In late 2002, early 2003, I crossed the Atlantic, from Lisbon, Portugal to Annapolis, USA, on my 39’ s/v Cintra (my 3rd boat with that name, this one a Beneteau Oceanis Clipper 393.) During the trip, I maintained a site where I posted short pieces and a few photos, basically trying to tell a bit of the “story” as we went along. The material that follows is based on those original postings.
And why does the “story” finish in the Virgin Islands? When I left Portugal I did not know where I was going to end up. At that time, my wife was between assignments and my route after the Virgin Islands was to be decided based on where she would be posted next. But some of the graphical support material for the site had to be done in advance, as it required drawing and scanning. Rather than preparing different sets of graphics for the different possible ending points, I decided to “cut” the story in the Virgin Islands!
A little bit more now on the boat: designed by Berret - Racoupeau, the Oceanis Clipper 393 can be briefly characterized as a well-balanced "passage-maker". Their main characteristics are:
Length overall11.94 m (39.3 ft)
Beam3.96 m (13 ft) Draft1.90 m (6.2 ft) Sail area75 m2 (810 sq ft) Engine power 40 KW (55 hp) Fresh water capacity500 l (132 gal) Fuel capacity135 l (36 gal) Capacity10 crew & passengers
In addition, and as expected, s/v Cintra was equipped with all the needed sailing instrumentation and navigational electronics (GPS, chart plotter, autopilot, et cetera.) S/v Cintra was built at Beneteau’s yard in France and delivered to me in Lisbon in late July 2002.
Margarida & Nuno Barreto
As far as crew, Antonio Cordeiro was with me from the beginning in Lisbon to the Virgin Islands. Antonio was the owner of s/v Miss Matilda, a 10 m, Gerard Chagne-designed sailing boat built by himself in 1991 in his backyard in Alentejo. On her, in 2000, Antonio sailed from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro as a participant in the rally celebrating the 500th anniversary of the discovery of Brazil. Antonio has also sailed extensively through the Mediterranean and to North Africa.
And then we had a few “guest” who joined us for parts of the itinerary: My cousin Luiz, who had never stepped foot on an ocean-going sailing vessel, was with us from the beginning in Lisbon to Madeira; Margarida and Nuno Barreto, at the time freshly married, were with us from Madeira to Cape Verde; and Teresa, Antonio’s wife, joined us in Guadeloupe and stayed with us until the Virgin Islands.
From the Virgin Islands to the end in Annapolis I was basically alone (my brother-in-law Tommy joined me for a few days on the ICW and my college friends, Ed McSweegan and Steve Arcidiacono were with me for a couple of days for the Norfolk to Annapolis passage thru the Chesapeake Bay.
One other person has to be mentioned here: Alvaro Brandao! Alvaro did not come aboard s/v Cintra once during the crossing but he played a fundamental role in the success on this trip. He was responsible for all shore-to-ship communications and provided me with routing advice and weather information during the major passages.
All text pieces except two (properly noted) were originally written and later edited by me. I was also responsible for the translation into English of the two exceptions (the piece by my cousin Luiz and the one by Nuno Barreto.) All of my photos are credited. The great majority of the ones that are not credited were taken with Nuno Barreto’s camera, (most likely by either him or Margarida.)
This story has been divided into 3 parts, the one that follows and 2 other, the objective being to make it “lighter” and faster to load up. I hope you enjoy all of them.
Part I Preparation and Lisbon to Madeira
Lisbon, Oct 4 – In Lisbon, waiting for favorable weather to start the first leg of this trip – what a great time to reflect a bit on what it takes to get a journey like this one going!
Planning a blue-water voyage is lot of fun. One of the first things to define is the route. On a point-to-point trip like mine, the starting and finishing ports are set, so you only have to work on the middle part. Here, the most important factor to consider is weather patterns. On a small sailing boat, you need to be in tune with Mother Earth’s own rhythms. Certain routes do not “go” well on certain times of the year while others are pure sleigh rides! To the extent possible, you want to look for the latter and avoid the former. But weather patterns are not the only thing to consider. Others include time availability; need for crew changes (it’s amazing how much time one spends driving to and from airports); desire to visit a given place; provisioning needs; certain, how do I say, budget considerations (“Honey, do you really need to stop in Monte Carlo?”); and a plethora of other considerations such as marina versus no marina, good versus bad anchorage, need to haul out the boat, safety concerns, et cetera.
