Leaving Porto Santo – Our Hotel California 3

So many unexpected problems have occurred to stop us leaving Porto Santo that it has become our Hotel California. The place from where however hard we try, we just can’t leave.

Or for fellow fans of The League of Gentlemen, it is now our Royston Vasey.

But the day had arrived where we thought all our issues were solved (albeit some just temporarily). At long last we were finally leaving Porto Santo for destinations south.

Departure Preparations

A suitable weather window had taken a long time to come around for heading to the Canary Islands, but at last there was a half decent window, leaving on a Friday.

We’d had a busy week making final preparations, and stowing everything securely. Several other boats were leaving too, so there was the fun of farewell drinks amongst the sailing community.

We were full of excitement to be finally leaving Porto Santo. The island and its residents have been very good to us, but the need for new adventures was incredibly strong. The last 18 months have been a rollercoaster ride for us. Yes, life has its ups and downs, but it felt like we’d experienced predominantly downs rather than ups. We really needed to be reminded of the ups of why we are living this life.

a man fixing a hydrovane rudder to a boat in preparation for leaving Porto Santo
Colin fastens on the Hydrovane rudder during our preparation for leaving Porto Santo

Leaving Porto Santo

The forecast winds were ok, but they weren’t ideal. On the first day, we could expect extremely light winds. But on the plus side, that would allow us to ease gently back in to sailing, rather than being thrown into the fire. By midnight we could expect them to fill in and to be able to sail, before they turned south east on Sunday morning.

Emerald has been parked on an alongside pontoon for the last few weeks, due to failing batteries, but that’s a story for another blog. To leave we would need to reverse past the boat behind us. The problem was, Emerald’s prop walk would try to turn her into the other boat.

With zero wind, the departure went perfectly. Springing off the boat beside us pushed the stern out far enough to clear the boat behind. A quick and gentle burst of reverse had her moving backwards and we’d cleared the other boat before the prop walk kicked in. Phew, we were in clear water.

The marina community gave us a lovely send off, waving from the walls and blowing horns. Emerald was finally leaving the harbour under her own steam.

happy smiles for leaving Porto Santo
Happy smiles on leaving Porto Santo

Into The Blue

Once out from the harbour, we were greeted by a smooth sea, and a long swell from the north west. Emerald’s bow cut smoothly through it, pointing south. All around us was blue. From deep navy, to a pale haze on the horizon before deepening again rising up to space. The outline of Madeira was clearly visible to the west. It was simply beautiful.

We had a cup of tea and enjoyed the feeling of being back on the water. Emerald was moving a little in the swell, which increased as the protection of the island diminished. There was zero wind but we raised the main to help with stability.

We’re still running the rebuilt engine in, so we decided on revs of 1500 to start with.

The Engine Readings Were Good – Time for More Speed

After a couple of hours with the engine readings remaining steady, we decided to up the revs to 1800. The extra speed would be welcome as the further south that we could get before Sunday’s headwinds, the better. 

Almost immediately there was a bad sound coming from inside the boat. The engine noise was fine, but we now had a knocking sound on top. Colin hurried below and checked the prop shaft. It was burning hot and he called up to stop the engine. The knocking stopped.

Colin called me inside to look at the problem with him. As I headed towards the aft cabin, an acrid smell of burning rubber assailed my nose. Oh no, this was bringing back very bad memories.

A Failed Bearing in Croatia

The reality was that we had a problem with the prop shaft, most likely a bearing had failed.

In 2016, whilst we were in Croatia, our prop shaft seal (PSS) had failed. You can read all about it here, but long story short, the pipe that supplies cooling water had blocked and the propeller shaft had overheated. The heat was so bad that it melted a rubber cutlass bearing and the resulting bits of rubber ended up stuck to the surfaces of the seal. These surfaces are supposed to be smooth but now they were covered in debris. So the seal failed and seawater began to slowly seep into the boat.

a damaged cutlass bearing from a boat's propeller shaft showing signs of melting damage
The damaged cutlass bearing caused by a overheated prop shaft when we were in Croatia

My First Ever Whale Sighting

With the engine off, and zero wind, Emerald bobbed on the swell, her momentum still taking her south. We sat like that for a while, to allow the shaft to cool. To speed the process we also poured cool water on it, the result being steam. It was that hot.

While we waited for the shaft to cool, we went back up on deck to escape the smell. I was raging and howled and screamed at the sky. After all we’d gone through, to have reached the moment of escape that we’d waited for so long for, the failure felt incredibly cruel.

Colin spotted something ahead just above the gently undulating surface – a small cloud of water. We watched and caught a glimpse of a long, dark creature floating serenely on the surface. It glided along in front of us, sending up a few more puffs. Then with a wave of its tail, it said goodbye and dived down into the deep.

Wow. This was the first whale that I’d ever seen despite numerous whale watching trips around the world. Iceland, New Zealand, Scotland, Massachusetts. I’d tried them all but the whales had always been elusive.

Now, just when we needed a lift for our spirits, one had crossed our path. That whale came along just at the right moment.

The whale’s blow as it passed in front of us

Limping Carefully Back to Porto Santo

We put the engine into gear and reluctantly turned Emerald’s bow back north. It was a nervous moment; despite limiting the engine revs there was still the risk of damage to the prop shaft and its bearings. But with no wind, we had no other choice.

Checking inside, we could hear a low knocking sound from the prop, but it wasn’t as intense as it had been at higher revs. We weren’t taking on water and we could see that the shaft seal was getting cooling water. We just had to hope that it remained that way for the 9 miles between us and safety.

The return journey felt interminable. At any moment the bearing could fail and we’d start taking on water. The endless views of blue morphed from beautiful into a mortal danger to both Emerald and ourselves. The miles ticked slowly down.

I read a book to try to distract my mind from what could go wrong. But very few of the words actually went in.

A few hours later we were back in the sheltering arms of the marina. The sailing community that had given us such a lovely send off were now there to welcome us back. They helped us shoehorn Emerald into a space on the pontoon that we’d left just 6 hours before.

Pointing back to Porto Santo on a beautiful but incredibly disappointing day

What Next

Now we need time to lick our wounds. We have to lift out again to make a fix and we’ll have to wait for a place in the full yard to come free. 

Yes, the problem is fixable, but the endless run of problems that we’ve had has severely dented my enjoyment of the sailing life. Yes, Porto Santo is a lovely place but after 18 months I need to get back to some adventure and the good things of the sailing life to be reminded of why we do it. I’d been so looking forward to enjoying the Christmas period with friends in the Canary Islands too. I know we’re lucky on so many levels, but the constant disappointment is hard to bear.

So yeah, welcome to Porto Santo, you’ll never leave!

The Social Media Bit: Want to Follow Us?

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Thank you from Nichola & Colin

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3 thoughts on “Leaving Porto Santo – Our Hotel California

  • Janice & Bob

    So very sorry to hear that you had to go back to the marina after having done so much work on Emerald and getting a taste of leaving. We definitely feel for you as it has happened to us but we didn’t have to stay put as long. Now for the half full glass you need to keep remembering that you are both safe, Emerald did not sink and you have each other to keep a positive chin up! Thinking of you as you work through this and get to a time for more adventures ahead

    • Nichola Post author

      Thank you, it was a very disappointing result but it could have been much, much worse. Waiting for a space in the boatyard is frustrating, but we’re very grateful to be sitting on Emerald right now, safely back in the harbour.