Spirit News

Spirit DH63 Gwenhyfar continues her travels on leg two of the journey from Guernsey to the Caribbean

Gwenhyfar’s Travels: Portimão to Las Palmas

Nigel Stuart


This autumn, Spirit DH63 Gwenhyfar set sail on her longest voyage to date from her home in Guernsey in the Channel Islands to St Lucia in the Caribbean. Spirit Yachts is following her journey, including first hand accounts from her owner and crew in a series named Gwenhyfar’s Travels.  Read on below for passage two from Portugal to Gran Canaria, from where Gwenhyfar will set off on the ARC.  If you missed the first instalment of Gwenhyfar’s Travels click here to catch up.

Passage two: Portimão, Portugal to Las Palmas, Gran Canaria

Total distance: 696 nautical miles

Total time: 4 days 5 hours (101 hours)

Crew: x4

After a successful double-handed first leg from her home port of Guernsey to Portimão, Spirit DH63 Gwenhyfar was back on her travels in late October.  With a final destination of St Lucia in the Caribbean, the second leg saw Gwenhyfar meander from southern Portugal to Las Palmas with a crew of four (owner Peter, David, Joe and John).

Gwenhyfar spent her time in Portimão tucked up under custom OneSails covers, designed to keep her protected from the sun and dust. Having peeled back the covers, the crew started the systems and stowed ready for sea. After an evening at “an excellent local al fresco fish restaurant” and a dinner of barbequed turbot with potatoes and salad, washed down with vino de taverna, it was early to bed for the four Guernsey-men.

Above: Gwenhyfar protected in Portimão under her OneSails custom covers

For those of you who read ‘passage one’ of Gwenhyfar’s Travels, you will have noticed a common theme (outside of the sailing) permeating life onboard.  Food plays a vital part of any voyage on the good ship Gwenhyfar and her crew certainly don’t shy away from making good use of the galley.  This trip was no exception…

An early morning excursion to the local supermarket saw the crew stock up with fresh fruit, vegetables, cheese, fish and cakes to keep them going for the estimated 650nm passage to Gran Canaria.

After a team safety briefing, lines were cast at 15.00hrs and Gwenhyfar set off into the Atlantic.

Above: ready to set sail from Portimão

Working on a four hours on / four hours off watch system, the crew motored into the late afternoon, evening and night, crossing the shipping lanes off Gibraltar at midnight.

As Gwenhyfar came to within 50 miles of the Moroccan coast, the crew altered course to 225′ and headed straight onto the rhumb line to Gran Canaria. The sun was shining and the forecast held the promise of wind from the east in next 24 hours, but for the moment they were resigned to another day of motoring.

David prepared the first lunch on the water, piri-piri chicken and salad, and the afternoon was spent looking at the passing African coastline.  Prawn chilli tagliatelle followed for supper before the crew was treated to an incredible starlight show overnight.  With no light pollution, the sky was dusted with stars, shooting stars and the odd satellite.  The daily log recalled, “The most incredible experience was to lay on deck and look straight up through millions of light years.”  A memorable night indeed.

Dawn saw the aforementioned promised breeze set in and the headsail went up, giving a free 1 knot of speed.  The morning breeze proved elusive as Gwenhyfar skirted a high-pressure ridge, so the motor continued to run but at a more economic 1600 revs with a headsail up to preserve fuel.

The daily log recorded afternoon activities: “Work parties set to with sundry ships tasks, including stencilling the ship’s name onto horseshoe buoys and testing the fishing gear ready for the upcoming ARC.”

Above: the ship’s log

Chef of the evening was David, who whipped up a gourmet dinner of Atlantic salmon steaks, green beans, peas and Portuguese potatoes.  Whoever said you couldn’t eat well onboard a sailing yacht?

