31 May 2012

Castelo Novo - A short visit to the medieval Portugal

I can't remember how many times I've already passed nearby Castelo Novo, while cruising the A-23, the highway of Beira Interior, on my way to the Central Massif. Surely more than thirty. And in all those times I've just passed by. Glancing the eyes quickly to the urban landscape surrounded by the natural amphitheatre of the Gardunha mountain, to avoid deadly driving mistakes. And every time the eight-hundred year old granitic village glazed back to me. In a reproachable contempt. As if she was asking if I was such an important person to refuse to stop for a visit, since her presence was so obvious. Or maybe she didn't care at all. And all these conjectures were just a product of my imagination.
Either way, Castelo Novo is far to present in the landscape to be for ever ignored. So one day, about one year ago, on my way back from Serra da Estrela, I stopped by.
Best thing I've ever done in that day, since the village, although small, is wonderful.
A telluric force emerges from the old town, while we walk along the old cobbled paths. It's like she was carved on the mountain instead of built, since her chameleonic granitic shape and colour is so similar to the adjacent mountain.
I was feeling very humble. Here I was in a village officially with 800 years old (her first Foral Chart is supposed to be from 1202), but whose History goes all the way from the Chalcolithic Era to the Brass and Iron Eras until the (somehow) more recent Roman occupation. Her first years of "official" existence are strongly connected to the Knights Templar, religious order to whom she was given by the Portuguese King.
And, according to the historians, the name Castelo Novo ("New Castle") was probably given to her due to the fact that before her formal existence there was... an old castle ("Castelo Velho") in the same place or close by.
The village of about 400 inhabitants doesn't attract a lot of visitants. Witch is good, since you can walk around in a peaceful atmosphere, only interrupted by the occasional dog barking or the (rare) car passing by. Interesting spots are many, since all the village is a living museum. However, the main square with the town hall and the "Pelourinho" (pillory) are mandatory visits as it is the castle, witch can be reached by a short climb from the town centre. From there, you'll have a magnificent vista over the Cova da Beira and beyond that, further to the East, you can see, one hundred kilometres away, the lands of Spain.
Since I have arrived in the peak of the afternoon sun, the light was not the better for photo purposes. However, I have the feeling that in a next opportunity arriving to Castelo Novo before sunrise will hopefully bless the ancient granitic walls with a gentle light from the East at dawn.
Be that as it may, don't ever think about not stopping by, while on route in the A-23, either the light is good or not, and regardless if it is dawn, dusk or simply plain and flat noon time. If the light is not good, just seat down in a "esplanada". Drink a coffee, a tea or a water. Relax and feel the millenary History around you. You will enjoy Castelo Novo. In my case, it was better late than never.
A glimpse of the millenary village of Castelo Novo, with the castle's "Torre de Menagem" (Keep) right behind the granit houses and the clock tower on the picture's right background.
Picture taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC FT-3.
The clock tower and the castle walls in a closer look.
Picture taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC FT-3.
The town "Pelourinho" (Pillory), where in ancient times justice was applied by means of a... good spanking. Something that the vast majority of our worldwide politicians in the present days would deserve. To say the least.
Picture taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC FT-3.
The castle walls facing the granitic mass of the Gardunha mountain.
Picture taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC FT-3.
To the far East, on the horizon, the Kingdom of Spain. On the foreground, the clock tower and the remains of the castle walls.
Picture taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC FT-3.

