Port of Call – Porto Santo

Porto Santo is a small island just north of Madeira. It is Madeiras’ quiet and sleepy neighbour.  It was indeed a welcome port of call for us on our yacht Moonlighting, having had rather a difficult sail over from Lisbon some 500 miles to the north east.

The slow and gentle pace of life on this warm Atlantic island, west of Europe and Africa, suited our recovery from the gruelling passage perfectly. We picked up a buoy in the inner harbour for 6.5 euros a night, including the use of shower facilities and a free laundry service wash.  The marina is very small. There is an excellent cheap cafe on site that offered free WiFi for the marina guests. It is the hub for socialising sailors, exchanging notes on where they’ve been, where they’re going, recommendations, advice and the ever-present swapping of crucial weather information.

The language spoken is Portuguese, and English, as their second language is also spoken by most to a greater or lesser degree.  Making the effort to try and speak a little Portuguese is welcome – we always teach the children the basics of please, thank you, hello and goodbye in the local language wherever we are, and the women of the island in particular seemed surprised and pleased when our four year old would shout ‘obrigado’ to anyone that would listen.  This usually resulted in her cheeks being given a squeeze, her red hair stroked and generally a lot of attention – she knew what she was doing!

The islanders try to eek out a living from tourism. Porto Santo is off the beaten track and is Madeira’s poorer neighbour – it has one main advantage over Madeira – a long and golden sandy beach that extends the whole length of the south side of the 9 mile long island.  In particular the beach at Ponta da Calheta at the south west of the island is superb – as a family we went snorkelling here and the visibility was 15 meters plus with plenty of fish to view and on a par with our snorkelling experiences in the Caribbean. 

There is hiking – not for the feint hearted, this rock sticks up out of the ocean 516 metres high at Pico do Facho. There is also a golf course – the only really green bit of this arid dusty landscape apart from the numerous cacti and palm trees. The open top tourist bus can be caught from the centre of the only town – Cidade Villa Baleria and takes you on a basic tour, proudly showing how sleepy and a little run down but friendly the island is – the driver stopping to chat to friends and honking his horn at others.  There is a daily passenger ferry that comes across from Madeira and a very small airport.  But personally, we prefer to travel under our own steam – arriving under sail to a new port of call, knowing that you have made this journey successful, no matter how hard that journey was, far outweighs in our opinion any other way of arriving at a destination…

 

Family Cruise……. or Endurance Passage?

Sailing is a great way to see the world with the family in tow.  The kids eyes are opened every day to new experiences, culture, food and people. They rapidly learn to not be too shy and make friends with other kids quickly and are confident around the boat – safety wise and usefulness wise.  Our ten year old can happily use appropriate knots for tying the fenders onto the boat, take a bow or stern line ashore and even helm under power and sail in some quite tricky conditions as we found out on our last passage from Lisbon to Porto Santo, one of the islands of the Madeira group.

The distance from Lisbon to Porto Santo is just shy of 500 miles.  We assume our average sailing speed to be about 6 knots and therefore it’s going to take us 3-4 days depending on wind and sea state.  This was the longest ocean passage we’d done with the children so far.

15 hours into the trip our auto helm failed. This is an essential piece of kit for us.  Usually we would embark on a longer ocean passage and once on our route and the sails have been set for conditions and direction we would switch on the auto helm, sit back and enjoy the journey (occasionally ‘tweaking’ sails and auto helm as the conditions change.  So long as someone is on lookout we are free to move about the boat, cook, make tea, read a book, sort the kids out,  anything really.  Making long ocean passages with the children on board and no auto helm is not much fun to say the least!

For 60 hours day and night William and I had to hand steer the boat by compass. We decided on a two hour rota. Two hours helming, two hours off.  On the helm you can literally do nothing else, the wind was strong and coming from directly astern of us and made the boat roll heavily from port to starboard and back again continuously.  You constantly had to adjust the course steered with the roll of the boat to continue on course and watch out for waves our 40ft yacht Moonlighting might like to surf down.

