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Leg 2: Spain - Madeira

Part 1: A Coruna - On Passage - Porto Santo

A Coruna, Wednesday 5th – Monday 10th October 2011:


Return to A Coruna, Wednesday 5th October 2011:


Is she afloat? Is everything OK?


These are questions that will be very familiar to any skipper who has left their boat unattended for any length of time. They are questions whose range of possible answers I had pondered far too often over the three months or so since we had left Gulliver G in Marina Coruna.


Of course she’ll be fine, I would assure myself. Marina Seca have been working on the engine, the staff at Marina Coruna keep a good eye on the boats.

It is easy to imagine the worst. An unattended vessel left afloat is a bounty of gritty worries any number of which the mind may evolve into a polished pearl of a disaster.

One of the biggest problems for the imagination is that there are so many damn holes in a boat: seacocks for the heads, the galley, the engine, the cockpit drains. Aside from the cockpit drains, which need to be left open on a Nicholson 32 to allow rain water to flow away, all other seacocks should be firmly closed when the boat is left.

So how could I have been so negligent as to leave the heads seacock open???

We had left Gulliver G in Marina Coruna (in A Coruna, NW Spain) for over three months whilst we worked out our notice periods in England and prepared our house for letting. A scenario which frequently played through my mind during that period involved the new heads outlet hose which I had installed during the refit bursting free of the tail on the Blakes seacock, which I was convinced I had surely failed to close, allowing the sea to flood in, sinking our dreams in minutes.

At one point I even emailed Marina Coruna to ask them to check down below. Anxious hours passed before the response “Everything is OK with the boat.”

Still this was not enough to assuage my fears. What if there is a slow drip? By the time we arrive the floorboards will be afloat, an oily bilge forming a slick over our posessions, our voyage over before it has begun.

These thoughts pressed on my mind on the morning of 5th October 2011 as the train from Santiago de Compostela bore us, through beautiful green hillsides, back to A Coruna.

Finally we were walking along the familiar massive central pontoon with a sense of trepedation. There was our mast, easily identifiable amongst the others by being much shorter. That much, at least, as above the water.

We turned a corner onto the pontoon on which Marina Seca had left Gulliver G after fixing the engine.

And there she was: our home for the next 10 months, the water lapping gently at the bright-red bootstripe which we had applied back in Gosport.

Still not entirely convinced I opened up the wash boards quickly, poked my head in and breathed deeply. The air in the saloon was fresh. I stepped down. The floorboards did not sink beneath my feet. Gulliver G was as clean and dry as any boat that ever sailed.

The heads seacock, the cause of so much anxiety, was as I had left it: firmly closed.

We had arrived and would depart. But not immediately…



The Engine:


“The engineer started your engine,” advised the manager of Marina Seca, the engineering branch of the Marina Coruna outfit, over the telephone in late June 2011.


Sitting in my office in Central London, a contract on my desk and emails filling my Outlook inbox, A Coruna seemed a long way away but the engine failure which we had experienced as we closed the port having crossed Biscay was very much at the forefront of my mind. The timing of the weather patterns for sailing southwards to Madeira and beyond determined that, with a three-month notice period, I needed to hand in my notice of resignation in a week or so, but could the problem of the engine scupper our plans? I was very relieved that the engineer had got the engine started.


“That is excellent news,” I said.

“Then he realised that there was water in the engine. He shut it down immediately, but more damage may already have been done from running it. When an engine has water in it, is usually easier to replace.”


I almost fell off my chair.


“But,” I spluttered, once I’d regained the power of speech, “we can’t afford to replace. We are sailing around the Atlantic. We just need the engine to work. It doesn’t have to be perfect.”


“I can see what we can do. We can do cheap job if you want cheap job, get you going, but [he laughed nervously] it may last months, years, or maybe only hours. Once seawater has got in…”.


“Please, do the best you can as cheaply as possible.”


“Well… OK.”


Somewhat disconcerted yet relieved that after a couple of weeks of badgering by email and telephone the engine was finally in professional hands, I turned back to the contract. A weighty problem over the ownership of intellectual property was a welcome distraction.


In hindsight, maybe I should have at least asked for a quote for a new engine, but at the time I was conscious that we had just spent well over £2,500 servicing the old one, having the engine mounts replaced (the main expense) and exhaust hose extended to allow a larger gooseneck and had pretty much maxed out on preparing Gulliver G for our north Atlantic Circuit. The concept of buying and fitting a new engine was not so much not on the radar as in a different universe. It had worked, grudgingly, for years; why shouldn’t it continue to do so? Particularly with all the money lavished on it.