Planning a route takes time as it requires a lot of research. You need to study pilot charts (maps that contain the frequency and average strength of wind for each direction for a given area over a given period of time), coast pilots, and cruising guides. You need to know about ports, anchorages, visa needs, food and fuel availability, and the like. And then, once you have your base-case route, you need to look for possible alternative stops, should things not go as planned!
Once you have a route and dates, you need a crew! Basically, there are two approaches here: either you talk some friends of yours into going with you, or you hire a crew. I like the first one better, and not just because of the economics. I just prefer to sail with friends! A short list of factors I found to have helped me finding crews include: breaking the trip into smaller legs; stopping in nice places; starting the recruiting process early; and extending the invitation to wives and girlfriends. If everything else fails, hire someone!
Also on the HR front, you need to staff what I call the “back-office”. These are the people that will take care of all the “stuff” back at home once you leave, from paying your bills to handling your mail and shipping spare parts to you wherever you are! You get the idea!
But enough of generalities, let’s look at our case. We are going from Portugal in Europe to the Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. I have no restrictions as far as a starting or finishing dates. As far as weather, the best time to go down the Portuguese coast is from July to mid-September, when the northerly Portuguese trades are at their peak. After this period the probability of finding southwesterly winds increases greatly. But further south in the Atlantic, the hurricane season runs until early November, making it very unwise to be in that area before then! On crew considerations, I thought that stopping in Cape Verde would help me greatly on my efforts here. And having to stop in Cape Verde was not bothering me at all, as I have heard a lot of nice stuff about these islands! Last but not least, I also wanted to stop in Porto Santo, another one of those places about which you only hear nice stuff. Given all of the above, here is the result:
Routing, final plan
Porto Santo, Madeira Isl.
Puerto Calero, Canary Isl.
Santa Cruz de Tenerife
S. Cruz de Tenerife
Baia da Palmeira, C Verde
Baia da Palmeira
Porto da Praia
Porto da Praia
So, what is this? A plan, nothing more! Will it happen like this? It would be the first time ever in my life if it did! Why so? In my opinion, the three main reasons why we all deviate from plans are weather (obviously!); gear failure (you try to minimize it through prep and maintenance, but “things” happen!); and better info once on the road (believe me, not every place is quite as nice as described on the guides!)
As far as crew, I did not have much of a problem with the recruiting process for this trip. Antonio signed up early and all my problems were solved! Regarding my “back-office”, Alvaro is going to be in charge yet again of weather forecasts and shore-to-ship communications and my wife will handle all the rest.
Looking a bit to the boat now, if you start with a sound, sea-worthy boat, your work for the most part will be to inspect and certify that all is working properly. I like to haul the boat out to give a good look to all underwater parts (rudder, keel, prop, and through-hulls); to clean thoroughly the bottom; and to give it a good hand of antifouling. The standing rigging should also be thoroughly looked at to certify that there is nothing loose or broke up in the mast. On the running rigging (halyards and sheets), anything marginal should be replaced. I make sure that all the safety gear is on board and working properly. Items that merit special attention include the life raft (is the inspection still current?); the EPIRB; the “ditch” bag; the first aid kit; harnesses, jack lines, and tethers; the MOB system; the “fireworks” (are they still current?); and the back up GPS. I also make sure that I have aboard all the charts (electronic and paper back-ups) and coast pilots that I will need for the planned route and for some alternative harbors. A few days before leaving I call the local engine rep to have one of their guys give his blessing to the engine; I check all the lights (I once crossed from St. Lucia to St. Thomas in the Caribbean without navigation lights; today I stock on spare bulbs… … and I have a set of small, removable, battery-powered emergency nav lights!); I fuel up and fill the water tanks.
So now that we have the boat ready to go, it is time to take care of the crew. And this means food! The first step here is to define a “meal plan” (and there are almost as many of those as there are boats out there!) The one I like most is: cereal for breakfast on a self-service basis; a “light”, usually cold lunch (a.k.a. sandwiches) at noon; a hot meal for dinner, normally just before the sunset; and a hot soup and/or snack at mid-night. As far as the hot meal is concerned, I like to keep it simple: pastas and rice-with-something dishes probably add up to more than 50% of the hot meals that I cook while underway. … And then you pull in a great wahoo or tuna fish and you absolutely forget about the “meal plan” for a couple of days! But anyway, you get the idea here: you decide on a meal plan; you know the number of days between “markets”, and therefore the number of meals that you will have to prepare; you make a list; just before leaving you go to the supermarket; and then you spend your last couple of hours before leaving storing food! That’s basically all that there is to food!
