Arwen's meanderings

Hi everyone and welcome to my new blog. My name is Steve and i am the lucky owner of a John Welsford designed 'navigator' named Arwen. I built her over three years with the help of my father, father-in-law and two children. She was launched in August 2007 at Queen Anne's battery marina in the barbican area of Plymouth. This blog is a record of our voyages together around SW England.
Arwen has a YouTube channel of her own. Search "plymouthwelshboy".

Friday, 23 February 2018

A welsford navigator across the pond

well having been dragged to the doctor by her indoors, to gain confirmation of a severe ear infection, I have been confined to the house. And this has given me time on my hands, so I've caught up on some reading. On duckworks, I came across this lovely short article by Tim Ingersoll about his navigator. So much of it resonated with me.
A lovely piece of writing, thanks Tim.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

sleepless nights and wood shavings

I'm not that often unwell. I have a teacher inbuilt immunity, developed over countless years of countless classrooms and teenagers. I've had brushes with some serious illnesses but, touch wood, so far have managed to get there early each time and so been able to take preventative as well as reactive treatments.

But I have to say this week I have been struck down by a virus - you know the one - a throat which feels like you swallowed a chainsaw. A cough which makes you feel like a chainsaw is running amok in your chest and lungs and a headache which feels like some one inserted a drill through one ear and out the other.  And no it isn't man flu!

The upshot of this is I havent had more than about 3 hrs sleep each of the last five nights and the only way of getting any sleep is to sit upright on the sofa wedged in by pillows.

Now I share this not to gain sympathy. Her indoors had to look up the meaning of the world when I mentioned it a few days ago; but because, when suffering most, I get the greatest illumination! Like a bolt out of the blue.

I have been fretting for sometime why I cant get Arwen's sails to set properly. It is the design or the cut of them and despite being quite disparaging of myself I do know one or two things about sailing now. So when all of that is eliminated, then what is left?

I must have done something wrong when building her and fitting her out. Nah, can't be. I followed the plans religiously; I triple checked. I then checked another three times after that. I can't be that dim!

And in the middle of a severe hacking coughing fit at 3am it dawned on me - the top yard is 4cm square; not 4cm in diameter! I made it square at the time to save time to get out sailing with the intention of coming back soon after to round the spar off. Only I never did! It should be 4 cm in diameter. Which means there is much to shave off. No wonder it has always been hard to haul it up!!

So, for an hour each day, I have hauled myself down to the garage and through earache, throat ache and cough, I have made the spar gauge, made the securing chocks and shaved the top yard 4cm in diameter.  And when I feel better next week I will make a start on the sprit boom as well.

Illumination strikes at the most unusual times! Sadly, having not improved as I'd hope, sanding will have to wait until next week; as will the sprit boom.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

I spent a very pleasant afternoon and evening yesterday with some talented, good humoured, enthusiastic and knowledgeable people talking boats, sailing destinations along the SW west coast and other bits and pieces. It was  real pleasure and joy to listen to people sharing their boat building and restoration stories along with tales of small boat cruises.

A pub lunch, lovely walk along the river, cuppa in a local café followed by anther pub evening meal and meeting after.

I picked up a number of ideas. Bearing buddies for the trailer was one. A really good informal demonstration and explanation of the navionic chart app for android phones was another. I arrived at the realisation that maybe my white tarp and water pipe cockpit tent may need a slight upgrade (although I don't dinghy cruise often enough to warrant the outlay on something like a duck cotton tent).

Another handy hint, carry a small pot of touch up paint and when there is a scratch or ding, sand it immediately and paint over. Oh how I wished I'd thought of that one so long ago - it would have saved such current anguish over the state of Arwen and the need for this winter refit.

In listening to people and their various stories and experiences it did occur to me that I really don't know enough about sail trimming and rig tuning to get the best out of Arwen. Having sailed for seven years now - I've only averaged around 8 trips a year and most of those are day sails. In terms of sailing hours I guess Arwen and I have amassed something like 400 hrs of sailing since first learning in a laser 1.

I need to contact some navigator sailors, specifically those using the standing lug sail sprit boom yawl configuration. I need specific rig tuning advice and tips.

In the meantime, lots has been achieved: the rudder restoration, new mast supports when trailering boat, a galley box built, a broken cleat replaced, mast fittings tightened and odd shackles replaced, boomkin checked, floor rails on anchor buckets, collapsible sleeping platform built and fitted, mast re-varnished, some hull dents filled, sanded and painted .

So what is outstanding in this refit/refurbishment?
  • replacing a through coaming fitting which came loose where the furling line runs
  • installing a bilge pump
  • repairing a slight crack in the mast foot box
  • making a cover to go over mast slot in thwart to sop rainwater collecting in it when Arwen is on the drive
  • repainting cockpit sole with interdeck grey paint, which I may even extend up onto the rear   cockpit thwart tops
  • some trailer maintenance - re-greasing rollers, replacing a missing rear roller side roller, cleaning wheel rims which have rusted over time, re-inflating tyres to correct pressures after resting over winter
  • moving some hatches from thwart side bulkheads to actual thwart tops
  • sanding and recoating rubbing strips and gunnel rubbing strake
  • painting hull interior
  • new varnish to coaming seat backs
Arwen has been neglected for seven years so I guess  its hardly surprising some remedial work needs doing. After all she lives under a tarp on the drive most of her life and I've been remiss in maintaining her. Those odd little jobs that needed doing, well they amassed over time!!

Thursday, 15 February 2018

onwards and upwards......a busy week

It has been a busy week. On the work bench now finished - clean up of an old seagull outboard; the sleeping platform and mast supports sanded and Danish oiled. I'm about to disappear in to the garage to finish the sort out of Arwen's equipment. I assembled the runners on the anchor buckets last night and reassembled anchor chain and warps, mousing (? - I think that is the right term) all shackles with cable ties.