In the day this is relatively straight forward – there is nothing around you but wide open ocean and the occasional huge cargo ship, so a visual fix on something in the distance to make sure you’re going in the right direction isn’t an option. But you can at least see the direction the waves are coming from, feel the wind on the back of your neck and even use the clouds and patches of blue sky as a reference point – something to aim for, with the odd glance down at the compass immediately in front of you, just to be sure.

But at night it’s a different story. It’s pitch black from about 6pm, you can hear and feel the ever present strong wind berating down the back of your neck and you can sense the power of the huge waves all around you, but you can see nothing but the glow of the compass which is lit so you can see it to steer by, but destroys any night vision you might have other wise been able to see by. All you can do is stare at the compass and feel the boat moving and make helming decisions with all the senses available to you.  If you’re lucky, the night will be clear with stars and when the moon rises it will give some light to dissipate that closed in, dark, lonely, claustrophobic feeling. Sitting at the helm under these conditions is not passive.  It very, very physical.  You’re constantly bracing yourself for the heavy rolling of the boat side to side. The wheel is heavy and stiff because of the wave action hitting the rudder, requiring large amounts of efforts to move it port to starboard.  You feel bruised and beaten up.  I’m sure I now have abs of steel and my arms have been nicely toned!

And of course the conditions are changing often, and with that requires sail changes and adjustments.  Usually I’d be on the helm while William would half walk half crawl along the deck to make changes to the main sail or the headsail – both of which have been secured so they can’t accidentally be blown across to the other side of the boat (accidental jibe) which is a high risk with the wind coming from behind us and would be bad news. It’s one thing doing this in daylight but quite another in the dark.  I’m sure Will got fed up with me double and triple checking that he had ‘clipped on’  whenever he went forward- secured himself with a line from his life jacket to the boat – I’ll leave the potential consequences of not clipping on in these conditions and at night to your imagination!  The boat naturally wants to round up into the wind and she wants to surf down the waves, veering off at the bottom, but this is not what we want the boat to do – we want to steer as straight a line as possible to get there as quickly as we can.

Off watch for two hours does not mean you can relax. Those sail changes I mentioned have to come out of someone’s off watch time – it’s just too exhausting to spend extra time on the helm. At night, the kids are asleep snug in their bunks, oblivious to the sleep deprived labour both their parents are going through (thank goodness they did sleep through it!). So this means whoever is off the helm can try and get their head down for some sleep.  Neither of us managed to get much of this high value and prized commodity! We opted to sleep in the saloon on one of the sofas that’s not a proper bunk so we were within easy shouting distance for the person on watch if they needed help.  The sofa is narrow, you’ve got the table at your back pinning you in position but the boats throwing you around so much your constantly under threat of being thrown onto the floor.  Cupboards and lockers occasionally popping open through ageing catches, threatening to tip out their contents with the next wave (we must buy some bolts for those before the next ocean passage!), the contents of the lockers rattle around with the rocking of the boat. Grabbing something to eat or drink all uses up precious little off watch sleeping time.  We slept fully clothed, ate food that was convenient and need little cooking, if any at all. The day before we’d set sail I’d made a big pasta sauce, cake and brownies – I always do this before a passage because it’s good to have something to just heat up or grab – just in case.

During the daylight hours off watch was same – we still needed to try and get some sleep because we were getting so little of it at night, but there was also the children to consider.  I have to say they were amazing.  They’re all proper little sailors having been dragged along on family sailing holidays since they were in nappies, so they know their way around boats well.  But they really did just get on with it and sorted themselves out.  Occasionally William or I would throw some food in their direction,but they know where the snacks locker is and took full advantage of not being told to stay out of it! The big one plugged herself into audio books for three days straight, now and then slowly responding to a request for her parents – once we’d managed to get her to unplug her headphones! The other two just played together or watched films either in the saloon on their bunks – we barely saw them they were so self sufficient! Personally I think it was self preservation on their part – they know how horrible I am without sleep and thought it better to keep out of the way!

One or two other incidents also kept us on our toes – a very small Galley Fire woke everyone up a bit on day three – the kettle had been put on for a cuppa and a plastic food container had worked itself loose from its stowage and ended up sitting on the gas hob.  I was on the helm and William on the foredeck – he soon scampered back when the girls started shouting ‘fire,fire,fire’! At the top of their voices!