So it was that on 5th October, having opened up Gulliver G my next task was to attempt to start the engine.


Cough … cough, cough … cough, roooar! Belching it’s usual plume of black smoke, and despite the water which had flooded into the cylinders as we had sailed across Biscay back in June the engine started. And it ran. We were in business.


Preparing to leave A Coruna, Thursday 6th October 2011


The Plan had been to relax for a couple of days in A Coruna and do some last minute provisioning before setting off on our longest passage yet, to Madeira, some 790 nautical miles away, on Friday 7th October 2011.


‘The Plan’ started going out of the window pretty quickly.


On Thursday morning, chatting to our neighbour in A Coruna, I managed to talk myself into helping him get his boat over to Marina Secca, a couple of miles away, to get the engine seen to. It is a paradox of sailing, an activity in which the deployment of mechanical propulsion is sought to be kept to a minimum, that discussions about, and money and time spent on, engines dominates.


Reinhard, a Slovenian who had spent much of his adult life in America where he built a successful graphic desgin company, was the first of a number of Eccentric Single-Handers In Boats of Dubious Suitability that we would meet on the voyage.


His boat, he was pleased to tell us, had been purchased on eBay from Holland for a song. She was an incredibly scruffy 26-footer with an outboard for auxillary power. There was a problem with the fuel supply and my job was to keep squeezing the little rubber hand-priming pump as we motored around to Marina Secca. Reinhard’s dog, Mufti, who he had adopted after hearing on a local radio station about how she was found abandonned in the woods, looked terrified. As was I, the cockpit locker space being taken up with rusty cans of petrol, linked by rotting hose, to fuel the outboard. Not a boat for a smoker.


The vessel bore the name of Reinhard’s latest flame. The stick-on letters of the craft’s previous name, that of his latest ex, had been removed but it was still perfectly legible. It was, Reinhard explained, this weakness for women which caused him to be setting forth in such a craft. His last boat had been a 70-odd foot Beneteau in which, some years earlier, he had completed a 71-day solo voyage up the southern Atlantic and back through the Med to Slovenia.


Promoting the book which he had written about the voyage, Reinhard went on a radio show, but the interviewer was more interested in talking about the four ex-wives than his sailing accomplishments.


Standing at the dock in Marina Secca, cold beer in hand, having told me in detail about the wives, the business, the self-made fortune, the self-induced loss, Reinhard said, “I have one piece of advice for you.”


I thought that he was going to say that I should never get married – in which case, too late.


Instead he said, “never get divorced – they take everything.”


Before we could dwell further on how men can suffer so at the hands of women, the engineer arrived.


Still being very much in the ‘we must do this or that, now, deadlines must be met’ frame of mind (not having yet relaxed into the cruising spirit), I was pleased to rejoin Kate for a final shopping trip and stroll around town.


Attempting to leave A Coruna, Friday 7th October 2011:


On the Friday morning we prepared Gulliver G for passage, filling up the water tank and stowing things for sea. We would call by at the fuel pontoon and then be off.


The engine had been ticking over for half an hour when we cast off the lines and walked Gulliver G back out of her substantial berth. No problem there. I put the propellor astern, rarely a joyous occasion in a long-keeler but we were already moving in the right direction; the fairway was wide; berths on the other side empty; light breeze from the right direction. Piece of cake.


Black smoke issued forth but we barely sped up. Uh-oh, what now?


Applying 2,000 rpm we just about got up enough steerage to back into the vacant berth behind us and tie up. Clearly a problem with the propellor.


After some deliberation I donned my swimming shorts and gingerly descended the boarding ladder – something I would never dream of doing in the frigid, murky waters of the English Channel. The water was cold but clear and healthy-looking, teaming with fish.


Without my glasses or a mask I couldn’t see an awful lot, but I dived down and groped at the propellor. It was thick with crustaceans.


Kate handed me a rasp and down I went again to try hacking at the growth, but succeeded only in lacerating my hands.


Damn and double damn!


What now? We’d never had anything grow on the prop before.


With Gulliver G securely tied-up we tried running the engine in gear at high revs. Black smoke billowed from the exhaust.


A few minutes later, one of the marina girls cycled over along the pontoons to check that we weren’t on fire.


“No,” I explained, “just trying to clear the propellor.”


“Ah,” she said, “that is a problem here. The water is so rich with life that propellors often get fouled. The only way to clear it is to either get a diver down with a knife or to get lifted out.”


