Selvagem Grande

There is an awful lot of night down in these parts – a little over 12 hours of it – but as long as the sailing isnt too challenging we each get a good 6 hours , which with a snooze in the day leaves us fairly relaxed about passage making. Dribbling along at 2.5 knots with a No 3 sheeted in the centreline is about as unchallenging as it gets , and the only excitement was provided by adjusting the speed so that we didnt arrive in the dark. All went well and dawn showed a little volcanic Island under our lee.

From Madeira to Selvagen Grande

The anchorage is a tiny bay on the SW side of the island , and the approach has quite a few shoals . To my horror  there was  white water breaking over one that I thought should have 5 m over it , and a closer inspection of the chart did show an isolated rock  that I had missed when studying it in the dark. Whats more the whole island appears to be 2 cables to the NE of where it is plotted on the electronic chart- thank goodness we didnt try and get in here in darkness , lulled by the (usually) fantastic accuracy of modern charting.

Apart from a short lived atempt at colonisation ( there are still walls and terraces to show for it) these islands have  mainly been used to harvest lichens for purple dye ,but  also for hundreds of years men have landed at this time of year to kill and eat the Corrie Shearwater chicks that lurk in every nook and cranny of the lunar landscape of this island. It is dry – so dry that it may be 3 years between rain , although most Decembers will bring some , at which time it is transformed  for a short time from a brown desert into a  little green paradise. Astonishingly it is covered in plants – some looking shrivelled and dead , awaiting rain to spring back to life , but others ( there are 100 species with 11 unique to the islands) looking plump and healthy. The shearwaters have been abandoned by their parents for some weeks now , and are thinning down , getting rid of their downy fluff and replacing it with proper flight feathers . In some the process looked almost complete so that very soon they will take off for 6 years of wandering the oceans , before returning to the island to breed in their turn. There has been  some sort of warden on the islands since the 70’s and the shearwater population is once more thriving.

We were the first boat to arrive and once we felt  secure ( it was not good holding ground – just rather flat rock) we were met and taken on a tour of the Island by one of the wardens. The slightly limited access was more than compensated for by being able to share the knowledge of this charming man. Also on the island were a young graduate who had a job overseeing all the  Madeiran protected areas, and the son of the man  ( and his British wife) who  first proposed a programme to save the shearwaters back in the 60,s when they were at risk of being hunted to extinction. All of them had been on the island a week longer than  expected as the Navy ship that should have collected them had pleaded bad weather , but was due the next day. They suggested  snorkelling  near the landing place and I was astonished  at the number and variety of fish to be seen.I will need Bryony to help identify them but above them all in sinister squadrons were 2 or 3 hundred barracuda. They were smaller than I imagined , but there was no doubt who was in charge. I attempted to spook them , but they were having none of it , just looking at me down their long noses with contempt.

The weather looked very quiet for the next few days – and with 130miles to go  to the Canaries we decided to use the night wind to get most of the way there before the forecast calm arrived. And thats pretty much what happened ; the breeze fell off in the morning and died completel by mid afternoon leaving us to motor the final  30 miles , creeping in in the dark to a little bay on the South West side of Graciosa with Lanzarotte to our South.

This morning reveals Graciosa to be a low sandy version of the Selvagems  , but with 2 or 3 small volcanic mounds. Lanzarotte , on the South side of the Channel looks a different beast altogether – high cliffs with a huge volcanic peak towering over them. We are surround by 8 or so other migrants of all nationalities but  after 3 nights at sea I think we can take our time to explore this next  area . First its time for our first un roly breakfast for quite some time!

<!–[if !supportEmptyParas]–> <!–[endif]–>

Leave a Reply