Trip Reports

And Your Bird Can Sing (21-Nov-2002-20-00):
8:00 PM local time, Thursday, November 21 (2000 Nov. 21 UTC) 28 28 N 016 14 W. Temp. 75, Humidity 63%, Cloud Cover 20%. At a slip at the Marina del Atlantico, Santa Cruz, Tenerife, Islas Canarias (Canary Islands), Spain (Espaņa)

Greetings from the crew of Maverick.

We arrived, as the reader may remember, at the harbor in Santa Cruz, Tenerife, on the second of November. Your reporter spent a day or two grinding fiberglass and doing glass work, and soon thereafter, Theresa showed up and she and the Captain rented a car and buzzed off, leaving Mr. Shrode to deal with some non-trivial problems on Maverick. In our absence he rebuilt the top swivel on the furler, re-fueled, rebuilt the foot-operated water pump under the galley sink, rebuilt the traveller blocks, rebuilt the carburetor on the outboard, installed a new tach to replace the one damaged by lightning, and replaced the key in the prop shaft that connects it to the transmission. This last was not only a difficult job that must be performed in a cramped and uncomfortable position, it's pretty important. The key had been improperly installed by the yard in Athens, and had worked loose. If it had gone unnoticed and uncorrected, one day, when we put the transmission into reverse, the prop would have pulled the shaft right out of the boat, sinking to the bottom and leaving a big hole in the hull. It happens.

Our tour around Tenerife was sybaritic, but more of this was due to Theresa's presence than the island. Tenerife is, however, a beautiful and interesting place, despite actual freeway traffic jams and tacky bits crammed with holidaymakers. Mount Teide, the centerpiece of the island that every guide slightly disingenuously calls the "highest mountain in Spain," is the third largest volcano in the world, after Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. It sits in a caldera that is at an altitude of 7000 feet, and the peak is 12,198. In the large caldera the feeling is of the high deserts of Nevada and Arizona, the air crisp and clear and fallish. You can take a gondola up to about 600 feet short of the summit, as Theresa and I did, but you can't hike up to the top without a permit, which I forgot to get in Santa Cruz. The view is spectacular, but as the prevailing winds come into contact with the mountain they rise and cool, forming a sea of clouds that on most days obscures the island and sea below about six thousand feet. On the day we went we were able to get a peek through the clouds at the island of La Gomera to the west, where we plan to sail in a few days. For the last two days of her visit, Theresa and I had the coolest room at the Parador Hotel in the national park that surrounds the peak, a place not unlike our Ahwanee at Yosemite. We had a balcony view of the mountain and also cable TV where the best thing on was "The Simpsons" dubbed in Spanish, which makes Homer sound a little smarter, if, like the Captain, you don't understand Spanish.

Tenerife is a great spot for stargazers, given the lack of light pollution and the clear air on the mountain, and amateur astronomers are numerous. The night we checked in was the peak of the Leonid meteor showers, and we had the desk awaken us at 0330 to take a look. We were surprised to see scores, maybe hundreds of cars, traveling back and forth along the park road, trying to find a break in the clouds and getting tips from other points on the mountain by cell phone. Theresa went down to the parking lot and managed to see dozens of shooting stars, but because of the haze and full moon they were really no more dramatic than the ones we see at home.

The bird called the Canary (Serinus canaria) is named after the islands, not the reverse. They're native to these islands, as are the Canary Palms (Phoenix canariensis) that San Franciscans have imported to festoon the Embarcadero. No one knows for sure where the islands, and therefore the palms and the birds, got their name. A species not native to the islands is the human being, but therein lies a tale.

In the great days of exploration, the Spanish and Portuguese sailed to the Canaries, and about the same time discovered the Azores, Madeira, and the Cape Verde Islands, the other volcanic islands in the eastern Atlantic. Only the Canaries were inhabited. Aside from speculation that the islands were mentioned in Hesiod or Homer, and legends that the Phoenicians or Carthaginians may have found them, the first actual report of them is by Pliny the Elder, who mentioned an expedition here by a North African king in 40 BC. Although it is clear that the islands were inhabited during the first, if not the second or third millennium BC, no one knows where the people came from. There is circumstantial evidence that the first settlers arrived before the Bronze Age, which started between 1900 and 3000 BC in various places of the world. This is based on the facts that no metal implements have been found in archaeological digs, and that the people discovered living here in the 14th century had none, either. There is no Clovis-type site to absolutely prove inhabitation before about 200 BC, but there is every possibility that people were here in the Neolithic Period. An odd thing about the people the Portuguese discovered in the middle of the 14th century was that they were tall, blue-eyed, and fair-haired. No one has any evidence of who they were or where they originated. But how did they get there?

