Archive for June, 2011

Madeira part 3: ups and downs

Posted in Fun, Photographs, the Madeira archipelago, Unfortunate events, Walking with tags , on June 28, 2011 by maidofmettle

Terreiro da Luta is on a large hill overlooking Funchal from the north, above the village of Monte, with two claims to fame (at least locally).

It was originally known as the place where a fifteenth century shepherdess is believed to have discovered a statue of the Virgin which is now kept on the altar in the church of Nossa Senhora (Our Lady) de Monte.

(as an aside – there’s a religious festival where pilgrims ascend the steps to the church on their knees – ouch!)

Lots of people rushed to the church to pray when the harbour and city of Funchal were attacked by German submarines during the First World War. After the second incident a ceremony was held the parish priest vowed to ‘build a monument in thanks and as a plea for peace, if God, through the intercession of Our Lady, would restore peace to Madeira’.

Terreiro da Luta was chosen as the location, as the statue had originally been found there. Three hundred people took part in transporting the materials up – it’s 300m uphill over a couple of kilometres just from Monte. It must have been quite a feat looking at the finished statue on it’s supporting tower..

..and what must be the world’s largest and heaviest rosary around the base, made using an anchor chain from one of the French ships (escort to a British cable-laying vessel) torpedoed in the harbour in the first attack.

The views down over Funchal are quite impressive too, if a bit hazy. There used to be a cog railway climbing from sea level in Funchal 1000m to a levada above here, but it shut down a long time ago, though some people now hope to restore the section between Monte and Terreiro da Luta.

I’d never known until that day what the phrase ‘stations of the cross’ referred to, but now I think I do – a cross for every key event from the pronunciation of Jesus’ death sentence to sometime after the resurrection, along the path between Monte and Terreiro da Luta – I imagine religious processions stop at each one of these (probably a welcome break on the way up!).

Back in Funchal town centre I passed a vast number of sculptures, created in local schools on the theme of a look through Europea art. The concept of creating sculptures based on paintings is a fascinating one to me, and many of them were superbly executed. Now, who can guess whose work this is based on?

The next day I did some wandering in Funchal. The afternoon was very hot, so I spent a while in the relatively cool “Vicentes” photographic museum, based in a old studio where portrait pictures were taken. It has a big of cameras, including back to the 19th century when they really looked like miniature engineering projects. In fact the founder of the studio did build his own camera specifically for it. The rest of the set-up is fascinating as well, from all the rooms and chemicals involved in developing to the painted canvases that were slid along to change the backdrop.

Better yet was a series of three albums of photographs from various sources on the theme of transport on Madeira – from old carrying chairs to horse-drawn sledges (seemingly common into the 20th century) and the arrival of the first cars and aeroplanes (only 16 years apart, though it took some decades more for anything other than a seaplane to be able to land) and up to the present day.

A little later, through this unassuming doorway

found a place that sold incredible sorbets – utterly delicious, made from local fruits with no colouring/flavouring added, and costing 1.25 a go. I can’t actually remember what fruit the one I had was..oops.

I carried on through the Vila Velha (old town), which boasts attractive buildings and a vast array of restaurants

to the Fortress of Sao Tiago, which I tend to think of as the Bright Yellow Fort.

There’s a small stony beach the fishing boats are pulled up with, quite popular with locals for sunbathing and swimming. After a cloudy morning it was a very hot afternoon, as a quick dip was just as welcome as the sorbet. I think the water’s a bit colder than in the Canaries, but still very pleasant for swimming.

The next day turned out to be a very long one indeed. I started by getting up early to get a bus to Corrida, before walking up to the mountain pass above it. It felt quite a long walk up there along the road, but it was through the shade of beautiful woodland so not too much of a problem.

From Boca da Corrida you can see down into the Nun’s Valley we visited last year, and across to the highest peaks in the background.

Unfortunately the walk I’d hoped to go on was closed – I’d tried to check up the previous night but given up on trying to find the clearest bit of the official website after quite a while of searching, which suggested it was probably fine but didn’t seem definite. Thankfully, I was able to find an alternative in my book, doing another walk backwards.

It certainly seemed a good alternative…

..though the going did get quite tricky – it was fine underfoot but involved a lot of pushing my way through vegetation growing alongside and over the path. It did look beautiful though..

I had occasional marks painted on rocks to check I was going the right way, though it did get a bit confusing at times when these seemed to reverse direction. This was resolved when I realised that locally, all footpaths led to Aviceiros, though this seems a bit of an anachronism as the three houses in that hamlet are all in ruins, destroyed by floods, fire or both in the last couple of years.

I was a bit puzzled by these things when I first saw one – in fact I thought the path was blocked, until I figured out this is just the local ‘style’ of getting over a fence.

By this point I was climbing up out of the valleys and towards the top of Chao dos Terreiros, and it’s very large trig point.

It was hot – but I was definitely glad it was a clear day.

The way down to Fontes featured lots of cows.

I quite like sleepy cows, but I’m less keen on wary protective mother cows, especially on a narrow path. Actually, I’m starting to think that I’m not keen on anything bigger or more aggressive than a rabbit on a narrow path. Thankfully several-hundred mile stretches of ocean tend not to feature such things.

So when they were just looking docile I walked carefully past them, but the couple of times when I approached a group and one of them leapt up I let discretion take the better part of valour and found a way around them.

Not that this was without its problems…

The first time just involved a bit of brushing through bushes and then finding a place to drop down onto the path round a bend. The place I initially arrived at had a cow right beneath it, but it was easy enough to go on. I think the German walkers sitting slightly further down the path were somewhat amused. I hope my stirring the cows up didn’t cause them any problems when they carried on, I haven’t heard any news reports of trampled tourists.

