Here, Madeira
Sailing Today|February 2021
The Madeiran archipelago is a sometimes overlooked gem. Few know it better than Don Street, who talks us through the islands in his inimitable fashion

Madeira and its smaller sister island of Porto Santo are the logical first stops for boats enroute to the Caribbean but are also an ideal adventure destination for sailors planning to leave the UK in the spring or summer. They are approximately 1,200 miles from Falmouth or the south west coast of Ireland, 535 miles from Gibraltar.

Madeira is a high island, highest point about 6,100ftwith other peaks only slightly lower. In 1975 on my boat, Iolaire, at we picked up the lights high up on the mountains of Madeira at night when we were 40 miles out. The climate is mild; average temperatures in summer are around 23°C and in winter, 19°C but remember if exploring the higher hills it can cool surprisingly quickly. The low eastern half of the island is very dry, the rest of the island gets rain but seldom heavy rain. The rain falls manly in the mountains.

At 33° N Madeira, is not in the trade wind belt but the wind is largely from N or NE. Especially in the winter the bottom edge of the lows that march across the Atlantic reach Madeira. This sometimes produces strong SW winds, and swell that can make things a bit uncomfortable in the two main marinas but, as mentioned, the breakwater keeps them protected from the worst.

Ugly fish and Winston Churchill

As a result of the high mountains, Madeira has three climates; alpine, temperate and tropical, with farmers at all levels. Thus you find in the market a tremendous variety of food at very reasonable prices. The central market is three stories high. When stocking a delivery yacht, Serenity in 2005 my wife discovered that the higher up you went in the market the cheaper the prices. In the fish market you will see the ugliest fish in the world, the Espada. It looks ugly, but tastes wonderful; buy a few. Besides the local market there are a number of large supermarkets similar to size quality and items that you would expect to find the supermarkets of Europe and the States.

Madeira has been a tourist island since the late 1860’s when steamers had been developed that could go from England to Madeira in three days. Tourism rests very lightly on Madeira. There are plenty of tourist hotels, but no extensive concreted jungles as sailors will find when they continue on to the Canaries.

If you want to experience a real old fashioned British high tea, organize it at about 1800 at Reid’s hotel. It is the hotel Winston Churchill always used whenever he was in Madeira.

Besides having a long beach, Porto Santo has a big uncrowded harbour well protected by breakwaters. In Madeira, the marinas are literally carved out of the side of the island. With few exceptions, the shore drops offprecipitously, making anchoring almost impossible.

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