Trip Stories

Madeira – An unexpected change of plan (D58 to 68)

February 4-6th : The expectation

Our plane landed in Madeira around midday. From the airport we took the bus to reach the Marina of the captal city of the Island : Funchal. Our plan was to look around and find a nice hidden spot too set our tent for the night. We had thought the beaches would be good for that. But we discovered that in Madeira, most of the beaches… are with pebble and no sand… In addition to that Funchal is a big city and the marina is at the very center of it : it makes it complicated to find any quiet spot around there to set a tent. Houses have no garden so we can’t even ask an owner to set our tent in his. That’s why, for the first night, because we didn’t find any couch surfing either, we booked a very cheap hostel. There we met a lot of travellers. Among them was Sofia, a young Portuguese-French girl who recently came to Madeira in order to begin a new life there.

The next day I received a call from a guy currently in Las Palmas who was looking for 2 crew members for an Atlantic crossing. He saw our notice on La bourse aux équipiers, that we had still not removed, and was interested in our profiles. We refused as we already had our boat.

In the evening we still had no news from Chatham — Name of Xavier’s boat — but that was more or less expected. We were at the bar of the marina with Sofia and some of her madeirian friends. One of them was telling us that we could definitely not set our tent around there, we would get a fine. We could possibly sleep on the beach with just a sleeping bag to seem poor. At this moment, while we were from time to time speaking in French with Sofia, a French girl, Camille, who was at a table close to us working on her computer, asked us where we were from. We spoke a bit with her and learned that she was doing the Atlantic with her father and they had been saying in Funchal’s Marina for quite some time for some unexpected reparation. I asked her if by any chance they had some free cabin in their boat for us to sleep one night. After checking if it was ok with her father, she invited us to sleep in the back cabin of their boat. What a luck for us !

February 6 – 14th : a greater incident than expected

In the morning we received a text from Xavier, who just got pone network access back. He indicated us that they would arrive in Funchal’s marina by 5pm. They got some trouble on the way and we would probably not be able to sleep on the boat before the 9th. We stayed the day at the marina to assist to the arrival of Chatham and meet the crew. To be honest, we were a bot worried by the magnitude of the damages. We finally met Xavier in real, and also Caroline and Fred who would leave the boat soon and Dgé, who would stay continue the adventure with us.

During their crossing from the Corogne (Spain) they had had way stronger winds than what was forecasted. The autopilot had suddenly worked down, letting a big wave topple the boat. It had lost the more of less decorative structure of the saloon and some antennas on Portboard. There was also a broken solar panels and they had lost part of the safety kit. Xavier told us he had to check everything and try to see how everything could be repaired. Very probably we wouldn’t be able to leave with the Transquadra — Atlantic crossing Race from Madeira to La Martinique — which was starting on February 10th.

Until the 9th we stayed at the hostel and then in a AirBnb, with Sofia and 2 other long term travellers we met at the hostel : Simon and Anina. We spent most of our evenings with Chatham’s crew. We got to know all of them, a really nice ambiance, we were laughing and learning a lot. By speaking with Caroline I learned she had been backpacking quite a lot. She told us about her experience in Morocco, which seemed better than our. She had not stayed a lot in big cities and had not used any guide book. She was travelling just by visiting what local advised her to do. Then she told us about South America : she had done several work awn mission which she could advice. She would send me that by E-mail.

One day we decided to rent a car with Anina and Simon. The beginning of this day was quite an adventure. The owner of our Airbnb had a not very legal offer of car sharing for us : only 20 euros per day for a car which apparently was good. But if we were breaking it, we had to pay him 1000 euros. When we went to take it, we met Bart with who we shared the car. He would be the driver and he was a good one, which was good considering what was coming. We went to get the car, which wasn’t at all what we expected. It was an old Opel Astra with no power and sleek tires… We wanted to go at the highest point of the island. We took the main road bringing to it. It was a very long steep road : the longest road that steep that I had ever seen. Bart had to accelerate to the maximum using only second gear in order to be able to go up, and actually not so quickly. The tire were slipping more and more. At each intersection we were praying that no car was coming, which would have forced us to stop. At some point the car wasn’t going up any more. The engine wasn’t able to bring us up any more. Bart tried many times. Even a guy from there, used to those roads, tried to do it by replacing bart while we stepped out of the car to make it lighter, but it wasn’t moving up. So we went back to the AirBnB owner and were hopefully refunded. We got an other car from an official car rental and learned that the road to the summit was closed. There was too much snow! In Madeira snow was really rare but this year the weather was really going crazy. So we did an other hike which lead us to see waterfalls and snow and to cross a flooded road by removing our shoes.

Interesting fact : in Madeira there are kilometres of elaborated and quite nice irrigation channels that we can follow while hiking in the mountains.

At our return, Xavier told us there were too many things to prepare, we had to pass by Las Palmas, which would delay our departure of 2 to 3 weeks. That was quite a disappointment for Christophe, it would bring him to late in La Martinique, which meant he couldn’t cross the Atlantic by sailing. He would have to take a plane from Las palmas.

On February 10th we came aboard the Chatham. After installing ourselves in our cabin we went to visit the Island with rented scooters with the rest of the crew.

The next day, we were supposed to leave to Las Palmas, but while Xavier was going up into the mast to check it, we discovered that one of the spreader was gravely cracked… We wouldn’t leave to las Palmas that day… After some day of tribulation Xavier managed to get answers from specialists and provisionally fixed the spreader. But the verdict was bad for me. It was my turn to be disappointed because the real reparation of the spreader in Las Palmas would take too much time for us to cross the Atlantic this season with Chatham. I would have to find an other boat and crew in Las Palmas. On February 14th we left Funchal to sail to Las palmas with reduced sails and engine. What comforted Christophe and I was that we would be able to share at least few days of sailing to Las Palmas aboard chatham with this amazing crew and then spend some time with them in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

During the last days in Madeira we had the opportunity to assist to the Carnaval. It was The event of the year on the island and it lasted a full week. There were many parade with elaborated costumes and choreography. The street had been decorated for the event and many people were disguising every day according to a changing theme. That was quite impressive.

Recap of the stay in Madeira :

  • Some nice travellers’ encounters
  • A night aboard a boat by spontaneously asking
  • Many new travelling advices for South America
  • Encounter of a new crew
  • Discovery of the charming Portuguese island


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