Madeira Malmsey

James & Amelia Gould
Thu 20 Sep 2007 12:57

070822 – 070901 Madeira Part 3


After much discussion we decided that it would probably be worthwhile to have the boat lifted out before we crossed the Atlantic so that we can check the hulls and do some underwater maintenance.  We have been cruising for 6 months, sometimes in less than ideal weather, and we wanted to check that Rahula was ready to face what a big ocean had to throw at her.  We initially planned to have a long maintenance period in the Canary Islands, but after contacting several boatyards we failed to find someone with a travel lift wide enough to cope with Rahula’s considerable girth.


We found a boatyard on Madeira in Canical which had a huge travel lift which looked suitably sturdy and wide to lift out our pride and joy.  We snooped around the boatyard to check it out and tried to find out the price of a haul out and storage ashore.  This was a little difficult as none of the boatyard staff spoke English, though the owner’s daughter appears to have a modicum of schoolgirl English (it actually amounted to yes and no in a somewhat random order…J) and we muddled through.  The boatyard is mainly used by the local fishing co-operative and was full of huge wooden fishing boats.  There were also a couple of yachts stored in the far corner of the boatyard and some ex-RNLI lifeboats so we figured it would do for us.  The village of Canical was not very big; it was once the centre of Madeiran whaling and is now the island’s only major commercial port.  The village had a chandlery, a hardware shop and a pizzeria so also met with our approval for a long stopover.  A day later the ever helpful staff at the Quinta du Lorde marina came to our rescue again and booked a lift out date for us and negotiated a good rate. 


On 22 August we sailed from the comfortable Quinta du Lorde Marina and into the clutches of (what seemed to be) the world’s biggest travel lift (but actually is the largest travel lift in the Atlantic Islands).  James skilfully drove the boat straight into the lift pen fighting the strong wind that threatened to drive us onto the concrete walls.  A diver in the water then lined up the enormous lifting straps with strong points in the hull.  Before we had a chance to take in what was happening the travel lift’s mighty diesel engine revved up and the lifting strops started to take the strain.  I thought that we would be ushered off the boat before it was lifted, but I quickly realised that there were no ladders and I would have to stay onboard.  As the water receded below and Rahula rose higher my heart started pounding in dread – What if the straps broke and dropped the boat with us on it?!


Rahula in Strops

Nervous Skipper


Once Rahula was level with the top of the pen the strops stopped lifting and the enormous tyres started rolling gently forward, making Rahula swing gently in her new cradle.  Looking down at the pen I realised that the huge concrete walls were only a little wider than the travel lift’s tyres, and a new fear started forming in my mind.  What if the driver turned too sharply and drove the travel lift of the edge?!  James reassured me that we were being lifted by professionals, used to dealing with much larger boats… 


Up high and moving along the narrow sides
Jorge the Driver


As we approached the end of the lifting pen one of the boatyard staff started crouching down and looking at the bottom of our hulls with a look of concern.  As the strops whirred into action again lifting us higher I realised that he wasn’t admiring some gaping hole in our underside, but checking that our rudders and dagger-boards (the lowest points on the boat) were clear of the ground.


Will she clear?


Then we trundled along the length of the boatyard to our allotted resting place by a fence bordering the village.  A small crowd had gathered along the fence to watch what was going on, as our arrival was probably the most exciting thing to have happened in the area that month (maybe ever… J).  Once we were over our spot the travel lift stopped and huge blocks of wood were stacked under the hulls to support the weight when the strops were removed.  A ladder was propped against the boat and we were let down, grateful to be on solid ground again.  Then the Travel Lift growled into action again, and the strops were slowly lowered allowing Rahula to drop slowly onto her new supports.  The strops were removed and the travel lift driven forward, leaving Rahula standing alone in the middle of the nearly empty boatyard.  This was when we truly saw how huge the Travel Lift was.


Propping up the hulls

The biggest travel lift ever!

Pressure washing the hulls


As agreed previously the boatyard staff pressure washed the hulls, removing 6 months of accumulated slime (though not many barnacles, thanks to the good anti fouling paint we applied before leaving the UK).  They were obviously used to pressure washing tough fishing boats rather than delicate yachts as in a few places they were a little too vigorous and the high pressure removed some of the paint or exposed imperfections in the hulls.  In the mean time we wandered around the underside inspecting the hulls for signs of damage, half expecting to find something seriously wrong which would require weeks to repair.  To our delight the underside was in a pretty good condition, with only a few small areas were the gel coat (hull paint) had come away to reveal the fibreglass below.  The biggest piece of emerging work we found was one of the rudder shaft bushes had come away, leaving the rudder rattling in its case.  But even this was not very major.