Here you have it! Very briefly, this is what it takes to prepare a long blue water passage like this one. But do not be fooled by the brevity of the article: what you have read here represents two or three months of hard, full-time labor!
Getting ready, I
Getting ready, II
Lisbon to Porto Santo (Madeira Islands) 500 miles, 3 days
Porto Santo, Oct 12 – In Porto Santo, having just completed our first passage! We had a little bit of everything: no wind, too much wind, head wind, flat seas, rough seas, fog, rain, clear skies, et cetera, et cetera!
But let’s start from the beginning! Late in September I started to become a bit apprehensive with the weather. The whole month in Portugal had been most unusual - low pressure system after low pressure system kept on coming by, bringing winds from SW (and quite a lot of rain; as a matter of fact, it was going to be one of the wettest Septembers ever on record). I decided then that we would leave on the first favorable weather window once the boat was ready to go.
We ended up leaving on Sunday, Oct 6, at 04:45 PM, in front of a very week low pressure system (1009 mbars) that was expected to go over mainland Portugal by late Monday, early Tuesday. The last forecast before departure called for very light winds from SW ahead of the system; rain by mid day Monday; 20 knots from NNW - NW for Tuesday; and 15 knots mostly from NW for Wednesday. The strategy was to motor through the light head winds until we passed the low system. Once on the other side, things would be quite favorable.
During our first day and a half everything went just per plan. We had very light winds (3 to 5 knots), flat sea, and a bit of fog on Sunday night; during the day Monday the SW build up to 10 to 15 knots. Monday night the wind started to back up to NNW and it picked up to 18 to 20 knots. Everything as forecasted! During the day Tuesday, the NNW ignored the forecast and kept on building up, peaking at over 30 knots. The sea grew to an impressing 3 to 4 m (10 to 15 ft) and to top it all up, it kept on raining, at times quite heavily! As far as sails, we spent most of the day with the 2nd reef on the main and a bit of genoa out. Tuesday night, on a heavy squall, we saw 36 knots on the wind speed meter. On Wednesday things calmed down a little bit. We spend most of the morning with NW from 20 to 25 knots. In the afternoon, things calmed down even more to 16 to 18 knots. Perfect sailing conditions! At 2:00 PM we saw Porto Santo. At 05:45 PM, after 73 hours of sea, we were tied up at the beautiful little marina of Porto Santo.
Our first leg is done! To test the boat, I could not have asked for anything more. We had some quite rough conditions, with strong winds and built up seas. … And she came out with flying colors. The crew behaved like pros! The food was not top gourmet level, but, luckily for chef, no one was quite ready for big meals or heavy sauces either. So now is time to enjoy the beautiful island of Porto Santo!
In Porto Santo 7 days
Funchal, Oct 18 – Porto Santo, the GoldenIsland, what a little gem! The people and the island! We spent seven perfect days there.
Let me start by getting the nautical stuff out of the way. We stayed at the little marina tucked inside the commercial port: two pontoons with fingers, good water below, and safe in most weather conditions (the exception apparently being on strong winds from SW.) All fingers had water and electricity. Diesel was available at the fuel dock on the southern end of the western breakwater. The marina was quite busy, with a heavy rotation of boats while we were there, but was never full. A few boats stayed at anchor or on moorings inside the port (commercial traffic was basically limited to the daily ferry from the main island.) Everybody at the marina was courteous. On the negative side, the prices were not the all out bargain reported by Anne Hammick on her AtlanticIslands and the bathrooms were barely acceptable.
About the island itself, Porto Santo is approximately a 10 Km (6 miles) by 5 Km (3 miles) rectangle running in the NE-SW direction. The long side facing SE is a continuous, crescent-shaped beach, probably one of the best in Europe - fine golden sand, protected from the prevailing winds, and perfect water temperature (23º C in October!) During our stay we had this perfect beach almost for ourselves (but we were told that things are a bit different in July and August.) Vila Baleira, the main settlement on the island, lies somewhere in the middle of the crescent. The center of town is quite attractive - a town square surrounded by mostly old but well maintained houses, a 15th century church, and well kept gardens. One of the small houses on the town square is the house where Christopher Columbus lived during his long stay on the island. It is now a small but very nice museum dedicated mostly to this famous ex-resident.
