The Acceleration Zone…..
First let’s cover the deceleration zone; we exited Arrecife and hung a starboard to run down the coast, past the airport and Puerto Calero in a steady 18 knot north easterly running under headsail alone. The sun shone and we had a decent salad and pate lunch when we noticed our buddies on Duplicat 10 miles ahead who must have set off coincidently from Puerto Calero.
Then trouble struck. Our main nav system which has been operating for 3 years and continuously for over 4 months now showed no data. No depths, names, places, rocks, lights, nothing other than rough shapes of the islands. Rebooting the system, and with a couple of hours to go until the passage round the southern tip of Lanzarote, we started to recover some features. Of course we had lost our pre-planned route so we entered a new approximate course with a few waypoints. OK we had enough to carry on and not go to a back up nav system.
Then the wind dropped as we hit the point from 18 to 1.6 knots over a couple of hundred yards. Motoring along on a now flat calm we called up Duplicat who confirmed the weather outlook was for little wind for the next few days. So we resigned ourselves to motoring the last 95 miles to Las Palmas.
As we started to clear the passage between Lanzarote and Fuertaventura and exit the western sides ofthe islands we hit it….the Acceleration zone. Flat calm became 30 knots of fury within a few hundred yards, the seas that were funneling down the coast driven by the accelerated wind had already built but looking up at the horizon 9the horizon is always above you when the seas get bigger) it seemed rougher still. Or was that just the judgement becoming a bit rusty after two weeks in port? We soon hit the horizon and no, it was real, the waves were bigger and steeper.
Looking again at the chart we had slipped further south with our revised route having lost the original, and encouraged by good calm weather we were running along at 300m depth rather than staying north (deeper) than the 900m contour as planned. As the sea hits northern Fuertaventura it shallows from over 2000m to 60m; we were running beam on and heading for a 150m patch. We changed course to the north to get into deep water and hold around the 1,000m contour. Waves were steep with 60 degree faces and probably 4m or so so we got tipped over a few times. Got to give it to the boat though as it stayed on track making 7 knots under a scrap of headsail.
Our grib forecast was 20 to 15 knots and falling overnight but already in 30kn was this rising or falling? Nope. It’s just the acceleration zone…and after 5 intense miles it was easing wasn’t it? Bang..maybe not….seems better….bang over we go…..now seeing 22-25kn, 20-24kn, in the teens; we are out of the zone. So question is who would want to trial the acceleration zone when the standard island wind is 20kn plus?
The rest of the much looked forward to short passage to Las Palmas was one of our worst. Following the above the light faded, the wind dropped, headsail unfurled from hanky to full jib but the swell built so we rocked as sails lacked drive and started slapping. 12 hours to go became 20 when the wind dropped away altogether. Cruise ship BluAida passed within 0.5 miles and you could see them all dancing in the disco!! We danced just trying to stay in our seat…
So back to furling away the sails after hitting under 3kn speed and motoring in the swell. At the same time we were close to and tracking a radar target which was a yacht running the anchor light at masthead and a bright all round white light at deck level. Confusing lights meant increased concentration on the radar and finally after much messing around we passed ahead. In pitch black we were then hit by a windshift and the wind started to increase rapidly to our sailing minimum 10kn. Our friend running funny lights took off and started overtaking so we were back to ‘guess where he’s headed now’ game. Out went a bit of headsail but not too much since we have no idea where this shift is headed. Experience and caution tells us a shift will bring a surprise and here it was, rain squalls with over 20 knots. And from a direction that under headsail meant we would not be stopping at Gran Canaria. Do I single handedly want to raise the mainsail with building weather in the blackness?
So far this has been no issue as dawn has nver been far away but now the nights are long and dawn was 6 hours away. Mmmmm. Deciding to be cautious we ran the headsail only hoping for a small close reach upwind at the end as the forecast was for lighter winds – but with the wind now in the East what about the Gran Canaria acceleration zone?
As dawn was breaking the squalls had passed peaking at around 22kn and the wind faded on a sea that was described in the weather reports as 2m waves ‘occasionally tormented’ and that was a good description although change it to frequently tormented. Back to motoring in 5kn and we started to overtake our French friend with the funny lights and passed maybe 400 yds away in the swell – then we hit the acceleration zone but this time it was off a low base. Our French friend with a smaller vessel was first to get under full sail and away he went. 20 minutes later as we got up to speed on a close reach we blasted past at 8.5 to 9.5 knots through the water and left him behind. Payback!