Monday, 23 April 2012

Crowded and deserted islands

Rugged terrain.
The central highlands.
North coast.
Madeira is indeed a beautiful island, but it's also at (or even beyond) its tourist capacity. Every day, the cruise ships dump 5-10,000 well-heeled passengers into Funchal and they join the thousands already here in being bussed around the island, crowding the more beautiful of the walking trails, viewpoints and every sort of attraction. There are souvenir stands in their hundreds and Peruvian pan pipe bands all doing their utmost to extract a few more euros from this mobile bounty. One always has to be on one's guard to avoid being ripped off here. Sonja was stung in the fruit market by exorbitant maracuja prices and we once found ourselves paying €2.50 for a coffee (normally €1 or less in these parts).

Tasty but dear. 3 types maracuja, custard apple and melon pear
Still and all, we were able to make a pretty good go of it, banding together with the crews of Frigg and our old friends the Roede Orms to hire a 9-seater minibus for a couple of days and see some quieter parts of the island, as well as the more popular.

The view from the world's second highest sea cliff.
The famous levadas - tough to get a shot with no other people!
The 25 fontes.
Marina prices are in proportion to everything else here and we didn't dare stay longer than a week in Funchal before taking off to the Islas Desertas, a nature reserve about 20 miles to the southeast. These are lonely and beautiful, populated by quite a number of rare or endangered species including monk seals, several varieties of storm petrel and tarantulas (!). There is a research station on Deserta Grande where the park rangers live, next to the one and only anchorage. It's fairly marginal, as anchorages go, with a stony bottom and being wide open to the southwest, but the shelter from the prevailing northeasterly swell is good. The wind fairly whistled through though and it is with some relief that we can confirm the statement in the pilot book to the effect that the holding is 'better than you'd expect'.

The anchorage
Unfortunately we didn't see any monk seals, but we were very warmly welcomed by the park rangers who showed us a fun and interesting time.

Sunset at Deserta Grande.
And it kept getting better.
We only stayed the one night, due to deteriorating weather, and had a bit of a slog to get back up to Madeira the next day. Because of the high cliffs, conditions were very gusty near the Desertas. One gust of 30 knots or more pulled the slider at the clew of the mainsail right out of its track on the boom! A belated reef took care of that until it could be properly mended and we bashed our way on up to Machico where we plan to lay at anchor a few days while waiting for a parcel delivery expected in Quinta do Lorde marina. We can't afford to wait there though as it is outrageously expensive (€23 per night AFTER the 20% OCC discount).

Machico is a nice town, once the island's capital, and much less busy than Funchal. No loud bars, no pan pipes.

A chance encounter with fellow OYCOA member, Nacho
on his Halcyon 27, Xebec.

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