As Europe begins to contemplate the long nights of winter, the allure of the semi tropical islands of Madeira beckon. If its warm summer sailing, deep blue seas and miles of sandy beaches you’re after, this trip is for you. The Santa Maria Manuela leaves the beautiful island of Funchal for the stunning anchorage and golden sands of Porto Santo. Upon its return the ship sails through the natural sanctuary of Ilhas Desertas.
We hoist our sails and head east under the shadow of the ancient volcanic island of Madeira with the lights of Funchal illuminating the night sky. As we leave the lee of the island and the rolling swell begins to slow under our hull we get the first sense that we are indeed in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The water is so blue here that it almost seems the gods spilt a pot of ink when designing the archipelago.
There is an open invitation to get fully involved in all aspects of sailing during this short passage between the islands, from helming to trimming sails and from navigation to going aloft.
Portugal’s 800 kilometres of continental coastline boasts many fabulous beaches, but by November, even the most hardy of sun seekers are beginning to look south. Porto Santos’ nine golden kilometres of fine sand, bathed by the turquoise waters of the Atlantic provides an enviable view for the passengers of Santa Maria Manuela. The ship anchors right in front of this beach, which in 2012 was voted by ‘7 Wonders: Beaches of Portugal’ as "the best dune beach", and is said to have medicinal qualities. After a dip in the tepid waters of Porto Santo there is nothing better than relaxing in the sand dunes before returning to the ship for sundowners.
There is no hurry to return to Funchal. After leaving Porto Santo, there is time in the schedule to sail past the Ilas Desertas Nature Reserve, three uninhabited islands still in their purest state (Deserta Grande, Ilhéu Chão and Bugio). In addition to the mystical Shearwater, which is known to nest on the rocky shores of this moon-scaped island, Desertas islands are home to a colony of Mediterranean monk seals, also known as sea wolves - the rarest seal in the world.
We then sail north back to the luxuriant green island of Madeira with its primitive laurel forest, unique water channels, waterfalls and breath-taking vistas and the ever-blooming city of Funchal.