30 May 2012

From Pico do Areeiro to Pico Ruívo and back - Hiking on the high peaks

A couple of days ago I was standing in front of the Portuguese Air Force Radar Station nº4, located in Pico do Areeiro, questioning myself whether or not I should start, by the third time, the mountain track that would lead me to the island highest peak.
Truth be said, the hike between these two peaks is the closest thing to a masochistic ritual that we can find in the Madeira mountains. So why is it so popular among hikers of all nationalities? Well, basically... the fabulous landscape. Let's see, at first it doesn't seem so intimidating. You start in Pico do Areeiro, at 1818 mts, and about seven kilometres after you end up in Pico Ruívo, at 1862 mts. A calm and relaxed five-mile walk to climb 44 metres in high, right? Wrong! The problem is in-between. Starting close to the radar dome, the path will lead you first, in a gentle descent, to the Ninho da Manta belvedere. There, you can relax a bit, watching the surrounding landscape and trying to spot the famous "Freira da Madeira" (Pterodroma madeira), an endemic bird at the verge of extinction. Following the route, you are now, after a slight ascent, walking over a rocky ridge no wider than the trail itself and with a vertiginous abyss of hundreds of meters on either side. Ever imagined walking over a knife blade? Here is reality overtaking fiction.
At the end of the basalt ridge you start the steep descent to Pico do Gato. And when I mean steep, I really mean steep. No problem with the route, tho. The path is well marked and well kept and on the most exposed parts you have railings on either side. The problem is the steepness. Those stairs seem to never end. Step after step after step. And when you finally reach level ground, some three hundred meters below, at the entrance of the Pico do Gato tunnel, you gaze one last time back, to what you've just done, and say to yourself: "Good God, I'll have to climb this on my way back".
After the Pico do Gato tunnel and a few more stairs, you'll be facing a crossing. Both directions will lead to Pico Ruívo. If you choose the left path, you will reach Pico Ruívo after 3.4 kms and a few tunnels on the way (always bring a flash light with you. In Madeira mountains it's pretty much convenient!), on a mostly leveled path. However, if you choose the right one you'll end up at Pico Ruívo, all right. After almost five kilometres climbing to the Torres ridge and then coming down and once again coming up to your final destination, at 1862 meters. In short: if you are a religious person and you feel that you are square with God, by all means choose the left path. But if you are a sinner, you should punish your body and your soul a little bit more. So, please, choose the right path and add 300 metres of steep ascent followed by the same amount of descent to your penitence.
Since I was feeling pretty much in peace with God and Humanity, I've decided for the left. This path is not as aerial as the one by the Torres ridge. In fact, you are always walking thru a narrow and canyon-like landscape. However, due to the amount of moisture in the air, the flora is quite colourful and although in small quantities (you are in the high mountains) the flowers are everywhere. When you pass the last tunnel you are standing on the path that's coming from the Torres ridge. So you proceed to your left and to the final part of your hike. From here, should be around two more kilometres to the Pico Ruívo, in a gentle ascent gradient, first to the Pico Ruívo mountain hut and then to the peak itself. On the way back, you can choose the tunnels route or you can go straight ahead to the Torres, following the gentle trail that leads you to the Torres ridge. Just don't forget that, as soon as you have peaked it, you'll face the steep descent down to Pico do Gato that you avoided before coming by the tunnels. If you are not on your best shape, your knees will suffer on the steep stairs. I wasn't. So I suffered like hell in that passage. A hike that usually takes about two and a half hours did cost me almost five. Honestly, I was seriously thinking about spending the night in the mountain, if I couldn't manage to reach Pico do Areeiro by daytime. With my legs like gelatin and already after the sunset, I finally managed to drag myself to the car parking lot close to the radar station. That's how fit I was. And that was a serious lesson learnt about despising regular physical training. However, for a normal hiker, there is absolutely no reason stopping you to accomplish the route Pico do Areeiro-Pico Ruívo-Pico do Areeiro in five hours.
The most beautiful mountain walk in Madeira starts here, close to the Radar Station Nº 4, of the Portuguese Air Force. For you tech fanatics, this is supposed to be a long-range tri-dimensional SA Lanza 3D radar, built by INDRA Sistemas SA, from Spain. This system is supposed to increase the vigilance of both the civil and military air space of Madeira and adjacent waters up to a distance of 250 nautical miles.
Pico do Areeiro, as seen from the Torres.
The (in)famous Torres crossing, right after the Pico do Gato tunnel. Right here you decide. If you follow the left path, you'll find several tunnels ahead on a mostly horizontal trail. If you choose the right one... soon afterwards you'll be climbing up to the Torres ridge by a very steep trail and you will be adding an additional 300 meters of ascent and as much in descent to your ride. Your choice.
The left path will lead you to a crossing of the Torres ("Towers") with a few subterranean moments.
Either way the trail is always well marked...
...well kept and mostly well protected, as you can see by the pictures above, taken close to the Torres and when were remaining about 30 minutes to reach Madeira's highest peak.
It's Spring time, so flowers are constant...
...and constant...
...along the way.
The mountain trail passing near the Torres.
After two and a half hours on the trail, you finally see the Pico Ruívo mountain hut appearing over the trees.

