Selvagens Islands

On our passage from Madeira to the Canary Islands we stopped at the uninhabited natural reserve Selvagens Islands. Two Portuguese islands, about 175 nm south of Madeira, 100 nm north of the Canary Islands and the most southern part of Portugal. They made for a great stopover during our passage, however one can’t just drop anchor there.

You are required to have a permit to even be able to come close to the islands. On Madeira we made sure to arrange the paperwork beforehand. The office of the “Instituto de Florestas e Conservação da Natureza (IFCN)” issues the permits and the paperwork took about 30 min to complete, after which we received our permit by email a few hours later. The marina will be able to help you with the arrangements, however going though another set of hands takes an additional day for all this to happen, since we wanted to depart the next day, we opted to go to the office in person and do it ourselves.

With the paperwork ready, we set sail to go south. After a fantastic 24 h downwind passage, we saw the lighthouse of the bigger island from an impressive 30 nm away! Even though visibility was great, we later learned that the lighthouse has been replaced recently, which might have contributed to being able to see it from this far away.

Upon our arrival, we found a single buoy in the bay marked as anchorage at the bigger one of the two islands. We proceeded to secure the boat to the buoy and call the island rangers. The islands are only manned by two park rangers, a Portuguese family who comes to visit from time to time, and as of recently, a hand full of police men. We were told to come ashore in the afternoon, and we would be able to visit the island then. The rangers take visiting sailors around the island and gladly tell the story of what those islands are all about. The only way to get there is by boat (or helicopter, if need be) so the only visitors to the islands are sailors.

We learned that the only permanent resident there is a dog, who spent his entire life there. The rangers switch shifts every two weeks, when a military boat comes by to drop of the next shift. The police men have only beed added to the group recently, and upon our arrival they checked our passports and paperwork as any marina office in would do. They took us on a hike up to the top of the island, which the dog happily joined. They told us the story of how the island became a nature reserve from previously being privately owned, how they work on various projects, building walkways and benches, counting the local bird species and taking care of the vegetation there. The local bird species, called Cory’s shearwater, are born on the islands and then leave it. Only recently the researchers discovered how those same birds return to the islands a long time after, to lay their eggs next to the same spot where they hatched themselves.

This was a fantastic stopover before continuing south to the Canary Islands, filled with many interesting stories and great views – highly recommended!

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