Azores High (points). I cannot recall any lows!

Forgive complete silence over the past few weeks. After several days at anchor in Horta harbour, it looked as if the marina was emptying out a little, so Tom visited the harbour office with Dora in tow, engaging her best “cow eyes” which secured us a berth in the marina to ourselves on a finger pontoon, so we’ve been able to come and go as we please and have running water and electricity on tap. We’ve taken advantage of this luxury and had an impromptu summer holiday.

Faial is one of a trio of islands (the others being Sao Jorge and Pico) within easy reach of each other by subsidised ferry and we’ve been doing some exploring. The islands are all volcanic in origin – some more obviously so than others.

Perhaps my favourite of all our pictures of ever present Pico, poking its head out of the clouds.

Pico is dominated by an enormous cone volcano – the highest mountain in Portugal – with solidified lava flows going right down to the sea. The enterprising settlers in the 15th century began growing wine on PIco and this required some innovative methods of cultivation due to the local environment. The rocks left by the old lava flows were broken up and used to build stone enclosures within which they planted individual vines, with soil imported from Faial across the channel. The vines are now a UNESCO world heritage site, dominating the landscape and producing deliciously drinkable wine.

A sample of the lava enclosures for vines on Pico. Faial in the background.

Faiail has a central but less obvious volcano, with an enormous caldera inside. As a change from the family Sunday hike up a volcano, we walked around the rim of this one. To liven it up the girls went one way and Tom and I the other and had a race to see who would get round the 7km rim first. Age triumphed on that one.

Caldera walk on Faial. Fortunately that wasn’t the last time we saw the children.

At the western end of Faial there is a far more dramatic reminder of the origins of the islands. In 1958, an eruption occurred to the west of the existing lighthouse on the point. This continued spewing ash and lava for some 18 months or so, and there remains a very lunar landscape on the western tip with the unique sight of a lighthouse a good few miles in from the sea. These eruptions left a lot of people displaced and the US government issued some 2000 plus visas to the Azoreans and their families which resulted in a significant out flow of people. It also means that whilst getting lost in fairly remote villages, we end up redirected on our way in perfect American English by a returned resident, and we found English very widely spoken across the islands. I expect that loss of so many young families actually made viability of island life quite precarious at the time, though Faiail has a young and busy buzz to it nowadays in the height of summer.

Old lighthouse on the western tip of Faial. All the land beyond appeared in the late 1950s.

Dora and I inspecting one of a number of natural swimming pools wondering just how cold it would be.

Sao Jorge is definitely less populated but dairy farming, tourism and keeping the hedgerows looking beautiful seem to provide sufficient employment for the population. Daisy and I had a mini break on Sao Jorge, where she gamely joined me on some quite extreme walking on the exceptionally steep north coast. We saw wild orange trees and met an old lady who lived in an isolated one room hut by the sea with an Alsatian for company and a well kept visitors book. And had four different home made jams for breakfast at our simple but perfect hotel!

It’s quite hard to tell just how high up we were in the first picture unless you zoom in. Having made it down to the coast Daisy gamely kept smiling all the way back up again!

The Azores has accents of Scotland, Devon and Cornwall to its landscape with some unique features of its own. The grass grows richly, the roads are well maintained and virtually empty of traffic and the hedgerows are made up of blue hydrangeas. I could spend months here very happily exploring all the hiking trails and continuing to sample the local jams (fig, pineapple, orange, strawberry), pastries and vegetable soups, staying in restored farm buildings built from volcanic rock. But I will have to save that for another time, as the pages in the calendar keep turning and it is time to be moving on.

Cherubino’s crew looking East, checking out what lies ahead.

Tomorrow we set sail for La Coruna in Galicia, a week’s sail from here, if the winds are favourable. We are hopeful of a peaceful and uneventful voyage for what will be our last ocean (as opposed to sea) passage.

So lovely is Horta that many sailors decide to put down more permanent roots here.

Some interesting facts I learnt in Horta

The other day, my mum and I went to the Horta museum on the island of Faial in the Azores. The museum was about the history of Horta including the building of the port. Horta is the main port in the Azores with a marina, fuel, water and a very sheltered anchorage it is a great place to stock up on the necessities. The Horta museum had an exhibition about a man who’s name I can’t remember who creates the most amazing sculptures out of the wood inside of the fig tree. The wood is very light and delicate so when he was creating his art he had to tie a cloth around his mouth so his breath wouldn’t break the sculptures.

