You’ve heard of ‘short and sweet,’ well what we experienced on the 8 hour crossing on Wednesday from Tenerife to Gran Canaria was more like ‘short and shitty’ (pardon my language, but that’s the best way to describe it). The minute we got out of the protected zone of the marina of Santa Cruz, the 2-4 meter swells hit us from the side like a sledge hammer making us swing violently from side to side, kind of like a toy boat in a washing machine cycle. Thankfully, Taka Trois has a very deep keel, so we knew the chances of us capsizing were negligible, but oh what a ride! I tell you, we were rockin’ and rollin’ without the help of the Chuck Berry.
In addition, Patrice was on high alert during this passage due to something the charts call ‘the acceleration zones.‘ Our Imray pilot book explains this phenomenon as follows: “The height and distribution of the Canary islands causes the predominant northeast wind to funnel between them, which in turn produces zones in the which the wind strength can increase from 5 knots to 25 knots (which it did) in a distance of 200 meters. The acceleration zones off both the northwest and southwest coasts of Gran Canaria are amongst the worst” which is exactly where we went! He followed the guide’s advice to the letter and reduced the sails in time and sailed as close as possible to the island to minimize the effect which, in the end was hardly noticeable thanks to his precautions.
Needless to say, we were relieved to arrive at the entrance to Puerto Morgan and thought that we were free of further dramas when a small motor boat hovering around a red buoy near the entrance to the port came charging at us screaming in unintelligible Spanish. At first we thought he might’ve been protecting a dive site, but there was no flag advising us of that, so we were confused. A few minutes later, I kid you not, a yellow submarine emerged from the depths just in front of us! No, we were not hallucinating on psychedelic drugs and have the photos to prove it.
What joy to be safely tucked in our berth in the marina in the center of what looks like a very charming place. We left La Rochelle almost 3 months ago, traveled 1850 nautical miles and have arrived here safe and sound with our boat intact, still happily married, in relatively good health, albeit a few bruises and pumped up and ready for the next phase.* We fell asleep that night with big satisfied ‘Cheshire cat’ grins on our faces humming the tune of Beatles infamous “Yellow Submarine.”
*Well, almost ready. First Taka Trois will be scrubbed from top to bottom and after we explore this island we will be off for a few weeks of well-deserved shore leave, but I'll be in touch before then.
Just 50 miles east of here on Gran Canaria, 230 boats signed up with the annual ARC (Atlantic Rally Crossing) were poised to cross the Atlantic to St. Lucia this past Sunday. The date for this event is set more than a year in advance and in its 17 year history it has always started on time, until this year. The rally has been delayed until today or perhaps tomorrow and as it turns out, that was a good thing as they've had wind coming from the southwest, the exact direction they want to go (one of the fundamentals of sailing is that you cannot sail into the wind) and a speed of over 35 knots, in the marina that is and only God knows what it was doing out at sea.
Since La Rochelle we have been meeting these ARC boats, distinguishable by the large signature flag they fly on their mast, as well as many other sailboats also on their way to the Caribbean. Here in the marina of Santa Cruz in Tenerife at least one boat leaves just about every day and more or less everyone who is here, aside from the locals, is planning to cross at some point within the next two months. An estimated 1000 sailboats do the trip every year and with Phase II of our journey more or less complete, it’s time for us to make up our mind if we will be joining their ranks.
Patrice has been game since the beginning and I admit that I am the one who has been biding my time, trying to assess if this is what I want to do and more importantly if I am able to do it. He has been very respectful and has not pressured me in any way. My main issue is seasickness and I think if it wasn’t for that I would’ve agreed a long time ago. During our last passage from Madeira, I was so ill that I when I arrived in Tenerife I had made up my mind that I wasn’t cut out for this kind of sailing and certainly not a lengthy Atlantic crossing. “Nope! Not me! Never!”
Once things had calmed down though and after giving it some serious thought, I realized several things. 1) Patrice really wants to do this, 2) I really don’t want him to go without me and 3) I really really want to be in the Caribbean this winter. Yes, the seasickness is an issue, but talking to other sailors, it is generally agreed that we have been very unlucky with the weather and the resulting seas that we have had for many of our passages. I have also been reassured that after 3 days at sea the queasiness generally goes away and although I have never been able to test that, I know that I am usually not this ill and have sailed many times in the past with no problems.
