2nd to 19th November
From Cascais, near Lisbon, to Porto Santo is nearly 500 miles. After my first premature departure (when I’d left but turned back a few hours later in face of not-quite-forecast headwinds and seas), Henrietta and I finally rolled across this patch of ocean, under just the poled-out genoa, in less than four days, anchoring in the dark off a beach with thundering surf. Next fine morning the ferry from Madeira passed by and I upped anchor and followed it into port.
Reflecting aimlessly on the sail over, it occurred to me again that open ocean sailing sometimes seems to induce a sense of overwhelming insignificance and listless melancholia, especially, I find, when feeling slightly queasy. It’s a kind of hollow alternative reality – and may of course just be simple incipient madness. Most of us at sea are all too well aware of our fragility on a little boat in a vast empty mighty ocean, but sometimes you look up skywards on a black moonless night and recognise that all humanity on planet earth is pretty insignificant too. Our tiny planet seems so fragile, wobbling round our fairly average star, the sun, in that endless dark ocean of stars. Even the so-called supermoon did nothing but magnify the sense of us being a mere speck of humankind on a tiny planet in a mere speck of a solar system. But we can’t grapple with infinity right now. Plus you may have mounting excitement at the prospect of Christmas. I don’t want to spoil it. But if we could organise such a thing, I’d send Messrs Trump, Farage and acolytes on a little sailing boat for a few days ego-deflation in the Atlantic. A prerequisite to high political office.
What of Porto Santo? In case you didn’t know, it’s a little island near Madeira. I’ve malingered here for nearly two weeks now. It’s one of those small, peaceful, friendly, low-key places that suit me. Pop. about 5,000, with some prominent mini-mountains, retired volcanoes, (1,000 to 1,500ft), and a perfect golden sandy beach about four miles long. One small town, scattered homesteads, a few rural bars and some local touristy settlements – mostly deserted now the summer is over. Here are some random pictures…..
I’ve trekked up almost every mini-mountain, walked or cycled nearly every road or dusty track, plus swum/bodysurfed a few times. I should be quite fit. But I’m also pretty lazy and I drink too much, so I’m not.
The marina (one and a half pontoons with wobbly little fingers) is laid-back, multi-lingual and sociable. A few boats come and go each day: passage-making sailing boats and some amateurish local fishermen.
Passage-makers come from most corners of Europe, dominated by the ever-adventurous French. They include some of the smaller scruffier boats and prettiest women of our continent. Indeed, I’d say Porto Santo marina has probably the prettiest boat sailors I’ve ever seen anywhere: not just French (we expect them to be pretty) but English, German, Czech, Estonian, Dutch et al. A charming and exquisite assortment of European delight. The sort of thing that makes hopeless wrinkly old men sigh wistfully and daydream pathetically. But where else can I socialise with fascinating talented thoughtful worldwise young, and not-so-young, travellers? Incidentally, the sailing community is well-balanced and sane (and very pretty) compared with some of the handful of non-Portuguese visitors, I’ve encountered. Exhibit A: a middle-aged but retired Bulgarian chef, adamant the world economic system is on the verge of complete collapse (you first heard it here; it’ll happen before Christmas according to his unquestionably correct thinking – derived from long hours gazing at a candle); and Exhibit B, a serious lanky ‘night-shift taxi driver’ from Kiel who’s come here to exercise his muskles…and more. He seems to know too much about NATO strategy. Not many dull moments!
All in all, you’ll see why I’ve stayed so long. Though, the fact that marina fees encourage longer stays and that I’m not due to meet Anna in Madeira till next week, have given added reasons to stay on.