Archive for July, 2011

So long Sao Miguel

Posted in Fun, Photographs, Sailing, the Azores, Walking with tags , , on July 31, 2011 by maidofmettle

Oops, thought I’d posted this but it was only saved as a draft, so now to really confuse the order of things by slotting it in where it should have been. Mind you, no-one spotted me saying we’d left off hearing about the Azores on Sao Miguel rather than Terceira..

I seem to have managed to write several blog entries about the island without really ever saying much about Ponta Delgada, where I’d been staying for most of the time.

The island and the Azores were in fact originally governed from Vila Franca do Campo, where I’d spent the night at anchor, but various disputes prompted the residents of Ponta Delgada to make a secret appeal to the Portuguese King to grant it it’s own village status, and so some degree of independence, in 1507. From there it went from strength to strength, becoming the capital of Sao Miguel after Vila Franca was devastated by an earthquake, and growing to become the 3rd largest town in Portugal in the nineteenth century.

Today it’s easily the biggest city in the Azores – in fact more people live here than on most of the other islands. It’s home to about 45,000 people (similar to Canterbury), the main campus of the University of the Azores, and nearly half the businesses in the islands. Needless to say, it was quite a big change arriving there from Santa Maria and the anchorage off the Ilheu de Vila.

The arches of the ‘Portas da Cidade’ gateway are the main icon of the city, and make quite a first impression having crossed the road from the harbour.

Here they are again at night-time.

There are inlaid pavements in much of the city centre, and windows and doors are commonly edged with the same volcanic rock, creating a striking black-and-white effect.

Being a big harbour, it’s got plenty of places to buy exciting things for boats. I was actually rather excited that the prices for courtesy flags were about half what they were in Madeira, as my Portuguese one had become more of a national insult half-flag.

I’d been looking around for somewhere to buy red fabric to patch it for ages, but without success, so I decided I’d better splash out and get a new one, and for good measure an Azorean one to go with it.

The food market wasn’t bad either, though for me it was eclipsed by the excitement of the Rei dos Queijos next door. The King of Cheeses might have a small shop, but it’s well stocked in quantity

and in quality – this was tangy but not too sharp or sour, really delicious.

I also got a box of these Queijadas da Vila, made exclusively in Vila Franca do Campo. This was somewhat ironic as I’d assumed from the name that they were small cheeses until I was offered one on a French boat in Santa Maria. A surprise, but no disappointment.

All this talk of food seems to have got me some way away from what I was talking about…

There are some very nice parks just north of the centre of Ponta Delgada – these photos were taken in the Parque Jose do Canto, which has a wide selection of local and foreign plants

including some very large bamboo

and a rainbow, accompanied by a small waterfall.

As well as a park Senhor do Canto also has a street named after him – I mention this partly to illustrate the fact that nearly every street in the city seems to have been renamed at some point, presumably creating a lot of confusion!

Between the old name and the mini-biography of the person honoured, they may be the most verbose street signs I’ve ever seen, but at least they’re rather attractive.

There is another fortuitous link from this though – Jose do Canto pioneered the introduction of many new agricultural practices and crops to the island, including the introduction of tea. Along with pineapples this remains one of the most famous crops grown here – in fact the two tea plantations on Sao Miguel are the only ones in Europe.

So I went to the north coast to take a look. Both plantations are open to the public, but the Porto Formoso one appeared easier to get to by bus than the larger establishment at Gorreana.

It still nearly went a bit wrong as the bus surprisingly went along the road above the village rather than through it – in fact straight past the tea plantation but since I wasn’t expecting that it was some way to the next stop where I could get out! Thankfully not too far though – below you can see some of the tea crop in the foreground and the village of Porto Formoso below.

Tea was first grown here in the late eighteenth century on a very small scale, which increased a hundred years or so late when the local agricultural association brought experts from China to help improve the local crop.

As well as the history of the plantation there’s a little museum displaying a selection of the machinery used to dry, separate and bag the tea.
And then there’s a tasting room, with a lovely view over the fields to the coast, and some very nice refreshments.

And now finally the promised move on – after a very nice week on Sao Miguel I planned to head around 90 miles west-north-west to Terceira, very appropriately my third landfall in the Azores, as it’s named for being the third island to have been ‘discovered’ by the Portuguese.

It was a nice change to be able to leave Ponta Delgada with no likely prospect of running out of wind for an extended period, save a possible wind shadow of the Caldeira de Sete Cidades. That did happen, but I was able to motor-sail for about half an hour and then got a nice wind again. And there was a good distraction, with dolphins everywhere!

I started off sailing to windward, aiming for Praia da Vitoria on the east coast of the island, where there’s a sheltered anchorage and a very cheap marina. The island’s capital of Angra do Heroismo on the south coast was the backup option.

Maid was sailing very well through most of the day and overnight, but early the next morning I decided Angra was going to be the better option. Being able to steer slightly further away from where the wind was coming from made for a very quick sail the rest of the way, though I did lose all sight of the island at one point, as it disappeared entirely within a cloud.

Happily it reappeared again well before I approached the coast near Angra, and I had a nice view of the coast while I ate lunch.

Entry went well, though the water in the harbour was so clear I was a bit nervous about some of the big rocks visible on the bottom! None were a problem though, and I was soon moored up, tucked away in the very sheltered far end of the harbour.

First impressions were very good – after all, the centre of Angra is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The harbour is dominated by the beautiful Church of Misericordia.

The area defined by UNESCO also includes Monte Brasil, the remains of a volcanic crater that shelters the harbour from the west. It was a very nice afternoon, so I decided to go for a walk up to the top. I started off along the road, looking back north towards the city on my left…

…and then went up a rather steeper footpath…

….until I could see the sea to the south as well.

It looks remote, but on a Sunday afternoon it’s actually picnic and barbecue central – a really nice atmosphere with lots of families gathered around the numerous picnic tables.

The top is around 200m high, plenty enough to look back down over Angra, and beyond to the woods and farmland in the hills beyond.

So my second impressions of this third island were definitely good as well…

The Divino Espirito Santo in Ponta Delgada

Posted in Fun, Photographs, the Azores with tags , , on July 30, 2011 by maidofmettle

Finally finished! I’ve had trouble writing this one – it’s quite hard work to say something reasonably concise and accurate about the religious traditions of another culture with another language – for once selecting and ordering pictures was the easy part!