I've sorted through toolkits and refined them slightly and reduced the number of spares I carry. I have to put in a new cleat when it stops raining, if that ever happens!

Rudder has been repainted and assembled. Mast refurbished, so only spars now to go and in main they just need a few holes filled and sanded, where I have moved hardware about. Outboard needs a quick service and I am thinking of doing that myself if I can find any information on the internet about how to do it.

On a different note, I have been doing lots in the garden over the last week. We have the upper garden on very steep slopes and it is ancient oak woodland. I allowed it to become neglected and overgrown so this week I cleared 2m high 4cm thick brambles and lots of bracken. I felled 16 small, stringy ash saplings to give more light. and did some hedge coppicing with old out of control hazel bushes and trees. The result? Well this morning we woke to discover fallow deer in the upper garden grazing young shoots. It is so nice to have the deer back in the garden after an eight year absence; along with a fox who is starting to stroll through on a more regular basis; as bold as brass he comes down to sit on the veg boxes so he can stare in the kitchen to see what we are up to - cheeky mite!

Found the long lost steps

Fair to say old Wendy house has had it

Hedge felling 

Found the old tree house but will be taking it down now and reusing the wood for new raised beds for lavender plants

Thinned out spindly saplings and cleared the brambles. 

Ready for chopping in to logs although an old work colleague suggested building a KON TIKI 2

So, some saplings to cut into firewood logs tomorrow; a scheduled rescuing of the cherry tree from ivy and buddleia overgrowth; reducing hedge height and thinning it out between us and neighbour and then the tree surgeon coming back to thin out and lop some of the trees to allow more light back in. Our aim - restoration to full bluebell woodland which is what it was many years ago. It is part of an ancient woodland corridor and nature reserve area so this management will help enormously.

Busy, busy, busy and hopefully some sailing and testing of the new galley box in the next month or so. In the meantime, some more walking on Dartmoor, this time a very pleasant walk with friends up to the ancient Wistman's wood

Friday, 9 February 2018

building a galley box for a dinghy

Part two of my article about building a galley box for Arwen is now available at

There was a lovely comment from Seth (thanks Seth) about permanently attaching the straps that keep the lid on to the bottom of the box so that I never misplace or leave them behind somewhere. A great tip much appreciated Seth - thanks.

There is now just a series of three articles to appear on Duckworks magazine about what camera and filming gear I carry on Arwen, how I go about creating a short sailing film and how I am slowly establishing my own YouTube channel. These articles will probably appear in March sometime.

In the meantime, sleeping platform, and mast rests have been Danish oiled and are drying in the garage and I am slowly reassembling what equipment I carry on board her. Although Arwen's hull needs a fresh coat of paint inside and out, I may well slip her back in the water earlier than I intended for some end of winter/beginning of spring sailing and will then take her out again for a paint over Easter/May time when hopefully we will get a few days of sunny dryish weather.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

The last of the 'The Gran Canaria Travel Diaries' The second walk to Roque Nublo

Here is the last of the video travelogues.

You can download a playlist of the other video diaries at

For the rest of the blog posts associated with our tour search the January 2018 folder on the right hand side of the homepage on this blog.

For those of you only interested in Arwen, normal service will now be resumed. 

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

galley box for Arwen article now published

my article on the galley box I made for Arwen is now published on the Duckworks magazine website. Part one can be found at

I guess part two will be out next week. 

The Gran Canaria Travel Diaries: The northern tour of Cenobio de Valeron and Firgas

Our last day was spent driving to the north via the western circumnavigation route GC-200. It is a stunning drive, particularly the upper north west section which hugs the coastline. Vertical cliffs pounded by the big Atlantic storm waves. Breath taking.

The road between Mogan and La Aldea  de San Nicholas is a Top Gear type of drive. The road loops and twists and clings to steep mountain sides. Astonishing views across great valleys and mountain ridges; occasional glimpses down ravines to the wild Atlantic. Small mountain communities of white washed houses with flat roofs. There is a point along this road where you transition from the dusty lava flows and barren landscape of the southern island to one of verdant green lush vegetation. Hillslopes are covered in a variety of shrubs. Moss grows on rocky outcrops and rocks glisten from moisture that seeps outwards from the soil layer. This island is definitely one of two climates. Nowhere is this more evident that around La Aldea. The hillsides and gently flattening or terraced spurs of land that extend down from the great mountain ranges are covered with banana plantations. No ordinary plantations are these for they are covered. Across hill slopes, hundreds of acres of white, semi translucent plastic sheeting spread forth as large squares or rectangles; the plastic sheeting supported on mesh netting strung across large steel frames and thin girders. The sides of these covered areas are vertical, the shapes square, straight, symmetrical. Through the odd tear, glimpses of nurseries and fully-grown bananas. It is an amazing area and well worth the hour drive from Mogan just to view this.

After such a twisty, inspiring but mentally draining drive, Playa de La Aldea was a welcome relief. Here a small L shaped stone breakwater protected a small fleet of open inshore fishing boats; a stony beach and a few cafes. On the beach were wooden platforms for sunbathing. A café was prettily decorated with painted fish and fishing nets. To one side a huge 12m square helicopter landing pad marked by a huge white H and a flagpole with a bright red and white stripped windsock. Behind it, a picnic area beneath dwarf palm trees, shady and protected from the strong northerly winds. Gran Canaria does municipal picnic sites really well. They are clean, well-cared for, landscaped. There are BBQ brick grills and ovens. They are popular and even in the winter season, there were several small camper vans and vans parked here overnight.

Shooting past Agaete on the GC-2, and old Galdar, we headed towards one of the principal archaeological sites on Gran Canaria,  Cenobio de Valeron.  In English it means Valeron’s Monastery. It is in fact a pre-hispanic collective granary built before Roman times and used until the conquest of the island by the Spanish in the 15th century. Over looking the San Felipe ravine with its huge GC2 motorway bridge, the caves are dug out of soft volcanic tuff and the steep sided slopes and location way back from the coast made it an easily defensible site. There are some 300 compartments on eight levels and it was, in its own way, quietly impressive. Each compartment was shut with a door made of wood and then sealed with an ash mortar to make the compartment weather proof. When they were excavated idols, paintings, ceramics, human bones and ash were found in some of the compartments. The views from the caves were impressive and it was a good little site to visit on the GC 291.