The second time it occurred (yep, twice is careless, but it’s quite hard to force yourself to walk quietly for kilometres down a steep slope) just finding the path again was a challenge – it looked like I might end up on the wrong side of a steep valley.

Fortunately I found an alternative route, without getting nearly as scratched as I had on the overgrown path earlier!

Having found the trail again I reached the village I was aiming for to find that the last bus for the day had already left shortly before (remember this isn’t where I’d planned on ending up, and curse those cows!). So I walked down the road through a couple of little hamlets to join the Levada do Norte, running south towards the coast, and featuring some very welcome shade.

This came back out onto the road again from another village, where I stopped in a bar to get some water, before carrying on down for another 40 minutes or so to meet the road running along the south coast where I could get a bus.

The marina of Lugar de Baixo is just about visible below the cliffs in the distance – hopefully this will open next month after being badly damaged by storms twice during construction, fingers crossed for it!

I chatted a little with the lady selling cherries from the bus stop, and found the next bus to Funchal was fortuitously going to be in about 5 minutes – perfect! So I put my hat and sunglasses away and got my wallet out ready.

Or rather, I tried to. I’m sure you can guess which of those actions was causing the problem.

Slightly surprisingly I was fairly calm about this rather than furious with myself. I started walking back uphill, constantly scanning all across the road, to the bar about 3/4 hr away. I was now doubly glad I’d stopped there so the last place I’d seen it wasn’t miles and miles away! I thought finding it at the side of the road or else at that bar was probably my best hope – it was getting on in the evening now and stopping at every bar or shop en route felt like a definite waste of time.

Though when I actually got to the bar, the potential for hopes to be dashed made me wish it was slightly further away.

And indeed the owner there hadn’t had anything handed in, but he did kindly top my water up.

So, back downhill – there were a few other bars on the way, or perhaps I’d just missed it. In fact, there was another bar / general store I was just walking past, but surely anyone handing it in would have checked in both in case the owner was still there? I carried on.

Then, 50 yards later, I turned around. It seemed daft to come back all this way back uphill and not try all the obvious possibilities. And it was very good I did. The lady at the counter said something about the police, and asked me to write my name down.

I presumed she was going to phone and ask if they had any information, so I was delighted when she reappeared with the rogue wallet, and then phoned the police for me to confirm it had been returned. Phew! (on both counts, though especially the former).

So, one celebratory purchase (a jar of Madeiran sugar cane molasses) later, I set off back downhill again, until a couple of minutes later the owner of the other bar drove up and gave me a lift with him nearly all the way to the bottom again. This worked wonderfully well, as the next bus to Funchal once again appeared about 5 minutes later – the perfect amount of time to sit down briefly, buy some cherries and then count my change out.

Back in Funchal it was a nice cool evening.

After a shower I decided it was worth a little walk for a very easy to cook meal – some local steak to go with my the last of my Tenerifean black potatos.

Not that’s that exciting for you (though it was very tasty), but it did shoehorn some pictures into the end of this entry!

Aiming for the Azores

Posted in Sailing, the Atlantic Ocean on June 27, 2011 by maidofmettle

N 33 degrees 13.3 minutes
W 020 degrees 49.4 minutes

We are under way! – albeit quite slowly at the moment.

I eventually left (more to come on that at some point) on Friday morning.

I was feeling very tired for the first couple of days, with a disgusting taste in my mouth the whole time, and occasionally had trouble eating breakfast. It took till yesterday morning to start feeling pretty much normal again. It’s helped that conditions have generally been good, with some light spells, and I’ve been fortunate enough to generally have had fairly steady conditions overnight. Though it doesn’t really help you sleep when you’re sometimes uncertain as to whether you’ll find you’ve been making any ground towards your destination or not…

At least the decision about which way to head has generally been fairly simple – with the light winds and the current, I’ve been limited quite a lot of the time to ‘east or west’. West gains me ground towards the Azores, and keeps me further from the stronger winds that may develop towards the end of the week. East takes me straight back towards Madeira again and further from my destination, though I would be sailing at a more comfortable angle to the stronger wind later on.

Westwards, with as much north as I can gain, has always been my choice so far. I’m currently in a very calm spell, doing 1.5 knots at most, but the sea is fairly slight and I’m hopeful the wind will increase soon.

In the meantime I’ve been resting, reading, cleaning the galley, checking over the vegetable supplies, and reading up on the Azores a little. I’m not sure which island I’ll head for first, definitely something to decide when I’m a bit closer. Hopefully that’ll be later this week.

Right now I think I’m going to go and have a shower while there’s pretty much no wind chill.

I’d finished writing the Madeira blogs and scheduled them before I left, so they’ll be interspersed with updates under way over this week – I suspect they’ll finish before I do an arrival one!

Madeira part 2: no eagles and no seals, but a lot of other things

Posted in Fun, Music, Photographs, the Madeira archipelago, Walking with tags , , on June 24, 2011 by maidofmettle

That afternoon I did actually leave my berth, but just for a different one as a local boat needed to go where I was. Also, I suspect the harbourmaster of having a sly sense of humour..

It’s actually a much nicer berth, a lot further away from the noise of the dredger, and a lot less exposed to waves or swell coming into the marina.

That evening I went into town for one of a series of concerts laid on as part of the Festival of the Atlantic.

Oxalys were very good – you can hear some of their music using the player in the top right-hand corner of their website (click here).

Afterwards I wandered through Funchal to admire the city in the dark and take a few photographs

when I happened on another event – I think it was the final selection of ‘Miss Funchal’.

Sometimes I wonder if this place ever stops… It was definitely time for me to wander back and go to bed though.

With it having been dry for quite a while I decided it was finally time to tackle a walk I’d always been tempted by last year, but never managed to do as it’s supposed to be decidedly slippery when wet. This was climbing Penha d’Aguia (Eagle Rock) on the north-east coast.

