Atlantic crossing – Madeira, m’dear!

“Have some madeira, m’dear,
You really have nothing to fear;
I’m not trying to tempt you, that wouldn’t be right,
You shouldn’t drink spirits at this time of night.
Have some madeira, m’dear,
It’s so very much nicer than beer.
I don’t care for sherry, one cannot drink stout,
And port is a wine I can well do without.
It’s simply a case of chacun á son gout.
Have some madeira, m’dear!”

Flanders & Swan

Madeira is an archipelago located in the North Atlantic Ocean and like the Azores, is an autonomous region of Portugal. The ‘Azores High’ pressure systems move easterly across the Atlantic Ocean in a clockwise direction, producing northerly winds on the front edge of the system. A slow-moving high was just the right condition to jump on and sail 460nm south to Madeira.

The voyage from Portimao took 81 hours, so we averaged around 5.7kn – that’s pretty good for our boat. Conditions were calm at least for a few hours until we escaped from the wind shadow on the southwest of the Iberian Peninsula, then conditions piped up; 2-3m seas with northerly winds up to 28kn. Day one conditions sorted out our sea-legs and by day two when conditions eased, we were settled into our routine and even managed to get some sleep.

Our goal was to reach the anchorage at Porto Santo by Friday night, and unless we were becalmed (which was highly unlikely), we had no reason to think we would not arrive as planned. Consistent 15kn winds and a slight southerly current helped us arrive as planned.

As usual when sailing offshore, we resumed three-hour watches so the bulk of our time is spent unaccompanied in the cockpit with the other attempting to catch up on sleep. This takes a couple of days to get into a rhythm – it’s not easy to try and sleep when you’re not sleepy. It’s also not easy to sleep when you’re really tired and it’s 2pm in the afternoon! But since this was only a three-day passage, arriving late afternoon meant we could have a good night’s sleep when we arrive and drop the anchor. Life on board is all about keeping watch, sleeping, eating, listening to podcasts, and maybe repairing an old flag.

Ships heading towards the Straits of Gibraltar kept us on our toes; at least every couple of hours we had to dodge a ship with a closest point to us of less than 0.5nm. Watching their heading, we can see if they alter course and only change our course if required. One small vessel popped up on AIS and was thirty minutes from intersecting with us. Turns out it was a solo sailor on a six metre Mini Transat boat traveling at 8-9 knots. At 2am in the morning he had no lights on so we called him up on VHF to tell him we couldn’t see him. He’d been sleeping below and forgot to put the lights on! As he was to starboard, we altered course and let him go by. A fleet of Transats came through one by one during the night and following day on their way to the Canaries, then onto the Caribbean. Over 80 Transats will sail over 4,000 from Les Sables d’Olonne to Saint-François in Guadeloupe, with a stopover in Santa Cruz de La Palma.

Day three the conditions were sunny with 10-15kn; perfect to hoist the spinny. Approaching the island of Porto Santo, the island to the north of Madeira, we eventually doused the spinny and unfurled the foresail to sail around the island to anchor by 5.30pm – just in time for beer-o-clock! Timing is everything…

Approaching Porto Santo

For the first multiple overnight sail in a long time, it was a great reminder of how pleasant offshore sailing can be. My recollections of sailing the Southern Atlantic Ocean back in 2015 brings only good memories – the trip from St Helena to Martinique took 28 days and I think we were on one tack the whole way!

Sunrise – my favourite time

This voyage reminded me how much I prefer ocean sailing compared to coastal sailing. While coastal sailing can be fun in the right conditions, typically, trying to reach an unknown anchorage before darkness while belting into headwinds and steep seas caused by wind-against-tide, isn’t always fun. On the other hand, out on the ocean the boat sails with the wind, the ocean swells lifting the boat up and down. The best thing I enjoy about offshore sailing are sunsets and sunrises and the nighttime. During this trip we had no moon whatsoever, so the sky was brilliant with stars – Venus shone brightly to the south, with Saturn and Mars to the east. Astronomical twilight ends around 8.30pm and the horizon begins to lighten around 5.30am, giving us around nine hours of total darkness. Brilliant!

The IridiumGo worked well and with an unlimited data plan we didn’t feel constrained to budget our data minutes, like we used to with our previous Iridium satphone package. Of course we can’t use the IridiumGo for internet, but we get the weather twice daily and send messages to people we know might be interested to know where we are. It was actually a nice break from the internet and the ‘noise’ associated with social media. The Raymarine Tiller Pilot worked well in light conditions, but our main autopilot was better for the rough conditions.

Porto Santo Anchorage

After 81 hours, we arrived at the anchorage at Porto Santo, the island north of Madeira. The anchorage was particularly rolly, and the inner harbour was full of anchored boats. So early the next morning after a good nights sleep, without going ashore, we departed and headed 30nm south to anchor at the east end of Madeira at Enseada da Abra. Here we stayed on board before sailing to Funchal where we could check in proper with the authorities before going ashore.

Stunning rock formation at Enseada de Abra, Madeira

The distance between Porto Santo and Madeira is only 30nm. In that short space, the depths descend to around 3kms, and within a short distance the depth reduces to around 50m nearer the island and steep seas settle in the shallower water.

Approaching Madeira

To adhere to COVID regulations, prior to departing Portimao, we completed the online travel registration form at MadeiraSafe, although I think it’s more for travellers aboard ferries and planes. Before going ashore however, we called the Maritime Police who requested we send via Whatsapp our vaccination certificates. Within five minutes they confirmed we were okay to go ashore.

Dinghy tie-up at Funchal Marina

At Funchal Marina, there are places to tie up the dinghy deep inside, although not a great amount of room. Upon arrival on shore, we also had to visit the Guarda Nacional Republicana (GNR) office at the marina, where we had our passports and boat papers checked. Our stay in Portugal was again reconfirmed as valid and we could stay as long as we needed to (until end December 2021 that is).

The marinas are full and busy with yachts from Europe, so we were unable to enter. Our only option was to anchor off the town of Funchal just outside the port. Port dues are 8 Euros a day, so that’s a fair price considering where we are. Only problem is that we are totally exposed to the south and have nowhere to go if a southerly comes in. Gulp…

So, while we have some fine days ahead, we will explore and see what Madeira has to offer.

Until then…

About blueheelerhr39

Sailing the world aboard Blue Heeler
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3 Responses to Atlantic crossing – Madeira, m’dear!

  1. Dave. And Elaine Sollars says:

    Great to hear you had a good. Trip look forward to the next one

    Dave and Elaine Sollars


  2. Graham Lloyd says:

    Brilliant photos and commentary.


  3. Graham Lloyd says:

    Brilliant photos and commentary.


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