Never say never

Nice bow, sleek ship

In Madeira, as in Scotland, you are never far from the sea, though there the similarity fragments like the spray of a wave. Madeira can boast a fairly benign climate year round, although it does have its off days. But sitting in December, without feeling cold, on the balcony of your hotel room around midnight, wearing only a thin dressing gown, is something that can rarely be done at home — even at the height of summer. The long light evenings of summer at home I always enjoy — the smell of cut grass, a waft of perfume from a nearby honeysuckle, the chatter and giggles drifting on currents of air from neighbours enjoying a few drinks after a late summer evening barbecue. But chances are, barring the infrequent heat wave, I would need at least a cardigan to protect against the chill of breeze and dew.

Catching the breeze

There was a diving and waterspouts centre near our hotel, and most days there were people out braving the waves.

As in all island nations, and those with lengthy coastlines, boats and ships in all designs and sizes play an important role in lives. Sailing, windsurfing, water-skiing, snorkeling and scuba-diving, fishing — all sports many of those who live by sea or inland stretch of water enjoy and participate in. Since 1986 the waters at Garajau, near Funchal, have been a marine nature reserve, part of the Madeira National Park, famed for the diversity of wildlife. No fishing is allowed here but we saw plenty windsurfing activity, the speeds breath-taking as windsurfer and sail skimmed across the empty ocean that stretched to the horizon.

Sail and sea

Skimming the waves

Fishing boats bring rainbows of colour to little harbours around the island, while the new marina in Funchal, built during the last two years alongside the extended cruise ship pier, is spiked like a hedgehog with the masts of yachts and other craft. The sizes, even of the larger vessels, contrast with the huge, dominating bulk of the cruise ships that regularly call here.

A composition of masts

Leisure craft in Funchal harbour

Cruise ship and small craft

The big and the small of sailing

In the days when Scottish yards built ships they were smaller, more curvaceous, more sinuously feminine than today’s monstrosities with their angularity and sandwich slabs of decks and windows that resemble floating blocks of flats. Even the funnels that used to give such a distinctive shape to vessels (remember the four tall, slightly sloping ones of the Titanic as they sank beneath the waves in the film?) have been replaced with a wee red stump near the stern. And even that was disguised, on one liner we saw, by a gold coloured mesh cover as if something to be ashamed of.

Vessels - masts and funnel

View from a harbour-side cafe of vessels.

Like times, ships have changed. But as a daughter of Glasgow where many great ships were built, I retain a nostalgic love of the curvaceous bow, a superstructure not top heavy but in better proportion to the hull, to the land the vessels sail past and the docks they embark from. In Funchal’s new harbour usually at least one cruise ship is berthed and while on holiday we saw a few come and go, decanting their passengers for a quick trip ashore to stretch legs, and view something other than sea before returning on board for the onward sail across yet more sea.

I have to admit I’ve never been on a cruising holiday. Apart from regular ferry journeys of twenty minutes to a few hours, crossing from the mainland to one of the Scottish islands, my only longer trips by sea have been an overnight crossing, many years ago, to Barra in the Outer Hebrides, and crossings of the North Sea when going on holiday. We used to bundle the children in the car, throw in some clothes, head for Newcastle and drive onto a DFDS Seaways ship for Esbjerg in Denmark or Gothenburg in Sweden. There was one time when the crossing was unbelievably rough (not unusual in the North Sea) when we were the only ones in the dining room. Even the Spanish waiters looked green. Usually, by the time breakfast was over, we were eager to disembark.

Queen Victoria's bow

Bow of the Cunarder Queen Victoria

So I remain ambivalent about a holiday spent almost entirely at sea. Some people say it makes a change, others enthuse — like children given a treat — about the experience, the friends made, the frisson of excitement at getting dressed up and passing the salt and pepper to the great and good whilst keeping a conversation on knots going with the captain.

Queen on the move

Queen Victoria leaving harbour. At one time she had a female captain.

Cruising, I’m told, is a wonderful way of visiting and seeing something of a number of far-flung places, though on a brief trip to one or two tourist hotspots what is actually learnt about the place? To me one of the joys of holidays is poking around, getting beneath the skin of the place to find what lies beneath the gladrags and jewellery that dress it up for tourists. I like to discover a different culture, rather than the homogenised version now found everywhere.