I killed the engine, hoping that the marina girl had not noticed the slick of soot around us. But she had.


“Is that oil?”


“No, it’s OK,” I said, “just a bit of soot.”


“Right. Come to the office and we will sort something out,” she said, still looking at the water astern of us. Then she was off.


I looked where she had been looking. A lot of large fish seemed to be floating on the surface. Are they… No, they can’t be. Surely. But could they be… Dead?!?


Closer inspection revealed that the fish were very much alive, at least for the time being, munching happily on the globules of soot from our exhaust. We were mightily relieved and hoped that they would finish the clean-up operation before anyone else passed by.


It transpired that a diver was out of the question, the local dive school which had always seemed so busy having just started a week’s holiday. So it was that that evening we went out for tapas and reconciled ourselves to the fact that Gulliver G would have to be hauled on Monday, giving us the weekend free to explore further and to take a look at the famous Torre de Hercules.


Slowly but surely we were becoming acquainted with the cruising lifestyle, one in which ‘The Plan’, at once ruled by the oceans’ winds and currents, must at the same time be as fluid as that body in which it is to evolve.


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A Coruna’s Torre de Hercules, the world’s oldest functioning Roman light house.

Leaving A Coruna – Monday 10th October 2011:


It took most of the morning to chug slowly round to Marina Seca, arriving during the lunch hour.  As soon as work commenced for the afternoon we were in the slings. One of the bow navigation lights got broken on the way in, but I didn’t care – we only use the mast-head tri-colour when sailing and the priority now was the prop.


Seeing Gulliver G out of the water we felt entirely vindicated in our decision to have her hauled: the propellor looked like an exhibit from a marine biology text-book, though the hull was completely clean.


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Getting hauled in Marina Seca.

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Fouled propellor.

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Prop washing.

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The propellor, post scrub.


The shipwright in the yard didn’t think it looked that bad! It would have taken us hours to clean up, but fortunately the yard included a clean with the pressure-washer and a blade in the bargain price of €180 for the haul (we have met cruisers who have paid €2k for lift-out, scrub-off and re-launch in the Med, and the UK would have cost three or four times what we paid in Marina Seca). Soon we were afloat again and just had one more stop: the fuel pontoon back in Marina Coruna.


Normal people wouldn’t have anything to write about a fuel stop. Well…

One thing to which I have a strong aversion is the sight or smell of spilt diesel anywhere on the boat. It is the only thing which can make me feel truly sea-sick.


Gulliver G’s diesel tank is in the keel. The filler cap is under the cabin sole, which means lifting the floorboards and bringing the diesel hose down below. We are always very careful not to spill any drops anywhere.


Back in Marina Coruna, tied up to the fuel pontoon, Kate passed the diesel hose down to me. I aimed it toward the filler cap. Some diesel trickled out and spread over the top of the tank.


Putting the nozzle into the tank I depressed the lever and reached round for some paper towel to contain the spillage. As I did so, the nozzle of the diesel hose, which I was still holding, came clear of the tank. The diesel was being dispensed at a high pressure more suited to a motor boat with 5,000 litre tanks than our puny 70 litre tank.


The diesel hit the top of the tank and, just as I opened my mouth to yell “Aaaaaaaaaaarghhhh…“, rebounded all over me, drenching my clothes, face and hair and filling my mouth.


I dumped the hose, leaving Kate in charge of operations whilst I sprinted past the bar and the marina office, the tang of diesel heavy in my wake, to the showers where I spent a good half-an-hour under full heat scrubbing and soaping away, desperate to ensure that I would not be smelling of diesel for weeks to come, paranoid that I had swallowed enough of the stuff to do something to my insides which could only lead imminently to a protracted and painful death.


Fortunately, Kate is much better at handling diesel than I and soon had the tank full and the spillage cleared up. Most of the diesel had deflected in my direction, so the galley and saloon were fine.


Finally we were on our way. As we left the fuel pontoon, doubtless to the relief of the marina staff, our electronic chartplotter died. Not a major problem, as we had gone off the edge of the electronic chart in the Chenal du Four so were navigating with paper charts and a hand-held GPS. But it was a shame to lose the ability to use the radar, which is part of the chartplotter system.


Passage from A Coruna – Porto Santo, Monday 10th October to Tuesday 18th October 2011 –


Toward Cabo Finisterre, night of the 10th and day of 11th October 2011:


Out of A Coruna we turned westwards toward Cabo Finisterre, where we would leave the Bay of Biscay behind for the vast open Atlantic Ocean.