On another occasion I was once again on the helm and William was behind me checking the dinghy was still ok on its davits. Without any warning I had all 14 stone of husband land on my back, knocking me flying off the helm – he’d tripped as the boat lurched ( nothing to do with my helming!), he swears he tried to miss me but I’m not so sure – land on a hard deck or a nice soft wife?! We’re lucky we got away without injury. I about eighteen years of sailing with my husband I’ve never seen him stumble before and we’ve seen some fairly wild conditions – that will be the sleep deprivation then……

All in all it was quite a passage – it did have moments of feeling like a Royal Navy sleep deprivation exercise, I half expected someone in uniform to turn up and shout ‘EndEx’- releasing us form our torture (we’re both ex Royal Navy Reservists); that didn’t happen until we finally arrived in Porto Santo when we gratefully picked up a mooring.

 

It’s interesting how sailing with family Davies seems to quite regularly turn into an Expedition! I think perhaps subconsciously my husband is turning our children into the next generation of hard core adventurers! Whatever…it doesn’t seem to be putting them off the sailing!

I however am quite keen on a caravan holiday in Cornwall next year!…..

Port of Call – Spain and Portugal

October 2017 was a blur of Spanish ports always trying to push south to beat the autumn creeping in from the north. Push south to eventually meet up with my parents in Portugal and push south to make up time from when Will flew home for a week.

We’ve visited some beautiful places in Galicia and seen some amazing sights and met some new friends.

Bayona was both pretty and dramatic – a huge bay surrounded with pine Forrest, an ancient castle and temperatures that’s ranged from 30 degrees, gale force winds and six meter seas,

with wind driven sand and fires that alighted the whole bays surrounding pine forests. The girls spent hours watching the sea planes scooping up water and dumping it on the fires from high up – to a chilly 15 degrees and rain the following day.

This seems quite true if Galicia- she’s a bit touchy and you want to keep on the right side of her!

 

It us here we met yacht Maloya – a French boat with 3 girls the same ages as our 3. It’s good to have some playmates to hook up with now and then – they are on a slower schedule than us as they’re planning to cruise for 5-10 years!

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My school girl French has been tested to the limit as have my nerves – with other small children naturally also come play dates, bringing all my anxieties and lack of trust of new people flooding to the surface….but, we survived and the girls have some new friends.

Vigo is a small city in the same area as Bayona and has a lovely atmosphere with beautiful old architecture. We’d liked to have explored more but there us no anchorage and the marina was crawling with mosquitoes- we were eaten alive and promptly sailed on after just two nights.

The jewel in the crown this month has to be  Portugal –  Lisbon and Cascais. This is where mum and dad joined us for a week aboard and we were very impressed with how they managed on the boat – not being sailors themselves. The kids loved seeing them and it was great to share somewhere we like so much. The historic old city centre in Lisbon is beautiful. There are mosaic or cobbled floors everywhere, little winding streets with colourful tiled buildings and the classic terracotta roofs, all with balconies that open up onto little squares littered with cafes.
Trams and tuktuk’s take tourists on tours around the old town – or if you’re married to my husband you’re marched on foot from sea level up to the castle – the highest point in Lisbon whether you’re 4 or 70! Just out of town a short distance to the west is Blenem – full if open green parks and many many museums – the pedestrian water front is a hive of joggers, walkers and bars.

Cascais is a small town west of Lisbon that also happens to be where Williams grandfather on his mothers side grew up, so we were keen to visit. It’s beautiful. Again the old town is littered with cobbles, mosaics, tiles and balconies. It has some lovely open green parks and sculptured gardens but also has the bonus of an anchorage and beaches for us. It was historically the holiday home of the Portuguese royal family and is described as THE place to be outside of Lisbon – we agree. Lisbon and Cascais is somewhere we feel we could spend a lot more time. Unfortunately time is ticking on – we’re already three months into the trip and to complete a Caribbean circuit in a year we really need to start pushing on at a faster pace (and to avoid autumn catching us). I’m Beginning to think the French have it right…5-10 years…what’s the rush…there’s so much to see…

Next stop Porto Santo a small island to the north of Madeira. Should be about a 4 day sail.