Archive for the Fun Category

Going to Graciosa, and further on. Or should I say further back?

Posted in Fun, Photographs, Sailing, the Atlantic Ocean, the Azores, Walking with tags on October 6, 2011 by maidofmettle

After the tour of Faial my thoughts turned to leaving the island again. I had been hoping to travel a couple of hundred miles further west to Flores and Corvo, but after spending nearly a week in Horta it still wasn’t looking like it was going to happen, with either calms or wind from the west.

It was looking quite a good forecast for heading home, though I did want to make a stop at Graciosa first, and it looked like that might even be an advantage for the trip back.

Again it was a bit frustrating leaving, with the choice between either leaving in the day and probably arriving in the dark, or leaving in the evening and quite possibly getting becalmed by the wind dropping at night. I nearly left one evening, but I stopped by Harry’s boat to say goodbye, and got invited to share dinner with him and Reiner, by which time the wind had died.

Early the next morning was beautifully still

but the wind started picking up, so off I went.

The first hour or so sailing away from Horta were beautiful, but as I turned towards Graciosa the wind died, and I ended up rolling around while the catamaran I’d been more or less keeping pace with shot away to the east. I was starting to think that while I’d be sorry to leave the islands I was rather fed up of sailing between them.

The wind kept reappearing in bursts, sending Maid hurtling in one direction, then stopping, and then off in another.

Eventually I decided that on average, sailing straight downwind with one of the largest jibs up would probably work, and was rather surprised when it did!

You can see the end of Sao Jorge in the background. It’s a very long, narrow island, and the view of the western tip with the lighthouse I’d walked to and along the coast was quite something, especially with the thick layer of cloud above it.

Here’s the view from the other side of the point, where you can see further along the north coast.

The wind got slightly stronger and steadier and it turned into a superb sail until I eventually dropped the anchor off the little fishing harbour at Vila da Praia on Graciosa at about 4 am. Any doubts about the plan to stop had been firmly quashed when I realised I was considering starting a voyage that would probably take 2-3 weeks without any garlic aboard.

Besides the obvious, I was also looking forward to following in Prince Albert of Monaco’s path and visiting the ‘Furnas do Enxhofre’ caves in one of the largest craters on the island.

So at 8 or 9 in the morning I nosed my way into the fishing harbour to try and find a berth. It was pretty windy, so initially I just went in for a look before going alongside the easiest looking pontoon on the second go, though I was guessing I’d probably have to move… once I could find someone to tell me.

Or as it ended up being, someone who would tell me the right answer. I didn’t really understand the first bloke I asked, but he didn’t seem very encouraging. Happily I could understand the second man I found much better, and he seemed to think Maid would be fine just where she was.

Handily there was a bus due to go into the capital where I could change to go to the crater, though I ended up going a bit earlier as the man I’d been checking directions with and I were both offered a lift in another local’s truck.

I had a little time to look around Santa Cruz, the not-particularly-bustling capital,

before getting a bus towards the Caldeira. From the nearest village it was quite a nice walk to the crater’s edge

though I was glad there was a tunnel through the rim rather than having to climb up it – maybe later..

I got as far as the entrance to the caves and accompanying visitor’s centre

but unfortunately no further. Carbon dioxide emissions within the caves are monitored continually as they can build up to dangerous levels at times, especially when the temperature difference between inside and outside is relatively small.

The readouts definitely didn’t look good today, in fact promising unconsciousness or death within a matter of seconds in the area of the subterranean lake. Here are a couple of pictures from the visitors centre to show you what I’d been hoping to see – the 7 storey entrance tower (strongly resembling Orthanc, I’m sure Saruman could have bred some hideous orcs down there)

and the underground lake.

Maybe another time, if there is one.

I got talking to Manny and Bea, an emigrant couple returning to the Azores on holiday from their home in America, on the way back up and accepted their kind offer of a lift up to and around the crater rim. We couldn’t always see very much due to low clouds, but it was still relatively clear over the east coast and Vila da Praia.

As the weather improved slightly I said my goodbyes and hopped out to continue on foot and visit a couple of lava tubes before returning to the boat.

