Freedom Books and Plays


If Otway’s journey to Vigo had been hell with head winds much of the way, his voyage on to Madeira was heaven. From the moment he left Vigo Bay, the NE Trades, almost ideal with Funchal 710 miles to the WSW, bowled him along like a steamer. For three consecutive days, he covered over 100 miles.

On his seventh day out of Vigo, after he had had nearly a fortnight of perfect sunny weather, the clouds came in and the sky was overcast, indicating land was not too far away. The low-lying island of Porto Santo with its spectacular six-mile sandy beach stood in his path 20 miles before Funchal, which was barely a day’s sailing away.

Without the sun he could not calculate the longitude and determine his exact position, so he left his sextant and stopwatch all ready outside. Suddenly the sun appeared for less than half a minute and he was able to take a reading, just 15 miles from where he had expected. His navigation was self-taught. He had practised sextant work with an artificial horizon composed of lubricating oil in a tea tray set on the lawn in front of his house.

* * * * *

Now seriously debilitated, he rested up for a couple of days [in Santa Cruz, Tenerife] and was unable to travel inland. The reporter of the local paper, La Tarde, came on board to interview him. He wrote in the July 31st edition:

“On the 28th inst. the Irish yacht Imogen of four tons anchored in our harbour. Yesterday, at an early hour, she departed for the neighbouring island.

To this new and gallant solitary navigator, we wish much luck in the risky enterprise, which he undertakes with so much enthusiasm.”

Still unaware of the cause of his illness, he left Santa Cruz on Wednesday July 30th at 5.30 a.m. For five hours he drove Imogen into a heavy sea and strong wind. Soaked by the heavy rain, he was relieved when the sun came out at 11 so he could change his clothes, have breakfast and then have a good sleep. At 9 p.m. he arrived at Las Palmas, took in the sails outside the harbour and motored in.

Concerned about his health, he decided that he should not sail on but try and get a boat home to Ireland. Imogen lay steady for the first time since the night in Foynes in the mouth of the Shannon on June 15th.

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