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Leg 5: Madeira islands group

The marina of Porto Santo is not the most welcoming spot we met so far, and the hillsides of the volcanic pimple don’t look very hospitable either, but our first impressions on the village were positive, so we decided to spend a few days on the island. Our clearing at harbor master office changed our mood drastically. We certainly found a new winner in the “squeeze blue water sailors” category: 40 Euros a day. Even anchoring in the harbor is charged: 20 Euros! At the height of our indignation however, we received a phone call from Leen’s Portuguese friend we met at Doca Belem in Lisbon with marvelous news. He fulfilled his promise to arrange his berth at Madeira for us, at no charge, for 30 days. We suspect the Portuguese have some type of good cop - bad cop routine going on us…

Little after our cold, harbor due shower, it seemed the electricity had gone in the port. We inflated ourselves, and mentally prepared the complaint we would cynically file with the marina authorities during our inspection with the multi meter. Seconds before dismantling our battery charger, Leen observed that the switch labeled “220 V Main” was put in the off position by an evil midget. We can only guess the identity of this gnome, though we suspect he or she is named Lotte or Kwint. The pleasure of traveling on a boat with pre-schoolers…

A new visit to the town partially relieved the pain of the harbor dues. The extremely well maintained and recently renovated aspect of most buildings struck us, as well as the amount of signs indicating EU aid. On day 2 we took the bus tour of the island. It was supposed to be held with a blue cabrio bus, for which Kwinten had prepared himself thoroughly. Big was his disappointment when a small van showed up instead, due to the rainy weather. The ride was worth its money to get to know the island. The spot is an incredible mingle of many kinds of rocks, limestone, basalt and sand, all in one happy, permeable arid mixture. The entire island has two green spots: the local golf club (artificial) and one mountain pimple covered with pines at its top. The only plus it holds are its white beaches, something Madeira apparently lacks, and which causes a high concentration of holiday complexes and hotels, mostly thriving during vacations and weekends.

Our second evening we spent on board Emrener III, an Ovni 43 crewed by an ex offshore tugboat captain and his wife. They had noticed us (our better said our young crew and their blond mother) at Cascais, and had spotted us from far when they arrived in Porto Santos. The next day the agenda was to leave port to anchor, with the kids playing on the beach. Another invitation of Emrener made us stay in the harbor, though the beach part of the plan remained. Kwinten went alone, as his sister had stubbornly refused to eat three tea-spoons of mother’s first quiche. The drink finished very late again, and we felt sorry for ourselves the next morning when our living alarms woke us at 06:30 am.

The highest authority decided to stay another day at Porto Santo, but this time anchored for the night to avert further harbor dues. The younger part went for another visit to the beach, while I cleaned the chart table. Doing so I found another NMEA connection, which, after some fiddling, finally started talking to Leen’s PC and Maxsea. Now we once again have a chart plotter, easy for quick reference. The skippette’s reaction was an exuberant “Allez, ja”. Late that evening we left Porto Santos for a rolly and uneasy night anchored outside.

We sailed to Madeira the next day, though not as early as we had planned. The wind was absent, so we hoisted the spinnaker to try and make some speed. Once flying, the wind shifted 30 degrees, imposing a gybe. On our raceboat this would be a piece of cake of 5 minutes. On board Aspro, equipped with its asymmetrical spinnaker, cutter stay and second headstay, this means full disassembly and reassembly of the spinnaker, taking about 15 minutes.

We tried to enter Funchal, for fresh supplies, and had fruitlessly been calling over VHF and phone to investigate the availability of moorings. Upon arrival, and once we finally located the port master, he kept us waiting for another 30 minutes before giving us a tell-tale story why his marina was full. In stead of anchoring outside, we decided to turn our bow for Quinta do Lorde, where a free berth was awaiting us, though this meant entering the port in the dark, against our pilot’s advice.  All went well, and we tied up in our friends mooring around 21:00 pm.


The first day at Madeira we spent cleaning, as we had once again compiled quite a mountain of laundry. Laundry is a treacherous thing on a boat, laying low for about 4 days, to then appear in an overwhelming quantity. It took all day to wash and dry, and Aspro spent another day flagged with fresh smelling linens. As good invitees, we further broke at least 3 rules of the marina code on that first day: Kwinten used the onboard toilet (number 1); we had all taken a shower on board (number 2); and I helped a Scot diving for some items he had lost overboard (number 3).

Starting Sunday 04th of November we rented a car for 7 days, and started our exploration of Madeira at Funchal, a nice place with a very annoying marina staff. We had a good workout climbing the various streets following the historic route, more so because Kwint and Lotte prefer the buggy to their own legs to reach the higher points. The next day we went for the cable lift at the Jardim Botanica. The initial idea was to descend by foot, following the levadas. In the end we decided against it, as it would be complete madness to use this steep track with our three youngsters. Instead part of us took the long cable lift back into Funchal, while Leen recuperated the car.

The third day of our transport-week we got a new car, as we thought one of the seat belts was not working properly. In the end, it turned out to be a problem of Korean logic, where you fasten the center belt in the far left buckle. Apparently they doubt their own logic, as the far left buckle was labeled, in big letters, “Center Belt”. Apart from this, our second rental car looked as battered as the first one.

The idea was to drive around the island today, but we did not get further than two municipalities. The scenery of Madeira is diverse and beautiful, and when it is steaming hot at sea level, the cool mountains are only 15 minutes away. The only problem were the odd operating hours of a remote cable car (Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday), because of which we had to drive back to Funchal to keep our promise to Kwint and Lotte of riding a cable car that day. We bought a two way ticket this time, with the intention to use the second part on a different day. Paying for one adult and taking all the kids along is becoming a tactic to get 4 times the fun out of one entrance fee.

