Porto Santo

James & Amelia Gould
Tue 7 Aug 2007 09:56

26 July - 07 August 2007: Porto Santo


Our first few days in Porto Santo were spent returning the boat and us into cruising mode, as opposed to passage making mode.  For the boat this meant cleaning, laundry and food shopping; the sleeping bag in the aft cabin was packed away (after a dammed good airing!…J) and our bed was remade in the forward cabin.  For us it meant leisurely breakfasts and long evenings playing games or watching a film.  Once the mundane housekeeping jobs were done it was time to explore the island.  As Porto Santo is not that big but is fairly mountainous, we decided to hire a car for a day and drive around the sites, taking in a few walks on the way.


We headed to the furthest corner of the island from the marina first, on the South Western side.  A wrong turning took us along a dirt track that we continued to follow as it seemed to be heading in the right direction.  Then we were distraught to see a road works sign in the middle of the road – expecting from experience to sit in traffic in the heat for hours, with no air-con, watching people in the cars next to us getting just as bored as we are.  To top it all, there was no free roadside recovery OR a free number to ring to complain.  But alas, we weren’t in the UK anymore, and this was not the M3.  These road works consisted of a pile of rubble on the side of the road.  The only relation they had to their UK cousins was there did not appear to be anyone working on the road!


Porto Santo Road Works


The dirt track wound its way around the south-western end of the island, following the coastline.  The land was very dry and barren, but occasionally there would be a row of hardy bushes clinging to the rocks, their roots digging deep into the soil to find what little water there is.  The track led to a lovely picnic site, complete with shaded tables and chairs, a BBQ and all the facilities you may need for a day out (water, loos).  The picnic area was surrounded by a pretty cactus garden, and even had a games area so you can work off lunch.  It was all well thought through and maintained.  It was a shame we didn’t have any food to fully enjoy it!


Morenas Picnic Spot


At the end of the dirt track we reached the westernmost part of the island, Ponta da Canaveira.  From there we had a great view down the steep cliffs into the sea (and a few meters under water as the it was so clear!) and across a causeway to the uninhabited Ilheu de Ferro (Lighthouse Island), also rising steeply out of the sea.  (We did ponder on what it was called before the lighthouse was built, and came to the conclusion it was probably called Shipwreck Island!  J).  The rugged coastline stretched to the south of us, the red of the rocks contrasting with the deep blue of the sea.


The South Western Coastline

Ilheu de Ferro

Ponta de Canaveira


This side of the island was remarkably different to the southern coast, which was flat and had a long sandy beach (9km long apparently, and one of the island’s selling points).  As we drove back towards the centre of the island we were surprised to see how sparsely inhabited the area along the beach was.  On our way we noticed several new hotels and apartment blocks being built, but nothing on the scale of the Algarve or Andalusia.  I wonder how long it would take for developers to realise the full holiday potential of this island (sun, sea and sand…) and scar the view with ugly high-rise hotels, which then sap the meagre island resources.  I really hope it never happens and that the current sustainable level of tourism is maintained.


Southern Porto Santo – ripe for development?


To give our eyes a break from the dull brown monotony of the landscape we visited the Quinta das Palmeiras botanical gardens.  The gardens were in a small plot in a valley and were easy to spot from a distance because of the sudden lush vegetation.  There were all sorts of pretty flowers and trees (I’ve no idea what they were called!), interspersed with small cages housing a variety of birds.  The gardens had a selection of parrots in all sorts of extraordinary colours and a huge Amazonian Macaw called Lara, who was a little stroppy.  Our favourites however were the Emu, which poked its head through the fence to say hello, and the fresh water turtles, who swam about without a care in the world.  (I’m sure they were only swimming around because the pool had been built with sides too steep for them to climb…or am I just a cynic?  J).


Lara the Macaw

Eric the Emu

Yurtle the Turtle


Back on the road and after a satisfying lunch of local sweet potato bread sandwich (which is as filling as it sounds!) we headed for one of the many walking routes on the island.  This was a short climb down a cliff to the Fonte da Aeria natural spring and beach.  As it is summer, there was very little evidence of a spring apart from a dried up fountain and a channel scoured through the rock.  At the bottom of the cliff there was a small pebbled beach that faced the full grunt of the Atlantic and prevailing North Easterly winds.  The waves crashed onto the beach with some force, and when the water receded there was a huge roar as the pebbles rubbed against each other.  It would have been another idyllic spot to watch the power of the ocean, however it was marred by a collection of human jetsam littering the beach (plastic bottles, nylon rope, cigarette packets).  It was a sad reflection of how some people treat the sea as a rubbish bin, not realising that most things will eventually find their way ashore.  (I am not much of a tree hugger, as most of you know, but it really bugged me.  A lot of the rubbish was old fishing gear, nylon rope, monofilament and broken fish-crates.  Why is it that those who most rely on the marine environment are the most arrogant polluters of them all?…grrrrrr…J).  We spent 10 minutes collecting as much as we could, filling a bucket we found on the beach and creating a small pile at the bottom of the steps leading to the beach.  I hope that other people who visit the beach will see the pile of rubbish and do the same, until the local council comes to collect it.


