La Gomera

La Gomera is one of the Canary Islands. The winds can be very strong with a resulting swell. We paddled around the island (150 km) in november 1994.
We capsized already the first paddle day.
The photos are very precious to me as I lost my glasses in that event.
How did we travel ?
We flew to Tenerife, walked 5 km to the sea shore and paddled to the ferry that brought us to La Gomera. In one week we were home again.

Read the  story (US) / verhaal (NL) of our tour made in november 1994.
whitewater The swell  
makes sea kayaking look like white water kayaking. My friend Jaap paddled the two seater as close to the rocks as his nerves could stand. 
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photos : RUUD MERKS

The more time passes the more I appreciate that exciting trip along the coasts of Tenerife and La Gomera in a double sea kayak, even though it lasted only one week.
There isn’t much to tell about our flight from Amsterdam, the luggage depot at Schiphol Airport (that is not a suitcase sir, is it?) and the surprised faces from the passengers when they look at the 6 meter long passing kayak with a nose wheel. There isn’t even much to tell about the endless walk from the airport to El Abrigo using the emergency lane of the freeway. *
But there is more to tell about the delicious huge mussels and, traditional for this area, in-the-skin boiled potatoes, the fresh sardines in vinegar and olive oil. Marvelous!

After dinner we found a sleeping accommodation along the public road between a one meter high wall and our kayak. That caused problems when late bar visitors wanted to empty their bladders against that same wall only a few yards away from our accommodation. It is amazing that in this kind of situation it is no problem what so ever that you don’t speak the Spanish language.
The next morning, well rested and refreshed, we paddled away in the direction of Cristianos, stared after by bewildered local people and tourists. 

Boobs, buttocks and sharks

The sea is reasonably calm when we land between lots of tourists on the beach of Los Cristianos after half a day paddling. There is no want for naked breasts and bikini strings between the buttocks.
The boat to La Gomera departs in the afternoon. Although it is a norwegian boat we again enjoy some good food such as tortilla’s, anchovies, octopus-salad etc. My respected friend claims to have seen 2 sharks as well as 3 dolphins during my siesta on the boat. About the dolphins I believe because later that week I saw them too (he didn’t as he didn’t have glasses anymore) and I don’t want to believe about the sharks, however, other people say it is not impossible in that area.

After arriving at La Gomera in the city of San Sebastian, we park the kayak with full packing in front of the local police station and saunter into the little city. Back at the central square we alight between the very beautiful young mothers with their playing children who love the offered Dutch cheese and crackers.
After breakfast consisting of coffee, orange juice (fresh) and sausage in lemon-marmalade (!) which we enjoy at a kind of a kiosk, we leave the next morning from the beach in the direction of the west coast of La Gomera. The first village is La Rajita. It is completely deserted and feels spooky. * 
* The coast is a chunk of rock with incredible beautiful holes of approximately 1 meter diameter just at the surface. They slurp the moving water and spit it out again with an almost alarming subterranean noise. 15 meter high chapel shaped holes catch the enormous water mass again and propel it high up in white foam. The flared up water mist causes beautiful rainbows.

Ocean swell and the swell of fear

My job in the back of the kayak, besides tending the helm, is to approach this enormous force as close as possible so my friend can make pictures. In the depth of the pulled away long waves I see a glow of overgrown (yes, that is right) wet green rock bottom. I wait for his signal that he has had enough, just as I have at this point, so we can start to paddle backwards. To turn around with a 6 meter long kayak diagonal on the waves at a short distance from the rocks belongs to the impossibilities.
* Looking backwards we see new water masses approach the coast which increase our efforts in a fraction of a second. In the mean time the sun is going down, it will be completely dark at 7 o’clock. There is hardly a possibility to land to enjoy a night rest, that means that we have to hurry to reach the next village.

Traitorous rocks

The foam on the waves tells us in good weather where the rocks are underneath the surface. So it is bad paddling in the rising dusk what we will experience a little bit later. Surely 30 meter out of the coast, opposite a cape, just after the desolate village La Dama and a little bit before Fueltas, arises a 20 meter high rock point. We decide that it is not necessary to turn aside to open sea. Getting closer we think we can take another arriving wave.
 But on the top of it my friend and I see ground right after the wave. We start to paddle backwards immediately but a reflection wave from a looming rock on the left grips the kayak and I already see green water. Yes, sometimes, and my cheeks turn red, the loop of my splash sail isn’t on the outside of my sail, but now it fortunately it is in the right place. I float to the surface right near the upside down kayak. My paddle is connected to the paddle line (there are discussions about it, I know) and I grab the floating paddle of my friend. In my, not yet controlled, panic I also grab my floating sun peak with no value at all and pull it over my head. The boat with a total weight, including packing, of approximately 50 kg. is turned back over. Our wheels, absolutely indispensable, are floating in the tub where the high waves still have free play. Treading water we put them underneath the nets on the deck. To wear or not to wear life jackets is not a point of discussion anymore later that week.
My friend crawls in the front tub and starts to paddle to the coast while I try to get the water out of the back tub with my hands which is not very successful. Also the only hand pump up front refuses to function. Later we find out that a piece of plastic covers the suction opening. As my friend lost his glasses I try, swimming and pushing the boat, to give him the right direction. But when I was younger they tried to make me right handed instead of leaving me left handed. That caused a problem between left and right for the rest of my life which almost becomes fatal for us now.

