Canary Island Winters - Part Five: Harbour Life

Spinning Jenny of Lune

When you're lying at anchor in a busy harbour for any length of time, you make friends with a great many people and a regular sense of community begins to grow. Los Cristianos was no exception. We met all kinds of interesting people during that winter in the Canaries, from those who were on their way around the world in impossibly small craft to early retirees who had decided to fulfill the dreams of a lifetime by wintering aboard their boats in the sun.

All these years later, there are people we still remember and talk about. Bob and Mary Mason had a beautiful yacht called Spinning Jenny of Lune. She was built of concrete (yes - it is possible!) with a pretty little tender called Mule - naturally. Bob had retired early from his own business, built a boat and with Mary had headed south. We were rafted up alongside them for quite a while, for companionship and security and we got to know them very well and like them very much. In fact we still count them as friends.

Beautiful Mule
We were all afraid of cockroaches and with good reason. Once you get cockroaches aboard a yacht, they're very difficult indeed to get rid of and there are plenty of them in the Canaries: big, brown cockroaches. I hated them with a passion. On one memorable occasion, Alan took a party of charterers ashore at the big port of Santa Cruz. landing them at the fish quay, which was the most convenient place for putting them ashore at the time. They were very smart people and they had dressed up for a night out on the town, the women in lovely strappy sandals. As they walked across the hard standing, one of the women remarked that the gravel underfoot was quite uncomfortable to walk on. 'I didn't like to tell her,' said Alan afterwards, 'that the crunching underfoot wasn't gravel at all. There was no gravel. It was a carpet of cockroaches.'

One day, Bob and Mary decided that it would make sense to buy a whole stalk of bananas to last them some time, so we went ashore with them, drove to a plantation, wrestled an enormously heavy and cumbersome stalk of semi-ripe bananas aboard the dinghy and ferried it back to Spinning Jenny. It weighed a ton and took four of us to haul it on board. Then, a day or two later, somebody told Bob and Mary that the banana plantations were infested with cockroaches and that they laid their eggs among the bananas. Thoroughly alarmed, they decided that they would have to wash all their bananas. If you wash them, they ripen in double quick time. For some weeks, whenever we visited Spinning Jenny, we weren't allowed to leave without eating one or two bananas. Mary discovered new and exciting ways of cooking them: bananas fried in rum and brown sugar were a particular favourite. Although after a while, even those began to pall a bit.

Bob and Mary and a whole lot of bananas

Then, there was handsome Mirek who owned a classy sandwich bar (back when such things were new and exciting) in central Glasgow and one of the classiest yachts in the harbour to go with it - a sleek and elegant Amel, made in France with everything about it just perfect. I must confess I'm a bit of a fair weather sailor, but even I could see that it was something really special. Mirek was a lovely guy but terrified of rats and cockroaches invading his beautiful boat. With good reason.

Rats are as ubiquitous as cockroaches, especially in the bigger harbours. Sometimes you would see them peering out at you from holes in the wooden piles as you sailed in. Alan would cut plastic water or lemonade bottles in half, crossways, and slide them along the mooring ropes so that the rats couldn't scurry along them once you were tied up. One day, Mirek returned to his gorgeous Amel to find little ratty footprints crossing his pristine pillowcases. He turned the whole boat upside down looking for it, but it had been a temporary visitor and he never saw or heard it again. It didn't help his stress levels though. For some nights he would lie awake, listening for sinister rustling. 

We met another couple, a property developer and his wife. She had answered his (perfectly genuine) advert for a cook, fallen in love with her boss and married him. They had a beautiful yacht, much bigger even than Simba, bigger than your average house. One day, he remarked to Alan that he was considering buying some property in Tenerife. Alan thought he meant an apartment, but it turned out that he meant a whole village. They were, however, as sociable as all harbour dwellers at that time and in that place. They had a new baby and an elderly parrot, who would walk about the saloon and every so often, tweak up the skirts of women visitors to peer underneath. The bird always seemed faintly irritated by what he found there. Not quite sure what he was looking for, but much later on, I put him in a novel! (The Physic Garden)

During that winter, we had many evenings where everyone would gather on one boat and contribute a course and a bottle of wine to what was generally a very hilarious meal. We still have happy memories of rowing across Los Cristianos Bay in a dinghy, well, Alan would be rowing (since we were aware that we were going to be drinking rather a lot of alcohol, we wouldn't take the outboard) and I would be clutching a large and wobbly trifle or something similar. Returning to Simba was even more of an adventure since Canary nights are warm but very dark, Alan would, of course, be rowing backwards and I would be peering into the gloom, trying to find our anchor lights in the distance.

Running Bear


We would invariably sing as we rowed. It was always Running Bear. With its 'Oompa Ugga' chorus. I still can't hear it now without smiling. 






















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