Finally, it helps to know that we would have a third crew member on board for the journey. Our dear friend Shelagh has kindly agreed to lend us her husband Alan, who is a highly experienced sailor, excellent handyman and inventive cook. We sincerely hope that we would not need his veterinarian skills on our ‘human’ bodies during the trip, but it is comforting to know that there would be a someone from the medical profession onboard. Soooooooo, I’m taking a real step of faith here, praying up a storm that all will be well and saying YES! I’m in! “Holy decision-making Batman, did I really just say that?”
You may be wondering why we don’t cross with the ARC or any other of the other groups that are going together. The social aspect of the ARC with parties organized before the start and at the finish, would certainly be fun. The flag is very cool and there is comfort in numbers when thinking about crossing, even though very shortly after the start you rarely see anyone again until the finish. However, the cost of these privileges is £1000+ depending on the size of the boat and the number of crew onboard, but what bothers us more that the cost is the fact that participants should adhere to a specific date and for us, the ARC leaves much too early. The ARC date is set because most boats want to get to the Caribbean before Christmas which is understandable, but traditionally the trade winds only establish themselves for a favorable Atlantic crossing at the very end of the year and January is usually the best month for the passage. So it’s not for us, but nevertheless we would willingly ‘buddy boat’ with any other sailboats crossing at the same time as us.
Decision made, we are now in full-throttle getting ready to go. Due to the weather, we have delayed our planned crossing over to Gran Canaria until tomorrow, but the city of Santa Cruz de Tenerife has been an excellent place to shop and stock up on provisions. The difficulty is trying to imagine what I might want to eat in the middle of the Atlantic and can’t run out to the supermarket or call for take-out.
Truth be told, we’ve been preparing for this all along, since before we left La Rochelle actually, as we’ve always known there was a strong possibility we would go for it. We plan to leave the boat in Gran Canaria next week, fly home for most of December and we’ll aim to cross the first week in January. More details to come, but first we have this one last passage to do to officially complete phase II. I’ll be in touch again from Puerto Mogan, Gran Canaria--I hope all the Brits that just left there to cross on the ARC have not run that island totally dry, because we’re going to celebrate. Thankfully the Frenchman onboard has made sure we’re self-sufficient in any case.
How to describe Tenerife? We have been here for a week now and have covered most of the island with our rental car and spent time exploring several parts of it more in depth. Our impressions are mixed and perhaps biased being based on personal experience and our own opinions and this account is admittedly long-winded, so my apologies in advance, but here goes:
Culturally speaking, it’s Spanish. However, during our exploration of the island we were reminded at times of many different places:
Before I end this rather long and hopefully not too tedious narrative, I also have to point out that Tenerife and all the Canaries are a series of volcanic islands and an ideal place for anyone who wants to do a study of volcanos. El Tiede is inactive, but not dead and one can clearly see the evidence of past eruptions on its slopes. The last one occurred in 1909. On the nearby island of La Palma, a volcano erupted in 1971 and is expected to blow again sometime between 2015 (!) and 2515 and just a year ago an underwater volcano erupted three miles to the south of El Hierro, the smallest of the seven Canary Islands just 100km (60 miles) from here--one more thing for us to avoid while sailing!
Thankfully we are headed east from Tenerife to Gran Canaria--something just tells me to get the heck out of this place!
Forty four hours after leaving Madeira we arrived in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. The crossing was not pleasant. With neither moon nor stars and cloud cover much of the way, the nights were rendered pitch black. We battled the wind from all its sailing extremes: No wind at the start, then wind in the nose all the next day and with the arrival of a nastier than planned weather front at the beginning of the second night, wind from behind for the rest of the trip generating my least favorite kind of swells and rocking the boat in a very uncomfortable manner making seasickness once again a battle for me.
The trip was not without its blessings. First and foremost we arrived safely without any damages. Moreover, we witnessed once again how well Taka Trois sails close to the wind and how fast she is thereby cutting our journey short by a full day compared to some of the other sailboats who made the journey around the same period--much appreciated by this sailor! At my most miserable moment on the morning of the third day, a school of at least a dozen dolphins came to cheer me up and I managed to get my favorite picture of these beauties yet.
