celebration in Funchal, Madeira

It’s a Home Celebration!…?

Saturday October 11, 2014

celebration in Funchal Madeira

This afternoon Matt and I were out and about town during one of our ritual wanderings when we came across a celebration that had been set up just a few blocks inland from the marina.  We weren’t really sure what it was for, but the fountain in the center of this park had a long string of multiple colored flowers streaming outward and above the center of the pavilion.  Situated in the center were rows of picnic tables, and lining the outer walls were multiple booths ready to hand out a hot snack or a cold drink.  For a price of course, they weren’t giving them out for free.  Unfortunately.

Walking around the sheds we stopped long enough to listen to a little bit of very traditional Portuguese Folk Music being played upon the stage, as well as some very traditionally dressed people lining up in front of the stage in costume.  We were hoping for some dancing on their part, but it looked as if they were only set to stand about and clap to the music.  After they wandered away I was able to catch just enough of the Portuguese from the announcer that there would be more music and dancing that evening, with the main event beginning around 8:00.  Since we had already spend a good portion of our day wandering the high hills of the city, we agreed that a nice siesta and dinner were in order, but we’d be back that night to check it out more.

While back at the boat I used our perk of being in a marina, wifi access, to try and research the festival a little more so we could fully appreciate it when we went back.  Flipping through a few of my photos I saw a big banner that read ‘Casas do Povo da Maderia’.  Searching that phrase alone I was shown a flood of links and clicked on a few, and after translating those pages, realized they were all for vacation homes in Madeira.  So, was this similar to those time-share things people get suckered into back home?  Listen to my two hour speech on why it would be the best decision of your life to rent a condo on the beach for two weeks in Jamaica and in return we’ll give you a dinner certificate?  Is that what we’d just fallen into?  Listen to our music and enjoy our food as we shove pamphlets in your face showcasing our best ocean front rentals?  I doubt it.

So I turned to Google Translate.  What this told me is the literal translation was ‘Madeira’s people’s homes’.  Well, that didn’t help me out any.  Back up plan of searching Funchal along with the date and see if that brought anything up.  Nope.  Whatever this celebration was, it was not being advertised.  Although that didn’t mean that we’d enjoy it any less.  Showing up fashionably late we made our way back around 8:30.

By this time the pavilion had become packed and we were lucky to find room to stand between a couple of the food stalls.  It did put us front and center for the stage though, which helped me to get a few good shots and video when people weren’t wandering in front of my lens.  The music was once again all in Portuguese and none of the American or British covers we experienced with the orchestra back in Ponta Delgada.  It was fun, but without a good place to sit or stand, and constantly having to move out of the way for people to pass through, we eventually gave up on the night after about 30 minutes.  It was still a good excuse to get off the boat though and see something a little different from the everyday norm.

celebration in Funchal, Madeira

traditional celebration in Funchal, Madeira

celebration in Funchal, Madeira

Portuguese music, Funchal, Madeira

celebration, Funchal, Madeira

celebration in Funchal

Michelle and Adam at gin bar

Cruise Like a Norwegian

Wednesday October 8, 2014

Santa Maria Gin Bar

Every night in every city around the world it happens.  People pour into local watering holes to well…drink.  It’s our mission to traverse the globe getting to know these different people and their drinking customs, bellying up to the bar, and with any luck, making some new friends. Wait a minute, that sounds kind of familiar. Ah yes, that’s right. I stole it from Three Sheets (Around the world one drink at a time), but I think it aptly describes our night in Funchal tonight. Except, instead of getting to know the locals and their drinking customs, we observed them with two Aussies and three Norwegians.

We met Michelle and Adam, the two Aussies, two days ago when all of us happened to be headed to the marina’s showers at the same time. Or the loo, or whatever it might be referred to as by them, not even realizing they were just hot off a passage themselves. Isn’t that so fun to say though?, ‘I met them on my way to the loo’. Since how were we supposed to know at the time that this young couple were cruisers and not just backpackers looking for a lukewarm shower? You don’t see many young people out in these mid-Atlantic islands, it just doesn’t happen.