A landscape reflection in a Pico Ruívo hut window, late in the afternoon.
The view from the Pico Ruívo is never the same. It varies with the seasons and even during the same day, due to the cloud cover of the sky. At the distance, near the sea, you can see the village of Santana. In the right extreme of the picture there's the Achada do Teixeira parking place.
Pico Ruívo, as seen from the Torres ridge, on my way back.
The quickest way to reach Pico Ruívo is by an easy path departing from Achada do Teixeira (at a height of 1592 meters). This trail, with about three kilometres of extension, will lead you to the Madeira's highest peak in a gentle crossing of the mountain ridge that you can see on the horizon. It's safe, it's fast... but not nearly as much fun as the bigger one.

18 May 2012

Costa Mediterranea in Funchal

The massive presence of the M/V Costa Mediterranea as seen from the Funchal Pilot Station, approaching the Pontinha breakwater, early morning, on the berthing manoeuvre of the past 13 of May.
Picture taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT3.

Pilot Card:
Ships name: M/V Costa Mediterranea
IMO number: 9237345
Type: Cruise ship
LOA: 292.50 mts
Beam: 32.20 mts
Summer displacement: 44920 t
Max draft on manoeuvre: 7.90 mts
Propulsion: Diesel-electric, two stern azipods, 35.2 MW total propulsion power
Pitch: N/A
Rudder: N/A
Bow thruster: 3 (total power: 5730 KW)
Stern Thruster: N/A

15 May 2012

Busy Caniçal

The most recent Portuguese commercial port is located in the small village of Caniçal, in Madeira island. Before its existence, all the cargo operations took place in Funchal. By the time I started working as a Pilot in Madeira the port of Funchal was reaching its limits, with a North Pier crowded with containers and the South breakwater dividing its space between containers, general cargo and tourism. The decision to build a new port was obvious and much needed. And logistically speaking it was a move well done. However, today, almost seven years after Caniçal's full operational condition, this port remains the one, in Madeira, where we make our most "radical" manoeuvres. Three main factor contribute to that more "aggressive" pilotage: the ports narrow manoeuvring basin, its open exposure to the fresh NE winds (the most constant and common in Madeira) and the size of the vessels (they keep getting bigger). Counteracting these negative factors is not easy, however we have manage to do so over the past seven years. How? Well, although the vessels keep getting bigger, their manoeuvrability characteristics are also improving. Nowadays, even in the simplest cargo vessel, an asset as a bow thruster and/or a Becker-type rudder is quite common and so are the variable pitch propellers.
Besides these advances in marine technology that help us to do our job easier every passing year, we can count also with a fleet of four modern tractor tugs that, really, make a difference in most manoeuvres we do. With bollard pulls ranging from 10 to 40 tons, we owe to them and to their professional crews and tug masters, the success of many manoeuvres that, otherwise, would be impossible to accomplish.
Anyway, not all the days in Caniçal are difficult. Far from it. Since the Spring of 2011 until now I've been witness of the best weather in Madeira, in the past seven years. We simply didn´t have any Winter. More than one year of calm weather. And, naturally, that plays a major role on the manoeuvring dynamics in Caniçal.
Particularly in the beginning of the week. Caniçal is at its best on Mondays and on Tuesdays. Busy days, those two. Those are the liner days. When the port receives the feeders that, every week, supply the island (and all the islands worldwide, for that matter!) with all the goods we need to survive: from chocolate to wheat, from yogurts to meat, from fresh vegetables to consumption electronics. All that comes from sea (the cargo transported by air is negligible, even in worldwide numbers). And, like everywhere in the world, in Madeira the working week starts Monday.
So, as soon as our regular visitors are alongside, we are finishing our work and the stevedoring teams are starting theirs. And in a short time of one to two hours many of those goods are already in the market while the island awakes for a new week.