Firgas proved to be a delight. Winding up the GC-350, past hillside towns of brightly coloured houses, market garden terraces and banana plantations, the scenery was stunning. We love the local houses, especially those where owners had allowed many boulders to appear through the exterior paint. The older houses in the narrower streets had the traditional arched wooden framed windows opening onto ornate balconies with intricate iron work.

One of the really attractive features of Firgas is the one street called Paseo de Canarias. Here you find a 25m long waterfall cascade bordered by attractive flower beds. Alongside, running up the gradient are found beautiful porcelain tiled bench seats, one per district on Gran Canaria. Blues, yellows and whites, the seats incorporate wonderful tiled pictures of scenery from that particular district. Above each one is its associated heraldic shield.

Better still, is the street above with a similar cascade but with relief maps and hand painted tile pictures for each individual Canary island. It is simple, effective and very appealing. Throw in a lovely church, town square and small traditional corner bar and Firgas prove a lovely mid tour stopover, a really pleasant surprise.

The café con Leche was very tasty but nowhere near as tasty as the warm apple pie with thick caramel sauce and sweet vanilla ice cream; a small bar with its low ceiling, tiny windows, wooden ceiling beams and bar tables built on old wine barrels. We sat on wicker chairs out on the pedestrianised pavement area overlooking the waterfall cascade. Locals chatted away and through the open heavy oak wood door we studied the traditional bar interior. Across the road from us, the stylish Church of San Roque and its garden square. It was built in 1502 on the ruins of what was the first chapel. Within the square is a statute of one of the town’s saints, San Juan De Ortega. The views from the northern part of the square across the coastal cliffs and out to the Atlantic, are stunning. Behind us was the Casa de la Cultura, formerly a hotel and then a town hall, it now houses the library, an exhibition room and an events hall.  

With a population of around 7000 and founded in 1488, the town with its views of the northern part of the island and its famed bottled water industry, was worth a detour.

And one last feature, an unusual statute of a stock man with a bull. Hidden in a garden between palms, shrubs and bamboo, the statute of Pedro Aleman Montesdeoca came as a surprise. Moreover, this livestock farmer is still alive, is a local legend and is in his 90’s. Somewhere in the town is a museum with a display of all his trophies. I think it’s a rather lovely story.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

so much on the work bench

Well there is so much on the work bench at the moment. My friend loaned me an old seagull outboard many, many years ago, which I'd forgotten about but found during the garage clearance. Its clean and the fuel was emptied from the tank a long time ago but my friend is going to give a go at restoring it. The piston seems to be moving so it hasn't seized. He's talented and creative so if anyone can restore it, he most certainly can.

Also on the bench the new sleeping platform with its supports that needs varnishing; also in need of varnish two mast support pieces for the rear transom deck. The front one is in the process of being cut on the band saw and sanded as well.

The runners for the two anchor trays have been varnished and need attaching to respective buckets.
All in all that should keep me busy for the next couple of days.
After that, I need to reorganise how I pack things in Arwen - a spring clean and prioritization exercise is due.

In the meantime I have started getting out whenever the weather is amenable to secure some coastal footage which can be incorporated in to this year's video diaries; and then there are a few magazine articles lying on my study desk which need finishing and proof reading before submission. That deadline is looming fast so I need to get a move on!

The walk to Roque Nublo in Gran Canaria

The GC503, is according to Jose, a very important road. It is the only one that effectively crosses the land from SW to NE.  It may well be a very important road but it is also exceedingly narrow, exceedingly steep and frankly terrifying in places. Still there is nothing like an adrenaline rush to tell you that you are indeed, still alive and kicking.

How they construct these roads which cling to towering cliffsides over 900m high, I do not know. I always thought Brunel bridge across the Tamar was a marvel of engineering. I am revising my opinion! It is, but road GC503 beats it!

Up through rock barren desolate valleys with small villages and towering lava cliffs either side; up through pine forests which give some relief because they block the view. Blind corners abound; you develop a crick in your neck trying to look up and behind you at the same time to see if anyone is coming down the road above you before you reach that blind double back bend. The car never comes out of second gear; get a corner wrong and it stays in first due to the steep gradient on the bend!  At one point, following a fleet of seven van like people carriers, we reached a point in the road where we actually saw all seven up above us, one per switch back. It was awesome and scary at the same time. Seven white mini coaches glued to the cliffside.

Our destination was the interior of the island, the town of Acayata and beyond it Roque Nublo. Our intention to circumnavigate it; do some bouldering on some of the smaller buttresses. The views from the top were said to be simply stunning, across the whole island in every direction and on good clear days across to MT. Teide on neighbouring Tenerife. 

We climbed; the Citroen Cactus 1.8 strained. But, it held the corners. It held corners like glue and we were somewhat thankful we had opted for the larger vehicle on this occasion, unlike the year before in Sicily when we opted for a 1.1 Toyota Ayia (very good but positively outstripped on the mountains of Sicily).

Through mountain villages perched on cliff buttresses, white washed, red roofed stone houses and narrow streets with the obligatory simple but stunning church and town square; bright flowers bloomed better the higher we went; gardens with date palms and eucalyptus trees for shade. The higher we went, the more smallholdings we saw. On terraces built into the hillside were ccircular open concrete water tanks, their contents a greenish hue; their sides stained with the tide marks of previous water levels. Most of the tanks we saw were only at half capacity, emphasising the drought that seems to be affecting the island.