The filled up boat is a danger on the pebble beach. Bruises and grazes are the results but after soup and (strong) alcohol the world brightens up again. All luggage remained dry beneath the hatches. Our night rest is accompanied by the sound of the rolling pebbles, the sound of which is resonating in the rocks behind us.
The next morning, after skinny dipping, we discuss a new problem. The breakers are strong and the (pebble) coast is steep. We decide to cover the tubs and to bring the boat to the sea by swimming. That turns out to be no good at all. The boat goes 45 degrees with regards to the beach and turns upside down. A new try, one person paddles and the other one pushes the boat through the breakers, is more successful. The second person however, has to lift himself into a filled up tub. As the back tub has no pump, which is a lack, we have to sponge.

After the turn

A short time later we are having a great meal in the shabby village of Fueltas. Swordfish, grilled octopus and mackerel, of course flooded with rioja.
The landing was as usual on a pitch black beach covered with  sun meat  in all sizes.
We continue to Valle Gran Grey, an incredible beautiful little place against the hills. Palm trees, banana trees and lots of green. Because of the high breakers it looked like we were going to be public entertainment again. People already spotted us fools coming in from open sea. But we learned our lesson so a little bit before the breakers I let myself fall out and hung like a brake parachute behind the boat when a big wave dragged us to the beach. As we don’t like surprises we pulled the boat high up the black sandy beach. Then we start to make coffee and drink a Ponche Caballero, hanging in our Tatteljee chair. After a trip along the little eat places and terraces we lay down in our bivouac bags each on one side of the kayak.

The next morning a loud tooting bus within a distance of 10 yards wakes us. A lot of passengers all stare at us when we stretch out and take a refreshing bath in the high breakers. Unsolicited terrible stories are told by long term tourists about the north coast of this island. However, we decide to paddle on to Taguluche. Leaving the beach my friend is alone this time and is loud screaming encouraged by me. Behind the breakers I clamber groaning on board. Alas, I forgot to bring the helm down so I have to do it all again Then a beautiful trip follows along steep high cliffs on which we spot a village surrounded by terraces with banana trees and palm trees. The village, however, does not exist on our map.

Octopus, paprika and French fries

After passing the steep cliffs we see a village which seems to have a natural harbor but that is fraud. Nasty rocks are visible by means of the foam and the reflection waves are situated in front of the harbor. But we still make it to a fantastic meal. As we don’t speak the Spanish language we just point at full plates of the local people and we get octopus in a soup with onions, tomatoes and paprika spiced with peppers and bay-leaf. The French fries and the beer are not ignored either.

Willing corpulent German seaside visitors push us through the breakers and in rather calm water we paddle back to Valle Gran Rey. But the next morning it is different. The wind and breakers are worse than the day before. Again with the assistance of a corpulent German we leave the beach but behind the breakers I have to leave the boat anyway as I forgot to bring the helm down again. We have the wind due south east against us but time is running out. The front man gets all the waves over him and the back man gets all the spatters from the paddles in his face. The salt penetrates the eyes and we can only avert that a little bit by pulling the sun peak far over our eyes. It is gorgeous to see how the kayak deals with the arriving rollers.
Although the rectangular expedition hatches are closed and tied with belts we find out that it is not enough in this force so wet sleeping bags are the result.
After 4½ hours paddling without any rest we arrive in La Rajita in the evening and the salt hangs in little crusts in my too long neck hair.
After a good night sleep on the pebbles we face quiet water. In front of the harbor we spot at least 20 dolphins who play and swim in circles for a very long time. After this group left we see again another group passing the harbor mouth. On our way to San Sebastian we look around but we only see the fascinating rocks and caves.
The next day the sea is extremely calm when we leave San Sebastian. According to the pictures from excursion boats it should swarm with dolphins here but we see nothing. 
We have to be at the airport at 6 o’clock but we believe time is ours with such a calm sea. All of a sudden, however, the wind starts to blow and pushes the waves up to approximately 1½ meter. There is no possibility to hide and some waves get curled edges already. For a moment there is doubt whether we should go on or go back. But not aware of each others fear it is easier to decide to continue. The airplanes, which start their landing, fly over our heads in the same direction 
When we arrive in El Abrigo we have paddled for 2½ hours without any rest in rather rough circumstances. We shall not speak about the broken nose wheel, tooting busses on the curved roads walking on the emergency lane. Tanned and dead tired we arrive home after an exciting week. 
November 1994
Jac. de Vries

Sun Meat : Those creatures of the summer, usually female, who spend their days browning and turning, turning and browning on the beach until they are "well done"

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