Madeira/Porto Santo and the Passage There

3rd - 23rd October 2001

As the marina in Funchal on Madeira Grande was permanently very crowded and even the anchorage was crowded at the time due to all the boats heading south to join the ARC rally, our group of five boats (Anju, Windharp, Emma, Coconut and Synergie) decided to head from Cascais for the marina on the smaller island of Porto Santo.   It was great having company because we could compare notes with two of the other boats (Synergie and Emma) by SSB radio.   Of course we and Windharp arrived after everyone else spending an extra night at sea, as they were similar, heavy boats but that gave us inside information about berthing when we got there!

The passage was a mixture of idyllic down wind sailing and hard beating in heavy rain and zero visibility when the wind turned to the south west, pushing us towards Africa.   On the second day out Phil caught a small tuna, just enough for two meals but it did make a nice change to pasta!    Sophie also indulged in the tuna but later, in the nastier weather, she took to her bed again and refused to eat, which was quite a worry.   She arrived in Porto Santo very skinny but quickly recovered after two large bowls of food!

We were lucky to arrive in Porto Santo at all.  On our last evening at sea, when we had just finished dinner and Phil was on the SSB radio talking to our friends, Christine scanned the horizon and seeing nothing, nipped below to put the dirty dishes into the sink.   She was only gone from the cockpit a matter of seconds but when she returned, a motor yacht was directly ahead, very close and on a collision course.   Only by making a rapid ninety degree turn, so we ended up parallel to the other vessel, did we avoid a collision by a couple of feet.    It was very shocking that it had happened so quickly.  We can only assume that the motor yacht with its low freeboard, was hidden from view in the large swell until it was right upon us and that nobody was on watch on the vessel, as our large masts would be easy to spot and we had right of way, being under sail.  This really reinforced the importance of keeping a permanent watch.

Porto Santo

Approaching Porto Santo at daybreak.

Porto Santo


The Madeira Mob

The Madeira Mob (Synergie, Coconut, Windharp, Anju (all on Coconut) and Emma (missing from Photo)

Porto Santo was a very peaceful island, with miles of beautiful, sheltered, golden beach.   It was great for cycling, as there was hardly any traffic, so long as you avoided the time when the ferry from Madeira arrived or left when you were at risk of being trampled to death by a fleet of horse-drawn taxis.   The road to the town is flat and went along the beach.    It was a great place to chill out and spend time on the beach.   Phil had fun trying out his body surfing skills in the large Atlantic surf.  

During our stay the island's one supermarket became more and more poorly stocked.   We finally asked why and we were told that the delivery of fresh provisions only arrived once a week on the ferry.  We made sure we visited next time on the right day and joined the long queues of locals buying all their supplies for a whole week.


We took the three-hour  trip by ferry to Funchal, the capital of neighbouring Madeira Grande.   The ferry timings meant we had to stay overnight and endure the hardships of a hotel room with a bath and cable TV!   

During our day in Funchal, we visited the colourful produce, flower and fish market.  We also took a hair-raising bus trip to the beautiful botanical gardens, high on the hill above the city, which has great views.   We called on some friends we had met on our last visit to Funchal, the previous year.   Daphne and Eric lived on their boat in the marina and were still number 28 on the waiting list for a proper berth after 4 years!   They gave us a warm welcome, or rather a cool beer or two!    

We also had time to run a few errands, getting things we needed for Anju, including an engine cooling fan and several metres of ducting, which got us some strange looks as we carried it around town and onto the ferry.


Beach at Porto Santo

The beach at Porto Santo (a small part of it).


View over Funchal from the botanical gardens

Back in Porto Santo, our time was very restful.   The beach was only 2 minutes from our boat and the sea beautiful, clear and finally warm!     

Of the five "Madeira Mob" boats, we were the last to drag ourselves away.   Coconut and Windharp left first to visit the Salvage Islands before heading to the Canaries.   Before Emma left to make the same trip and Synergie to head to Funchal,  we got together for a joint "last supper".   This involved some serious co-ordination between those cooking the vegetables (Synergie) and those cooking the chicken and potatoes (Anju) on the transfer from one boat to another of vegetable stock for the gravy.   It was worth it in the end and by the time we had eaten and washed all the food down with some Portuguese wine on Emma, all co-ordination had been lost!


It's tradition in Porto Santo, as in many other ports, for boats to leave their mark in the form of artwork on the harbour wall.     After all our friends and neighbours had produced their masterpieces, we felt we couldn't let Anju down and Phil set to work to create our design.   

We finally left Porto Santo for the three day passage to the Canary Islands on 23rd October 2001.  We were sad to leave and could have stayed longer but when the locals took down the palm umbrellas on the beach,  we took that as a hint that winter was coming to Madeira!



The uncoordinated diners aboard Emma  


Our normal philosophy is leave nothing but footprints, so we left our artwork and our footprints!


Our trip started in a stressful manner when the wind took us sideways down the marina.    A couple of hours into the trip our nerves were frayed again when we spotted a water-spout trying to form ahead.   To add to our troubles Christine came as close as every to being sick on board, not due to the sea but more as a result of tasting the ready-made Portuguese lasagna we'd bought to eat that night!

Ironically all of the three boats who'd got their permit to visit the nature reserve of the Salvage Islands between Porto Santo and the Canaries were unable to stop there due to rough sea conditions.   We were not planning to head there at all and spent a stressful few hours changing course to avoid hitting the islands as we passed close by! 


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