The Holy Spirit Festivals date back to the colonisation of the islands in the fifteenth century. The exact origins of them are unclear, but they were probably inspired by Queen Saint Isabel of Portugal, who pledged her crown to the Holy Spirit as a plea to stop a famine, and later began a tradition to feed the poor on Pentecost, and heavily influenced by Franciscan monks among the early settlers, who worshipped the Holy Spirit according to doctrines proposed by Joachim of Fiore.

This, and the accompanying belief in a post-Revelation third age ruled directly by it with no need for the Church didn’t find favour with the Pope, and it’s probably no coincidence that Franciscans were the first religious orders to take part in the settlement of the Azores. Though they’re rooted in Catholicism, the ceremonies are now unique to these islands and parts of the Americas where Azorean emigrants have settled.

Brotherhoods of the Holy Spirit are still found in each village and neighbourhood in the islands today. Their main principles are hope, faith in the divine, egalitarianism, solidarity and charity, and autonomy from the church (I’m guessing that last was the controversial one, though the local churches appear quite involved in some of the ceremonies today).

The festivities take place over a number of weeks after Easter, based around the Imperio of the local brotherhood. This would once have been a temporary structure, but they’re now usually colourful buildings, which serve as a base for religious rituals as well as the collection and distribution of donations.

An Imperador or mordomo is chosen for that year, and  makes a pledge to provide food for friends, family and the poor of the village. They’re usualy selected randomly from the local Brotherhood, though someone who’d had good fortune during the year might step forward to volunteer.

There are a number of religious ceremonies and rituals over the six or seven weeks after Easter, and other celebrations based on sharing food and drink. Normally this is just for the village or parish concerned, but recently some cities have started holding condensed versions as big public events, including Ponta Delgada.

There were long tables and benches round all four sides of the Campo de Sao Francisco for the serving of the Sopa (soup) do Espirito Santo to anyone and everyone.

They were all packed with people sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, and crowds waiting patiently if noisily nearby ready to take their turn as soon as seats became free.

Recipes for the traditional soup vary – the one served here involved beef, cabbage and potatos, seasoned with mint. It was very nice, as was the conversation with my neighbours, though it was rather limited by Portuguese. It helped that the picture on the bottles of local wine showed where I’d been anchored a few days before!

The local papers reckon that over 12,000 people attended, which I can certainly believe, and over a tonne of meat was used, which is rather harder to imagine! The four kitchens at the corners of the square must really have had their work cut out, and if I ever see so many underage scouts hurrying around with bottles of wine again it will probably signal some kind of irretrievable breakdown of society.

As it is it’s an impressive demonstration of society working together to put on a huge event while saving the council money – the food and drinks for the feast and distribution to charities was donated by local companies, only local performers were booked and there were no fireworks (for a change at a Portuguese festival!).

From the voices in the crowd it certainly sounded like it brings a lot of emigrants and their families back to the islands, as well as other tourists and of course being a big event for the locals.

The main course was followed up by a delicious rice pudding – really rich and creamy, topped with cinnamon.

And then a big parade, with all 24 parishes on the island represented in the procession: lots of ox-carts, decorated floats, folk groups and marching bands.

I think this pair of oxen may have drawn the short straw when it came to enthusiasm of the designers.

As if there hadn’t been enough food already, the bread van was distributing the very tasty sweet massa sovada to all and sundry

and I suspect the Sagres float was even more popular, though I do wonder how long the pumps were able to keep going before the driver had to roar off down a side street in search of more beer.

The next day was more solemn, with the Bishop of the Azores leading an open-air mass on the steps of the main church, followed by the coronation and blessing of the mordomos for this year. The active participation of the clergy is actually a more modern development rather than a central part of the ceremony – traditionally the community was addressing the Holy Spirit directly.

followed by the Bodo de Leite, a ritual serving of milk and the massa sovada bread to everyone – again the locals were very keen on including everyone.

The Folioes do Divino who’d accompanied the coronation were playing at various places around the square, though it did look to me as though they were going to cause chaos when they moved to the exit from the Bodo de Leite serving area..


The evening was finished off by the Ponta Delgada Light Orchestra who were definitely enjoying themselves, putting on an exuberant performance of songs from the 70s to the 90s. I think a certain group of people down in the Canaries play Proud Mary better though : )







Where’s a dermatologist, and where am I?

Posted in Cancer, Malignant melanoma, Skin cancer on July 27, 2011 by maidofmettle

The Espirito Santo entry is taking me a while to write, so I decided to skip ahead a little and share the news that I had dermatologist confirm my  apparent state of good health at present.

It’s been three months since my final visit to the hospital in Gran Canaria (though it feels a lot more!), so it was time to try and locate a dermatologist for a 3 month post-operation check-up.

Which I did, after mounting five or six shore expeditions, and one overnight sail.

Trying to find a specialist in Ponta Delgada did not go well, even though about a third of the population of the Azores live in the city. One was on holiday for a week, one was in a completely different place to the directions I’d got, another was also in a completely different place but happily a taxi driver pointed out to me that I only needed to walk for 5 minutes rather than be driven for 10 to reach that address, and another was away till January.

So I gave up on it there, and decided that I’d have another go in Angra do Heroismo on Terceira, where google suggested I’d find one. Not that I was trusting it very much now, especially not as to where to find one.

Happily that problem was solved by noticing a plaque on the wall going for a walk around the town on my first evening there, and I was able to get an appointment for a few days later.

It was a bit strange having not really been thinking about melanomas as such over the last couple of months. I’ve been being reasonably careful with the sun – trying to stay out of the sun in the middle of the day, wearing a hat, sunglasses and often long-sleeved shirts, using sun cream – but generally those are things I did anyway.

I had of course been keeping an extra watch for any signs of moles changing etc, but not with the expectation they actually would.

Going to see a doctor brought that possibility back to mind again, even as it offered the potential for reassurance that things did seem fine.

Happily, he agreed there didn’t appear to be any problems.


Did I mention Terceira? It’s going to take me quite a while for the blog to catch up with reality even if I manage a post every couple of days, so I also thought it was about time I got around to generally sharing this link.

Where is Maid of Mettle? – this keep you fairly up to date with where I actually am, so you get something of a sneak preview.

