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Leg 2: Spain - Madeira

Part 2: Madeira

Madeira – Friday 21st to Friday 28th October 2011:


Baia de Abra – Friday 21st October 2011


It had always been our intention that on our voyage around the Atlantic we would eschew marinas in favour of anchoring wherever possible. We had chosen to use the marina at Porto Santo (rather than anchor off the beach) for ease of obtaining gas and diesel and would need to go into a marina at Madeira due to the lack of secure anchorages around the island.

By ‘secure anchorage’, I mean somewhere one would be happy to leave the boat unattended for a day without worrying about such matters as a wind-shift setting the stern to a lee shore, a swell working its way in to cause excessive rolling, or the holding being less than ideal. Madeira is known for its many unpredicatable micro-climates, treacherous coasts and rocky bottoms, which can quickly turn the perfect anchorage into a the sailor’s vision of Hell, meaning that all three possibilities could become reality very quickly.

Not having anchored since before Gulliver G’s refit for the voyage, way back in early Autumn 2010, we were keen to put the hook down for at least one night. With calm winds forecast for the next 24 hours the obvious place to do so was the remote anchorage of Baia de Abra, the most easterly bay in Madeira. The coastline here comprises very impressive cliffs and a small stony beach. Unlike the rest of Madeira, the windswept hinterland of Baia de Abra is barren and deserted. A lot of people walk it during the day, but by night it is deserted.

The afternoon passage from Porto Santo had not been particularly pleasant, a lack of wind meaning that there was little to mitigate the rolling motion induced by the hefty Atlantic swell as we motor-sailed down. Given the conditions, the passage took a little longer than expected, but by dusk we were enjoying a cold beer in the cockpit.

Orkestern, who having arrived in Porto Santo eight days before us had left a day earlier, were also lying to anchor, as was another small boat with three young Swedes who we had seen in Porto Santo, Båten Anna, and a French single-hander.

In the morning Orkestern motored over to warn us that the wind was due to pick up.

“Thanks, but we were just about to make a move,” Kate said, “where are you off to?”

“We want to go to Funchal,” replied Martin, “but have heard that it is very busy and boats often have to wait at anchor outside to get in. So, we have decided to go to Quinta do Lorde first.”

“That’s what we figured, too. See you there.”


Quinta do Lorde Marina:


It was the observations both of Anne Hammick in The Pilot and DM Street Jr on the back of the Imray-Iolaire chart for the Madeira group which had decided us against heading down the coast to Funchal. Ms Hammick comments that “Visiting yachts lie against the western part of the south wall, sometimes eight abreast and often with the smallest trapped on the inside.” DM Street Jr similarly comments on just how packed Funchal can get.


There was a high likelihood that we would be the smallest yacht and, in any event, did not fancy being on a raft of up to eight boats. Rafting is fine for an overnight stay in Bembridge, but not our idea of fun for the longer term.


Our edition of Atlantic Islands was dated 2004 and showed a very empty-looking Quinta do Lorde Marina with virtually no shore-side development. Being only a mile or so from our anchorage it was the obvious place to head to.


We started the engine, hauled up the anchor, motored out of Baia de Abra, raised the sails, sailed for about fifteen minutes (to remind ourselves that we are sailors) and then motored into the marina. As we left Baia de Abra the French single-hander was busy with his camera and a couple of days later very kindly presented us with a photograph of Gulliver G setting forth.

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Gulliver G departs Baia de Abra for Quinta do Lorde, 22nd October.

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Quinto do Lorde marina & village.

Upon entering the marina it was immediately evident that considerable progress had been made since the 2004 edition of The Pilot. The marina was now thriving, with such trappings as showers, marina office, bar and wi-fi area well established. On the hillside above the marina an entire village was being built, complete with village hall, square and church, and looked only a couple of years away from completion. We noticed that the marina’s harbour wall, stretching out under the blank gaze of a faux light house, was bare of yacht motifs and wondered how many more years it would be before someone dared break the seal and reach for the paint.


