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While sailing around the Canary Islands, you have the chance to see seven impressive islands, one of them Tenerife with the 3700m high volcano Mount Teide. The Canaries offer excellent sailing conditions around the year and allow the yacht charter crew to gather real offshore experience in proximity of safe harbours. However, be aware of grey whales and tumblers, who always have right of way!
Although many yacht charter tourists think they know where the name of these islands derive from, the real meaning becomes clear when referring to the Latin form which is “Insula Canaria” translated as “Island of the Dogs”, probably referring to a now extinct species of monk seals.
The islands bearing this strange name are an archipelago on Africa’s North-Western coast (right around the border between Morocco and Western Sahara) that belong to Spain nonetheless. The islands making up this group are Tenerife, Fuerteventura (windsurfer’s paradise), Gran Canaria (most populated), Lanzarote (spectacular volcanic relief), La Palma, El Hierro, Alegranza, La Graciosa and Montaňa Clara.
Out of these, Tenerife is the most popular yacht charter destination and the largest of the group. It’s also home to Spain highest altitude and the world’s 3rd largest volcano that is still active, and together with the other Canary Islands is home to 4 of Spain’s 13 national parks.
The reason these 13 islands in the Atlantic manage to attract so many visitors each year is their beautiful mountainous scenery and sandy beaches, completed by the subtropical climate. They are divided into 2 groups, the eastern one comprised of Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and the six islets surrounding them which form a single submarine plateau (the Canary Ridge) and the western group comprised of Tenerife, Gran Canaria, La Palma, La Gomera and Ferro which is somewhat higher exceeding 1200m and having a maximum altitude of 3718m at Teide Peak.
The subtropical climate here brings warm temperatures and very few differences between the seasons, with August and January temperatures oscillating by as little as 5 degrees. The precipitation is concentrated in November and December, but rainfalls are seldom and sparse, bringing the annual value to 250mm. However, sailors should be warned that windward North-Eastern sides of the islands receive significantly more (up to 750mm/year).
The Canary Islands are an odd mix of cultures and of new towns and old vestiges. The vast majority of the population is Spanish though some Portuguese influence can be observed. Also, you’ll find some British and German people who’ve settled here. Prior to the European conquest of 1402, the Canaries were inhabited by Guanches.
After the Spanish colonialist period, the islands were the stage of several pirate invasions, a few waves of emigrations due to the hardships, and starting with the 1950s, a wave of yacht charter tourism that goes on strong to this day.
You’ll find that the language here is actually closer to that spoken in South America than that of mainland Spain, and in fact, the Canaries provided quite a few immigrants to countries such as Venezuela and Cuba. Also, worth noting is the Canary Islands cuisine which is an odd but delicious mix of Spanish, African and South American recipes that should please the taste buds of any visitor.
Sailing to the Canaries is possible throughout the year, with yearly temperature variations around the 20 to 27C degrees and with trade winds always blowing. However, some areas have a predisposition to gale force winds because of funnel and cape effects so make sure you always check a weather forecast before heading out to the sea.
Yacht charter skippers should also mind the swell in this region which can be quite high as an effect of the neighbouring open seas. The usual value revolves around the 1 to 3 meters, but since the waves here have a long length it’s not critical.
Anchorages aren’t that often around these shores and the existing marinas have very different conditions, which makes sailing for a beginner skipper rather difficult. While not the most easily approachable destination, you’ll find that the Canaries are full of boats in autumn months with sailors heading out to the Atlantic. These islands have been the starting point for Atlantic voyages ever since Columbus’ times. This is why the typical crowds in marinas are more likely to be circumnavigators rather than bareboat charter crews.
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