Except for the 30-something American guy I struck up a conversation with in Horta while going up to the marina bar for a bag of ice. He probably thought I was getting ready to throw some kind of mixer on our boat that evening, completely unaware it’s real use was to dump over my head with a bucket of water. Come to think of it, he looked kind of fun. I should have gotten his boat card or an email address…something that would have kept us in contact and let us do something social during our weeks in Faial. Instead of sitting on the boat by ourselves. Every night.

But getting back to the people we hung out with tonight, Henrik, Kristian, and Marius, of S/Y Doris, make up the Norwegian part of the group are three of the cutest young guys you’ve ever seen. These friends, that we met through Michelle and Adam, are on their way from Bergen to Sydney in just one year. These three boys have piled themselves into a 32 ft boat, and if you ask them why they’re out doing this they’ll tell you Because it will be the adventure of our lives – who could say no to something like that!

The seven of us started our night at one of the quaint little bistros that line the concrete walls surrounding the marina, and with a nice tall beer cheaply priced at 1,30€, the next few hours few by as we all talked about our travels and shut the place down at the early hour of 23:00. (Yes, military time. That’s something you have to get used to over here). Not ready to end the night, and after speaking with Michelle about some of the local drinks and customs, we definitely were not ready to call it quits before trying some Poncha. A local drink from Madeira made with a distilled alcohol made from sugar cane juice, honey, sugar, lemon rind, and added flavors. Sounded tasty to me, and since I never got my birthday Caipirinha, I was not going to leave this island without getting a Poncha in me.

Dragging our group to the old town next, since I’ve fallen so extremely in love with it over the past few days, we expected the clubs to be going strong and overflowing with other tourists like ourselves. How wrong we were though. Wandering it’s most restaurant and bar ridden road we only came across only one establishment that was still open, the Santa Marina Gin Bar. Sounds like the perfect place to grab a Poncha, right? After the group of us grabbed another round of beers and made our way to the posh outdoor terrace, Michelle and I decided it was time to skedaddle off on our own to try this drink.

Walking up to the bartender we asked the gentleman if they offered it. He told us that no, they did not, but there was a place open in the downtown area that was still open and did carry it. Since we were already saddled up to the bar we asked how much a gin & tonic would cost. We did happen to be in a gin bar, and when in Rome… “8€” replied the bartender. “Oh”. We sighed nonchalantly, not about to drop that much money on one drink but also trying to come off as upscale as the bar we were in. “Did a guy just walk out of here with 7 beers?” “Yes”. “Well, we’re all set then, thanks anyway!”, and ran away, hoping he didn’t see us counting the meager change in our coin purses.

crew of S/Y Doris

Santa Maria Gin Bar, Funchal

Santa Maria Gin Bar, Funchal, Madeira

Hannah and Adam at gin bar

Back out on the patio where the cheap beers were flowing, we sat around and talked for a bit about Australia and all the things that can kill you there. Michelle and Adam, living their lives here, and the Norwegian boys, on their way here, were all very interested in this topic. Yes, drop bears did come up a few times. Before we knew it we had closed down the gin bar as well but still had not had a single taste of Poncha. Getting directions from the bartender on this mythical place where we could actually find it, we wandered the dark roads of Funchal until we wound up directly across the street from the marina where we had begun. Another round of beers were ordered and this cute old man that we think runs the place kept bringing us out little plates of popcorn and seemed to be very charmed every time we would take a moment out of our conversation to thank him for this.

Eventually Michelle wandered off inside and when she came back she was holding two passion fruit Ponchas for us girls to drink. Just as the description promises, it was very sugary and sweet. I was really going to take my time and enjoy this drink. That was, until Henrik spied us and I handed over my glass for him to have a taste. The next think I know my whole glass of syrupy goodness was down his throat. After I’d only had one sip. I started at him slack-jawed and stuttered “But…but..that was my drink! You drank my drink!”. Completely stone faced Michelle looked on at him and replied, “That was her drink. You need to go buy her another one.” The poor guy had no idea that I was only offering a taste and not the whole thing. But, being the good guy that he is, he disappeared into the bar and came out with a tray of seven Ponchas in his hand. And Michelle, being the sweet girl that she is, placed her already existing one between us to share.