I will also share with you one amusing story at my own expense. During my watch in the middle of first night, a large object appeared on the radar screen off the starboard (right) side of the boat. I checked on the AIS tracker, but no boats were visible on the screen (Automatic Identification System (AIS) is a collision avoidance system that gives information all the ships in your area, their speed and courses and how to contact them). Not all boats have AIS and therefore are not visible on our tracker, so one has to keep constant vigilance. I peered over the side into the darkness looking for this mystery boat. Nothing.
Patrice was sleeping soundly and I didn’t want to wake him up unnecessarily, so I kept looking and tried not to panic as this object drew closer and closer and got bigger and bigger on the radar screen eventually covering our boat entirely. What on earth could it be? My imagination offered many possibilities: A whale? Jesus taking a nightly stroll? A UFO?!!! At that thought, I looked up and at that moment was pelted by huge drops of rain. I then realized that my mystery object was a big black rain cloud hovering over us. Go ahead and laugh, but I’d like to know how many of you wouldn’t panic in the same situation.
So here we are, just a day’s sail from the final destination of phase II: Puerto Morgan, Grand Canaria. At first glance, Tenerife is arid with high volcanic peaks and Santa Cruz is a bustling and somewhat unattractive metropolis--a bit of a shock after the quiet lush beauty of Madeira. We share our marina with the cruise ship dock and the shipyard, so it’s a busy place and not the prettiest one we’ve been to, but there is one very big advantage for us here--we are at latitude 28° and that means the temperature is a constant balmy 24°C (75°). So read this and weep my dear northern friends, after traveling 1800 nautical miles south we are finally WARM!
Scroll down to read my just published third and final account of our time in Madeira.
In between gallivanting around Madeira, we also ministered to Taka Trois’ recent injuries with the help of some kind local experts. Pé, the sailmaker fixed our lazy jack (the bag that holds the main sail) and helped us to install our side-panels (which finally caught up with us from our errant canvas maker in La Rochelle). Salma, a truly heaven-sent repairman and engine expert, found and repaired the problem with our engine--an installation error in the size of one of the fuel hoses (!).
The bow thruster fully repaired with its new flap.
He also tackled our bow thruster (a transversal propulsion device built into the bow, to make the boat more maneuverable) which was not working well when we left Cascais and we feared that the fishing buoy we snagged there caused some damage. Salma fiddled with its electrical wires from above and Patrice put his wetsuit on and dove below to have a look. He saw that the trap door which protects the bow thruster when it is lifted up and not in use had been ripped off and needed to be replaced. Only one solution: Take the boat out of the water to fix it. Urgghh! Just to clarify, this is a big deal involving considerable expense, manpower and complex maneuvers, especially here in Madeira where the lifting area is an exceptionally narrow and difficult place to maneuver and the boatyard is under the airport runway!
I must pause in this narrative to say that before we even began to think about this journey, Patrice had marveled at the new airport runway being built in Madeira in 2000. For years the runway was too short for the major carriers, so visitors had to land on Porto Santo and be ferried across by hydrofoil. In 2000, it was rebuilt over the ocean on a series of 180 columns, each pillar about 70 meters tall. Underneath, the reclaimed land, there is a park and a boat yard. Although we had no desire to be lifted out, the fact that we could witness this incredible feat of engineering from this perspective was very very cool!
Early Monday morning we left Quinta do Lorde thankful to have our friend Luc aboard to lend a hand with the maneuver and traveled the 3 miles to the airport boatyard. Patrice took Taka Trois into the lifting area bow first only to be told that he had to turn her around and back in. “Captain K-Turn” lived up to his reputation (the title having been given to him by my sister-in-law during a similarly difficult 180° turn many years ago in a marina in Guadaloupe) and completed the turn expertly. I won’t go into the heart-stopping details of the effort that went into lifting our fat-bottomed girl with her deep keel out of the water, the photos below tell part of the story, but let’s just say that all went well in the end.
