Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Shipping confusion at four ports in Canary Islands

There was a lot of confusion in the port of San Sebastian de La Gomera and to a lesser degree in the harbours of Vueltas in Valle Gran Rey on La Gomera, Los Cristianos on Tenerife and Santa Cruz de La Palma over the past couple of days. 
San Sebastian de La Gomera
First, the medium-sized (about 1000 passengers and crew) Malta-registered cruise ship Saga Sapphire docked in San Sebastian on Saturday instead of Santa Cruz de La Palma where it should have been according to the Saga Cruises programme for its mainly British passengers. This ship then was to dock in Valle Gran Rey's harbour on Sunday on its way back from the island of La Palma, but it remained in San Sebastian all day Sunday, leaving expectant V.G.R. wondering. In San Sebastian, meanwhile, the scheduled visit by the Balmoral, operated by Fred. Olsen Cruises, with about 1700 passengers and crew couldn't come into the harbour due to the cruise ship berth being occupied by the Saga Sapphire. The Balmoral went on to Santa Cruz de La Palma instead (probably taking the berth left vacant there by the Saga Sapphire) and then further on to Funchal,Madeira.

Part of San Sebastian pier
from the deck of the Armas
ferry Volcan de Taburiente
Next there were problems with Sunday's last ferry sailing by Naviera Armas. Their ship Volcan de Taburiente left Los Cristianos on the last scheduled sailing early Sunday night, but had to return to said port about a quarter of an hour later due to 'technical problems', which according to some reports concerned the doors of the vehicle decks of the ro-ro ferry. Back in Los Cristianos port passengers were told over the public address system that the sailing was suspended and because it was already getting late many passengers left the vessel. However, at about 11:30 pm the technical problem was repaired and the vessel left for La Gomera with remaining passengers to arrive in San Sebastian at about 00:30 am, leaving lots of those behind who had decided earlier to temporarily disembark.

Now back to the saga of the Saga Sapphire: This cruise ship was still in the same port early on Monday morning which, according to some crew members, was 'due to poor weather', but the weather was reasonably fair, and locally those 'in the know' said it was a failure of the side-thrusters - needed to propel a large motor vessel off the pier against the wind or current). The captain was quoted in some media reports as having asked for a tug, which La Gomera doesn't have and no visiting cruise ship even in the worst weather conditions ever needed here. 
At the same time another cruise ship, the Bermuda-registered Aurora, was sailing for a scheduled stop-over at San Sebastian de La Gomera with about 2500 passengers and crew aboard, and on coming closer to La Gomera this vessel had to resolve to to sail in ever widening circles off San Sebastian while waiting for the Saga Sapphire to vacate the cruise ship berth in the harbour. Meanwhile a good number of buses, tour guides, taxis, car rental reps, etc., were waiting on the pier for a long time, ready for the Aurora's pre-booked passengers. 
At lunchtime the berth was still blocked and the Aurora decided to wait no longer and sail on, bound for Funchal on Madeira. The larger cruise ship had barely rounded La Gomera's northern point when the Saga Sapphire finally left and vacated the berth, also bound for… you've guessed it - Madeira. This left La  Gomera free of all cruise ships for the remainder of yesterday and ready for the scheduled berthing of the Italian-registered Aida Vita cruise ship with about 1500 passengers and crew this morning. Keep the fingers crossed !
All  these cruise ships originally came here from Las Palmas on Gran Canaria, by the way.
I wonder who'll be claiming what of whom for the above chain of events...
Tour buses waiting a long time in vain for the Aurora on the pier of La Gomera's capital ©

Monday, December 30, 2013

Hotel in Valle Gran Rey receives award

The Hotel Playa Calera in Valle Gran Rey has received the Gold Customers Choice award from tour operators Kuoni and Apollo. The companies say that 'The Playa Calera ensures a superb hotel experience by offering guests great service and a high quality holiday. Our Apollo customers have awarded the Playa Calera with the highest scores in category 3+ and 4 star hotels in 2012/2013.' 
Hotel Playa Calera (Source:

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Spectacular video of landslides after El Hierro quake

I came across a new video on YouTube of some of the widespread massive landslides after Friday's 5.1 El Hierro island earthquake. Several stretches of minor roads to remote areas in the west of the island remain blocked (see photo below video).
Experts remain divided on whether a new magma intrusion is taking place west of El Hierro, but further deformation and elevation of the island at some GPS stations has been observed. Earthquake activity remained very low overnight until this morning and there were no alerts issued.
UPDATE Dec. 30th, 2013: 
Only two minor shocks in the past 24 hours, but deformation at some GPS stations shows a further increase, with some parts of the island now elevated by 20 centimetres (8 inches) when compared to values before seismic activity began on El Hierro in July 2011.
UPDATE Jan. 3rd, 2014:
Hardly any earthquake activity since last update. Deformation, while remaining high, shows some stabilisation and even a minor decrease at a few stations.

Official of the El Hierro government assesses the damage standing on the left margin of a road. © canariasahora

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Aftershocks following 5.1 El Hierro quake. NO tsunami

There were a number of aftershocks following yesterday's 5.1 earthquake on El Hierro and up to now (2 am) the strongest of those were a 3.7 (at 20 kms depth) and a 3.3 (at 12 kms depth) in the same sea area just west of El Hierro as the 5.1 at about 5:45pm yesterday. This quake was widely felt all over the western Canary Islands and on La Gomera. I heard it and slightly felt it myself here in Valle Gran Rey and met several people who did feel it even more. It is interesting to note that this earthquake was of a relatively long duration of up to 15 seconds, according to some reports.
Some scaremongers are trying to connect the big waves coming in from the Atlantic to the recent quake(s). This is absolute nonsense: The strong swell is due to the very deep depressions in the North Atlantic that have produced hurricane force winds over parts of Northern Europe, especially Ireland, Britain and France. Even bigger waves are expected to arrive in the Canaries today and Sunday emanating from the succession of storms there over the next few days. The El Hierro quakes do NOT cause any waves/tsunamis !
There were no reports of damage caused by yesterday's shock, but some minor roads were hit by rockfalls and subsequently closed.
Update lunchtime: 
The seismic activity has decreased considerably and the 30 tourists trapped at two remote beaches due to blocked access roads are reported to have been brought out of there.
Yesterday's El Hierro tremor location and magnitude
This is how yesterday's
El Hierro 5.1 quake
registered on La Gomera

Friday, December 27, 2013

Earthquake of 5.1 on El Hierro

The strongest earthquake since the beginning of the increase in seismic activity on El Hierro in the summer of 2011 was widely felt by the population about half an hour before sunset. The magnitude was measured as 5.1  and it occurred at a depth of 11 kilometres  in the sea area just west of Frontera. The quake was also felt on the islands of La Palma, Tenerife and here on La Gomera. Several GPS stations had reported a rising of the terrain on El Hierro by up to 5,7 centimetres in just four days. There also were abnormal radon gas levels measured just before the current renewed activity began. Several minor aftershocks were recorded after the 5.1 quake.
On El Hierro some roads were closed as a precautionary measure, leaving some people stranded in remote locations. There are no reports of damage at this moment, but the tremor caused many rockfalls and landslides in unpopulated areas. Here's a short video of some:

Stranded tanker worries Lanzarote

A tanker stranded on the Moroccan coast near Tan Tan only about 260 kilometres east of the island of Lanzarote is loaded with 5000 tons of fuel, some of which appears to be leaking into the sea. The government of Lanzarote has called on the Moroccan consulate to take urgent measures to remove the fuel and to give an estimate as to how much fuel has leaked out already. Due to worsening weather conditions nothing seems to have been done yet. The stricken ship is named Silver and registered in Laayoune.
Update Dec. 28th:
The Moroccan authorities have stated that they have the situation under control and that experts and equipment have been transferred to the tanker to prepare the pumping of the fuel to waiting tanker trucks ashore.
Update Jan. 3rd, 2014:
About one third of the fuel has been safely pumped ashore from the stranded vessel and the Moroccan authorities are confident that the operation to make the ship safe can be completed successfully.

