30 September 2008

Funchal 500 Regatta reaches Madeira

The Funchal 500 Tall Ships' Regatta, organised by Sail Training International (STI), is coming to its end, three days earlier than expected.

Having been scheduled to arrive at Funchal, the capital of Madeira, on October 2nd, good winds have sped up the fleet's progress in the second race (from Ílhavo/Port of Aveiro to Funchal) and so most of the tall ships and vessels have meanwhile crossed the finishing line near the island.

The regatta was started on the 13th off the English port of Falmouth (see my entry of September 13th) and the first race was set from the south-west coast of England to Ílhavo and the Port of Aveiro in northern Portugal, where the fleet arrived before and on the 20th.

After the usual days of rest, recreation and celebrations in port, they left for the second race to Funchal. But a lack of wind delayed the start several times and the fleet had to motor towards their destination for a while, until eventually a good breeze came up and made it a true sailing event again. (see my entry of September 25th)

As I write this, eight vessels are already in the port of Funchal. They are the class A vessels Kaliakra (Bulgaria), Pogoria (Poland) and Shabab Oman (Oman), accompanied by five Class B vessels.

Four other of the large class A vessels - Creoula (Portugal), Cuauhtemoc (Mexico), Mir and Sedov (both Russia) - have finished the race, but not yet entered the port. They stayed outside at anchor overnight and will be arriving in Funchal this morning in half-hourly intervals between 0800 and 1000 hrs. Other vessels are expected in port today as well, but their arrival times have not been specified yet.

Yesterday evening the Gedania (Poland) and Astrid (Netherlands) had not yet crossed the finishing line, but were well under way towards Madeira.

In the port and city of Funchal the preparations for the shore celebrations are in full swing. The city's organising team has been working hard to be ready for the earlier than expected arrival of the fleet, and they have already arranged an island tour for the crews of the Class B vessels.

Madeira is celebrating this year the 500th anniversary of Funchal's elevation to city status by King Manuel I of Portugal in 1508. It was founded in 1421 as an initially small settlement by the explorer and sea captain João Gonçalves Zarco.

The Madeira archipelago - some 650 km west of the North African coast and some 955 km south-west of Portugal's mainland - is considered to be the first new discovery of the Portuguese main exploratory period, initiated by Prince Henry the Navigator (right). It was discovered - almost by accident after a heavy storm - by Portuguese sailors under the command of João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira between 1418 and 1420.

Funchal's celebrations have been going on already throughout the whole year, but the Funchal 500 Tall Ships' Regatta is certainly the high point of the festivities. The arrival of the fleet will start the Festival do Mar 2008, and even though I am not there now myself, I know that the tall ships' crews will enjoy the experience, participate in their usual great style and bring with them the true spirit of the sea, which is still the same today as it has been in the ships and vessels Prince Henry sent out to explore the world in the early 15th century.

The Emerald Islander

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