and start our long motoring section of the passage heading north east.
At 7am I download a new forecast using the satellite and it does not present any change. We proceeds with the usual routine of our passages. Being four on board we follow two hours watches with an hourly log. We are very slow as we use a single engine against wind, we go at about 5.5-6 kn depending on the wind, that is also stronger than predicted. Our average vmg for the day is just above 5kn (as we are moving more East than the direct route to Canary Islands).
December the 5th – Cape Verde to Canary Islands (day 2)
We are moving east and we are clearly close to the route of cargo ships, we see many targets on the AIS going both directions but all many miles away (more than 30).

The wind is still around 10kn from north-east (15 apparent) and we continue with the same speed as yesterday. When possible we open the small jib that gives about 0.5kn additional speed.
At 7am I download a new forecast, no changes for the next two-three days but a good improvement for the 8th and the 9th. The wind is less strong and potentially more from east. I decide to aim for Tenerife instead of El Hierro. No change in the strategy for the next two days, we go north-east until we have wind that allows to sail north, this should happen on the 7th.
December the 6th – Cape Verde to Canary Islands (day 3)
The main event of the day is a massive dorado, probably close to 20Kg. Andrea takes it on board and he is very happy. As usual we immediately have some raw, keep some for cooking in the next day or two and freeze the remaining. We have at least four more meals for four to freeze.
December the 7th – Cape Verde to Canary Islands (day 4)
In the evening we add a second reef to the Genoa as the wind is now almost always close to 30k and the waves are short and confused. The boat does not feel balanced, we sail with the autopilot in wind hold and it does not manage to keep a stable course. We think it is because of the strong waves from the side that moves the front and decide to slow down the boat. We furl the Genoa and open the jib, it is a little better. I am quite disappointed from how the boat is coping with this sea conditions that are uncomfortable but not extreme. 
December the 8th – Cape Verde to Canary Islands (day 5)
The night is quite rough with up to 35k of apparent wind from about 40-45 degrees with short waves sometimes over three meters. 
In the morning Marcella suggests that the reason for the instability of course could be the setting of the autopilot on “wind hold” and the changing information coming from the wind sensor due to the waves. We change the autopilot to “heading hold” and open the Genoa again and it is a completely different sailing, we are back to 8-9kn speed and finally Eidos keeps a stable course. I am now only disappointed by the autopilot/wind sensors.
I download another forecast and the only change is in the wind direction that differently from yesterday is now expected more from north-east than east. For us it is a big difference that will force to turn on the engine again and motor-sail for our last day towards the south of Tenerife. We plan to sail north for as long as we can and as soon as the wind shifts forcing us more west turn on the engine and motor-sail north-east. By then we hope that the waves will be smaller and longer (as per forecast) making smoother the motoring against wind and waves.
Late in the afternoon in one of the many “jumps” on the waves and almost 30k of apparent wind the Genoa sheet breaks (it literally snaps). It sounds like an explosion followed by the flapping of the sail. We quickly furl the sail, but it looks like there is a small cut in the sail, probably due to the sheet bouncing back on the sail after breaking. The Genoa sheets were not new but they did not look bad, I will change the few lines still old on board even if in good conditions.
December the 9th – Cape Verde to Canary Islands (day 6)
During the night the wind gradually goes to 15k from north-east and the wave also goes down. At 7am we turn on the engines and change course to about 60 degrees exactly against the wind. We are using two engines @2000 rpm for a speed just above 5 knots.
I download another forecast that confirms that wind and wave should continue to go down during the day, this should help our speed.
At 23:50 we are anchored at Ensenada de Christianos South of Tenerife.
December the 10th – Cape Verde to Canary Islands (day 7)
We leave very early as we want to arrive to Santa Cruz early enough to clear in Canary Islands.
At 4pm we are moored in the Marina.

One Reply to “Cape Verde to Canary Islands”

  1. Carmine. I just saw your story about the passage to the Canaries. Good to read, knowing in advance that you had made it safely. Nice idea to spend a few weeks of the northern winter there. I’m curious to learn what you discover about the place. Un abrazo – Tony

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