This is a line of articles discussing a sailing trip from Lisbon in Portugal to Arrecife on Lanzarote. Six new yachts manufactured by Dufour of France had to be delivered to LAVA CHARTER, a charter-company with German roots operating from Arrecife. This fleet of six brand new Grandlarge sailing yachts ranging from 38 to 51 feet has been sailed by dedicated skippers well known to the company who recruited their respective crews amongst friends and committed sailors. I was offered the chance to be part of one of this crews, manning a Dufour Grandlarge 460, the SY MOJITO.
As I open my eyes and wake up, a gentle sew-saw of the boat reassures me that we are still on our yacht, I am still out here on the Atlantic Ocean and as consciousness finally returns my memories do as well. Yesterday – or should I say today? – we landed here on Porto Santo, the “Holy Island” at 2 a.m. and had to tie up our Dufour in the fishing harbour (read the article here). Prone to a 2.50 metre tide, rocking our boat hard against the concrete wall.
Skipper Wilfried couldn´t get a good night´s sleep today as he was up and checking the lines every single hour. He was now the one commandeering the crew to get up soon because a berth in the marina has been emptied for us. Minutes later we sat alongside a floating pontoon: Now we had really arrived! The sun is shining, temperatures rise fast and as we gather in the cockpit to enjoy our first cup of coffee since we´ve left Lisbon we take a deep breath and look around: What a beautiful island this is! And what a difference to our first impressions when we arrived here today during pitch black darkness and violet eddies in the marina.
Meet the smaller Brother of Madeira
With us, three other yachts of the LAVA CHARTER fleet have arrived to Porto Santo as well: The flagship, 51 feet SY DON CARLOS and the two Grandlarge 460 sister ships, SY AVATAR and our MOJITO. Porto Santo – that´s an Island I´ve never heard of before, nor did my crewmates as well as our skipper. It is situated some 30 miles north-east of Madeira. A small Island, some 15 kilometers in length and not wider than 6 kilometers. As we check Wikipedia, we learn that not more than 6.000 inhabitants live here. Mostly from tourism, sparse agriculture and mostly from cattle-breeding.
Porto Santo features one single harbour, both open for a small fleet of fishing boats, the daily ferry to Madeira and of course pleasure craft. The marina berths are fully occupied and as I judge by the rich coloured murals on the harbour wall Porto Santo may be a jump-point for Atlantic crossings over to the Caribbean or the Azores for sailors from all over the world as well. Biggest attraction for tourists seems to be an almost never ending beach, some 10 kilometers in length. As we talk to locals, they do assure that 25.000 tourists visit the small island annually. That´s a big number for such a small island, I judge.
Nevertheless, we cannot stop to wonder about Porto Santo. I thought I´ve read almost everything on sailing the Atlantic Ocean, but the name of this island is totally unknown to me. At the same time, Porto Santo features a rich history. Before his famous voyages to America, no other than Christopher Columbus lived here for a couple of years after getting married to the daughter of Porto Santo´s govenor. As we begin to stroll around soundly, our crew splits, each and every one seems to enjoy some quiet hours alone after 4 days of being cramped into out 14 meter yacht. I want to get to know the island more …
Whsitle Stop or longer Stay?
Next to our yacht, on the SY AVATAR, the skippers have brought up their laptop computers and tablets to check for the latest Windguru and weather-updates. That´s their business as they are responsible for bringing these brand new yachts safely over to the Canary Islands. We don´t bother – but ask Wilfried if we could stay another full day on this beautiful island. He seems to have fallen in love with this small chunk of earth in the midst of the ocean as we did.
Up until now we´ve only seen the marina of Porto Santo. A small but bristling harbour, somewhere anybody hjas always something to do, be it the ferry arriving or the fishermen repairing their nets. We occasionally walk over to the marina restaurant which we learn to appreciate, not just for the perfect and free WiFi connection but for their ice cold beverages and delicious daily dishes.
No comparison to the other marinas we have and we will visit during our journey, Porto Santo is a quiet, intimate and very beautiful place for its own. It is on this very island where I develop the plan to maybe not bring my own sailing yacht back to the Baltic Sea but to sail her down here to Tenerife or one of the other islands. Because it is so unbelievably beautiful and quiet down here.