A regular visit to our port, every Monday morning, is the Monte da Guia, from Transinsular. A German construction, from the J.J. Sietas shipyard, the Monte da Guia is, together with her twin sister Monte Brasil, the largest unit owned by this Portuguese shipowner.

Pilot Card:
Ships name: N/M Monte da Guia
IMO number: 9123788
Type: Container carrier
LOA: 127 mts
Beam: 19.40 mts
Summer DWT: 8836 t
Max draft on manoeuvre: 6.50 mts
Propulsion: Diesel engine, MAK 8M, one variable pitch propeller, 6000 KW total propulsion power
Pitch: Left-handed
Rudder: Conventional
Bow thruster: 1 (total power: 500 KW)
Stern Thruster: N

The N/M Monte da Guia, departing from Caniçal on a peaceful Spring afternoon, opening her stern  with the help of the Starboard side forward spring line.

From the Empresa de Navegação Madeirense, the oldest Portuguese (and centenary) shipowner still in activity, here is the container carrier Funchalense 5 leaving the central berthing position of the Caniçal North pier, on her departure to Leixões.
This vessel remains, presently, the most modern unit of the decaying Portuguese merchant fleet.

Pilot Card:
Ships name: N/M Funchalense 5
IMO number: 9388390
Type: Container carrier
LOA: 126.87 mts
Beam: 20.40 mts
Summer DWT: ?
Max draft on manoeuvre: 6.60 mts
Propulsion: Diesel engine, MAK 8M 43C, one variable pitch propeller, 7200 KW total propulsion power
Pitch: Right-handed
Rudder: Becker flap rudder
Bow thruster: 1 (total power: 500 KW)
Stern Thruster: N

Another view of the N/M Funchalense 5, after disembarking the Pilot and making way to Leixões.

The OPDR Cadiz, from the german shipowner OPDR, or Oldenburg-Portugiesische Dampfschiffs-Rhederei , is also a regular in Caniçal, making bi-weekly calls on Tuesdays.  Here she is, alongside by Port, on the South breakwater, several weeks ago.

Pilot Card:
Ships name: M/V OPDR Cadiz
IMO number: 9216858
Type: Container carrier
LOA: 127.95 mts
Beam: 20.60 mts
Summer displacement: 12222 tons
Max draft on manoeuvre: 7.50 mts
Propulsion: Diesel engine, MAK 7M43, 1 variable pitch propeller, 6300 KW total propulsion power
Pitch: Right-handed
Rudder: Conventional
Bow thruster: 1 (total power: 600 KW)
Stern Thruster: N

On the past week, however, she was replaced, due to dry-docking, in her routine call by the M/V Mistral. Bigger than the usual OPDR's we normally receive, the Mistral, with her massive 10000 GT and 135 mts long, imposes respect when alongside in such a small port:

After the cargo operation is done, another departure manoeuvre and off she goes, South bound, to the Canary islands:

Pilot Card:
Ships name: M/V Mistral
IMO number: 9376024
Type: Container carrier
LOA: 134.44 mts
Beam: 22.74 mts
Summer displacement: 15747 tons
Max draft on manoeuvre: 8.80 mts
Propulsion: Diesel engine, 1 variable pitch propeller, 8400 KW total propulsion power
Pitch: Right-handed
Rudder: Conventional
Bow thruster: 1 (total power: 750 KW)
Stern Thruster: 1 (total power: 450 KW)

08 May 2012

A few visits from the past days

The MSC Armonia alongside Pontinha, on the past 4th of May.
Photo by Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT3.
Conversion to B&W and post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

Pilot Card:
Ships name: MSC Armonia
IMO number: 9210141
Type: Cruise vessel
LOA: 251.28 mts
Beam: 28.80 mts
Summer displacement: 29715 t
Max draft on manoeuvre: 6.80 mts
Propulsion: Diesel-electric - Two azipods - 28000 HP total propulsion power
Pitch: N/A
Rudder: N/A
Bow thruster: 2 (total power: 3000 HP)
Stern Thruster: N

The Balmoral was also among us on the same day. Here is she pictured alongside the Pontinha breakwater, berthed by her Starboard side.
Photo by Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT3.

