The fifty-mile crossing to Madeira (Island of Woods) passed with cups of tea and conversation as we tuned Elvire’s sails in our attempt to catch up another fourteen-metre yacht that had left Porto Santo a few minutes before us. By the time we were five miles off Ponta de Sao Lourenco on the East of Madeira we were side by side, enjoying our own private regatta. The cries of the crew from our friendly competitor could be heard as we slowly took the advantage. Here our new sails and competitive spirit gave us the edge as we rounded the headland a little bit quicker than Captain Cook must have done when he first visited the island in 1770.
Arriving on the southern side of the island our rivals headed due North to Machico as the wind dropped off to nothing, so for the first time of our journey, we pushed the start button and made our way under motor to the capital city of the island; Funchal.
Over the last six centuries most sea going nations have sent their navigators at one time to this beautiful island located in the Atlantic. It was the French pirates, who had spent their time pillaging the laden treasure ships returning from the New World, which did the most damage when they raised the city of Funchal to the ground in 1566. Fortunately Elvire was flying the European flag, so we were able to slide into the port unrecognised for the nuisance that my two companion's compatriots had handed out to the city over 400 years ago.
My ancestors, much to the annoyance of Ian, had been welcomed with open arms by the islanders after they had kept the French at bay during the Peninsula wars of 1801. So due to my historical knowledge it was my turn to see the harbour master!
Friendly history or not there was no room for us in the harbour, due to the large number of “Cross Atlantic” yachts which use this port as a stepping stone before the Canary Islands. So dropping anchor outside the main port we settled down for the night safe from all wind directions except the southerly.
The next morning with a light northerly blowing off the land we placed another anchor astern, confident now that Elvire would be secure on her own except if the wind swung to a strong southerly. Using the Zodiac as our tender we headed off to the port to hire a car, which would give us the mobility to see the mountains and maybe, surf some of the island’s fantastic surf breaks.
Braving the steep winding roads that interlink the island we made our way North over to Faja da Areia, a journey that cuts through terraced fields hugging the sides of the mountains where bananas, mango and Christophene (prickly pear or cactus fig) can be found.
Here we spent the afternoon surfing a powerful four-foot right with a gutsy drop. With only four people in the water, the atmosphere was relaxed, despite the fact that I was falling a lot as I tried to get my feet around the transformation from longboard to shortboard. Getting out of the water at sunset we spent the next hour sitting on the wall in front of the wave, chatting to the locals who had been in the water with us about the problems of localism and its effect on the sport.
Our feelings were all on the same vibe; you can own the land, but the sea is a free zone, all you must do is respect other watermen. With that feeling of relaxation that you find after a good session in the surf we strapped the boards back on the car and headed back to Funchal for the night.
Situated on the west coast of Madeira is a jewel of a village called Jardim do Mar that seems to have escaped the mass tourist trade of the island, while still touching a small but steadily growing unit of extreme surfers who have put this village on the map. The size of the NW swells hitting the rocks below the steep village paths has sent messages to the four corners of the world. "Bring your gun to have some fun"!
We arrived early the next morning on the west coast in the central square of Jardim do Mar; where the elders of the village can be found in deep conversation, their voices drifting across the fountain as they discuss the day's events with only the goldfish witnessing their meetings. Our excitement was growing as we walked down the steps to the waterfront, was the surf up? Arriving at the top of the rocks we had a clear view of the break, yes it was working, but no, the swell was too small. The rocks could be seen pushing through in two sections; sadly we would have to wait for another day to surf this world-class wave.
With surf not on the menu for the day, we made our way back up to the village centre and dropped into Joe’s bar for a coffee. Above the bar a television was dealing with the world's problems. I nudged Ian as I saw the weather map at the end of the news, the story was not good, two depressions were joining up over the Azores and it looked as if they were planning to track our way. With no place in the harbour, we were now in a tight spot, we were going to have to move on.
For the rest of the morning we explored the South West of the island by car, before stopping for lunch at the most western point of Madeira; Ponta do Pargo. Here far removed from the lights of Funchal, a solitary lighthouse dominates the view, seated three hundred and seventy metres above the sea level on layers of volcanic ash from a long past volcanic explosion.
Filled up with chicken sandwiches and fresh fruit, which we had bought earlier from local farmers, still dressed in the traditional clothing of a bygone time. Didou and myself left the car to Ian (who wanted to check out the surf again) and set off by foot into the hills for the afternoon. After five hours walking through the lush valleys and jumping over fast flowing streams we arrived above Paul do Mar. With the sun preparing to set into the sea behind the village, we had at last found the perfect backdrop for the photographs, which, we had been asked to take for the Friends of the Da Hui. Ian was already in the village awaiting our arrival, so it was click, click, clunk until the sun had disappeared before cutting back through the banana plantations to the second highest sea cliff in the world, Cabo Girao (over five hundred and seventy metres) where we watched the stars taking hold of the atmosphere as we mulled over the worlds problems. You can now see, this is not the best island to live on, if you suffer from verti.