Examples of fig tree carvings.

There was another exhibit about the pipes under the sea which where used to relay morse code from England to India stopping of at islands where the code would be tapped down another pipe on its journey to reach its final destination. This was a good and fast way to send messages as mail could take up to 6 weeks. Dashes and dots took the same speed to travel so it gave a clear morsecode message to the people who needed the information.

The process of writing was long as you had to first perfect the message then write it into morse code on a thin strip of paper after that they had to punch in the holes the holes are read by electro magnetic feelers. Which would read the message and give a clear answer. And that is how important long distance messages were transported I hope you have found this blog post interesting. Dora

Making your mark

After a lovely stay on Flores we sailed 130M SSE to Horta, the port of Faial in the central group of the Azores. One of the traditions for yachts anchored or moored in the harbour of Horta is to paint a small plaque on the sea wall.

Daisy took charge on our behalf and here’s what she came up with.

Horta is dominated by the 2400m peak of neighbouring island Pico’s volcano which looms over us, sometimes lost in cloud but always reappearing huge and imposing.

In a maths lesson we estimated that from the top of Pico the horizon would be 100M away and you’d be surveying over 30,000 square miles of sea, more than the area of the island of Ireland- as well as all the islands in the central group – in the most unlikely event of the atmosphere being clear enough to see 100M!

We’ve been walking a lot around the many calderas (old volcano cones) on Faial, here we are on a small one near the port.

We thought its inside would make a good anchorage in settled weather.

But the swell breaking on the outside was a bit scary!

We also went for a big walk on Saturday, here’s a clip of Faial’s main caldera at the top of the island – it’s only about 1000m high so a tiddler compared to Pico but big enough to be a 7km walk round the rim.

Today we’re all hard at work boat cleaning, polishing the bright work. More soon, Dora & Daddy

Farewell Flores. Hello Horta.

We had an incredible walk up the west coast of Flores on Wednesday morning, in a rare day of glorious sunshine. We finished up in Faja Grande, vowed to return one day, took a taxi back to the boat in Lajes (I personally vowed not to return to that most uncomfortable of anchorages), dinghy aboard, anchor up and off we went in the direction of Faial.

Farewell beautiful Flores. Tom is letting out the electric fish (the tow generator) as we settle down for a swift passage to Faial.

Arrived at the port of Horta (mandatory and iconic stopover for yachts crossing the Atlantic Europe bound) with winds gusting 28 knots, but found a sheltered spot at anchor off the marina. The water in here is flat calm which we haven’t had since Bermuda. It is heavenly. More on this interesting island once we have had a chance to explore.

Our view from Horta harbour. Commercial dock in the foreground with the extraordinary peak of nearby Pico poking through the clouds.

Thoughts on Whales by Dora

Yesterday, we all went to a whaling museum in Santa Cruz, Flores. Where we found out many interesting facts about whales and whaling. Whaling, was a rare event as t wasn’t very often that the people on look out spotted a whale. To let the whole island know a whale had been spotted someone near the look out tower would set off a rocket as if to say ‘Let the hunt begin!’. The whalers would gather in Lajes and drag their whaling boats out of the shed and into the water each boat had 7 oars, 6 paddles, a sail and a mast ( the mast was detachable.) they would row to where the whales had been spotted and wait. When they spotted a whale they would host the sails for a faster and quieter approach then the harpooner would throw his harpoon and began to stab the whale. Eventually, the whale would die and they’d drag it back to shore collect what they needed sell it and wait for the next whale hunt. I found the museum rather depressing as we watched a video from 1974 of a whale hunt. I found it hard to watch them kill an innocent whale and then just chop it up and sell it.

After the whaling museum, we slowly walked to an amazing play ground with a zip wire we played around for a while. After that, we went out to lunch in another museum cafeteria. I had a lovely Portuguese soup and a cheese toastie Daisy and Mummy had a tuna baguette and Daddy had a ham and cheese toastie. Sadly, we had to leave early as Daddy’s hay fever was coming back. We had a lovely day in Santa Cruz. We will keep you updated. Dora.

Waterfalls and Bays

Here’s a quick clip of one of the many waterfalls that plunge down the sides of the cliffs surrounding our anchorage at Faja Grande. Good spot for a long overdue hair wash!

And here are Daisy and Dora scrambling about below it…

Finally, a picture of Cherubino riding to her anchor in the bay.

This really is the most enchanting spot! More soon, T.

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…