The stranded vessel (Source: gomeraverde)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Big party on Christmas Eve

There was a super party on La Gomera on Christmas Eve. Although privately organised, the party was open to all and locals and visitors alike danced the night away to several DJs. It definitely was a welcome change to singing 'Silent Night'. Thanks, guys, and hopefully the same again on New Year's Eve! 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

El Hierro earthquake activity increase in Dec. 2013

On the neighbouring Island of El Hierro erthquake activity has increased quite substantially once again. While the past few months were relatively quiet seismically, the stronger and more frequent activity has started again on Sunday, Dec. 22nd 2013. when 73 shocks were recorded and yesterday 100. Most of the earthquakes were minor and below 2,5 on the Richter scale, but also some of around magnitude 3 were registered and these were felt by the island's population. Scientists say that the activity is a harmless natural process as new lava seems to be thrusting upwards and this tension is causing the earthquake 'swarm'. Most of these quakes happened directly under the island, but the majority were at depths of between 13 and 18 kilometres, which is considered safe. Since the start of the activity in the summer of 2011 more than 20800 earthquakes have been recorded on El Hierro, most of them minor shocks.
See previous post about the El Hierro earthquakes and eruption.
Important update: 5.1 quake
Further update: Aftershocks...
Earthquake locations since Dec. 22nd, 2013

Friday, December 20, 2013

Tall ship in Valle Gran Rey

A regular visitor to La Gomera was in the harbour of Valle Gran Rey again a couple of days ago. The tall ship Alexander von Humboldt II is a German sailing ship built as a replacement for the original 1906 sail training ship Alexander von Humboldt. She was launched in 2011 and just like her predecessor, the Alexander von Humboldt II is operated by Deutsche Stiftung Sail Training out of Bremerhaven and offers sail training for persons between 14 and 75 years of age. She can accommodate 79 crew and trainees, is about 200 ft in length and has a 750 hp engine in case there is no wind. If you're aboard and in luck your food might be cooked by part-time Gomera resident Otto, who used to run a well-known establishment in Ireland. When she is in port visitors can come aboard at certain times to view the bark - visiting times are displayed at the gangway.
CORRECTION (Dec. 26th): 
Otto was never cooking on the A.v.Humboldt. He does however sometimes cook the delicious food on the Norwegian tall ship Roald Amundsen. My apologies to Otto.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Shooting 'In the Heart of the Sea' all wrapped

Many thanks to Ron from La Gomera
(Photo © RealRonHoward)
After a week's further filming on Lanzarote all the exterior scenes for In the Heart of the Sea were in the can on Tuesday and now begins the long wait for the film's release, which is said to happen on March 13th, 2015. A lot of post-production work, I guess.
This is how Ron Howard, the film's hard-working director put it on his Twitter account:
That's a wrap on In the Heart of the Sea. An extraordinary creative experience Thanks to all involved

…and in a personal letter to La Gomera's government and the island's president which was published yesterday, Ron Howard expressed his satisfaction with the material shot here, stating that filming here couldn't have been better. He's also quoted as stating that filming on La Gomera was an 'incredible experience'. He lauds the warm welcome received on La Gomera and the cooperation by all involved. Before thanking La Gomera again for the hospitality afforded, Ron wrote that he hopes to return soon to enjoy the rest of La Gomera.
Yes please come again, and thank you and your team for an unforgettable experience. Personally, I feel this film repaires at least some of the economic damage last year's fires did to La Gomera - with the prospect of greater rewards in the future. Good on 'ya!
Ron Howard directing 'In the Heart of the Sea' on location in La Gomera recently. Image ©Keller

