Atlantic Challenge 2011

N 43° 39' W 08° 59'

Part 5: Porto Santo to Madeira, Friday 25th November

November 30, 2011

Even having studied the chart I was surprised at what a short hop this turned out to be. I finally slipped my mooring at 11.30, fully expecting to be arriving in the dark. I only had a couple of minor problems, the first occurring when I was setting the spinnaker pole once more. The genoa rolls around the forestay to make it bigger or smaller, and stows away completely there when not in use. I had managed to let the sail wrap itself around in a classic “hourglass twist”. Sorting this out was proving difficult, as I was simply unable to haul the massive bag of air against the wind on my own. I briefly used the sheet winch which was helping, but the high forces I was inflicting on the poor sail really weren’t doing it much good. “If only I could stop the wind for two minutes!” And then it occurred to me that I could quite easily stop the apparent wind, with a squeeze of the throttle lever. The engine was already idling so a brief blast up to full speed was all it took to stop the airflow over the boat, and for me to sort the problem with minimal fuss in the now still air…

The second problem came when we were only a very short distance off the NE tip. We were running dead downwind and I had to gybe, which is when the boat is turned so that the wind hits the other side of the mainsail. The boom will then come flying over if left unchecked, and can easily damage anything in its path (heads, legs, and arms have all been smashed to pieces in this way). I was careful to rig a preventer line to control the manoeuvre, but somehow the boom still whipped over with suprising velocity. I was well clear, but the sudden snatch load on the mainsheet traveller (attachment for the mainsheet at deck level) proved too much; I looked out to see the arrangement hanging ten feet away. Unfortunately one of the control stops was lost overboard- I’ve made a temporary fix until I can find a replacement, but this is proving difficult in Madeira.

Shortly afterwards I arrived in Machico. My plan was to anchor in the bay, which I thought would have been protected from the easterly swell… sadly this proved not to be the case. Makatea was rolling badly and I really wasn’t looking forward to spending a night in these conditions. As usual though, the Williams luck came up trumps. I could see a guy on the quay wall waving me over, so I tentatively motored into the small harbour to hear what he had to say. “Just come alongside this motor boat, you’ll be fine” said Richard in perfect English. He and another chap took my lines and helped me tie up, before telling me all I needed to know about the place. (This even extended to returning the following day to make sure I was ok, and to drive me to the best supermarket to reprovision!)

Sometimes owners can be a bit funny about people berthing alongside their boats, but this was definitely not the case here. Jon turned out to be a great bloke when he arrived for his fishing trip, had no problem with me walking over his decks and was quick to share his stash of cold beer with me! He was a local entrepreneur, having a number of businesses in Funchal- the capital of Madeira which is a few k’s west.

When he returned to the quay later on I casually enquired how successful the fishing expedition had been; he proudly showed me a bucketful of very fresh (and thankfully dead) fish. Naturally I showed a congratulatory interest, but really wasn’t prepared for his kind offer of half a dozen of them…

Now call me a hypocrite, as of course that’s what I am, but I really don’t do the “hunter gatherer” thing (or for that matter the “hook them by the mouth then chuck them back in for fun” thing either). I will occasionally eat one in a restaurant but have never actually gutted a fish in my life, and anyway I feel a bit too vulnerable out there on the ocean to be actually killing anything! My friends Dave Savage and Julian Hunter persuaded me to buy a fishing rod, but it has so far remained firmly in the cockpit locker- at the bottom. So now I had quite a tricky situation if I was to avoid causing offence…

I managed to get him down to three (“I’ve no fridge and it will be a waste”) but it was still three more than I actually wanted. However, now I had them I couldn’t bring myself to throw them away as their fishy lives would’ve been completely in vain. I owed it to them to at least have a go I reckoned.

Pouring myself a hefty G&T then tooling up with a good sharp knife, I lined them up in the galley and grimly set about the task. I tried my best to remember the advice my mate Mikey Simms (who had spent time as a fishmonger) had given me, but the operation really wasn’t going the way I’d hoped. “You poor little bugger.” I thought, eyeing up number one. “Two hours ago you were happily swimming around minding your own business, and now you’ve got some tosser who thinks he’s Bear Grylls about to chop your head off.” Fishies one and two were duly sliced ‘n’ diced, and what flesh I had managed to salvage from the massacre was on a plate. Number three however wasn’t going quietly. As I started to sever its little fishy head he had one last suprise for me- a groan.

Now I’ve handled more dead bodies (in varying states of… “completeness”) than I care to remember, many of them making odd noises- but I just wasn’t prepared for this. I squealed like a girl and jumped backwards, hardly the mark of a hardboiled adventurer. By this point I had conceded that a fish supper was simply not going to be on tonight’s menu; squeamish or not though, I was determined that I still owed it to my three fishy friends to at least try them. I ate the lot (raw- I just couldn’t face any more preparation) and then called it a day.

I have been told before that I’ll never make the SAS, and I am definitely more of a lover than a fighter. I will still keep the rod at the bottom of the cockpit locker, as if I ever found myself starving in a liferaft, I’d kill & eat Nemo. Until that day however, I’m afraid that fishing and I are through.

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NishaM June 11, 2012 at 11:30 PM

I’ve read this fish story a few times and it does not get any less funny… hilarious!

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