By mid-day we were free to leave her in Salma’s capable hands while we went off to complete the last item on our list of things to do in Madeira: Hike a levada. "A levada is an irrigation channel, designed to take water from places where it is plentiful to those where it is not. Water is abundant in the mountains to the north of the island, but scarce in the fertile and sunny south, where most crops are grown. Looking for a way to store water and carry it to their cultivation terraces and fields, the island’s early settlers began to build the irrigation channels that form the basis of today’s network. A typical levada is 0.5 meters wide and 0.8 meters deep and there are now 2,200 km of levadas on Madeira!”* The bonus of this system is that the maintenance paths make perfect footpaths.
We chose to hike the Levada dos Tornos because it was perched in the hills high above Funchal and because we read that it had an interesting tea house along the way. We were not disappointed with our choice. We walked for more than an hour through fragrant eucalyptus and pine trees with occasional glimpses of the city below and the blue Atlantic beyond and stopped for lunch at the enchanting Hortensia tea house and gardens. We felt a little like guests at the Mad Hatter’s tea party having tea, sandwiches and a slice of a delectable honey cake in a whimsical garden.
As the boatyard does not allow you to stay on your boat while it is ‘on the hard,’ we checked into a hotel. It was no hardship to enjoy the facilities of a hotel including a long soak in a hot bath--such joy! We treated ourselves to an excellent meal at a nearby restaurant and had to revise our opinion of Madeira wine. The sommelier insisted that we try a 10-year vintage with our appetizers and we immediately recognized the problem--up until then we had only tried the 3-year cheap stuff and as it turns out, we have expensive taste in Madeira wine!
The next morning it was go, go, go as we stocked up on provisions, paid bills, sent a few last e-mails, posted a blog entry and said good-bye to everyone in the marina including our now dear friends, Luc and Anne and their three adorable children. We’re hoping to see them in the Canaries, but they may have a long wait for engine parts.
Going back in the water was just as harrowing as coming out, but by 4:00 all was complete and we bid farewell to Madeira, unanimously voted as our favorite stop thus far, and set a course for the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands.
* Description taken from the “DK Guide: Top 10 Madeira”
Funchal, Madeira’s capital city is over 500 years old. It sits on the southern coast with its center at the base of a natural amphitheater surrounded by cliffs and steep green mountains. Although the sprawl of housing is a bit of a mess, we loved the center with its tree-lined streets paved with black and white mosaics.
Wednesday: Got a good weekly rate on a rental car, a good thing as the marina is an hour and a half by bus to the center of town, yet just a 20 minute drive by car. On our first venture into town we discovered how difficult it is to navigate the warren of one-way streets, pedestrian zones and tunnels in the center. We parked and tried to walk around, but were swept away by the herd of tourists crowding the town from three gigantic cruise ships, so in the end we opted for a leisurely lunch of garlic bread--a local speciality, gnocchi with fresh lobster and a crisp glass of portuguese white wine at a cliff top restaurant overlooking the bay--bliss!
Thursday: Breezed through through Funchal on our 1st marathon tour around the Eastern half of island (see Madeira Part 1).
Friday: Got an early start and headed straight to the Mercado dos Lavradores, the main market in Funchal: Colorful, but sadly over-priced and over-crowded with tourists. We tasted some Madeira wine at a wine cellar in town (a bit too sweet for our taste), walked through the Zona Velha, the oldest part of the city and our favorite area and then enjoyed what we were told is the best Madeiran street food--a prego. We concur. Philly cheese steak, move over, this incredible sandwich has you beat! A fresh-baked roll, yes with cheese, steak, lettuce, tomato and, here’s the clincher....smothered in garlic butter--heaven! Fully sated, we spent the afternoon driving around the eastern part of the island thus completing our circumnavigation of the island.
Saturday: Boat chores kept us at the marina most of the day, but we treated ourselves late afternoon to a ride on the gondola up to botanical gardens. It was too late to visit them, so we headed back down, this time by toboggan--undoubtedly the most unusual form of transportation we have used on this trip. Back in town, we took advantage of the absence of cruise ship tourists and enjoyed a pleasant stroll through the town. We peeked in at the evening mass in the cathedral and ended our day at one of the cafes on the elegant tree-lined Avenida Arriaga where we continued our research for the best Poncha on the island--a sweet-sour local cocktail favorite made with fresh orange and lemon juice, local dark honey and 50 proof portuguese rum! No kidding!