The berthing master came out to meet us in his RIB and led us past an series of appetisingly broad and capacious berths before directing us down the most densely populated fairway, which narrowed considerably as we approached the far end.


He sped on ahead and jumped onto the pontoon, waving us into a tight little space which involved (a) rounding the stern of a forty-odd footer which stuck well out into the fairway, (b) turning into the space whilst avoiding Båten Anna, who was berthed to our starboard, and (c) coming to a stop alongside the short finger pontoon before hitting the massive pile which would be dead ahead.


It was possibly the worst spot we could have been shown.


As we rounded the stern of the longer yacht and turned slightly to port, engine long in neutral since we had ample forward momentum, I could hear the berthing master yelling to go hard to port. I knew why: we were on a direct collision course with the stern of Båten Anna. But I also knew a few things about our boat that the berthing master didn’t. For starters that going hard to port would cause us to drift broad-side onto Båten Anna.


I waited until it sounded as if the berthing master was near melt-down, then gave the prop a quick blast in reverse. Gulliver G’s stern kicked to starboard, her bows digging in neatly to port, putting us smartly to rest alongside the pontoon. Somewhat ashen-faced, the berthing master congratulated me on my boat-handling. I felt some small satisfaction at his discomfort, having been shown to the tightest of tight spots, but with the prevailing wind from astern wondered how on earth we were ever going to get out again. Over the course of the next week I would ponder exit strategy every time I strolled along the the quay-side and was able to assess the situation with a degree of perspective. Handling a long-keeler going forward is one thing, but going astern against a strong wind is quite another. As you will see at the start of Leg 3, our departure was indeed not quite as polished as our arrival!


The aspect of our berth aside, Quinta do Lorde marina proved to be very smart, comfortable and, like all Portugese and Spanish marinas compared to those in the UK and elsewhere, reasonably priced. Far away from the mania of Funchal it made a very relaxing base during the week that we spent exploring and enjoying Madeira.


Exploring Madeira


We were keen to see as much of Madeira as possible and to undertake some of the walks for which it is renowned. This justified splashing out on a hire car, a small expenditure for which we were richly rewarded.

Below I have gone into a bit of detail on our explorations of Madeira, which I hope will be as much of interest to anyone contemplating a visit by air as to sailors.

But, beware! The Madeiran weather is very unpredictable. When Filippa and Martin from Orkestern set out with friends at 0500 one morning to walk the two highest peaks, they met with dense cloud for most of the way. When a family friend went to Madeira for a week’s walking holiday a few years earlier, it rained the whole time. On a couple of occasions we had to amend our plans and our expectations of the day, but with so much to see and do were never disapointed.


Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço


The first place we set off to explore was easy to reach on foot from our base in Quinta do Lorde and we could be pretty confident that rain was not going to be an issue.


This 8km walk took us around the hinterland of Baia de Abra, where we had spent our first Madeiran night at anchor. Walking the cliff-top paths we were able to look down into the Bay, experiencing that peculiar sense of familiarity skewed by an altered perspective which one gets when looking from the land at a place where one has been by boat. Or, indeed, visiting a place ashore previously viewed only from the sea.


From the anchorage the land had appeared entirely barren, scoured clean by the northerly winds and receiving virtually no precipitation due to its low aspect (compared to the rest of Madeira). Once up there, some ground cover was evident. 140 plant varieties according to our guide book, 31 unique to Madeira. To my untrained eye it all slotted neatly into that collective genus of twiggery and bushery which I like to call ‘scrub’.


More notable than the limited vegetation were the lizzards: areas were thick with them, so numerous that, livened by the midday heat, they ran over one another and had no compunction about trying to gain entry to our backpack when we sat down for a short break.


To anyone planning this walk, which is well worth doing for its views, not least back to Porto Santo and across to the Islas Desertas, I would caution that it can be very hot, with no relief from the sun other than a little shade to be found at Casa do Sardinha, the old holiday home of the Sardinha famiy who gave the house (now a visitor centre) and land to the state to be preserved as a national park.