Of the wind which, over the last few days had brought a chilly edge to the warm, sunny Galician days (impressing on us the need to run south, away from the approaching European autumn and winter), there was no evidence. We passed the Torre de Hercules, the oldest working Roman lighthouse in the world, bathed in the glows of a fabulous sunset, darkly reflected in calm seas.

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Passing Torre de Hercules on the evening of 10th October 2011.

It was a good job that we’d had the prop cleaned and engine fixed as we had to motor or, at times, motor sail, the first 24 hours of the passage.

The benign seas along the Costa del Morte bore no resemblance to the gale-whipped waters and spray-filled sky which had so dramatically greated our arrival back in June.


A few fishing vessels were sighted during the night, but they were way out to starboard, doubtless harvesting the rich breeding grounds over the continental shelf, and of no concern to us. The sea was silky smooth, like black oil.


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View from the cockpit at 0830, 11th October. 

Off Finistere TSS:


By 0900 on 11th October we had covered about 60NM and were approaching the north-bound lanes of the Off Finistere Traffic Separation Scheme.

The Off Finistere TSS is a vast specimen, 20 miles wide with two lanes in each direction: one for dangerous cargoes and the other for non-dangerous cargoes.


We entered the first north-bound lane in bright sunlight with excellent visibility. Bliss! We really could not have hoped for more perfect conditions, even if we were still under motor.


Of course, it couldn’t continue. By the time we were half-way across, thick fog had descended, materialising seemingly from nowhere, and visibility had dropped to under 150 yards. Unable to use our radar with the chartplotter screen down, we relied on our separate AIS receiver and hand-held GPS to track ships as we entered the south-bound lanes.


All commercial shipping must transmit an AIS signal, from which a receiver can display all manner of information including, crucially, the vessel’s identification number, position and type. Because the AIS transmission is regular – every half minute or so – from the position updates it is possible to track a vessel’s movements and assess the likelihood of being on a collision course.


There is no legal requirement for a yacht to transmit it’s own AIS signal, and an AIS transmitter is not cheap, but it is very much on Gulliver G’s wish list. In heavy weather a yacht’s radar reflector may just look like another blip on a ship’s radar screen, but if one is transmitting AIS ships have no excuse for failing to spot you and immediately know that you are a sailing vessel, what course you are on and your speed.


Turning south:


By 1532 on 11th October we were comfortably clear of the Off Finistere TSS to turn onto a true course of 274°. The conditions remained foggy and windless, though mercifully warm. Under motor we were managing a speed over ground of 4.5 knots. With 670NM to go to our next waypoint (‘WPT’), just east of Porto Santo at 33°N 16°W, doing 4.5 knots it should have taken a little over 6 days to reach the WPT. But we could not motor the whole way. Preserving fuel for getting into harbour is far more important than burning it up in order to reduce passage time.


We only carry 110 litres of diesel, 70 of which is in the main tank and the other 40 in two 20-litre jerry cans. At 1,400 rpm we burn just under 1 litre an hour, giving a range of around 450 miles in calm seas. Other cruisers we have met en route find this an amazingly low fuel consumption, but they have bigger boats with bigger engines which burn 4-5 litres an hour and typically carry 600-1,000 litres of diesel. Small is beautiful!

Whilst we were doing alright on the fuel front for the time being the racket of the engine is not exactly relaxing, as I mentioned in Leg 1. A few times the engine had lost power and then recovered. We put this down to weed getting caught in the propellor, though in hindsight the power loss was more likely an early indication of the compression problems which, a few thousand miles later and on the other side of the Atlantic would require the engine to be replaced.


By 2000 on 11th October we had had enough of the engine and shut it down. The silence was defeaning. The wind was only blowing F2, but over the next few hours strengthened to F4/5 from the NE, allowing fast sailing on a beam reach, starboard tack, with Aries at the helm.


The favourable winds continued for the next 36 hours.

It was great to be sailing again – the Nicholson 32 was designed as a sailing yacht with an auxillary engine rather than as a yacht which would spend more time motoring than sailing. The latter ‘design’ seems common in the light-weight flat-bottomed boats which fill the Solent of a weekend and which, come home-time, will instinctively furl the canvas and motor back to the marina, regardless of how conducive the wind might be to sailing.

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Finally some wind. 1000, 12th October.

With a stiff breeze Gulliver G will always sail a knot or two faster than she can ever manage under engine.


