Tuesday, 3 January 2012


While storms and gales rage back home in Edinburgh, we have slowed to winter-in-the-Canaries pace and savoured the unfamiliar sensations of celebrating Christmas and Hogmanay in shorts and tee-shirt. Sonja's folks left us on the 16th of December and, though our original intention was to return to Las Palmas for the festive season, the gentle charms of La Gomera convinced us to stick around and enjoy.

The charms of La Gomera: Playa de la Guancha,

Views of El Teide and

Los Roques

San Sebastian is a real cat town, with its main park a haven for moggies. There are several dozen of them, fed and looked after by cat-loving locals. Nearly all of them have been neutered (and have a clipped ear to make it obvious) and look fit and healthy, but they do make themselves scarce when there are small children about, suggesting some unfortunate experiences. The marina has two cute felines, too.

The marina cats (Photo: Andy Scott)

Wildlife in the park

Half Ear, the friendliest of the park felines

It may not be the cheapest of marinas, but San Sebastian is very pleasant and well stocked with cruising boats and cruisers of our type - small and unpretentious, fun to spend time and share ideas with. We keep learning at every encounter and feel privileged to be part of this distinct community existing on the margins of society, moving on the oceans and meeting on the fringes of the lands. Unsurprisingly most are retired and not facing the prospect of having to return to work or the fear of running out of funds, but there is a substantial minority of younger folk either taking a year or two out, working and sailing in bursts or living by some alternative means that we've yet to discover.

These islands are staunchly Catholic, so Christmas is a big deal. There was a lot going on during the evenings previous, including the Nativity play put on by the community - Belen Viviente (Living Bethlehem). Perhaps a hundred people of all ages were involved in the production (plus goats and ducks) and it was watched by most of the rest of the town.

Hanging out on Pajaro (Photo: Andy Scott)

Christmas Eve is the main focus of the celebrations, but it took us some time to figure out what was going on. We went out with our Spanish friend Fernando (who sails a 1963 Pearson Triton, Pajaro, uses hank-on headsails and a similar paraffin stove to ours) at about 11 in the evening to look for a beer. The streets were almost completely deserted, the only sign of life being the sounds of family celebrations drifting out from the windows above. It was almost uncanny, a ghost town. A dark figure approached and Fernando stopped to ask him what was happening. The chap was very friendly and obliging but unfortunately and, somehow aptly, mute. He whipped out a note pad and wrote down, "It's Christmas Eve. Everybody is at home celebrating with their families." Fernando further enquired if things would pick up again later and the written reply assured us they would. We stopped in at the church and listened to a little of the midnight mass before returning to the boat for a whisky.

When we re-emerged the party was getting started. Bars opened up, sound systems began pumping. Hundreds of very smartly dressed people poured into the streets, dancing, drinking and flirting. The noisiest bars, as ever, were right next to the marina so there really wasn't much point in going home to bed and we stayed the course, keeping an eye on proceedings until it all started to wind down at around 0600.

Some of the Christmas BBQ crowd (Photo: Andy Scott)

We were back up again in good time to join the big cruisers' Christmas BBQ on the pier which, extraordinarily, Canarian Television sent a crew to cover. Sure it was a splendid event, attended by sailors from all over, but it must have been a slow news day. The BBQ was a potluck affair with everyone bringing along some meat, salad, drink or sweet. Beautiful.

Hogmanay was celebrated in similar style, with a big sailors' BBQ and then on to the town party which commenced at midnight with a very good dance band playing. The locals didn't really get going until 0200, which was about the time Sonja and I turned in. We slept surprisingly well, given the incredibly loud music that went on non-stop (a disco taking up where the band left off) until around noon the following day. Serious party people, these Latins!

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