After this point, all was right with the world again. I had my Poncha, I had popcorn, and I had friends. And can I just say that after not having gone out for a social night with other people since back in Miami, it felt really really good.

Taberna in Funchal Madeira

Marius, Kristian, and Adam

me & Michelle

Poncha

Poncha!!

Henrik

smoking a cigarette

 I stole some of the guys items as photo props.

me & Marius

sunset in Madeira

In Search of Sunset

Sunday October 5, 2014

Funchal harbor at sunset

If I thought the fates had been aligning against us for what I still consider one of our worst overall passages ever, it turns out they were actually aligning for us to bring us to the most wonderful place in the world. Seriously, we have been in love with Madeira ever since we spotted it’s little hillside villages and elegant bridges spanning across the many valleys. The love continued once we stepped foot on land yesterday to take a walk though the high end and completely picturesque town of Funchal. The sidewalks are still paved with little black and white stones depicting beautiful designs, and the buildings, statues, heck, even the city bank, are perfectly maintained and sharp, but still hold an old world charm. Hard to explain, but just trust me when I say the whole area is gorgeous.

Tonight I took a chance to explore it a little more myself when I accepted a challenge from Jennifer over at Three Sheets Sailing for Share a Sunset on Sunday. Ok, so it wasn’t so much a challenge as a group invitation for cruisers all over the world, but it was my own personal challenge to find the most beautiful spot in the city to watch the sunset from and capture that moment.

What Jennifer had put together on her Facebook page was a really cool and unique opportunity for us who travel the globe to remember that no matter how far apart we may be at times, we’re all watching the same sun set in the sky every night. Starting out in the South Pacific, those who had first exposure to that day’s sunset would post a photo of it on this page along with the location. Then as the world continued to turn and others watched day turn into dusk, they would put up their photos. An extremely cool idea that I hope carries on.

Grabbing my camera and leaving Matt back on the boat, I set off for the hills, determined to find a nice spot on a hill that would overlook the city and the harbor as the sun was setting on it. Even though we’d done a little wandering the past few days I found myself in areas of the city we hadn’t passed through yet and were definitely missing out on. The old city with all of it’s character and bistros, and a pizza place that smelled absolutely heavenly. I walked up the hillside past a church holding a celebration, and through balconies glancing down at natural Atlantic pools.

Needless to say, I got a lot more out of this challenge than just finding a pretty picture to put up online. I discovered parts of a city that I keep falling in love with more every day. Watch out Cuba, I might just have a new favorite island. Oh, and the part of global togetherness was pretty cool too.

stone beach in Madeira

sunset in Madeira

sunset in Madeira

Funchal at sunset

sunset over Funchal

Madeira at dusk

Funchal, Madeira, at night

cliffs of Madeira

La Bella Isla Madeira

Friday October 3, 2014

Madeira

Last night we broke down and finally used the engine on and off through the night to finally get ourselves some speed and pointing capabilities. And partially to dodge the line of tankers that wanted to come just a little to close to us. I had a moment where I was handing the reigns of my shift over to Matt where two tankers were headed right at us, one on each side, but a little too close for comfort. Calling one man on VHF and getting no answers the first few times until I repeated it a few more times with a very stern ‘Please respond’ at the end, I politely asked if he could miss hitting us by subtracting a few more degrees from his current course since I already had a tanker on one side of me and the wind on my nose in another. I barley got a response and wasn’t even sure he heard me until I saw the course on his AIS falling a few degrees. I may have thanked him for his help a little too hastily since that number began to rise again, but by that time it was Matt’s problem and I was on my way to my bunk. A little course alteration on Matt’s part and throwing our deck lights on to make sure this guy knew exactly where we were, and all was good and we were in the clear within ten minutes.

When I woke up this morning, our tenth day at sea, Matt told me there would be a slight change in plans. The wind had never shifted north enough for us to be able to make the easting we needed to get to Porto Santo. But..we could get ourselves on the west side of Maderia Grande, and once there we would be sheltered by the winds and could motor smoothly into the harbor of Funchal. Whatever. If it meant I could fall asleep at anchor that night, I was in. Setting us on a course that was just far enough off the wind that we might actually be able to get there, he let me know that we needed to maintain a speed of 5 knots to get there before nightfall. If we couldn’t do it under sail power alone, the engine needed to be on and running high. Turning off our diesel hog, I was able to get in one enjoyable hour of sailing before we kept dipping into the mid 4’s and a panic ran through me that this had the potential of leaving us at sea another night and I rushed to turn it back on.

