Yacht Fathom - Setting off from England in May 2016 on a single-handed voyage somewhere a bit warmer

Archive for September, 2016

Madeira – Part 2

Some more hiking and great trails over the last few days. Spectacular views especially from Pico Ruivo, the highest peak on Madeira Island at 1862m . On reaching the summit I was surprised to hear my mobile ringing for the first time in weeks and noticed it was a UK number. So I answered and on the the other end of the line was a female voice that said “Good afternoon Mr D’Arcy, I understand you have been in a car crash and it wasn’t your fault….” Thankfully my Fiat Panda hire car has negotiated the windy roads of Madeira without hitch and it was one of those spam calls so I told her reasonably politely to leave me alone as I was trying to enjoy a very nice view.

Stunning view from highest peak in Madeira @ 1862m.

Yesterday I visited a viewpoint which looks down on Curral das Freira, also known as the ‘Valley of the Nuns’. The small village nestles between almost perpendicular mountains in the heart of the island. In 1566 the nuns from the Santa Clara convent fled from pirates attacking Funchal and found seclusion here. Then I went on to Câmara de Lobos for lunch. This small fishing village is the birthplace of the drink Poncha so couldn’t leave without trying one. It is made with aguardente de cana (distilled alcohol made from sugar cane juice), honey, sugar, lemon rind and lemon juice.

Leaving the marina tomorrow and plan to anchor outside Funchal and explore the city for a few days before heading on down to Lanzarote.

Posted on 26 Sep in: Madeira Islands

Madeira – Part 1

Well I did catch a fish on the way from Porto Santo! The lure Jean gave me worked as he promised so thanks Jean. The Dorado was big enough to provide me with breakfast, lunch and dinner for a couple days too.

On arrival at Madeira I anchored Fathom in Baia de Abra on the eastern end of the island. A very nice location and by taking the dinghy ashore to the beach, gave access to an excellent walk along Ponta de São Lourenço peninsular with fantastic views back to the anchorage. Two other yachts in the bay when I arrived were ‘Harry Z’ and French yacht ‘Courement’. On the second night in the bay a pleasant evening was spent on ‘Courement’ having some dinner and excellent French wine with Aurélie and Olivier.

Looking down on Baia de Abra from Ponta de São Lourenço – Fathom is the left most boat

I had not filled up with water since Sines so after a couple of days on the hook the water tanks were getting low and I decided to enter the marina a mile or so down the coast called Quinta do Lorde. The idea was to stop one night and then head down to the anchorage at Machico or Funchal and explore the island from there. But after giving it some thought I didn’t feel comfortable leaving the boat at anchor when heading off round the island for hours at a time. The marina at Funchal told me the only space they had was rafted on the visitor pontoon up to 8 boats deep which I also wasn’t happy with. So decided to stay at Quinta do Lorde for a few days despite it being quite isolated on the east of the Island. Luckily my cruising association membership gives me 30% off the marina fees.

The best way of exploring Madeira is by car so I have hired the cheapest I could find – a Fiat Panda. This has a ridiculously small engine which does not cope well with the steep and windy roads and I seem to spend most the time in 1st gear. Yesterday I drove to the west of the island and walked a trail which descends from 500m elevation down a crazy steep cliff face to a small fishing village. It was so steep my legs hurt walking downhill. I think i’m out of shape but I made it back up again somehow. On the way back to the marina a quick visit was paid to the Cabo Girão skywalk which is a glass platform suspended from the highest cape in Europe, 580m, and gives some impressive views.

One of the main attractions on Madeira is walking the Levadas.  These are mini canals used for irrigation and carry water from the wet mountainous areas on the north of the island to the flatter and dryer southern areas. Some of these date back to the 16th century and in total cover a distance of 2,500km. The walking trails incorporate the maintenance tracks alongside the Levadas. Today I walked a trail called ‘Levada do Caldeirao Verde’ which is a total distance of 13km and which I chose because it is mainly flat. My legs are still recovering from yesterday. The route includes walking through 4 tunnels and ends with a small lagoon and waterfall.

Over the weekend I intend to hike a route which includes the three highest peaks on the island at around 1800m elevation. My body feels like it has been sat down on a boat for four months so it is great to be giving the legs a decent workout.