I will try and make a separate page for it at some point soon which will make it easier to get to from the blog.

In search of the Seven Cities

Posted in Fun, Photographs, the Azores, Walking with tags , on July 24, 2011 by maidofmettle

I’m still not quite convinced that the Caldeira de Sete Cidades is entirely real. The idea of a Crater of Seven Cities, with a Blue Lake and a Green Lake, sounds distinctly like something from a fantasy novel or a very old map. It’s certainly a rather fanciful name for a crater containing what appears to be only one village, also called Sete Cidades (on the left of the picture).

In actual fact it appears to be real, but it is definitely named after a myth, and does indeed appear on many old maps. Confused yet? The seven cities were supposedly founded on the island of Antillia, discovered in the eighth century by an archbishop, six bishops and their followers fleeing the Moorish invasion of Spain, and featured on charts of the Atlantic for over a hundred years.

Many expeditions were sent in search of it, from Portugal, Spain and England – the latter chiefly from Bristol mariners seeking a base for fishing the Grand Banks. Though the rumour that Antillian sand was pure gold may also have had some appeal..

It’s unclear what any physical basis for the legend might have been, especially as the island was understood to be to the west of the Azores, Canaries and Madeira archipelago. There are theories that it refers to some part of the New World – and indeed the name was probably subsequently applied to the Antilles islands in the eastern Caribbean – known before Columbus’ voyage..

While intriguing, the name Sete Cidades does distract slightly from the main attraction of the crater – the Lagoa Azul and Lagoa Verde, which are definitely remarkable. They aren’t actually entirely separate lakes – the dividing line is a culverted bridge, but the difference in colour is noticeable.

The greener lake is shallower and closely surrounded by trees, which apparently accounts for the difference, though a few years ago eutrophication problems turned both lakes a similar colour due to algal blooms.

It had been quite a climb up from the village to the crater rim where those pictures were taken from, though it mostly went through very nice and shady woodland.

Definitely well worth it though, as well as the pictures you’ve already seen you could see down to the coast the other way.

The path along the crater rim let me keep seeing both sides for quite a while..when a car hadn’t just gone past that is.

One of the more remarkable sights was this herd of cows. Not only are they the backbone (and many tastier parts) of much of Sao Miguel’s economy, these one’s also appear to have installed a solar panel to power their television.

Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten one for lunch..

The walk was very well marked with red and yellow paint as well as the directions in my book, though I did get concerned at this point..

I decided to continue along the road and was soon rewarded by seeing the Lagoa Azul at closer quarters

and then closer still. I was briefly charged by this rag-tag mob of ducks, but I looked at them and thought about crispy deep-frying and they ran away.

The beach didn’t look like it was going to start a gold rush..

and there didn’t seem to be seven churches, let alone seven villages – not that this one didn’t look rather fine.

So, I didn’t solve any mysteries, but I did have a very nice day of walking, especially as it was cloudy for walking uphill in the morning and then sunny at the top.

Later that evening back in Ponta Delgada, I got to see rather more of a fado performance than I had in Madeira. I could’ve sworn they were the same group, but I guess the requirement to drape yourself in a black cloak does make mistakes possible. There was a brief hiatus when they were joined by some more performers at the end and someone had to scurry around to find another cloak.

Ponta Delgada is an impressive site in the evening as well..

This picture gives a bit of a hint as to the next subject. The marquee in the foreground shows bread made in all the different parishes on Sao Miguel in a competition which forms part of the Holy Spirit Festival (Divino Espirito Santo).

This is a huge event in the Azores, and areas of Brazil and New England where Azorean emigrants are common, though it’s also common for them to return to the islands for some of the festival.

It probably deserves it’s own post, especially as it’s getting late.

Getting into hot water on São Miguel

Posted in Fun, Photographs, the Azores, Walking with tags on July 22, 2011 by maidofmettle

The standard marina showers in Ponta Delgada are distinctly cold, and the posh peoples’ warm showers costing a whole 1 euro 27 cents. This could obviously add up a bit, and then there’s the loss of inverse snobbery rights to consider.

And there are other options available on the island…

Quite early in my stay there I got an early-morning bus to Mosteiros on the west coast. This is the village seen from above, having started to walk inland.

It was quite an entertaining stroll along the coast. I was a bit worried about what might have happened to the former occupant of these shoes..

A bit further along I was passed by a small dog leading a very large herd of cows. Sadly I was too surprised to get a picture of the cowdog. Plenty of time to get one of the cows though….

This is an old whaling look-out point, though it now advertises a whale-watching company. The slit for the watch in theory reduced the glare off the water.

If whales were sighted they would have fired a rocket to alert the boats – like this one in a shopping centre in Ponta Delgada, and directed them towards the whales when they approached. Sadly I have so far not discovered how this was done – I think using flags, but was the message in cardinal points, left-a-bit / right-a-bit, or possibly cold / hot?

As an aside, does anyone not find this a rather strange design for the sinks in the shopping centre toilets? (possibly not as strange as photographing it though, yes, I agree).

Anyway, back to the subject at hand..

From the hilltop lookout it was quite a descent down to sea level, and over a rather strange volcanic landscape

in search of the the sea bath at Ferraria. This is a small rocky inlet where a spring comes out at about 60 degrees, which blends rapidly with the Atlantic at high tide but makes things very cosy at low water.

Even knowing this it was a very strange experience getting in though – climbing down the steps I could feel my body tensing up and preparing for the shock of the cold water my mind was fairly sure wasn’t going to happen – and it didn’t.

Actually, it was a bit like swimming in the Three Bears’ pool. The end open to the Atlantic was probably a bit colder than in the lagoon of the Ilheu de Vila. The middle was about right. The inshore end of the inlet was really rather too hot – there’s a reason no-one is in the far left of this picture!

Very strange, but very nice, especially being able to swim between the water at different temperatures to warm up, cool down or just for a change.

On another day I travelled east to Furnas – literally furnace, though it’s been called both heaven and hell. Heaven because of the beauty of the landscape, and hell because of the clouds of steam that greeted the first explorers, and tourists to this day. With that in mind, it seems fitting that the park in the centre of the town is named Terra Nostra, or ‘Our Earth’…

I started off heading away from the village, up a ridge towards the Lagoa das Furnas.

The surrounding countryside certainly is beautiful

and I can see why one might find the bubbling hot water rather terrifying.

