Sister's Journal

Date: 25.October.1999
Location: Funchal, Madeira, Portugal
Position: 32 degrees 38 minutes North, 16 degrees 55 minutes West
The passage to Funchal, Madeira

74 hours, Lagos to Funchal, 479 nautical miles, nearly 6.5 knots average. Believe it or not that is a great average. Unfortunately we motored the entire way. That's right, except for a few half hearted gusts the wind speed never got up to double digits. On the other hand the sea, if not like glass, was unbelievably calm throughout the entire passage. So calm, in fact, that it felt a little eerie, particularly during the dark, moonless night.

We motored out of Lagos at noon and within an hour we were joined by dolphins again. These guys were different that those that had visited us previously. They were quite a bit bigger, their bottle noses were quite a bit blunter and the dark portion of their skin was darker (not black, but pretty dark) than that of our earlier visitors. I think we interrupted them when they were feeding and their attention seemed to be somewhat divided between their dinner and us. They played with us a while but, seemingly, only out of sense of responsibility … "Humans are passing by, we better maintain the image". They were somewhat less agile than their cousins but every bit as athletic. More than the others, they seemed to particularly enjoy "getting air". Several times during the half hour or so that they were with us one of them would virtual explode up out of the sea straight up into the air then, at the top of his jump, turn her head down for re-entry. These were big dudes and it seemed as though they were launching their large bodies 3-4 meters up out of the water. It was pretty impressive.

As the darkness of the first night settled in we saw impressive lightning flashes off in the distance. Lightning at sea is worrisome. There are many recorded horror stories about lightning and the damage that it has done to boats. It destroys electronics, sets things on fire, blasts holes in the hull, fuses metal things together etc, and those are just some of the more pleasant possibilities.

Consider! When you experience lightning ashore you try to not be or not be near the tallest object in your vicinity. Don't stand under the tallest tree. Don't stand out in an open field. Picture a sailboat on the surface of the sea, with it's mast sticking 20 meters up into the sky just begging lightning to strike. Good luck!

Our course was southwest. Generally speaking, the lightning was ahead of us a little north of our course. I considered turning south to avoid the storm but we couldn't tell which way the lightning itself was moving so changing course might just take us right to the lightning. We kept on keeping on, southwest. By the middle of the night, there was lightning on three sides of us. It was absolutely stunning … and, fortunately, still pretty distant. In fact it stayed pretty distant the entire night. It stayed far enough away that we rarely heard thunder. We were thankful for the light show and even more for our distance from it.

You may be lucky enough to have seen "bioluminescent" seawater. Water that seems to glow when one splashes or otherwise disturbs it. The waters of Puget Sound often do so. We played with it a lot during a trip to Desolation Sound, British Columbia in 1994. Our crab trap was a glowing ring, looking something like a space ship, as we pulled it up off the bottom. The head in the boat looked extra cool when you pumped seawater into it to flush. (We're pretty easily entertained!). I've seen schools of fish, startled by the approaching ship, dart off having the most spectacular affect in the glowing water.

We'd seen a fair amount of bioluminescent water but during this passage what we saw was bioluminescence with a difference. Rather than, or sometimes in addition to, the typical glowing foam, Sister's bow wake now contained discrete particles of glowing material. The particles were typically about half the size of the nail on your little finger. The effect was very cool, like little green embers in the water. I tried to take still and video pictures but there was such little ambient light that none of the cameras could capture the image.

Madeira is so beautiful, so dramatic that it deserves it's own status report. That's next.

Chuck and Andy in Funchal, Madeira, Portugal


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