Posted on 23 Sep in: Madeira Islands

Porto Santo

An enjoyable few days have been spent here on Porto Santo. Fathom has been anchored inside the harbour which incurs a small charge, as does anchoring outside, but allows access to showers and is much cheaper than the marina. Nice to meet up again with friends from boats met previously in Portugal. In particular with Eric, Britt and crew from ‘Harry Z’ who invited me aboard for dinner on my first evening in port. In return I invited them and the crew of another Norwegian boat ‘Careka’ back for drinks on Fathom the following day. 11 Norwegians in the cockpit and 12 people on board is a new record! The waterline wasn’t looking too good though with an impressive stern list and even water coming up the cockpit drains.

Porto Santo is very small only 9 miles by 5 miles and lies 27 miles to the north east of the main island of Madeira. The north of the island is mountainous whereas the southern coast has an impressive 9km long sandy beach. I hired a quad bike to explore which was a good fun and allowed access to some interesting offroad parts.


Porto Santo

The Columbus festival has been held on the island over the last few days. It evokes the period of the Portuguese maritime discoveries in particular navigator Christopher Columbus, who passed through the island and spent several years of his life living here. Columbus came into contact with Madeira in 1478 and ended up marrying the daughter of the captain of Porto Santo. On Thursday we watched a reenactment of the Columbus disembarkation.


The harbour wall is decorated with murals and insignia from visiting yachts, just as in Horta in the Azores. So I found a little space and painted one today. Unfortunately the paint shop only had black, yellow and orange paint. I messed up the lettering and the boat looks nothing like Fathom but at least there is a record of Fathom’s visit here.

Heading to Madeira tomorrow and looking forward to spending some days exploring. You never know I may even catch a fish on the way!

Posted on 18 Sep in: Madeira Islands

Sines to Porto Santo

I departed Sines early on Friday morning bound for the small island of Porto Santo which lies 470 miles to the south east. The weather forecast suggested two days of fresh north east winds followed by a 24 hour period of light south west winds and then a northerly wind returning following the passing of a weather front. Not a perfect forecast but decided to push on anyway.  In fact it was a mixed bag including two beautiful sunsets, some great downwind sailing, some tedious upwind sailing, some sun, some rain, a squall, several calms and a fish called Houdini. Below is a small summary from my log for each day of the trip. Scroll down for some video. More on Porto Santo later.

Day 1: Friday 9th September

Departed Sines just after 08.00. 15 knots of wind from the NE this morning allowing a broad reach and good progress. Must admit to feeling a little queasy for the first hour as there was quite a swell running but soon settled in to the motion and now feeling good. Just after lunch the wind rose slightly and the speed over the ground hovered around 7 knots for a few minutes. There is about 1 knot of favourable current so Fathom was pretty much at hull speed. Really great sailing.

Keen to clear the shipping lanes by sunset and early this afternoon the AIS collision alarm went off and I could see that a 300 ft cargo ship had a closest point of approach of 90 feet. A little close for comfort! Called them up on the VHF and the officer told me he would change course by 20 degrees and insisted on calling me ‘Sir’ which I thought was very polite. Trouble was with only a few minutes until the two boats would be at their closest point he still hadn’t altered course so I called the ship up again his reply being ‘i’m very sorry sir changing course now’!

It is now 21.00 and just put a 2nd reef in the main as wind is over 20 knots and I like to be conservative at night. Hasn’t really made any difference to the boat speed which is hovering around 5.5 knots.. Cooked spaghetti bolognese for dinner and appetite was at 100%. No fish today.

Day 2: Saturday 10th September

At night I sleep in 30 minute blocks and put my faith in the AIS alarm and the radar (which does a sweep every 15 minutes and beeps if it detects any other vessels within 6 miles of the boat). It does take some getting used to when the boat is sailing on by itself into the dark and I am trying to switch off and sleep below. Fathom has travelled 138 nautical miles in 24 hours since leaving Sines at an average of 5.75 knots so very happy with progress so far. Downloaded a weather forecast (GRIB file) and checked emails via the Iridium sat phone while drinking my morning coffee. Forecast still showing 24 hours of headwinds from later tomorrow so progress will slow.