As we rose and fell through the building swell that was coming from our back quarter, I read up on Madeira and Funchal through our Imray guide, having skipped it the first time around because I never expected it to be a stop. I found a few fun little facts about the town, a nice black and white photo depicting the harbor and the homes sitting on hillside behind it, and a little blurb that Maderia’s west side, of which we would be passing by in a few hours, contained sheer cliff drops into the water, supposedly the second largest in the world. It also appeared as if this island contained volcanic peaks that almost rivaled that back in Pico, and should also be visible from the water at distances of 30-50 miles. Riding every crest I’d stare out into the distance, waiting for something to come out of the shadows, but it wasn’t until we were less than 15 miles off on this hazy day that I was able to make out an outline through the brume.

Over the next few hours I watched it become larger and clearer. Finally it came into view and I stood in awe at the massiveness of it. I had not been expecting anything so colossal. For a few minutes as I stood on the cockpit seats with my head over the dodger and letting the strong breeze blow through my hair I had a pod of dolphins pass by, jumping through the considerable waves that followed behind me. They were gone almost as soon as they had come, but I had other more important things on my mind. Land. We were finally within site. We were going to make it there if it killed me.

And that my friends, is when you speak too soon. Although the swell was mostly behind us, by this point it had grown to the predicted 12 feet that our weather report (my dad) had forecast. Up until that point winds were in the mid 20’s and although it wasn’t a calm ride, it was mostly comfortable. Then we came across something I’ve had little to no experience with. Just as we were rounding the western part of the island and I assumed this solid block of land would begin blocking us from the gusts, we hit a wind zone. A little thing I had read up on a bit for in the Canaries, but didn’t know I would come across here. In these wind zones, the wind will funnel itself around a portion of land and increase itself anywhere from 10-20 knots, almost instantly. I had just found myself in one of these areas and now my 25 knot winds were holding in the upper 30’s and sometimes gusting into the mid 40’s. I kept thinking they would go down in just a few minutes and hesitated to wake Matt to help put a reef in the main, the only sail we were running with at the time.

Just as I was contemplating ‘Do I , or do I not?’, one of the large waves from behind us caught us at a strange angle and began rounding us into the wind. Sometimes this will happen by 10° or so and the autopilot will work to fix itself in a matter of seconds, but this was closer to a 90° change, and we showed no signs of turning back the correct direction. Lunging toward the autopilot I quickly threw it on standby and yanked the wheel hard to starboard, slowly putting us back on course, but not before the next wave started to come and tried it’s best to keep us pointed into the wind. As we reached the crest I finally got some semblance of steering back and set us once more to where we were supposed to be. My heart was pounding, but we seemed to be ok. For the moment.

Just as my pulse was returning to a normal rate, it happened again. Once more I flew to the rear of the cockpit as fast as humanly possible, but with my harness and tether on I was only able to go so far. Staring at the stern as my hand once more cranked the wheel to port, I was not able to fight the force that was rounding us up. For one whole set we sat almost at a standstill with our beam into the waves and I was sure the next one to come would be the one to roll us over. Fighting the panic in my chest I moved myself behind the wheel to the best of my ability with my harness still clasped into a pad-eye by the companionway, letting the tether rub across the top of the wheel as I put all of my strength into keeping it hard over. What felt like an eternity later, although I’m sure it was mere seconds, the bow started following my directions and we were out of harms way. This time it didn’t even take me two seconds to yell down to Matt who was still comfortably sleeping in his bunk, that he needed to get his ass up so we could put a reef in.

Changing our course to almost directly downwind so the waves would not keep catching us on our side, we reefed the main and things instantly felt 1,000 x better. And knowing that we were no longer knocking on death’s door (I know I’m being much more dramatic about this than it actually was), we could finally enjoy the views in front of us. The dramatic cliff drops were just as good as the guide said they would be, and the only thing we could do was stand there with our mouths open as we watched them go by.  From there on things just kept getting better.  Just as suddenly as we had entered the wind zone we were now out of it and in the lee of the island.  Winds became just a slight breeze on our cheeks as we could now feel the sun beat down on them as well.

