Mid Atlantic Landfall

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One of the joys at the end of an ocean crossing is making landfall in new places.  When that island is a mere 8 miles long by 4 miles wide nestled mid Atlantic almost half way between Europe and America the sense of achievement when land is first sighted on the horizon is terrific. 

Santa Maria, in the Azores was first discovered by the Portuguese somewhere between 1427 and 1432.  As we set off from Madeira north westwards into the Atlantic, armed with our sextants, tables, books, GPS and chart plotter we had all the equipment to make sure we wouldn’t miss this tiny island.  After 4 days at sea when we first spotted the land from 30 miles away (a distance confirmed by the GPS and radar) we couldn’t help but wonder how the sailors of years ago felt when they first sighted ‘new land’!!

We got our taste of what it might feel like to arrive somewhere totally new as we approached the anchorage at Vila do Porto and discovered that a new marina has been built at the north end of the old harbour.  This was a pleasant surprise, and although not yet open for business we were allowed to spend a quite night alongside the pontoons.

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We had arrived on Easter Sunday or Festival of Pascoa as it is called in Portuguese and so everywhere was quiet.  The whole population of 6000 people seemed to be indoors as we walked along deserted streets to the centre of town. After spending a day in Santa Maria, the most southern of the Azores islands, we headed north to San Miguel and Ponta Delgada our destination for this trip.  We could see both the island of San Miguel and Santa Maria for the duration of this trip so not too tricky on the navigation side.

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The Azores are recognised as being a good spot for ‘whale watching’ and we were not to be disappointed.  About half way between Santa Maria and San Miguel we spotted the tall thin spouts of whales ‘breathing’ and headed towards them.  We found a group of 7 or 8 false killer whales (falsa orca) and spent an hour with them, one surfacing very near the boat!   The tourist whale watching boats are lined along the quay in Ponta Delgada and during the past week they have seen the same group of falsa orca and also some sperm whales, blue whales, and humpback whales together with lots of dolphins. We seemed to have an escort of Atlantic white sided dolphins almost all the way across from Madeira who surfaced regularly and played in the bow waveThere is still chance to see the Azores as we now spend 3 weeks exploring the central islands of the Archipelago.  The weather is forecast to be sunny and 19 degrees for next week with moderate winds, what could be better than sailing in the sunshine watching whales and making landfall at new islands!!  Still a few spaces for you to be able to join us on Azores island hopping 2

Crowdless Cruising in Madeira

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The weather is warm and sunny.  The wind is moderate from the north, everywhere is looking very green as spring has begun here in Madeira.  However despite these perfect conditions for cruising, the place is still deserted and we very seldom come across another yacht.  We had the whole of the marina in Porto Santo to ourselves!

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We were joined by Colin and Glenys, and spent an enjoyable week cruising around Madeira.  The best sail of the week was our longest, 72nm from Ribiera Brava, around the west coast of Madeira and then a 40 mile close reach averaging 8 knots across to Porto Santo.  We arrived shortly after dark and spent the following day being tourists and sightseeing.

Dolphins came to play with us on 3 occasions, and Richard caught a swift glimpse of a sperm whale, which has been spotted a few times this month by the whale watching boats.

We continue our journey northwards next week to the Azores, but will return to Madeira in November.

Hands on Sailing

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Photo: David pulling hard on the main reefing line in Iceland last year!

Feel the wind on your face
Adjust the helm
Trim the sails
Watch Velvet Lady accelerate
Later try your hand at navigation and learn all about our electronic gizmos.

These are just some of the things you have a go at whilst sailing on Velvet Lady.

We recently arrived in Porto Santo, 35 nm NE of Madeira after a passage from Lanzarote which seemed to be filled with sail changes and I was reminded of my time sailing on challenge boats and how different things are on Velvet Lady.  We might have had a lot of sail changes to do, but there was no crawling along to the foredeck in the pitch dark and returning to the cockpit freezing cold and dripping wet.  Velvet Lady is much easier to manage with roller reefing headsails and mainsail and all the ropes are controlled from the cockpit – but there is still plenty of hands on work left to do, and when sailing with the staysail up as well we often have all 6 winches in the cockpit in use.  I used to be a real ‘roughy toughy sailor’ but I have soon got used to these modern conveniences and now wouldn’t be without them!

The cockpit is deep and safe and provides a perfect opportunity to have a go, if you are a beginner we will teach and encourage you, for the more experienced sailors we are happy for you to have a go on your own!

If you have come along as a ‘reluctant’ companion there is no pressure to take part, we certainly don’t want you to be afraid of being wrong, but will encourage you if you wish to have a go in the comfort of our safe deep cockpit.

Apart from the varying amount of wind the weather was great on the trip and we spent a good deal of time sailing in shorts and t shirts.  On arrival in Porto Santo, the sun was shining and the temperature was 19 degrees.

After a day looking around Porto Santo we sailed downwind to Madeira and anchored for the night in the Baia de Abra. 

The wind built in the night, and the chain started to grumble, but we were perfectly safe and secure and not moving an inch.  No wonder – when we came to try and lift the chain the following day it wouldn’t budge – We tried every different trick we could think of and then some before giving in and asking for some help from a local diver.  When the diver arrived, he was under water for about 15 mins and came back to report that there was ‘a wreck of an old bus’ right underneath us and our chain was caught underneath it.  While we were trying to lift the chain, we were also trying to lift the bus – no wonder the windlass was complaining.  The diver did manage to pull the chain free and thankfully we were off.  Sadly, now knowing there is a bus in the middle of the anchorage we don’t think we will be going there again.

We had an uneventful sail to Funchal, and are now moored in the heart of this very vibrant city preparing for our next trip.