Fajã Grande, Flores

The joy of being back on European soil with the smell of grass, sounds of birdsong and the welcome of the Portuguese.

This is our anchorage!

Our first day here we were confined to the boat since it was too rough to land the dinghy ashore. During the night, the swell died down and we went ashore in the dinghy with two bags of washing and the ships’ papers. Dora and I headed off to Lajes on the other side of the island to the marina/port office to complete formalities and get the salt out of our clothes. We were mightily pleased not to have our boat in there as the waves were slurping into the tiny marina, causing all the occupants to constantly heave against their mooring lines, their masts waving dangerously close together from side to side. The marina manager said he wished they would come round to the safety of our bay!

The scenery is Scotland, Yorkshire and Devon all rolled into one.

We returned happily to Faja Grande, our route taking in the incredible scenery – towering cliffs, staggeringly thick vegetation everywhere and the crazy display of hydrangeas pictured in the tourist brochures. Along the side of virtually all roads and along the walls dividing the fields are thick hedgerows made up entirely of hydrangeas. And not those horrid pink ones, but the lovely blue ones. It is just stunning. Never seen anything like it.

We are so taken with this beautiful outcrop of Europe. Our village has a small shop with all the outlets of the Thoroughfare in Woodbridge rolled into one tiny place – coffee shop, (H+H), basic food supplies (Coop), kitchen utensils (Kitchen Shop), book swap (Oxfam books), men’s checked shirts (Alexanders), cards and china (Happiness store). It is run by a delightful Portuguese lady who speaks excellent English and holds Court with the locals who all manage to squeeze into the tiny coffee shop on their way to work each morning. And at €1 for a coffee, who can blame them.

Looking back towards the anchorage and the village of Faja Grande on our morning walk.

The anchorage is surrounded by huge cliffs, waterfalls, fields broken up by dry stone walls with grazing cows, coastal paths in each direction, beautiful churches, an excellent restaurant and a cat that accompanied us on our walk this morning.

Dora and her new best friend. The cat was far better behaved than Bingo ever is on a walk!

We would love to stay here and walk even further and explore the rest of the island but we are very very much at the mercy of the elements here. The calm and predictable conditions associated with the Azores high are notable in their absence. Instead we have a series of depressions forming and migrating over the top of us with their paths and characteristics changing on a daily basis. This makes for very difficult forecasting and we are finding anything more than 24 hours out cannot be relied on. Fortunately we have good communications and we check the new forecast at 7am and 7pm each day and plan our next 24 hours on that basis. We keep our fingers crossed the wind keeps out of the west, but in the meantime we shall be grateful for our safe anchorage, staggeringly beautiful views and the vast stash of tins and packets of food we have on board. And the local vinho verde at €8 a bottle.

Atlantic crossed. We are officially back in Europe. Hooray!

Position: 34° 28’N. 031° 26’W

Ok, we are in the most westerly anchorage off the coast of Flores, in turn the most westerly island of the Azores. But I feel like I’ve crossed an ocean. Again.

I’m always remiss about an arrival write up as we are usually too tired and then caught up with formalities of customs etc. So I’m writing this at 0215 ships time which is actually 0515 here. We are killing time awaiting the dawn so we can safely find our anchorage. We have been zig zagging our way into land and out to sea again for a couple of miles, turn around and start again. We have no sails up, just our rigging and the wind on the beam. We have locked the wheel and rigged like this we slip along at just over a knot. I can very clearly see he lights of the village ashore. Better still is the smell of land. Every island smells different, some smell of sun on hot rocks and pine (St Kitts was positively Mediterranean in aroma), Some distinctly of vegetation (Martinique smelt more like a Parisian sewer than a tropical paradise- but that’s the swamp for you). Flores smells of hay and very faintly of animals. I know we will be able to get fresh milk here. If you ask me again tomorrow though I probably couldn’t smell anything. Right now it’s heavenly.

Here we are, on the left, as I know you can all identify now. I took this photo the day after we arrived – seems my sense of smell was spot on from 3 miles off!

The sky is lightening almost imperceptibly. Now the sea around me is dark grey not black. I can see the horizon and the top of the island. The sky is made up of distinct clouds, rather than just a black mass. What a treat to see dawn without needing to hurry off somewhere

The Western most anchorage…

…in Europe. We’ve reached the Azores and have just anchored in the bay at Faja Grande on the West coast of Flores. A bit of a W swell is rolling in so we’ll probably not be going ashore today but we’re delighted to have a some peace and quiet after a full on passage across from Bermuda (1690M logged, ten and a half days). Here’s a clip of the Bay, more soon after some zzzzz…

Nearly there

Position: 39° 04’N 031° 49’W
Course. 065
Wind. S 18-23knots
Daily run: 162 miles

The train ride continues unchecked and we are closing in on Flores where we expect to arrive around midnight tonight. There is no chance of anchoring on this unknown coast in the dark so we will find shelter in the Lee of the island and sail up and down until it gets light. Hopefully there will be a suitable anchorage somewhere – in my mind the Azores is all calm waters and great high pressure systems producing delightful settled conditions. But not for our arrival – we have SE winds force 4-5, occasionally 6. Marvellous.

