Full Passage Report: Sailing Porto Santo to Gran Canaria 2

We would have liked something gentle for sailing Porto Santo to Gran Canaria as it would be our first sail in 20 months. However, beggars can’t be choosers, especially when those beggars are trying to sail 310nm across the eastern Atlantic in winter.

We could have waited for more benign conditions, but we’d been closely watching the weather for the last two months and only two brief weather windows had opened in that time.

So, we chose to take a reasonable wind forecast but coupled with higher seas than we’d have liked. Otherwise, who knows how much longer we’d be waiting. And at least the waves would be from astern, rather than on the beam.

The Downwind Rig

For at least the first 36 hours, the wind was forecast to be from the north. Our route was south so the downwind rig would be ideal.

The rig consists of an aluminium pole that connects to the mast at one end. The other end is balanced out to one side of the boat, using 3 lines to control its position. The genoa sheet runs through the end of the pole, so that when we unfurl the genoa it is held in place against the end of the pole. Without it the genoa would luff in the movement of the waves, before snapping back into position when the wind fills it again. It’s not good for either sail or mast.

With the genoa poled out to starboard, we then rigged the main out to port, with a preventer to hold it in place. The preventer stops the main swinging back and forth in the rolls.


Mid-morning on Sunday, we dropped the mooring and set off towards the harbour entrance. Colin spotted three bicycles racing along the wall to the end – our send off committee.

To a fanfare of honking horns, and shouted farewells, Emerald glided smoothly between the encircling harbour walls, her home for the longest time in one place since 2009.

Farewell Porto Santo

Day One Sailing Porto Santo to Gran Canaria

We really wanted to enjoy our first day of sailing after so long, and we tried our hardest. Once we’d passed the point where we turned back in December, we shared a pastel de nata to celebrate. It had been the last one available in the supermarket! We knew that the sea would be high, but some of the beasts still took us by surprise. But they were mostly from behind, so most of the time Emerald lifted with them, rather than rolling, sometimes surfing along.

However, the movement was still very uncomfortable and our delight at leaving soon began to peter out. It didn’t help that the day was also grey and cool.

We caught a glimpse of the sun at sunset, then it was gone. I had the pleasure of seeing a swath of stars as the clouds broke overnight. Plus the moon rise was beautiful as a half crescent rose up from the horizon.

To read the day one report made whilst on passage, click here.

The Rolly Night From Hell

At some point, we changed our position in relation to the waves, and Emerald began to roll rather than nod. It is amazing that nothing broke inside the boat given the noise that was being generated. Neither of us got any sleep and when I started hallucinating ships with no lights surrounding us, I knew it was time to cut the watch short!

Finally, as we approached daybreak, we both managed to get an hour or so of sleep. It’s amazing the difference that just a tiny amount made to the functioning of our bodies.

Day Two Sailing Porto Santo to Gran Canaria

My first sleep took me across dawn. I woke to light streaming in, although when I stuck my head outside, grey was still very much in charge.

We changed watch and as I sat at the helm the sun broke through. I cannot emphasize how much the feeling of warm sunshine on my face made the world a much better place in that moment.

Overnight we both got a few more hours sleep than the night before. To read the report made whilst on passage, click here.

The Sail Hokey Cokey

Two reefs in, one reef out, in out, in out, shake it all about. We set off with two reefs in the main, and felt this would be OK for overnight. But by 9pm on day one, the wind had increased and we set the third reef. By morning the wind had eased enough to shake out two reefs and unfurl some genoa. But the wind was up and down all day, keeping us busy furling then unfurling sail.

Putting a reef in the main sail

What Should we Do With the Downwind Rig?

We pondered through the day over what to do with the rig. The wind was edging towards the east, so to keep the sails full, we were sailing further west than we liked.

But the sea was still very much in  bouncy mode and with our sleep starved bodies, it seemed like an awful faff to drop it. However, the conditions took pity on us and a few hours later, both wind and sea eased sufficiently to give us time to safely drop the pole.

It was a good decision. We adjusted the sails for the change and Emerald began to romp along at her favourite wind angle, a broad reach.

Sailing on a broad reach, Emerald’s favourite point of sail

Day 3 Sailing Porto Santo to Gran Canaria

Day 3 was long. Overnight we’d managed a sleep more hours than during night one, but it’s not hard to improve on a night with only 2 hours sleep. At a watch change we added a second reef to the main and Colin was kept busy during his dawn watch reducing then increasing sail. At 10:30am we added a third reef to the main, but an hour later we were shaking it out while we enjoyed a pleasant moment of calmer conditions. However, two hours later the wind was back again.

This was very much the pattern of the day. Wind up, wind down. More sail hokey-cokey.

The best sunset was at the end of day three of sailing Porto Santo to Gran Canaria

Arrival in Las Palmas

It was closing on midnight when we arrived outside the harbour of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. All we wanted was to get to the anchorage, secure the boat and go to bed.

But first we had to navigate the multiple perils of entering an incredibly busy and huge harbour in the dark. It handles freight, ferries, cruise ships and multiple support operations as well as there being a naval base. Outside the harbour itself there were ships anchored, ships leaving and ships waiting for a pilot to enter. Trying to interpret the lights was incredibly difficult against the backdrop of the multitude of lights of the port and city.

We monitored the VHF and watched AIS signals to determine the best time to enter. We needed to cross the entrance to the far side of the harbour. However, we still had a large following sea which we would have to turn side on to. That would set us rolling horribly and so we wanted to minimise the time that we were on that course.

