Sailing the Madeira Islands

Total miles so far: 1730

Miles since last blog: 193.3

One of the great things about cruising is the excitement of arriving at an island you have sailed to.


Porto Santo is a small island to the north east of Madeira and consequently closer to the mainland, hence this where we stopped first in our exploration of the Madeira Islands. We found a long sandy beach with crystal clear turquoise water which whilst still being refreshing was also not too chilly (19-20C). This was the cue to perform one of the jobs which we had been putting off until now, cleaning the barnacles and weed from Florence’s propeller. Matt drew the short straw and dove in with a scrubbing brush to address the issue. Even boat jobs are enjoyable in the right environment, as school of fish joined him to enjoy the meal he was scraping off.


The water was so inviting that we were able to enjoy spending some time in the water getting used to our snorkels and fins. We found some rocks just off of the beach and were amazed by the quantity and variety of fish there.

Despite being on the sheltered side of the Island from the swell and wind, the anchorage became increasingly rolly and uncomfortable. With an eye on the weather forecast and no extra cost, Amy insisted we move into the shelter of the harbour. This turned out to be a good move as the next night the wind picked up and all the boats who had been anchored off the beach came in to seek a space in the harbour. There is little room for anchoring inside the harbour, so even squashed together, unfortunately there was not room for everyone. The next few nights were fairly sleepless as everyone span around their anchors. We were very impressed that ours held but have realised how conservative we are when anchoring as we thought we were too close to another boat, then someone else came and made a spot between us.

With the wind easing we set about exploring the island beyond the beach, which is described as a Geologists dream. Unfortunately the bus service in Porto Santo is non-existent so we hired a scooter for a day. Although Matt had never driven a Scooter, he had also never crashed one so it was decided that he should be drive for the day. With his L plates obvious and the route often lacking tarmac, it took a while before Amy relaxed her breath enough for him to breathe. With some off-roading, we managed to see the island and all it’s viewpoints in a day, including a hike up to the highest peak.

After nearly a week in Porto Santo the breeze reduced enough for us to make the 30 mile trip across to Madeira itself. With the swell still lingering from the strong winds, this was a very rolly passage, check out the video if you want to see just how rolly. Amy distracted herself from feeling queasy by fishing and caught another small tuna which became our dinner that night on arrival. Madeira is an impressive island to sail to, with the mountain peaks and steep cliffs coming into focus on your approach. We had been heading for the free anchorage at the eastern tip of the island but we found it to be crowded, unsheltered and uncomfortable with everyone watching their anchors and avoiding going ashore. We soon bailed out and went into the nearby Quinta Do Lorde marina, the only one on Madeira that accepts visiting yachts.


Being in a marina made us both feel like we were on holiday! We know we are permanently on holiday but having easy access ashore, plus internet, showers, unlimited fresh water etc is a novelty after 2 months living at anchor. It helped that the Marina is attached to a luxury resort, which we also took full advantage of. We took our first hike, from the marina, out to the eastern most point of the island which is a barren scorched headland with stunning cliffs and rock formations. A highlight for Matt were the hundreds of small lizards, even when one ran up his back and crawled round the back of his neck!


For us the appeal to visit Madeira comes from it’s lush green mountains and and numerous hiking trails. Beautiful, serene mountains are notoriously difficult to get to and as we were at the opposite side of the island to them, we forego-ed our folding bikes and took to the hairpins in a hire car. The lush, green mountains and crisp mountain air were a stark contrast to the hot barren rocks surrounding the marina and we felt like we were on a completely different island. Sadly the views from the very tops were obscured by cloud for the duration of our stay so, consoling ourselves that there were many more mountains to come, we set out on some walks below the cloud. Luckily Madeira is famous for it’s trails which follow the ‘Levadas’ (man made irrigation channels along the steep mountain sides). Most of these are easy walking, have tunnels to explore through the rocks, are surrounded by lush vegetation and have stunning views down into the valley through the trees.


Known as the ‘Floating Garden’ Madeira is renowned for its gardens, unfortunately some of these were badly damaged in a recent fire affecting a lot of the area surrounding the main city of Funchal. Thankfully the Tropical Gardens escaped unscathed so we joined the Saga cruisers and enjoyed wandering round the ornamental gardens and sampling the local Madeira wine.

Having been abandoned in the marina whilst we went and enjoyed ourselves, Florence was in need of some attention so we spent a couple of days doing jobs and snorkeling in the rocks next to the marina before heading off to the southern most islands in the Madeira group. If cruising really is just ‘boat work in exotic places’ we think we can live with that.

We had applied for and received the permit to visit the Salvagem islands, 162 miles to the south, but we had decided not to visit them as the weather forecast did not suit. However the forecast changed just as we left (originally bound for the Canaries) and we found ourselves pointed at the islands so decided to go there. That meant that our 1630 departure from the marina was too late really and Florence would need to average over 6 knots to get there before sunset the next day. Then, with a slow light wind departure the speed required crept even higher. When the breeze did fill in we had a beam reach but needed an average of 6.7 knots, Florence obliged with consistent 7 knots plus through the night until the breeze started to ease in the morning. The spinnaker was made ready and as soon as the breeze and speed dropped off we had the spinnaker up flying from the bow. Later as the breeze shifted aft as forecast we rigged the spinnaker pole and kept trimming to keep the speed required. Finally arriving at the Salvagem islands, accompanied by dolphins, just before sunset. The Salvagem islands are two small rocky islands designated as a nature reserve and inhabited only by nature wardens. The swell was too great for us to land but we enjoyed swimming in the crystal clear waters with hundreds of fish.



5 thoughts on “Sailing the Madeira Islands”

  1. WE ARE LOVING THIS SOOOOO MUCH!!!!! We holidayed in Madeira in 2011 and know what you mean about it being an island of extremes!!! So pleased you’re both having the adventure of a lifetime! Please keep the updates coming! 😘😘 S&E xxxx


    1. Hi Emma, sorry for the late reply. Glad you are enjoying the blog. If you both enjoyed Madeira, you would love La Palma (the Island, not Las Palmas) in the Canaries and Santo Antao in the Cape Verdes (fairly difficult to get to but the most beautiful island on our trip so far). xx


  2. Hi Matt & Amy. Enjoying reading the blog & watching your video’s. Have also been to Madeira & it brings back memory’s. Great to see you having such a wonderful time. Very jealous of your adventure, although realistically I know my wife would never be up for being on a boat even for a few hrs. All the best & keep posting.



    1. Thanks Simon. Hope you have made the most of new opportunities after seagate. Its certainly an adventure with all the ups and downs that entails. It doesn’t seem like xmas out here in 30 degrees.


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