No voyage is complete without its dramas, big and small. Last night we had one of each. Firstly no fresh water coming out of the taps, which is odd as we’ve used very little. We have a tank on either side of the boat, connected by a pipe. We’ve been heeling over on one tack for days on end so the tank to windward is empty and the pump drawing air. Not a problem that won’t rebalance on our arrival – bottled water for tea in the meantime. Luxury!

The other drama, was less straight forward. Around 2300 the engine starter battery alarm (very high pitched. Very persistent. Ignore at your peril) started to go off, suggesting the battery was worryingly low. Luckily the engine started and we had a really good look at the battery level and all seemed normal. Running the engine for an hour didn’t do anything to stop the alarm though from
Coming back on  (once engine off again) so we opened up the back of the control panel to reveal multicoloured spaghetti aplenty and Tom had a good poke around. It reminded me of those bomb disposal scenes in action movies when they have to snip the right wire. After some deliberation Tom pulled hard on one connection and finally there was peace. What was interesting about the incident was the degree of impairment one has after 10 days with no more than 2.5 hours sleep at a time. We deal with these puzzles, yes, but it takes time and I know my own brain is functioning way below capacity. I’m all in favour of trouble shooting at very slow speeds (if possible of course) because of this.

We are longing to find some respite and rest in the shelter of Flores, but also prepared for it simply not being tenable, due to wind and/or swell. We won’t actually know until we poke our nose into each anchorage. Wish us luck!
Continue reading “Nearly there”

Holding on!

Position: 37.00N 042.30W
Day’s Run: 190M
Speed: 8kts
Course: 080T
Wind: SSW, 20-23kts

We’re tearing along at eight knots under genoa and mizzen with a mostly blue sky above us.

Beam reaching in a blow is hard work, on deck you’re constantly dodging the regular showers of spray sweeping downwind as the bow head-butts the incoming wave. Occasionally a cry of surprise and disgust rings out signalling someone has been too slow to get their head down. Below one has to be very careful moving about as the boat violently pitches and rolls her way East. Reading in bed is the safest off watch activity.

Yesterday we recorded our best day’s run yet, 190M noon to noon but there’s no time to feel smug as a low is forming S of us that will bring E winds from Thursday so we’re racing to reach Flores before then. To complicate the picture, a front is moving slowly across our path threatening a return of the torrential rain that characterised the first three days of this passage – so there’s plenty for the navigator to ruminate on. As our original destination on Flores is untenable in an E wind we’re now hoping to find shelter on the other side of the island in the bay of Faja Grande Europe’s most Westerly village.

Fingers crossed we get in before head winds, absurd rain or both catch up with us!

Bye bye Sargassum. Hello jelly fish

Position: 36° 40’N 046° 25’W
Wind. SW 15knots
Course: 100
Daily run: 159 miles

Sargassum is the thick orange weed that has been ever present since about the half way point on our crossing from the Canaries to the Caribbean. It floats about in great lumps and often gets blown into anchorages harbouring numerous jellies underneath to sting the unwary. That part of the ocean is full of enormous swathes of the stuff. Unlike most seaweed it isn’t initially attached to land. Apparently it caused much sadness in Columbus’s early voyages as the European crew naturally assumed its appearance meant that land was near where in fact they must have been some weeks off. Personally I’m not sorry to see the back of it – jelly fish stinger harbour, tangler of the tow generator, and just the fact that it’s a most unappealing shade of orange.

In its place we’ve been entertained by the most extraordinary flotilla of beautiful jelly fish. Dora (our natural history advisor) tells me they are Portuguese men of war. They are certainly very beautiful. They look like little Japanese rice paper dumplings, with a Cornish pasty style crimping along the top in a stunning pink colour, particularly lovely at sunset. This dumpling is kept anchored by a bulbous deep blue submarine. I’m guessing they are only 20 Cm long and incredibly delicate looking. Yet we see them get flattened by wind and wave and then that beautiful pink pasty edge comes bobbing upright once more. It’s quite mesmerising to watch. They seem to just drift about on the waves at the mercy of the elements, but in huge numbers. If anyone would like to try and add a picture of these beauties and confirm (or correct) Dora’s classification we’d be delighted to see that when we get to the Azores

Farewell Bermuda

We are reluctantly tearing ourselves away from this beautiful island. We have a good forecast for the next three days or so and are anxious to use the promised strong winds to get off to a good start, knowing they are likely to become fickle or even non existent as we approach the Azores high.