The locals have very definitely got over this and bury cooking pots under mounds of earth.

Only a few yards away, the lake is much more tranquil

I carried on around the shore – some of it lined with trees

and some beautiful meadows

and a little bit of beach, with a rather surprising gothic chapel.

This is a more typical church, back in Furnas itself.

From there I carried on through the town to another set of bubbling springs.

I also passed a very strange collection of items at the side of the road. Any ideas?

I’d been in a bit of a hurry in the morning, so I’d grabbed a tin of tuna salad from the emergency food locker on my way out of the boat. But walking back through Furnas it occurred to me that I could probably buy lunch for the same price as the tin, so I did. And I also got to try yet another new type of coffee, although I don’t think I’ll have this one again.

Coffee com cheiro – if I’d not been hungry I might have linked that to vinho do cheiro, the cheap but reasonably nice local wine. Though I’m still not sure I’d actually have come to the conclusion that this would be coffee with wine in it, which this appeared to be. Not a good idea.

Still, after that we get back to the tenuous point of this post – passing back through the village to the Poça Dona Beija, or ‘paradise pools’. This has been redeveloped as a tourist attraction in recent years, but still seems very popular with the locals. At 2 euros a go I guess it’s the local equivalent of a lido, but with very hot water. There are several pools in and alongside the stream..

..and several little channels where water is diverted to create waterfalls.

Again very nice, with sitting near the pools in the light breeze essential to keep from getting too warm.

Mind you, the marina showers do have the advantage of not trying to dye you orange.. It mostly washes off, but there are still traces on my toenails. I’m not convinced it’s a look I should be going for..

Happy birthday to me

Posted in Fun, Photographs, Sailing, the Azores with tags , , on July 19, 2011 by maidofmettle

One of these statements is true, and one is false.

1. I’ve always wanted my own volcanic crater island with a lagoon for my birthday
2. This year I got one, for a few hours at least

It had made a very nice change to leave for Sao Miguel without the need for any big build-up, with no threatening weather or particular hurry. I was a little sad to leave at all – as well as some fellow sailors the local people are very friendly, but Monday looked the best opportunity for a while with the wind forecast to swing round to the north, more or less directly from the nearest island.

There was no urgency about getting away though – rushing would have probably led to arrival in the middle of the night, so it seemed much better, but it was better to leave later and arrive sometime the next day. Sailing in clear water is much less tiring than approaching land and then mooring up somewhere.

So I had time to do a quick painting on the harbour wall in Santa Maria – the tradition is most famous in Horta, but is also practised in the rest of the Azores as well as the Madeira archipelago, and many other places I’m sure. I’d not been going to do one till I got some more paint, but the temptation of adding one next to the work of Tim & Alli – a Canadian couple I met on Madeira last year – was too much in the end.

Having got going the sailing conditions were very nice – a perfect wind to carry full sail, and a fairly flat sea.

I had to make a couple of tacks to get around the western end of Santa Maria, but with that accomplished I could head north for Sao Miguel with no obstructions to worry about. The small village is where Columbus anchored returning from his first voyage across the Atlantic.

So the wind dropped right off to give me something else to consider. I was starting to think that I should have been in much more of a hurry to leave early that morning. A little while later I decided that at this rate it wasn’t going to matter when I’d left as I had no idea when I’d get there!

I could see Sao Miguel very soon though. The fifteenth century Portuguese explorers who claimed the Azores must have been terribly unfortunate to spot no sign of either of these islands on their first voyage, despite coming within about 35nm of the 1104m high Pico da Vera on Sao Miguel and about 25nm of the 490m high Pico Alto on Santa Maria, having sailed 700nm west from Portugal.

Visibility must have been pretty bad, as they in fact only found the few patches of rock they christened the ‘ants’ (Ilheus das Formigas). In fact, it was quite a feat to find these without wrecking their ships on them – the highest are only 11m tall and the nearby Dollabarat shoal is barely covered at low water. Within 5 miles you can find depths of up to 2,000m, and the waves breaking on the shallows in bad weather must be terrifying.

I was actually glad that the wind increased at around dusk, and we were able to make good progress overnight.

The same problem of light winds and choppy seas recurred the next morning though. I was starting to wonder if light-wind sailing is the best option… Progress was decidedly varied for a while, briefly encountering the problem of finding that neither tack was taking me anywhere near where I wanted to go. Then again, it was looking distinctly rainy on Sao Miguel so I wasn’t in that much of a hurry to get ashore.

Finally in mid-afternoon a nice wind came up. I started off sailing towards Ponta Delgada, the capital and biggest port on the island, but decided I might well end up tacking and struggling to arrive before dark, whereas Vila Franca de Campo would be a much easier sail.

And I had been thinking about going there anyway, since my pilot book described a decent anchorage near the town, just inshore of a small islet which looked well worth visiting.

On arrival, it did seem quite exposed – nothing like anchoring in the sheltered River Guadiana or the estuaries of the Ria Formos, and as the first time I’d anchored on my own in more than a year I was quite nervous about picking a spot. The water was very clear but not clear enough to see whether the sea bed was sand (good) or rock (bad) But it seemed calm enough, and about the right depth to be able to anchor securely without having to fiddle around getting two length of chain out and shackling them together.

Getting ready to anchor was a bit of a step-by-step affair – motor around checking depths, untie anchor, get chain up on deck ready to lower away… Obviously this was always going to be the case since I only have one pair of hands, but mentally it was more significant as a way of working up to it slowly.

With everything ready and having taken a tour along the west coast of the island while the last tour boat left I gave it a go roughly where the pilot book suggested and the anchor seemed to dig in very well. With no other boats nearby it was nice to have the luxury of letting out lots of chain, and though I set an anchor drag alarm on the GPS

I now felt very relaxed and happy with the spot.

Time to get the kayak out ready for going ashore tomorrow – and as it turned out also to go and say hello to the couple on the Dutch boat which turned up a while later and anchored behind me.

It was a beautiful evening at anchor, and the roar of the Cory’s shearwaters returning to their nests on the cliffs at dusk was quite something to hear. This is basically the only time they ever come ashore – so presumably once the young have left they may not set foot on land again for 7 years or so – quite a thought! There was a nice moon to silhouette the cliffs as well, though a boat at anchor is not the best foundation for taking pictures in dim light..