The path to Roque Nublo is paved. A sort of crazy, flat boulder paving for the first 300m and after that it is rough track. Tiny rivulets flowed down the middle of the paths. Drips fell from pine tree branches, perfuming the fresh mountain air with their delicate fragrance. Underfoot, large pinecones littered the floor along with 6” soft pine needles. Deep russet brown, they gave the whole orange floor a deep orange colour, very stunning against the vivid fresh green of the needles on the trees.

The views up the path as it ascended steeply would have been stunning. Between the orangery coloured trunks could be seen glimpses of valleys 2 or 3 thousand feet below. I say occasionally, for we chose a day when thick cloud seemed to hang everywhere. Think thick murk that graces Scottish and welsh hill tops; think fine drizzle mist which permeates everything. Think howling force 6 winds.  And yes, people really were up there in T shirts, shorts and flipflops. You could spot the British, German and Scandinavians. Dressed in full walking or mountain gear appropriate for the conditions. I’d forsaken walking boots for stout walking trainers but flip flops? Seriously?  Adventurous spirit or foolhardiness? Take your pick!

As the path became rockier, conditions became slippier underfoot. Everything had a glistening sheen from dampness. At times, trying to walk the narrow paths with their precipitous drops on one side on slippy boulders and rocks, required good hand and foot coordination! I’m sure at one point I was on all fours crawling along but then I had taken a wrong turning and was skirting a 40m high rock buttress on a path a mere 18” wide.  I am always amazed how I haven’t lost my head for heights on paths and ridges like this, yet I can’t go to the edge of my hotel balcony without suffering vertigo. Go figure!

The summit of Roque Nublo, is it worth it? Well the flat pitted rocky plateau at the top was a surprise. Didn’t expect that. The views, well in clear weather, I suspect they would be really stunning and worth the trek.

There are several footpath options. I have been immensely impressed with the network of sign posted trekking routes across the island. At Roque Nublo – you can take the easy option and park within 2 km of the summit, but be aware those car parks get immensely crowded. Or you can follow the road further south and park at more remote car parks and walk the lower circumnavigating routes which eventually wind their way to the top; steeper but frankly less crowded and more impressive!

Monday, 29 January 2018

A sleeping platform for my welsford navigator

Thanks to Joel Bergen for this design which he did for his navigator 'Ellie'.

I now have a semi completed sleeping platform for my aft port cockpit side. The sleeping platform slips under the thwart 3cm coaming overhang and then rests on the slotted uprights. The whole lot can be taken part and collapsed into the floor well where flat straps hold them secure.

So a bit more sanding and then several layers of varnish. finally some thin neoprene strip will be stuck to edges to act as 'cushioning'.

I look forward to testing it come Easter!

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Boat maintenance continues

It was nice to get into the garage yesterday, The weather was too foul for gardening. The upper garden slopes need some forestry work, some trees need felling and the bramble undergrowth needs clearing before it starts to grow again. Some large hazel trees need pruning as well.

Anyway, most of the day was spent in the garage. Holes were drilled in the plastic anchor bucket floors to aid drainage; floor rails were attached to each to stop them scarring the forward cockpit floors. I bought some of those foam jigsaw mats you see in DIY stores for a fiver and these have been cut and shaped to fit into the forward cockpit floor wells. The anchor buckets will sit on top of these.

Cardboard templates were cut for the new sleeping platform on the port side of the aft cockpit well and it was then transferred to some 9mm ply. Twenty minutes at the band saw and one sleeping platform and 3 vertical support uprights have appeared. I now need to cut three more uprights and then cut slots in to each one so that they will fit together.

Cut some of the fender warps to a better length and whipped the ends of these. Finished some whipping on a few frayed halyards. And finally varnished first coat on the anchor bucket runners.

Radio 4 in the background; a steady supply of tea and biscuits.

It is amazing how four hours can fly by.

Sometime this week, the remaining uprights will be cut; everything will get several coasts of varnish and then I will start on the new hull mast supports. I want to rest the masts on some 1" thick plywood with curved cut outs that will fit on the front and rear decks. It will make the mast and spar transport far easier and smoother.

Busy, busy, busy. Now if only we can get some really sunny, warm weather at Easter, then I can get the hull interior sanded and painted. 

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Taurito, a tiny but friendly resort

An empty plane; room to stretch, happy cabin crew and pilots. 41,000 feet. Laptop, papers, Levinson Wood and his adventures across the Himalaya (good book by the way Levinson – thanks), snacks. A thoroughly enjoyable four-hour flight. One of the best I have been on. Well done TUI.
Taurito, small but bold almost brash but in a good way. A valley ravine lined by four towering tiered hotels that contour into the hillsides themselves. The narrow central section down to the sea lined by a garden, play area and aquapark.  Palm lined sidewalks with lovely blue and white mosaic pavement slabs covered by the black blobs of the fallen dried out dates.

The valley sides are near vertical, upper slopes multi banded colours of volcanic rocks. Everywhere is dry, barren and stark. There is no vegetation on these slopes; nothing to hold back rockfalls. Coastal roads out of the valley are sinuous with multiple hairpin bends at their starts.
surprisingly at no time did we find the hotel crowded

Taurito is something out of the Flintstones, a modern version of Bedrock but it has charm. Lots of charm and we really liked it. This is only the second package holiday we have ever been on so we weren’t sure what to expect. The thirteen floors of the Taurito Princess are anchored to the rockface. It is a typical modern all-inclusive resort hotel, clean, bright, efficient and friendly. External glass elevators whisk people to and from upper floors in silence, giving fantastic views across this small resort. Resplendent marble floors give old geologists like me plenty to browse. The beach below is black sand and clean. It’s lined by a promenade below which are cafes, water sports cabins and shops. The beach has the obligatory sun loungers and umbrellas, an area cordoned off for departing jet skis.
Having saved £600 by taking this last-minute package deal, we used the hotel as a base to tour the island and this worked out really, really well. It isn’t our normal way of travelling but Airbnb, B and B and agritourism approaches were all costing much more and now we are pensioners, we have to take the savings where we get them.
a fantastic garden terrace with sublime sunsets every evening.
Glass of wine, comfy chairs, sit back and watch the sun set after a busy day

