Windfoil long distance: Crossing Madeira – Porto Santo – Madeira in hydrofoil windsurfing

For centuries, people from Madeira and Porto Santo islands have been connected by the sea that lies between them, with a distance of 25 nautical miles (46 km). That sea has witnessed thousands of trips between the two islands, either by sail boats in the early centuries, and more recently, in faster ships like ferries that are propelled by powerful engines. These sailing trips have transformed Porto Santo to what it is today, and are now part of the history of Madeira’s archipelago.

But those waters, which aren’t always calm, have seen their share of adventures. Everything from small yachts, dinghies, kayaks, to swimmers have covered those miles. Also let’s not forget - windsurfers! The first adventurers did it decades ago, and more recently, in 2004, two windsurfers connected the two islands, windsurfing from Porto Santo to Madeira.

The introduction of hydrofoils in windsurfing has revolutionized our sport. The speeds we can achieve in very light winds, are extraordinary. With 12 knots of wind, it is possible to reach around 20 knots upwind and more than 22 knots downwind. It was now time to consider a new challenge, crossing between the islands, but this time, both ways in a single day on a hydrofoil windsurf board.

Since September 5th, Olympic Sailor João Rodrigues and his friend Sabão have been waiting for ideal weather conditions for a safe attempt to make the same crossing on a hydrofoil windsurfing board! The goal was to depart from Madeira and sail to Porto Santo and then go back, as so many people from these islands have done in the past and are still doing today.

The best conditions for the crossing are winds from 10 to 20 knots, from North/Northwest and waves smaller than 2 meters. The total distance in a straight line is 50 nautical miles (93 km), 25 to each way.

  • Here is a report from João Rodrigues on September 8th:

“These past few days, we've been doing a lot of training on the north coast. The sea has been very rough and difficult for our equipment. If the swell does not get smaller, we will not plan for a crossing.

However, in order to test the boats, the crew and the sailors involved, we will simulate the entire crossing process, leaving Caniçal between 9:00 am and 10:00 am, and staring the crossing towards Porto Santo. The official crossing will only take place when the desired conditions are met, and the waiting period runs from September to October.

I would like to thank you for all the support you have shown, which fills us with motivation and enthusiasm. But we will not take unnecessary risks and yesterday was a very tough day for our morale. The Ocean rules and we respect it!”

  • João Rodrigues finally made it on Monday, September 10th !

Here are some of his words and reaction after the crossing:

“I reached out and touched the pier of Vila Baleira. We made the journey between Caniçal and the pier of Vila Baleira in just over four hours, reaching sometimes speeds close to twenty knots.

Two days earlier, on Saturday, the sea had given us a lesson in humility as we realized our real limitations as it would have been impossible to cross in those conditions.

But, what was initially a joke I wanted to do, was gaining proportions and many people were directly or indirectly associated with the challenge. So we decided to test everything the day after, without the commitment of actually complete the crossing. That's what allowed me to get a good sleep on Sunday night and wake up highly motivated.

So, by 9 o’clock in the morning, we were ready. The conditions couldn’t be better. Would we make the crossing that day? We didn’t say it out loud, but we all secretly believed so.

As soon as we rounded St. Lorenzo, the swell was much smaller than the days before, but still choppy and strong, as usual in that area. We decided to continue. The wind was coming from the north, close to 15 knots.

Then something unexpected happened: The wind disappeared. We were slogging around half an hour. But then came the wind back eventually.

Having the wind stabilized in the north, we decided to go to the pier of Vila Baleira, taking advantage of the smooth water. And so, four hours after we left Caniçal, we arrived at the city pier! We were all in a fantastic mood! We ate and drank and then flew back to Madeira. The crossing was just magic. 18 knots on average, 24 knots top speed. I don't think the board touched the water once.

I didn’t planned to sail through Boqueirão, that narrow passage between the southern end of Madeira Island and the lighthouse of Ponta de São Lourenço. But when I saw Davide sailing the yellow ship in that direction, I decided to take a chance, as It would be a beautiful way to connect the two islands. And so, for the first time, I crossed Boqueirão without feeling the usual turbulence, rough sea, and instability. I "flew" over it all...

156 km later, and many hours at sea, we reached the point of departure, the pier at Caniçal! Waiting for us, my dear family! My lovely Madame Moreau, who lived each day and night as intensely as I did every moment of this crossing. My parents,who are always supportive and present. My nephews and my brothers! It was great to have them all around me!”

This crossing was integrated into the celebrations of the 600 Years of the discovery of Madeira and the Porto Santo islands. Centro Treino Mar and the Portuguese Navy, has provided the logistic and technical support for this attempt.

Event sponsors: Rota dos Cetáceos – Dolphin and Whale Watching – and Santander









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