The inflatable kayak is basically a one-person version of Caroline’s one. Having got rather stuck in Las Palmas I’d barely used it since buying it early in my time there, but this is exactly the kind of occasion I’d bought it for – neither needing a dinghy for long nor needing lots of stuff. Time to go and land on my present…

So, here are the two boats at anchor with Sao Miguel about half a mile away in the background.

and here is the interior of the crater and it’s lagoon. It gets quite busy in the middle of the day as boats bring people out from Vila Franca de Campo, but for now it was deserted.

Here I am going for a swim in it – or rather launching myself backwards off the steps as the timer on the camera was about to run out! It wasn’t nearly as chilly as I’d been expecting having sailed some way north – in fact the water temperature here is apparently quite similar to that in Madeira, and not too far off that in the Canaries. I still wouldn’t have wanted to stay in for long, but it was fine for swimming across the lagoon and back, and even early in the morning it was nice and warm when I got out.

This was a wonderful start to my time on Sao Miguel, but I was keen to explore the mainland too. While there is was a marina very nearby at Vila Franca de Campo itself, it’s quite expensive, and I didn’t think it would be as good a base as the capital. It would have been nice to spend a day or two there,but the forecast suggested today would be the last good day for sailing west for a while, so I decided to head for Ponta Delgada.

It’s a lovely feeling to leave an anchorage under sail, so that’s what I did. There was a strong wind as Horace steered us close under the cliffs (with at least 10m of water under the keel!) leaving the island.

It then went quite light for a while as we got into the wind shadow of the Serra da Agua de Pau and associated peaks, but with the tide going with me I was happy to go slowly until we got beyond it, and then looking at the water ahead quickly reefed the mainsail to a smaller size. It was superb sailing – a strong wind but well sheltered from any waves by the island a few miles to windward, and I got to Ponta Delgada in the early afternoon.

I did a little wandering in the city, and met Michel who I knew from Santa Maria, and also the Uruguayan Roberto from the boat opposite mine. We had a birthday drink and enjoyed lots of chopping and changing between languages while still managing to talk about lots of things, from our voyages to here to the origins of the names of the week in different languages.

Roberto very kindly insisted I come for a barbecue on his boat later, which was a delicious end to a very nice birthday.

A long walk on a small island – seeing something of Santa Maria

Posted in Fun, Photographs, the Azores, Walking with tags , on July 14, 2011 by maidofmettle

Oops,I’d meant to leave a bit more of a gap before publishing this one. Madeira to the Azores Part II is below if you missed it. Still, I do have a bit to catch up on..


The first walk on Santa Maria took me up a very steep path to a fort overlooking the harbour – the one from which I took the photo of the marina in the last post. In fact I was wondering if the path was carrying on several times.. The reception at the top was a bit guarded as well.

It is superbly sited though, commanding views not only of the harbour below but both sides of the inlet.

I also did a bit of wandering in the nearby town – Vila Nova do Porto extends further inland from the fort. Around 3,000 people live here – roughly half the population of the island. For it’s size it’s very long – the three main parallel streets are constrained by steep ravines either side. This is literally the high street..

It’s a bit of a walk up from sea level, but it’s very common for a local to offer a lift as they’re driving past.

Although there were few boats in it the harbour was quite busy as the local ladies’ fishing competition was on. The contestants usually left in the evening and came back any time between 11pm and 4 am – obviously very keen!

The final evening was finished with the inevitable fireworks display, thankfully rather earlier.

Getting to explore further on the island would be a bit tricky, though it was looking very tempting from the end of the main street.

There is a bus service, but it’s geared to local people’s needs as there are few tourists . The bus goes from the villages into the town (definitely singular) very early in the morning, and a return trip just before lunch. It then turns round and comes straight back into town again in the early afternoon, and back out to the villages in the evening.

So to see much of the island a taxi trip to the other end of it seemed the best option – it’s small enough that it’s not too expensive (ok, 12 euros isn’t cheap either), and I thought I’d quite possibly be able to walk the full way back.

Talking to the taxi driver was quite interesting – he was born on Pico, and had previously lived on Sao Miguel, and from what I could understand of the rest of what he said people are generally much more mobile between the islands than I’d imagined.

We went to Santa Barbara, a village on the east coast, on the other side of the main ridge in the centre of the island. The countryside is much greener than the other side of the island, with rolling hills all around. The rural houses are also very distinctive – blue edging and big chimneys abound. It’s been a while since we were on the Algarve, but that’s where the style was imported from, as many of the settlers of this island came from there. Interestingly, they seem to have bagged the sunny south both at home and overseas…

I took a bit of a detour from the walk described in my book to start with, passing some abandoned windmills

to visit a former quarry, now a local beauty spot.

After that I started heading towards the central spine of the island..

..and soon I was looking back down on the hills and valleys towards the sea..

until I got a bit further along and was quite grateful for a shady tree-lined section.

This track eventually led right up to Pico Alto, the highest point in the island at about 590m. From here you could see pretty much all of Santa Maria except a few parts blocked by nearby hills, such as the south-west corner:

You could see right the way to the other end though – quite a change after Gran Canaria and Madeira. The main town and airport are in the far distance in the next picture.

The airport was actually the main stopping place for transatlantic flights for some time in the 20th century. It was built during the Second World War to support American and British operations, and it was the most modern airport in the islands when it was first used for civilian flights, though it’s since been overtaken by other airports on some of the bigger islands.

The status of Santa Maria has changed a few times like that – from the first of the Azores to be discovered and settled to becoming quite isolated at the extreme western end of the chain, to being an international transport hub and back to a largely quiet island.

It’s starting to become more developed now as it generally has the finest weather in the Azores, and some of the best beaches, making it a popular place for holiday homes, but as you can see from the photos it’s still a very rural landscape.

Next I continued in this direction:

First I went along the tree-covered ridge to the right, then passing the villages in the valley on the right to reach the ‘desert’ patches just visible in the trees beyond.

The Barreiro da Faneca is unique in the Azores – a desert of red clay created by the effect of the arid climate on the rock from the most recent eruptions on the island. I was wondering if it would live up to it’s billing, but the reds and yellows really are impressive.

They stand out especially clearly where channels have been formed.

There are quite a few plants growing there as well, mainly native species such as this Azorean heather.

