If you’re visiting the nature reserve Isla Graciosa, the Playa Francesca anchorage is the only choice, says Kit Pascoe
As you make your way to the Canary Islands, you may well find yourself embroiled in serious discussions with other cruisers about how on Earth to get to Graciosa. The form you have to fill out online causes much grief as it asks the offshore sailor to specify exact days of arrival and departure and to submit the form as least 10 days in advance. Considering the majority will be coming from at least 270 miles away, this is an uncomfortable, if not impossible question.
However, this form is actually only for the marina, despite what anyone else may tell you. Considering the draw of Graciosa is its anchorage, you can forget the form. Instead you are supposed to call ahead just to give the name of your boat. Arrecife Marina called for us but you can always call yourself.
In reality, unless the warden is feeling officious, no one will even bat an eyelid at your arrival. It’s best to notify them in a dvance – but if you can’t, you’ll probably be just fine.
The entirety of Isla Graciosa is a nature reserve and anchoring is only allowed off Playa Francesca and the more northerly Pedro Barba Bay. The latter is considerably less sheltered from swell and so most of the time the former is the only choice. In autumn, it’s everybody else’s choice too.
Arriving at Playa Francesca during the night is a mistake and if it looks like you might, then it is far better to divert to Marina Rubicon – unpleasant in my view, but sheltered – at the south of Lanzarote.
Playa Francesca is usually a crowded anchorage lined with a vicious reef, so good visibility is essential.
Wind (and the odd pod of pilot whales) funnels down the narrow strait between Graciosa and Lanzarote, usually from the north-east but frequently off the surrounding land and on the nose regardless. If you’ve checked your forecast, though, once inside Playa Francesca you should be sheltered.
The water is so clear here that you can check your anchor from the boat in 4-10m depth. Or, with 24°C water in autumn, you can jump in for a closer look and see flatfish mesmerised by the movement of your anchor chain while you’re at it.
The hype around Graciosa has turned the bay into a Solent anchorage during Cowes Week and if you get a spot close by the beach, then by 1100 the next morning you’ll be sharing it with two or three vast tourist boats. This, combined with the absence of a particularly flourishing reef fish population, makes Graciosa lose its otherwise serene appeal.
Row ashore to walk the dusty track to the village and by all means explore the island a little on foot. Other bays can be reached by walking and will offer more peaceful swimming while the small mountain immediately in front will provide the perfect morning view.
Even when it’s overcrowded, the sunsets here are astounding.