It’s not actually that high – the top is at just under 600m – but it is steep on all sides, towering above the surrounding villages and valleys as well as the sea. It was hard to get a clear shot showing it this time – rather too close! – so here’s one from last year:

On the way there the bus went under the stilted extension to the airport runway (before this was built it was known as ‘the aircraft carrier’ for the extreme difficulty of landing), which still hasn’t quite lost it’s novelty.

There’s also a boatyard under here, taking advantage of an excellent opportunity to be able to store even very large boats under cover without needing to take their masts down.

Next we went past Machico, the first settlement on Madeira when it was colonised in around 1420. Some local legend attribute the name to an English sailor, Robert Machim, who may have been shipwrecked here with his mistress.

The town – still Madeira’s second largest – is just out of view on the left, but you can see the fine artificial beach and the harbour below the steep hills to the north of the valley.

The north coast wasn’t quite as sunny this time, but the view from Cruz down to Porto da Cruz was still quite impressive.. were the views back over the nearby valleys while zig-zagging up the side of Penha d’Aguia

The path was steep..very steep (up the rocks and around to the right).

Now the next line would normally be something like ‘but it was well worth it for this amazing view’. But I’m not going to write that, not to be contrary or innovative, but just because when I was about half-way up the entire rock got completely enveloped in cloud. At least it was cool.. I waited a while at the top to see if it cleared but I didn’t have all that long without having to rush down to get the bus back to Funchal.

At least it didn’t clear again just after I’d left the top – here’s the view back up from near the bottom.

There were still some fine views along the north coast though, just visible under the cloud.

The bus journey back was spent discussing long-distance sailing and invasive plant species affecting England and Sweden with a Swedish botanist. Next year it will surely be time to go back to Brownsea Island and chop down some more rhododendron..

The next day I did some jobs, some wandering in Funchal, and went to another concert in the evening, which I really enjoyed. This one featured the Quinteto Pavao e Victoria – you can see a video clip of it by clicking here.

As it was a Saturday the concert was held early, so I had time to make dinner and then go out again. The weather forecast made it very tempting to take a walk…

Bay of Funchal: thunder, lightning imminent. Shepherds delighted, sheep probably scared.

Rain of fire soon. Visibility good becoming locally poor. Sea state slight to burning.

and the climax was certainly fitting.

On Sunday I did another thing I’d never got around to last year, and made an expedition to the old fishing village of Camara de Lobos. So Mum, has it changed much? I’m guessing the swimming pool is new, and much of the housing up the cliffs of Cabo Girao in the background.

But the harbour itself and the boats may well not have changed a great deal.

There’s a slipway, but a lot of the fishing boats are still just pulled up the stony beach. There’s plenty of activity there still, from painting boats (which seems to be a whole family Sunday picnic occasional), to making repairs and drying fish..

..and also a lot of locals in the bars and public spaces, often playing cards or dominoes. The plaque on the side of that building marks where Winston Churchill famously came to paint watercolours – I wonder if he was distracted by off-duty fishermen? Given the tales about him being very well supplied with Madeira wine by one of the leading merchants I wouldn’t be surprised..

The town centre itself is very pretty

though sadly there’s no longer any chance of seeing the seals (Lobos de mar, or ‘sea wolves’) the town is named after, except in this statue:

Well, and various branding…

Moving swiftly on, Cabo Girao really towers over the western end of the town – it’s a pity it was so cloudy when we visited it last year! The houses on the side and the replica of the Santa Maria (or fully La Santa María de la Inmaculada Concepción) below give some idea of the scale of the cliffs.

The original Santa Maria was bought second-hand by Columbus and renamed to serve as his flagship for his first voyage across the Atlantic, though she didn’t make the return passage having been wrecked off Haiti. This replica was built in Camara de Lobos, and now does regular day trips from Funchal, as well as voyages further afield for events.

From there I took the bus back to the edge of Funchal, and eventually managed to find my way to the Miradouro do Pico dos Barcelos, on a hill in one of the western parishes. This was a bit a struggle at times in the hot sun – it was off the edge of my street map and not really covered on my walking map, but I eventually found it.

You can see pretty much all of Funchal from there, from the Igreja de Sao Martinho above Ponta da Cruz

to the city centre and harbour

and the hilly northern outskirts.

The two-towered church in the foreground of that picture is where I was actually heading for, as it was the first of a series of parades for different saints that are held throughout June. So here is the Igreja do Santo Antonio from a bit closer up:

This is a much more local affair than the ‘Festival of the Atlantic’ – part religious festival and part party. There were lots of stalls selling food and drinks, both around the church and on nearby roads.

I tried a sande de carne de vinho e alhos for dinner. For the princely sum of two euros you get a very tasty sandwich of incredibly tender pork marinated and cooked in wine and garlic – delicious! And for dessert a churra. Presumably the sister snack of the churro, rather than just being deep-fried batter it has a chocolate centre.

The streets were lined with people ready for the parade later:

but unfortunately I didn’t see much of the parade proper as I wanted to make sure I got the last bus (that I knew how to find!) back.

But I did walk up the route where all the groups were queueing up to start (I’d been a bit apprehensive about succeeding in that, but it worked out fine), so saw the impressive costumes that way even if I didn’t get to hear all the music.

You could still see the church very clearly from the bus stop – I had a while to wait around, but luckily my interpretation of the timetable hadn’t failed me and it duly appeared to take me back down to Funchal. I don’t think I’d ever been in a Madeiran bus going downhill in the dark before. It’s an experience.

Madeira part 1: getting stuff done and a few excursions

Posted in Fitting out and maintenance, Fun, Photographs, the Madeira archipelago, Walking with tags , , on June 22, 2011 by maidofmettle

Having had a rather tiring few days and created another rather long jobs list I spent most of the first few days in Funchal resting and sorting things out, with a few little excursions to stretch my legs and enjoy the benefits of being in port a bit more.