All in all it’s a beautiful place, and incredibly peaceful.

From there I carried on westwards for a bit before turning back south towards Vila Nova do Porto. The western side of the island is also heavily farmed, but much flatter and dried than the other side.

By the time I’d got back to the town I’d covered quite a few miles, and was feeling rather hungry, especially noting the streets paved with fish and ships.

That wasn’t actually on the menu though, so instead I boldy selected the one sandwich on the list I’d never heard of before – the Pe do Torresmo.

For 1 euro this is probably the best value sandwich I’ve ever had, though it was a bit of a shame that ordering it interrupted the owner of the bar finger-picking on some kind of stringed instrument. And when I find out what it was (the sandwich that is) there will probably be a post or two to come on food..

Madeira to the Azores part II

Posted in Photographs, Sailing, the Atlantic Ocean, the Azores with tags , on July 13, 2011 by maidofmettle

Day 5: Tuesday 28th June

Maid had been going pretty fast at the end of that evening, and that continued into the night. I reefed the mainsail down to it’s smallest possible size at about 0145 as the motion was a bit uncomfortable and there were some threatening looking clouds around, but she was still doing at least 4 knots (the maximum one can expect for a boat her size is 6), and picking up speed again within a few hours.

Reefing the mainsail is actually very easy when sailing at an angle close to where the wind is coming from, as you can continue on the same course and just let the sail out a little so it flaps and lets you work on it. I’d been quite apprehensive about it the first time I did it in strong wind on the way to Madeira, but it proved much quicker and easier than I expected.

Sailing away from the wind is generally easier, but when you need to reef you really need to turn the boat towards it to let the sail flap, which is usually a rather hair-raising and wet experience compared to what you’ve got used to!

However, going up on the deck at the front of the boat to take a jib down is likely to be a similar experience. I was considering this an hour or so later, as our speed picked up to around 5 knots.. I’m normally fairly cautious about reefing early, but in this case I was concerned that it wouldn’t leave enough sail up to steady the boat in the largish waves, which had happened once on the way to Madeira.

By 0615 we were doing 6 knots – wheee! With the course change away from the wind this actually felt pretty comfortable – though the waves were a fair size they weren’t breaking and Maid was sailing along them rather than crashing into them. Lying in bed feels like I’d imagine a magic carpet ride to be like – being continuously wafted up and down.

One of the less commonly mentioned advantages of sailing single-handed is that you usually get to see the sun rise – whereas on a watch system if you’ve been up for a few hours at some other point in the night you’re probably asleep. Today’s dawn was especially beautiful.

Conditions were fairly similar for the rest of the day – making very good speed, with the wind varying so sometimes we were heading east of Santa Maria (not a problem, easy to turn left) and sometimes looking like we might miss it to the east. It was still quite a way off to think to much about that though, though we did get down to 200nm to go by mid-afternoon.

This video has no speech – just shows the motion of the boat under way for anyone interested.

I did finally take the inner jib down at around midnight – with the wind having got quite gusty Horace was having trouble keeping Maid from turning up towards the wind, which tended to make her plunge into waves rather than riding along them. I actually stayed surprisingly dry.

Day 6: Wednesday 29th June

The wind and waves had reduced slightly by the morning, but the direction had changed a little more so Maid’s course was looking increasingly good to make it to Santa Maria, which I was deciding was probably an attractive proposition.

We even managed to keep the sunset on the left side this evening – usually the wind had shifted around dusk making Maid want to follow it westward rather than north-west towards our destination.

I was certainly hoping it would be the final night at sea now we were so close, but I was actually feeling a lot less tired and better overall than at the start of the trip.

Day 7: Thursday 30th June

The wind dropped somewhat overnight, but Maid was still sailing fairly fast though her motion got a bit awkward at times. And increasing sail is usually much less urgent than reducing it..

The island did get bigger – this is looking roughly at the centre of it and the largest hills. I passed a couple of sailing boats heading the other way and wondered where they might be headed. When sailing when I was younger we used to play a little game of suggesting where boats might be sailing to if it looked like they weren’t heading for any of the nearby destinations. I was reminded of that now though the nearby destination for them would have been my last stop of Madeira, now nearly 300 miles away! Straight on to the Canaries or even further south could have been possible though.
There was also a huge school of very energetic dolphins in the distance at one point, but while they were fun to watch through binoculars for a while they sadly never came any closer. I had got to see a couple of turtles on the trip though, which is always quite cool.

As you can see the weather was rather nice and it was a beautiful day of sailing. The conditions had in fact improved dramatically, and I was gradually increasing sail throughout the day, but I was still planning on stopping, just for different reasons this time!

One exciting thing about the island I didn’t mention on the video was that it’s very small, and the harbour was right at one end backed by relatively low ground, so hopefully I’d be able to sail right up to it.

This turned out to be quite fortunate.

While in Funchal the thought had occurred that possibly the problem with the pin in the outboard bracket shifting might be very likely to occur when sailing hard on the starboard tack for any length of time. Several days would certainly count! It was on the list of jobs to do, but while I ticked off a lot of them I never managed to come up with a preventative measure to implement for this.

So sure enough, when I looked over the stern I had the same problem of not being able to lower the outboard down. Well, I thought, at least the conditions are much nicer now, and I know how I fixed it last time. However, this time it was rather more obstinate.

Still, having wasted a while battling it I decided to give up and sail into the shelter of the outer harbour, and just use the outboard cautiously while fully raised. This is possible, but only feasible in flat water where you don’t need to use much power and the cooling water intake and propellor. aren’t going to keep lifting out of the water.

It was handy that I had a vast choice of berths, so mooring up with the assistance of a couple on one of the other boats was no trouble. This picture of the harbour is from a walk the next day.

The main first impression was that it was very quiet indeed – almost like the feeling of coming out of a nightclub. The noise of the boat under sail and the waves can’t be anywhere near that loud, and had even been relatively quiet during the day, but the difference was very noticeable.

It was also exciting to be somewhere new – both my previous trips had been returning to places we’d already visited. So while I’d really enjoyed the second stints in Las Palmas and Madeira, arriving in the Azores had a different feel to it. I hadn’t got here nearly as early as I’d hoped to, but I would still have a fair chance to visit a few places before heading back to England. Santa Maria might be small, but it certainly looked well worth exploring.

