Cruising the western Canaries: Tenerife, La Gomera and La Palma

Having arrived safely in Tenerife, my crew were keen to take advantage of our earlier than expected departure from Madeira, and we spent the next day heading over to San Sebastián in La Gomera for a night, before returning to Tenerife the next day.  This gave me a taste of what was to come, as I had planned 3 separate cruises to explore the Canaries over the coming weeks. The first was with my good friends Neil and Clare and their daughter and son Molly and Harvey. They are great sailors and having picked them up from the airport we planned a 4 day cruise taking in parts of Tenerife and the neighbouring islands of La Gomera and La Palma.

Sailing in the Canaries is not necessarily straightforward: there are wind shadows,  acceleration zones and an omnipresent ocean swell to look out for. Good anchorages are not plentiful and marinas tend to be full at this time of the year. However, it has its rewards: generally good weather, lots of wildlife and some great winds.  We had all of these in our four days.

First stop with the new crew was La Gomera, as the winds looked fair for it.  We did get a good sail at times, and decided to anchor in Playa de la Guancha, just to the south west of San Sebastián, to go for a swim.  Clare swam ashore and I checked under the yacht to see the state of the anodes and how much fouling the hull had accumulated.  Fortunately the former were still in good condition and the hull, thanks to its Coppercoat, had just a layer of easily-removable slime.  While I was doing this a friendly German, who had anchored overnight and looked very self sufficient, offered us a barracuda he had caught – willingly accepted in return for some chocolate cake we had on board.


Soon filleted and into the freezer…

After such excitement, and a bit of rain, it was time to head into San Sebastián.  The entrance could easily be in Africa or the Middle East:



Arrival at San Sebastián, La Gomera

The place is perhaps best known for Christopher Columbus who had a mistress here and also used it as a jumping-off point from what was then pretty much the limit of the known world. It is a very Canarian town, a far cry from the tourist areas on south west Tenerife towards which it looks over 25 miles of water.  Once settled into the marina (Spanish bureaucracy takes a while, and everywhere you go ship’s documents, insurance and passports must be produced) we strolled the streets, climbed the ramparts and had an apéritif while watching the world go by.


Frescoes, a bit of dilapidation and a sense of permanent fiesta

After dinner on board we planned our sail further north, to the island of La Palma and its capital Santa de la Cruz.  Having got up relatively early, we headed off and in the harbour encountered a turtle which was partially wrapped in a fishing net.  We couldn’t help it but hope it managed to disentangle itself.

Once clear of the shadow of La Gomera, the south westerly wind made its appearance and we had some champagne sailing under furling gennaker, arriving after a great day on the water into a spanking new marina.


Champagne sailing, with the bimini up to provide shade

We had time for a delightful stroll through the streets of this lovely town which again seemed utterly unspoilt by tourism.  We ate out deliciously in a great restaurant on the seafront – tapas, fresh fish and paella washed down with some really quite acceptable wine from the island. Whether such wine will travel remains to be seen!


The crew looking well fed, the skipper looking well watered!

The following morning we were greeted by a fabulous double rainbow over the marina.


Our destination for the day was back to Tenerife, this time to Los Gigantes, a town built into pretty sheer cliffs which provide a fabulous backdrop. We motored to start with, and were shown an impressive – albeit short – dolphin display as we left La Palma.  The wind soon got up though, and having been dozing I was woken by the crew to 28 knots on the wind gauge.  Three reefs were rapidly put in both sails and we had a great close reach south east, progressively shaking the reefs out during the day until we returned to the shadow of La Gomera again and it was time to motor. Heading towards Tenerife you can often use a volcano to tell the helm where to steer…


At 3718m, El Teide dominates, when not in cloud

Los Gigantes is a truly magnificent place for a marina. While it is not really set up for cruising yachts, we had reserved and were shown to a stern-to berth with lazy-lines.  This was a first for me in Spellbinder and I am pleased to report that the manoeuvre in backwards was executed with apparent ease!


Berthed stern-to in Los Gigantes, with the stunning cliffs providing a great backdrop.

After a pleasant night on board, we motored out in the morning to anchor under the cliffs just off Playa De Masca, where we practiced our swimming / snorkeling / scrubbing the hull routines. It was a great spot for a few hours.


Three crew swimming; the photographer, the fourth, also excelled herself in the water


Great cliffs at Los Gigantes – 800m vertical in places


Leaving Los Gigantes

After lunch we headed off back to San Miguel, but en route had in mind that the stretch of water between Tenerife and La Gomera is known for its cetaceans. We weren’t disappointed, and while there was not much sailing to be had we had some very close experiences with some pilot whales, as the two photos below show:


Natural beauty against a backdrop of Tenerife’s worst architecture…


Thus came to the end a great four day cruise, which has given me a real taste for more.  Thank you Neil, Clare, Molly and Harvey for being such great crew!

5 thoughts on “Cruising the western Canaries: Tenerife, La Gomera and La Palma

  1. Arthur Rope

    Enthralling reading and atmospheric pics & vids. The drone does add a whole new dimension, literally! Any chance you’ll get to El Hierro, our favourite Canary?


    1. Hi Arthur – thank you for your comments. Currently on Gran Canaria so we have visited four of the seven – the problem with El Hierro is that it is downwind, and getting back against the NE trades is not a given! Perhaps we’ll go there on the way down to Cape Verde…


      1. Arthur Rope

        Understood! Maybe you’ll get a glimpse of one coast or the other as you sail by. We also liked La Palma, on two visits. Happy sailing!


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