This is a series 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 you may have read in the previous article, we´ve sailed our Dufour Grandlarge 460 over to Porto Santo in less than 3.5 days departing from Lisbon (read the article here) and arrived in the middle of a dark, seemingly icy-cold night at Porto Santo Harbour.
We were greeted by our fellow LAVA CHARTER-fleet. Our sister ship, SY AVATAR did arrive some 2 hours earlier, directing us via VHF to the harbour and trying to ask for a free berth. Which was pointless as it was 1 a.m. in the middle of the night. The crew of SY DON CARLOS, the big Grandlarge 512 did arrive earlier that day but they didn´t had better news either: There was no free berth in the marina available. So we had to land the boat alongside the concrete harbour wall of the commercial port. And that promised to turn out to develop into a nightmare. At least for our Skipper.
A bad Feeling …
We were all pretty much worn out after the days out at sea. The Skipper and I had just recovered from our sea sickness-attack, whereas the Skipper admitted that he still was a bit damaged. Landing here was a true dearing feat since our hull was punished by bad williwaws pushing the boat all too fast against the concrete wall. But in the end we managed to tie her up safely: “Watch out, Skipper”, one of the local fishermen, joining the late party, told us: “We´ve got a pretty severe tide here …” Oh boy. Allowing the boat´s ropes clearance for falling and rising with the tide again, we kept a good chunk of motion in the hull. Sleeping was hard, nevertheless after only a few minutes we were all asleep. All?
Well, not all of us, as it turned out the next morning when I was getting up first (as I thought) to prepare a fresh hot coffee and took a look at the scene enjoying the fresh morning air. Our yacht was hanging deep in the ropes as we´ve had low tide. “Good morning, Skipper!”, I greeted Wilfried as he opened the door to his cabin. “You look awful!”, a compliment is the best way to start a conversation. He nodded and droned: “No sleep … had to look for the ropes … every hour …”, he grumbled and entered the cockpit to take yet another look.
“Had to increase the lines when the tide fell … and take them in when the boat was rising”, he explained, letting himself dump down on a settee to embrace the cup of steaming coffee. “That´s a treat!”, he said. “We have to leave this damn place as soon as we can. It was a terrible night, all the time fearing for the boat´s sake.” He was true: As the concrete wall was secured by hard rubber-covered steel pilings (partially damaged) he had to fear damage to the hull.
We did as much as we can to soften the constant bumping and scratching up and down by putting all the fenders to the reeling, but with 2.50 meters altitude change by tide that didn´t seem to be enough. Lucky as we were, no damage was done to the hull and after some breakfast and doing the immigration stuff we were told that a berth was now ready and we warped the yacht to a safer mooring.
Planning the Cruise to Madeira
Porto Santo Island was pure paradise, as you can read in the article about the island itself (click here). The marina was as well welcoming as it was sufficient, we really enjoyed our 2-day stay here with walking around, restocking our supplies and simply enjoying our first landfall after some serious offshore sailing on the Atlantic Ocean. But after those two days it was time again to think about how to continue our trip to Lanzarote.
On the third day the Skippers oft he four LAVA CHARTER-boats which had arrived on Porto Santo began regular meetings. All of them would have gathered the latest weather-informations and forecasts, some of them would have calculated the best possible sailing routes and courses for the local wind developments. As we have learned, two of our six-boats-fleet had gone directly to Lanzarote as there was a depression approaching causing for alarming windspeeds in the forecasts. Our Skippers remained calm, but as Wilfried used to say: “I don´t want to blunder this new boat into a storm.” And true that was!
First question to be discussed was where to sail to next. Sven and Wilfried, the two Skippers of the 460 yachts, pledged for going to Madeira. DON CARLOS and CAMINO disagreed as they feared winds to develop too fast to too severe strengths and decided to set sail directly for the Canary Islands the following day. So SY AVATAR and MOJITO remained the only to boats heading for Madeira in the end.
Sailing from Porto Santo to Madeira is a no-brainer. Going directly means to sail some 30 miles due south-southwest. We estimated some 6 hours sailing time as our Skippers use to calculate with 5 knots average to be safe. As CAMINO set sail the next day in the morning hours, we waved Goodbye. We are going to see the crew again in some more than a week. At 8 p.m. the 50 foot DON CARLOS also let loose her lines and sailed away. The two remaining 46 foot yachts had a nice dinner together to honour this beautiful island once again.
At 11 p.m. SY AVATAR left her berth and asked when we would leave. Via VHF we answered: “We will leave at 2 a.m. tomorrow as we want to reach Madeira in the morning hours when there won´t be any darkness.” Not knowing that the direction of the wind once again shifted wildly. SY DON CARLOS will get to feel the squeeze the most: Gusts of up to 40 knots, a ripping fore sail and some very high seas are going to batter the yacht pretty severely, as we will learn upon our own arrival at the Canary Islands.