Expecting a far more straight-forward stroll than this treck proved to be, our litre of water was really not enough and upon completion we wasted no time in patronising a little ice-cream van which was doing nicely out of de-hydrated walkers.

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Clockwise from top left: Across Baia de Abra; Arch in Baia de Abra; lizzards;

looking west from  Vereda da Ponta de São Lourenço (Baia de Abra in the foreground); Islas Desertas.

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Around Madeira


On the morning of 24th October we took the bus to the airport to seek out the best value hire car.


Madeira’s airport itself is an impressive piece of engineering, the runway’s almost entire length extending at a considerable height over a bay on concrete pillars in a manner reminisent of the elevated sections of the M6.


Mission accomplished, we set off on a preliminary exploration of this striking island, driving over the top of the eastern end of Madeira, via Camacha and down to Porto Cruz. From there we followed the north coast road through Ponta Delgada and São Vicente to Porto Moniz.


The marina had given us a beautifully produced book which called Madeira The Book, by Cristina Leitão. As we approached São Vicente I read –


Built right by the cliff, sometimes the old coast road curves dangerously near the edge, making the drive from São Vicente to Porto Moniz a hair-raising experience….


The road is a masterpiece of manual work and engineering, it had to be sculpted by hand with pick axes. It is very dangerous…


Who could possibly resist such a thrill? But as if this weren’t enough, Ms Leitão goes on to note “… quite recently a couple of tourists were washed to sea as rocks hit their car, and you venture on it at your own peril.”


Well, that cinched it. We simply had to take the old coast road, though I did wonder why, if it was so lethal, the authorities still allowed anyone to use it rather than compell everyone to go through the tunnels which Ms Leitão wrote had been bored as an alternative route.


It became apparent that in the few years since  Madeira The Book had been published those sections of the old coast road which had been supersceded by tunnels had indeed been closed. And no wonder: even the short pieces of the old road which we glimpsed entering or leaving a tunnel were so choked with fallen rock and boulders as to be utterly impassable.


After investigating Porto Moniz’s craggy rock pools we headed for the hills, returning to Quinta do Lorde via the cloud-covered flats of the Parque Ećlico, reaching some 1,600m, and finally the south coast’s Via Rápida. This latter is a motorway with two lanes in each direction, mostly consisting of bridges and tunnels. Even on a small island, people have things to do, places to go… 

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Clockwise from top left: Seixal; a tunnel in the old coast road; rocks at Porto Monitz; Ponta da Sao Jorge; crossing the Campo Grande; returning to Quinta da Lorde via the Via Rapida - a big road for a small island!

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Before leaving the UK I had read with interest about Madeira’s levadas, a painfully constructed network of small canals hewn from the rock to distribute rainwater around the island. Maintenance paths were laid along the levadas and for many decades – in some cases, since the mid-1800’s – these have made for popular walks.


As she summarises the purpose and development of the levadas so succintly, I shall quote from Ms Leitão’s Madeira The Book here –


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For nearly six hundred years Madeira’s landscape has been sculpted and transformed to allow rich agricultural lands to thrive. Sugar cane, vineyards, fields for grazing and growing crops could only have been made possible with the monumental work of re-designing the countryside. The mountains were divided into terraces, poios, stone ledges fitting like perfect puzzles of rocks, which held up the earth allowing these steep places to be cultivated. A massive network of open channels, or levadas, were introduced in the early days of the settlement to contain the torrential streams of water along small canals, bringing water to the most inaccessible places on the island. First built by caboqueiros, mostly free men from the north of Portugal who had gambled on a new life in Madeira in the fifteenth century, they would dangle from wicker baskets held by ropes as they hacked at the rocks with pickets, many plunging to their deaths many thousands of metres below. Their work laid the foundations for Madeira’s economy in the following centuries. Today a network of up to 1,400km of levadas cover the island, these are not wider than a metre, and about 60cm deep. The paths used by the levadeiros, the maintenance workers, to keep the canals clean, are perfect for walking, and many planted flowers along the paths, making them even more attractive.

