Plans are good; they keep us motivated to move on and discover new places. They also give Mother Nature a good old laugh and a chance to remind us who’s actually in charge when it comes, amongst other things, to cruising in a small boat.

For three months, we happily cruised around the Canary Islands, finding some excellent anchorages and experiencing the contrasts in these lovely islands - an awful tourist resort (full of the worst kind of British) on Lanzarote and a wonderful tourist resort (financed and populated by Norwegians) on Gran Canaria. We explored new ground, including hiking on Fuerteventura and revisited old favourites (Las Palmas, Gran Canaria and San Sebastian de la Gomera).

In La Gomera, we watched the preparations of the brave Atlantic Challenge rowers and spoke to some of the crew. Around 15 rowing boats, with crews ranging from 1 to 6 were to race from La Gomera to Antigua, in the Caribbean; an endurance test of around 40-45 days, according to their plans. Oh yes, plans – they had a start date of 2 December, but Mother Nature had other ideas and the start was delayed for several days during very unsettled weather. Eventually deciding that things were changing for the better, they set out, only to be battered for 7 days, in strong headwinds and big seas. When we checked their progress on their website after the first week, one crew reported that they had just emerged to start rowing again, after 58 hours solid lying in their bunks, drifting, mostly backwards.

Our own plans took us to the most north westerly of the Canary Islands, La Palma, where we intended to do some hiking in and around the largest volcanic caldera in the world. We did do some lower level walking, but Mother Nature intervened again and our stay there was largely accompanied by heavy rains, closing many of the hiking trails for safety reasons. By now, though, we were concentrating instead on passage planning and preparations for our Atlantic trip.

We planned to stop at Mindelo, on Sao Vicente, in the Cape Verde Islands, where we would spend Christmas and visit the neighbouring island of Santo Antao for some hiking. On our 4th day out, we celebrated Half Way Day and talked of going out for lunch in Mindelo the day after we arrived. You guessed it; Mother Nature laughed at us and threw heavy winds, up to gale force and huge seas in our path. We could have made it (friends who left the same day as us endured the discomfort and reached Mindelo safely), but we had no imperative and had always had a plan B, to continue straight across to the Caribbean, so we took the easier (at the time) option of rolling down wind and down the waves towards the west.

Our crossing of 21 days included many highs and lows, Christmas and New Year at sea and some flashbacks to our previous crossing with Penmar (2006), with the awful weather that we had then. Strong winds, squalls and, literally, high seas, dogged our passage again, but Spirit coped admirably and, for the most part, so did her skipper and crew.

Amongst the highs was an amazing encounter with a huge pod of migrating minke whales on New Year’s Eve; we saw around 50 or so and guessed that we were actually surrounded by several hundred over the course of an evening and through to the next morning. They came out of their way to come close to us, in fact many swam so close that we could almost have reached out and touched them; they rolled over on to their sides to get a better look at us strange folk, they even surfaced in our bow wave, like dolphins. We were entranced and felt truly privileged to be of such curiosity to these magnificent creatures.

Amongst the lows was a rigging failure! We were both below when we heard an almighty bang and leapt out into the cockpit, initially thinking that we must have hit something. One of our aft lower shrouds (one of the bits of rigging holding the mast up, for the non-sailors among you) was flying free, no longer attached to the deck, where it should have been. After a momentary panic, we jumped into action and Geoff managed to secure a spare fitting to re-attach the shroud to the deck. Meanwhile, the aft lower shroud on the other side tried to self-destruct, but fortunately didn’t succeed. We were fortunate in many ways; we had a spare fitting, which we managed to get on; we had only 150 miles to go to reach Guadeloupe and we had a good working engine, which we decided to utilise to motor the remaining distance, rather than put pressure on the mast from having sails up in the big swell. We braced the mast with every piece of running rigging available (7 ropes in all) and limped in to Guadeloupe over the next 36 hours. Relieved, grateful, elated, exhausted – we were all of these things when we finally tied up in the marina at Pointe-A-Pitre, in Guadeloupe, where we will stay until the local rigger sorts out our repairs.

So, an interesting trip, for good reasons and bad, which has brought us to the western side of the Atlantic and to the Caribbean islands. Rum punch, anyone?

Niki and Geoff: Spirit of Penmar (longterm pals of Boatshed)