The most impressive one was a big pear-drop shaped (as the lava tend to pool downwards) tunnel

going right through the top of the crater wall

The weather got better still as I descended the crater side, and in the end I was quite glad of the shade of an old tree-lined path once used by ox-carts hauling goods inland from the harbour.

There were lots of abandoned buildings along the route. Several waves of people have emigrated from many of the Azores in times of economic hardship or poor harvests, leaving a number of the islands still relatively sparsely populated today.

It was also time for me to head off once I’d done a final restocking of the galley and check out the weather forecast in Vila da Praia, in a little bar with the locals noisily watching bull-running videos inside and football outside.

That said, there was nearly a last-minute hiccup – just as I was stowing the food below another sailing boat which had temporarily moored alongside me during the day moved to another berth which had become free. In the process of very nearly executing an impressively slick turning manoeuvre they motored straight into the back of Horace.

Leaving for England with a damaged self-steering gear did not appeal – though nor did sailing the 40 miles or so back to Horta and the probable nearest machine shop if anything needed fixing. Fortunately Hydrovanes are very strongly built and he seemed fine, though I would now need to check the adjustable vane wouldn’t rub as it’s upright position appeared to have been shifted forwards slightly.

After that it was a bit of a relief to get out of the harbour and past the little island just offshore.

Normally I’ve had a strange kind of sense of unreality, of feeling almost like I’ll come to my senses and change my mind any moment, while leaving places, but though this would be easily the longest passage so far it was also very much the clearest good forecast.

Waiting would mean sitting out another few days of calms before rather strong westerlies, which might have tempted me to delay further, and that would get me uncomfortably close to the time I wanted to have gone by, with the likelihood of rough weather increasing as August wore on. Sooner definitely looked better than later.

Faial (out of imaginative titles at the moment)

Posted in Fun, Photographs, the Azores, Walking with tags on October 1, 2011 by maidofmettle

From the moment I stepped ashore to go and show my passport and papers I was walking across the paintings which cover pretty much every flat surface around the harbour of Horta.

Here are a few (!) of them with a bit more light, and Pico towering in the background.

It’s a long-standing tradition that the crew of visiting boats should make their mark somewhere or risk bad luck for the coming voyage away from the islands.

Since the nearest other land is hundreds of miles away, the result is that the harbour is very colourful indeed, although old designs get painted over as they become illegible.

It looks like this chap may have expired part-way through working on his…perhaps he was in a bit of a rush?

I think this is my favourite, managing to make rough concrete look like the natural surface for an impressionistic painting – I wonder if Monet ever tried it?

I was hoping to head off to Flores within a few days, so my painting was one of the first things I did. It took a fair bit of walking round to find a free space, but I eventually managed it. I was surprised by the number of paintings I recognised even with the huge number of them.

As I started I realised just why it was free, and had to go back to the boat to get a bucket to stand on so I could actually reach it! Still, it worked out reasonably..

This is another icon of Horta – the Peter Cafe Sport, which has been a harbourside institution for years.

I went there for a drink with Harry, who we first met in Madeira and had sailed up from Las Palmas a month or two before me. I’m glad I left later and didn’t share his experience of tacking into a gale..

The walls and ceiling are covered with nautical memorabilia, and even this late in the season it was bustling. It’s still within the good season for cruising in the Azores, but many boats that have been away for a year doing a circuit across the Atlantic and back had been and gone already as it doesn’t allow so much time for stopping in the Azores.

Another tradition is the board of messages tacked up above the bar – I was delighted to find one from Trycha, Alice and Jilly who we’d met on Triple D on Porto Santo and Madeira the previous year, with another note from Mick who I’d met in Las Palmas.

There’s definitely more to Faial than the harbour and it’s surroundings though – in fact there’s a magnificent half-a-crater easily within walking distance

with a great view back over Horta

You can see most of the town there – it’s a bit surprising that it’s only home to about 15,000 people considering the fame of the harbour, but then these are quite remote islands. It is very pretty though.