Fonte da Aeria Beach

James carrying rubbish back up cliff


The second walk we chose was around the North Eastern end of the island, up to the second highest peak on the island, Pico Branco (450m).  The walk did not look very promising to start with, as the clouds were rolling into the valley between the two highest peaks on the island, and we were worried that the long climb would be rewarded only with views of tops of clouds rather than sweeping vistas of Porto Santo.  It was nice to be walking in the cool fog of the cloud though, rather than under the scorching heat of the sun.  The track initially wound around the south side of Pico Branco, then it started climbing.  We were soon level with the cloud base, and had an amazing view of Pico do Facho poking out above the clouds.


Walking Up
Pico do Facho Through Clouds


As we neared the top we started seeing more vegetation – hundreds of thistles, wild tomatoes and mint.  We also saw several birds of prey hovering overhead, though no sign of any small furry animals they might catch (unless they were after us!).  Each twist of the path brought another amazing view of the island and the sea beyond.  Then near the top came the biggest surprise – a forest of Cypress trees, their sweet smell and cool shade a sharp contrast to the barren landscape below.  The trees hid the peak until we were right on it.  At the top it was time for a well-earned rest and a chance to admire the view – for an island full of so many visitors there was not another soul in sight.  Unfortunately then it was time for the long walk back down…


At the top of Pico Branco


The final view point was at the South Eastern corner of the island, were we could look down at the harbour and check that Rahula was still holding on to her anchor.  (Never had any doubt.  That day in the Solent for Traf 200 when the weight of the four boats rafted up outboard of Rahula meant I ended up cutting the old one free was a good day as it meant I had an excuse to buy our current Herculean pick!….J).


Porto Santo Harbour-

Rahula is at anchor in the middle; On the far wall is the ferry to Madeira.


The only other “attraction” in Porto Santo is the house where Christopher Columbus lived for 2 years after he married the daughter of the first Governor of Porto Santo.  It is now a museum housing a random collection of artefacts relating to Columbus and Portugal “as the first major power in world trade” (according to the bumph we were given!).  The most interesting was a Japanese painting of a Dutch Galleon which showed the figure head as a dragon, and the Dutch sailors looked distinctly Asian; and a Peruvian cup showing a Spanish “conqueror” being worshipped by local peasants.  The museum also had a huge collection of Columbus portraits, each one completely different to the other – how are we supposed to know what he looked like?!


Columbus’ House in Vila Baleira


The rest of our time in Porto Santo was spent alongside in the marina, doing some boat repairs.  We fixed the fibreglass in the other aft locker which was full of water that we didn’t get around to fixing in El Puerto.  The big waves we encountered on the way here also detached some of the starboard rubbing strake (the boat’s bumper, which had taken a knock in the lock in Seville…).  So we had to remove the damaged section, repair the Gel coat underneath it then reattach it.  We are sure that by the time we return to the UK we will have rebuilt most of this boat!


For a small dry island that is only supposed to have rain for 2 months of the year it rained an awful lot while we were here.  Every other day seemed to be cloudy and filled with heavy rain squalls accompanied by strong winds.  This hampered our boat repair progress somewhat, and meant that our batteries ran down low as the solar panels took a rest in the gloom.  We were impressed by the die-hard holidaymakers who would still sit on the beach everyday in the cold blustery wind, topping up their tan when the sun did occasionally shine through broken cloud.


The welcome rain breaks to the back breaking Rahula labour meant we got chatting to some of the people on the other boats around us.  We met a lovely American family on a nice-looking purposeful Aluminium boat.  They are doing an Atlantic circuit, and have been to Greenland, Norway and Scotland before making their way down to Porto Santo via Portugal.  They do their cruising in 2 month chunks as they have to get their 13 year old son back to school at the end of the holidays, but they seemed to have crammed in a lot in that period.  We spent a couple of very pleasant evenings with them before they headed off to the Canaries.  James even got his first Divemaster commission from them – to teach Pip (the kid) how to skin dive.  James gleefully picked up his snorkelling gear and gave Pip and his mum an hour long lesson.  We weren’t expecting any payment (we had drunk all their wine the previous evening!) but they took us out to dinner as a way of saying thanks.


Grendel – with Philip, Helen and Pip