As we were arriving in Porto Santo, the northern most island of the Madeiran archipelago, it felt that our sailing adventure was really starting. We saw a rugged coastline with forested mountains and little inhabitation. The sea life around us was rich in flying fish, turtles and sea birds that cried and squawked as they dove into the sea for their fishy snacks. The birds also indicated where tuna, marlin and other large game fish were hunting for their prey. The weather was sunny and warm with a tropical feel to the air.
Before leaving beachy Porto Santo we said our goodbyes to Guiseppe, after which we sailed onward to the main island itself: Madeira. The tropical feel here is further enhanced with the magnificent variety of colourful flowers, palms, frangipani, mango, papaya, banana, passionfruit and avocado trees. The streets of the towns and villages are steep and have a happy vibe to them as they seem to go up and up endlessly into the forested mountains and disappear into the clouds.
The mountains are all rugged and volcanic in origin, but unfortunately without any active volcanos any longer. There are magnificent examples of dykes and sills that have been injected through the layers of rock that once was a part of the volcanic activity in the region and they are a delight to both geologists and lovers of natural beauty.
We are almost at our starting point for crossing the Atlantic Ocean, only a few hundred more nautical miles to go to reach Gran Canaria where we will meet others from our little group.
We had hoped that our boat would be on the final shakedown and everything would be working perfectly, but after we left Vilamoura there are still 3 issues to solve:
Our engine was burning too much oil for my liking – up to a litre for every 24 hours of running
Our brand-new fridge was almost constantly running and as a result was drawing a lot of additional power from our batteries
As our power consumption was still high, we think that we need additional solar panels to help supplement our power requirements
Of these three issues, the fridge was the easiest to solve with a quite savvy technician who identified “too much” gas pressure in the system. After bleeding off excess gas, the overall fridge temperature stabilised to 5 deg. C and the compressor seemed to be functioning “normally”, therefore not using so much power. We hope this brings this issue to an end, except that I still have to replace the fridge light that seemed to have broken down during the troubleshooting and repair process.
More concerning to me was the high oil consumption by the engine. Much reading and googling through pertinent articles suggested that it is better to keep feeding a thirsty engine than to take the cylinder head off and have a mechanic poke around inside. No matter how many You Tube videos I watched, I did not build sufficient confidence to try any of this on my own, but we felt that something needed to be done.
Being on the road for the next 5-10 years, out in the ocean, a good and reliable engine is a must for safety, so we were trying to work out the best way forwards.
After registering my engine through the Yanmar website and explaining my problem, I was contacted by a local Yanmar representative who had booked me into his system for a diagnosis with potential repair options.
Finally, two weeks after our arrival in Funchal some mechanics came by and started to take my engine apart, promising only a compression check and not a dis-assembly of the cylinder head. After digging around for a while, they showed me loose injectors where the oil could be leaking through into the combustion chamber. To repair this, they would need to take off the cylinder head, change the valve guides and then put it all back together with a new head gasket and new o rings. Oh yes, a simple job, it will only take 2 weeks to order the parts and do the work. Meanwhile I ask myself what is the cost of all of this and should I have listened to the advice of those articles that I read ? I asked the mechanics; Well, we don’t know at this point, but they would let us know.……
After removing the cylinder head, regrettably, more water and the consequent corrosion was found on the cylinder block. With this sad discovery, more spare parts need to be ordered and a further dismantling of the engine will be required that includes a visit to a machine shop for a re-conditioning of the engine (as there are no oversized pistons for this engine, therefore the block needs to be rebored and liners fitted so that new, standard sized pistons can be fitted) .
After much deliberation, and even considering a new engine, we have decided to go ahead with the work necessary to get our engine in top condition. This means that we are “stuck” in Madeira for at least 4 weeks for the new spares to arrive and the work is completed.
Although not delighted with this situation, we are pleased to have found good mechanics working on the engine and a sound and solid plan to fix the problems. After all, our future plans are a challenge and a good engine is important for our safety and peace of mind.
Looking at all the other boats around us, with their billowing clouds of black, white or blue smoke that comes from their exhausts, I am surprised that there are not more boats getting the necessary and serious attention of maintenance and repairs.
As both the fridge and the freezer are electricity hungry devices, our final thought for additional power is the addition of more solar panels. We now have identified a section of the boat - between the bimini and the fixed solar panel - that in general is outside areas where there are shadows from the mast and sails that affect the solar output.
Actually, we have been quite shocked to see how much a small shadow reduce our solar output. Hence, we have been very careful in selecting the type of panel and where we can place it on the boat for optimum performance.
I somehow think that we will never generate enough solar or hydro power, but every bit that we can get means that our own footprint is as small as it can be and we can stay longer at anchor with cool beer in the fridge, without having to turn the engine on to replenish our batteries.
I mentioned earlier that our starting point for our journey is at Gran Canaria (Las Palmas) where we will meet others of our group. Before we were in this sailing world, we had no idea that crossing oceans was so common for sailors. Moreover, we are amazed by the many different sizes, ages and makes of boats.