The beach at Porto Pim was an unexpected delight, though sadly anchoring is forbidden to protect submarine data cables. It’s still a beautiful, gently shelving beach for a swim though, feeling really pretty warm.

Once it would have been rather different – the building on the far side of the bay is the old whale processing factory – now a museum, with a lot of the equipment still in situ, including the giant furnaces

and various machinery for grinding etc. – meal and oil were the main outputs.

I was surprised to learn that whaling was actually introduced here from North America rather than the other way round. Many Azorean men joined North American whalers as crew, and after a couple of decades they had more or less taken over most of the whaling ships in the north Atlantic until it became uneconomic in the 20’s. There are still large expatriate communities in American east coast ports today – in fact I think about as many Azoreans live abroad as in the islands.

Whaling from the islands continued until the 80’s – I’d imagine that the Portuguese economy wasn’t rich enough to enable it to be continued as ‘research’. A lot of the entries in the guestbook took a surprisingly moralising tone about whaling having been carried out here at all, though I’d imagine they weren’t all vegan. Apparently size matters.

It certainly does make an impression, even in photographic form.

It is quite strange to see the film clips from the 70’s and 80’s, with men still using hand harpoons in small boats towed out from the islands by motor launches – Herman Melville would probably have found it quite familiar. This is one of the whaling boats in the harbour

and here are a few more under sail

A lot of the locals interviewed were somewhat nostalgic for that way of life, but it’s also clear it was hard, dangerous and poorly paid work, and probably only continued after it had ceased in America because there were less alternative means of employment in the islands.

Happily whale and dolphin-watching trips are now proving very popular, though having arrived by boat I wasn’t really tempted!

I was keen to see more of the interior a few days later, thanks to the friends I’d made on Pen Duick II, who were there as part of a classic boat rally from France to Horta and back. The skipper David had stopped by to say hello and ask something about Maid, and after a few minutes of chatting and offering him a drink I found myself on Pen Duick enjoying some Pico wine and cheese with the rest of the very hospitable crew (thanks to Bernard for most of the following photos).

She’s quite some boat – much longer than Maid but less headroom inside- but then she was designed as a racing boat, most famously competing in an early singlehanded transatlantic race sailed by Eric Tabarly.

Having seen a bit more of each other over the next few days, including a very nice dinner cooked up by Bernard, I jumped at the chance to join them for a tour of the island.

We first went up to the main crater in the centre

– an opportunity to check roughly how far there was left to go –

– and then on a bit of a coastal tour, before stopping for a very nice barbecued buffet lunch in a woodland picnic similar to the one I’d walked through on Sao Jorge. Even with our coachload there were vast amounts of space free- it must be quite something if they ever get fully used. Probably half a village could picnic in one!

After lunch we carried on to the western end and another abandoned lighthouse, this one due to a volcanic eruption sometime in the 60’s or 70’s that filled it’s ground floor with sand

and created a large area of new land beyond it, presumably meaning it could be rather misleading. Most of that has been eroded away now but there’s an awful lot left!

Although the morning had been quite misty the afternoon was beautiful, and quite a few of us went for a quick swim when the coach stopped for a coffee break on the way back – a lovely end to a very nice day.

And being the start of August, time to think about moving on again..

Kernow a’gas Dynnergh

Posted in Fun, Music, Photographs, Sailing, the English Channel, Walking with tags , , on September 26, 2011 by maidofmettle

Or welcome to Cornwall. Just when I thought I’d run out of tricky foreign languages to try and learn..

I did say I’d try and catch up on what I’ve been up to since I got back as well as carrying on with the story through the Azores and back to here. You can use the tags and categories to get things to appear in a more sensible order if it gets too confusing.

So, my first stop in England, sorry, Cornwall – many would say there’s definitely a difference – was Mullion Cove. It’s a little bay to the west of the Lizard, looking back across Mount’s Bay to Penzance and Mousehole, provided with a very little shelter by Mullion Island just offshore.

It was idyllic in the afternoon – I paddled ashore to the beach visible just astern of Maid..

and also said hello to some locals out for a days fishing, who very kindly provided me with a very fresh fish for dinner.