Casting off to Madeira
After we dropped the lines of SY AVATAR and waved goodbye quietness reappeared to our own boat. The yacht was ready to go, everything that had made land-living so comfortable had been dismounted hours ago, our clothing hanging of the whole of the reeling had been taken in and all plates and stuff stowed and secured for the next sailing passage. We took off at exactly 2 a.m. in the night after a short, sleepless night. Bye, Porto Santo. It was a great time here!
Thomas, Martin and Ute quickly went down below deck again as we assured them that it would be a rather short sailing trip and that Wilfried and I would stand the watch and wake them up upon reaching Madeira. The boat was sailing under all canvas and she was making a good 8 knots and very nice progress: “This is going to be a quick dash!”, I rejoiced and Wilfried smiled in the darkness. But we would learn soon that it was not.
Sailing the Dufour at Night
After clearing Porto Santo and coming out of their leeward side a strong and steady wind set it. Unfortunately it blew directly and exactly in the very direction we wanted to sail to. As our yacht hadn´t been equipped with sufficient sails for a flat running point of sailing there was no other choice but to bear away some 40 degrees: “Running down straight due south!”, I told Wilfried as we´d had the boat trimmed well and she was speeding up. Nevertheless: Not on a straight course!
I love standing watch during night time. It´s the most diversified time of the day. Depending on whether there are clouds or not, you´ll get to a bright sky full of stars like you won´t have the chance to see on land. It´s overwhelming and simply addictive to stare at this clear, thick white Milky Way and count the minutes till the next shooting star will dash across the stars. Again, if you have a night with a moon, the stars will be pale and few. Without moon, it´s just crazy.
Night shift on a sailing yacht is far away from boring. Nor is it frightening. Most of the things to be done are just routine. We did it this way: As a matter of fact, our Autopilot was steering the boat 95 per cent of the time (even during daylight). That´s something I do regret somehow as I skipped the chance to learn steering in high waves but on the other hand it was the way it was and I didn´t wanted to disturb the others by practicing steering. So, now that nobody was required to be behind the wheel all the time, the watch consisted of sitting under the sprayhood, watching the stars and the waves and occasional conversation.
Every 15 to 20 minutes one of us would get up to take the seat behind the big Raymarine chartplotter, check for course and speed and AIS-signals. Now AIS-contacts had become very rare. I would say we´d never had more than 5 contacts after clearing the Gibraltar straight. The one steady blip was SY AVATAR – and we tried hard to keep them behind us. Now of course the sister ship was not on the screen as they had left several hours before us. After we confirmed the right course and no AIS-contacts, we would then take a look around to check visually 360 degrees for lights, floating stuff and other things. Then it was time to take a look above to the sails (though at night it was mostly a matter of listening to the sound of the canvas) for the correct sail trim. Then it was done and we would return to the seat to sit down again.
As the sun began to rise again we cleared well Porto Santo and no lights were visible anymore. As a tender whiff of light began to break through the perfect pitch black night in the East, we both remained silent in awe. Witnessing the sun coming up seems to have a wonderful effect on human beings, maybe that´s something written in our genes. Certainly a moment like this is not one to be spoofed by trash talk. “That´s the Ilhas Desertas”, I said to Wilfried. Those long stretched rocky islands are a bit south of Madeira some 15 miles away from the cost: “It´s time to gybe to head directly for port!”, Skipper decided and I cleared the sheets for the maneuver.
An our later we got pass the Ilhas Desertas and I went down to prepare a hot cup of tea for the Skipper and myself. As nobody else was awake, I sneaked into the fridge to create a huge sandwich with a centimetre worth of sausage, a load of cheese, slices of pickles, fresh hot bacon and a fried egg. The Skipper had tears in his eyes. Nevertheless – I guess it was the smell of the breakfast feast – the crew awoke as well and some minutes later everybody went up in the cockpit to take a look around. They didn´t stay all too long because the wind was easing, our speed dropping constantly and so the remaining 15 or so miles stretched.
The Windy Island: Madeira
“I´m steering the yacht well in a distance from the Sao Laurenco and Ilheu da Cevada!”, I said to the Skipper, hacking some new course directions into the autopilot. Although the wind had eased considerably we still had 20 knots of true wind and judging from the high and intermittent formations of those rocks forming the Eastern Cape of Madeira I sensed windy trouble if coming too close to the area. We had experienced williwaws back in Porto Santo and I didn´t want to risk a lacerated mainsail. “Make it so!”, Wilfried agreed.
Still under full canvas, the cape effect came into full swing as we neared Madeira. Now the full crew was up in the cockpit again – the same old ritual of all seafarers and passengers when land is near. But I imagined that this approach wouldn´t be as easy going as nearing Porto Santo. Waves got shorter, white caps and angry wave crests showed strong winds. The boat was now on a broad to beam reach with quite some heel. Unusual position after days of upright sailing on a nearly perfect running point of sail.
