Madeira Island, Friday 6th June

It was very busy since I last wrote. At that stage, Suckin' Diesel was out of the water for a good while. She ended up out for 3 months annd only went back in 3 weeks before the holidays, so there was a lot of work to get her ready for the summer sailing. The best work was very kindly done by Brendan and Johnjoe who gave the outside of SD a really good clean and she now looks better than I have seen her in a long time. The decks are now less grey and dirty and the coach house is white for the first time in years. Anne and I really appreciate the great efforts the lads made to look after our baby.

Other jobs like finishing up work and setting up the house for a 3 week holiday also kept us busy. We were going off the Madeira by plane to meet up with Ronnie and Glenis Kingston on their boat Quarante. They had been in the Canaries for 2 years and had sailed up to Madeira where we would join them for the 700 mile leg to Horta in the Azores. The trip would be a big challenge for Anne and I. The longest I had done so far was 250 miles over 2 days. This would be 4-6 days mid Atlantic so getting the right conditions would be vital.

Finally work was done and Anne and I had a last night in Malahide before heading to the airport. Joe and Sindy were full of advice and things to do. Like everyone who has been to the Azores, they loved it and wanted to return. We had an early flight to Gatwick where we had a 5 hour layover to wait for the Easyjet flight to Madeira. During the layover, Anne's brain started to think of the trip ahead. Being notably sun averse, Anne saw in the airport the obvious way to avoid the sun completely. She wanted me to help her to steal someones burka. There were a number of Arabic women wandering around who looked like they were also worried about the sun. Sadly, the right opportunity didn't arise so we had to make do with suncream.....

Ronnie and Glenis were at Funchal airport to meet us after the three hour flight. The island is steep to mostly so building an airport was a challenge. As a result they have flattened a lower headland and built a runway extension on stilts over 100 metres high. It is a feat of real engineering and leads to an interesting approach to landing. On the drive back to the boat in Quinta De Lorde we saw much more evidence of this engineering as they have built tunnels everywhere to avoid going up and down the steep flanks of the ridges of the volcano which formed the island. The following day as we had a rental car, we headed inland to the remote community of Carrera de Freiras. It is in the caldera of the extinct volcano and had been out of contact with the rest of the island until the 1950s'. Now a tunnel connects it easily to the rest of the island. A real gem. The next day we went along the less touristy north coast on twisty windy road to see some of the more remote communities perched high above the sea. We saw lush rugged landscape where terracing was everywhere, making so many places available for arable farming. After a brisk spin on a new road through the centre we were back on the much more touristy south coast. We lunched in Ribera Brava on "espada", a local fish and saw some of the overcrowded housing all along the south coast, especially nearer to Funchal.

Overall, Anne and I were glad to have had a chance to see the island, but I am not sure we would rush to come back. The tourist profile is generally older, with hiking a big draw instead of nightclubs and bars. We went into Funchal the day we returned the car and found it a busy spot with a bustling fruit and fish market. The marina is tiny and doesn't have much space for visitors. Usually sailors anchor off the marina and put their names on the waiting list which means waiting in the swell for a few days. So many sailors avoid it and go to the only other marina in Quinta De Lorde which is far from Funchal in a quiet location with few services. The marina there is part of a tourist housing development which is just finished but still primarily empty, leaving you feel that you are in a pretty ghost town.

We had a few days to wait as the winds were blowing 20-30 knots most of the time with a swell big enough to enter the marina and cause a surge which made for difficult sleeping onbaord for the first three nights. Eventually things started to settle and we started aiming for a departure date. Saturday 7th was chosen following a depression which was tracking to the north of the Azores. We were due for westerly winds which would shift as we headed north. After the depression parted the area any residual swell was forecast to ease and a pleasant sail was expected. More later ........

Please note, photos will be loaded later on.