Beaches, bathing and walking the Island
Next day will be as beautiful and even more warmer than the previous one. I decide to stroll around to town with Thomas and Ute to check for shopping opportunities: During our first 4 days aboard SY MOJITO we did decimate some of our supplies (like fresh apples) considerably. Climbing the harbour wall we stand on a sheer endless, some 10 kilometers long perfect sand beach.
There are no tourists visible nor local people. If we would, we could take a bath here (the ocean seems warm enough to allow swimming) and yet wouldn´t be bothered by others. Sure, it might not be travelling season now in mid March, but I cannot trust my own eyes for I haven´t ever seen a perfect beach that deserted. We enjoy being “humans” again, wearing non-sailing cloth, walking on solid ground, not being driven by a watch-pattern and a constant eye on the sail trim.
I find Porto Santo an interesting island. It´s not that impressive, but it features the aspects of the “perfect island” like children would draw it: An island. Two mountains. Some forests. And a beach of course. The highest point is Pico do Facho with some 520 meters above zero – I´ll keep that one in mind to be mastered later. Every now and then the humming of an aeroplane would go over the island – there´s a regular flight service from here to nearby Madeira, the second connection next to the ferry which will take som 2.5 hours to make the passage.
After lunch Ute goes swimming, Thomas has different things to do and so I pack a small rucksack with apples and water and like small boys, Martin and I decide to climb to the highest elevation of the island. It´s a walk through completely uncharted land as there is no walking path whatsoever. We have to walk over huge landslides, cross the so-called Barrancos, sharp and deep eroded valleys and finally reach the bottom of Pico do Facho where the elevation grade would exceed 45 degrees. Now that´s what we call adventurous!
When we finally reach the top the view is both fascinating as it is rewarding. To the North a violet Atlantic Ocean would smash its huge waves against the island. Sparsely populated, we can imagine hard and cold winds there. We see cattle on green grassy meadows and nice, newly built Fincas next to ruined remainders of human houses. We also enjoy the rich vegetation – a harbinger of the Flower Island of Madeira. Every now and then blossoms of a wide range of colours will bloom, even small but tasteful sweet wild tomatoes will grow amongst the grassy hills.
It´s hot on the Island, if you are standing protected by the wind. Exposed to the wind it will turn chilly at an instant, which makes the choice of clothing a tricky one. We take off and turn on our jackets in a matter of minutes. After some three hours we arrive back in sweat from our hiking tour, Martin throws away his clothing and jumps right into the clean turquoise marina from our bathing platform to refresh himself.
Civilisation has us again
Enjoying the quite wilderness of Porto Santo is one thing. But this small Island has another face as well: A bristling town with people and cars and shops and rich civilised life going on. As we stroll around in town I am taken with the architecture of the houses: Built from black vulcanic stones, the houses stand tall, most of them feature a green atrium with palms and other plants, mostly flowers of many colours. The streets are narrow, creating a refreshing wind cooling our sweating bodies.
It´s a Portuguese town for sure, but in some way this whole setting reminds me of Morocco. I can´t help, but I more and more regret that we do not sail via Africa with at least one landing in Rabat. I would have loved to set foot on this continent as I have heard so many nice things about Morocco, especially when arriving by yacht. We sit down in a Café and enjoy an ice-cold Coke along a local Galao with a sweet apple-pie. Perfect day!
But as the day draws to and end it´s also time for shopping. Thomas, the Doctor, has prepared an exact list of what to get and so we search for a market of some kind. And behold, there is a huge supermarket that features all you can dream of and every item you will find in any continental shopping centre as well. I am astonished by the huge choice of fresh fish, meat from any animal you could dream of and a 25 meters long corridor for dairy products only.
Back in the marina by taxi, which is cheap, fast and very friendly like all locals we´ve met, we stow away the new provisions and as my crew mates disappear to enjoy the sun or WiFi I decide to have some clothes washed and prepare the dinner for tonight. I love working on the yacht, looking outside from time to time and having a chat with a jetty-neighbour.
Marina Porto Santo is a small one. So every newcomer is greeting personally by the sailors – and I am full of joy as I see Marcus and the Pogo 40 SY GREEN arriving. We´ve met him in Lisboa five days ago and talked to him. He was preparing and refitting the yacht for the owner – his reward is some weeks solo-sailing with GREEN. As I am a big fan of Pogo Yachts and especially the Pogo 40 I lend him a hand with the ropes and enjoy some tech-talk on the Pogo´s sailing abilities with Marcus.
