Sailing Madeira - Porto Santo Island | Distant Shores Sailing Newsletters

Sailing Madeira - Porto Santo Island

By Sheryl Shard, copyright 2015. All rights reserved.
madeira-porto-santo-beach-02This past summer Paul and I have been revisiting the mid-Atlantic islands of the Azores and Madeira aboard our Southerly 49 sailboat, Distant Shores II, but on previous Atlantic voyages (1990, 1992, 1997, 2007, 2012) we never had the opportunity to visit the starkly beautiful island of Porto Santo.

Porto Santo is an island within the Madeira archipelago that lies 30 miles to the northeast of the main island of Madeira but is so dramatically different, both visually and geologically, you feel as if you’ve sailed to another part of the planet.


Where the island of Madeira is dark and volcanic with lush green forests, fertile fields and mountains; Porto Santo is mostly low, sandy, dry and desert-like. But this is its appeal! Good sand equals good beaches and the sand bottom in the surrounding seas equals clear turquoise water - great for swimmers, divers and sailors.
madeira-porto-santo-north-coast-natural-pools-12Porto Santo is usually where sailors from Europe make landfall in Madeira since it’s the closest island in the archipelago to the Portuguese mainland at 545 miles. It’s a port of call, has a good marina and optional anchorage right close to the beach and main town of Vila Baleira and is a wonderful place to relax after an offshore passage of any length. Porto Santo is a quiet friendly place and many Madeirans use it as an escape haven, taking the ferry over for weekend get-aways.

We have met many European sailors over the years who have waxed poetic about the 9km-long crescent beach in Porto Santo but, having sailed in the Caribbean and Bahamas where we have enjoyed some of the best beaches in the world, we couldn’t imagine that it would be anything special. Maybe compared to the beaches in the Mediterranean, we thought. We were wrong.

madeira-porto-santo-beach-04The beach in Porto Santo really is amazing! And the sand is said to have healing properties due to the minerals in it. Whenever you visit the beach you see people covering their legs or entire bodies in this sand for hours at a time to heal their aches and pains.

Madeira to Porto Santo
We sailed over to Porto Santo from Funchal, the main harbour in Madeira. It’s 39 miles from Funchal Marina or 28 miles if you are staying at the beautiful Quinta do Lorde Marina and Resort on the Sao Lourenco Peninsula at the northeast end of Madeira, an easy day sail from either harbour.

It was a light wind close-hauled day and by afternoon the winds had dropped so we switched on the engine to motorsail the final distance. To our dismay, a submerged drifting fishing net fouled our propeller and Paul had to dive on it in the open ocean to clear it. (You can read the whole story of how he did this in his
Tech Blog “Offshore Diving on the Prop” 22/08/15.)

net-porto-santo - 1

We arrived at Porto Santo in the late afternoon motorsailing along the golden beach since the Porto Santo Marina lies at the far end.


On our way we passed the main town of Vila Baleira where New World explorer, Christopher Columbus, who married Portuguese noblewoman, Filipa Moniz Perestrelo, had a home at one time. The house is now a small museum. Porto Santo does tend to be a place where sailors get “washed ashore.”


We had called ahead to let the staff at the Porto Santo Marina (Tel. +351 291 980 080) know we were coming and were greeted by Marina Manager, Nelson Vasconcelos, as well as officers from Customs and Immigration. Although we had cleared into the European Union in the Azores, you are required to report your arrival and departure to these departments at each port while cruising in Portuguese territories. To our delight, one of the officers was a longtime fan of the Distant Shores sailing TV series! The show aired for many years on Travel Channel in Portugal and now airs primetime on Nautical Channel as well as across the rest of Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. What a welcome!


The Porto Santo Marina is owned by the same company as Quinta do Lord Marina and Resort in Madeira and has good facilities for visiting sailors including a boat yard where you can have work done on your boat. Many sailors also store their boats here for the winter and return for Atlantic cruising in the summer.

The Marina has 140 berths on floating pontoons, for vessels from 6 to 30 metres long. There is a minimum depth of 3 metres. The 10,000 m2 shipyard can hold up to 80 monohull vessels (on metal stands) not exceeding 5 metres in length, 25 tons and a beam of 4.40 metres. The shipyard can provide the several services, amongst them water and electricity, technical repair services for vessels, bathrooms and changing rooms.


Unfortunately we only had time for a short visit to Porto Santo, 2 days, before we had to get back to Madeira to haul out the boat before flying home for 6 weeks to complete post-production on new episodes of Distant Shores Season 10 we filmed during the summer and also to conduct seminars at the United States Sailboat Show in Annapolis, MD, October 8-12. So we organized a 4-wheel drive tour with Lazermar to take in the sights and do some hiking.

With Sofia from Lazermar 4-wheel drive tours
Sand dunes of Porto Santo
Natural pools on north coast of Porto Santo
Beach at the hidden cove of Zimbralinho


Fantastic basalt formations inside the volcanic crater at the Ana Ferreira Peak

Although Porto Santo is a just a small island, 42 sq km (16 sq miles), two days there is too short! We really wanted to stay longer and get into the slow relaxed pace of the island and meet more of the islanders but we were just so glad that we didn’t miss the place this time round. We highly recommend making a stop there if you are ever cruising in this part of the world. Until next time!

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