As far as the "bare essentials" (i.e., food and entertainment), we ate mostly on the boat, but still managed to try out a few of the many restaurants on the island. Of the ones we tried, our recommendations go to the "A Baiana" on the town square and the "O Calhetas" on the southern end of the beach. The island is also well endowed as far as bars and clubs. Again, we tried a few! Our favorite was the "A Mercearia", a small, nicely decorated place with a great esplanade on the back run by two German sisters - Christine and Yvonne.
But Porto Santo’s best asset is its people! By luck or by destiny, we had the pleasure of meeting some of characters of this island. A few of them deserve a special mention: Roberto Sousa, one of the owners of the Madeira to Porto Santo ferry line. We had great fun entertaining him for an Italian dinner on Cintra. On the following day he took us on his jeep for quite an adventurous tour of the island. Joao Antonio Ferreira, i.e., o Comandante Trovoada (Captain Thunder), the owner of Polux and a great hunting aficionado. We spent our last evening on the island in his house eating a few rabbits that he and his hunting buddy Marino had just caught (the yearly hunting season on the island opened during our stay there.) And Christine and Yvonne, on whose bar we spent quite a few great evenings.
Cintra at a peacefull rest in Porto Santo
The marina in Porto Santo
Looking South from the hills behind the marina
Looking South at the island's southern end
Looking North from the hills on the southern part of the island
Leaving our mark at the marina!
Porto Santo to Funchal (Madeira Islands) 40 miles, 6 hours
Funchal, Oct 18 – After a full week in paradisiacal Porto Santo, it was time to move on. On Oct 16 at 11:30 AM we left for Funchal, the regional capital city of this group of islands. The 40 mile passage was absolutely uneventful. We left Porto Santo with a 10 to 15 knot breeze from NW. At 03:10 PM we rounded Cape of S. Lourenco, the eastern most point of the main island, and here we found a small zone of wind acceleration. We reduced sails and kept moving nicely along. At 05:45 PM we were tied up at the marina in Funchal.
In Funchal 10 days
Lanzarote, Oct 28 – Funchal, the regional capital of the Archipelago of Madeira. Quite a difference from sleepy Porto Santo but equally nice to us! We stayed at the marina tucked inside the commercial harbor in Funchal – nice, but packed to the brim with boats. For most of our stay we were rafted up on a pile that got to be six boats wide! Our alternatives were to stay at anchor in the commercial harbor (outside the marina but inside the breakwater) or to move to the new marina east of Caniçal. We opted to stay where we did because of its convenience (the marina being located right next to the center of town.) On the negative side, the bathrooms, while better than those in Porto Santo, were again just barely acceptable, and the number of people coming and going right next to the boats was worrisome (we did not have any problems, nor did we hear of anyone who had problems, but again, it was worrisome.)
About Funchal, it is an extremely beautiful, cosmopolitan and active city, very clean, full of flowers and well-kept gardens. The houses extend from the shoreline up to quite some height on the mountains that surround the city. As a result, at night, the city looks like a nativity scene. The market and the Botanical Gardens are well worth a prolonged visit (the latter one is also where you obtain the permit to sail to the SelvagensIslands.) Funchal is also a great place to use as a base to visit the rest of the island. In my opinion, the best way to do so is by local bus, except perhaps if you suffer from a weak heart. (Put a F1 in the hands of any bus driver from Madeira and he will beat Schumacher in Monaco, hands down!) We visited Camara de Lobos, a nice small fishing town the west of Funchal, and Caniçal, home to the Museum of the Whale (where my very good friend and fellow sailor Miguel Lacerda excelled in making some of the exhibits there.) We tried to take the cable car to Monte but it was down for maintenance.
While in Funchal we ate mostly on the boat (again.) But as in Porto Santo, we managed to try out some of the local restaurants. Our favorites were the “Celeiro” in downtown Funchal; the “Santo António” in Estreito, famous for its regional shish kabob-like espetada; and the “Amarelo” in Caniçal, where we had a fantastic fried parrot fish for lunch just before leaving for Lanzarote (we will hear about this fish again!) As far as bars, our favorite by far was the “Do Fá Sol”, on the town square right in front of the marina. Here we heard and got to know a fantastic local band called the Salsinha D’Abalada (untranslatable!) Last but not least, we also enjoyed our visits to the “Vespas”, a disco a few minutes walking from the marina (but do not try to enter in shorts, unless you happen to meet the owner of the disco in the next bar that you go to after having been refused entry there!!!)
