Sapphire sea and dolphins

The boat was a Turkish gulet, twenty-three metres in length, called Bonita da Madeira, made from rich coloured woods and stainless steel, with masts that soared towards the sky. At the stern, we lounged on blue plastic covered mattresses formed into a relaxing seat. The relaxing aspect was further enhanced by a glass of Madeira wine – such a welcoming gesture as well as a great promotional tool for both boat trip and wine.

Turkish Gulet

Bonita da Madeira making her way to the quayside.

We boarded the boat in the harbour where it berthed beside a Tui (Thomson Holidays) cruise liner from which passengers were spilling, anxious to make the most of their time in Funchal before gliding off to a new destination.

Wall of cabins

The Tui cruise ship dwarfed us, but I considered out boat more interesting than its wall of cabins.

As we sailed out the harbour a catamaran on a similar quest was ahead of us, but our courses took us in slightly different directions. Usually the Bonita carries about forty passengers, but today despite the short-sleeved t-shirt weather (twenty degrees warmer than at home), only nine of us sprawled around its deck. So the crew were able to spend time chatting with us and we were able to move around for the best view. They thought the rain earlier in the week might have put people off, and then it was winter.

Winter in Madeira perhaps, but the weather was still as warm (perhaps even warmer) than our summers. Even out in the Atlantic Ocean with the boat heaving and pitching it was still sufficiently warm not to need a cardigan.

In summer people sit here.

This reminded me of a swordfish and tales of big game fishing.

We were told that whoever (the catamaran or us) spotted wildlife, the one would phone the other so we could all enjoy seeing whales, dolphins or sea turtles, whatever made an appearance. No certainty that we would see anything, of course, wildlife rarely performs to fervent hopes.

The previous day the Bonita made a trip to the Desertas Islands and those on board had seen nothing. So, eyes scanning the water, I was keeping my fingers crossed.


Funchal in the distance.

Waving his mobile phone, one of the crew announced the catamaran was surrounded by a pod of dolphins so off we bucked towards it. As the boat heaved we danced our way towards the bow for a better view, rail clutched in one hand, whatever was handy grabbed by the other. A fellow passenger huddled on a mattress near the bow, looking as if she wanted to be anywhere but out here on the waves. However I was enjoying the expectation of seeing dolphins, the breeze blowing hair into my eyes, the sun glittering off the water. It was exhilarating.

‘There,’ shouted someone. And then we were amongst them, the boat engine cut to allow us to see and photograph them.

Dolphins, click, click.

There they were. Dolphins swam around the boat while we hung over the rail photographing them.

But the Bonita still pitched in the waves, so photographs were taken with one hand clutching the rail, the other the camera, a finger pressing the button. Bright sunlight meant all I could see in the camera screen was my own reflection so I just had to keep pointing in the general direction and clicking, hoping I’d capture something.

Moving too fast to capture

Marbled turquoise in the sapphire waters.

Dolphins close by

It was so exciting to see them close to the boat.

The dolphins (spotted dolphins we were told they were) included a large number of young and they cavorted around like all young things. They jumped, flicked tails, their dorsal fins cutting the water. They rode the bow waves, arcing and diving right beside us.

Four in a row

The dolphins’s skins were rippled by sun and waves.

They were so fast I feared any images captured would be blurry streaks. But, totally fascinated, I kept at it determined to capture something of this wonderful knitting of humans and cetaceans. My finger kept pressing the button as my hand drunkenly swung the camera and the boat bounced.

Chain gang

It was as if the dolphins were welcoming us to their watery world.

All too soon it was over. But I felt that even if we saw nothing else, this had been an experience I would never forget.

Dolphins congregating

And then they decided we really weren’t worthy of their interest, and started moving off.

We sailed back towards land, along the coast west of Funchal, taking a few photographs of sheer cliffs and concrete hotels strung out along the bays.

Cliffs drop to the sea

Sailing by the cliffs.

Green fringe

On a ribbon of land between cliffs and sea, crops are cultivated, accessed by a lift down the cliff face.

Every slop of land is used

Terraced crops near Funchal.

Pink palace

Reid’s Hotel from the sea.

But in my mind I was still watching dolphins.



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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23 Responses to Exhilarating

  1. carol1945 says:

    Another lovely travelogue. It seems like you were just in Rhodes, now you are in Madeira. Well, back home, now. What is the weather like at home now?

    • Can never resist a bargain. Weather here is depressing, grey and overcast, the snow still lingering though melting slowly with showers of rain. January is a depressing month, days still short and long time to go until spring. Underfoot is muddy with puddles everywhere but at least we haven’t suffered flooding like so many people in lower lying areas. How I envy your year-round sun and warmth.

      • carol1945 says:

        Yes, we are finally getting much needed rain after a four year drought, a drought which has permanently damaged many trees. However, it may rain one day, and then the next is so sunny, I can go into the garden and pull weeds. (or just sit in the sun and be amazed by a beautiful January day)

  2. Carol, I can’t imagine a four year drought. If the UK has a longish spell of dry weather then hosepipe bans are imposed so that water isn’t wasted in watering gardens or washing cars. In Scotland we tend to have plenty water, partly because we get more rain, partly because we have an abundance of lochs, and partly I suspect because local authorities built systems to transport water around the country to cities, towns and villages. And while we draw it off via our taps, the stuff keeps falling from the sky, ensuring our grass is green, our trees flourish and we can shower daily. The downside is that sometimes, like the past four to six weeks, too much rain can fall, causing damage to properties and infrastructure as well as causing devastation to family homes. Pity we can’t swap a bit of your sun for our water.