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Better to shut up ? reported the following amazing story of Spanish arbitrary police:
Driver fined for 'talking too much' to passenger
A driver from Gran Canaria hit the headlines here and elsewhere over the week-end for receiving a fine for a bizarre reason. 
A photo of the traffic summons posted by Cadena Ser radio on its website
A photo of the traffic summons posted by Cadena Ser radio on its website
Agaete - 16.12.2013 - The 41-year-old van driver has been doing the rounds of TV and radio since Friday when he was pulled over and handed a summons because Civil Guard traffic branch officers considered that he was "talking to his passenger too much" to be able to concentrate on the road ahead. "I was stunned when I was stopped and I honestly thought someone was playing a joke on me. I did admit to talking to my van mate but I was doing what we all do when driving" said the flabbergasted driver, who has until 2 January to decide whether to admit the offence and pay the fine, in which case he will receive a 50% discount.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Reflections and El Hierro

Island of El Hierro in the distance above the water reservoir near Arure

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Primark to open store in Tenerife soon

Seen in Tenerife
Primark is coming to Tenerife. The Irish fashion chain is preparing to open a branch in the Centro Comercial El Meridiano in the centre of Santa Cruz, Tenerifes capital city, towards the end of this year or the beginning of next, say commercial sources. Apparently restructuring works in the CC are already underway. The decision to open a store in Tenerife  was taken after the great success the business has made of its two Gran Canaria branches. The chain operates more than 250 stores all over Europe, most under the Primark label but in Ireland the stores are called Penneys after the original Dublin clothes shop. They specialise in low-priced good quality clothes and the company strives to adhere to ethical trading rules.
UPDATE: The new Tenerife Primark store is finally opening on Thursday, February 27th, 2014. The new  store will be on 3000 square metres spread over two floors, employing 130 people.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Fires again - to prevent fires

The scene in Valle Gran Rey a few days ago.
Many locals and visitors got a bit of a shock recently when whole valleys on La Gomera were suddenly smoke-filled again and many fires were seen burning. This spectacle was seen several times in different valleys across the island and especially children and old people were alarmed by the smell of smoke which reminded them of the horrific fires in the summer of 2012 that led to the evacuation of thousands last year. 
Well, the fires were due to the clean-up in these valleys where palms and other trees were freed from dead branches and the ground was cleaned and weeds and other flammable materials were gathered. While some of the organic material is being shredded to be used for composting, the amounts were so large that a lot of it was burned in situ between the rains. Local pressure group La Gomera Se Mueve have called this action a waste of valuable fertiliser and an unnecessary psychological stress for a population that has barely recovered from last year's ordeal.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Last year's fire leads to archeological finds

The devastating fires in the summer of 2012 that left some of the ancient forest destroyed has now led to the discovery of many new sites of archeological importance. The dense greenery had previously kept these sites with remnants of structures erected by the original settlers of La Gomera hidden from the scientists. Aboriginal tools and implements were also included in the 50 discoveries. It's  an ill wind...
One of the sites discovered on La Gomera © Diario de Avisos

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Severe weather warnings in Canaries from 10-12-13

NOTE: I will post updates at the end of this post if and when necessary

                                                The Canary Islands will be adversely affected by a low 
pressure system to the west from today until Friday, Dec. 13th 2013. The very active front associated with this system will move slowly across the archipelago from west to east and will be further slowed down by a very moist and warm mass of air, further complicating matters.
The forcing gradient has already produced strong winds on La Gomera yesterday with reports of gusts over 80km/h in several places and a maximum gust of 107km/h.this wind will probably further increase today and warnings for severe gusts have been issued.
Wind warning: Winds of 100 km/h from today until Wednesday 12 noon. Stronger gusts in exposed areas.
For about 24 hours  from late today, Tuesday Dec.10th 2013, heavy rain is expected to begin to affect us gradually from west to east and the warning of thunderstorms signals a further increase of the potential for cloudbursts. Warnings have been issued for rain amounts of 50mm per hour and accumulations of 120 mm in 12 hours. There is a high risk of localised flooding. 
The Canarian Meteorological Association have raised their alert to the highest level as have the Canarian government and the civil protection agency with an 'ALERTA MAXIMA'.
It is advisable to stay in a safe place until the situation improves and not to undertake walks and unnecessary car journeys. All modes of travel may be adversely affected.
Avoid cliffs and mountains. Be extremely cautious near river beds and be aware that the wind may tear down signs, sheeting, etc.. Official warnings and alerts apply.