Sunday: Attended the remembrance service at the Anglican Church (Madeira actually has a large population of British retirees and snowbirds), a very traditional ‘high-church’ service with Madeira wine and honey cake served in the lovely gardens afterwards--how civilized! The afternoon was sunny, so we went for a walk in the botanical gardens and finished our tour of Funchal with high tea on the veranda at Reid’s hotel--just perfect!
Next Up: Madeira Part 3: Our last 24 hours on the island and Taka Trois is hauled out of the water again!*
*I will not have the time to finish the third and final post on Madeira before leaving this afternoon. Repairs on the boat are now complete and Michel, our weather router has given us a good forecast to cross over to Tenerife in the Canary Islands, so we’re off. Please God, give us a pleasant crossing!
To put it quite simply we were blown away by the geography of this lush, verdant, volcanic island where there is not a single natural piece of land that is flat. I have not seen so many varying shades of green since Trinidad, nor mountain peaks as spectacular since the Alps. I find it incredible that there are 8 peaks over 1500 meters (5,100 feet) high for an area of 740 km2 (286 sq mi) of land which is less than the size of the 5 boroughs of New York City.
Moreover, we were astounded at the fortitude and ingenuity of the clever Madeirans who have managed to carve livelihoods, homes, roads and over 150 tunnels out of incredibly steep slopes and unforgiving volcanic rock. Every inch of land that is accessible and even slightly serviceable is used and where there is not enough land, they have added some by creating terraces on the slopes. A good portion of the highways are engineering marvels, not to mention the airport runway which is built over the sea supported by gigantic pillars--more on that in my next post.
We decided to start our exploration of Madeira with several tours of the island by car, taking our life in our hands as the roads are loaded with hazards, hair-pin turns and mountain passes, not to mention full of kamikaze portuguese drivers. Remember the crazy vine-bearing truck drivers in Porto? They are of the same genetic pool. Add my French husband to the mix and well, you have a potentially lethal combination. He said he was nervous, but I know he was really enjoying himself.
Nevertheless, we managed to circumnavigate and cross over the island without mishap and the effort was worth it as we were treated to some dazzling scenery: Some of the highest cliffs in the world plunging down into the sea, sea-side villages only accessible from above by gondola, terraced vineyards and farmland carefully cultivated on mountainsides and breath-taking views of those sensational mountain peaks with clouds spilling over them like dry ice.
My photos don't do it justice, but I did what I could considering the weather was not great--rain with the occasional burst of sun. In fact, we’re not visiting the island during the best time of year as November and December have generally have the highest rainfall and this particular November already looks like it will be breaking a new record with flooding and landslides. The rain hasn’t dampened our spirits though, as the countryside is still breath-taking and thanks to all the downpours we have witnessed dozens of rainbows and the some of the most amazing waterfalls.
Next up: "Out and about in Funchal", Madeira's main city.
While exchanging war stories with another cruiser on the pontoon here in our new port in Madeira yesterday, I said that the only easy passage we’ve had to date was crossing the Bay of Biscay which everyone said would be the worst! Since then it has been one battle after the next and even the short passage from Porto Santo to Madeira was a trial, but I have gotten ahead of myself here.
We arrived in Porto Santo last Wednesday planning to leave for Madeira the next day. Engine trouble and the weather, our capricious friend, or foe I should say, kept us there four days. We took advantage of our enforced stay to explore the island which, truth be told, has little to offer except for a beautiful rugged coastline, one long idyllic beach and some very charming locals.
Sunday morning, conditions began to improve for crossing over to Madeira and so we left around noon, knowing that we might have a bit of a rough ride, but for what should’ve been a fairly straight-forward 5 hour cruise nevertheless. Ha! With 20+ knots of wind more or less in the nose, we were forced to motor-sail fighting large swells and squalls most of the way. NOT pleasant! About three miles from the marina, we thought our torture was almost at an end when the engine failed. In fact, our torment had just begun.
Night was falling and of course at this point the wind died, so at an excruciatingly slow pace we inched our way under sail towards the entrance of the marina in increasingly fading light. I prayed up a storm and Patrice contacted the marina on the VHF to let them know what was happening. Our prayers were answered with the arrival of Orlando, the harbor master here, who came out himself in a zodiac and calmly talked us through the maneuver, directed us towards the entrance and then towed us inside the narrow harbor.
