The sailing region

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Macaronesia – the diverse volcanic islands in the Atlantic

If the ancient Greeks liked it here, then it must be beautiful! They were already familiar with this paradise in the Atlantic and called it Macaronesia – the “islands of the fortunate”. Macaronesia encompasses the Azores, the Canary Islands, Cape Verde and Madeira – all of them volcanic in origin, and yet each with its very own distinct character. They all capture our imagination with their breathtakingly beautiful landscapes and friendly people, entice us with their mild climate, and stand out thanks to their abundant and diverse nature, from evergreen forests to deserts and highlands. Each island delights us with its own fantastic fauna and flora and incredible biodiversity, found only here and nowhere else.

This is something also recognised by UNESCO, which has awarded world-heritage status to the laurel forests of Madeira, Laurisilva, Garajonay National Park on La Gomera, and the biosphere reserves of El Hierro, La Palma and Lanzarote. Wow! In short, those who aren’t fond of nature might as well stay at home. But if you would love to discover the most beautiful islands in the Atlantic from a whole new perspective, then jump aboard! Sailing from island to island is a unique way of experiencing the way of life and beauty that these island worlds have to offer – the ultimate form of slow travel!

Sailing around the Canaries – islands of everlasting spring

The seven islands of the Canaries include La Palma, El Hierro, La Gomera, Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. Our home port for “Ballerina”, and the home of her skipper, is the most north-westerly of the Canary Islands: La Palma – “La Isla Bonita” – which UNESCO at some point declared to be the third-most beautiful Atlantic island. Well, we all know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What is certain is that, as a global biosphere reserve, La Palma is an island of spectacular contrasts whose diversity is almost like a continent in miniature. Okay, the island is simply breathtakingly beautiful.

And the Canaries are also beautiful as a sailing region. Their proximity to the African continent, the three hundred days of sun a year and the consistently mild climate this produces make the Canaries a great year-round sailing region that is particularly ideal for winter sailing. In this region, everything revolves around the north-east trade winds, which ensure good sailing conditions the whole year round.

Anyone tired of having to constantly deploy the motor to make any headway in the Mediterranean will get their money’s worth here in the Canaries. The Baltic 51 is the ideal ship for these waters. In absolute ocean-worthy condition, she regally rides the waves at a wind force of up to 7/8, and also glides gently through the water at 4 knots with just 6 knots of wind. There is also little shipping between the western islands, and, with a little luck, you will get to see the whales, dolphins and turtles that often frequent the waters between La Gomera and El Hierro.

Funnel and cape effects strengthen the winds, sometimes up to storm-force. Some of the islands have very tall peaks and their coverage is far-reaching, and doldrums and fall winds in the shadows of the islands are some of the particular features of this sailing region. Nevertheless, the Canaries tend to be a region of strong winds and offer some of the most interesting sailing to be had in European waters.

Sailing around the Azores – wild, green Atlantic oases

The islands of the Azores suddenly appear on the horizon and tower like mighty giants above the vastness of the Atlantic. This Portuguese island archipelago on the western tip of Europe consists of nine islands: São Miguel, Santa Maria, Pico, Faial, São Jorge, Terceira, Graciosa, Flores and Corvo. As far as the eye can see, there are verdant green fields, emerald-green and deep-blue crater lakes, roaring waterfalls, jet-black lava beaches and lush hydrangea bushes that adorn the landscape for mile after mile. And the diversity of the landscape is sometimes matched by that of the weather. The very same island will be home to clouds of fog on the mountains while the sun beams down just on the other side of the peaks. A gentle breeze, a brief shower of rain, and then the water droplets on the giant ferns are once again glistening in the dazzling sunlight before you know it. The Azores are rich in both sunshine and rain; the Gulf Stream and the volcanic mountains – some of them standing at 2,300 metres and more – result in a subtropical climate that is mild year-round and very stable between May and October in particular.