He seems a bit puzzled by the sailing characteristics of a pure racer like the Pogo 40. As sailing conditions have been a bit harsh during the last days (no wonder we´ve made a daily run of 163 miles with our Dufour cruisers) he, as inexperienced with the Pogo 40 as he was, sailed solely with jib as he didn´t wanted to risk anything by unleashing the beast with hoisting the huge flat top main.
This is what I love about sailing as well: You will always find a friendly skipper to talk to. Apart from great Marcus, I talked to a German couple who was sailing to the Caribbean in their 12 meter custom built steel yacht (best daily run 92 miles), a crazy French guy who lived on his Aluminum-three keeled yacht and reminded me of a modern Moitessier. Besides, on him and his boat you can expect an upcoming article. And of course there was this Dutch guy on a wonderfull full-wooden pilot cutter. The day is perfectly completed when SY CAMINO, the fourth of the LAVA CHARTER boats arrives just before dinner and we greet another happy crew.
Sleeping that night is pure treat. Boat is whipping gently, fresh air enters the saloon and apart from the occasional noise a departing fisherman´s Diesel engine will make there´s absolute quietness, just the kling-klang of a halyard banging at a mast and the murmur of water under our stern. I cannot imagine a place other than my bunk where I would like to be now instead.
Hospitality, the sun and „Let´s stay another day!“
As this Island seems to have putting a good spell on all of us, we decide to stay one another day. We want to avoid the trail of a deep pressure system creating strong winds near Madeira, nevertheless, two of our LAVA CHARTER-boats have told us some days ago via VHF that another, bigger depression system is on the rise and that they would set a course directly down to Lanzarote. This was coming from SY TORTUGA, the smallest of our yachts. We can fully understand the caution of Skipper Hanno.
Other skippers seem to have stranded here, as I encounter by strolling the large dry stand area behind the marina. There are a lot of rigged boats on stands, seemingly waiting for their European masters to return them to the water, but also unfinished boats, some hulks, telling a story of people who seem to fulfil their dream of a perfect blue water cruiser here, but also a story of failure. Skipper Mike of SY DON CARLOS arranges a big farewell-dinner at a local restaurant for the night at which all crewmen of all 4 boats attend. We are a party of impressive +20 people.
How touching: The waiter of the restaurant will shuttle us from the marina to the remote place. A grill bar at the end of the cliffs in the westernmost part of the island. As the sun goes down we enjoy Tapas, beer and wine, fish and meat by the finest. A perfect ending session to conclude our visit to this fantastic island of Porto Santo.
SY CAMINO, a Dufour 412, will leave tomorrow at noon, as we discover by talking to the crew. They will head for Marina Calheta on Madeira Island. The 51 feet DON CARLOS is going to leave tomorrow at 8 p.m. as the second boat of our fleet. Having a different interpretation of the general weather situation, their skipper in respect to the fact that amongst the crew of the boat is wife and daughter of the owner, has decided to go directly down to Lanzarote to avoid any strong winds – a wrong decision, as it will turn out later.
Sven, Skipper of our sister ship SY AVATAR will leave as third boat tomorrow at 10 p.m. also going down to Calheta on Madeira. Skipper Wilfried of our boat decides to leave at 2 a.m. next day as he estimates a fast and short passage to Madeira where we want to land in Quinta do Lorde, a marina in the far East of the Island. So the evening passes and we are full of joy about having visited this wonderful place. As I enter the berth I sleep very well. Tomorrow will be our last day here, bidding farewell to all of the boats, readying our boat and leaving for Madeira too. I am excited what Madeira will be like, but I know for sure, it won´t be that quiet, that intimate and that charming as Porto Santa greeted us.
All previous and the upcoming articles on this sailing trip from Lisbon to Lanzarote can be browsed by clicking on this hashtag #dufourcanaries
Special Thanks to LAVA CHARTER for the chance to sail on one of their boats. For information and offers on charter trips on the Canaries on these Dufour Yachts please visit www.lavacharter.com A unique and special discount for my readers of 1.5% on all LAVA CHARTER bookings may be acquired by stating web code NOFRILLSSAILING along with your booking.