Before coming out to help us, he had alerted some of cruisers in the port that we were coming in without power and so there were about 15 people were waiting for us on the pontoon ready to take our lines and buffer our arrival--a most welcome sight! It was dark at this point, but with their help, we were eased into our berth without a bump or a scratch. I kissed every person on that dock and gave Orlando an enormous hug with grateful tears.
Another very welcome sight on the dock was our friends from pontoon K, Anne and Luc, with their three young children. We left Cascais at the same time as them and although we stayed in contact by satellite phone, we quickly lost sight of them and they did not stop in Porto Santo like we did, but went straight to Madeira after a horrendous journey. That long-awaited bottle of champagne was finally enjoyed with these now dear friends over laughter and tears while sharing our respective war stories. We were amazed, but somehow not surprised to learn that our little bird went to visit them after leaving us and yes, they were sorely in need of a boost in morale!
I am eternally grateful to God for bringing us safely to Madeira at last! Patrice and I have agreed that we will not leave for the Canaries until all is repaired and we have a perfect and pleasant weather window. Meanwhile we have a new island to explore.
The bottle of champagne we have in fridge to be drunk upon our arrival in Madeira remains unopened. We have now been hoping and waiting to get to Madeira for two weeks and although we have shortened the distance considerably over the last 5 days by sailing over 500 nautical miles/926 kilometers/575 real miles, we’re still not there. At the moment we are holed up at the tiny island of Porto Santos, 42.17 km2 (16 sq mi), population 5,000, which lies 43 kilometres (27 mi) northeast of the island of Madeira. The fact the Christopher Columbus met and married his wife Isabel on this island and may have retired here as well, is their claim to fame.
The reason we decided to stop in Porto Santos was because we were running low on fuel and it was getting late in the day. It’s never a good idea to arrive in a new port at night and we would never have made it to Madeira in daylight at that point.
As you know, we set off from Cascais in a hurry 5 days ago on Sunday morning when a weather window unexpectedly opened up. In retrospect, it wasn’t the best window, but it was the only one on the horizon for quite awhile and for better or worse, we went for it. In a nutshell, it was a most uncomfortable ride and we battled with variable wind and swells and intermittent rain showers the whole way. Consequently we motored more than we like in an attempt to go as quickly as possible.
About half-way through the journey, our fuel gauge showed our fuel was being used at an alarmingly fast rate although we had filled the tanks before we left and according to Patrice’s calculations, we should’ve had plenty of fuel. We used the satellite phone to call the boat manufacturer to try to determine what could be wrong praying that it was something as simple as a faulty gauge. To make a long story short, they had given us the wrong measurement. We were basing our consumption on liters, while we should've been using gallons !!! Mamma Mia!
So we had no choice but to do our best to sail in extremely difficult conditions. At this point we had the wind from behind and with the size of the waves and their varying direction, we were in constant danger of gybing. For the uninitiated, a gybe or jibe is a sailing maneuver where a sailboat which is sailing in the same direction of the wind turns its stern, or back, through the wind, such that the wind direction changes from one side of the boat to the other. If uncontrolled or unexpected, it can be very violent and dangerous. I can tell you it’s a very scary thing to witness a boat the size of Taka Trois doing an gybe--something we did our best to avoid, but couldn’t help nevertheless due to the conditions we were facing. I promise you, before our next passage we will have installed something to avoid this ever happening again.
I should add that not all was bad. We made fairly good time and arrived safely here in Porto Santos on Wednesday evening albeit a little battered and bruised. We did enjoy some delightful sailing at the start and the finish, saw many dolphins and we even got a little bit of comic relief mid-way during the passage when we took on an unexpected passenger. A little bird came to shelter aboard Taka Trois during the second night and stayed with us for most of the next day. We gave her shelter and bread crumbs (interestingly she preferred whole wheat over white) and she provided us with good entertainment and a boost in morale that we desperately needed at the time. We imagine she’s a transient bird and has been flitting from boat to boat for awhile now. When she left us without further adieu at the end of the second day, we felt as though something precious had gone. I like to think that she went to another boat that needed her for a boost in morale as well.