Taking full advantage of the now gorgeous day, I put some music on to blast through the cockpit speakers and opened a beer while I continued to watch our views get better.  It was like the universe was watching out for me and saying ‘Sorry about that earlier snafu, let me make it up to you with some of the most spectacular views I have to offer you.’  And oh yes, they were.  As that weren’t enough, just a few miles further along the coast we were treated with a remarkable dolphin show.  These things were really trying to show off for us.  There wasn’t just your usual swimming next to the boat while sticking their head above the water every now and then to get a better look at us.  For literally hours we watched as groups of these magnificent creatures did jumps, twists, and tail stands.

Then just as the sun was beginning it’s descent and radiating perfect orange beams onto the cliffs in front of us, we neared the harbor of Funchal.  Calling in and getting in touch with the harbor master I found that just as our guide book promised, it was possible to anchor in this harbor.  Finally.  Not having dropped the hook since Bermuda I think all of us, the cat included, were looking forward to a little swinging room on the boat.  Entering the inner harbor and finding the catamarans the harbor master had mentioned to us as the best place for us to be, we dropped the anchor just as the sky was growing dark.

Letting out all the necessary chain in this fairly deep port, we glanced around and realized how close we were to not only the chartered dolphin watching catamarans next to us, but the large cement breaker behind us.  After 5 minutes of staring around we made the executive decision to get the anchor up and just go in the marina instead.  Calling the harbor master once more to let him know that instead of anchoring, we’d now be coming in, and where was the reception area and what side should we have our fenders on.  The only response I received was an infuriating “I’ll point you in the right direction when you get in here, but I can’t tell you what side you’ll be on, so just put fenders on both sides”.  Well, not only do we not have enough fenders to go all the way around our boat, but it was literally now getting black out, so how the hell are we going to follow your directions if I can’t even see you?

Arguing with the man on VHF for more information, which he wouldn’t give, then arguing with Matt about the lack of information, and arguing on the VHF once more, we just decided to throw two fenders on each side and get ourselves in with any last little bit of daylight we had left.  Once the anchor was weighed I quickly handed the wheel to Matt and ran up to the bow to watch for our harbor traffic controller.  Fortunately I did spot him just as we rounded the corner into the marina and he yelled out “Follow me!” as he hopped on a little bike and began to race it around the inner breakwater.  Matt was not a happy camper behind the wheel as I tried my best to shout not only directions back to him from the bow, but when to watch out for the mooring lines attached to the bows of all the boats docked here.

If we had to join the ranks of those before us in this marina that backed their boats into sample size spaces in the dark, I think we would have happily turned the boat around and heaved to a few miles off shore until the sun came up.  I think the harbor master realized this and took pity on us, guiding us to a large open space of dock where he instructed us to side tie.  The lines were still a mess since he ‘couldn’t tell us what side we’d be on’, and I did a slapdash job of getting them run through the chalks on our starboard side before handing them over.  Our landing into this spot was not very graceful.  Withing a few minutes though, we were securely tied up and the engine was off.  The longest (perceived) passages of our lives was officially over

cliffs of Madeira

cliffs of west Maderia

dolphins in front of Madeira

dolphin jumping at bow

cliffs of Madeira

Funchal, Madeira

M

calm water on Atlantic

Longest.Passage.Ever.

Thursday October 2, 2014

calm water on Atlantic

Getting ready to leave Ponta Delgada, and extremely happy for a weather window to get ourselves someplace new, we turned on all the instruments and found the wind to be 14 kts at the docks. Perfect. We could put all sail up and have a nice comfortable ride. Getting into the harbor though, the winds had picked up dramatically, hovering around 25. We still decided to go for a full mainsail, and once that was up, we raised the staysail as well. Shutting off the engine we rocketed out of the harbor at 6 knots. It looked as if the wind strength was in our favor, but the direction however, was not. Coming straight out of the east, almost directly where we needed to go. Now forcing ourselves on a course of 160°, when we had been hoping for 100° or 110°, we moved along SSE, hoping the winds would change in the next few days. Even joking that we should move south to the Canaries and skip the Madeira group all together, we realized we were about 20° too far west of those as well.

