Porto Santo, Madeira and Ihla Desertas

Porto Santo

After the demanding crossing from the mainland we spent the first few days with tidying and cleaning the boat (there was a thick layer of salt everywhere), and recovering ourselves. In addition, we started on discovery tours of the small island with short hikes around the marina and snorkeling in the surrounding bays, which are located in a natural reserve.


The volcanic Island of Porto Santo, which lies 650 km off the coast of Africa, measures only 6x11km and is inhabited by roughly 5'000 people. The most famous visitor was Christoph Kolumbus. From 1480, he lived here with his wife for a couple of years. It was also here, where he got his ideas of sailing West towards America by studying the logbooks and maps of is deceased father-in-law.


On our second day on this island we found once more how really small the world is. As we walked along the landing stage, a couple asked us, if Danielle had grown up in Adetswil. As it turned out, Lisa and Wolfgang, a Swiss couple who had sold everything at home and had been sailing for the past one and a half year, used to live in Danielle's neighborhood and their son even went to kindergarten with her...


The Port Santo marina is very small (only 20 other sailing boats), you get to know all the sailors in a short time. Most of them were from France, some from Portugal, Germany, Switzerland and Belgium. On the third day after our arrival, the French organized a potluck dinner (everyone contributes a different dish, and even more important, any sort of drink) in the harbor. It was very interesting to exchange stories and pick-up the knowhow of the more experienced sailors – although we couldn't remember very clearly, when we woke up the next afternoon.


In the evening, we went to town to pick up a motorcycle. Because most of the higher roads are gravel or dirt, we would have preferred to rent an off-road bike. Unfortunately, this was not possible – the guys told us, the bikes are difficult to drive and with a road scooter we would be able to visit most of the island. Well – we hoped he would not regret his decision when we returned the scooter a week later– because we really wanted to drive up into the hills...


The next day we got up early – because we had planned to climb as many mountains as possible. Well, ‘mountains’ is not really the proper word. The highest peak lies only 520m above sea level. Danielle wanted to hike all the peaks of the small island. But therein lay the problem - we tried to figure out, which hill should be a peak or not – and decided to climb every point, which was above 200m (a total of 14). So, we started in the Western part of the island with the most difficult one, a formation of volcanic rocks with short climbing spots. It went quiet well and the view on the top was amazing. You could almost see over the whole island. We liked this mountain so much, that when we got back to our scooter, we decided to go back up a second time. Well, not really, but we had to, since we had left the key of the scooter on the summit...


Over the next few days we hiked all the planned ‘summits’. Some of them offered neat little paths, even trough tunnels, others you had to find a way through the rocks and over endless hills, which were covered with dried weeds. To our surprise we found a lot of gatherings of snails on cactuses and poles. What was going on? After doing some research, we came to believe that they were taking a “dry-break / summer-break” - waiting in a cooler, windy spot until it would get colder an more humid.


We were also surprised at how different the parts of the this little island could be. In the Northeastern part, on Pico Branco, we even came across forest and everything seemed very green, overgrown with colorful moss. It was also where a bunch of lizards didn't let us take a break. Having arrived on the peak, we sat down and leaned against a natural stone wall. Shortly after, a first lizard crawled around our feet, then a second and so on. Not a minute later a bunch of 20 reptiles started to creep up our legs, went into the backpacks and jumped on our arms. When one of the little beasts bit Danielle's finger, we surrendered and fled the place – not before removing them from of our jackets and bags.



Every day a rubber boat with divers passed our bow – so we decided to talk to the guide about joining. The prices were reasonable and we went with them a couple of times. It really paid off – we had never dived in such clear water and around so many different fish. They weren't scared at all, because the dive spots lay in the middle of a big marine natural reserve. You could even stroke some of them. Back on land, the dive master asked us, if we wanted to join him on a dive into a war ship wreck, which was at 30m. It took some convincing Danielle to come along – she was and is of the opinion, that boats should be on and not below the water, and therefore didn't want to see it. Plus, there would surely be ghosts of one kind or another…


