“As we left Maidera a school of pilot Wales approached us in the falling light. So gracious and calm, they surfaced to breathe and to inspect those funny looking creatures peering at them from a plastic box.”

Day Ten – 11th December, Sunday, Madeira


Cat in the sun

Enjoying the sun

It is sunny out here. João is taking us to town in his old Mercedes. He speaks French with a heavy Portuguese accent and when he talks with the captain they mix a bit of both for good measure.
João looks like a sailor; hands, skin and jumper give it away. There is something sweet about his watery eyes. They wander around freely while he speaks to someone, as if they had a mind of their own.
He also looks like he had a couple of drinks already. He definitely drives like he did.

Madeira is a mountainous volcanic archipelago, with windy roads that cling onto the side of steep cliff walls. Every bent offers a dramatic scene on a most spectacular costal line. João’s confidence in negotiating those bents is not shared by the rest of the passengers. Estelle gives me a meaningful look before bursting into laughter. The captain, half jokingly, keeps telling João to pay attention to the road. I sit back and enjoy the ride. His car is quite old but I noticed it doesn’t have a single scratch. His driving style might be unorthodox, but it got him home safely up till now. And I have to admit I am quite enjoying his liberal approach to the road code. After all I grew up in Italy…

What I though was supposed to be a run to the shops has become a merry tour of the island. João has taken the day off and he is determined to show us how beautiful Madeira is. Job at which he won’t just succeed, he will exceed every possible expectation.

One unmissable stop is the little Taverna de Poncha where the traditional Madeira drink is made freshly on the spot. The Poncha Regional is a rum based drink made with crushed oranges or lemons and local honey. Very similar to the Caribbean Ti Punch (lemon and sugar cane syrup).
The wooden baton used to crush the oranges is affectionately called Caralhinho by the locals (it means “little cock”, look at the shape and you will understand why).

With its mild year-round temperatures, Madeira produces a fantastic variety of flowers and vegetables, a feast for both eyes and palate.

What a beautiful day we had visiting this stunning island, eating great food and getting our senses drunk of Madeira’s natural beauty. We have been all jolly and cheerful while bouncing around in João’s car. The captain was a constant banter. Maybe it was the alcohol, maybe the fear of not being in control in a car with an eclectic driver or maybe he was just happy to see his old friend. It is the first time I saw him so jovial and, as I will figure out later, it will take a long time before I will see him in such a high spirit again.
João is the most amiable host and he loves his island.
When he returned us home, I remember something he said in the morning: “Madeira é um paraiso”. I couldn’t agree more.
Thank you João, I will carry a piece of your paradise with me until memory fails me.


Day Eleven – 12th December, Monday, Madeira

Back on the sea.
As we left Maidera a school of pilot whales approached us in the falling light. So gracious and calm, they surfaced to breathe and to inspect those funny looking creatures peering at them from a plastic box.
From our boat they look like huge black dolphins.
A nice way to end a wonderful staying on a most magnificent island.


Day Twelve – 13th December, Tuesday, South of Madeira


Big save.
As I come back from my cabin for a quick nature call, I spot a light on the sea through the cabin’s window.
The captain is sitting at the chart desk reading.

Portuguese flag
Leaving Madeira

The windows are covered by the sunscreens. One can see through them but they do sometimes make it difficult to judge distances, especially when a very bright moonlight bounces off them. I get closer to the window (and to the captain) to make sure of what I am seeing. It is a red light and it is right in front of us, slightly port side (so on the same side of the red light on our bow). Not trusting my lack of experience, I ask confirmation to the captain. “Red to red is good, right?”
He raises his head. “What?”
“Red to red… we are just going to pass each other port side”
“Yes”, he says but then his instinct drives him out to the cockpit for good measure.
And good that he did.
The red light wasn’t the port side light of a distant cargo boat, it was the only light of a very close little fisherman’s boat, sitting right ahead of us and not moving.
We have just the time to give a little push to engines and quickly steer the course to avoid a big scare to the poor fisherman.
That was a little too close for comfort.
Big save and good points for me.

“When both side-lights you see ahead —
Port your helm and show your RED.
GREEN to GREEN — or, RED to RED —
Perfect safety — go ahead!

If to your starboard RED appear,
It is your duty to keep clear;
To act as judgment says is proper;
To Port — or Starboard — Back — or Stop her!

But when upon your Port is seen
A Steamer’s Starboard Light of GREEN,
There’s not so much for you to do,
For GREEN to Port keeps clear of you.

Both in safety and in doubt
Always keep a good look-out;
In danger, with no room to turn,
Ease her, Stop her, Go astern.”

Thomas Gray, Rule of the Road at Sea, 1867

Today the sea is the bluest blue

Oh so blue

Oh so blue


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