  • If  you have a hire car, parking outside the hotel is very limited; however, there is a large gravel area about 500m back up the road, which is free to park on
  • Any road pavement which has yellow paint on it is an illegal parking area and you will get a ticket
  • Any road with blue markings - is a pay and display area
  • The road to Puerto Mogan is closed due to a landslide. The road is closed off and monitored by local police. The best way to get to Puerto Mogan is by local bus at the top of the hotel road. However, due to the road system, it is around a 30 minute bus ride and you will need to change buses at Playa del Cura.
  • Shops close in Taurito at 9pm
  • There is one small supermarket in the resort; most other shops sell tourist souvenirs and beach gear

Friday, 26 January 2018

The Gran Canaria diaries; Buggy Pirates In Gran Canaria

Buggy Pirates

Bone shaking, finger aching, dust coating, terror inducing, eye popping,  teeth rattling,  body slamming,  wheel spinning, buggy driving. Open buggies with strut suspension, thick knobbly tires and bucket seats with seatbelt chest and wait harnesses. Automatic with no gears, they go like a bomb. Ours was the 2.5 hr tour with Buggy Pirates in Maspalomas.

I’m not sure what I was expecting. The welcome was warm, the pre-tour instructions from Sasha clear. We filled in the paper work, took on board what he said about driving on roads, obeying the law and not trying sliding or hand brake turning.

And then we were off in buggy 12, tail end Charlie with a large Spanish flag attached to the rear roll cage struts. Easy to see by the leader apparently!  There are advantages and disadvantages to being tail end Charlie. The advantages are simple, you get to see what’s coming and therefore have a few seconds more preparation time than the front leaders. The disadvantage is you get everyone’s dirt and dust!

We set off up the road that we had grown so familiar with, route GC-504, stopping off at a viewpoint to admire the valleys below. Sunnies on, and top speeds for around 50kph it was exhilarating. Down switch backs and hairpin bends, through small towns and villages we roared. The first 50 minutes were on normal tarmac roads. The last 30 minutes was off-road. And this is where we have to say we were slightly disappointed. Yes, it was off road, bumpy, dusty stony tracks. But they were the approach roads/tracks to an old quarry. We honestly thought we would be going up old gravel tracks up the sides of valleys and into the island interior. This was an assumption on our part based on a video we had seen on YouTube. Anyway, we raced up the track, we came down the track. We had a 40m diversion over some humps and thick dust and that was it. Disappointing that off road section. Sorry, but it was.

We were of course caked in dust. Thank heavens we’d been supplied with goggles and we had bought scarves with us. Our hair was thick and matted; fleeces turned from whatever original colour they were to a drab khaki colour. 
Would we recommend Buggy Pirates? Yes, but with that one proviso about expectations on the off-road bit.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

The Gran Canaria diaries January 2018: Visiting Puerto Mogan, Gran canaria

Puerto Rico to Puerto Mogan

 The plan for the day lay in the hands of ‘Her-indoors’. No driving today. I think she was feeling traumatized after yesterday. That isn’t to say I am a bad driver. I’m not according to her but steep drops, hairpin bends, meeting buses on the bends; well there is only so much a girl can take on one journey. I mean we did nearly die when a red Volkswagen convertible beetle came around a blind bend on a narrow mountain road at about 60mph on our side of the road, which I have to say was rather terrifying given we had a crash barrier and then a 1000’ drop on our side and no room to move into!
So today we caught the bus from Taurito at 8.40am; changed buses 5 kilometres up the coast road at Playa Del Cura and then caught the next bus into Puerto Rico; which proved to be a major disappointment. Don’t get me wrong, it is pretty enough and clean, with a great sandy beach protected by two harbour breakwaters and with a west and east marina. However, it is also hotel and apartment central. The hillsides are just covered with white buildings and it made us appreciate how tiny a resort Taurito really is. Not our cup of the at all so we caught the glass bottomed boat ferry to Port Mogan, a pleasant 30-minute voyage along the coastline hugging the cliffs. 
Glass bottomed is a bit of a misnomer. It is a 10’ x 4’ rectangular hole in the bottom of the boat lined at the bottom with plexiglass through which bog all can be seen. So, if you visit, don’t get conned. It is basically a water taxi ferry and pleasant enough if you accept this. 
The ‘Global’ bus system on the island is pretty efficient but note not so much at a weekend. The normal adherence to published timetables seen throughout weekdays goes out of the window, based on our experiences today. Even one of the bus drivers admitted that it operated ’Spanish timekeeping’ at the weekend. What that means is buses don’t run according to the timetable as accurately as one might hope, so expect lengthy waits
Puerto Mogan is a pleasant, pretty small port. A small protected harbour for tourist boats, visiting yachts and a small fishing fleet, it has a sandy beach between two protective breakwater arms, a promenade with cafes, restaurants and typical seaside tourist shops selling Spanish souvenirs. There is a small shopping centre and then a very and I do mean very pretty marina village.
Whoever designed this should have won some serious architectural awards. Small apartments separated by narrows streets linked with brightly coloured bougainvillea flowers. Simply stunning. Known as ‘little Venice’ because of the canals that link the marina to the fishing port, I’d say this name was stretching it a little. There are two canals basically, which you can’t walk along; nor pass boats through. But that isn’t to detract from what is a tastefully designed, beautiful marina development with palms and old-style canary island architecture.
Above this development on the western slopes of the Barranco lies the old original port village. Think like the steep hillside communities of Rio De Janeiro but smaller, neater and better maintained. White washed houses are built haphazardly up the slope separated by narrow alleyways and steep sets of steps. Behind one community at the very top is an excellent ‘mirador’ or viewpoint affording astounding views across the whole port marina and town.  On the eastern flanks are archaeological sites of the original ancient settlers who first farmed and settled the Barranco. 
Puerto Mogan is a ‘stroll around’ town; easy going without the hassle of trades people and street hawkers although ironically, we saw two street con artists working the three-card trick ruse under a sign which warned tourists to be aware of pick pockets and con artists. All too aware of the sign and the irony, the two con artists made the most of the incongruous situation much to the amusement of all!
Down at the marina berths, sailors set about their chores. The stern to sea wall berthing seen across the Mediterranean, is also seen here and it gives passing tourists a great insight into a working large yacht. On some boats crews were packing up and shipping out, huge duffle bags being packed in the cockpits. On another boat, a crew were winching a fellow crew member up the mast to affect some repairs. Crew were having a brunch with copious amounts of wine in one cockpit, which at 10.30 in the morning seemed a tad early to me; but hey what do I know. I’m a lifelong tea totaller, unlike her indoors, so based on no experience, I am unable to pass comment or judgement. Her indoors seemed to approve so I guess it was an OK time! 
Sat at a corner café, we drank Café con Leche and watched the world go by; people came and went towards the ferry departure point; a man spent time hand feeding the birds; others watched the mullet cruising the crystal-clear waters of the marina.
All in all, it was a pleasant day and if you have the chance, visit Puerto Mogan. You won’t regret it. Picturesque, quaint, charming, all are appropriate adjectives to describe this little town.
Some tips:

It has a pleasant street market every Friday.

Go get a freshly made mojito on a Friday. Watch it be made with freshly pressed sugar cane. It is quite an art and street performance!

The GC-500 between Puerto Mogan and Taurito is out of action – Cerrada – ‘closed’ due to a landslip. This situation has already been running three months, necessitating a longer car or taxi journey up onto the GC1 motorway, eastwards to the next exit where you shoot off down to the roundabout to shoot back onto the GC1 but this time heading west to get to Puerto Mogan! It is a real pain and necessitates a longer bus journey involving a change of buses at Playa del Cura, so make allowances of this. 

Sunday, 21 January 2018

The Gran Canaria diaries January 2018: The track above Soria and the missing reservoir

The plan was simple enough but as is the case the execution of it proved tricky. The aim to go high into the interior hinterlands and do a walk. We had picked the spot, Soria and a walk around Presa de Soria (Lake Soria). An altitude of 1500m and a 4.5 hr circuit of some 16km.

Getting out of the resort proved the first hurdle. A recent landslide closing the road west to Puerto Mogan means you have to head east to Tauro to pick up the motorway; a 20-minute diversion. The GC 200 after Mogan climbed and climbed up through the ravine, switch back after switch back. The Citroen Cactus never came out of first or second gear. Towering cliffs above with caves scattered across their vertical faces, the old dwellings of shepherds and possibly even the original gaucho inhabitants from centuries ago.
Up through cypress pine forests, the narrowing road twisted and turned. Some hairpin bends so sharp that the road above was practically on top of the road beneath. The drops, breath taking. Literally. Down below in the valleys, terraces built by hand. But none of the greenery one would expect. For the November rains this year did not appear and the landscape vegetation has a dry brown wispy wheat hue to it. On the inside bends of roads that clung to cliffsides, rock falls and scattered stones across tarmac. Every corner approached at 10mph in case some locals from the highest villages came whizzing around corners. As a light mountain mist drizzle appeared, rainbows broke out across gorges, their tops not even reaching the summit of the highest cliffs. Breath taking views.  
The highest road the GC 505 nearly broke us both. Barely the width of the car, uneven and cracked tarmac with slumping on outer corners, it wound across the cliffsides, multiple hairpin bends built one on top of the other. ‘Her indoors’, who on many occasions has displayed nerves of steel (best demonstrated on the occasion when walking home one night to our Namibian hut, we got caught between wild elephants on the one side of the dusty track and hunting lions on the other and she displayed her  grit and courage by singing ‘Nellie the elephant’ at the top of her voice to scare everything away. It worked by the way), anyway she refused to film any part of this particular road section because both hands were gripping anything they could on the car! Occasionally where there was space, thin grey metal pipes ran alongside the fragmented tarmac and in places hand built narrow concrete leats, long since dried up, crossed underneath.  
The descent in to Soria was positively spine tingling and not in a good way. Her indoors nerves were by now, severely frayed and that is very rare. Very rare indeed. The cafe at Soria was so welcome.
Beneath a tree, hikers sought shade from the rising sun, their heavy packs dumped on the ground around them. Here the walking route s60 brings walkers respite and toilets before it continues it winding way across the mountains and ravines. For us it bought tranquillity and time to repair damaged nerves. Suffice to say it took several cappuccinos with lashings of fresh cream on top and several sugars, and I mean several, before composure was restored. Mine that is. Her indoors? She just sucked her breath in a couple of times and commented ‘Interesting drive darling, well done’. Despite thirty three years of marriage, I wasn’t quite sure whether she was being sarcastic or not! 
Across from our café, a small village of white washed and yellow houses with red roofs clung to the hillside terraces. Each one had its own small fenced off garden. Dates, bananas, tangerines and oranges. Some outhouses had small stable blocks with goats and chickens. A rural economy high in the mountains. 
And the lake? Completely gone. A 4km long, 60m deep lake just not there. A dam sitting forlornly, mourning past times when it held back the November deluges. The incongruous site of three rowing boats sat high and dry up a steep slope summed up the drought!

Fortified, we set up off the road to the car park. And what a car park. In an amphitheatre of towering cliffs. I realised, with no disrespect to northern colleagues, how small Malham Cove is! Vertical, wind sculpted volcanic cliffs, stood proud, shades of varying colour against a bright blue sky. And, hugging the steep narrow ravine, a stony track barely a car’s width, contouring its way upwards at a gradual incline. Our path!