Pilot Card:
Ships name: Balmoral
IMO number: 8506294
Type: Cruise vessel
LOA: 218.05 mts
Beam: 32.30 mts
Summer displacement: 27476.6 t
Max draft on manoeuvre: 7.10 mts
Propulsion: Diesel engines - Two shafts - Two inward turning variable pitch propellers - 20000 HP total propulsion power
Pitch: N/A
Rudder: 2 - Hatlapa independent rudders
Bow thruster: 2 (Power: 2x885 Kw)
Stern Thruster: N

The VaVa was, probably, the last mega-yacht of the season. Here she is, following our Pilot boat Ilhéu do Lido, entering the port of Funchal at 0700 LT, on the 6th of May.
The vessel belongs to Ernesto Bertarelli, an Italian-born billionaire, raised in Switzerland and educated in the States. One of the wealthiest persons on the world, according to Forbes, Bertarelli is the heir of a pharmaceutical empire, founded by his father.
Photo by Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT3.

03 May 2012

The ending of the season

That's it. The Winter cruise season in Madeira, for the present year, is nearly over. In great truth we don't, actually, have a cruise market in Madeira. The fact is we don't have a true cruise market in the Macaronesia islands. At least like we see in the Caribbean, in South America, in Scandinavia and the Baltic basin and in the Mediterranean. In these geographic areas, the cruise ships stay stationed for several months in a row, making round cruises around the same ports of call. In seven years of pilotage in Madeira the only two exceptions to this rule that I have known are the Aida Cruises and the TUI operator. Each one of these companies has the habit of placing one of their vessels in the Madeira waters, in a period that normally goes from the beginning of October until the end of March. So, during the Autumn and Winter season, we are graced with the regular and weekly visits of the Aida Bella (or Blue) and with the Thomson Destiny (or Celebration). Besides that, all the other cruise ships (and they are a lot!) that call our lovely port of Funchal behave, somewhat, like migration birds.
We are, mostly, a passage port. A stop in transit for the many cruise ships that are relocated, twice per year, in the regions that I've said before. So, we, in Funchal, basically, have two periods per year that we can call "cruise season". One starts in the end of September and goes all the way to the beginning of January. During these three and a half months (the end of Summer in the Northern hemisphere) all the cruise ships depart from the Scandinavian and Mediterranean waters and head on to the more warmer markets of the South Atlantic (mostly Brasil) and the Caribbean. The second one is exactly its contrary. Begins at the end of February and goes all the way 'till now, in mid-May. During this time, most of the cruise ships operating in the Atlantic leave the Winter waters of the South hemisphere and return to our Summer season, in European waters.
And almost all of them call Funchal, during their twice-a-year migratory movement. Just to give you an idea of the numbers involved, we normally end up each one of the seasons with 150 cruise ship calls in Funchal. However, the total yearly value is much more than the double of this amount. And I'm not counting with the regulars and with the mega-yachts that call on us normally for bunkers, fresh water and provisions.
These numbers makes us, presently, the busiest port of Portugal for the cruise industry, seconded by Lisboa. Meanwhile, year after year, the number of calls is increasing. And that is good news for our economy, but also for us, Pilots. It's good to see that, in a world dominated by a present economic recession, there are some markets that seem untouched by the crisis. One of them is certainly the cruise industry. The ships keep on arriving to Funchal with (most of the times) nearly full occupation. So you can easily imagine that when we have (and in some days we do) four cruise ships alongside in Funchal, the city's population increases by a number of ten thousand. And that, to say the least, is funny.
A regular visit to Funchal, since her younger days, the M/V Aurora, from P&O, also called us a few days ago, on her crossing to Southampton.

Pilot Card:
Ships name: Aurora
IMO number: 9169524
Type: Cruise vessel
LOA: 272.10 mts
Beam: 32.20 mts
Summer displacement: 43405 t
Max draft on manoeuvre: 8.50 mts
Propulsion: Diesel-electric - Two propeller shafts - two fixed pitch propellers - Inward turning - 40 Mw total propulsion power
Pitch: N/A
Rudder: 2 - Independent
Bow thruster: 3 (total power: 4500 Kw)
Stern Thruster: 1 (total power: 1500 Kw)

Worldwide there are only a hand full of women that have the privilege of being a cruise ship's Captain. I guess you'll have more luck finding a woman as a head of state than in this particular function. This make it, probably, the most elitist job in the world. So imagine my pleasure in finding aboard the Aurora Capt. Sarah Breton as her Captain. I couldn't resist to ask the Staff Captain to takes us a picture. Always safe waters and calm winds to you and all your crew, Captain Breton.