It is a little like a migration as the boats all huddle together in one location (like Gran Canaria) until there is a suitable weather window and the “flock” of boats all head off at the same time in the same direction – following the trade winds that has powered exploration and trade around the whole world for centuries gone by.
The trade winds are powered by a massive high-pressure area that sits over the Azores. The air circulates in a clockwise direction and results in a “steady push” from the Canaries to northern South America and the Caribbean.
The Dutch use this to sail to Surinam, The French to French Guyana and the British to the Caribbean (along with many, many other nationalities). The trade winds are a little unsettled at the beginning of the season (November; just after the end of the hurricane season in the Caribbean). They remain steady through December, January and February when most sail boats make the crossing.
Having said that, quite a large number of boats already set sail mid-November to extend their Caribbean season to the maximum and celebrate Christmas on the beach, whilst others opt to fly home for Christmas. Our goal is to depart with the steadiest winds in the beginning of January and trust that they will bring us safely to our final destination of Grenada. Needless to say, that global warming is always a topic as this is starting to influence the steady state with greater extremes.
Our group of boats, 25 in all, is called “The Viking Explorers”. Many boats are from Scandinavia, but there is a mixture of British, Dutch and Germans to add a little ethnic diversity. The purpose of the organisation is to guide and support our crossing with practical help and information about safety, marinas, passage and border formalities.
The group will meet in Las Palmas on Gran Canaria as this is the starting point of our journey of approx. 3,000 nm, sailing to Grenada, via the Cape Verde Islands.
We depart around the 6th January and expect to arrive about 4 weeks later in Grenada.
The best feeling for us is that even though we may be alone with our group of boats, spread across the ocean, there is an organisation behind this voyage that is ready to assist, should problems occur.
To date, we have already met up with a number of boats who are a part of this group and it is great to find like-minded people with diverse backgrounds with whom we will be “bumping” into each other, over the months ahead. These new friends are in addition to the many other friends we have made in the last 2 years, many of whom are crossing the Atlantic independently and who we keep meeting in various ports along the way.
It is always great to share stories and experiences with new and old friends over dinner and drinks – and finding out that we are all just normal people with a love of life and adventure and sometimes getting up to mischief.
A part of the tradition from boats that are planning to cross the Atlantic Ocean is to paint a picture/logo of the boat (with the names and dates) on the harbour wall from where the boats set out. As we are spending quite some time in Funchal, Madeira, we thought it was a great opportunity to contribute to this tradition. We chose a section of the harbour wall, where the previous art work was peeled off and illegible, so we had space to make our mark. With the aid of a wire brush, a few paint brushes, some blue and white paint, a locally made up stencil and lots of enthusiasm, we set to work to create our masterpiece. Over a few days we painted the background, the border and finally our sexy Ocean Deva with our names and the date of 2022. Yes, our adventure is really moving forwards and our first footprint had been placed.
Here is the marina there are a number of “Big Game” fishing boats that head out on a daily hunt with clients for big game fishing. We have not seen any big fish being brought back yet, but have heard reports of a 700 lb marlin that was caught (and released). It looked like not much was actually happening in the fishing department.
Next to our mooring spot, a lovely British family with a handicapped young man booked a fishing trip. He had always wanted to catch a tuna and this was his opportunity. We did not say anything about the last 2 weeks of no success, but hoped and wished them good luck.
The same boat came back at the end of the day with a massive 100 kg tuna on the deck and a lot of smiles on faces of the family. The young man had done most of the hard work and brought the tuna in – it was his day after all. Actually, there were as many smiles from the boat skipper and crew and also from us. I guess the only one who did not smile was the tuna, but you can’t always make everyone happy all of the time.
I am tempted to try my luck and learn a few skills on how they do it, so I can be a better fisherman from our boat. Though, a 100kg tuna is a lot more than I need, however….
With the ruggedness of the main island of Madeira, we have been out on a number of walks that have been quite spectacular. The walks are either the “lavadas” which follow the paths of the original water gathering systems or along the cliffs and upland mountainous areas. Considering the problems that Ingrid has with vertigo, she has fought and struggled to enjoy some of the most amazing locations on the island – where there are sheer drops on one or two sides of the path. The paths are well made and maintained, with substantial hand rails at the narrowest or steepest sections which help, but they can be a challenge. With “Intrepid Ingrid” and a lot of hand holding, everything seemed to be conquered and enjoyed, at least afterwards if not fully during the most challenging parts.
In-between all of this activity, we managed to slip out for dinner on a few occasions. The most luxurious was at Madeira’s top “Reids Hotel” where we managed to book ourselves in for a special Michelin evening. This consisted of 17 top chefs who all produced their small signature dish around the pool and gardens of the hotel. With champagne flowing all evening and delicately picking at some delicious dishes, we felt like we were living the life of a millionaire ! There were also about 60 chosen wines to sample, but we just did not manage to get past the Champagne !
Now we are stranded on this tropical island with little to do except enjoying being here. There are worse places to be and we do try to make the best of the challenges we encounter. We hope for a timely repair of our engine, so we can follow our fellow Vikings as they head south for our gathering point in Gran Canaria on the 20th November.