En-Route to La Palma 29 30.580 N 017 17.301 W

Fri 6 Nov 2015 15:35

Date:                Friday 6th November 2015


Position:          En-route to La Palma


As I mentioned in my last blog I arrived in Porto Santo early Sunday morning on the 25th October. Since leaving Lagos I had managed to sail about 50% of the time with the motor going on once my speed fell much below 2 knots.  My last night before making landfall was one of the best sails so far.  The wind had been building up from midday and by late afternoon there was a good fresh breeze (force 5) blowing with between 15 to 20 knots of wind on the beam.  This is just the kind of conditions that Celtic Dawn likes.  Being a heavy old tub she needs a bit of a blow to get her going but once she is up and running she is in her element.  Before supper I put a reef in the genoa just to steady things down a bit but left the main as it was.  After I had eaten I reassessed the situation and decided to reef the main as well for two reasons.  Given the conditions I was unlikely to loose much speed and secondly, the wind might continue to build so best to do it now while it was still light rather than wait until it was dark when the conditions might become rougher.  The wind kept at a steady force 5 all night and well into the morning so Celtic Dawn and I raced along at between 6 to 7 knots with the occasional 8 showing on the log.  Down below as I lay in my bunk I could really feel the power of the sails as the hull raced through the water.  The noise of the water rushed by my ear and I was conscious that only 10mm of glass fibre lay between the open sea and me.  Once or twice a large wave would hit the windward side of the boat with a loud crack, which would give me a start and focus my attention for a moment.  But Celtic Dawn took it all in her stride and romped along without a care.  We covered a lot of ground that night so I was pleased to learn that Dawn Chorus, a 42 foot Southerly, only got in 12 hours before me having motored 90% of the way.


Porto Santo is not the most exciting of islands and it was certainly not the best marina I have been in.  It is approximately 11 km long with a small town, a small airport and lots of hotels.  The northern side of the island is pretty baron as it is open to the Atlantic swells and there is not much there I have been reliably informed.  But the south side of the island is much different and is the reason Porto Santo is so popular as a holiday destination for the people of Madeira.  Because the south side is sheltered from the worst of the Atlantic weather there is a long beach virtually from one end of the island to the other and this is the main attraction, as Madeira does not have many beaches of its own to speak of.  The marina is located at the eastern end of the island.  It is small and the facilities are limited.  The shower block consists of six showers, cold water only, and one toilet.  Yes that’s right, one toilet between all the visiting yachts.  There is also a bar/cafe in the marina and an adequate supermarket in the town, which is about a fifteen-minute walk away.  Apart from the hotels at the western end of the island that is about it for Porto Santo so I only spent two nights there before moving on to Madeira. 


I left Porto Santo on Wednesday 28th October to head for Quinta do Lorde Marina on the eastern end of Madeira. The previous day it had been blowing a bit and the seas had still not calmed down so the Atlantic swells were much lager than they had been before but it was another great sailing day.  I made Point de Barlavento light in six hours rounded the point and headed for Quinta do Lorde Marina a further twenty minutes away.  I had been told that at this time of year, with most yachts heading for Las Palmas in preparation for the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers), it was quite difficult to get into Funchal and my best bet was to head for Quinta do Lorde instead.  In one way this was good advice as there was plenty of room available but on the other hand I was completely out on a limb.  You see Quinta do Lorde is a purpose built holiday resort but in a remote location.  It has a large marina, plush hotel, apartments, several restaurants, a shop with limited supplies, fantastic swimming pools and a purpose built seafront with a swimming pool which is filled by sea water at high tide.  It is a fairly new complex so everything looks bright and fantastic but it is completely out on its own. The nearest village, Caniçal, is 4 km away and the closest town, Machico, about 10 km.  If you like sun, swimming and being pampered then this it he place for you but if you want to immerse yourself in the culture of Madeira you have to take a bus or hire a car which I did in the end for three days.  It would have been a lot nicer if there had been a buzz about the place but it was completely deserted.  There were a few other sailors around but I would not be lying if I said that the number of other guests I saw over the seen days I was there you could count on one hand.  There were more staff than guests so how they are making money I don’t know, although they are not backwards at coming forwards when it come to charging.  I paid €5.80 for six bread rolls!        