We immediately set about working through our to-do list, getting out the grinder, sander, overalls and other essential tools.  We removed the rudders and handed the defective one to the boatyard staff for repair.  We marked out all the cracks and holes in the paint and I set about preparing them for filling and repair, while James serviced our engine (oil change, replacing a fuel line clip and most importantly a good spray of WD40!… J).  While I was grinding out some of the old damaged gelcoat around the back of the boat a lot of water started to drip out of the opening crack.  For some time we have known that salt water was somehow getting into the bridge deck, but as much as we looked we could never find where it was coming from.  Months ago we made a small hole in the saloon floor and filled it with paper pads to absorb this unwanted water.  Now it seemed as though I may have found the water’s source - in a small area the layers of fibreglass applied when the boat was built had separated, letting water in to the inner foam core (for boat geeks – the core is Divincell Closed Cell Foam and should not absorb water but in the words of our GRP man in the UK ‘it will always find a way’. On this occasion it was using the gaps between the small foam blocks as a channel to slowly creep along…J).  Once all the damaged fibreglass had been removed we stuck bits of paper into the foam to draw out the water and try to dry out the core.  Now it was a matter of waiting for it all to dry fully before it could be repaired.  Luckily the weather was co-operating and the sun blasted down on us every day.


Drying out the core


One of the jobs we had to do was paint another layer of antifouling on the bottom of the hulls.  We wanted to use the same excellent stuff we had applied previously (in black), but unfortunately the only stock on the island was coloured red or blue.  We chose red to match the boat’s colour scheme, and as we painted the hulls in the new vibrant colour she looked physically transformed.  I wanted to have one hull black, and the other red, but James insisted that we painted both hulls…  We somehow managed to run out of paint towards the end, despite buying the same amount we had used before (Rahula is growing!), which left our rudders and dagger-boards half red and half black until I went back to the chandlers in Funchal and bought more paint.


One hull red, one hull black


We completed our planned jobs much quicker than we expected.  We had allowed two weeks for this maintenance period, and managed to do everything in one week.  This was mainly because we were still living onboard while the boat was out of the water, which was so horrible that we both worked long days so that we could go back into the water as soon as possible.  When the boat was out of the water we couldn’t use the toilet onboard as it needs seawater to flush.  We also had to rig a hose from our galley drain pipe to a bucket to catch all the water we poured down the galley sink.  This water then had to be taken to a nearby drain.  We couldn’t use our bathroom sink at all.  Moving around the boat inside while it was high and dry was scary as I was constantly worried that sudden movements would push her off her precarious perch.  As a result we ate out every night both to avoid the difficulty of cooking onboard and to get away from the boatyard.  Luckily the village was full of little cheap bars (far more than seems right for such a small place!) so we had plenty of choice.  The boatyard had basic toilet and shower facilities, but rather unusually the family that owned the yard were living in the adjoining offices, and so we were effectively using their home shower.  It was a little awkward at first but as we got dirtier from the hard labour we soon didn’t care.


The family that lived in the yard was a source of much amusement and speculation while we were there.  There were two older adults, which we guessed were husband and wife, then a collection of children of varying ages and genetic backgrounds.  We figured they were a typical mixed together selection of broken families but could only wonder on the relationships between them.  Later in the week we met up with a local girl we had befriended, and her boyfriend filled us in on the gossip.  It transpired that Jorge was divorced, and his wife got the house which is why he and his oldest son were living in the boatyard.  Then Jorge’s son got a girlfriend.  Then Jorge met his son’s girlfriend’s mum (lets call her Mary) and they got together.  Are you following so far?!   Mary had several kids from her previous marriage.  Then Jorge and Mary got married, and she moved into the boatyard offices with him, bringing along her selection of kids.  Then they had kids of their own.  In the meantime, Jorge’s son and now step sister were still dating.  It was such a soap opera story it was barely believable!


The boatyard’s security was ensured by 3 nocturnal dogs that were locked up in a kennel during the day and let out every night to patrol the yard.  One was a big old lumbering black Labrador that soon got used to us and only approached us to smell what we were carrying.  The second was a young wolf-type dog who was quite cute and still learning the ropes; he would rarely bark, and would follow us around trying to bite the back of our flip flops.  The third was another wolf dog who took a severe dislike to James and would bark incessantly whenever he saw James.  This dog would ignore me, but follow James everywhere, barking as loudly as he could.  Even when James had climbed the ladder up to the boat and gone inside the dog would stand at the bottom and bark.  It drove us crazy and the family obviously got bored with it too as they would come out and shout at it to shut up.  It would initially cower away, but soon start up again when he saw James (must have sensed I was obviously the dominant Alpha Male in the area, or maybe it was my nocturnal ‘comfort breaks’ that challenged his own marking of territory… J).


Rahula went back into the water 8 days after she was lifted out, looking shiny and clean.  The return journey went without incident, and we were glad to be afloat again.  We sailed south around the bottom of the island to Funchal, where we planned to stay a few days for the Madeira wine festival.  We anchored off the beach again, and once the boat was restocked and back to normal we went ashore to enjoy the festivities.  (Unfortunately our camera broke while the boat was out of the water, so we have no pictures of the festival.  A.)  On our second day a harbour authority boat came by and tried to charge us 47 euros for anchoring off the beach.  We were incredulous at the extortionate charge – we didn’t even pay that much at the 5 star Quinta du Lorde marina!  Apparently that was the government rate, and we had managed to avoid it so far because it is only collected when the guy who speaks English is on duty.  James haggled for a better deal for 2 nights, and we decided to leave for the Canary Islands much earlier than we’d intended.  We were sad to leave Madeira on such a sour note, but still hold many good memories of our stay there.