You can't see the Canaries from mainland Africa. The highest point on Fuerteventura, which is the island nearest the coast, is 2372 feet, and this peak is sixty-four nautical miles from the mainland. To find how far, in nautical miles, the peak can be seen from a small boat before it drops below the horizon, we multiply the square root of the height in feet times 1.15, which in this case gives us about 56 miles. (This is the same formula that, turned into a rule-of thumb, allowed mariners in the great days of sail to estimate how far away an approaching ship was. When a sailing ship is spotted "hull-down," with only the sails visible, from a crow's nest, say, forty feet above sea level, and we begin to see the hull so it becomes "hull-up," the ship in question is about 12 miles off, or farther away from a point higher above the deck.) So if a stone-age sailor was about 56 miles from the mountain, or eight miles off the shore of Africa on a perfectly clear day, and he sailed northwest, he'd begin to see something pop up above the waves once in a while. Since the peak is twelve miles inland, he'd then have to sail 56 minus 12, or 44 miles further, to make landfall. He would have hoped all the way that the mountain didn't disappear into the haze, which would have been all too likely. To complete the voyage, unless he could make more than about four knots, he would have to continue his navigation by the stars.

Now, it might be argued that no navigation was necessary, and all that was needed for discovery was that a fisherman got caught out in an offshore breeze, made landfall on an unknown island, and then waited until the wind turned around to take him home. The problem is that on this scenario just one man gets here, or at best a few. If you want to start a community, you need women, and supplies, and tools. You have to make a few trips, so you have to be able to find the place. Even in the Stone Age when men and women were out-doorsy sorts, I'm sure there were plenty of women around, who, like Theresa and Caroline, would have said, "No way I'm getting in that thing, even if you do have a GPS." Or maybe it was men saying that to the explorers, who were women.

So what we have is evidence that at a bare minimum of 2200 years ago, and very possibly as long as 5000 years ago or more, sailors in Africa had navigation skills and seaworthy vessels that could manage a crossing of 52 miles. This doesn't match up to the great voyages of the early Polynesians, of course, but it happened at about the same time and is nothing to sneeze at, as Bay Area sailors who have sailed to the Farallones, which is only half as far, can testify. Strangely enough, the people discovered by the Portuguese in the Canaries had lost the ability to sail anything but rudimentary dugout canoes, and had no knowledge of navigation. They rarely traveled between islands.

The real champions of early exploration by boat remain, however, the Aborigines of Australia, who were there by at least 40,000 BC. There's no way to explain their arrival, no matter how much you speculate on sea levels, except to assume that they were blue-water sailors. I've already argued, back when I saw the "oldest boat" in Egypt, that it is a strong possibility that hominids earlier than homo sapiens sapiens had watercraft. I see no reason not to believe that sailing is one of the oldest technologies on earth.

In a day or two we'll put ourselves out there once again for a short trip to La Gomera, about 65 miles, just slightly longer than our stone-age counterparts who first came to these islands. We'll be using a boat and techniques that have the benefit of over 40,000 years of development and trial and error, so we've got a lot of help.


One of our cruiser friends, who shall remain anonymous for reasons that will make themselves clear, spotted the famous and venerable Don Street, veteran wooden-boat sailor and author of many books, in a local shop. When he spotted Street, our friend was in the middle of an embarrassing and illegal process: he was photocopying a sailing guide, the author of which, by unfortunate coincidence, was none other than Mr. Street himself. He didn't ask for an autograph of the copy.

A follow-up on the Howard Tate gig at the Sweetwater in Mill Valley: Ry Cooder and Jim Keltner didn't show after all, but there was an even rarer occurrence. The great Jerry Ragavoy himself was in attendance, and sat in for a tune or two. Tate is the last surviving member of Ragavoy's awesome stable of singers, which also included Garnett Mimms, Lorraine Ellison ("Stay With Me"), and Irma Franklin, Aretha's sister who died recently and who sang the original "Piece of My Heart," later covered by Janis Joplin. Tate, who is now a minister, was reported to have lost none of his voice.

Another piece of history from Mr. Austin deLone, who reported the above: He recently did a gig with Joe Hunter, the first house piano player for Motown records. Among his many other credits, Mr. Hunter played the piano part on the original recording of "Money," a hit by Barrett Strong in 1959 composed by Berry Gordy, that helped Gordy start Tamla, Gordy, and finally Motown records. "The best things in life are free, but you can give them to the birds and bees..." "Money" was released on the Anna label, and Anna was Gordy's sister who was married to Marvin Gaye. Anyway, Mr. deLone relates that Mr. Hunter had forgotten the piano part to "Money." This song has been butchered by every frat and garage band since it was released, up to and including the Beatles, because none of them ever bothered to learn Mr. Hunter's actual part, but instead substituted an impotent, feeble guitar line. Mr. Hunter's part, together with the corresponding guitar line on the record, was a work of funk genius. It so happens that the Captain was the member of a very popular band from San Diego in the sixties named "Sandi and the Accents" who were a little more careful in their studies of the great music of the time. As a result he happens to know the exact piano part on the original record, though he was the drummer in that band. A few years back, when performing with Mr. deLone, the Captain showed him the correct original piano line, with which, after the slow but inexorable turn of the great wheel of time, he was able to refresh Mr. Hunter's memory. With Mr. deLone on vocals, the song once again achieved a close, and rare, similitude of past glory.

Congratulations to LuAnn Rogers, who has been named by the Marin Municipal Water District as a Waterwise Landscape Contest Outstanding Achiever. But I believe the Captain should also be a recipient of the award, as I have used no water at all on the weeds in my backyard since I left it in its natural, native, organic state upon my departure. Where is the justice?

Next report form this location: "Christopher Columbus"

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