Day 4 took us to Porto Moniz, to visit the open air salt water pool. We also wanted to visit the “Cava Sao Vicente”, but they were closed due to maintenance works. The open pool was a bit cold, but nevertheless our kids proudly premiered their new snorkeling gear, reaching the “bleu lip”’ stage in their enthusiasm. After this we visited the local aquarium, which proved interesting though very small. The 6 Euros entrance fee was a bit of a rip off, knowing the exhibition area was little over than 20 square meters. Luckily we had applied our “pay one, get 4” formula.

Day 5 was museum day. The toy museum came first on the list. Despite its 3 rooms, it was plenty of fun for Lotte and Kwinten. Oddly enough the area was very child unfriendly, with steep stairs bordered by inadequate “design” handrails. The next stop was the electricity museum. The lower floor, little more than an exhibition of three old diesel generation units, was a good start, while the top floor, with its interactive toys, was a hit. Measured against the fun-level of Kwint and Lotte, this museum was more than worth the 4 Euros entrance fee. A lengthy pizza pit stop made us miss the last cabrio-bus ride around the town..

The next day did get us on the Cabrio tour bus. For Kwint, the riding the bus is more important then the scenery, while Lotte this time broke her habit of falling asleep on tour buses. Off the bus, we bumped into the Australian couple of “Gemini”, with whom we chatted for about 3 hours, messing up our afternoon schedule. We were supposed to meet the “Luigi Presto” crew at 16:00, but still had a promised Cable Car ride to fulfill. Luckily, and in true sabbatical spirit, they came 50 minutes late themselves.


After our mobile intermezzo, our car-less existence in the Marina took us to the beach next door.  According to the tourist guide, it provides the best swimming conditions in the whole of Madeira. By dinghy it takes 5 minutes to reach this paradise, though arrival and departure are adventurous due to breakers. Notwithstanding these, the beach became our top destination for the next few days, much to the liking of the kids. Hannelien now enjoys beaches more, due to her increased mobility extending her reach for grabbing (and tasting). The second day at the beach had ended in a cold shower, when a breaker completely washed over our dinghy. The boat ride from the beach to Aspro became a long whine about naughty waves. To prevent traumas in the younger minds of out crew, we invented a complete new scheme involving anchoring etc, to assure no breakers could further spoil the confidence of Kwint and Lotte

Once the weather became too cold for beach fun, we started exploring the surroundings of the marina by foot. Our first walk turned into a very decent trip, even to adult standards.  As we took the carriage along, Lotte and Kwint could hitch a hike whenever they were tired, but it turned out they hiked whenever we were on the road, and walked whenever we went off-road. Most other walkers looked a tad odd when they saw us plowing over hilly sand paths with three kids and a carriage.

The following days we filled with lesser activities, like taking the marina bus into Machico for supplies, or more walking. We further prepared Aspro for the imminent arrival of a depression, which would bring 25 to 35 knots SE breezes. We also went to Canical, to visit the whaling museum, which rather depicted the cruel whale hunt in stead of the whale itself. After 5 minutes, Lotte left the room upset, with her brother soon following the example.

As we really wanted to visit the Sao Vicente caves, we again rented a car for 3 days starting Monday 19th November. The passage of the depression did not only bring a lot of wind, but also a lot of rain, limiting our array of possibilities. This time we got a Renault in stead of a Hyundai, though it carried about the same age and mileage as the first two cars. The difference between a neglected Korean and a neglected French car became apparent. While the Korean still had most secondary systems operative, it drove like a battered bike. The Frenchie was the opposite, driving quite comfortably but with most of the secondary systems (emergency indicators, passenger’s electrical window, etc.) out of order…

We first visited Rivera Brava and a kid’s farm. Despite the bad weather, the kids had a great time. They adored the animals and the playground, unaware of the fact that all but one of the guardians and caretakers were driveling at their mother. We also glanced at the marinas of Lugar the Baixo and Calheta, to prepare for our March return. Calheta looked very enjoyable, with a supermarket at the other side of the road and a wireless hotspot of the Madeira network on the quay wall. Lugar the Baixo however looked desolate, despite its opening date of 2004. We later learned the marina had been damaged by a February storm in 2006, and partially destroyed by another in 2007. February apparently brings  south-west storms, causing ocean swell and breaking waves on Madeira’s south coast which, contrary to its north counterpart, is not prepared for such conditions.

Day two we drove for about 1 hour to reach the “Cava de Sao Vicente”. According to the information received during our previous visit, maintenance works were scheduled to complete on the 11th. Despite our Latin experience, we had omitted to check the correctness of this date before leaving. Indeed, the weather proved awful and the caves were still closed. The sign did not indicate a date anymore, and according to the reception, it would at least take another 3 weeks…

At the end of our stay, the marina started filling with US and UK registered boats. It is amusing to see the different waves of nationalities storming down the Atlantic. The first ones are the Dutch, followed by the French about a month later. At the end of the French wave, come the Germans, and still later the British and Americans. Belgians are that scarce it is impossible to determine any preferred timeframe. On top of that, half of the “Belgian” boats are crewed by other nationalities, flying our national tri-color as a convenience flag.

As from Friday 23rd of November, another three days WWW (weather window waiting)  started, as the the Meteo gave 30 to 40 knots winds. It would be inappropriate for us to leave with such a forecast, as we want to land at Graciosa, for which we need to sail through a 6m deep pass north of Lanzarotte, which fills with breakers and other junk in strong Northerly’s.



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