This picture was taken by the most lovely dock master at Pier 41 marina in Dockyard as we steamed out at 7.30am.

A quick visit to Customs back in St George’s and then we will head East for the first time, starting our homeward journey. Quite exciting!

Welcome to Bermuda

About 30 miles short of Bermuda, yachts are required to call up Bermuda Radio and advise them of their approach. Bermuda radio is not a broadcast station that you tune into but, given the island’s exceptionally hazardous navigational situation, the early warning piloting system/welcoming committee. Bermuda is a rocky outcrop surrounded by the most enormous fringing reef, much of which remains uncharted because it is simply too difficult to survey. I’m told there are more than 300 wrecks off the coast of Bermuda, which isn’t surprising. Fortunately now there is very little excuse for adding to that number.

We had a delightful chat with the Bermuda Radio night shift who took an inventory of our safety equipment, checked we were properly charted, weren’t in need of any medical assistance and weren’t planning on cutting any corners on our approach. We were asked to stand by on listening on Channel 16 on the VHF conveniently situated next to our passage bunk where I’d hoped to sneak a last hour’s kip in before our final approach. My dozing was interrupted by Bermuda Radio gently discussing the pilot arrangements with the two cruise ships that were due to arrive around the same time as us, then giving them instructions on how long to leave their canapés in the oven and tips on the best hikes on the island (I think the latter two exchanges, though very vivid at the time, were my own lapses into unconsciousness but it would have been the kind of helpful information he might well have supplied).

This is the entrance channel to St George’s harbour, the Town Cut. I took this picture from the shore and you can see how narrow it is. Apparently the cruise ships used to come in this way before they got so big!

We found our way safely into St George’s harbour and once we had been so very warmly welcomed by immigration (who insisted we all came into the office so she could shake all our hands), we found a lovely spot to anchor in this immense calm anchorage. We breathed a sigh of relief, and turned in for some sleep, as the wind slowly turned north and piped up to 20 knots. There is no deeper sleep than that on a sound anchor when you’ve dodged a bullet.

Gate’s Fort at the entrance to the town cut. Looking East.

The nurturing welcome certainly boded well and we found this extended to all those we met on shore. Bermuda is very different from the Caribbean. For a start it is geographically a long way away, climatically much cooler, economically more sophisticated and very densely populated. The people, a melting pot of all professions, heavily influenced by Bermuda’s role as a trading nation, yet very much with their own identity. This does not feel like an outpost of its large US neighbour or its historical mother, Britain.

St George’s was the old capital and many of the buildings date back to its early days, warehouses, inns and houses. Most beautifully preserved and painted in the customary pastel colours with the stepped roofs painted white. The brilliant white roofs are not just for decorative effect. There is no natural ground source of drinking water on Bermuda. Each house must collect its own rainwater from the roof which feeds into a tank either at ground level or on newer houses in the basement from where it is pumped inside. The lime put on the roof also acts to purify the water. If you run out of water, you can order a delivery from the government run desalination plant, but it is costly.

St George’s brightly coloured buildings with their white roofs.

We found ourselves at home here more quickly than most islands. Taking advantage of really clean loos in the town square with hooks on the back of the door for your bag (first time we’ve encountered such a civilised touch since we left home!) and the town’s free WiFi, which finds all the sailors sitting on iPads first thing in the morning, checking the weather. For this is the great staging post for those boats returning from the Caribbean to Europe or back up to the New England ports. There are around 30+ boats waiting for a window in the weather so they can set off for the Azores, from where some will head south to the Mediterranean and the rest north to France, the UK or Scandinavia.

It’s a very easy island to explore with the network of pink buses that connect the various parishes. We visited the capital Hamilton on Bermuda Day and caught the end of the Bermuda half marathon and the start of the Bermuda Day Parade. Another outing took in the Aquarium and the old railway track that has been turned into a long distance walking path from where you are accompanied by the incredible turquoise water that the fringing reef supplies. I’ll let the girls fill you in more……

Daisy and Dora contemplating the blue.

All in all, we all loved Bermuda and so glad we made it more than just a stopover on our way back East.

Plodding along!

Position: 22.48N 063.21W
Day’s Run: 134M
Course: 025M
Boat Speed: 5kts

We had to start motoring just before noon yesterday when the wind dropped to just 2kts. We chugged away until just after supper when the wind piped up to 5-6kts from the SE and we were able to sail again, albeit damn slowly. Leaving the steady, strong trade winds behind after three months we’re skirting round the Azores/Bermuda high in unstable conditions so the wind (when there is any) is swinging between E and S and in strength from 2-3 to 10-12knots. It’s all making for pretty slow progress. Still, with luck, we’ll be half way to Bermuda sometime tomorrow afternoon and thats always good for morale.

Settling back in to life on the ocean waves