We decided to go for the Quinta do Lorde Marina as our skippers said that Funchal is not a place to be (too crowded) and Marina Calheta (which was our port of choice in the first place) turned out to be too far west concerning the fact that we perhaps might leave fast for Lanzarote if this depression would speed up. Quinta do Lorde is the most eastern marina of Madeira, situated right “behind the corner” after those rocky williwaw-breeding grounds of the cape. I tried to reach the marina with VHF several times but got no answer. We could see the AIS-blip of SY AVATAR but they didn´t answer as well. “Let´s put in a reef in the main!”, the Skipper announced.
As we were reefing, a huge gust grabbed the boat and turned the Dufour into a nice aggressive heeling, but she righted herself pretty fast. That was too much for the Skipper, as he advised us to take in the main completely. We went head up in the wind and Thomas declamped the main halyard. The sail went down into the lazy jacks quite good, but I had to get out to the mast to take in the last third of the sail – the reason was that every second mast slider on our Elvström-sail is connected with a soft lashing to the sail, not by means of a solid metal lashing like every other second slider is. Each and every one of those soft lashings broke and flew away so that the main sail couldn´t come down as smooth as intended. Finally we had the main down and the Genoa reefed to the second reefing point – things improved considerably.
Arriving at Quinta do Lorde Marina on Madeira
Now the phone rang and Sven, Skipper of SY AVATAR came through. He told us to try VHF again which I did and I got the marineiro who told us come in, the jetty and number and gave some advice how to clear the yacht from shallows in the entry. Minutes later a dinghy raced up to the yacht with him aboard guiding us to the marina: “We have strong winds in the harbour, I will press you in case needed to the pier side”, he announced. We waved thankfully.
Some gusts tried to catch us but it was all no problem. Behind the yacht the ferry to Porto Santo went by, a windsurfer had his fun and a smaller sailing yacht tried to make headway to the cape which seemed a futile undertaking – but fun, considering the heeling the poor boat had to endure. We reached Quinta do Lorde half an hour later, took it all the sails and the engine steamed us into the harbour. We could see some of AVATAR´s crew lining up at the reeling waving “Hello!” as we readied the yacht with fenders and mooring lines.
At around 9 a.m. we hat MOJITO tied up safely to the jetty and I was completely exhausted. 10 hours of constant watch, the last of them being very intense. Now I had to pay the toll: Whilst the rest of the crew jumped off the boat to conquer the marina, Wilfried and I just went to the showers and straight into our bunks to enjoy some hours of a deep, restorative sleep, which we savoured. At noon I awoke almost concurrent with the Skipper as he was preparing fresh coffee. As I opened my eyes, he was smiling at me: We had the yacht for our own. It was quiet. Sun was shining. Perfect!
Perfect like the late second breakfast: Fried eggs, roasted bread, a fried tomato and fatty English sausage. All along with litres of hot sweet coffee and again we rarely talked, just smacked our lips and smiled. We´ve made the short way from Porto Santo to Madeira considerably longer: When SY AVATAR departed they catched a favourable wind to sail on a brad reach as fast as 5 hours over here. It took us more than double the distance and time to do the same some 6 hours earlier. “God save the Internet and Windfinder.com”, Wilfried commented with a smile.
What to do on Madeira?
Like all the others of our crew I´ve never been to Madeira and so we were all very keen on exploring this spot. Renting two cars, it was Thomas and Ute in one and Wilfried, Martin and myself in the second sporty runabout and at 9 a.m. the next day we were ready to roam the streets of the island. Madeira is called the “Island of Flowers” and that´s not a nickname from the past, it´s pure reality! Everywhere you look, even in the roadside ditches, flowers in the nicest colours will blossom. When we stopped by our very first lookout point after some 20 minutes driving, Martin and Thomas said in unison: “Do you get this wonderful smell in the air?” I promise, the whole Island smells like putting your nose into a bouquet of flowers indeed!
The stark contrast of green to the blue of the ocean was pure treat to my eyes. I couldn´t believe my eyes: The whole island is covered by a thick, luscious green forest. Other than Porto Santo and most of the islands I know where deforestation killed most of the tree vegetation Madeira seems to be untouched – an almost perverted look! Kind of anachronistic. I could not get enough of the green trees, the leaves and … this captivating flavoursome smell of the flowers in full bloom!
We took a drive up to the North of Madeira. Small roads – kind of crowded though – brought us from lookout to lookout. Small, picturesque villages with a thriving life left us puzzled: What are these people living from? What´s their jobs? We couldn´t tell because here up in the North we didn´t see many tourists neither did we notice any hotels or other touristic facilities. We simply enjoyed it. Wilfried said: “Gentlemen, I hereby officially announce that Madeira is my most beloved Island!”