Also a frequent visit to our waters, here's the M/V Aida Bella on arrival to Funchal, coming from Arrecife.

Pilot Card:
Ships name: Aida Bella
IMO number: 9362542
Type: Cruise vessel
LOA: 251.89 mts
Beam: 32.20 mts
Summer displacement: 37375.7 t
Max draft on manoeuvre: 7.20 mts
Propulsion: Diesel-electric - Two propeller shafts - two fixed pitch propellers - Inward turning - 25 Mw total propulsion power
Pitch: N/A
Rudder: 2 - Independent
Bow thruster: 2 (total power: 4600 Kw)
Stern Thruster: 2 (total power: 3000 Kw)

The vessels of Holland-America Line are not the most common presence in Madeira. However, it's always a pleasure to manoeuvre one of them. In a time where the box-shaped design is dominating the world market of ship building, making, therefore, the modern cruise ships resembling more with floating hotels than with actual vessels, the fluid lines of the Holland-America vessels still try to bring to the present the elegant shapes  of the Atlantic liners.
The use of noble materials and finishing and the elegant interiors adds to this nostalgic sense and sends us to the golden age of passenger transportation by sea. Long before the commercial aviation, with their fast, but aseptic service, started to rule the world.
Here's Rotterdam alongside, by Starboard, on the pier nº2 of Pontinha breakwater, after the early morning manoeuvre of the past 26th of April. Passing by is the NRP Schultz Xavier, from the Portuguese Navy.

Pilot Card:
Ships name: Rotterdam
IMO number: 9122552
Type: Cruise vessel
LOA: 237.90 mts
Beam: 32.25 mts
Summer displacement: 33872 t
Max draft on manoeuvre: 8.20 mts
Propulsion: Diesel-electric - Two propeller shafts - two CPP propellers - Inward turning - 37.50 Mw total propulsion power
Pitch: N/A
Rudder: 2 - Independent - Seal Spade
Bow thruster: 2 (total power: 3440 Kw)
Stern Thruster: 2 (total power: 3440 Kw)

The Sea Cloud II is one of the few cruise sailing ships existing in the world. And normally we are graced with her visit twice per year. Here she is, moored by Portside, alongside the key nº2 of the Pontinha breakwater, on the 25th of April.

Pilot Card:
Ships name: Sea Cloud II
IMO number: 9171292
Type: Cruise sailing vessel
LOA: 117 mts
Beam: 16.15 mts
Summer DWT: 379 MT
Max draft on manoeuvre: 5.80 mts
Propulsion: Two main diesel engines connected to a single shaft by gear box - One variable pitch propeller - 2480 HP total propulsion power to the shaft. Sailing rig: three masts, 23 sails, 3000m2 sail area.
Pitch: Left-handed
Rudder: 1 - Conventional
Bow thruster: 1 - 500HP
Stern Thruster: N/A

During the last week of April we received the visit of several mega-yachts in Funchal. These smaller vessels also behave, somehow, like the bigger ones. So they normally spend our Winter in the Caribbean sea and are relocated during our Summer in the Mediterranean. Some of them travel on the deck of large mega-yachts carriers, but many also cross the Atlantic by their own power. However, Madeira is not exactly on the cross-Atlantic route of these vessels. Normally they sail thru a higher latitude, eventually calling Açores ports (namely Horta, in Faial) for mid-Atlantic stops, looking for bunkers, water and provisions.
However, in the last week of April several low pressure systems were complicating the navigation, making the ocean, near the Açores, difficult to navigate with such small crafts. Avoiding rough conditions and more than certain damage, the Skippers choose southern routes, navigating further away from the gale centres.
So, in the space of about a week, the following yachts payed us a visit: the M/Y Audacia (pictured, arriving to Funchal), the M/Y Pink Gin, the M/Y Gladiator, the M/Y Happy Days and the M/Y Seanna.