Although the weather forecast predicted strong north-easterly winds, we met, because of the shelter of Madeira, agreeable southerly winds along the coast. So, we set all three sails and headed on a fast track towards the western tip of the island. On the way, we observed several airplanes in the distance who wanted to land on the infamous airport of Madeira. Its runway measures only 2'700 meters and is built above the sea, on huge, 120 meters high concrete pillars. Heavy rain clouds and strong falling gusts, caused from the northerly winds, forced them to abort their manoeuvre and head for the safer port on the neighboring island of Porto Santo. Sometimes the runway is closed for more than a week and visiting tourists have to prolong their holiday.
Not even an hour later, the sky cleared and in several places we discovered groups of dolphins, jumping out of the water and heading in our direction. When they got nearer, the families reunited, and as usual went to our bow to play in the waves. More than 30 animals darted around the boat, chased others away and squeezed in the row on the bow to get the best place to play in the surrounding waves. We were so fascinated, that we first didn't notice the west cape of Madeira – and its waters – boiling white from the intensified winds, which came around the steep cliffs.
The foremost gust hit all our sails at once and pushed the masts down toward the sea – water running over the deck. Fortunately, we had a couple of minutes, before the next gusts came down on us. Without a second of hesitating and speaking to each other, the foresail was put down to one third, the besansail dropped completely and the mainsail reduced to half its size.
Strong and changing winds
For the next four hours, the wind didn't drop below 30 knots (7 Bft) and our Happy Day pounded through the increasing waves, trying to keep the necessary northwesterly course for Santa Maria (Azores). Not until we lost sight of Madeira, did the wind decrease down to 20 knots. At the same time, the sun dropped on the horizon. Luckily, the dark didn't' last for long – a huge, bright and full moon rose and illuminated our way. Only at the end of the night, patches of deep and dark rain clouds arrived, followed by stronger and turning winds as well heavy rains. As soon the clouds passed, the wind dropped and turned back. It went on like this for the next three days. Each time, that is every 3 hours, we had to adjust the sails and course. We really had to pay attention to our rig, because of some small cracks in one of the cross-trees - too much sail meant too much pressure and something might have broken. Additionally, the prevailing wind changed (against all predictions) more to the north. That meant going hard on the wind and against the waves. Every bigger wave which hit the hull with a loud bang, slowed the boat down to 2 knots. For one whole night, we even were forced to zigzag towards our destination and only with the help of our engine were we able to keep enough latitude. Even so, one measly daily etmal of only 80 nm followed the next and it took us more than six days to reach Santa Maria (normally, it would take you three to four days).
As usual – and until now without any success (well, not counting some seaweed, ropes and a gull), the two fishing lures swam undisturbed still behind our boat. So, it should not come as a surprise, that we missed the first bite for quite a while – only thanks to a hungry gull, who tried to steal our fish, did we notice the catch. The poor guy, a bonito (jackfish, tuna), must have suffocated on the surface and was already dead when we got him onto the boat (which was not bad – you can work in peace without making a big mess). Twenty minutes later, the first fish-steaks landed on the plates. The taste was really amazing – it did not ‘smell’ like fish, more like a veal filet.
Some remains of the bonito we put on the lures and it didn't take long until two 70cm dolphinfish (Goldmakrele) hung on the lines. Those didn't want to come aboard, jumped out of the water and tried to swim into the deep, compelling us to give out a lot of line. After some time, luckily before us, they got tired and swam wearily beside the boat – so the next challenge awaited us: how do you get 15kg of fish on board? In theory, one takes the gaff (a sharp hook with a long shaft), and grasps the fish behind the gills. Well, as soon as we tried to get the hook into the gills of the first one, the fish jumped again and it was impossible to aim properly – as a result the sharp hook went someplace through the guy. At least we got him up to the deck, where he instantly started kicking around with his fin, spraying the deck and us with a load of blood. Our only concern was not losing him back to the sea. So, Ben jumped onto the fish and Danielle pulled on the hook – immediately, Ben started yelling, thinking that the fish had bit him in the knee – but he was innocent. Instead, the hook of the gaff had gone into his leg above the knee (with the impaled fish on it). It must have looked funny, Danielle had to laugh out loud. Fortunately, only the muscle was hit and the blood cleaned the wound quite well. Justly, the fish ended up in the pot, resulting in a delicious fish curry and a fish ragout (tasting like chicken).
Otherwise, the days passed quite fast – as usual we ate often and a lot. Even in the middle of big and steep waves, Danielle spent a lot of time in the kitchen, preparing great food (beside fish she did skewers, steaks, risotto, rösti, pumpkin, cauliflower and for every breakfast fried eggs with beacon and hash browns :-) However, this was only possible thanks to the many hooks around the stove, where she was able to attach herself with a belt, preventing her from bounding around.
When not eating, we tried to catch up on sleep, taking a hot shower on the deck (because the engine was running a lot, there was always hot water) or optimizing the position of our sails. We even managed to sail for more than a day without the autopilot and touching the steering only every 15 minutes for a little correction.
After six days, the outline of Santa Maria finally appeared on the horizon. The wind dropped to zero and we figured it would take us four hours under engine to get to the marina before dark – well, at least that was the plan. But suddenly the power of the engine dropped, came back a little and then vanished completely. OK, why now, was our first comment – the positive thing was, that we were far away from the cliffs, no other ships around, no wind and only a light swell. So, let's go down to the engine room in the heart of the ship. Without exaggeration – 45 °C awaited us and made the work very hard. Our suspicion, that something with the diesel supply must be wrong, turned out to be true, but not before we had checked all pipes, pumps and filters from the tanks down to the injectors. The blameworthy one was the main diesel filter – it was completely congested with dirt and algae – despite our having built in large pre-filters. As it turned out in the harbor the next day, the element of the pre-filter broke up, thus the dirty diesel got directly into the main filter. After exchanging the faulty part and pumping out the air of the diesel system, the engine again ran without a hitch. We reached the marina shortly before dark and got the last place, directly beside a hyper modern trimaran. The owner told us, that he can cruise with almost 40 knots – wow: that's ten times our speed...
The next day, as always after reaching port, we spent with cleaning, tidying up the boat and exploring the surrounding of the marina, nice places for snorkling, as well the main town (Vila do Porto) with its old, but very nice buildings. To our surprise, we didn't meet any other tourists and in the restaurants, one only heard Portuguese spoken. What a wonderful opening :-)