At one point we parked our cars to take a walk in one of the forests. The trees were high and well grown, a natural forest for sure. Thick green leaves, the earth they grow on brown and rich from minerals, every step making a wet sound. That´s tree´s paradise. “Notice anything?”, Martin asks. We hold in and look at each other. No? What? “There´s no bird. There´s no nothing.” Silence! Martin was right: As rich and green this perfect forest may have appeared to us, we couldn´t hear a bird sing. We couldn´t hear anything except our own voices. Strange …
We crossed the Island in the middle to Funchal, the main town of Madeira. Except from the fact that we here found the huge concrete touristic bunkers and resorts, Funchal also features a very, very nice old town worth some hours of roaming around in the narrow streets and enjoying a perfect meal – which we did as well. Driving back east to Quinta do Lorde after a nearly 11 hour trip we were satisfied with a day full of breathing this wonderful island. Well, of course, not before we did enjoy one another perfectly brewed coffee and those delicious Portuguese sweet bakery, not to mention the Madeira style cheesecake with a Passion Fruit glossy topping … addictive!
When we returned to our boat, Skipper Sven had the latest weather forecasts, in which I showed no interest. As I could tell, weather down here changes on an hourly bases as we had seen yesterday on our way down and the low pressure systems approaching could hit us with full force – or don´t hit us at all. As a matter of fact, we wanted to stay on day longer so it wasn´t worth spoiling this perfect day on Madeira with weather discussions and sailing strategies. Wilfried agreed.
Mighty, mighty Atlantic Ocean
On the next day we decided to stay in the Marina. Quinta do Lorde is a 4 Star Hotel Resort 6 Marina offering everything you can imagine. Martin did what he shouldn´t have done and checked into his business email-account … and disappeared in the Internet-Café for the complete day for work. Thomas and Ute went for their own and Skipper Wilfried chose to sit with Sven in the Café to have even more Passion Fruit cheesecake. I went for a walk to the Cape.
The Eastern Cape of Madeira is very interesting as it is just some 500 meters wide. So some 200 meters high cliffs and rocks can be climbed upon to offer a fantastic view both over the island and furthermore to the roaring North where the Atlantic Ocean furiously smashes the angry waves against the vertical wall of stone and a calm, turquoise ocean in leeward features schools of Dolphins swimming around aquafarms. It was a two hours walk when I arrived at the scene.
The air smelled like pure salt. Water vaporized and dragged up along the stone walls hundreds of meters to fill my lungs. I took breaths like I never breathed before – I could really taste the Ocean, feel the healthy effect of this ionized air to my lungs. When I climbed aside the designated paths for the top of one of the rocky cliffs and finally reached it, by putting my head over the sharp stony edge, the wind suddenly hit my face like a slap from my mother. My sunglasses nearly blew off my nose. Breathaking!
Those colours, the sound, the smell. The rich contrasts of saturated green, thousand variants of blue are unforgettable. The rolling thunder of huge waves, each one moving a hundred or so tons of small stones at the beach, constantly rounding their edged like they did for millennia. This all seems so perfect, yet so untouchable. Madeira is unlike any other Island I´ve ever seen and anyone coming by must take a day or two or three out here to explore this marvellous piece of rock in the Atlantic Ocean!
Finally it was time to leave. We again restocked our supplies. This time it was for some kilograms of finest prime beef we desperately needed to buy. As some seven kilograms of this great red meat filled our fridge to the edge we put ourselves into our berth for the last time here on Madeira. Next day at 11 a.m. after breakfast our departure was scheduled.
Farewell to Madeira – casting off for Selvagem and Canaries
Why´s that prime beef? Well, Wilfried and Sven are great Skippers and so they exerted themselves well in advance of our trip to get the official permission for landing on the Selvagem Islands. These tiny unpopulated islands, kind of eastern of the direct route to Lanzarote but nearly halfway from Madeira to the Canaries is a nature reserve. Two rangers are guarding this bird-rich place. Only a handful of yachts get permission to anchor here – AVATAR and MOJITO are two of them. “Take beef with you for the rangers”, the marineiro said: “They are living basically from fish.”
As we steamed out of Quinta do Lorde Marina I was full of joy to be on the boat and out on the Ocean again. “Imagine we could ready the dinghy whilst on anchorage in Selvagem, a short dash to the shore and the rangers are making a huge fire at the beach – we BBQ the steaks and have a couple of beers, sleep in our bags right in the sand and the next day explore the island!”, Martin was rhapsodizing. I agreed: What a great prospect!
So we set sails. To be exact, we just hoisted our Genoa, because wind hadn´t shifted and pushed us on a flat running course to Selvagem. Waves were going as high as 6 meters and again it promised to be a nice, 24 hour sail to the tiny islands. But with all good stories, this time it turned out to be a completely different one than expected …
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.