On my exploratory tour through the old town I see two people sitting on the balcony. I hear them speaking german. I talk to them. Michel is a German-French sailor but here on shore leave in Madeira with his partner.
Now the couple is stuck in Funchal and spends the day in the holiday flat they rented without further ado. For 4th May the airline has now promised to fly them to France via Lisbon. And the airline pays for the apartment until the departure.
Shutdown chats... © Ole Sal
... at a distance © Ole Sal
At a safe distance from each other we exchange our experiences. It doesn’t take long until a young couple joins us. Anna and Daniel from Berlin are also stuck here – and he is an enthusiastic sailor, too.
A short time later I find a perfect and affordable accommodation for me in Funchal. I share a big house with two nice people and have everything I need – including a great view of the Atlantic Ocean from a height of 100 metres. And space for my hammock. Here I could stay. And I’m actually preparing for four to twelve more weeks on the island.
Afraid of strangers – afraid of me, too?
The people of Madeira seem to keep quite consequently to the commandment “Stay at home” that is shown here everywhere on display boards. The otherwise lively oldtown is empty, practically all shops are closed. Almost nobody is on the road except a few joggers, dog owners and shoppers.
Only supermarkets and pharmacies are open, as well as gas stations and some electronics and hardware stores. Buses now run according to the Sunday timetable every single day of the week.
Improvised reporter workstation © Ole Sal
Most of the locals are quiet and seem to be calm. I am not sure if I see some fear in their eyes. The fear of the Corona virus, but also the fear of foreigners, because probably them have brought the virus to Madeira. Some of the otherwise so friendly and open Madeirans suddenly prefer to avoid foreigners, and therefore also me.
But when I get in conversations with them in the supermarket or other places, most locals are very friendly and helpful to the strangers stuck on their island. My landlord comes every few days: We keep our distance, but otherwise we act very friendly and normally.
It is hard to say which ships are still lying, anchoring or drifting here on the “Blissful Islands” – the island groups in the North Atlantic from the Azores to the Canary Islands. Some yachts have already made their start to the way north. Most of them wait and see.
Under no circumstances anybody should leave for Europe in a hurry before the transit regulations along the European Atlantic coast and the entry permits for Germany have been clarified. This warning comes from maritime experts, sailing associations and authorities alike!
The season’s weather is not necessarily optimal for this route at this time of year. And all ports along the European coast seem to be closed for leisure yachts. A non-stop trip from the Canary Islands or Madeira to Germany could take four to six weeks.
Routes for the Atlantic crossing © Public Domain
But only if everything goes well, you have enough food, water, diesel and a suitable crew. And if there are no medical or technical incidents or even needs for repairs or spare parts. A crew will be hard to find here, though. There are only the few foreigners who are stuck here – allegedly 300 at most. Nobody can estimate how many of them could and wanted to sail at all.
Liveaboard sailors are bored or busy
A skipper friend lives on his small yacht in the harbour on Porto Santo now. He tells me about his increasingly narrow range of motion. He has not been allowed to use the ferry to Madeira for two weeks. To leave by boat would mean not being allowed to return to any port on the islands.
Two crews in Quinta do Lorde were allowed to move freely on the premises and even use the rental car for shopping. But this is also over since some days ago. Communication is almost exclusively done by phone or digitally. Most crews stay on their boats – and get bored. Or they try to plan their further journey, if they not work on the goals of their to-do lists which can never be achieved in normal on-board life.
Today is day 19 of the Corona crisis on Madeira and day 15 of the state of emergency. What will it look like in two weeks? And after that? Perhaps in a few weeks time there will be an opportunity for me to sail in northern direction.