Please forgive me for boring you with probably too many pictures of our little mascot below, I just couldn't help myself--she was so cute and such a savior to us.
No sooner had we thanked God upon arrival for getting us here safely, than we received a terrible shock when we learned of the extent of devastation that hurricane Sandy had wreaked on New York and New Jersey, home of our loved ones. We had been in touch with our daughters who live in lower Manhattan via satellite phone during our journey and we knew some of what was happening. They kept assuring us that they were fine and didn't elaborate, quite rightly in retrospect, as they didn't want to worry us. Therefore it wasn't until we got onto the internet and saw the news that we realized how bad it really was. To say that we're heart-sick doesn't even come close, but we are very very grateful that our loved ones are indeed safe albeit without power.
Our plan was to leave for Madeira yesterday morning after refueling and in fact, we were all geared up to go at 11:00 yesterday morning, but when we tried to start up our engine Volvo, she refused to start. Urrgh! As it was November 1st, All Saints Day and a public holiday in this largely Catholic country, there wasn’t an engine mechanic to be found. Patrice tinkered around with it and with the help of a seasoned sailor on our pontoon, managed to diagnose the problem and get it fixed. Too late, however, to set off for Madeira, which is fine, in the end as we’re really really tired. We did absolutely nothing yesterday and as the weather is not looking great, aside from writing and adding two posts to my blog*, we're planning on doing more of the same today. Madeira has waited this long for us, I think she wait another day or two...
*For the first time I am adding two posts simultaneously to my blog. The first one, an account of life in the marina--just scroll down a bit to see it--was written in Cascais. Due to our precipitous departure, I didn't have time to post (it takes a really long time to upload photos on this website).
Quote on "the instant camaraderie of cruisers."
A few minutes’ conversation is all it takes to draw us into each other’s plans; to create a community of concern when anyone has a problem; to make reckless invitations to visit and promises to keep in touch, to spill out personal history known only to our closest friends and relatives ashore. Jerry L.Mashaw, Seasoned by Salt.
We spent 16 days on pontoon K, one of the visitor’s docks in the Cascais marina--9 days more than we originally planned, but ample time to enjoy a sense of community with the other cruisers we encountered there. We were a diverse bunch made up of many nationalities (French, English, Dutch, German, Finnish and yours truly, the resident Yankee), retired, semi-retired and young couples on sabbatical and several families with very young children, I have pieced together here a few events and snippets our life there to give you a feel for what it was like. The following did not all happen in one day, but occurred over the course of our stay. All are true.
4:00 a.m. The wind has picked up and the gling-gling of our halyard (the rope which raises the main sail) against the mast wakes me. The noise has woken up Patrice as well and he gets out of bed to go up on deck and tighten it with the winch. After the gling-gling disappears, I now hear the creak and groan of our mooring lines loud and clear. I try to shut the noise out of my ears and tell myself, “go back to sleep, go back to sleep...zzzzzz.”
8:00 a.m. The sun is just up and Patrice volunteers to make our first cup of morning tea. He puts the kettle on and goes up on deck to check out the strength of the wifi signal which varies with the tide and goodness knows what else. A few minutes later, I hear his voice raised and a commotion. I stick my head out of our cabin’s hatch and surmise that a new boat had arrived during the night.
On a visitor’s pontoon, boats come and go frequently and every arrival (and departure) is an event to witness, an opportunity to lend a hand and get to know someone new. However, the arrival of this particular boat has caused more than the usual sensation, especially with the French on the pontoon. Its name Is Penn Duick III and is one of six boats owned and raced by the most famous French sailor of all time, Eric Tabarly. For Patrice this is HUGE for he has considered Tabarly, who has now passed away, to be his own personal hero and mentor since he was a boy.
8:30 a.m. We’ve met and spoken with the crew on Penn Duick III and Patrice is beside himself with glee. We finally sit down to breakfast and from our cockpit watch, with admiration and a sense of wonder, the joyful daily promenade of parents and small children from the two family boats, one French and one Finnish, moored here go up to the marina facilities for their morning ablutions.