This afternoon I really felt in rhythm with the sea and in good spirits. So good in fact I decided to cook for dinner a chicken leg I had in the fridge with some sage and onion stuffing, potatoes and veg. This evening the wind hovered around 10 knots and I sat on deck and watched the sunset which was very pleasant. Tried to take some video (see below). Still no fish despite using the lure Jean gave me which he promised always works. I have noticed that about 30 minutes after sunset each day the wind tends to increase by 5 to 10 knots.

Day 3: Sunday 11th September

Fathom really does like a decent breeze from aft of the beam and 123 miles sailed in the last 24 hours so no complaints. Despite saying I would refuse to use the engine I did so for two hours this morning when the wind dropped to 4 knots and the sails were banging about in the swell. I hate that sound! It did though allow some juice to be pumped into the batteries which were under 60% as the solar panel cant keep up with the fridge and radar running through the night. The towed generator will come into its own in the trade winds but not used it yet.

This afternoon I went on deck after a short nap and noticed our boat speed had dropped by half a knot. Looked astern and could see a big fish thrashing about on the end of the line. At last! Began to haul in the line but the damn fish did a Houdini and managed to free itself. Not a happy skipper for a few minutes after that.

One moment of concern this afternoon was after another short 20 minute nap I went up on deck and noticed a fairly large ship passing me less than a mile away despite the AIS alarm not having gone off. Turned out the ship wasn’t broadcasting an AIS signal which is illegal. I called them up to tell them but they didn’t answer.. Hope not to meet many like that again.

Wind has dropped to 7 knots this evening and speed over ground is down to 4 knots. Headwinds on the way tomorrow. Pasta and Pesto for dinner. 150 miles to go.

Day 4: Monday 12th September

Tired this morning as didn’t get any decent sleep last night. Was up on deck constantly adjusting the course and resorted to using the engine twice during the night for an hour at a time during two periods when the wind was down to 3 knots and the boat was rolling about in the swell. At least the batteries are charged. Skipper is a bit grumpy.

By 08.00 the wind had backed to the west as forecast and by 15.30 this afternoon our heading was due south. Don’t want to slip any further south so just put a tack in. It is now 21.00 and Fathom is sailing on a course of 300 degrees away from our destination. Waiting for the weather front to pass so the winds return to the north. At sunset Fathom has only progressed 25 miles towards Porto Santo since 08.00 this morning.

Day 5: Tuesday 13th September

Woken up at 03.00 by torrential rain. Wind suddenly rises from 10 knots to 25 knots then to 30 knots as the front goes through. Throw on my oilies and lifejacket and harness and on deck to put another reef in. 20 minutes later all is calm again, the rain has stopped and the wind has veered 90 degrees. Fathom can now head directly for Porto Santo again.

Swell is from the north but the 24 hour period of SW winds has made the sea very confused and Fathom is rolling about all over the place. Eat up the rest of the miles to Porto Santo during the morning sailing downwind in 10 to 15 knots of wind. The island appears at first to be a series of several steep and isolated hills but soon merges into one. Arrive Porto Santo 15.00 and call the marina who say they are full but anchor in the harbour which is preferable anyway. 470 miles covered in 4 nights and just over 4 and a half days. Now for a cold beer!


Posted on 15 Sep in: Logs 2016, Misc


I decided to leave the anchorage at Cascais on Tuesday and head 50 nautical miles south to Sines to finish the preparations for the trip to Madeira. Jean on ‘Chartist Lady’ also made the trip with the same intention. Unfortunately the wind was lighter than forecast and the motor was required for most of the trip. On the plus side I witnessed the best display from a pod of dolphins I have ever seen. On the approach to Sines four or five of them put on a great show and somehow I managed to capture one of those moments on camera just as four of them were jumping side by side. It was almost as if they were showing me the way to the anchorage.


Today I am working though a list of jobs and boat admin – fill up with diesel, replace empty gas bottle, top up the water tanks, stock up on fresh food etc. Also some attention is being given to the stowage of food and spares onboard as many are loose and need to be secured and put away properly before heading out to sea. The marina here at Sines is fairly quiet but with a friendly mix of German, Dutch and Norwegian boats. It has been really great hanging out with Jean for the last few days. Over the years, and in preparation for my trip, I have read many many sailing books including accounts of circumnavigations and epic solo voyages. But to be able to spend time and chat with someone like Jean, who circumnavigated in ‘Chartist Lady’ using just a sextant and with no money has been even more interesting and inspiring. Unfortunately Jean has a problem with the gearbox on his engine so is staying here an extra week to try and get it sorted.

