After making good time from Las Palmas, we arrived off the coast of Madeira ahead of schedule on the evening of the 7th, and perfectly executed the only sensible manoeuvre available in our early arrival arsenal – what I like to call the “the chocolate box”. The chocolate box involves possibly one of the hardest sailing techniques known to pirates and mermaids – sailing a 2NM x 3NM box, on repeat. The chocolate element is purely for morale!
We repeated the “chocolate box” until the morning, before dropping anchor until our allocated berth was available. Nestled between two cruise liners, Lord Nelson looked like a miniature model Tall Ship from the promenade, although this didn’t detract from the attention that she attracted from the quayside, and I think it’s safe to say that all the crew felt a huge sense of achievement as the gangway was lowered into position, and we all stepped foot on terra-ferma for the first time in a new place.
Our first impressions of Madeira certainly lived up to expectation – it’s easy to see why she’s called the “Pearl of the Atlantic”. Nestled into the volcanic hillside the capital, Funchal, paints a beautiful vista of quaint colonial pastel buildings against the lush green vegetation of banana plantations and sugar cane. Every square inch of fertile ground is utilised, making for a mesmerising backdrop and captivating storyboard from which to start our new adventure on dry land.
After sampling the local culinary delights of the cobbled back street tavernas in and around the marina and old town, the crew we’re up with the sun the next day to trade sail power for tarmac, as we were treated to a wonderful tour of the island. We snaked our way around the mountainous island, taking in all the major towns, historic landmarks, natural wonders, and of course… the beautiful clear blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean, which took on new forms, colours and sounds with each place that we visited.
Besides tourism, Madeira’s economy relies heavily on the export of bananas and cane honey (made from red sugar cane) – a rich, thick, treacle brown, sugary sweet honey that gives the traditional Madeira cakes its distinctive rich taste and colour. The perfect accompaniment for a glass of Madeira wine – the voyage crew made it their mission to sample every conceivable variety of both!
We broke up our day with lunch at an idyllic restaurant overlooking one of the best *read ferocious* shore breaks I’ve ever seen. In between long gasping stares at the waves, and beautiful local food, nobody seemed to notice that the restaurant was moving. It was only when I reached for my camera to take photo #1,684,753 of the ocean that I realised all my belongings were now residing with the next table. I checked how many glasses of wine I’d slurped before deducing that we were in fact in a revolving restaurant. What a lovely treat!
After one full rotation and an entire voyage crew loosening their belts, we hopped back on the bus and continued our merry tour of the rest of the island, with one last delightful evening of food, wine and amazing company in Madeira, it was sadly almost time to stay goodbye to the island.
Madeira had one last surprise in store for us though, as we left the port, drifted away from the coastline and began to set our sails – a beautiful school of Pilot Whales appeared on the Port side. Having never seen whales before at sea, I’d secretly been praying that this trip would gift me such a precious experience. It didn’t fall short. Standing on deck, with my fellow crew lined up behind me with a fat rope in our hands, pausing for just a second in-between hauls to watch them gracefully slide by the ship was a glorious moment, and one I won’t ever forget.
Madeira has really spoilt us, and filled us up with a memory bank of firsts, achievements, friendships and love.
Katie Johnson – Forward Port watch