Among sailors, the Azores are regarded as a popular stopping-off point on the West-East route across the Atlantic, an impressive resting place for Atlantic sailors. However, the islands are almost too lovely for just a short pit stop, as there is so much to explore here, and the hospitality of the pleasantly relaxed locals tempts one to stay a while. This sailing region is also extensive; it’s around 350 nautical miles from Santa Maria in the east to Corvo in the far west. The archipelago is perfect for cruises with shorter runs across smaller distances between the islands in the central group.

In ideal conditions, it is possible to cover 900 nautical miles in two weeks. Those who prefer to cover a lot of destinations on a short cruise are better off visiting the Mediterranean. However, if you enjoy sailing and wish to feast your eyes on outstandingly beautiful natural landscapes in addition to the blue expanses of the Atlantic, then you can look forward to a magical cruise in the Azores.

Madeira – you don’t have to go and do a complete Falstaff,

who wanted to sell his soul for a cup of Madeira and a cold capon’s leg in Shakespeare’s epic Henry IV. You also won’t automatically become a great footballer as you approach the island, just because Christiano Ronaldo was born here – what can’t be denied, however, is that Madeira, the archipelago’s main island, has many fans. It enjoys a consistently mild climate and is situated in the north-east trade wind area with predominantly north-easterly winds of forces up to 4 and 5, which is why sailors often avoid the northern side and its powerful swell. The island is hugely diverse and suitable for a longer voyage, starting out from La Palma, for instance. Many sailors crossing the Atlantic use Madeira as a welcome stopping-off point. Alongside Madeira, Porto Santo and the three smaller islands of Illhéu Chão, Deserta Grande (Ilhas Desertas) and Bugio are also part of the archipelago. And a glass of good Madeira enjoyed at a cosy anchorage is a very fine thing indeed.

Sailing in Galicia – or where the Atlantic kisses the Celtic Rim

The word “fjord” instantly conjures images of the sixtieth northern parallel and reflexively makes us reach for our thermal wear. You can go sailing up there, but definitely don’t have to. Anyone who finds the icy North a little too fresh for their liking can instead come sailing with us to Galicia in order to discover the “Rías”, the fjords of Spain, that dominate the landscape here. The “Rías” on the Galician coast are sea channels that extend far inland, with wonderful bays and harbours, and – unlike their Nordic cousins – a pleasantly mild climate with that oceanic touch typical of the Atlantic. The land hereabouts is fertile and green. Galicia borders the Cantabrian Sea to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The so-called Celtic Rim stretches from the eastern Atlantic off Scotland via Ireland, Cornwall and Brittany to Galicia.

And given that this is the Atlantic, this region is, of course, also very diverse, challenging and fun to sail. Thanks to the mild climate, the summer is neither too hot nor too cold, and the sailing conditions remain wonderful into October.

The landscapes are wildly romantic and Atlantic, with breath-taking cliffs and stunningly beautiful bays that are home to fine sandy beaches and picturesque fishing villages. The sailing here is challenging on account of the tides and currents, and the shallows and reefs off the coast, which require careful navigating. Everything needed for this can be found on board “Ballerina”, from the experience of the skipper to current nautical charts and port handbooks. As an aside, it is worth mentioning that the famous Galician cuisine has countless culinary delights and fresh white wines in store for visitors. It is written somewhere that anyone who wishes to truly understand Galicia should arrive by sea aboard their own boat, as Christopher Columbus did many centuries ago. Although we are less ambitious than Christopher Columbus presumably was, we do think this fundamental idea is wonderful and look forward to exploring this sailing region with you in late summer and early autumn.

Outlook – the other coasts on the Celtic Rim

The sheer variety of these great sailing regions seems inexhaustible, and yet we are still cautiously expanding our view and are curious about the considerable “rest” of the Celtic Rim. For 2020/21, we are considering whether to risk the long voyage towards Ireland, and Brittany also tempts us as a first-class sailing region, rich as it is in geographical, cultural and culinary treasures. However, we have no concrete plans for a trip as yet. If you feel inspired by the idea, then please get in touch with us now.