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MADEIRA

Captain's Log
18 October 1998
Funchal, Madeira

It has been 3 weeks since the last log entry, and it's time to write before there is so much to say that it becomes impossible. Our "brief stop" in Porto Santo, turned into 11 days. As anchorages go, it was almost ideal: perfectly protected, water clean enough to swim in, excellent inexpensive moorings, and a large and friendly community of other sailboats from all over the world. Here we finally joined the annual southward migration from Europe which occurs every fall. At one point, there were 30 other boats anchored, moored or tied to the dock in Porto Santo, a sort of United Nations flotilla, with crews from the four corners of the globe. In this case, however, the 4 corners would be Alaska, South Africa, Israel and perhaps Norway. We don't see many boats from places like Pakistan or Ethiopia. So far, in decreasing order, we have seen boats from England, France, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Denmark, Australia, Canada, Netherlands, South Africa (they all say "the NEW South Africa"), Italy, Ireland and Israel. And of course the USA. And conveniently for us, whenever groups of several nationalities get together to socialize, everyone speaks English. So while we are working on our Portugese, our German, French and Spanish are gathering dust. The Pax Romani is long gone, and in its place, the one-two combination of the Pax Britannica and Hollywood has moved into the vacuum. The Brits, of course, don't like to hear us say we speak "English". They like the quip that England and the US are "two nations divided by a common language" (Oscar Wilde?, Mark Twain?)

Porto Santo is most notable for its 3 miles of perfect sandy beach, almost completely undeveloped, although that won't last much longer. Until fairly recently, this small island was accessible only by small ferry from Madeira Grande, and scratched along on subsistence agriculture and fishing. Now there is a jet airport, a daily car ferry, and a fine harbor created by the building of a mammoth breakwater, while tourism has quickly eclipsed all other economic activity. So far, this has meant mostly visitors from Madeira Grande, which is cooler, wetter, and without any sandy beaches. But the wider world is discovering it as well, and hotels are starting to spring up. The EC has pumped money into development there as well, enlarging the harbor, and funding a huge desalination plant. My theory is that the EC is preparing the island for the day when drug-resistant Tuberculosis spills out of Russia, and thousands of people have to be isolated somewhere warm, dry and pleasant, sort of like the US Public Health Service did with Leprosy patients on Lanai. Naturally, no one will fess up to that. It is a volcanic island, but none of the peaks are very tall, so it doesn't catch rain in the way Madeira Grande does. There is enough moisture at the higher elevations to grow trees, which they are doing, but the rest is desert. One of our favorite walks was up Pico de Castelo, a perfectly symmetrical volcanic cone, the top of which has been terraced, with stone stairs for walking, and a huge arboretum with all sorts of native and exotic trees. The top is a beautiful herb garden, with 360 degree views of the whole island.

We did tear ourselves away from the very relaxing anchorage at Porto Santo just as we began to feel ourselves becoming invertebrates. The night before departure, all the crews got together for a barbecue in honor of Shifra’s 16th birthday. A brisk 8-hour run to Madeira woke us up a bit, and we arrived in the harbor at Funchal on the 11th of October, birthday of Cristobal Colon and Shifra Adler. The inside yacht harbor was completely full, as it always is this time of year, so we spent the night rolling wildly at anchor in the outer harbor. Next day the weather improved, about 20 boats which had been penned in by the strong easterly winds left, and we rafted up against the sea wall where we had stayed in 1995. The sign we painted on the wall then is still there. We started out on the outside of a raft-up of 6 boats, and have steadily worked our way closer to the wall as others have left. At the moment, our raft up includes a 38' British boat owned by a former GP who got disgusted with medicine and went into computer consulting, a 33' British boat owned by a semi-retired pilot who is sailing alone, a tiny French boat sailed by 2 lunatics, Ziggy and Bimbo. And taking up the outside is another American boat a little smaller than ours. Other good friends who have just left included STREET LEGAL, a British boat sailed by a couple of MBA dropouts, and ALVA, a burly little wooden boat from Norway, crewed by 3 completely inexperienced but delightful young men: "a computer expert, a mountaineer, and a philosopher (the owner)". Almost everyone is following a route similar to ours, but some are continuing on around the world, and others will come back to Europe in the spring.