Madeira to the Azores part I

Posted in Fun, Photographs, Sailing, the Atlantic Ocean, Unfortunate events with tags , , , , on July 9, 2011 by maidofmettle

Day 1: Thursday 23rd June

This didn’t quite work out. I’d been thinking it might make sense to go this morning, but when I was about to set my alarm the previous night I realised I couldn’t find my phone anywhere, which led to several hours of searching the boat and significant frustration. I’d planned on a final walk if I didn’t go, but decided I’d better try the police station instead, only to find it was shut for a public holiday – so that day was largely wasted alternatively looking in the boat and trying to forget about it.

There was at least a good distraction that afternoon – though I was further annoyed by the billboard I’d seen getting the start time of the Festa de Sao Joao (Festival of St John) wrong – it looked as though the flower-flinging action was already over:

Still, a lot of people leaving seemed to be heading in the same directions, and the celebrations in some of the eastern quarters of the city definitely weren’t over..

There were lots of narrow streets lit up and lined with tables, and bands playing around every corner (if you stood at some corners the effect was indeed quite strange).

So the evening was good at least, and there was always the next morning to try the police station and maybe leave later the next day.

However, at one point when I woke up in the night I heard a rather strange noise. I’d thought the absence of ‘low-battery’ wurblings was proof my phone wasn’t on the boat, but it seemed it had just had a bit more in reserve than I’d thought. Either that or there was an upset Teletubby somewhere in the boat.

The other annoying feature of flashing its screen on and off all the time was quite helpful in finding the phone – pity I’d forgotten that the previous evening! So, I had another look at the forecast to see if I should set an early-morning alarm, and reluctantly decided I should.

Day 1: Friday 24th June

Just before dawn on Friday I wasn’t exactly feeling energetic. The forecast looked about ok to go now, and if I didn’t it would probably be at least a week before the next good opportunity, so that made up my mind really. After the frustration of the last couple of days I was quite keen to get going, and make sure I had some time to see the Azores before sailing for England.

I actually left a bit later than I’d really have wanted to just because of tiredness, but I did still manage to leave reasonably promptly. I wanted to go as this would give the best conditions for motoring east in the shelter of the island to gain ground to windward and avoid the problems I’d had arriving downwind of Madeira.

I made it past the Ponta de Garajau, with it’s large Christ on a very high cliff.

Shortly after that, I decided that the plan really wasn’t going to work at all.. From motoring smoothly over swell at four knots Maid was now plunging up and down into fair-sized waves with a headwind, probably doing 1-2 knots on average.

So, I turned and headed south instead. I only put one jib up, but that was enough sail to do four knots again!

Of course, the downside was that I was actually sailing south, whereas the Azores are north-west… I didn’t sound too upset about it though –

It was nice just to be sailing, and as I noted it may have been the quickest way to find wind near Funchal, which is very sheltered by the big hills in the centre of the island. Plan B was to sail in a loop, keeping Madeira on my right-hand side and far enough away to avoid the wind shadow before eventually turning north up towards the Azores. So, crisis averted, for a good few hours at least, and the sun came out as well.

Unfortunately, later on the wind started dropping…

It was feeling very like the approach to Madeira all over again, but it seemed like it must be just a lull in the wind, as I was well clear of the island. It didn’t really feel like it though – I could still see it, and the wind was doing some very bizarre things that evening and night – changing in both strength and direction.

Day 2: Saturday 25th June

Early the next morning things continued much the same..

The wind did indeed die again a couple of hours after that, but after an hour or so of going nowhere a northerly wind replaced it. This didn’t really let me sail towards the Azores, but made enough sense with the forecasts and pressure charts I had for me to trust it would probably last, and shift more easterly with time and progress westwards, which would let me gradually turn in the direction I wanted to go. This was a big relief, as I was feeling very worn out.

Day 3: Sunday 26th June

On Sunday morning the wind gradually dropped, until the left-over waves started feeling rather unpleasant. I can’t help feeling that being sick over the side when the boat isn’t really moving isn’t ideal timing, though at least I recovered in 10 minutes or so.

Fortunately the calm spell didn’t last much longer, and the wind went back to being nice and steady and light again, giving me a chance to rest and relax, and also take a bit of a break from recording videos till the afternoon.

Day 4: Monday 27th June

Monday also started well, making good progress – – and a fine sunrise too.

It turned into a beautiful day, very nice for spending a while outside in the shade of the sails

and watching Horace do his stuff.

By this time I was definitely feeling recovered from the tiredness at the start and enjoying the trip, though unfortunately the favourable conditions didn’t last, with another spell of light wind.

There’s a very fine line – just a couple of knots of wind, and in this case an hour or so – between serene progress and very little progress: .

This time the calm spell lasted rather longer – four hours or so – but with the much calmer sea state it was far less distressing than near Madeira. It was also a good time to have a shower in the cockpit while there was sunshine but no wind chill! And that, of course, is even more effective than whistling..

By dinner-time we’d reached the milestone of 300nm distance to Santa Maria, the nearest of the Azores, which was a nice target to tick off though I hadn’t decided if that would actually be my destination yet – that would be left till later. Much like the continuation of this post (cue manical laughter).

Madeira part 4: Why, why, why, Ventura?

Posted in Fun, Photographs, the Madeira archipelago, Walking with tags , , , on July 2, 2011 by maidofmettle

The title isn’t very pertinent to anything except the fact that the cabaret on the P&O cruise ship across the harbour was very loud indeed when I was writing some of this. I’m sure you can guess the tune.

I had finally run out of nearly all my fruit and vegetable stocks from Las Palmas after being in Funchal for a couple of weeks, except for potatos, onions and lemons. So though I’d managed to eat very well over 3 weeks it was definitely time to investigate the market.

It’s a big tourist attraction, and it’s certainly photogenic..

..but I was a bit disappointed by the actual shopping experience. There are three issues really – price, quality, and attitude.

The prices are noticeably more than at the Mercado Central in Las Palmas, but having seen the terracing here I could well believe that food costs might be a bit more. And for most fruit and vegetables it’s still fairly reasonable if you shop around.

That also helps for quality, but it generally didn’t seem great. Probably inevitable to some extent with small-scale producers who can’t afford to just dump the imperfect produce, but it’s tricky when you’re trying to find vegetables that will last for one or two weeks – otherwise I’d be a lot less fussy.

