Thursday, 15 November 2012

Madeira: rain and more rain...

We've been in Madeira for more than two weeks now, and it's rained nearly every day.  Promising blue skies appear and the sun comes out, only to be almost immediately replaced - yet again - by towering grey clouds, squalls and driving rain. We didn't expect Madeira to be dry, but even a couple of hours without rain has come to seem unusual.

Until recently the wind was in the south west, and surge in the marina kept us awake with the same snatching and creaking we endured in Porto Santo. Limbo now has no less than six lines holding her in place.  Other boats have had warps part completely and Spirit of Argo's substantial fairleads were starting to come loose.  Thankfully this has been less of a problem for the last few days, but still the squalls come.  Much of this must be a local katabatic effect - the marina is backed by a towering (and not particularly stable-looking) cliff - but the weather has continued to be extremely unsettled.  One boat came in with a ripped mainsail and partly-shredded genoa.  The local news tells of landslides and flooding.

Dark clouds over Madeira as we approach from the east.
Madeira is a slightly frustrating port of call simply because there's no really good place to base the boat.  There's one decent anchorage, Baia d'Abra, but there's nothing there and conditions haven't been settled enough to use it.  Funchal has a very exposed anchorage (there are no visiting boats anchored at present) and a small, crowded marina which apparently rarely has space for visitors. There are a few visiting boats there, but they're crammed in.  There's another marina down the coast at Calheta, which I gather has a few restaurants, so might be more lively.

We are at Marina Quinta do Lorde, on the peninsula at the east end of the island so the first port of call on the way down from Porto Santo. It's a pleasant place, surrounded by a brand new, yet-to-be-opened village development (complete with its own town square and church) which, if slightly Disneyesque, is nicely laid-out.  One pleasing feature is the on-site bar complete with daily happy hour (1.40 Euros a pint can't be bad), which has made it a sociable place to be.

Happy hour! Cain, Quinn and April from Spirit of Argo

Natalie, Willie, Ollie, Tim, Carlotta
On the downside: it's over an hour on the bus to Funchal (or you need to hire a car) and there's nothing immediately outside the marina - although there is a shuttle bus to Machico for supermarket shopping. Because of this it's easy to feel a bit trapped after a few days. This is a shame, because Madeira is an amazing place, with lush, precipitous green hills, waterfalls and dramatic cliffs.

Marina Quinta do Lorde
Our trip here from Porto Santo was uneventful.  It's just a few hours across, and we had no wind, so used the engine all the way.  As we approached, Porto Santo sat under sun and Madeira was covered by an extremely large, extremely dark cloud with rain under it.  Perhaps we should have stayed..but we've since heard that the weather there has been just as bad.  One boat sitting on the hard was blown over.

The best thing about Madeira has been that - until recently - many of our friends have been here.  We enjoyed a swim on our first morning, thanks to April's discovery of a (not quite finished) seawater swimming pool on the other side of the development.  I'm not sure we were meant to be there, but it made a refreshing start to the day.  Quinn the dog wasn't quite convinced!

A highlight of our stay has been a levada walk with Willie from Quaver, who'd hired a car on our second day here and invited us to join him. Levadas are the concrete irrigation ditches built to redistribute rainfall around the island, and make superb walking routes. We drove up to Queimadas in the north (an experience in itself!) and hiked 15 miles or so to Caldeirao do Inferno and back, which took about 5 hours.  Willie had warned us that he would take it at a good pace and we struggled to keep up on the way back.  I hope I'm as fit when I'm 67...  

Natalie and Willie (sans beard since Porto Santo!)
The walk itself is probably best described by the photos.  It was an amazing route, along steep-sided, incredibly deep valleys, through dripping tunnels filled, disconcertingly, with the sound of rushing water and across bridges under waterfalls. We were very lucky to do it on a rare dry day!

One of the many tunnels

See Natalie, bottom left, for a sense of scale!

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