Funchal was as lovely and lively as ever..

..and the nearest park is very nice..

and also has great views across the bay of Funchal (you can just see Maid in the bottom right)

Despite that, I felt a bit flat a lot of the time for a few days – probably largely tiredness, but also being repeatedly reminded of fun things I did here with the others last autumn took a little of the shine off being here on my own.

I did get a fair bit done though, from routine cleaning and tidying to re-organising several bits of the boat, and also replacing the main halyard. This is the rope that goes up to the top of the mast and back down again to hoist the mainsail. Looking at it it seems in reasonable condition, but it’s certainly not new and had a fair bit of use and sunshine, and replacing it or substituting for it at sea would be very inconvenient indeed.

And we have been carrying the rope to do the job around since we left England…

So I stitched the new rope to the old one..

so it could go round the wheel at the top and into the mast and down again, and then pulled steadily and gently, keeping my fingers crossed till I’d got the new rope fully through.

I also completed a cockpit cushion project I’d begun in Las Palmas. I’d started working on the cover on the way here using some blue fabric Chris had from somehere-or-other that we’ve been carrying around, and some of the ship’s stock of velcro that escaped Chris & Caroline’s velcrophile phase.

The foam I bought in Las Palmas is very nice and thick, but the cunning bit is the plywood back…

..which means that you have a solid backrest much higher than Maid’s uncomfortably low cockpit sides – far more comfortable, and a very nice complement to the cushions Dave and Taryna gave me.

I had a very nice lunch with Hampus & Lotta on Ingeborg, who I’d last seen in Las Palmas several weeks before, and then they came round for dinner that evening – it was very good to catch up with them..

..before they left for Porto Santo the next morning.

That left the harbour feeling very empty, but happily I got most of the jobs finished the next day, and there was due to be a big firework display that evening. It’s part of the Festival of the Atlantic, but I think it also serves as a way of selecting who’ll provide the fireworks for the even bigger New Year’s Eve extravaganza come next January.

The seafront was thronged with people – all the restaurants had put all their chairs out, and there were people standing all along the promenade and harbour wall.

I’m sure a lot of people could see it from much further away..

and doubtless hear it too. There’ll be another display every Saturday in June (poor dogs..) – I wasn’t sure I’d get to see any more, but certainly wasn’t averse to the idea on those grounds.

With all the urgent-seeming jobs except sorting Horace out completed, and Sunday not being a good day for trying to get hold of his makers again, I went for a walk the next day.

It had a bit of a football theme to begin with – from a bus stop by the street named after the Funchal-born Maritimo, Porto and Portugal forward Artur de Sousa or “Pinga” to Camacha, a village east of Funchal.

Of course, Madeira is probably now more likely to be known as the birthplace of Cristiano Ronaldo than Portuguese football as a whole, but it was in this village square in 1875 that Harry Hinton, the Madeiran-born son of a British expatriate, started what’s regarded as the first organised game of football ever played in Portugal.

Starting the walk I couldn’t help wondering how many spare balls were needed to finish a game with this kind of landscape around..

It was very misty in the valleys at the start but cleared as I went down a steep cobbled path, but it cleared as the morning went on, and it was a beautiful day by the time I reached the small hamlet of Salgados.

The flowers were beautiful as well.

The path eventually descended to the Levada do Canico, and a much flatter path.

Though this tree seemed a bit confused by that, as though it expected the ground level to be a couple of metres higher. Unless it was just trying to look like a giant spider.

Having escaped Shelob, I continued along to Assomada to get a bus back to Funchal.

The next day I started by travelling westward, to the village of Paul do Mar, below some huge cliffs on the south coast of Madeira.

It’s quite pretty, but also notable for it’s very bizarre street names – or rather the lack of them.

There’s a ‘1st street of the church’, a 2nd, a 3rd, etc; about 5 ‘streets of the harbour’. I suppose in some ways it’s probably easier to find a place that way – if you’re approaching from the right direction you’ll know from four streets away that you’re on the right track, but it still seems rather strange.

The path zig-zagged up the cliffs behind the harbour and then up the valley of the Ribeira Seca – ‘dry river’, though it was currently sporting some fine waterfalls.

It was a tough climb, but the views both up and down the valley were well worth it – the next photo looks the other way out to sea.

And in places the cobbled path – not stepped so much as undulating – was absolutely carpeted in flowers.

Reaching the top there was a fantastic view down to Jardim do Mar, the next village along the coast. It looks beautiful, but I think I’d be slightly uneasy about living on the bottom of a landslip that’s also quite exposed to south-westerly winter gales..

I continued uphill to the centre of the village of Prazeres where I planned to get the bus home again. This had some tempting views up to the Paul da Serra – a large mountain plain that I’ve still not visited, largely because it’s rather tricky to get to

Rather than getting the bus from here I changed my mind and continued on along the Levada do Norte to Rapsoeira. This has been recently refurbished, and it definitely looks more modern than most, boasting trash screens to make removing debris easy and actual penstocks to control the flow of water rather than the traditional big stone and collection of rags.

It’s good to see that the old materials are still available for use in case of need though (but hopefully not for solving water distribution disputes..). Also note the rock placed under the penstock to keep it slightly open..

But apart from those minor details the levada is still much the same as those designed over a hundred years ago, though the larger ones now provide water to hydroelectric power stations as well as for irrigation. And the side benefit of nice paths for walking along..

Rapsoeira was beautifully decorated – probably preparing for processions for various saints’ days later in the month.

