From one evening to the next morning all ports are shut down. We would be free to leave the harbour, but we are not be allowed to go back in. All, really all ports of the archipelago prohibit the entry of new ships and cruising yachts.
Cruise ship guests had flooded Funchal before the lockdown
We suspect that the government’s ad hoc decision is probably mainly meant for cruise ships. Shortly before, the cruise liners had flooded the harbour and the capital Funchal with thousands of guests. As the Canarian Islands were already taboo for days due to the corona crisis, all cruise ships were redirected to Funchal. Now, two to three big cruisers populated the harbour here at the same time each day.
Cruise ship in Funchal on Madeira © Colin Watts
But somehow, in the rush, the authorities seemed to have forgotten to define reasonable regulations for yachts and marinas in Madeira. In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, within a radius of 500 nautical miles there is no possibility to enter any other harbour. The Canary Islands, some 250 nautical miles away, are completely closed off, and the entire European Atlantic coast is apparently closed off as well.
No safe harbour on Madeira?
The hope that there is at least one „Safe Haven“ for cruising yachts on the archipelago, which remains open to incoming yachts seems not to have turned into reality, yet. No mooring, provisioning, bunkering and medical assistance – not even under quarantine.
The big problem along the Madeiran coasts: apart from three or four ports and marinas suitable for private yachts on the south side of the island and the port on Porto Santo, there are only a few anchorages on the archipelago. After our first exploratory tours, we have realized most of them seem to be almost unprotected and not safe – or even dangerous – in tougher weather conditions.
Especially extreme changes in wind force and direction that often occur in late winter – up to 180 degrees, sometimes within minutes – are quite a challenge.
No safe haven within 500 nautical miles? © Wikimedia CC BY SA 3.0
After a few telephone calls between the two marinas and with the national police GNR (Guardia Nacional Republicana), responsible for border security, we get a permit to enter Quinta do Lorde – exceptionally, for the following day. But unfortunately the permit has given only by phone.
The Corona punch
“STOP! NO ENTRY! MARINA IS CLOSED!” we hear the yelling from a dinghy as we try to enter the port of Quinta do Lorde – as approved the day before. All our lines and fenders are clear to moor, but a dedicated marinheiro tries to block the harbour entrance with his dinghy and to keep us from entering. He calls, gesticulating wildly with waving arms, and means to stop or turn us around.
We had already feared this and we are prepared. The dinghy has no chance against our 50 feet yacht. We leave the boat on starboard, moor at the first accessible floating jetty and berth. The marinheiro, who knows us from the day before, is upset. He has his instructions – the police, his bosses – and in general… What should he do now? We ask for clarification by the authorities.
The fear of Covid-19 makes cruising sailors unwanted © Martin Sanchez
Two officers come onto the jetty with face masks and protective gloves. It is the first time that we experience something like this in Madeira. We are being questioned from three metres away.