After a few days I was getting bored so I decided to hire a car for three days to stock up on provisions and to explore the island which turned out to be a fantastic place.  Friday I took a drive into Caniçal the small village closest to Quinta do Lorde.  There was not much there a small shop and a few bars but I did come across the Whale Museum.  Now I didn’t realize that there was a whaling fleet in Madeira but there was a thriving industry from 1940 until it finally closed in 1985.  Apparently, the area between Madeira and the Deserta Grande was a passage that Sperm Whales often used.  Madeira was suitably placed the take advantage of this and because of it’s mountainous terrain, a network of lookout posts were set up along the island to search for the tell-tell signs of the whales which of course were the spouts of water they made when rising to the surface for air.  The industry has long since gone thank goodness and the area up to a 400 mile limit is now a marine sanctuary where researchers study these great mammals.  After my visit to the Whale Museum I called in at one of the local bars for a drink.  There was a large veranda on the front of the bar and at one end there was a group of men playing cards surrounded by enthusiastic supporters and at the other end were the domino players.  The domino players were making a hell of a racket.  They were playing on a square board that had about a 20mm up-stand around it.  They would raise their hand above their head and slam the domino down in the middle of the board with a loud crash then immediately slam it into position against the up-stand with another crack.  When they got a run going all you heard was crash bang, crash bang, crash bang over and over.  The card players, who were surrounded by a group of passionate supporters, were at first a little quieter until suddenly it all kicked off.  A chair went flying back as one of the players stood up hands frantically shaking in the air in an accusatory fashion and raising his voice at one of the other players obviously accusing him of some skulduggery.  The accused man retorted in a similar fashion, which in turn opened up the floor to the spectators who enthusiastically threw in their two pennies worth as well.  I noticed one chap who took great delight in stoking the fire.  I saw him go up the first player, who by now had calmed down a bit, say a few words in his ear which seemed to rekindled the flames bringing the player back into the fray again with renewed vigour.  He did this a couple of times and each time as he turned away from the player he had a smile on his face.  He looked at me once and clocked that I knew what he was up to and gave me a wink as he walked off.  Just as the card players calmed down and resume their game the domino players kicked off shouting at each other loudly hands gesturing wildly across the table and dominos flying everywhere.  Pubs, I thought to myself, they’re the same the world over! 


On Saturday I decided to spend the day in Funchal.  It is a lovely city spread out all over the mountain.  I took a stroll through the old town and along the front and investigated the marina for future reference.  It was indeed full and most of the visiting yachts were rafted up alongside the quayside.  The marina itself looked quite nice and is surrounded by restaurants and bars and seemed quite vibrant, well certainly more so than Quinta do Lorde.  During my wanderings I also came across the public market, which was a very colourful and vibrant place.  The produced was excellent and fish market, which by the time I arrived had nearly finished, offered stunning quality fish for sale.  In the afternoon I took the Monte cable car up to the top, which was an amazing trip.  The views were spectacular and you could see into the back yards of the houses on the mountain as you ascended.  At the top there is a small village, an exotic garden to visit and plenty of walks for the more energetic.  While I was there I also came across an unusually tourist attraction that I had not heard of before, the Funchal basket sledges.   The sledges are made from wicker basketwork and have replaceable wooden runners attached to the bottom. The seat is made from padded material and there is enough room for up to three people.   The men who operate the sledges are dressed in white trousers, white shirts and at this time of year they also have blue jackets.  They also wear a special pair of boots for the job and have a type of straw boater hat.  They’re based at the top of the mountain and for €25 two of them will push you down the mountain over a 2km route in one of the sledges.  They use public roads so if you are walking back down the mountain and hear a rumbling behind you get out of the way because one of these sledges is bearing down on you and they don’t hang about.  Me, I took the cable car back down.  After a delightful dinner of fish soup and roast suckling pig in one of the many restaurants there, I made my way back to Quinta do Lorde.  The next day, Sunday, I decided to explore more of the island.  Rather than take the expressway I used the old roads through the mountains and I am glad I did because the scenery is just amazing.  I visited Porto da Cruz, Santana, São Vicente and Porto Moniz on the north side of the island.  The north side of the island has a very rugged and inhospitable coastline.  They day I was there it was quite windy and the waves were crashing on the shore with some ferocity.  Not a place to be caught out on a lee shore in a small yacht.  No wonder there are no marinas on the north side of the island.   I’ve come to the conclusion that Madeira needs more exploration so I will return at some future date to do just that with Ann hopefully.   


Anyway, after seven days at Madeira it was time to move on so I am en-route to La Palma my last stop before arriving in La Gomera.  I will end this blog now and catch up with you all again when I reach La Palma that, according to the chartplotter, is now only 55nm away.


Bye for now.


Signing off Ted