At dawn, the mainsail was hoisted and the engine was silenced. The gentle 8 knot breeze swept Gwenhyfar along at a conservative 4 knots.  Once the mizzen was rigged, she gained an extra 0.5 knots, a further 0.5 knots from mizzen staysail delivered a speed of 5 knots with the breeze continuing to build. The sail plan significantly reduced the rolling motion and Gwenhyfar steadily progressed south with a comfortable and easy motion: “all good on the happy ship!”.

By the afternoon, Gwenhyfar was north-west of Fuerteventura and cruising along very comfortably.  The daily log commented: “The afternoon sail was splendid and a great testament to the virtues of a wooden yawl. Below decks was airy and cool.  Her cosy construction meant everything kept in its place and nothing was thrown about (including the crew).”

The daily log continued, “Above decks the sail plan varied throughout the afternoon. Our favourite configuration was code 1 headsail, full main, mizzen and the mizzen staysail (we nick-named it the funny sail). The funny sail is yellow and sends a glow all across the decks whilst at the same time providing much needed shade for all her crew. The funny sail seemed to damp down the rolling motion from the Atlantic swell. Gwenhyfar was slicing through the ocean with an easy stride and now eating up the miles. By tea-time we were making 7 knots with 12 knots across the deck.”

Above: cruising towards the horizon under the mizzen staysail A.K.A the ‘funny sail’

Gwenhyfar’s resident regatta bowman Joe was chef for the evening, serving up a supper of lasagne, complete with a bean and prawn side dish, which might sound an eclectic mix, but it delivered a crew critique of “delicious and satisfying”.

Overnight, the wind built to 18 knots over the deck and Gwenhyfar glided through the starlit night at 8.5 knots. The midnight watch team reduced sail, stowing the mizzen staysail and mizzen, and maintained between 7 and 10 knots.

The dawn watch brought a “very exhilarating helm and with a following sea; Joe quickly mastered the art of surfing our 63-feet of classic wooden yawl down the 9-foot waves. A new top speed of 15 knots was officially logged.”

As well as a challenging stint on the helm, Joe also spotted a turtle surfing southward on the horizon.  Not a bad watch for someone on his first ocean passage.

Gybing before lunch, Gwenhyfar was 50 miles north-east of Las Palmas and spent the afternoon sailing down the waves in the anticipation of landfall.  The mountainous silhouette of Fuerteventura was hidden in the hot, hazy afternoon, so a Queen’s shilling was proposed to the first to spot Gran Canaria.  It was Joe’s lucky day as he spotted the peak of Las Palmas at about 12 miles off.

As dusk settled in, the crew could see the port lights of Las Palmas on the horizon. The bay was a hive of activity with fast ferries, container ships, oil tankers and a new offshore drilling project.  Gwenhyfar weaved her way through, including a negotiation with a 200-metre tanker with its anchor light on whilst under way!

Slowly but surely the crew picked out the leading lights, then through the outer moles to the main harbour then the inner harbour, where they lowered all sails. A small dory led Gwenhyfar safely into her berth and by 20.00hrs she was secure.  By 20.30hrs, the ever-civilised crew had packed up and were sat back in the cockpit with beer, wine and cheese.

After a well-deserved, long sleep, the crew set about their tasks checking in at the marina office, filling the fuel tanks, cleaning and polishing Gwenhyfar. Joe went up the rig and checked all fittings, John rigged the passarelle and David crawled around the engine space servicing pumps and filters.

The daily log summed up the trip: “Grateful for Gwenhyfar’s safe and secure arrival and we are now 1,500 miles south of Guernsey! We have had an excellent passage; the crew have all worked together well with great camaraderie. Joe has completed his very first ocean passage and we all wish him many more future ocean voyages – as we are sure he has caught the bug!

Total trip 696 miles – total time 4 days 5 hours, equating to 101 hours of which 66 were engine hours (6 hours generator). Fuel consumed: 407 litres.

Gwenhyfar and her crew will be back on their travels at the end of November to start the trans-Atlantic passage to St Lucia.