Madeira island, Portugal

After the West Africa deployment, my ship’s crew had a “Rest and Relaxation” port visit in late April 2022 to celebrate the end of a successful mission. It’s essentially a time when the crew can decompress after months of sailing, conducting anti-piracy operations with our allies, and humanitarian work, so this downtime was well deserved. This was my second time on the island, seeing as it was my second Operation Projection West Africa (my first being back in 2018). There were some marked differences, this time around I stopped drinking alcohol. I get frequent questions from people asking if it’s even possible to be a sailor and not drink. Well, if anyone’s wondering… the answer is yes, and I’m living proof that it can be accomplished.

The decision to be sober stemmed from a desire to live the healthiest life I can live. I was never as much of a party animal as some of my fellow sailors, so I never had the issue of substance dependence. However, I do feel like many other adults, I drank to forget about my problems. But I think that once you reach a certain age, you have to decide what kind of person you want to be and take steps to become the ideal person you envision.

I spent most of this year’s Africa deployment working out when I wasn’t involved in humanitarian efforts or anti-piracy training exercises, writing my feelings down in my journal and reading stoic philosophy books (by Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus) to keep a good head on my shoulders. In short, I developed healthier coping mechanisms compared to previous deployments. The last time I went to Madeira it was kind of a waste of time… I spent most of my first trip there partying around and excessively drinking with other sailors. This time around, I actually did get to enjoy the island properly.

Upon entering Madeira Island, there were a pair of uninhabited islands just off the main island’s coast.

I ended up splitting rent at an Air BNB villa with some of the other guys in my Department. We also rented a car and drove around from place to place. This is something I highly recommend! The drive around the island is especially beautiful, filled with curvy roads, mountains, and tunnels. At one point, I drove at night after dropping a fellow shipmate off onboard ship because they had duty watch (it’s a 24-hour security shift). I love long drives… I think I got it from my father’s side of the family seeing as, until he got older, he also loved long drives. Going around the island at night I was practically the only one on the road. Those mountains, curves, and tunnels seemed all the more romantic. I even saw a pack of dogs on my drive back to the villa, just sort of hanging out along the side of the highway.

During the day, a group of us drove up to an observatory up the mountains. We were above the clouds, it was almost as if you could touch them. We hiked along trails and enjoyed the unique landscape of the island as well.

Pico do Arieiro on Madeira Island, Portugal. There is an Observatory worth seeing if you’re ever here.
There are also several trails and national parks worth hiking.

Beyond the stunning landscape, the cuisine is also amazing. There’s a custard tart famous in Portugal called “pastel de nata” that goes well with espresso or americano in the morning. You can actually find them in Portuguese-Towns in major cities in Canada like Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, etc. But it certainly tastes more authentic eating the delicious treat in its home country. If you’re like me and have a sweet tooth, there are plenty of bakeries that sell Natas and I recommend buying these pastries from there.

Another specialty dish is a beef skewer called “Espetada Madeira”. And if you are into alcohol, there’s a sweet wine called “Madeira Wine” you can get for yourself, or as a souvenir for a friend. Seafood is also great here, which comes as no surprise considering Madeira is an island. I had the squid and it was cooked just right, soft and not rubbery.

If you’re feeling more touristy, the famous footballer Cristiano Ronaldo is from the island and he has a museum along the waterfront of Funchal city that’s worth checking out. There’s also a cable car you can take to a peak that overlooks Funchal with a cafe at the top. And there are plenty of shops, restaurants, and clubs around if you’re more of a city person. But I still encourage you to venture out and explore as much of the island as you can while you’re there.

Pastel de Nata served with Espresso, you can find these pastries all around Madeira island and on the mainland!
Espetada Madeira served with a potato-based side at a restaurant in Funchal, Madeira.

I firmly believe that the people you go on a trip with matter just as much as the actual trip itself. Sailing with a crew for months on end, you’re with them 24/7. Some of them became my family. To this day, despite currently making my transition out of the military into the private sector, I still keep in touch with the men and women I’ve had the honour of sailing around the world with. They’re friendships I know I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. What’s over the horizon? I don’t think it’s anyone’s right to know. But I’m looking forward to my next adventure.

If you ever visit Madeira, please have a pastel de nata for me! Feel free to send me a picture of it too by visiting the contact section of this blog website. Hope you have a good time and the info in this post helped a bit!

A sunset view from the villa we rented in Maderia.

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