And so it was that as the wind strengthened our speed over ground increased to 5.5-6 knots under sail, rather than the 4.5 knots which we had considered respectable when motoring.


Soon we were well west of our rhumb line down to Porto Santo and at 2054 on 12th October changed to a port tack to secure a more southerly heading under main sail alone.

The mast was making slightly alarming creaking sounds.


The cause of the creaking was clear enough: when the rigger had completed his work back in Gosport he had pointed out that we were missing a rubber chock. The chocks are supposed to be fitted fore and aft of the keel-stepped mast where it passes through the deck. Somehow one of them had got lost when the mast had been removed back in Autumn 2010.


The rigger had advised me: “You must at least put in some hardwood chocks, to stop excessive flexing in the mast.”


I had dutifully used some hardwood bungs, of the type sold as emergency plugs for burst skin fittings, to chock the mast but, particularly under main alone, placing my hand against the mast I could still feel more movement than was desirable.


I whacked in another bung and this seemed to help matters considerably, though the mast was still creaking more than we would have liked (it should not make any discernable noises at all).

The sea was by now rough with a hefty swell. As the wind increased to F5/6 we put in a reef and Gulliver G immediately settled into a fast downwind passage.

At 0910 on 13th October I wrote in the logbook –


Lovely sunrise; looks set to be a nice day. Hope that we can stay on a port tack to get the sun in the cockpit!


The day remained nice enough, allowing solar showers with saltwater in the cockpit, but by evening the wind was dying.


Motoring again – night of 13th October:


Leaving the UK I’d had Good Intentions about increasing Gulliver G’s battery capacity and adding solar panels when we reached the Canary Islands. For the time being, though, we only had two 115AH AGM batteries wired in – one as a cranking battery and one as the domestic. We had another 50AH AGM battery on board, which, with it’s high ‘continuous cranking amps’ capacity (CCA being a measure of the amount of power which a battery can deliver to a starter motor over a short period) was intended to become our cranking battery with the 2 larger AGMs as domestic batteries.


In other words, we had enough battery power wired in for a little cruise in the English Channel, but 115AH domestic was, as I well knew, wholly inadequate for a voyage around the Atlantic. Most cruisers have a domestic bank of 600-800AH.


By 2113 on 13th October we had turned off the navigation instruments due to lack of power. Fortunately the main navigation instrument is the compass – no electricity needed there.


By 2243 the motor was on once again, the wind having dropped to F0/1, which at least gave the batteries a good charge.

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Calm seas again, on the morning of 14th October.

With the wind barely rising over F1/2 we continued to motor for the next 26 hours. During which time a crisis of an entirely unexpected nature unfolded…

Crisis – 14th October 2011, 1136:


With 340 miles to go to our waypoint off Porto Santo I wrote in the log at 1136 on 14th October –

Bad news: went to change gas bottles and discovered that the ‘spare’ we are carrying is actually an ‘empty’!!! So, no more tea for three and a half days. Bit of a crisis. No more hot meals either or fresh bread, but fortunately we have a lot of fruit and cheese and yoghurts in the fridge & chorizio [this last good for me – but not for vegetarian Kate!] and the weather is increasingly hot (maybe due to lack of wind). We have loads of crackers, Ryvita, toast slices, etc, so should be able to do without heat for 3 or 4 days, but I will miss tea…


Running out of gas is such a stupid mistake. I had checked the ‘spare’ a couple of times, saw that it had a handle and assumed that it was full [the handle has to be removed to use the bottle]. Should have noticed the lack of a red seal. D’oh. Just had so many other jobs to do…

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Empty ‘spare’ gas bottle. 14th October.

By way of distraction, in the 1310 entry I was able to note –


A moth, a bird and a greenfly joined us briefly (don’t think they were travelling together).


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By way of welcome distraction, this bird joined us for a while…

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…and explored a few perches.

For the rest of the passage to Porto Santo lunch consisted of cheese on crackers and dinner of cold re-fried beans on toasts. Each time I opened the fridge the bacon would taunt me and all I could think of was a steaming bowl of carbonara.


Back to sail power – early hours of 15th October:


At 0014 on 15th October I noted in the log –


Have delayed updating log up to now as not sure what to put – wind keeps playing around our nose; no sooner do I tack (main + jib) than the wind veers or backs! Have had to change from 180° to 240° in the course of writing this entry! Very frustrating. But, we suddenly seem to have a good F4 allowing 230°. Will see if it holds up. Not cutting engine just yet, though would love to do so soon!


