We came in like starving dogs, bumping blind into a sleeping bunk house of travelling boats, our bellies empty and throats dry. Port Santo rose up proud, jumping high above the roadside, great hills stood tall like bearskin guards beneath the silver clouds. It was a leg of seasons, of changing colours, of highs and lows, a leg that reflected our life at sea aboard Little Coconut. We left Cascais on Sunday afternoon, slipping away unnoticed and unnamed, just a mast out there lost against the white horses. I remember expecting 20 knots, sitting at the wheel blowing my harmonica, thinking the first night out would be a breeze. Great spades of angry wind came in on darkness, we were running wild, rollin & tumblin, fed giddy like a drunk pig. I folded away the gib and threw up our cutter sail. By morning it was even stronger, the horizon full of squalls, grey patches of hot wind running unpredictable lines across the water. Miranda by this time had turned sheet white, she puked all over the cabin, looked like a pickled rock pool fish, all lazy eyes and horizontal, clutching her sleeping bag with both arms, suffering away the endless procession of minutes, damp and cold. For me it got tough too, she wasn’t fit enough for watch, even when I lashed her down up on the wheel, I still couldn’t settle below, every time the boat luffed I was up, every crack and hiss I was listening. I didn’t sleep for the first two nights, my mind stuck in overdrive, all tied up in knots.
After two days the wind dropped down, it moved onto our beam, Miranda started smiling and I got some rest. Spring was upon us, the clouds all drifted away. I remember sitting beneath the mast in perfect peace, watching the blossom unfold, watching Little Coconut dance through waves of silver lace, foes fluorescence blinking beneath our feet, running out in streams of wake, it was awesome. Things started slowly changing across the way, the weather got warmer, the water turned a deep blue, our self steerer started working and we caught our first fish, it landed on Coconut’s deck, the first flying fish of the trip. We kept a three on three off watch across darkness, then whatever suited in daylight, our evening meal being the main event. Having the wind vane working at last changed everything, it is indescribable how vital that piece of kit is when travelling with two, it opens up your world at sea, things become possible, you can spend a watch reading in the cabin, sitting up at the mast, you can make tea, tidy up, go to the toilet, it all becomes enjoyable, you start to live instead of just exist, watching your world skip across the drink, like a floating island, it is quite a feeling.
It took us five days, by the time we made landfall embers and ash were all that remained of my thirst for the ocean, for the time being anyway. We walked the soft coral sands, climbed a hill, got the bikes out and cycled, drank some cold beer, swam, brought ice, ate meat and played cards, there was probably twenty boats heading south, it was a social place to berth. After four days the egg timer was up, Miranda’s parents had flown in to see us, they were hauled up in Funchal, we squared everything away and got ready to make tracks, a short hop across to Madeira.
Our departure from Porto Santo will be remembered for a while, comedy for the bystander, panic for the boat owner, every head on the harbour wall turned to watch the sceptical unfold. Wind and keel teamed up for an eclipse of epic magnitude, holding our rudder ransom, making me look like a right tit. ‘Poor Michael, ‘ Miranda reflected quietly when the shock had warn off. Michael was the 70 year old English dude dropped to his knees, he was dragged down the pontoon trying to hold our bow line, ‘ he nearly drowned’ she added.
‘ he didn’t nearly drown babe, Mike is a solo sailor they’re practically unsinkable…. a rare breed of wanderer, ,,,, he was fine,,,, enjoying the challenge if anything.’
‘He was not fine, he nearly fell off the pontoon.’ There was a short pause, Miranda was reliving her account of the tale, running it back through.
‘ that Swiss women was going mental’ she added, ‘ shouting …. Solar panels !!! over and over again.’
‘ we nearly cleared them up M, of course she was going mental’
‘ I counted,’ Miranda continued, the ball now rolling, ‘ there was 10 people helping’
‘ You counted’ I replied trying to work out what goes through Miranda’s mind in a moment of crisis, instead of helping herself she finds the time to count others helping, classic. In the end we managed to spin the boat using the trusty combination of warps and man power. There was cruisers running in with fenders, cats pushing one end, cats pulling ropes on the other, there was people shouting orders, people watching and laughing, people open mouthed and wondering, ‘who on earth is in charge of that vessel? what an amateur!!!’ Eventually it all worked out, we left to a standing aviation, every boat on the pontoon cheered us off.