Continuing with our tradition of mentioning by name those who went above and beyond the call of duty to make our stay special, here is the list for Funchal: Mr. Costa at the marina office, who eventually found a place for us there; Joao Rodrigues, one of the “big names” of the Portuguese Olympic Sailing Team for the last few years, and his coach Antonio Gouveia; the Silva family, Rui, his wife Cristina, and daughter Sara, friends of Antonio, with whom we had a couple of great meals; the members of the band Salsinha D’Abalada, Luis, Carlos and Norberto (Luis is also the owner of Do Fá Sol, where we spent a few memorable evenings); last but not least, Mr. Faria and our “comadre” Rita of the “Barrilinho”, a little esplanade café on the marina where we spent quite a large percentage of our free time on the island.
While in Funchal we had our first crew change - out went my cousin Luiz, the Rookie of the Year (see report below) who spent fifteen great days with us, in came Nuno and Margarida Barreto who would stay with us until Cape Verde.
We left Funchal for Lanzarote on October 26.
General view, Funchal's marina
Offices, Funchal's marina
The Botanical Gardens on a foggy day
Inside the Farmer's Market
Views from a Rookie by Luiz Serpa
Setubal, Oct 23 –Sunday, October 6th, , the moment I have been waiting for, for quite some time: my very first blue water passage on a sailboat is about to start! We have just finished our security briefing and we are about to cast off from our dock at the marina in Lisbon.
Not much later we had left the TagusRiver behind and were sailing on open sea with dolphins swimming next to our boat. What an incredible feeling! Then the night fell and the watches began. This being my first night under way sailing, I was always accompanied on my watches. Not that the job was too complicated: I had to look carefully for other ships and track them until I was sure that they were no danger to us; and I also had to keep an eye on the instruments (wind speed, wind direction, boat speed, heading, et cetera.)
On that first night the excitement was such that I was not able to sleep very much. I spent most of my time off in the cockpit, talking to whoever was on watch, and trying to learn as much as I could. Overall I must have slept less than one hour.
During the whole day Monday and for most of Tuesday everything went rather smoothly, with nothing special to report (except perhaps for the daily adventure of bathing on the stern of the boat just before sunset; not an easy task for someone not used to do it!) Then on Tuesday afternoon the sea started to build up. It was not as bad as it could have been because the waves were well spaced. …But they were quite high! High enough to make me think about my family and about other things not worth mentioning here because I am sure you know what I mean! But soon I had gained confidence on the way in which the boat handled them. The rest of the crew’s calm helped me in this process.
On the night from Tuesday to Wednesday we went through what was for me the worst moment of the whole trip. I was on my watch, alerted to pay special attention to the wind speed (while looking out for other boats, obviously.) Everything was going OK until the sky turned black and it started pouring. During the squall, the wind reached peaks of more than 35 knots, the most we saw on the whole trip. You can imagine the situation: the boat heeled way over and took off at great speeds. I immediately called Jorge and soon we were shortening sails and changing course to head a bit further downwind. Antonio woke up with all the noise on-deck and came up to help us out on the maneuver.
Wednesday, our last day at sea on this passage, was a day of mixed feelings for me: Before we saw land I was a bit anxious; then, by we saw Porto Santo and soon I was overtaken with happiness!
I can not finish this section of my report without making three more general (and very brief) comments: the first to make public Jorge’s great skills on the galley; the second to recognize both Jorge’s and Antonio’s attention to me and to the boat safety; and lastly to mention that we tried hard to fish but, on this matter, the “organization” failed badly (the equipment was not up to par and the fish always won.)
About the life of a sailor on land, well, …, as you might imagine I have very little to say! I remember good meals, great walks, scenic views, and the bar "A Mercearia". With a bit of effort, perhaps I would be able to remember a few things more but I would rather not do it.
The passage from Porto Santo to Funchal was uneventful. Perhaps the only thing worth reporting was yet another failed fishing episode. We put the line out with our last fishing sample on it and when we pulled the line in near Funchal the sample was gone!
And then it was back to land living! … And I do not have much to report here either!!!
To both of you, a big hug and a most heartfelt thank you from this friend of yours. Luiz Serpa