Funchal is as delightful as we remembered it: a clean, beautiful city, which somehow manages to be both sophisticated and friendly. It reminds me a little of Victoria, or Seattle before all the skyscrapers went up. And this time we have gotten out to explore more of the island, which is spectacular. The main attraction is the system of Levadas, which are concrete and stone irrigation channels carrying water from springs in the mountains to fields on the dryer parts of the island. There are a total of 1400 miles of levadas, and all have trails alongside which make perfect hiking, since they are almost level. They also include tunnels of varying lengths, some as long as 2 miles, which provide an unusual hiking experience. Others are carved into the sides of cliffs (this was done by slaves hanging down in wicker baskets), which is also pretty exciting. And there are regular mountain trails which connect the levadas. As if that weren't enough, the place is green year-round, with lush forests and flowering plants of almost infinite variety.

It's the sort of place that could turn even the most craven techno-geek into an ardent botanist; even to the ignorant eye the vegetation is impressive. There are dense laurel forests, some of which flower in the fall, groves of huge pine, cedar and eucalyptus trees, and areas of painstakingly terraced farmland. Yesterday we walked along the cliffs on the north side of the island, in some places with a 1000-meter almost-vertical drop to the ocean. To give some idea of the terrain, the trails are rated on a scale which begins with "potential for vertigo" and "danger of vertigo", on up to "terribly vertiginous" and "horrendously vertiginous". Yesterday's walk was in the latter category. So we kept singing and didn't look down until we got to wider spots in the path. There are, of course, very sedate walks which are equally interesting in their own way, and all quite beautiful. Like the Maine Coast, one could easily spend months, or even a lifetime, exploring the place. We have decided to extend our stay to 2 weeks, to savor it a bit more.

I apologize for the excessive use of words like "beautiful", "lush” and "delightful" in this entry. Winter is coming on back home and a little restraint would be tactful. If I can, I'll tone it down a bit next time. Perhaps the Eastern Canaries will be better; Lanzarote was just described to me as "the ashtray of the North Atlantic".

MR


October 24, 1998
Crew's Log

Madeira Grande, Portugal
Joel Rowland, Nephew extraordinaire


Hope you all have V-chips 'cause here comes Joel's adventures on Madeira (ma darlin')- No, no, you can uncover the kids eyes, the only dirty stuff in this entry are my feet, which you should count yourself lucky are on the other side of the Atlantic.

Anyhow, I just finished a couple day stint tromping around this island, pack on my back, boots on my feet, eyes wide open and a song on my lips (for the scary parts). I started from a mountain pass called Encumeada, it gave me a head start of 3000 vertical feet, and on this island the bus ride up is half the adventure. The busses themselves are ultra modern, no old school busses with chickens and pigs in your lap here. But the roads, now paved smooth, were built for horse carts, and Madeira probably has a bus system in the first place because the horses refused to work on such roads.

Anyway, if there have been any horse/bus tragedies in the past they're keeping them quiet, though that would make a great museum.... So I hopped off the bus at Encumeada, and bounded the 40 feet to the cafe at the top of the pass. There is no shortage of places to spend money on Madeira, and this particular place had really good empanadas. So three empanadas and a Coke later, I started up my trail, contemplating the concept of 'independence'. That didn't last too long though as I had also bought a pack of malted milk balls at the cafe, trail food ya know, and as the trail got steeper and hotter I became engrossed in how quickly they disintegrated in my cheek, and how much further I had to go before I could have another one. A pack of malt balls will only last for so long under such strenuous circumstances and eventually I was forced to concentrate on the task at hand. This trail was intense, flight after flight of stairs either carved into the rock or built onto it, there were sections that had been built outward from a sheer rock cliff, I stood back and tried to figure out how it had been done but the only thing that I could come up with was, "Damn, whoever built this was crazy.". They must have gotten a special deal from the malt ball factory, too.

Eventually the stairs ran out and the trail became a normal dirt and gravel path. Slowly but surely I gained altitude, stopping often to take in the beauty of the mountains around me and the valley way, way below me. I groaned a little when the trail would descend to traverse a ravine or skirt some impassable terrain, but it always continued back up. Up and up, switching back and forth, sometimes looking over the dry, hot South side of the island, and sometimes over the green and lush North, always with the sea in the distance, a reminder that I was a little guy in the middle of a small island that's in the middle of a big ocean (at the end of a long sentence, ed.). It was on this walk that I perfected my Ba-aa-aaa. The computer really doesn't do it justice, ask me next time you see me. There were lots of sheep along the trail, some of them quite conversational, of course, I had no idea what I was saying, and it scared most of them away.

That's funny, that pretty much sums up the majority of my conversations with the people on this island, too.

