After the strenuous night, we spent in the bay of the Illha Desertas with almost no sleep, we were glad to have arrived in the small marina of Quinto do Lorde in the most eastern part of Madeira. Although the island is very crowded compared to Porto Santo, the marvelous volcanic landscape is absolutely fascinating. The island measures 22x57km and is inhabited by almost a quarter of a million of people – with houses scattered all over. Only the northern part, where rain around the steep cliffs (reaching several thousand meters into the water) often dominates, kept its wild impression.
Even though there was just one good weather window awaiting us in two days to reach the Azores, we postponed the upcoming boat-work and granted ourselves a day off, joining our friends Roswitha and Walter from the sailing vessel Aloma (who rented a car) on an excursion to the South of Madeira. The work could wait and the repairing for the crossing shouldn't take more than a day – we thought...
First, we visited Funchal – the crowded capital of the island, dominated by English and German tourists, to purchase some boat parts. Afterwards, we continued on the newly built expressway along the southern coast. This road had only been built fifteen years ago, for hundreds of millions of Euros (from the EU), including more than 140 tunnels and twice as many bridges. Following a small steep road a little later, we reached the cliffs of Cabo Girao with its famous bridge-walk, made of glass – making it possible to look directly down 580 meters to the beach.
After some more driving towards the West, we reached the small mountain village of Ponta do Sol, the starting point for a hike along two impressive Levadas. Those are old canal-systems, built almost 600 years ago, used for transportation of water from the mountains to the fields in the South, where the rain is rare. Some of them run over more than 100 kilometers, over bridges, through tunnels and along steep rock faces. Some years ago, several Levadas had been reinforced and widened with concrete, forming small hiking trails. Many gardens are still supplied with the water from the mountains and the first part of the walk led us along patches with flowers, melons, bananas, corn, pumpkins, and a lot of vegetables. The longer we followed the water canal, the wilder the surrounding was getting with forests and cliffs – the path got smaller and narrower, with just enough space to place both feet beside each other – on the right side with harsh rock walls and on the left side with an abyss of more than 100m down to the river. After an hour we reached the river, which was feeding the Levada with fresh water. Following the stream upward we found the second Levada, which would be leading us back to the village on a higher level. Fortunately, no-one of our group was afraid of heights. Some time ago the government put small fences along the most difficult sections – but the frequent rockfalls eliminated them in several places – forcing us to put one foot before the other very carefully without looking down the abyss. Some people actually prefer walking in the knee deep cold water of the Levada. In the middle of the way back we couldn't spot a path any more along the next rock face, where was the water going? After rounding some more rocks and passing under a waterfall, we ended up in front of a small tunnel, manually built hundreds of years ago, indeed leading the water through the rock.
Still motivated from the nice trip we started the next day with preparing the crossing to the Azores. Checking all the systems, engine, navigational systems, lights – and, as always, the rig. On the attachment of the forestay paint was again missing, and after some grinding we spotted a crack. Providentially Walter's former job contained the study of cracks and after a short inspection he gave us the bad news, it was essential to exchange this part. But how should we do that? Until then we were kind of reluctant to touch the rig (wire cables holding the masts). After some good advice from Walter and our neighbors who poss an awesome 140t traditional wooden boat, we started with loosening the backstays and pulling the two masts forward with lots of ropes. Indeed, we managed to loosen the forestay and fix it onto another plate. Then came the demanding part of sawing off the metal plate – in the marina it's not permitted to use cutting discs. For the next step, we asked a local guy, who welded a new and much stronger plate to our bowsprit. After some painting, we attached the forestay to the new part and pulled back the masts. With a special tool from our friends we were even able to check the tension of the cables afterwards. So, all in all, it wasn't that complicated and we once more had learnt something new and useful. The only drawback was that we missed the good weather window and the waiting began all over.
One of our routine jobs is the cleaning of the propeller – if not done on a regular basis, shellfish and corals are growing on it at an amazing speed and slowing the propulsion to zero. So, we took a couple of deep breaths, went down two meters, held on to the rudder and started scratching with a chisel. What the ……? Somehow the rudder was moving back and forth with each movement. A short check showed, that all screws of the rudder were loose and had begun to fall out. After the initial scare (what's worse than losing your rudder on the Atlantic?) Ben put on his diving equipment and started to exchange the loose parts.
On land, this is a quick and easy job, below water a major operation. First, he had to secure every screw and tool, so as not to lose them easily. The second problem was the balance. Staying in place and at the same time trying to put enough pressure on the screws is quite difficult when breathing hard – all the while checking the gauge to be sure not to run out of air. And then there were those curios fish swimming all the time around his head in the air bubbles. Almost an hour later the screws were fixed again, Ben laying breathlessly on the standing stage – with the hope, that the parts would hold for the rough crossing to the Azores.
Having missed the good weather window, we took advantage of our situation by visiting the highest mountain massif of the island. From the Pico Arieiro, a fantastic trail with thousands of steps, along steep cliffs and even through long tunnels, leads to the highest point, the Pico Ruivo (1'862 M.a.S). Up and down we followed the path for 1'200m of elevation, lined with colorful flowers. Throughout we enjoyed fantastic views, obscured from time to time only by foggy patches. What sounds like a nice walk back home in Switzerland, ended for us with painful, sour legs – spending weeks on the boat, the good shape we had been in was just gone...
Since we had caught up with all the work (including minor problems on the engine and navigational lights) and had to wait for good winds, we rented a small car to explore the other parts of the island. On the way to the western part we had the fortune to visit a regatta, which was happening just outside the marina of Funchal. To our delight, the team of Alinghi was also participating, fighting with the boat of SAP for the second rank. With bewildered excitement, we followed the course and boats, which lifted out of the water and looked as if they were flying on their small fins.
Afterwards, we followed a small and twisting road, lined by thousands of beautiful flowers (regrettably all imported from East-Asia and South-Africa) up to the high plateau, where we found a beautiful path through forests and high ferns. Continuing more to the West, we reached the small but very neat village of Porto Moniz with its famous natural swimming pools – carved out of lava and filled from time to time by waves with fresh sea water. On the way back, we enjoyed the wild, harsh and almost vacant landscape of the north coast – our favorite, because there is no mass tourism yet.
The last couple of days before we were permitted to set sail, we enjoyed the surrounding of the marina, with its seawater pool and a beautiful reef just beside it with hundreds of fishes. We also tried to do some hikes on the bicycle – a bad idea we would advise against, except for if you love it to carry your bike on the back...
On short notice, the weather forecast promised an adequate weather window. So, we took the last preparations in a bit of a hurry, said fare well to our friends from the other sailing boats Aloma and Lotta (here our paths split, they were headed South to the Canary Islands) and off we were. For now, we can tell you that the first couple of hours permitted us a nice sail to the western point of Madeira – where the first surprise was already lurking....