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The Vela Latina

08 November 2011

The Vela Latina
9 November 2011

ARC multihullls are mainly berthed in the southern basin known as the Vela Latina.  This is the long-term home of the local wooden boat fleet - the vela latina - from which the basin takes its name.   These are faithful replicas of boats that were used around the early 1900s to ferry cargoes to and from ships moored offshore.  It was important that these boats got out and back quickly, so they carry a huge lateen sail (hence the name), which makes them exciting racing boats today.

There will be a chance to have a go sailing the Vela Latinas on Sunday 18 from 14:00 to 18:00.  There will also be local food, and a photo exhibition.  Come on down to the basin Vela Latina on Sunday!

The vela latina in Las Palmas are the only ones of their type of hull and rig in the world, and these brightly painted and beautifully maintained boats are a passion for the members of the Federacion Vela Latina.  President of the Federacion Vela Latina, Sr Juan Santana, explained how these unique boats work.

The vela latina is all wooden carvel construction, around 6-7m long with a shallow draft and broad beam. She carries her ballast as lead ingots which are carefully shaped to fit the bilge, around 150kg in total.  In addition 25kg bags of sand are carried on top - these can be jettisoned over the side if the wind turns light, or on the last downwind leg!  Because of her large sail area she also carries between 8 and 13 people, who are important movable ballast as well as sail handlers.

The vela latina takes its name from the lateen sail, a huge single sail carried on a long, angled spar (known as a palanca).  The palanca is between 12 and 13.25m long, and acts almost like a forestay, presenting the front of the sail to the wind so it can sail more effectively upwind.  The foot of the sail is almost the same length as the boat.  The sails are made from modern sail fabric, with tell-tails and other trimming aids.  Like modern raceboats, the vela latina have sails cut for all conditions, from different weights of cloth.  The lateen sail is difficult to tack, and so the races tend to be along the coast on one tack.

During the racing season, in spring and summer, the vela latina race every Sunday.  The races start south of the city and take the boats back up the coast, against the wind and current.  Because the vela latinas are hard to tack and gybe, rather than having a mass start, each boat is timed across the start and finish lines and their total time calculated and points allocated.  There are a number of regattas and championships throughout the season, usually with two boats match racing.The Copa de Gran Canaria has all of the boats racing together, which must be quite a sight.

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