An oil tanker was creeping towards the entrance waiting for its pilot to arrive. A Spanish warship was going in. We called up the port control but we didn’t get a reply.

Leg It

With the tanker still edging towards us, we saw the pilot boat heading out to it and we took a chance to dash across to follow the warship in. But there was a second warship moving towards the entrance too. Thankful that we’d done some engine tests last week, we upped the revs and legged it across.

I don’t think I took a breath for the few minutes it took to cross. Once in behind a protruding wall we slowed down and breathed an enormous sigh of relief. The warship passed us by to starboard, about 200m away.

Now we had time to calmly drop the main and make our way to the anchorage area in a more leisurely manner.

Anchor Down

We had no intention of trying to find a place in amongst the anchored boats in the dark, so found a spot on the outside edge. The anchor held first go.

We’d made it! But now that we had the opportunity to sleep in a non rolling boat, we were surprisingly full of energy, perhaps the effect of all that adrenaline fizzing through our bodies that got us through the harbour.

We tidied up a little and an hour later the fatigue hit. I’ve always liked our bed on Emerald, but that night it felt like the most blissful, comfortable place in the world. Our heads hit the pillow and we were immediately on our way to the land of nod.

Summary of Sailing Porto Santo to Gran Canaria

This was our first downwind sail and in general, the rig worked well. There were some enjoyable moments, but also some where we just wanted the passage to be over, mainly on the first night when we desperately wanted sleep. We did take some learnings from the experience:

  • We were able to manage derigging the pole at sea, which worked well and I’m sure the run-through the day before helped with that.
  • Emerald’s movement in the downwind conditions took some endurance. We need to stow better before departure and deploy anti-noise devices (tea towels stuffed into lockers!) before needing them in the middle of the night.
  • On hindsight, we should have dropped the downwind rig much sooner than we did. However, we were tired and the thought of having to put it back up if we’d dropped it too soon, made us put it off.
  • We underestimated how long it would take, so we didn’t have a meal prepared for the 3rd day and had to cobble something together.
  • We need to rig a full preventer for the main for both sides, rather than just port.
  • We need some more snap shackles and blocks to improve the line runs for the preventer.
  • I prepared plenty of entertainment (Kindle book, videos, music, podcasts, puzzle books) for the passage. Unfortunately reading increased my seasickness, although doing puzzles didn’t. Podcasts got me through the watches. But maybe listening to Uncanny on night watch was not one of my better ideas!
  • To deploy some firehose for where the downhaul and outhaul pass through the fairleads to reduce the risk of chafe.
Dinner on the first night was a prepared chilli


Harry the Hydrovane did a sterling job, performing most of the steering. However, it did struggle occasionally when coupled with Emerald’s weather helm. The weather helm came about because we kept the main sheeted in tighter than we should have in order to reduce some of the rolling movement. In that situation, we locked the helm slightly to starboard which made Harry’s job easier – thanks to Stefan from Pintail for the top tip.

We switched to using the autopilot for our approach to Las Palmas and hand steered our way inside the harbour.

Harry the Hydrovane hard at work


I set off wearing one of the patches that had performed so well on our sail to Porto Santo from mainland Portugal. However this time as the day progressed, a touch of queasiness began to appear. I applied a second patch and the feeling abated.

But by the end of day 2, the mal de mer was making a return. I put on a third patch and that saw me through to the end of the passage. When I’m tired I do feel sick, so perhaps that and a different motion to that experienced on our previous voyage upped the level of seasickness that I felt.

Normally I eat like a horse when we’re sailing, constantly grazing on snacks, especially overnight, as well as lunch and dinner. But for this passage, my appetite deserted me.

Things Spotted

It was a trip very low on wildlife. A handful of elegant shearwaters skimmed the waves around us, but we’d expected far more. I spotted a tiny, black bird flying low over the waves. It looked like a tern, only black rather than grey/white.

The only other things spotted were a pallet and a plastic water can. Our poor oceans are littered with so much rubbish.

The Engine

We were able to sail the majority of the passage. However, given the horror of what happened on our arrival in Porto Santo in June 2022, we decided to test the engine and run it in neutral on a daily basis. This went a long way to assuaging our paranoia of it breaking again.

Sailing Information Sailing Porto Santo to Gran Canaria

3rd March 2024 to 5th March 2024

Porto Santo to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: 319nm of which 309nm were sailed.

Weather: North F4 to F6, going NE on day two.

The Social Media Bit: Want to Follow Us?

If you’d like to follow us on other social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram and YouTube), you can do so by using these links:

Or use the link below to track our voyage on NoForeignLand.com.

And finally, you can sign up to receive email notifications of new blogs using the subscribe box at the bottom of this page.

Thank you from Nichola & Colin

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

2 thoughts on “Full Passage Report: Sailing Porto Santo to Gran Canaria

  • Janice & Bob

    Am sure you are glad that voyage is over, but also glad that you have learned some from it, that you made it into the harbor at night safely (always a nightmare situation) and importantly that the engine is working well! Congratulations. With going down late in the season, are you still planning on crossing the Atlantic in the near future? If so, any idea of what island you are headed to and will you continue on down to Cape Verde. All the best in what ever you decide

    • Nichola Post author

      Thank you! We won’t be crossing this season, our loose plan is to head back north to the Azores for the summer, which was our planned destination prior to the engine failure. We’ve a couple of upgrades to do whilst in the Canaries, making the most of the readily available parts. There are so many shops compared to what we’ve had for the last 20 months, it’s taking some getting used to 🙂