And so back to Funchal, and another phone call with the makers of the wind vane self steering about getting Horace fixed. One problem ought to be easy to sort out, the other one would need a replacement part which would either cost a fortune or take a long time to get sent to England. It seemed better to try and get one made locally. The Hydrovane staff very kindly emailed me a copy of the drawing for it, so I just had to try and find a machine shop.

Happily, the first man I asked – working on one of the fleet of big game fishing boats – knew of one, and gave me the address. I then spent about another hour on the internet making sure I was definitely going to the right place, which was rather hard work – it was in the industrial park of Cancela, which is actually nearer Canico (not Canical). I wanted to be sure before getting on a bus…

With that all sorted it it was quite easy to get to the industrial park, but harder to find the machine shop. Happily I walked into a garage to ask for directions about a minute before a man from there, who gave me a lift and then sorted out getting the part made.

It was quite a busy place, making and repairing all manner of things..

Not a bad view for an industrial park either.. handy while I was waiting around.

So with that sorted out I was once again able to go when I wanted to. Which didn’t look like it would be all that soon according to the weather forecasts..

Reflections on the sail here and playing vinte-e-um

Posted in Planning (or pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey), Sailing, the Atlantic Ocean with tags on June 20, 2011 by maidofmettle

Since I’m thinking about when to leave for the Azores this seems a good time to look back on the sail here. I’ll definitely catch up on my time in Madeira though – there are lots of fun things and photos to share (hopefully that will make up for this one, unfortunately I’ve used all the good pictures and video from the trip). In fact, you’re liable to get overwhelmed with blog posts.. ahahahaha…

It really didn’t feel like it took a week to sail from Las Palmas to here. While the last few days were difficult, I could have happily gone on for a long time with the light winds of the first few days. It was beautifully peaceful, and I didn’t find isolation a problem at all.

Gear failures at sea – Horace doesn’t really count since by the time I noticed it I didn’t need him any more, but the outboard bracket was certainly a problem, even if it did turn out to be solvable with two bits of wood and a hammer. The next issue will quite possibly be different, but having faced and overcome one such problem is definitely a better starting place than before. Believing that you can and will solve a problem is definitely important.

I think I’ve also overcome any issues I had about not wanting to call and ask someone else for advice. At work I would certainly advise someone not to reinvent the wheel on their own if someone else had relevant experience, so if the option is available, why should sailing be different? Obviously sometimes it may not be, but I’ll deal with that if it happens.

The fast sailing on days 5 and 6 was, looking back on it now, really not in very bad conditions at all compared to some of our other trips. While Maid was racing over the waves and occasionally getting the foredeck rather wet, there were no breaking waves, and no crashing into waves making the whole boat shake, and there wasn’t a sense of the wind or waves increasing further.

I didn’t feel sea-sick – and was basically fine when I was looking around outside, reading, cooking or working at the chart table. But trying to sleep or even just relax was difficult, and that probably made the following day harder than it would have been otherwise.

I probably will get those conditions, or worse, again, and hopefully having experienced it and dealt with challenging conditions following it once will stand me in good stead. Furthermore, I probably would get used to it gradually over a longer period of time.

More sleep probably wouldn’t have helped much the next day though – a boat slamming around in a choppy sea with no wind is always going to be a horrible experience, especially if there’s no prospect of a quick end to it. I suppose the couple of brief fits of screaming or sobbing (ahem) might have been avoided, but I’m not certain. I definitely don’t think getting used to those conditions is likely. Try and avoid them and hope I’ll cope better next time, I guess..

It’s possible, though, that I might have made better decisions and avoided it by tacking back and forth before getting to that stage and approaching the eastern end of Madeira, which is lower and blocks the wind much less. I’d expected the wind might go slack, but not that far out, but I hadn’t anticipated the sea state at all. So hopefully I’ll do that better in the future, tired or not.

That said, I’m still not entirely sure of the best way to get away from Madeira itself – not part of the journey I’m really looking forward to. Going west is likely to involve headwinds and then no wind, with the possibility of a nasty chop like that I met coming here. Going east is similar but just more headwinds, and the risk that on rounding the corner to head west again I might stray into the upwind ‘wind shadow’ where wind is being deflected up over the island, with no shelter whatsoever from waves.

But I think I’ll take the latter route, and just make sure I gain plenty of ground to windward before turning to reduce that possibility. I might make an intermediate stop at the eastern end of the island, as sailing near land is definitely more demanding than where there’s very little around to hit.

But the main reason I haven’t left is that for the last fortnight, ever since I fixed the wind vane, there’s been an incredibly stable strip of water with next to no wind acting as an irritating barrier for travelling from here to the the Azores (of course, while I was stuck waiting for suitable wind to get from Las Palmas to here there were beautiful winds between here and the Azores), and it’s forecast to persist for another week or more.

Other boats heading the same way have dismissed it as ‘only 70 miles or so’, but for me motoring that isn’t really an option – it would probably take a couple of days of continuous shifts, hand-steering with the engine on whenever I wasn’t eating or sleeping.

Part of me thinks it’s daft to delay leaving on the say of a forecast for a week in advance, when there’s no really strong wind in it, just the probability of too little. But if that’s been the forecast consistently for the last fortnight it does give it some credence.. and as I’ve said above, sitting around in no wind is really not pleasant.

But it is a lot more likely that I will get favourable wind from here to the Azores than it was from Las Palmas to here. There I was frequently wondering if I should go even when it didn’t look very good, because I wasn’t confident it would look better anytime soon.

It’s very much like playing blackjack, or vingt-et-un, or vinte-e-um, or whatever you like to call it – do I go with this light wind forecast, or do I gamble on waiting for a bit more, hoping I don’t go bust by getting too much and end up waiting again? And with the marina price here being several times that in Las Palmas, possibly going bust in a different way.