I am aiming to depart at first light tomorrow for Porto Santo which is 470 miles away and anticipate arriving within 5 days all being well. There is a weather front coming south in a few days time which I may encounter close to Madeira but next week the weather doesn’t look great up this way so I am keen to get going.

My little boat has now taken me over 1000 nautical miles since leaving Yarmouth at the beginning of May. The ground track is showing 1,436 nautical miles travelled and the log (through the water and I know it under reads) 1,156 nautical miles. Time to add a few more!

Posted on 08 Sep in: Portugal

Seixal & preparations for Madeira

It has been an eventful start to September. I arrived back at the anchorage in Cascais on Monday in tandem with Claude on his boat ‘Oui Oui’. We got talking to Pete & Sharon on s/y Meridian who were anchored nearby and they invited us for some drinks on Wednesday evening. After picking Claude up from his boat in the dinghy we went aboard Meridian and tie up. It was cool and the wind was blowing hard with gusts around 25 -30 knots so we were sat down in the cabin. Several hours later I went back on deck to pull the dinghy in but there was no dinghy… The wind was howling and I realised that the dinghy with outboard (and my favourite hat) must have drifted well out to sea and be long gone. The end of the breakwater and the marina were off dead downwind from the boat so I had little hope it had drifted there. Pete lent me his dinghy and I motored down to the marina to see if the dinghy had miraculously clipped the end of the breakwater and been pinned to the rocks. No sign. Claude offered to help look for it so we went back to Fathom, hoisted the anchor and motored out into the darkness and still howling wind. At this point it is about 1am. The next two hours are spent motoring downwind for a mile or two and then sweeping back while I am on the bow with a search light. No sign of the dinghy. At 03.30 I drop Claude back on his boat and put the anchor down again resigned to the dinghy being lost and the cost and inconvenience of finding replacements.

The next morning I take Fathom into the marina at Cascais in order I can get ashore and and speak to the local chandlers about replacements etc (insurance won’t replace). In the marina office I ask the girl behind the desk if a dinghy has been spotted in the harbour. She replies ‘actually yes follow me’.  And there right at the back of the marina is the dinghy!! No idea how, with that wind direction, it had found its way into the marina but what a bit of luck that was. Yesterday I was the happiest person in Portugal! From now on I will always tie up my own dinghy :).

Last week was spent anchored in Seixal and it was nice working on jobs on the boat and enjoying the very peaceful atmosphere there. Amazing how often I bump into familiar boats and in Seixal it was Pete on s/y Frantic who gave me some spreader boots that didn’t fit his boat but fitted Fathom perfectly. Seixal itself appears at first to be a very poor and run down town. The main street is currently being relaid so there is dust everywhere, many of the buildings are tired and some empty and boarded up. But looking past all that it has a very nice atmosphere and the local people are very friendly. It is more like the real Portugal as opposed to the artificial and touristy Cascais. While I was in Seixal there were only 5 other visiting yachts there and I didn’t run in to any other tourists ashore. Very refreshing.

Claude is now on his way back north to the UK. Yesterday I met a very interesting solo Belgian sailor called Jean Heylbroeck on his yacht ‘Chartist Lady’. Jean is famous in Belgium and Holland for his sailing exploits over the last 40 years and books about his adventures including solo circumnavigation in the 1980’s pre GPS era. After chatting over a cup of coffee Jean and I may sail in tandem to Porto Santo, Madeira in a few days time. Jean is now in his 70’s and we both thought it a nice idea to have another boat in close proximity for the passage. The weather forecast is not favourable for departing before Thursday as there is an area of very light winds on the approach to Madeira and the northerly winds here in Portugal are faltering for a short time. So a few more days to prepare but not long now. Expecting to leave Thursday or Friday next week and I will be posting many more updates when I am on the move again.

Posted on 02 Sep in: Portugal

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