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Island of Madeira, Portugal

09:49 23rd February 2012 by Letitia Hristodorescu
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Why Madeira? Because in the peak summer season you will be the only one on the water! We only saw two other windsurfers in our two week stay in August. That would tell you that the island is not renowned for its windsurfing and the high cliffs of Madeira make a lot of beaches unsailable unless you’re on big kit and prepared to sail offshore. However, we did find some serious (all-be-it mast breaking) wave potential!

Fact File

Windy Season All year: summer trades, winter storms.
Water Temp In Summer 20-22C
Air Temp In Summer 25-28C
Wet Suit? Boardies in the summer even when blowing 30 knots. Winter suit in winter!
Average Wind Speed Force 5 trades, all sorts in the winter.
Flight Time (From UK) 3.5 hours
How To Get There

Charter flights run direct from all major European hubs and are your best option. Scheduled flights do run but are often not direct and usually incur heavy excess baggage charges. I flew from my hometown of Bristol in the UK with Airtours for £315 return. (From London, it was £40 cheaper). My equipment, weighing in at 70kgs, cost £30 return. This is standard with most tour operators and I would suggest phoning the reservations department for the airline and book it on. Windsurfers get the best deal, as you pay the same price for a complete windsurfer as a surfboard. If you can pack two boards in one bag it passes as one board bag, so is a very economical way of taking your kit abroad.

Please note: You can’t rent any equipment in Madeira. There is also no windsurfing shop so take everything plus spares.

Using www.charterflights.co.uk

Current Quotes for 1-2wks (flight only) in September ’06 are:

  • Bristol -> Funchal, Portugal -> £69 return
  • Bournemouth -> Funchal, Portugal -> £89 return
  • Birmingham -> Funchal, Portugal -> £119 return

Scheduled flights: British Airways fly from London hubs to Funchal, approx. £300 return. Air Portugal also go direct.

How The Wind Works

May-September (Summer)

Northerly to North-easterly trade winds blow, with very good reliability. During the month of August 75% of the days were force 5 and above. The island is like one giant mountain so wind doesn’t really flow over it at all rather it is squeezed around the outside and accelerated at these points so only certain beaches get the wind in a certain direction. A Force 4 north-easterly will usually produce a Force 7 at Canico (see below). The wind is very dependant on cloud cover. If it is cloudy then the wind is much lighter, and when the sun appears the wind fills in again (that quickly). This can be explained by very strong wind high up not reaching ground level without the aid of mixing with the heat from the sun.

October-April (Winter)

The wind is very similar to that in the UK during the winter season. Madeira is very lucky to be in the path of most of the North Atlantic storms which often don’t go down as far as the Canaries. But as the storms pass, the weather can change very rapidly. Waves can build from 4-8ft in a matter of hours and the wind may swing round 360 degrees over a 24 hour period. This is the best time for surfing and wave sailing, but conditions are very technical and only for the very experienced with lots of time to drive from beach to beach to find the spot that is working. The weather, in terms of air temp & sunshine, is still very pleasant in the winter so it’s not a bad time to come if you want some full on wave action without freezing your knackers off!

Water state

Wind driven swells are standard for the summer months with an average wave height of 2m. Any of the flat water venues were often so gusty that sailing was far from enjoyable and very frustrating. This is not a freestyle friendly venue.

The Sailing Spots

Safety points:

» You need to come here with other windsurfers and provide safety cover for each other. If something does go wrong, there is a coastguard, well, a navy vessel and some local boats.

» If you are not sailing in big waves then choose a board that has enough volume to get you back to the beach where you launched. Windy conditions are often 50-100m from the shore due to the high cliffs.

Wind directions: No beach works in an onshore or offshore wind. The beaches that can actually be sailed in certain wind directions will always have cross-shore winds.

 

Canico

Beach faces: South-east
Best wind direction: North-east (summer trades), East, South-east.
Worst wind direction: Anything else.
Tide: Better at high tide for launching, since you can launch from the pier.
What’s on the bottom?: Large, slippery boulders/pebbles.
Any hazards?: The wind can die close to the shore especially if it’s more northerly.
The current/rip goes from left to right down the beach along with the wind but further out the current flows in the opposite direction.
Other water users: Swimmers, fishermen.
Suitability/levels: Competent windsurfer. Waves get bigger and bigger as you sail out, and when you jump the wind increases phenomenally at the apex of the jump.
Wipeout factor: 7/10. Launching and landing are pretty hard. You can easily paddle back if you ditch your rig but remember the wind & rip run the same way!

 

Funchal (The small, sandy beach nr harbour)

Beach faces: South.
Best wind direction: South-east.
Tide: Not that obvious.
What’s on the bottom?: Sand and pebbles.
Any hazards?: Shipping.
Other water users: Fishermen, ferries, yachts.
Suitability/levels: It can be really windy here and provide some exciting sailing in big swells. But on the whole it is more of a slalom, freeride venue in the flat/choppy water.
Wipeout factor: 5/10. It can be hard to get back to launch point as the wind becomes shiftier and lighter.

 

Achadas da Cruz

Beach faces: North-west.
Best wind direction: North-easterly (summer trades).
Worst wind direction: Anything that brings an offshore or onshore breeze.
What’s on the bottom?: Large pebbles, rocks and boulders!
Any hazards?: Wind dying on the inside.
Other water users: Surfers.
Suitability/levels: Competent windsurfer. Good wave riding, but often the wind is too light on the inside for jumping.
Wipeout factor: 6/10. The wind can get light on the inside making for some big beastings!