On the 25th October we took a drive up to Pico Ruivo de Santana with a mind to completing the walk which, above all others, we resolved to do: that to Madeira’s highest point, Pico do Areeiro. On this occasion it was too cloudy, but we would be back – see Pico Ruivo de Santana to Pico do Areeiro.

It seemed like as good a time as any to check out a levada, so we set off for Ribeiro Frio a recent beneficiary of a costly EU-funded renovation project.

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Clockwise from top left: Levada hewn from rock; view from the levada path; waterfall feeding into the levada; Ribeiro Valley.

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The weather of 26th October did not lend itself to walking, so we explored the west coast beyond Calheta, taking in some laurel forest, before paying a visit to the big smoke.


Funchal is an attractive town with an impressive indoor market arranged around an open quad. We could see that it would be a fun port to call in at on a large boat with a number of well-heeled crew keen to get out for food and drink, but we felt no compulsion to move Gulliver G along from the more remote but far more placid and secluded Quinta do Lorde.


The marina at Funchal was not quite as busy as we had anticipated. Only Båten Anna, who had left Quinta do Lorde a day or two earlier, were rafted, tied up alongside a larger vessel. However, it is wide open to the town, with nothing to stop anyone from simply wandering onto your boat.


Whilst it may well be the case that crime is not an issue, the other point of note is that visiting yachts are afforded little privacy, berthed as they are along the main quay, where a lot of people stroll, their attention quite naturally drawn to the boats and life unfolding aboard them.


Filippa and Martin from Orkestern spent a few days on a friend’s boat in Funchal and told us that the privacy point is a real issue. They felt as if they were constantly being watched by onlookers, even when down in the galley or saloon as the yacht was moored stern-to quay (or stern-to crowd, if you like!).


I suspect that Funchal has lost a considerable trade in visiting yachts to Quinta do Lorde – though it retains much charm.


After Funchal we visited Machico. This is a lovely old town whose treasures (from the sailor’s perspective!) include a large Pingo Dolce supermarket, complete with underground parking. Having the hire car, we put a considerable dent in their stock of Pingo Dolce own-brand table wine. At 11% and sold in card-board cartons, this stuff is pretty low grade but it is dirt cheap and perfectly drinkable. If you hold your nose and close your eyes…


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Clockwise from top left: laurel forest; banana plants near Funchal; Funchal's covered market from the gallery; market from ground floor;

tiled pavement and cobbled road in Funchal; reaching for the clouds; Funchal's sea front; Funchal marina.

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Pico Ruivo de Santana to Pico do Areeiro


Finally, onto the real high point of our visit (no pun intended).

A walk which we were particularly keen to do was that which joins Madeira’s two highest peaks, Pico do Areeiro at 1,817m and Pico Ruivo de Santana at 1,861m. We had been advised that this was a very demanding walk, but one well worth doing.

The first time we went up to Pico Ruivo de Santana the cloud cover was far too thick for there to seem much point in setting out. Having kept an eye on the weather for a couple of days, we returned on 27th October when the conditions seemed as close to ‘just right’ as they were likely to get.


After the first couple of kilometres the path forked. To the right lay the difficult route, to the left the easier one. Without hesitation we took the right fork. To say that it was hard going would be an understatement. With many steep ascents, it was clearly the original path and we encountered no-one for the next couple of hours. The cloud gathered and thickened around us, obliterating what must have been impressive views but creating a magnificient atmosphere.


Finally we reached Madeira’s highest point, Pico do Areeiro, well above the clouds which were by now starting to disperse. After a half-hour stop to enjoy our sandwiches and the views and to allow our legs to start working again, we began the return journey. This time we took the easier, much easier, route along flat paths made possible the judicious blasting of narrow tunnels wherever an inconvenient bit of mountain got in the way.


Relieved though we were to have a straightforward walk back, we were very pleased not to have missed out on the more impressive and arduous original path.


Having walked Madeira’s highest peaks all that remained was some final provisioning before pressing onwards and southwards to the Canary Islands.

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