But some of the soft fruits are extremely expensive indeed, and the vendors in some areas really go for a hard sell on those without marking the price. It would probably be quite easy to find yourself spending an awful lot more than you expected to. I escaped that, but definitely at a cost of some patience. I can see why they do it though – probably a large proportion of the people passing through are from catered cruise ships or hotels without any intention of buying much, who one might imagine could afford to try some expensive local fruits.

The following day brought yet another occasion or two – firstly a traditional bread fair, with lots of stalls selling different types, with plenty of crusty loaves and sweet varieties as well as the ubiquitous bolo do caco.

I bought this pao de rolao for lunch, though my portuguese didn’t meet the challenge of finding out how it’s made.

I decided to go up again for dinner to try some of the traditional dishes on offer.

The plate on the left is a sande de figado – a liver sandwich, garnished with onions and surprisingly good. The bowl is caldo verde – literally green soup, it’s a broth made using onions, potatoes, kale or cabbage, and usually a lot of garlic. This version had some chorizo in it as well, which made a lovely contrast to the more delicate flavour of the soup.

After that there was a fine display of traditional dancing by several groups in a procession around the square. Somewhat chaotic, but they were clearly having a good time, and made it even more fun to watch.

After that it was time for another set of fireworks..

..spectacular once again.

And after that I wandered back up to the square with the bread festival to hear the end of a performance by a fado group from Coimbra. I’d heard the Madeirense aren’t actually that keen on fado, finding it a bit melancholy, but that didn’t seem in evidence this evening, especially not when they were all singing along at the end.

I’d found out very much by chance – glancing in the events section of a free magazine – that there was also a cherry festival in the village of Jardim da Serra that weekend, so that’s where I went on Sunday. It didn’t actually mention when anything was happening, but my doubts on that score were firmly dismissed by the huge crowd of locals who piled onto the bus in Estreito de Camara de Lobos, the next village down.

Jardim da Serra translates roughly as ‘Garden in the mountains’, and it’s a beautiful area. Lower down there are scores of banana plantations, but from Estreito uphill the dark green of banana plants is replaced by the vivid bright green of vineyards.

It wasn’t obvious from the bus where the cherry trees fit in, but they certainly must be around somewhere.

Not that that was the only food on offer, though I’d have hated to be manning a barbecue on a day as hot as this.

For a small village it was really buzzing, with a main stage, a long street with stalls either side and occasional impromptu outbursts of folk music (usually accordion, drum and singing).

Later in the afternoon there was a big parade, with a marked theme

for nearly every float

though I did like the constantly pouring bottle of poncha (we’ll get to that in another entry) in the background of this one

and this mobile vineyard

The last bus back to Funchal was fairly early (though it was relatively late by the time it had escaped through the parked cars on the road out), so it was thankfully a much shorter day than the previous one.

I may have asked this question before, but does this place ever stop? In the centre of Funchal people were starting to gear up for the classic car rally starting in a few days time..

I was keeping an eye on weather forecasts regularly at this point, but it looked like the next day definitely wouldn’t make sense to go, so I headed out for another walk instead, to a part of the island I hadn’t been to before.

The bus drove through the huge Ribeira Brava valley and dropped me off at the Boca da Encumeada. The north coast was enveloped in a sea of cloud..

but the high peaks to the east were very clear.

The walk went alongside another section of the Levada do Norte, which is huge at this point, easily the biggest I’ve walked alongside. It takes water from both the northern and southern sides of the high plain Paul da Serra to a hydroelectric plant, and then on to the south coast where I’d been the day before to irrigate the vineyards, banana plantations and cherry trees – at over 50km excluding tributaries it’s the longest levada on Madeira.

One route I’d hoped might be open (online research was inconclusive) was closed off, but luckily the one that was definitely meant to be open was.

Though standing at the start of a long tunnel, I suddenly remembered that my torch batteries had seemed very weak the last time I was using it while getting thrown around in the dark just south of Madeira..

Still, I figured the backlight on my phone or camera would probably do at a push, and there was always crawling or wading in the levada as last-resort options. Not that there wasn’t quite a bit of trepidation on entering. I’d wondered if the feeling would get worse half way, but it didn’t seem to. Luckily, the battery just about lasted, on the way there at least, and 10 minutes or so later I came back out into the light again.

The path carried on through a very lush area, full of trees,


and ferns

Big as the levada is, it’s clearly designed to be able to cope with an excess of water in periods of heavy rain (the north coast gets over 2m annually, compared to about 0.8m in southern England), with overflows where water cascades down the cliff

and in several other places along the channel

I stopped at the start of the next tunnel, as continuing would have meant being underground as much as in the open for the hour or so further along possible, which I don’t think would have appealed even with a very bright torch!

And it was next to an impressive waterfall

The area below it was a beautiful place to eat lunch and relax for a few hours – shade, sun, and the rush of cold air from the tunnel all available in turn, and the roar and spectacle of the falling water constant.

Back at the Boca da Encumeada I spent a while talking with a Swedish couple also on an exciting-sounding expedition – they were nearing the end of walking from one end of Madeira to the other in a week’s holiday, camping each night. Very cool, though I still liked the idea of going back to my bunk.

Which I was lucky to be able to do, as I nearly missed my bus – I’d set an alarm for 5 minutes before I expected it but unknowingly the following day, and I was just realising this a couple of minutes after it should have gone off when the bus appeared. Luckily the driver stopped a little way downhill and let me catch up.

Any delay this caused was soon put into insignificance by an orange contraption half across the road and a man waving his arms around excitedly and speaking rather loudly.

The machine was broken, and the bus driver didn’t think the bus would get through the remaining gap without damage (I’m wondering if he wasn’t Madeirense, as this seems a highly unusual attitude for native bus drivers), which led to an apparent impasse. There was at least good entertainment from a Madeiran lady on the bus who sounded as though she was denouncing the workmen at some length, although none of them were around to hear.

After a while of stalemate and a coach behind us reversing back up the hill another coach appeared, triggering another conference between the two drivers and the foreman with a lot more arm-waving. The end result seemed to be that we would risk it. There definitely wasn’t much room to spare, but we made it…

After that excitement we had to change to a different bus in Ribeira Brava, which merely sounded like it was either about to explode or try and take off – not good for continuing the conversations we’d started while stopped!