Though I do need to find out what the units are before I push this metaphor too much. 21 knots is more than I’d like. 21 m/s (41 knots, a full gale) is definitely too much. 21 mph (18) knots is a bit strong for going to windward comfortably, though downwind it would be perfect. 21 km/h (11 knots) would be about perfect. And as one of my physics teachers would have pointed out, 21 elephants would be problematic.

That all sounds like it should be quite frustrating waiting here, but I’d say I’m a lot more at ease with it now than at the end of my time in Las Palmas. One fact is that I’m making sure I get out and do other things still, another is possibly that I haven’t been here nearly as long as there, but I think a big one is that I have now made one long trip.

In Las Palmas I’d say I was sailing single-handed, but then end up explaining that I’d really done very little of it (much less than one might expect meeting someone there!). Having come here it’s a different case.

Gran Canaria to not Madeira to not the Azores to Madeira: part 2

Posted in Photographs, Sailing, the Atlantic Ocean, Unfortunate events with tags , on June 16, 2011 by maidofmettle

Day 6: Tuesday 31/05

As some people (okay, maybe one person 😛 ) have been grumbling about, we left the story with Maid hurtling quite fast but uncomfortably towards Madeira. You could see the island, but it still felt quite a way away. Getting into port is rather harder than sailing in open water as just where you’re going becomes rather more important.

The direction the wind was coming from was limiting where I could actually aim for – or whether I was actually heading somewhere beyond the western end of it. Making Funchal looked unlikely, but I was hopeful I could make the marina at Calheta, further west.

This didn’t quite work out. I got to about 20 miles away, and the wind dropped. This wasn’t all that surprising given how high the island is and the warnings in the pilot book, but the sea state was not what I’d imagined. The waves weren’t big, but very steep, and seemed to be coming from two different directions.

It was a long way to contemplate motoring, especially in that sea state, so given the difficulty approaching Madeira was presenting I decided to have a hard look at the weather forecast and see how good an option continuing on straight to one of the Azores would be. It looked reasonable leaving now, whereas going into Madeira would probably involve staying there for a week at least once I finally managed to get in, so I decided to go for it.

Some time later I’d made it a bit further west, and the wind resumed fairly strongly, seeming like I’d made it would of the wind shadow. I headed west for the Azores, reefed most of the mainsail just leaving a little up to reduce rolling, and set about making sure the jib sheets and the blocks they were led through wouldn’t make too much noise as the boat rolled. Down below I was very pleased by how little rattling there was in the galley after my work in Las Palmas.

Then the wind dropped again, and this time the motion was far worse, enough to occasionally dip the ends of the boat into the water.

I nearly just took the sails down several times, but each time I started on it the wind would get up briefly..and then die again.

The sunset was very lovely, but it also emphasised just how beautiful Maid would have looked in that setting if the sails had actually been filling.. It was some consolation though, and a bit of a distraction from deciding what to do.

I decided to give Chris a call on the satellite phone, as this would probably be a much easier way of getting a better forecast than downloading one myself using the phone. He reckoned that there might actually be generally fitful wind, but picking up again, so it was hopefully that rather than the wind shadow I was having problems with. Less encouragingly, it looked as though I’d probably get to just south of the Azores to be greeted by strong northerly winds which would make the final part of the passage very hard work indeed. So it looked like we were back to struggling to get to Madeira.

Hopefully that wind would pick back up again.

Surprisingly, about half an hour later it did. Quite a lot – from not achieving anything with full sail I was reducing sail quickly, and we were going quite fast with only 1 (of 2) jib up and the mainsail fully reefed. I headed back east to start with, as that would make it easier to get to either Funchal or Calheta. Then the wind dropped down again, but putting the 2nd jib back up.

However, what I actually wanted was sleep rather than progress. I decided to head away from the island, gradually making ground to the east, mainly making sure I didn’t lose the wind.

However, getting further out the waves got bigger and the motion worse, and I decided I was better off heading in again and trying to tack back and forth within the vague corridor where there still seemed to be wind without the waves being too large. I was pretty tired by this time, besides exasperated. Actually, both of these had been true since lunchtime.

In hindsight, it seems rather odd that I never suffered a hint of seasickness during this time – I’d taken some biodramina the previous day when we were roaring along, but I didn’t seem to feel any need of it now.

I think I slept straight through my alarm a couple of times (slightly worrying, but the AIS should have warned of big ships approaching) towards the end of the night, and definitely had a few nightmares about the wind dropping and leaving me in the same horrible crashing-around situation again.

Unfortunately after the third of these it turned out to actually be happening…

I decided to get what more sleep I could before dawn and then go for it with the engine.

Day 7: Wednesday 01/06

Early on there was a bit of a shock of some inexplicable westerly wind, enabling me to sail straight towards Funchal, and a rather spectacular dawn. As one would expect, neither of these states lasted.

So, I decided I’d have to give the outboard a go, disregarding the risk of it dipping too far into the water. After all, it ought to be better once I got it going and we were moving – any speed improves things significantly.

I pulled the ratchet back on the outboard bracket and pushed the engine down into the working position.

Or rather, I pulled the ratchet back and pushed down on the engine.

One of the pins in the bracket mechanism had come out of one side at some point during the trip, rendering it immobile. The engine definitely couldn’t be used fully up, as the propeller would have been out of the water quite a lot of the time, and getting cooling water might have been an issue. I had to lean over the stern and get the pin back in.

Trying to just wiggle it clearly wasn’t going to achieve anything – it wouldn’t move at all. I rigged a block and tackle to the solar panel arch to take the weight of the outboard off the bracket, but I still wasn’t getting anywhere. It wasn’t out by much, but with the pin seemingly immobile this wasn’t a great comfort.

By now I was having fleeting thoughts about options if I couldn’t get it sorted out aside. None of them were at all appealing, so I thrust them aside and carried on with trying to fix it.