 

Other potential windsurf spots:

Canical: Launch from the beach next to the harbour. Only suitable for Formula or big board sailing as offshore winds are standard during the summer trades. It is very windy here and provides good access to sail around to the north side of the island, where the swell is massive. This is where we launched to train on the Olympic RSX kit.

Paul do Mar: Faces south-west, long pebble/stone beach, gets some of the biggest waves on the island. Good luck!

Cabo Giroa: Vidar Jenson sailed here a few times when he visited the island in the spring of 2006. He’s quite good though!

 

Windsurfing Event

Each year there is a race from Porto Santo to Madeira which is 3 hours by ferry. This is a pretty wild affair with the race being started by a Navy warship and launching from the back of the car ferry. It is currently only run for locals but plans are being made to make this race into an international event. It normally occurs in October and Boardseeker will let you know if this becomes an open event.

Instruction And Kit Hire

Non-existent!!! Don’t forget your harness – or you will have to join the Madeiran EBay fraternity.

Accommodation

Cheap accommodation can be hard to find. The hotels on tourist beaches (twin room + breakfast) are 70 euros per night. It may be a good idea to take the accommodation package offered by the tour operator back home as staying in a hotel without a deal is expensive. There is no accommodation near any of the beaches suitable for windsurfing, so it doesn’t matter where you stay on the island. To drive round the whole island takes only 4 hours. However, we never drove for more than 30 minutes each day to get to the beach of choice.

We didn’t find any B&B’s, as tourism on the island is mainly for the rich and super rich! There isn’t a youth hostel but there are two campsites on the island at Porto Moniz & Montado do Pereiro.

Campsiteswww.madeira-camping.com

Hotels : Try this site www.madeiraguide.com. They also do car hire.

Or these guys: www.atlanticholidays.net

If you’ve just won the lottery, go here:www.reidspalace.com

Car Hire: Yes, you need to hire a car/van to get around. Go to www.holidayautos.co.uk. They have killer deals but book early. These guys do van hire:
www.e-sixt.com

Food

Food is good here, and very cheap if you search for it. We always managed to eat for under 10 euros each, including drinks in Machico where we were staying. Avoid harbourside restaurants in Funchal: the prices are only suitable for people with yachts!

If you must, there is a McDonalds in Funchal (3.50 euros for a Big Mac meal – bargain- definitely the cheapest meal we had).

Lunch Tip: We bought tin-foil from the supermarket and made up sandwiches at breakfast in our hotel which saved a lot of money. However, steak sandwiches are well nice, filling, and available at all cafes for 3 euros!

Eating in: There are a few supermarkets (SA & Pingo Doce) and most have a hot food counter where you can get decent take-away meals like rice & stew, chicken and chips..etc.

Nightlife

There is no shortage of nightlife on Madeira , as it has a vibrant local population. It feels very safe at night and is a very pleasant temperature for romantic strolls along the beach!

This island thrives on Fiestas on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Another day to note is Tuesday, which is Ladies night in the capital. Religious holidays and Saints days are a big thing here, however, drinking is a huge part of the local culture after Mass! Fireworks go off all day and night, and everyone spends the evening in the public squares and along the beach.

Bored Of Windsurfing

Hiking is huge here as the island is so mountainous and most of the centre of the island is inaccessible by car. There are some famous waterfall walks and outstanding views.

Mountain biking is also popular and you can rent bikes at the tops of the main hills and just ride down. The city centre, Funchal, is beautiful and has some good shopping. It does get very hot here though. Kids spend the evenings jumping steps and public monuments so watch out for them.

Scuba diving is also very good here and readily available from most hotels and several dive centres.
Game fishing is a big pastime on the island but we didn’t see any advertisements for trips. It is probably best to talk to a local fisherman to see if he knows who will take you.

Top Surf Spots

Because Madeira is so renowned for surfing, I also packed my surfboard. You won’t be disappointed.

  • Porto da Cruz: Two awesome spots here. Use the rip to get out but you won’t get back to the beach from the same point as the rip is so strong. Just come in where waves are breaking. Sandy bottom (for a bit!)
  • Sao Vincente: Swell all year round + the only surf shop on the island that do rent surfboards. Also all surfers go to café over the road for cakes after a good session.
  • Ribeira da Janela: Near the campsite, works with a North or North-easterly swell.
  • Achadas da Cruz
  • Jardim do Mar: This is where Billabong Odyssey was filmed. The waves can be huge in January/February. Go to magicseaweed.com for some cool photos & latest surf forecast
  • Lugar de Baixa: Was one of best waves in world but then they built the marina. A smaller break is still accessible on the left when looking out to sea.

Hot Tips

Hugh’s Top 4 Madeira Tips

  1. Madeira has the highest UV index in the whole of Europe so wear plenty of sun cream.
  2. Bring your laptop and wireless card with you, as every town centre provides free internet in the main square. You can sit in a café or just on a park bench and use some very fast wireless broadband.
  3. If you stay in a windy spot, there are no mosquitoes, so stay in a windy spot!
  4. Try and make friends with any local windsurfers. They will be really pleased to have someone else to sail with and may even take the week off and join you. Their local knowledge is invaluable.
Conclusion

An awesome island for someone who loves surfing and is very proficient at windsurfing.

Tourist

Name: Hugh Sims Williams.
Local beach in UK: Weston-Super-Mare.
How many years sailing: 12.
Occupation: Skandia Team GBR Windsurf Team & student at Bristol Uni.
Your equipment: Starboard Evo 83 and Tushingham Rocks.
Last windsurf move you cracked: Flat water forward.
Sponsors: Windsurfer’s WorldO’NeillStarboard &Tushingham.

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