9:00. Cleaning the inside of our boat usually only takes me about an hour or so (one of the perks of living in small space), but this morning I discover mildew underneath our mattresses--Yuck! Suddenly this has become a longer and and much much more unpleasant job. Fortunately it’s sunny today, so I can bring them up on deck to treat them and let them dry out in the sun. Just one more thing I have to be vigilant about in the future.
10:00. I leave the mattresses with Patrice who is doing engine maintenance and has to wait for someone to come from the ship chandlery and take two loads of laundry over to the marina’s laundromat.
10:05 a.m Unbeknownst to me, someone gets there first and nabs both washing machines.
10:10 a.m. I arrive at the laundromat--drat! Machines in use. I’ll have to wait 45 minutes until they’re free. I radio back to Patrice on the walkie-talkie to let him know that this will take longer than planned--no surprise, everything takes longer living on a boat--and use the time to catch up on e-mail and chat with Catherine, the Englishwoman who beat me to the machines. She’s nice, so I forgive her and resolve to get here earlier next time.
1:00 p.m. Back on board, I hang out the laundry to dry and we prepare lunch. As soon as we sit down, we’re joined by Mr. and Mrs Mallard quacking at us in demand of their share of our meal which we are happy to do. This has become a ritual ever since we invited Luke and Anne with their three little ones from the yacht two boats down from us for tea and these lucky ducks were given the crumbs of my chocolate cake.
2:00 p.m. Just as I’m drifting off for a 20 minute power-nap, I hear the distinct sound of a bow-thruster. A new boat is arriving on the pontoon, no doubt. Seconds later, I hear shouts followed by a blood-curdling scream. I hear Patrice running on deck and I am right behind him. We find a 50-something man lying on the pontoon screaming in pain. Patrice rushes over, hell-bent on administering his new knowledge of CPR if necessary.
It turns out that one of the crew onboard this 57 foot mega yacht (a Southerly for those who might be interested) had improperly tied up a mooring line and when the boat moved forward unexpectedly, the anchor, which was poised on the bow (front) of the boat, hit the skipper, who was standing on the pontoon, in the chest. No CPR needed, but an ambulance is called as broken ribs are suspected. Thankfully it turns out to be just bruising. Whew!
3:00 p.m. Nap time forfeited, I take down the laundry (yet another advantage to this life is I don’t even think about ironing), finish some boat chores, figure out what we’re having for dinner and get ready to have drinks with several jolly Englishmen on the pontoon, who we have invited aboard after they admired our boat. Yep, that’s all it takes to get invited aboard Taka Trois. I admit it, we’re shamefully proud of our beautiful boat and love to show her off.
6:00 p.m. One of my favorite parts of cruising is hearing everyone’s story of how and why they came to be on their boat and what their plans are. These stories are told on the pontoon, in passing, at the laundromat, but are most enjoyable over a cup of tea or a few ‘sundowners.’ The three Englishmen, who we have dubbed “three men on a boat,” do not disappoint and regale us with their stories. They must have enjoyed our company as well, as they have invited us back for drinks aboard their boat the next evening. Either that or it was because we admired their boat...you see, we’re all ‘boat proud’ at heart.
8:30 p.m. The Englishmen have gone on shore for dinner and further divertissements* and we have finished our meal. The wind has picked up again and is pushing us onto the boat next door. As this boat is currently uninhabited, Patrice goes up to see what he can do. From below, I hear a funny noise and then some shouting. Someone coming back on the pontoon took a mis-step straight into the water! Thankfully Patrice was there to help him back on the pontoon. The poor chap is absolutely fine, just wet and embarrassed, so he’ll be grateful if I don’t mention his name or nationality here.
10:00 p.m. We’re tucked in bed after watching an episode of NCIS, our current favorite series on DVD. I hear the creak and groan of our mooring lines and as Taka Trois gently rocks us with the incoming tide, I tell myself, “just go to sleep....zzzzzz.”
*We learn the next morning that one of our ‘three men in a boat’, who looked rather worse for wear sporting various cuts and bruises on his face, was forced to play the role of knight in shining armor and rescued a damsel in distress in the bar where they wound up in later that night. It’s good to know that pontoon K has such gallant gentlemen in residence.
Debbie is first mate of Taka Trois as well as head cook and chief provisioning officer.