With a chill in the air, thin clouds hugging towering buttresses and a very faint but perceptible misty drizzle, we donned fleeces and put best feet forward. Through the pine trees with their huge pine cones littering the stony floor and their periodic stunning vistas across small farms, abandoned huts and ancient stone wall terraces, far below us, we trudged forward purposefully. Through the bamboo thickets, along walls of volcanic rock, multi coloured with huge volcanic bombs lodged within walls of rock hard ash.  Between volcanic boulders, grew tufts of thin spikey grasses and small bushes with tiny leaves to protect against evapotranspiration losses. Plant environmental adaptation at its best. Scattered and in small groves, date palm trees; and punctuating the skylines on the cliff tops far above, random pines. Periodically 20m above us, a cave, protected by a rough hand built stone wall. We’ve yet to work out how anyone scaled the cliff to actually reside in these caves in the first place. I used to climb but it was beyond my comprehension how people managed to reach some of these ancient dwellings.

In front of us a steep gorge ravine a kilometre across slowly revealed itself; its right hand near vertical flank towering another 900m above us. Thick layers of hardened dolerite gave a differentially weathered, banded appearance to the cliffs which were periodically  bisected by narrow but towering prehistoric column lava flows. Occasionally, a small passing place would afford an opportunity to stop and marvel at the unfolding vistas below. Serrated mountain ridges descended to the sea silhouetted against the bright blue skies, like a dragons scaly, spiky backbone. In the faint misty drizzle more rainbows, their colours lurid against the dull blacks and browns of the banded cliffsides. One felt so small in such an impressive, rugged and wild landscape.

A few kilometres up, the view behind afforded us the opportunity to watch an ancient open topped Suzuki jeep begin its way up the very track we walked. Incredulous does not sufficiently sum up our feelings as we watched it inch and crawl its way up the track. At times the passenger side wheels were barely on the track and stones were sliding beneath and rolling hundreds of metres down slope. But, with consummate skill, the driver drew closer, his speed measured and constant, the little white jeep rocking from side to side as tyres crossed rocks and dips.  A wave, the glimpse of a young weathered brown face with alert eyes and welcoming smile and the jeep with its astonishing driver disappeared around the bend.  We watched it climb steadily into the distance clinging to the vertical wall rockface until eventually it reached a summit and disappeared from view. 
As we steadily climbed, above us on the steep rock-strewn slopes with its low Mediterranean scrub, goat bells could be heard. Somewhere goats were traversing the slopes and it took time to spot them, their brown and black coats camouflaged against the ground. Higher still, the barks of dogs reverberated around the mountain peaks, the bark echo lasting several seconds and bouncing off the towering buttresses and ravine walls. It sounded impressive and slightly scary. Maybe it was a pack of dogs and not just the two that barked first!!

Towards the highest col, the weather began to change. A stiff breeze, the north-east trade winds, began to build and clouds thickened on summit peaks above. Fine drizzle turned to something slightly heavier and dampness pervaded the dry, clean mountain air. Dusty dry rocks took on a glistening sheen and the sun became hidden, its warm glow struggling to burn off greying clouds.  We discussed options and decided on going a little further, for ahead, intriguingly, lay a low white washed building, almost carved into the vertical cliff above it; and in front of it, the white Suzuki jeep.  Turning the steep corner by a single tall eucalyptus tree, there in the shade of a stunted pine, a café! Well, the wooden hand painted sign said café. Three plastic wicker stools surrounding a wooden keg with a flat circular board nailed on top sat under a roadside tree. In the table’s centre a small display built in a pyramid fashion. Some small bottles of water, some non-alcoholic beers, jars of picked cheese and small jars of golden brown syrupy honey surrounded a vase with herbs and grasses in. A crate of oranges lay resting against the lower portion of the barrel; behind an icebox and a pile of papaya. Two small machete knives with coarse twine handles were stuck in a strap surrounding the lower barrel portion. 
From beneath the tree and its shade rose a lean figure. White cowboy hat, blue shirt and faded jeans, blond hair and beard, bright blue eyes and the young weather beaten brown face. Instantly recognisable as Suzuki jeep driver, he beckoned us up the short steep track and in clear accented English welcomed us to his ‘check’ point café. The smile was broad and welcoming, the handshake firm. Strong, nut brown hands, blistered in places. Hands that toiled the land. 
Water was proffered for free along with two fresh oranges. Money for this sustenance was refused but ‘perhaps we could buy some honey and cheese’. Price, whatever we felt acceptable. Two dogs, obedient to their young master with the shy smile, lolled at our feet; always alert to the slightest sound. Clearly very good guard dogs! 
Dom, it turned out was Czech, hence the ‘czech point café! He lived and worked in Blackpool for five years, rescuing and then taking over the running of a local skip business from its disorganised and perhaps less than honest owner.  Now, here high in the mountains and far from the crowded coastal strip, he looked after a second home cottage for a German lady who visited twice a year. We discussed mountain life and its difficulties; we swapped stories of how global warming was affecting our respective environments. How few British tourist walked the trails. Fresh papaya and tangerines picked from the tree behind were offered and payment refused. Both were the freshest, juiciest fruits we have ever tasted (well perhaps the fresh dates were in Messini, Greece and the freshest mangos on a Costa Rican beach, might just win, but only by the very narrowest of margins. They certainly didn’t have the welcome and generous spirit attached though).

