Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Porto Santo

Porto Santo Thursday 4th – Friday 12th October 2012 

 We spent a very pleasant week on Porto Santo. The island is hilly and very dry, but the different colours in the rock strata overlooking the marina made an interesting view. The few bits of green that we could see seemed mainly to be prickly pears.
Typical Island view

On the Friday after our arrival it was Republic day in Portugal, so we ‘dressed overall’ in celebration.

When the islands were first inhabited by the Portuguese in the 1400’s they were covered in Dragon trees (Dracaena Draco). Their sap is a good dye and was prized by the wool merchants of Flanders, which resulted in a lucrative trade. Unfortunately this combined with the introduction of rabbits completely deforested the island leaving behind todays rather bleak landscape. They are trying reforestation but the only really green part we saw was the golf course designed by Seve Ballesteros. There are a few natural springs, but now most of the islands water comes from a desalination plant.
Dragon Tree at Columbus' house

We did the open top bus tour of the island on Saturday – it takes two hours! Of the approx. 40 seater bus everyone was from the marina apart from eight Portuguese. No commentary, but we had a good overview of the island and we stopped at a few viewpoints - “Dez minut” was as long as we had to take pictures or walk a little. It was all dry and desolate, some grapevines and very little cultivation. The only animals I saw were a pony and foal, one donkey and a few hens. Most houses had gardens, some green with a lawn but most grey dust with shrubs and flowers here and there surrounded by circles of rounded stones. Paw paws, bananas, figs, oleander and bougainvillea were the main trees. The forested parts seemed mainly to be small pine trees growing on rocky soil with outcrops of lava and eroded channels.
Island Ruin
On the bus tour
View across the Airport
Island view
There is a 9km golden beach which starts right next to the marina. The water is blue and warm, with small waves – lovely to swim in! All the Madeirans come here in the summer as there are no natural beaches there. A ferry comes every morning and leaves again in the evening. Our alarm each morning was his 3 hoots – my engines are going astern. This was about 10 o’clock, so we had become rather slow at getting up, although we were usually up, just had not started any of our planned jobs or got ready to go to town.
Marina and Beach
The marina was very sociable. It was virtually full with boats from UK, USA, France, Denmark, Norway, Germany, Ireland, Holland, Finland and Switzerland. There were several ARC (Atlantic Rally/Race for Cruisers) boats and most of the others were crossing the Atlantic as well with a few only going as far as the Canaries. So, everyone was talking about the same things – the voyage here (most from different parts of Portugal), when they were planning to cross, what rig they were using, how many crew down to who had books to swop and the first question from the new arrivals – how far to the supermarket and what’s it like?

On coming back from our excursion to town on Friday, we had a new neighbour, a Westerly Corsair ‘Equinox’ from Maine USA. Dick and Moira were making their way home, this being the final stages of a 3 year cruise, including the Caribbean, Bermuda, Azores, UK and Ireland, Spain and Portugal. They plan to cross the Atlantic from the Canaries to Antigua and make their way north to the USA.

We looked around each other’s boats with interest, swapping ideas as to the changes we had made to suit our cruising plans, swapping stories of the places we had been and the not to be missed places yet to be explored. Inevitably this activity takes several evenings of severe socialising.

We had drinks on other boats and others came to us, strangely the ARCs more or less sticking together and us Non-ARCs too! They were all proudly flying their ARC flags and we decided we felt a bit inadequate not having a flag. We were discussing this with “Chewsy “ and in a moment of brilliance, Steve said “Lets fly N A R C in the signal flags!” So, next morning we proudly flew our own NARC flags.

The ARCs enjoyed the joke and invited us all to their planned beach barbeque. This required another cycle into town to Pingo Doce, a nice 10 min ride with only one small uphill . Quite a small supermarket, but very well stocked and always very busy. Not surprising because we think it’s the only one on the island. I decided to go local and bought steak to marinate (Red wine, olive oil, garlic, crushed bay leaves and chilli’s) and make Prego’s, because being thin they would cook quickly which would be good as there were going to be quite a few people cooking.
Beach Braai
We met on the beach about 5pm and had a great time. It was a chance to speak to people we hadn’t yet met, but hope to keep bumping into on our varying passage plans. The fires got going and we all managed to cook before sundown at about 8pm. There are a few families and the children had a great time swimming and playing together until food was ready.

The town is small with a few shops, but we found everything we needed including a new hosepipe as ours was becoming more of a sprinkler each time we used it. There are also black and white patterns in the streets, but here they are nicely rounded pebbles instead of the cobbles in the rest of Portugal. We went to the Columbus House museum – he lived here for a few years as a sugar trader and married the governor’s daughter before he started his explorations. The museum is very interesting with information in English which was nice. They have a few Dragon trees in the garden, the fruit is edible too.
Columbus House

We had lunch in a pavement café near the Law Courts. Richard had dish of the day €5.00 – Espada – scabbard fish. It is prized by the Portuguese. We have seen it in the shops - ugly, long bluey silvery fish with big eyes and fearsome teeth. It is really nice – I may even have it when we eat out again. The best bit is because it is so big you always get a fillet, which will suit me.
Town Centre

The marina had quite a bit of fish life too. Not much shellfish, but there were schools of tiny transparent fish with a turquoise stripe and various size Sea Bream. No harbour mullet, though. One evening I saw two large fish about 30 cm which I think are parrot fish. They were chewing on the rocks and I could see their beaks and they had nice big scales, but they were just blotchy grey, not nice and colourful as we are used to. Something else to look up!

We were in Porto Santo for a week and a day. The time just flew by, it is such a relaxing place – no pressure! After ‘Equinox’ had left we had a new neighbour, a catamaran ‘Horizons’. Jeff was single handed but he did have a washing machine and it will run off our inverter! Rowena was very impressed. Something else to find space for now.

Next stop Madeira some 30 miles away and the dramatic anchorage of Baia da Abra.

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