An hour later I did cut the engine. The wind direction and strength remained tricky: F3 from S to SE (that is to say, the wind was coming from the general direction in which we were trying to head). I proceeded to spend much of the night trying to set the Aries but around 0825 I finally conceded that the wind was too light and too flukey so switched to electric autopilot instead.


Our waypoint at 33°N 16°W was still some 308NM away, bearing 202°T.


Sail and motor – 15th to 17th October:


Coming westwards against westerly winds along the English Channel in Leg 1, Kate and I had assured one another that it could only get better from there.


Sailing across Biscay, with conditions still far from ideal, we convinced ourselves that the wind would be so much more consistent and reliable on the leg down to Madeira.


Clearly we were wrong. A few choice log entries best summarise the frustrations felt in the last few days of what was, in many respects, a reasonably enjoyable passage (enjoyable in particular due to the general lack of rough seas and the weather getting warmer as we progressed further south) – 


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Porto Santo – Tuesday 18th to Friday 21st October 2011:


The original plan had been to sail straight to Funchal in Madeira. There was no particular reason for this, other than that we knew it to be highly regarded as the yachting destination of choice in the area.


However, on the journey down to the Madeira group of Islands, I had started to acquaint myself with Anne Hammick’s excellent Atlantic Islands pilot book, which covers the Madeira group, Canaries, Cape Verdes and Azores and which would become a constant and welcome companion as we bore southwards down the east side of the Atlantic. Anne Hammick describes Porto Santo as being very different to the much more developed Island of Madeira, with something of a holiday feel, and well worth visiting. As we had to pass it to get to Madeira (the ‘poor relation’ lying some 21NM to the NE of Madeira) it seemed a natural diversion to call in – particularly given our lack of gas and dwindling reserves of diesel.


With NNE F3/4 settling in, we were able to sail the last 35 hours of the passage. By 1735 on 18th October we were tied up in Porto Santo’s little harbour, perfect timing to clear in and obtain a couple of fresh gas bottles. At last I would get my carbonara!


We stayed at Porto Santo for three nights berthed, as chance would have it, alongside another Nicholson 32, Orkestern.

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Gulliver G berthed in Porto Santo alongside fellow Nicholson 32, Orkestern.

Orkestern’s previous owner had completed 1½  circumnavigations in her. He had been very keen on working with fibreglass and epoxy and rendered such extensive modifications that we did not immediately recognise her as a Nic 32 – a somewhat embarassing oversight for two members of the committee of the Nicholson 32 Association! The biggest change wrought on Orkestern was the addition of a doghouse, which extended about two thirds of the way back over the cockpit.


Her current owners, a Swedish couple of our age, Filippa and Martin, planned to sail her across the Atlantic and eventually on to Australia. Like us, they had given up good jobs to fufil their ambitions and it was great to meet another N32 being taken on a big voyage by contemporaries.

As is famously the case in Funchal, the harbour wall at Porto Santo bears the motifs of many a sailing vessel which has passed this way, varying from a simple inscription of boat name and date to veritable works of art. 

Having neither paint nor brushes to spare, or any skill to speak of, we decided not to deface this haphazard mural with our own efforts on this occasion. Maybe next time.

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Another motif is added to Porto Santo’s richly endowed harbour wall.

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Porto Santo’s 6½km golden beach.

The island’s small town of Vila Baleira is a neat and orderly affair, featuring a number of lovingly restored stone buildings dating back to the early days of Portugese colonisation in the late 1400’s, including the house which is said to have been Christopher Columbus’s home in the 1480’s after he married the governor’s daughter.


The most striking aspect of Porto Santo, which is dry and comparatively barren compared to the much higher-peaked Madeira, is its 6½km golden beach which Anne Hammick describes as “… the equal of anything the Caribbean has to offer except perhaps in the matter of water temperature.” Impressive though the beach is, having been to the Caribbean I can’t help but feel that Ms Hammick’s description is pushing the bounds of the imagination just a touch, but the beach is certainly another contrast to Madeira, which does not have anything to compare and apparently makes Porto Santo a favourite weekend retreat of Madeirans.

We enjoyed our stop-over in Porto Santo, not least because of our discovery of the good-quality but reasonably-priced Pingo Dolce supermarket chain (amazing how exciting the discovery of a good supermarket can be when sailing!). However, staying there had a similar feel to stopping at Alderney en route to the rest of the Channel Islands: very pleasant, but no need to linger too long when the real gem is just a few hours further south. 

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Approach to Madeira, 21st October 2011.

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