The dogs shuffled stones towards our feet with their noses, ready for some fun; instantly earning a gentle but firm rebuke from their young master.  Stones were bad for their teeth.  We discussed the advantages of solar panels, how he had internet and TV even in this remote area and how he loved the simple life tending chickens, looking after his goats, dogs and donkey. He explained the benefits of organic farming, so necessary to make things grow when water was short. Did we not think ‘the papaya was fresh and juicy’? Well of course, genuinely so. The trick, would we like to know? ‘Most definitely!’ Well its copious amounts of donkey shit! Suddenly, they didn’t taste so flavoursome but his earnest honesty and quiet gentle humour gained our instant forgiveness. Such generosity of spirit was to be admired and learned from.  Thirty minutes passed under that small tree, our hands sticky with fruit juices and then the weather closed. The mists drew in, the drizzle started again; blue skies and warm sun disappeared. It was time to retreat back downhill. Firm handshakes, smiles, slap on the back. Please, we should not forget him. Remember our time together at the ‘czech point’. 
Well Dom, we certainly will. You made our day special, a treasured memory. Thank you for the delicious fruit, the wonderful discussions and the generosity. We departed with honey, two more freshly picked tangerines and good memories. It was a privilege meeting you. Thank you for sharing part of your day with us. 
The journey down was less eventful than the route up. We went a different way, not without its hairpin bends! It comes to something when cyclists overtake you downhill on hairpin bends. I can’t quite decide whether that is humiliating or a testimony to my safe, cautious driving!
  • Don't rely completely on your Sat Nav
  • For car hire we used AutoReisen at the airport and they were outstanding with no hidden surcharges or costs. Make sure before you leave with the hire car that it has two emergency triangles and two fluro jackets. 
  • Petrol stations are closed Sunday's in the island interior
  • On the twisty roads, locals come around the bends as if they own them; you've been warned!
  • Roundabouts - if you are British be warned. They drive around roundabouts on the outside lane at all times for any exit; DO NOT go to the inside lane and then pull across for the third exit. You will cause chaos!!
  • We used the map below and it was outstanding. Very accurate and had all the walking trails marked on. This map was used constantly every day and we didn't find any inaccuracies. It is waterproof and tear proof. An excellent buy.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

AstroGC: star gazing on Gran Canaria

Collected promptly at 5pm from our hotel, Jose drove us up the GC503 much to the alarm of ‘Her Indoors’ who had already experienced this road twice before!  We stopped off at a restaurant where we were offered free drinks and an explanation of the night was given. We were on the AstroGC telescope tour and the aim of the night was to do stargazing using 16” telescopes and learn something about the night skies. The group size was a maximum of twelve with two telescopes between them. 
Regular readers of this blog will know I normally refrain from making recommendations on companies, tours, products etc but not this time. If you visit Gran Canaria, this tour is worth every euro! Nearly 600 5 star reviews on Trip Advisor can’t be wrong can they; and frankly, based on our experiences they weren’t. Carmelo and Jose were outstanding in what proved to be exceptionally difficult conditions, when thick cloud built and high winds whipped the clouds across the skies. Despite these challenging circumstances we saw constellations, binary stars, distant galaxies, shooting stars, passing satellites and the actual milky way. Having your own personal astronomers on tap to answer questions and pass on their enthusiasm was just icing on the cake. There were quizzes and prizes and no I won’t share the answers. Meteorite fragments to observe, after all Jose has a meteorite collection of some 700 specimens and has collected them from all over the world. 
There were extra warm clothes available; seating, mint tea and best of all and boy how I wish I’d had one of these on all my fieldwork trips, a projector screen in the black of the mini people carrier van and a digital projector attached to the lift up boot door. Awesome, a brilliant orientation of the night sky lecture so you could get your eye in. 

High above Mogan, we craned our necks for two hours looking at the stars in the windows that appeared between thick cloud. Unusual and testing conditions for our astronomers and they coped and adapted well. I know, I’m a teacher trainer and assessor. They were brilliant! Both intuitive, they understood their audience’s needs. They fussed over every comfort, made sure all could see the various stars through the scopes and answered all questions. Passion and enthusiasm all night despite the testing conditions. 
Laser pointers helped pinpoint nebulae, distant neighbouring galaxies and constellations. M54, the binary stars that form the eyes of the swan or Cygnus constellation; the Orion nebula. The great plough, little plough, the Polaris star. Cassiopeia. 
In the pitch black with just the twinkly lights from valley villages below, our stargazing spot was an old undeveloped car park area attached to a closed-up restaurant in its own grounds. No car lights, no disturbances. Perfect. 
You can really reflect on your place in the universe up there high in the peaks above Mogan. Far from feeling insignificant, I felt really special. Here we were on a planet that sustains advanced life forms. Conditions just right at this particular point in time and space for life to flourish on this planet in this solar system in this small corner of the Milky Way galaxy. And were there advanced lifeforms looking at us watching them? Of course there were! I did wave at them but whether they saw me or not, who knows. 
AstroGC have their own website. They don’t take advanced payment because they are never sure whether an evening will go ahead or not due to changing weather conditions. They make this clear on their site. You sign up, they confirm with you and then they will text you when a viable evening is a goer. Try to give them several nights, it increases your chances of getting a successful trip. If you don’t know how to take a good sunset picture with your camera, learn to do so before you go as they stop off at a point where the sunsets are simply stunning. Take a camera and tripod and learn how to do some basic star time lapse photos or videos on the camera. I gave it a go. My very first attempts ever are below along with some tips. I learned the hard way!!
This team have planning down to a fine art form. You won’t regret it. And by the way, no money is taken until the tour is going ahead and expect it to be postponed if conditions aren’t optimal.

My very first attempts ever at time lapse photograph, so go easy on me!!

Tips for sunset and starry sky time lapses using GoPro Hero 5 black
for night time:
1. select night lapse photo mode
2. select shutter speed of 30 seconds
3. continuous shooting node
4. 12 mp
5. spot meter off
6. 3000k white balance selected in protunes
7. ISO 800 selected
8. sharpness set at medium
9. EV - N/A
10. make sure you have something in the foreground that is static; and some distant light source sometimes help
11. shoot for at least a couple of hours to get a really lengthy film clip at end. Don't worry if you have to quickly change batteries just try to set the GoPro back up in its original position. 
12. goes without saying - use a tripod!
13. some internet sites recommend 10 sec shutter speed and white balance at 5500K - so experiment!
For sunsets: set to time lapse; photo every 5 seconds; medium view; 12 mp for camera and 30fps if doing video; and try to set your scene remembering the photographic rule of thirds.
Good luck, have fun!