Update 3:30pm:
All schools and colleges on La Gomera have been closed and will remain closed tomorrow. Some ferries are still running with delays, but Armas ferries have suspended their sailings. Most other public transport is still running with delays. Winds are still gradually increasing and first raindrops have fallen. Expected rainfall amounts have been revised upwards. La Gomera's emergency plans have been activated as have those of neighbouring islands. The front is slowly approaching and tonight and tomorrow morning the worst of it be over La Gomera. 

Update 5pm:
Last ferry will attempt sailing from La Gomera in half an hour. After that all ferry services to and from La Gomera will be suspended until further notice.
First thunderstorms forming just W of us at 4pm
Update 8pm:
There was a spell of less strong winds and both the Olsen and the Armas ferries decided to sail from Los Cristianos after all and they should arrive about now. 
In the past minutes winds have increased a lot again and a further reactivation of the front is expected later. So far the weather has behaved as predicted. 

Update 10pm:
The first Fred. Olsen ferry sailing which was to leave La Gomera at 7:30am has been cancelled.

Wednesday 11-12-13:

Update 1am:
Thunder and lightning nearby to W. and slowly approaching. Strong winds. It is beginning to rain. Rain radar:

Update 6am:
I was woken by thunder and lightning again. There was a lot of that plus wind all night and a little rain. All schools and colleges on Tenerife, Gran Canaria, El Hierro, La Palma and La Gomera will be closed today. Large areas of La Palma were without power last night.
The front is beginning to reactivate itself  right now and new thunderstorms are forming.
Winds have eased a little, but that they did several times before re-strengthening. It is beginning to rain again. We'll see what happens…   Echotop radar at 5:50 am :
Update 8:30 am:
The situation has improved and the worst seems to have passed without affecting La Gomera much. We just had a heavy shower but it only lasted five minutes. Winds have eased considerably but are expected to rise again later.
Ferry sailings are going back to normal. The Armas ferry sailed this morning and the Olsen ferry will resume scheduled sailings at 9am with the scheduled depature from Los Cristianos.

Update 10 am:
It has been raining fairly heavily and persistently here and the cold front is yet to come. This situation just keeps developing. At the moment the worst weather seems to be over Tenerife. On La Palma several houses were flooded and the Tijarafe weather station measured 96mm of rain in a relatively short time. La Gomera's capital San Sebastian had 27mm of rain during a thunderstorm. So far all warnings and alerts are maintained. There are reports of extremely heavy rain in parts of Tenerife this morning
Chart for today 11-12-13
Recent T-storms, radar image of 10am
Update 11 am:
Lightning amount recorded by the span. met service between 2am and 8am: 1564
Just a few minutes ago we had an extremely heavy downpour:

Update 1:30 pm:
The weather here in Valle Gran Rey has improved now and there is a bit of sunshine every now and again. Recent showers were much lighter and shorter.
However, there still are heavy showers out there and to the south-west some re-activation of cells of thunderstorms and heavy rain is taking place, while the cold front is coming in from the west. 
Caution: Warnings and alerts still apply and some have even been extended

The 'barranco' of Valle Gran Rey is running with plenty of water today
Update 5:30 pm:
Some good news at last: The wind warnings will be cancelled from 6 pm this evening. It has been almost calm here with a bit of sunshine for the past while, but skies are darkening again now. Ferries are back sailing to schedule.
Warnings of heavy showers and thunderstorms will remain active until late tomorow night, Thursday 12-12-13 (see top of sidebar Weather News for latest La Gomera warnings). The band of heavy showers and thunderstorms  is almost stationary, even expanding and moving back to west a bit. It is still re-activating itself while new pockets of heavy weather continue forming to the south-west. The warnings are at the highest level for Gran Canaria and Tenerife. The 'alerta maxima' issued by the Canary Islands' government, however will be cancelled from midnight tonight with a statement that very heavy downpours are still probable. Most schools will reopen tomorrow, except on Tenerife.
On Friday things should improve considerably according to all forecasts, and the Canary Islands should get back to their usual predominantly sunny, dry and warm weather.
It must be stressed, however, that all day tomorrow Thursday 21-12-12 the weather will remain very disturbed and unsettled and locally very heavy downpours and thunderstorms are possible. Sunny spells may be misleading. 
Tree blown down damaging 2 cars beside  'El Coco Loco' restaurant in Valle Gran Rey yesterday. © Diario de Avisos
THURSDAY, Dec. 12, 2013:

The cold front is now finally over the Canary Islands and the disturbance has re-activated to the south. Thunderstorms and heavy showers can still be expected today. Tomorrow we should have much better weather.
Last night an inter-islands flight arriving from Gran Canaria by airline Binter skidded off the runway at Tenerife North airport due to heavy rain. All 51 passengers and 4 crew were unhurt but had to leave the plane via the emergency exits. The airport was closed for a while and traffic was diverted to Tenerife South airport, which itself received 96mm of rain that day.
Caution on the roads: There are many minor rockfalls still happening, as is usual after heavy rain and/or strong winds
Funktop enhanced sat-pic of 6am this morning
FINAL update 10 pm:
Even though we just had another shower, the weather situation is improving rapidly. By tomorrow lunchtime we should be back to mostly sunny weather according to (almost) all forecasters. High pressure is moving back in. All warnings and alerts are cancelled from midnight tonight. Enjoy !

Monday, December 09, 2013

How Heart of the Sea won my heart

© RealRonHoward
Having had the luck and honour to be selected as a picture double for the filming of In the Heart of the Sea for director Ron Howard was one of the highlights in my life. But to actually work on the set with the hundreds of dedicated, extremely hard-working, down-to-earth and good-humoured crew, cast and all the specialists and helpers topped it all. They were and are a truly amazing bunch of people - and that includes the many local people on and around the set. Each and every one of the whole lot gave their best, worked long hours without complaining, suffered cuts and bruises without even mentioning them and above all showed great team spirit and amiability. RESPECT ! 
I felt we were all in the one boat together during this shoot on location in La Gomera. It was an unforgettably heart-warming and gratifying experience for me to be aboard during this part of production. Above all I learned a lot and made many new friends.

...and yes, the hard-working Ron Howard found time to post a link to this blog in his Twitter and Facebook :

True. Here is just another day on a set like none other I've ever experienced. Challenging/Cool/Fun
© Ron Howard

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Thursday, December 05, 2013

… and they're off to be tough

Despite the swell, the storm and all the odds we finally saw the start of the world's toughest rowing race, the Talisker Atlantic Challenge, setting off from La Gomera today. Best of luck to 'ye all, I rowed myself in that lovely swell today, albeit for a different cause. Hats off to the diving cameramen - they're like fish, only more advanced.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Filming on La Gomera hit by yesterday's bad weather

  1. Filming In the Heart of the Sea on location La Gomera was hampered by yesterday's severe downpours and cast and crew had to evacuate the flooded location.Below is a graphic report tweeted by the film's director Ron Howard, beginning at the bottom:                                                                             
    and by the way, the Canary Islands' meteorological association named this Atlantic depression CHIPUDE (it had to be the letter C for the third one this season). Chipude is a town in the mountains and the former capital of La Gomera. The station there measured more than 41mm of rain yesterday, while Playa de Santiago got more than 100mm in less than three hours .           

    Good luck that no cars or people were swept away or hit by tumbling rocks. All's well that ends well
  2. W/out incident trucks moved to hi ground & all cast & crew waded to cars (calf deep) & made it out b-4 roads closed
  3. Soon we were advised to wrap and evacuate. Pronto. ASAP
  4. Then our access road began to flood.
  5. torrential outside, the crew dried work shoes as we shot a scene inside. Sound was ruined by rain on roof tho
  6. Rare heavy rain in La Gomera forced us to our small converted cover stage...
  7. The following is a photo account of today's production challenge - The Heart of the Sea