Floating town

Like many cruise ships nowadays, Queen Victoria is like a block of floating flats.

On the other hand, cruising, I suppose, offers those of us past the agility of our prime (with our own sinuousness having become more slab-like) an easy way of seeing the world in accessible snapshots without the hassle of doing it under our own steam. Never say never. So, maybe…one day, funds allowing.

Stern queen

Queen Victoria sailing off to the Canaries.


About jingsandthings

I am me. What do I like? Colour Shapes Textures Paintings, photographs, sculptures, woven tapestries, wonderful materials. The love of materials probably comes from my father who was a textile buyer, and I grew up hearing the names of mills and manufacturers which sounded magical and enticing. Glass in all its soft and vibrant colours and flowing shapes, even sixties glass which makes its own proud statement. A book I can immerse myself in. Meals with family or friends with lots of chat and laughter (and probably a bottle or two of wine). The occasional trip abroad to experience the sights, sounds, food, conversation, quality of light and warmth of other countries. To revel in differences and be amazed by similarities. I like to create and to experience, to try and to achieve. And then there are words – read, heard, written at my keyboard, or scrawled on sticky notes, or along the edges of dog-eared supermarket receipts excavated from the unexplored nooks of my handbag. What do I dislike? Cold Snow Bad design Fast food Condescension
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8 Responses to Never say never

  1. mybrightlife says:

    Like you, I am a bit torn by the idea of a cruise. Certainly not my choice of travel experience but then sometimes I get caught up in the concept of captured time with hubby and access to all types of health and sport facilities. But then that is a whole different thing to travelling and we could just as well go hole up in a Sports Spa some where and avoid the crowds….as soon as I ponder on it I come to the realization that it may well not be for me. But certainly many folk (possibly more social folk) seem to love it! Love the pics. Queen Vic up close is pretty impressive! Hope you have adjusted to the chilly weather again or is it time for round two??

  2. What worries me about a cruise is that I might become bored, and I suspect my husband definitely would. Neither of us are keen on organised activities. Husband likes to be on the move, finding new things to photograph. I suppose if the ship called at some places where there were stunning photographic opportunities that might keep us talking about them until the next port.

    I suspect modern cruise ships offer a wide range of sports and spa facilities. The socialising aspect will offer plenty opportunities, though from what I have been told — given the size of the ships and the number of restaurants and such — you might not meet the same people every day. I rather like the friendliness and intimacy (in that you recognise faces and greet or chat to them in passing) of hotels that aren’t too large.

    At present we are hibernating, doing some writing and staying inside. The weather has been very windy, with either rain or snow showers and leaden skies. Quite often during the day I just have to close my eyes and think of warmer climates, palm trees, and a seat in the sun.

  3. Sheila says:

    That is quite a monstrosity, like you said. I can see how something like that would take away from the charm of a small marina. I bet everyone let out a sigh of relief when it sailed away! I think I’d rather be on a much smaller ship (maybe around the size of a sailboat) without all the amenities. I wonder if the people in this one even knew they were out on the water. 🙂

    • Yes, I’d favour something smaller, too, though I suspect businesses in Funchal are happy. The bigger the boat, the more potential customers, even if they only have a short time ashore. The Madeiran economy more or less relies on tourism and the new cruise ship pier was built to enable them to accommodate larger vessels. It was a similar story in Tallinn when we visited, and the streets were filled with tour guides holding up paddles to gather their flock around them for another bite-sized piece of history or titbit of information about the buildings and people of the old town.

  4. bebs1 says:

    You and I share the same sentiments about cruising and as you can easily surmise, I haven’t been on one. But I promise myself a cruise to Alaska someday or a cruise around the Pacific Islands on a freight ship, so maybe that will be the only time when I would join one. But I know a lot of people who enjoys cruising.

    • Alaska I don’t know enough (practically nothing) about so wouldn’t know, but a cruise around the Pacific Island I could perhaps be persuaded to undertake. Only to much chance of that – cost would be somewhat high from Scotland. Yes, I know quite a few people who like cruising, but I’m not sure they like the same type of holiday that I do. However, we’ll see. But I look forward to hearing about yours if you ever embark on one.

  5. Lily Lau says:

    I haven’t tried a serious cruise yet, perhaps a 12h trip to Crete in a huge ship that, for being at night, I spent sleeping… hahah!

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