To go down this deep and to be able to stay down longer, they gave us bottles with a special mix (nitrox, 35% oxygen) – even though we didn't have the necessary certificate. Off we went, over the side of the boat and on to a buoy, which was connected to the wreck by a rope. It was necessary to hold on tight, otherwise the current would wash us away. Deep in the water you could make out the high tower and some canons of the wreck. Slowly we descended to the first deck, where Ben went inside a small door to explore the engine room. From there, he and the dive master went through a labyrinth of corridors and hatches to the saloon, quarters and up to the bridge. Danielle still didn't want to meet the ghosts, she stayed outside and looked through the windows from time to time. The ship had only sunken two years ago, but was already overgrown with a thick layer of corals. Also, thousands of fish called it their home – we saw many more here than on the natural reefs. There was even a big grouper living in the kitchen, an unfriendly guy, who was known to attack divers, which we kept a wide berth of. Although Danielle enjoyed the dive to the wreck, she was relieved when we reached the diving boat again – thankfully without meeting any ghosts.



Time has a way of running through our fingers like sand. There was not a single day without any repair work, organizing spare parts or doing laundry. Fortunately, we had the foresight to put a washer in our workshop. We even took the time to perpetuate our visit by drawing our ship’s logo on the harbor wall between the hundreds of already existing ones. There were also a lot of celebrations in town like the weekend of Sao Joao (a patron saint) and most of the late afternoons we spent some lovely time with the locals in our favorite poncha bar (poncha: a traditional Madeiran drink, consisting mostly of rum, oranges and honey).


In the middle of June, Ben had to go home for a week. Unfortunately, the international flights only leave from the main island of Madeira. Luckily, a very nice and friendly German sailor with a lot of sailing experience invited us to sail across with him. He owns a smallish but really fast sailing boat and it took us only half a day to reach Madeira. There, we rented a car for a couple of days and hiked the highest mountains – more on this in the next travel report, when we will have sailed to Madeira on our own.


After Ben left, Danielle went back to our boat by ferry and spent the whole week with fighting rust, painting, sewing new covers and servicing all of our 11 winches. Every time she took something apart, there appeared more rust... When not working, she enjoyed the time with hiking with our friends and boat neighbors or with long runs in the hills.


Ilhas Desertas

A week later, Ben came back with a huge suitcase of more than 50kg of spare parts (God knows, how this went trough check-in) and new gadgets for the boat. So, the next couple of days were spent on work, amongst other things on installing a new anemometer on the top of the mast. Predictably, the wind picked up and the mast started to sway wide as soon as Ben was on the top – with the outcome, also predictably, that several of the really small screws landed in the water 16m below and he had to climb the mast several times with new parts, using some nice words...


Even during our crossing to Porto Santo, the small islands some miles South had awakened our curiosity. The Ilhas Desertas lie in the middle of a highly protected area one cannot visit without permission. The biggest Island is only 1-2 kilometers wide, but almost 500m high. Except for a research station with one ranger, nobody lives there – not including the thousands of birds and the 30 very rare Mediterranean monk robes (10% of the worldwide population).


Consulting all our sailing guide books, we came to the conclusion, that the small anchoring bay should be very well protected from the predominant Northeasterly winds to spend a couple of days there. So, we set sail again and left the Island and harbor of Porto Santo. After half a day, we approached the island from the leeward side – but there was no protection far and wide. Falling gusts with up to 40kn hit our boat and only under engine could we get closer to the steep cliffs. The sea went white around us and the water was blown away from the surface. Just 100m to the shore, miraculously the wind dropped to zero – well almost – only from time to time a strong gust came down the rocky walls. We were able to grab a (seemingly) new mooring and secure the boat. But we didn't know the state of this line on the bottom – kind of scary with all the rocks, not more than 50m away. We had a nice radio chat with the lonely ranger who assured us, that the mooring would hold and invited us to the island the next morning.


Divergent to the books, the protection wasn't that good after all. The falling gusts continued in 10-minute-intervals with up to 30kn. Thus, we decided to set the anchor alarm and one person was to stay on watch in the cockpit throughout the night. However, catching any sleep was impossible because each gust laid the boat do the side and turned the stern around. We expected the wind to drop the next morning, instead it got even worse. The down drafts turned 180°, and if the mooring didn't hold we would be blown onto the sharp rocks in no time. After a hasty breakfast, we said goodbye to the guard over the radio, who was kind of disappointed because of the canceled visit, and set the storm sail to get out of this trap. We were very disappointed not to have been able to visit the lonely island, but also happy the get away without a scratch. As soon as we had a mile distance to the island, the wind dropped to agreable 20kn and we experienced a fast sailing trip, hard on the wind to the marina of Quinto do Lorde (Madeira).