For the beginning of this trip and when we were still close to land, I made sure to position myself behind the wheel so I could see any small fishing vessels in the wide harbor as we exited. Sitting in that position I had no protection from the wind, and sat shivering and wearing Matt’s oversized fleece, while keeping my foot positioned on the binnacle so I wouldn’t slide away in these rounds of waves and 15 degree heel. Once we were about ten miles offshore and I was safe in assuming we wouldn’t be passing any more small boats, I finally moved to the protection of the dodger and watched the island of Sao Miguel fade out behind me.

Through the night and into the next morning the winds began dying down a little which made the ride just a bit more comfortable. Then they died out completely. We were off to a less than aspicious beginning. So far we had gone just close enough in the right direction for it not to be considered the wrong direction, and now we weren’t going anywhere. We wanted to try and find out where the wind was hiding at so we could catch it, but the signal we were picking up from our weather fax gave us an image equivalent to an ink blot test and we were left scratching our heads on what it all meant. Luckily we had both my dad and our friend Jason sending us weather reports on our satellite phone, but we didn’t always know when they were coming and wanted to try to get some information from someone who was in the exact same spot as us. Although we’d never done it before we’ve heard that boaters will sometimes hail passing cargo and cruise ships to get weather reports. I was now willing to be one of those boats and spent a full day waiting for one to pass within range.

On Friday, two days out, I saw my first tanker and excitedly hailed them on the radio. Over and over and over I called an no one responded. A few hours later another cargo ship popped up on our AIS. I hailed the very Russian sounding name and was delighted to hear a response…until I asked them if they could give us a weather report and was met with a big fiat ‘Niet’. So we drifted aimlessly along in hopes that the winds would eventually fill in. Sunday they began to pick up a bit more, but of course still on our nose. During the night I was able to call a cargo ship that was kind enough to acquiesce my request for weather, but it was not looking good. Matching the latest update from my dad, taking from Passage Weather, we were in for some heavy wind and waves and not in a direction that was going to be any help for us.

I’ll just give you the short hand over the next few days. Suffice to say that even though we have actually been on passages longer than this, it will still go down in my memory as the longest one we’ve ever encountered. The trip itself was supposed to be about 560 miles, or in anyone’s average traveling, about 5 days. This trip ended up taking us 9!! That’s almost double. During all these days at sea we were barley able to point toward our end target of Porto Santo, Portugal, of the Madeira Island Group. Originally planning on keeping a course of 130° the whole way from Ponta Delgada, we were never once able to come close to it. On good days we were 30-35° off, and most days it was closer to 50 or 60.  There were a few hours, the ones that almost brought me to tears, that we were actually heading either NE or SW, more than 90 degrees off course, because the wind seemed to be coming from every direction we turned. To add insult to injury, the waves were beginning to build and any speed we had been maintaining took a dramatic drop. Punching into the waves, we were left with speeds at or just over 2 knots. This trip was turning into a nightmare.

At the beginning of the trip we had considered just turning ourselves around and waiting for a better weather window, but watching the storm that would undoubtedly pass through every few days, we knew that staying that far north might guarantee us a permanent spot there through the winter. No matter how long or tough it would be, we had to keep pushing south towards fairer weather.

The only part that worried us was the forecast that kept coming in from my dad telling us that things were going to get worse before they got any better. Both wind and waves were going to continue to build, and if we could help it, we should get ourselves into a harbor by Thursday or Friday. Around that time winds would finally begin shifting further east and then north, but they were also going to bring confused seas with them, ambushing us from every direction. Not only that, but going from Thursday into Friday they were going to build up to 4m, or just over 12 feet.

Let me just tell you that things did get worse before they got better. In fact, there was a time for me when things were pretty damn bad. Then… they got pretty damn good. And then they got a little worse again. But that’s a story for tomorrow.

Georgie on passage

 I don’t know how she can even find that comfortable.

sunset while sailing

storm over calm waters