Anyway, as I am, after all, the hero of this entry, I eventually found my way to the top of Madeira's tallest mountain, Pico Ruivo at 6200 feet. The climb was well worth it, from the top I had a 360 degree view of the island. Clouds as far as I could see had surrounded its perimeter and from my elevated vantage point it looked as if Madeira was floating in a sea of clouds. And then, as the sun sank lower, and the land cooled, the clouds swirled below me and engulfed the island, cutting the tops of the tallest peaks adrift, including the one on which I stood. The sun began to set, and that settled it, I was sleeping right there. I set up my tent and lay with my head outside for awhile and watched the stars come out, sipping wine (trail juice) and eating olives.... It was a good night, not too cold up there, just enough to make me feel that much more snug inside my sleeping bag. I woke up and once again the island was clear of clouds. I soaked up the morning sunshine and marveled at the scenery while I ate breakfast. Packed up and started down the hill towards Caldeirao Verde, the Green Cauldron!

It took me a little while to find the right trail down into the valley- Yeah, so there was a big, huge carved sign pointing to the trail, but sometimes you have to look just a bit deeper than the obvious, to go out on a limb, to explore the unexplored,to seek out new life and new civilizations....to get lost. I found a trail. I wasn't sure if it was the trail I was looking for, but beggars can't be choosers (I think that's the moral of this entry), so I followed it. This time it went down, down, down. It practically plunged into a valley of ferns and laurel trees. Oh man, the air down there was so cool and fragrant. I half hoped a giant butterfly would come land on my shoulder. I had left all my sheep friends far behind though, so I decided that I had a perfect opportunity to try talking to myself. We, I and I, that is, talked about all sorts of incredibly boring stuff, in the end I decided it would be best if I just shut up and enjoy the walk down. It was quite nice, like I said, thick with plants, and such a nice change to be going down. After an hour of continuously walking downhill I started thinking about how much quicker it would be if I could roll down, Joel Rowland, nephew extraordinaire and pioneer of the sport of rolling down steep hills with a big pack. Everybody follow me!!! In the end I decided not to risk breaking my precious bottle of trail juice and I rode the slow train down.

Lo and behold, I had managed to find the right trail, a fork in just the right place with all the right landmarks, the world looked shiny and new. I even stashed my pack in the bushes to skip up the fork I didn't want, just to check out the view. Continuing on down MY path I came to the Levada do Caldeirao Verde- Canal of the Green Cauldron- which sounded pretty good, but what truly got me stoked (ha) was knowing that at the end of the Caldeirao Verde levada another levada began, which ended at the Caldeirao do Inferno- The Cauldron of Hell! Maybe I would never come back or wanna come back, but this I had to see. So I started stepping, and promptly came to a tunnel bobbing with flashlight beams, headed my way. I stepped off the path at my end of the tunnel and allowed the group to pass, they were Germans, led and caboosed by two obviously Madeiran guides with stout walking sticks, which no doubt could quickly become weapons if I didn't give way. It was plain to see that they had turned back before Caldeirao do Inferno, they didn't look the least bit tormented or charred. I hurried through the tunnel and carried on my way.

The levadas are not very demanding physically, for the most part they remain fairly level. The thing is that sometimes to obtain this nice level run, the builders had to remove sections of cliffs or dig through solid granite. So not only do they meander by some spectacular scenery, sometimes they are the spectacular scenery. There were many times along this walk that I would like to have stopped to scratch my head and say "How'd they do that?" but I was too occupied with putting one foot in front of the other. The times that I was able to look up and around I saw that I was in one of the lush ravines that I had feasted my eyes on at the top of Pico Ruivo that morning. I was looking down on a now dry, thanks to the levada, riverbed, maybe 700 feet down. The walls of the levada and the sides of the ravine were covered with vegetation and sometimes dripping with water and waterfalls. As I walked I passed another unsinged group, and was shooed off the path once again by a Madeiran with a big stick, fair enough, they were working, I was playing. In a few more minutes, walking along some particularly inspiring levada work I came to the Caldeirao Verde. A 300 ft waterfall with a series of pools at the base of a half-round shaped cliff that gives the impression that its surrounding you. The entire cliff face and the area around the pools is absolutely blanketed- carpeted- covered with ferns so thick that they look like scales. I was dazzled by green.