I tried shifting the weight of the engine around, and using a hammer to try and shift the pin even slightly, but with no success. I was getting rather frustrated at this point to say the least.

Now this had happened before – I knew Chris had fixed it at least once, so I decided (after something of an internal battle) to give him another call to check if there was anything I was overlooking. Unfortunately there wasn’t – he’d succeeded by partially lifting the engine and wiggling the pin. Still, I think just talking it over briefly helped a lot even without really gaining any information.

I tried again, but the same methods definitely weren’t working still. Next I moved the furled cockpit cover out of the way so I could stick my head right out the back and shine a torch down to get a closer look. It looked like it was in the right place vertically, but needed to be moved further back.

Happily I thought I knew just the wedge-shaped piece of hardwood that might achieve that. And even better, when I was stowing everything away in Las Palmas I’d backtracked on my original plan to keep a lot of my useful bits of wood store underneath the dinghy and put my gofio and honey rum stash back there with the wood relatively accessible in a sliding box behind the toilet.

The piece in question, with one of the bars that hold the toolboxes in place as an extra spacer, did indeed look about right. So I hammered that down, trying the pin every so often, until eventually it worked!

Then of course it took another 5 minutes to get the wedges back out again. After all that the worry over getting it going and getting moving without drenching it seemed relatively minor, so off we went.

Once I’d closed the coast the motoring wasn’t actually too bad – I could do some reading and attempting to refresh my Portuguese, and it was nice and warm, though the island itself was covered in cloud.

I decided it was worth heading to Funchal rather than Caleta -although it would be another couple of hours it would probably be a much nicer place to stay, and it seemed I could be there a while – as well as the forecast not looking too promising I’d also noticed Horace had a bit of a problem when I disengaged him before trying to start the engine. There wasn’t much remaining of the plastic cylinder (black thing in foreground, the damaged part is beyond the handle) which fits into different circles to select whether he’s in neutral or various gears… I was suddenly rather glad I wasn’t carrying on to the Azores..

Funchal also had a Yamaha dealer in case the outboard did come a bit too close to the water and I wanted to have it checked over.

And I got to see some impressive scenery on the way, such as the dramatic valley mouth at Ribeira Brava:

and open fishing boats from the village of Camara de Lobos working near the huge cliffs of Cabo Girao:

This meant increased concentration as they usually had a net strung between them and some kind of makeshift float – it ended up being easiest to go offshore of neearly all of them, although it was a little extra distance.

Funchal harbour wall becoming visible was even more welcome though.

Though on closer approach, it was rather strange seeing the harbour without any cruise ships in it – very empty, almost eerie. There were also a couple of dredgers removing mud and rocks from the river mouths either side of the marina.

When I couldn’t get any answer on the radio I was briefly wondering if the marina was temporarily closed, or closed to visitors, while the works were going on or something. I nosed up to by the dredger very close to the marina entrance, and it looked like there was still space to get in, but I was very glad to see a man in the customs office on the end of the wall looking welcoming. I circled around again to get all the fenders and ropes I might need ready, and then headed in.

Unfortunately the man had gone somewhere else by this time (it takes a while on your own, especially when you’re making ready to tie up on either side because you don’t know where you’re going. There was what was clearly a visitors pontoon by the entrance, but the wind was blowing me sideways away from it, making it a tricky approach. I managed to spend what felt like at least 5 minutes going backwards and forwards next to it without really getting any closer till he reappeared and helped me tie up.

I was very happy to see Hampus and Lotta’s ‘Ingeborg’ moored up a little way inside – they’d left Las Palmas a few weeks before me and spent some time at Graciosa and then here, but I’d forgotten they might be here still – while I was completing the formalities with the customs man and repeatedly having to correct Spanish into Portuguese they came back and helped me pull the boat along from the visitors berth to alongside the wall.

It was good it was high tide, as there wasn’t a ladder where I was… Tying a short boat up to a wall when the tide moves it up and down by a couple of metres is also a challenge, and you definitely get some ‘surge’ caused by waves working there way in. Happily I managed to persuade the marina staff to give me a different spot when they re-opened the office after lunch, and Hampus and a Frenchman I didn’t know helped me move Maid to her new pontoon berth.

Hampus and I did speculate that it might be the spot they give people who complain, given that it’s right opposite and broadside on (meaning any little waves coming in would make her roll irritatingly to the entrance), and with only about 100 yards between it and the dredger, which started work early in the morning. Somehow I didn’t think that would bother me the next day at least though…

I fancied stretching my legs and an easy dinner, so I went and looked for the bolo de caco man’s traditional bread stall, but didn’t find it (Chris will be relieved to know I realised a couple of days later that I’d just stopped 50 yds short), so decided to open a tin of some kind of casserole I wasn’t sure I’d like the look of as rough weather food (generally saving the tinned complete meals for that) instead.

Time to relax, and look around and admire the beauty of Funchal. And then go to sleep, without setting any alarms.

Gran Canaria to Madeira part 1

Posted in Cooking, Photographs, Sailing, the Atlantic Ocean with tags , , on June 14, 2011 by maidofmettle

Day 1: Thursday 26/05

In the end leaving Las Palmas proved surprisingly easy. I’d actually considered going on Wednesday evening. The forecast suggested that would give me the best chance of getting north enough to catch the edge of a low pressure system and moderate fair winds up to Madeira, which is very unusual. However, I was feeling fairly tired, and it looked as though the wind might die overnight – I didn’t fancy spending the first night rocking around going nowhere still near land and shipping.

But on Thursday morning it still looked pretty good. After all the time deciding not to go – and if debates about when to leave can seem like they take an excruciatingly long time when there’s three of you, when there’s just one the freedom to second-guess yourself sometimes means they actually do – deciding to go was very simple indeed.