    • carol1945 says:

      Yes, since California is a drought state and always will be, I do not understand why there is not a system to take water from parts of the country that get too much and transport it here. My goodness, we had a really bad drought about 30 years ago, people blab about it, and then everyone forgets. The crazy part is that California’s central valley produces most of the vegetables for the entire country, I think, and so it would be in everyone’s interest to make sure we had water for the farms. I should look up the statistics on this to be more exact about it.

      • Mama Cormier says:

        We’re feeling the results of your drought all the way up here in Canada. Along with our sliding dollar, it’s getting harder to find some fruits and vegetables on the shelves that we’ve taken for granted for the last 20 years. Recently cauliflower was selling for $8.00 a head.

      • carol1945 says:

        $8 for a head of cauliflower, a winter vegetable? I just found an article titled “California’s Drought Could Upend America’s Entire Food System”– I am too depressed to read the report. Why was not something done 30 years ago when we had the last drought? Instead we have crazy politicians saying crazy things.

      • Mama Cormier says:

        The good news is that the price has come down quite a bit but it’s still $5.00.

      • Moving water around may prove extremely expensive but I’d have though desalination plants for irrigation might be considered, especially as it’s such an important vegetable growing area.

  3. Mama Cormier says:

    What a lovely trip Dorothy!. I agree with you about the Turkish gulet. So much more interesting than a floating hotel.

  4. The price of a cauliflower here is at present about 80p – less than a pound, so much cheaper than what you are paying. Much of our fruit and veg comes from European countries, either grown outside or in poly tunnels. A few of the more exotic species come from further afield, so tends to be more expensive, though pineapples have been unbelievably cheap here in the past few months – so cheap I wonder how the growers can afford to grow and ship them.

  5. “…crazy politicians saying crazy things” That unfortunately is a problem we all suffer.

  6. It was a great trip, Carol, one that will remain in my memory. We have dolphins and whales around the coast of Scotland but you rarely get close to them, although when a child I remember porpoises regularly playing around boats in the Firth of Clyde. Such a wonderful feeling to see nature close to.

  7. lenathehyena says:

    Lovely Madeira. It’s been many years since I was there but remember vividly walking down the levadas ( I think) , that madeira cake was nothing like our madeira cake and the islanders couldn’t trade their bananas in the EU because they were too small – and delicious.

    • Yes, Lena, Madeira also has a climate which is pretty great all year round.The levadas are the water courses which bring water from the mountains to the towns where less rain falls and in recent years walking the paths alongside the levadas has become very popular. Their Madeira cake is nothing like ours, and is made from honey and spices giving it a taste more like gingerbread. Nor are you supposed to cut it (no idea why not) but instead you tear off a piece. Not sure why their bananas have fallen foul of EU regulations. You see banana plantations dotted around the hills and tucked into gardens. The bananas are slight smaller but, as you say, are deliciously sweet and local. What’s not to like.

  8. carol1945 says:

    This entire conversation has been wonderful, and it reminds me of when I was a child and I had pen pals. I absolutely love hearing specifics from all over the world, and the cauliflower discussion has been one of my favorites!!! Also, the word “gulet” was new to me, and I am collecting boat words now, much as I collected shells as a child. Hmmm…..

    • I hadn’t come across the word ‘gulet’ before either. Presume it’s a Turkish word. But the boat was wonderful. Love boats made from beautiful woods, maybe not very ecologically friendly, but then neither is steel or fibreglass. At least trees can be replanted to grow again. I suspect the folk on the catamaran perhaps had a less bumpy ride, but I just loved it.

      One of the joys of blogging is discovering more about the everyday lives of people in other countries – whether that’s customs, eating habits or the price of cauliflower.

  9. Chris says:

    So glad you were on a smaller boat and not that monstrous cruise ship. I never understood the appeal of those. The word gulet is new to me as well. Lovely to be able to watch the dolphins frolic so close to your boat.

  10. To me those cruise ships are downright ugly from the outside, though probably quite luxurious inside. There was a time when ships were elegant, graceful, meriting being called ‘she’ – days when they used exotic woods like on the gulet. That trip was a time when every sense was engaged and tingling. Not as spectacular as some wildlife encounters, but for me it was memorable. I still only have to think of it and I’m there again.

  11. Your dolphin photos are amazing, especially as you couldn’t see them on your camera screen. What an exciting adventure. 🙂

    • I had hoped to get some of them jumping out the water, but my camera wasn’t fast enough. They weave around so quickly. I was so pleased we had gone on this trip. If another opportunity arises then I’ll be first in the queue.

  12. walter- says:

    A beautiful post. I always affirm that photographs taken in this way, under emotion, under any risk or with great expectations are to have greater meaning and value for the photographer. With one hand taken handrail and the other trying to focus on the dolphins. Congratulations. I really liked reading this entry.

    • Thank you,Walter. I’m sure you’re right about how we feel at the time giving photographs taken greater meaning. Everything about the trip was great. I loved the boat, the sun, the sparkling waves, the warm breeze, the company, and of course the dolphins. It’s the first time I’ve seen them close to, but hope it won’t be the last.

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