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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
But in my mind I was still watching dolphins.