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Hola warm and balmy, adiós autumnal weather

Oct 08 2017

Frontal systems and Portuguese trades

Madeira

By Eric Loss – Skipper

We arrived in Madeira yesterday afternoon after a fabulously fast 24 hour’s run of 207nm. It’s been an interesting passage from Plymouth – a textbook frontal system with near gale force winds and driving rain in the Bay of Biscay, lots of light air as we slowly escaped from northern weather patterns, then slowly building breeze from behind as we reached the Portuguese Trades, culminating in this last fast 24 hours of surfing into Madeira. There’s been the to-be-expected smattering of issues from the first trip back aboard – newly refurbished sail cars disconnecting from the sail, mysterious nuts discovered in odd places, and in what seems to be a constant plague on my life, minor generator issues and new and unusual misbehavior from the watermaker.

I first visited Madeira nine years ago on the way to my first transatlantic crossing. We sailed out from Lagos, Portugal, spent a few days in Porto Santo, then docked in Marina Quinta do Lorde, where Sea Dragon is now. When I was first here there wasn’t much here but breakwater, a few docks, and a construction site – today a resort hotel has crowded onto the hillsides around the Marina. Down at sea level, it’s hot and sunny, so we rented a car and drove into the mountains of Madeira to go hiking, but were rebuffed by the cold fog, drizzle, and wind at 1800m of elevation in the clouds.
Nine years later, it’s still hot and sunny here. I’ve been hoping to get a day off to go hiking or exploring a bit since we saw so little when I was here years ago, but unfortunately, it was not to be. As Shanley & I have been hard at work, emailing, phone calls, and more emailing since we hit the dock continuing our plans for 2018. We’ve managed to get parts ordered for the generator, the small outboard overhauled, and most of the miscellaneous bits and bobs from the trip down sorted out. The furthest we’ve gotten from the oddly quiet resort was the bus stop outside the main gate, but we missed the bus into town so settled for going for a swim in the ocean instead – actually quite lovely, especially being back in warm water after spending the summer in the Arctic. The resort has transformed from a ghost town into a bustling holiday destination with the arrival of several busloads of tourists, so we got to share the salt water pool and black rock beach with the sunburnt masses. Luckily the beach was still within wifi range of the hotel so we could get in the water in between phone calls, so not too bad of a day at the office.

There was a school of little fish that seemed to have moved into the saltwater pool that had a pension for nibbling on feet. I’ve never had my feet aggressively nibbled by tiny fish before, but it’s quite tickle-y – we had a contest as to who could take it the longest without lasting and no one could last more than about 10 seconds.
Zoe and Shannon got out of the “Marina Resort” complex and spent a day exploring Funchal, including getting to go tobogganing, which consists of two strapping young men in white suits and hats pushing you down vertiginous roads at breakneck speeds in a wicker sled. Before internal combustion engines, it was a normal form of taxi to get back down the steep hills of Funchal, but today is relegated to a tourist attraction. It was at times terrifying and fast, but addictive – definitely worth the 2km walk back up the mountain at the end.

Now we’re getting ready for the next leg of our journey, sailing from Madeira south to the Ilhas Selvagens, or Dry Salvages, before continuing on to our old haunts in Arrecife. The Salvages are a little-known archipelago about halfway between the Canaries and Madeira, owned by Portugal, and preserved for birds and sea life as a National Park. I first learned of them in Patrick O’Brian’s fabulous “Master & Commander” series, in one of which Dr. Stephen Maturin gets accidentally marooned on one of the rocks in a squall while collecting specimens. Unfortunately, due to our generator-induced delays in the UK we’re going to be leaving here on a Friday – never an auspicious day to start a voyage. We’re hoping that, Friday notwithstanding, the weather and swell is settled enough to permit us to spend a night there and visit the rangers who spend months at a time on these desolate rocks in the mid-Atlantic, alone with the birds and seals.