• Ana

An upwind sail from Madeira to La Graciosa, Canaries

Our time in Madeira was a bit of a waiting game.

Waiting for a few parts to arrive from Italy (watermaker pumps) and Portugal mainland (the regulator for our alternator charges for the new LiFePo4), and then waiting for a weather window.

During our time in Madeira, a persistent low-pressure system developed replacing the Azore's high-pressure system that is predominant during this time of the year. This meant we could no longer count on the predominant Northeasterly winds to bring us to the Canaries and had to seek protection from Southwesterly winds.

Luckily the swell and waves were still from a Northwest direction.

This persistent and slow-moving low-pressure system also created a huge area of little to no wind just north of the Canaries which would mean motoring for 24h at least.


We had waited nearly two weeks for these persistent Southwestern winds to ease close to Madeira and to increase further south closer to the Canaries to avoid the motoring situation.

We enjoyed the safe anchorage of Caniçal for the first days before the swell changed from Northeast to Northwest when we had to seek protection in Machico.

The forecasts were extremely volatile day after day with radical differences between the morning and the night forecast. Planning seemed a useless exercise, with any ideas formed in the morning destroyed by the nightly forecast.

Eventually, it seemed the low moved on giving us a narrow window to make our crossing to the Canaries. Departure day had finally arrived.

While the winds would still blew from the Southwest, they had eased considerably, the wind was also likely to fill a bit closer to the Canaries or at least not to have a such huge area with no wind, this change also came with reduced seas making the prospect of an upwind sail possible despite of still having wind against the swell. It was likely to be a comfortable ride despite all.

This was it we were going to sail upwind to the Canaries when most people sail downwid to get there!


We departed in the morning as we like to do at around 8 am as the light finally came through.

There was little to no wind as we lifted anchor, we hoisted the full Mainsail and motored out of the Machico bay under the flight landing path of the planes in the neighbouring airport.

We motored for the first hour to move out of the shadow of the island and into the breeze. All these days with wind bending the headland annoying us, and where was it now that we needed it?

As we got closer to the Deserted Islands a light wind of 45/50 degrees apparent filled in, allowing us to sail parallel to the islands within 1nm but quickly moved to the nose as it was being deflected by the islands. With our reasonably tight weather window, there wasn’t much appetite to tack our way past the islands to get to clean air so we decided to motor for a bit more, just enough to guarantee we could clear the south of the island without too much effort. Within a short while we were into the breeze again, and the wind had set itself at about 13-14 knots on our starboard forward beam, putting us on a 60 degree Apparent Wind Angle, the boat was riding well, though at first, we had a counter-current while still in the influence of the Deserted Islands, this was reducing our speed by up to a knot.

Dolphins made a short and shy appearance. These little ones were extremely fast but also considerably smaller than the ones we are used to seeing in the Mediterranean Sea.

Not long after in the mid-afternoon we broke free of the Deserted Islands and into the deep waters of the Atlantic, we had a nice swell of one and a half meters, and the wind had increased to a stiff 16 knots gusts, very pleasant. The Dream was revelling in the wind, and we were making 7 knots and speeding with the swell to 8-9 knots.


Eventually, we got to our first line of squalls with light rain, the second line of squalls looked heavier, and we reefed the headsail just in case, but the wind never passed 18knots still on the same angle.

The dolphins came to play briefly giving us some fun.

As nightfall came the winds eased slightly, now back to 14 gusting 15/16. We settled in for the evening and our night watches. John took the first watch from 7 pm till 10 pm. While I made the most of sleep until the changeover. As John started feeling he could no longer stand watch I took over and stand to watch until nearly 4.30 am when I too was already feeling too sleepy. John then took over until 8 am when we resumed our joint informal day watch arrangement.

The winds had eased further to 8-10knots through the night.


Our second day at sea was uneventful, with no squalls, no fish and no other vessels. The Dream was making great progress and after 24 hours we had covered 140 nautical miles, the wind had continued with the same angle and general speed.

We knew that by nightfall the winds were going to drop as we got closer to the Canaries so we made the most of the day smashing up as many miles as we could. The sea state had further reduced to 1metre making it very light sailing conditions. As the wind lightened in the evening it slowly but surely moved first to the beam and then onto the aft quarter, lighter and lighter by nightfall we were down to 4 knots at 160degrees and was un-sailable for us, so it was time to motor.

According to the calculations done by Navionics, at 6knots Speed Over Ground, we would arrive at 6 am at the anchorage in La Graciosa, way too early to put down anchor in a new place. To ensure we arrived with the first light we decided to reduce our speed and keep the engine ticking at 1600rpm, in the distance we could already see the lights of the neighbouring island Lanzarote.

At first light, we saw the outlines of the island group of La Graciosa an amazing sunrise and the colours of the rocky bare islands. We arrived at the anchorage to see a few boats we had met some weeks previously in Madeira, a bit of comfort after a long trip.

Anchors down, time to rest.

White sandy beaches and crystal clear waters are on our doorstep.

And an invitation for a potluck dinner at the beach that same day.

Total hours of the trip: 46h

Total hours sailing: 35h

Total hours motoring: 10.5h

Total hours motor-sailing: 0.5h

Maximum Speed Over Ground: 10.5knots

Average Speed: 5.8knots

Distance: 272 nautical miles


***In the spirit of sharing our dreams and experiences we have shared this blog post in the NOFOREIGNLAND.COM website sailors community.

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