Perhaps influenced by faeries and despite the possibility of a thwacking by a stout stick I went swimming under the waterfall. It was cold but I got away with it, and being cold I felt even better prepared for my next stop at the Cauldron of Hell. On I went, at one point climbing a crumbling and heaving stone stairwell 350 ft.. I felt sort of funny ascending when I thought I should be descending, but who am I to question where Satan puts his crockpot, so I went with it.
When I got within a few minutes of the end (of the Levada), I ditched my pack in some bushes, confident that I would collect it upon my return. I came to a series of tunnels, a couple of them had sharp bends so that I couldn't see any light at the other end. One had a small waterfall at the entrance which left me no choice but to get wet in order to continue. I started to feel a little like a glutton between getting doused and the anxiety I felt in the bending tunnels. Finally I came to a particularly long tunnel, that had a strong breeze and a faint rumbling at the entrance, as I plunged deeper the rumble became louder and louder until I came round the final bend, and the tunnel opened up to a waterfall in a dark ravine, this was actually the head of the ravine I'd walked down into and had been walking along on all day. I stood on the edge of a spillway, collecting water from the falls and shunting it down the levada. The path carried on over a couple of sturdy wood and steel bridges, built not only to dodge the waterfall, but to cross the now dry gully 100 feet down. Man, you'd think I'd have been tired of all the crazy scenery and stuff, but no, there was more to see, I hadn't even reached my Ultimate Destination. But I was close, I could practically hear the water boiling. More tunnels, and I kept expecting to be blasted by steam at every bend, but alas, the anti-climax, which I will spare you all from.

All I'll say is that I've been to the Portuguese Cauldron of Hell, and it wasn't that bad. No flames, no horned beasts (besides me), no otherworldly maniacal laughter, all in all a fairly benign place. The coolest part was that I got to walk back along the same path that I walked earlier that day. Which had everything I could have asked for in a path. Adventures, ah yes.

This entry is long enough. Hope you all are good, as you can tell, I'm having all sorts of fun, and now we are on Gomera, a whole new island to explore. Quality, Mon. - Joel


Captain's Log, Halloween, 1998
La Gomera, Canary Islands

With great difficulty we have torn ourselves away from Funchal, after a stay of almost 3 weeks. We got in a total of about 10 levada and mountain walks apiece, and there would be enough for several months more. The blisters are starting to heal. We rented a car for the last 2 days, which opened up a whole new world of more remote walks inaccessible by bus, but for the most part were able to get where we wanted to go cheaply using public buses and our own shanks. We might have stayed even longer, but for the fact that our bilges were starting to smell like the harbor; imagine equal parts septic tank, old motor oil, and fishy salt water. Marina fees were a bit steep, too.

On one of our walks, along the Rabacal Levada, we startled a group of sheep grazing on a very steep slope. We saw them bounding up the hill and heard a splash, which we thought was a rock they'd dislodged. We rounded the bend, and were amazed to see a very young lamb down in the water, bleating wildly and losing ground against the flow of cold, cold water, which was about a foot deep. Without a pause, Shifra took off her shoes, jumped in, and set the poor wee beastie up on the bank. He was just barely able to clamber up to his mum; hard to imagine how he even got up there in the first place. This was on the side of a mountain, 3000 feet up, with slopes averaging about 45 degrees, much steeper in places. Tough sheep they've got there in Madeira. We did observe, by the way, that they all had legs of equal length, unlike the cows of the Azores. Perhaps evolution is not so far advanced in Madeira.

Another highlight of our time in Funchal was the purchase of a barrel of wine. Ziggy, our French friend, had found the shop, and brought back his barrel with great panache. He even went so far as to cut into one of his bulkheads to make a permanent mount. God forbid we should be outdone by a Frenchman. So off we went in search of the nameless, signless shop on one of the backstreets of the old town, and in our very best (unintelligible) Portugese, asked if we could purchase a barrel for our very own.

The old gentleman replied, in a torrent of toothless Portugese, that it was "vinho natural", no additives, stomped by foot in the traditional way, and for domestic consumption only, illegal to export. We would have to take it out in a big sack and tell no one who had sold it to us. This took some time to work out, during which various people came in with plastic jerry cans of various sizes, which he filled with a siphon from one of several immense oak casks, a line of which stretched back into the gloom. In the intervals between other customers, he let us sample some of the vintages, dipping into the casks with a long bamboo cup.

We asked if we had a choice between red and white wine: "ha, ha, we only have MADEIRA wine, which is neither red nor white". Overcome by the rustic wonder of it all, we plunked down our 18,000 escudos (about $100) and watched entranced as he uncorked a bright new 16-liter oak barrel, popped in a funnel, snaked a long hose into the mother cask, sucked on it to start the flow, and ran the pinkish-orange stuff in till the little barrel overflowed. Then he bunged in a large cork, and Bob's Your Uncle. We stuffed it into our largest knapsack, and staggered off (due to the weight, of course) in ridiculous pride. Once home, we screwed in the petcock, and invited all the other boats in the raft-up over for a victory round. Fortunately, there was still quite a bit left afterward. We lash it down while underway, and prop it up in the foc's'le while in harbor. At our fastidious rate of consumption, it should last most of the trip, unless the barrel springs a leak, in which case proper thrift would demand a quick kill.

MR

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