My goodbye committee made sure that I cast off:

I stopped briefly on the reception pontoon to give my keys back to the office and then headed out. The wind was a bit less strong than it had been earlier in the morning and gave excellent conditions for sailing once I’d motored clear of the port to get away from ships.

The wind held nicely until I’d got clear of La Isleta, the very north-eastern tip of Gran Canaria which protrudes from the end of Las Palmas, and then went very light and swung round to behind. I was just about to change all the sails round to see if I could make some use of it when I spotted a turtle swimming along behind.

It looked like it was gaining….

Until I think Maid got rather offended and splashed a bit, scaring it into diving. And handily at this point, the wind swung round another 90 degrees and became a nice light westerly breeze, so I was very glad it had distracted me and saved a fair bit of work.

With things settled down nicely it was time for dinner – pasta, mushrooms, courgette and olives with a sauce made from cream cheese, milk and parsley.

And a shower. Some things at least are actually simpler when you’re sailing on your own!

In light conditions, sleeping could possibly even be included in that. It was so calm I didn’t need to bother using the leecloth, and with very little traffic around, Horace steering and the AIS keeping an eye out for big ships I didn’t have much trouble taking 30-60 minute naps between having a look around.

Day 2: Friday 27/05

The second day was lovely – steady wind from the same side, and still reasonably fast but gentle progress. Lots of time for relaxing as well as keeping an eye on the boat and looking out for ships. Dinner was rather nice too.

Day 3: Saturday 28/05

The third day started similarly, but with the wind getting slightly lighter again. The morning was interrupted by a loud wailing (I wired the AIS ship monitoring device up to the burglar alarm) signalling some company, which came past fairly close on one side, but clearly not coming too near.

There were very light spells though: . The boat’s movement in the periods of little wind was a bit unpleasant at times though – I was sick once, though the feeling went away very fast after that, and luckily we were moving fast enough that Maid wasn’t left sloshing around in it!

Otherwise it was another nice day – very slow progress off and on, but still comfortable, and nice weather. It did get a bit hard to keep track of time – the main reason for putting the dates and days in this entry was to make sure I didn’t get too confused.

Day 4: Sunday 29/05

Today brought even more visitors. First some dolphins arrived – probably the nicest conditions I’ve ever seen them in (they usually like plunging in and out of big waves), but they still seemed to have a good time playing under the bow.

It was quite late before getting round to making breakfast after spending a while watching the dolphins, so I decided to have something a bit more substantial as a change from cereal, and improvised some very Canarian banana-and-gofio cakes.

The recipe is very simple indeed – just mix 2 very ripe bananas and 1/2 cup of gofio together and work till you get a very soft dough, then form into flat discs and fry. That probably serves a couple of people – I ended up saving two of them for later.

The wind was rather fitful though – but it was calm enough I could be quite philosophical about it:

It was often tricky to decide which way to sail, with neither tack making much ground to the north. Sailing westish would make some progress towards the Azores but possibly make it harder work, and quite likely make it harder to call at Madeira. Sailing eastish would make the trip to either longer but probably easier in the long term, but in the short-term the forecast suggested it might lead into even less wind. I tried to strike a balance…

The second arrival, who I’m fairly certain was a red-rumped swallow, was a nice distraction.

It was good to have someone around to judge my little steering competition with Horace (the hydrovane self-steering gear):

Though he didn’t actually seem to be paying that much attention, and at times didn’t seem that responsible – careful with those claws on that tube, we don’t want petrol everywhere do we? As a bird I’d think you’d know that petrochemical spills are undesirable.

Then again, maybe he wasn’t that clever. Most stowaways would realise that sitting on the captain’s head while he’s eating dinner would generally be looked on as insubordination, if not actually defined as mutiny. He was very uninterested in offerings of fresh water and food as well, though I admit I was a bit short on insects.

He got named Cheepcheep, as that was all he ever say, whether meaning ‘hello’, ‘okay, I’ll sit on your shoulder instead, though doing the washing up isn’t that piratical you know’, or ‘I’m going to top myself if you don’t get somewhere soon’. Unfortunately that last translation was only worked out with the benefit of hindsight.

The conditions were still pleasant that night, except for the slight worry that Cheepcheep might come and sit on my face while I was getting some sleep, but the wind’s direction kept changing inconveniently, meaning we weren’t making very much progress overall. The dot on the screen is my GPS position at the time and the line my past track.

When I went to bed I’d been heading NNE, towards the top right of the screen. Unfortunately, this had changed rather significantly within the hour or half hour, curving off to the right, which wasn’t really where I wanted to go. The big change in angle is then me tacking, to sail with the wind on the either side so I was heading vaguely north again.

Day 5: Monday 30/05

That happened several times in the course of that night. Not great fun..

Sadly it did prove too much for Cheepcheep. Glad he wasn’t an albatross, though the wind did definitely pick up after the funeral.

After the peace and quiet of the first few days, and a night without much sleep, it came as a bit of a shock, though on other days I’d definitely have said it was beautiful sailing.

Happily I did start to feel slightly differently: .

We were certainly making good progress, and it was a beautiful day as well. It was a slightly tricky decision to make on whether to keep heading for Madeira or not. It would have given the boat a much easier motion to turn away from the wind a bit more and head for the Azores, but would have made the trip quite a few days longer, and made it fairly impossible to change my mind and shorten the trip by calling at Madeira.

I wanted to keep that option open as long as I could in case the forecast started to suggest getting to the Azores would be a problem, so I decided it was worth carrying on for now.

Getting some rest was definitely becoming a theme in videos recorded that day: .

I’m not sure that last bit is something I’d normally say. It was certainly a bit optimistic.

To be continued..

(shortly I hope, videos are all processed and just need slotting in).