Unfortunately it didn’t stay this idyllic – the wind got up rather more than forecast and when the tide was going the opposite way to it the shelter of the island wasn’t really enough to make it all that uncomfortable. I’d been just about to enjoy a celebratory drink of honey rum & lemon juice but decided I’d better leave it for the next day in case I had to make a hasty exit.

The next morning was much less pleasant – grey and wet, and the sea still quite lumpy. I left straight after the early morning forecast with the aim of tacking around the Lizard while the tide was still favourable.

At this point, the wind promptly dropped away to nothing, so I ended up motor-sailing for an hour or so into a rather lumpy sea, in the rain..

Happily, that only lasted an hour or so – then the wind returned, I was able to turn eastwards and ride the waves rather than plunging into them, and the tide was helping to rush Maid eastwards around the point rather than trying to take her northwards into the bay.

Time for the sushi I’d made with some of the fish yesterday…

The sun even came out later, providing a lovely sail around to the Helford River on the opposite side of the peninsula, just south of Falmouth. The wind got lighter again, but with some additional sail and flat water it wasn’t a problem this time.

In fact the opposite was the case when the wind suddenly increased again just as I was approaching a lot of moored boats – cue a rapid removal as all sail as I didn’t fancy storming through them at that speed since I’d only visited the river by land before..

I did at least have verbal instructions, as there was a good anchorage just upstream from Mike & Carolyn’s Phantom Lady – I’d been planning on on stopping here since saying goodbye to them several months before in Las Palmas on Gran Canaria.

This is the view looking downstream from there. It’s certainly a beautiful and sheltered spot, and it was great to see them both again over the next few days.

I ended up staying a bit longer than I’d planned to see the Helford regatta, and did quite a bit of exploring round the local area in the portabote, the kayak and on foot.

The banks of the Helford are home to some lovely woodland

– and some very nice little villages.

and have inspired at least one novel – Daphne du Maurier’s Frenchmans Creek, the bottom of which you can see below.

A lot of people seem to have been grumbling about the summer weather this year, but it was mostly pretty nice there, though some mornings were rather misty, almost like those French canals…

Definitely porridge weather..

Fortunately the evening before the regatta was beautiful, as the village stores in Helford was hosting a paella night. Didn’t I leave Spain a while ago? I think about 300 people were there, and very well catered for – below you can see just one of the three dishes…

I think this is pretty much the final fling of the village social calendar before all the second-home owners disappear for the winter – it was certainly a good party

and an excellent adventure finding my way back out of the village and through the woods to the dinghy afterwards, with a long line of us winding our way down muddy paths having forgotten to take torches..

The regatta day itself looked like it might turn out rather wet, but fortunately it cleared again by the time the tide had risen enough to allow all the races to be held in the creek in front of the pub. The one-oar paddling race and backwards rowing competitions were definite highlights.

The most gruelling event was probably a two-man effort – rowing to one place, dropping off a runner who had to go up a steep hill and back through Helford to get to another landing spot in the other direction before being rowed back to the finish.

Afterwards most people moved up to a cafe near the sailing club for refreshments and music before the fireworks display.

Mike had said the fireworks would probably be very good, and he was definitely right. It might not have been quite on the scale of some of the Portuguese displays, but for a spectacular 8 or 9 minutes it was pretty close.

The next day I went ashore to pick a few more blackberries and then set sail about an hour before low water. That meant I had the tide with me to get down to the bottom of the Helford River, and slack water and then tide with me to take me up Carrick Roads and the Truro River to an Ocean Cruising Club gathering.

I did make a bit of a spectacle of myself on arrival with a couple of aborted approaches to the pontoon before deciding I definitely needed to approach from the other direction, at which point Maid pretty much berthed herself while I moved the fenders around.

I was also decidedly late, so it was a dramatic entrance all round! It had been a very nice sail though, and all the people I knew (Liz, Mark & Chloe on Lone Rival, the boat ahead of Maid) or knew by association and occasional correspondence about pilot book revisions (Anne on Wrestler, moored outside Lone Rival) were planning on staying overnight.

