Marina Lanzarote: The seat of Arrecife’s Nautical Heritage

Marina Lanzarote crowns the wide sea wall of Puerto Naos, overlooked by the Castillo de San José, an imposing but attractive fort built to protect the island from pirates and marauders.

One of Lanzarote’s most famous writers, Augustín de la Hoz, once wrote that “Arrecife was born first a port and then a city”. This was indeed the case with commercial and trading vessels accessing the island through the natural harbour of Puerto Naos and shallower Arrecife bay in front of what is now the Real Club Náutico de Arrecife. Over the ages the port gradually developed strategic importance as essential exports such as wine and agricultural goods were brought down on camel-back to be loaded on to merchant ships on the dock and the colourful fishing fleet, built and equipped by Lanzarote’s own master builders and sailmakers in Lanzarote, brought back fish that was later preserved with salt from the salinas overlooking the same harbour.

The Canarian Pine

One of the secrets to the success of Canarian-built boats was the Canarian Pine. Lanzarote enjoyed a boat building relationship with the island of La Palma and a main source of the Canarian Pine or Pinus Canariensis; an aromatic, subtropical evergreen, endemic to the Canary Islands and as such, well-adapted to the periods of drought.

The attractive reddish heartwood was a prized boat-building resource.  Artisans of the time were canny enough to pay close attention to the phases of the moon, cutting the timber when the tree was engorged with resin. This increased the wood’s already good water and pest resistance, ensuring a long sea life. Examples of the durability of the wood can be seen every day in the astonishingly well preserved ornate balconies and doors that adorn the elegant streets of Santa Cruz de La Palma, dating from the city’s halcyon days as one of the Spanish empire’s most strategic seaports.

Subsequent exploitation of the pine forest for as a source of long-burning firewood lead to stringent measures of control meaning that it is now forbidden to cut down the trees.

Traditional shipwrights

In the present day, Arrecife continues to represent an inherently popular haven for visiting boats and as such Marina Lanzarote offers a dignified welcome with a new and well-equipped shipyard, echoing the city’s primary role.

Amongst services that count on two large travel hoists for providing a service to the island’s many commercial and recreational vessels, the new yard is also home to shipwright company “Maestro Tito”; a mainstay of the island’s long-standing tradition of boat-building dating from the late 18th century. Part of the city’s cultural heritage, generations of the same family  built and maintained the island’s fishing fleet also offering a valuable repair service to the traffic of boats passing through Lanzarote.

Eventual slowing of the fishing industry in the sixties and seventies and move away from wooden hulls, some of these original 19th century fishing boats have been rescued and in the hands of the master builders, transformed into elegant schooners recalling the Iberian caravel style used during the height of spice trade.

The legend also lives on in the two local fleets of Vela Latina, with their characteristic lateen sail. The Vela Latina enjoy a fervently loyal following in Arrecife. The larger boats, measuring 8,55m LOA are modelled on the fishing boats sailed to fishing banks of Saharan Africa where fishers used to liven up the trip by racing each other back to Lanzarote. The current race fleet has seen some structural evolution in the interests of increased velocity but still very clearly pays respect to the old tradition.

On a more day to day basis, Maestro Tito’s team keep busy carrying out maintenance on visiting cruising boats. Fletcher Kennedy (photo, right), professional boat builder and part of the shore team of Volvo Ocean Race contenders Team SCA, needed a new teak deck for his Swan 37, built in 1972. “I was really impressed with their professionalism”, he declared, “the workers arrived punctually and worked efficiently and well”. As a customer, he was also delighted with the value for money. “When everyone hears about them, people are going to be lining up!”