Although they’d pretty much finished lunch this did have it’s advantages, as the food and drinks tables were moved down alongside Maid a few minutes after tying up.

Everyone staying for the night met up again later on for dinner with some additional guests helping themselves to Chloe’s very tasty punch.

Mum made all of these three at various times, and they’ve done a fair bit of sailing between them – Scubus (left) racing across the Atlantic with Liz and Anne, and lots more cruising since, Cornelius going all round Africa in Lone Rival, and Josh having accompanied me down to the Canaries and back.

The next day I rather remarkably managed to establish mobile contact with Si & Cat who we’d met last year in France, and sailed back down the Fal and went past St Mawes to a beautifully peaceful and sheltered anchorage at Percuil

before joining them for a trip to the famous ‘Plume of Feathers’ in Portscatho. It was quite strange to see them again on land, with both our boats having their masts up and everything, but another very good evening.

The next day I dropped down to St Mawes in the evening to catch up with Nick on Wylo II, who I’d last seen in the Canaries (and before that in Penryn not long after we’d bought the boat), and marvel at his photos of classic boats racing in Antigua this summer. He designed the boat himself, and has since sailed her around the world three or four times at least. Falmouth harbour is another crossroads similar to Horta – I’d seen one of the boats in the last photo there as well though I’d never spoken to the owners.

St Mawes itself is a very picturesque little town, still with a couple of working fishing boats though it is largely a rather genteel seaside resort now.

From the other side of the Percuil it’s a short and very scenic walk around the coast

to St Antony’s Head, which eighties kids’ TV aficionados may be excited to learn was the home of the Fraggles.

The water is beautifully clear, if a little chilly. In fact the first time I went swimming it felt like I’d imagine rolling in broken glass would be, but much nicer once you stopped, though after that it’s seemed much more pleasant.

Brrrrrrr!

The cliffs are also a great place for watching boats racing in the harbour, especially the traditional working boats which set a huge area of sail.

I sailed across and anchored off Falmouth for a few days (Maid is on the left). It was quite strange approaching Custom House Quay from the sea when I could really only remember it from the land – it is tucked right round the corner near the docks, almost in the shadow of the warhips. I suspect anchoring there would have been banned by now if it wasn’t such a long-standing tradition.

From there I got a rather early bus to Helston to see the Cornish Gorsedh, or ‘Gathering of the Bards’ – hence my use of Cornish in the title. This is the equivalent of the Welsh Eisteddfod, and was attended by guests from Wales and Brittany as well as the surprisingly numerous Cornish bards.

The weather was unfortunately living up to Celtic tradition, with some additions to the ceremonies required – well done for your poem in Cornish, efforts in schools or promoting Cornish culture, we’ll just tip the rainwater out of your cup; sit down here, I’ll just tip the water off it..

The music and singing was unsurprisingly very good, though it did come as something of a relief to enjoy it indoors out of the drizzle after the main ceremony had ended.

Thankfully the weather didn’t stay like that… This is Gyllngvase beach on the southern side of Falmouth after a walk around the castle.

It’s not all that cheap to stay off Falmouth even anchoring, but it was handy to have hot showers and things, and I did a lot of washing and a little shopping before sailing back to Percuil to check it would be a good place to leave the boat for a few days. It was certainly a good test of it, with near gale force winds roaring up the river. It was certainly noisy, but not really rough, and none of the four of us anchored there shifted.

I felt pretty happy things would be fine with the weather calming down as I left to go for a job interview and meet up with friends from my old office, before before meeting Mum in London and coming back down again. I did get a bit more tense on the way back to the boat, but she was still happily just where I’d left her when we got back.

It was another very misty morning the next day when we’d planned to sail to Falmouth…

We dropped the anchor off St Mawes first for lunch in the hope it would clear, but ended up going for a very slow and gentle sail with lots of practice on the foghorn (not sure it’ll help much with the harmonica though). It was quite strange as being able to see something would’ve been the only sense that really told you the boat was moving!

Still, we made it across to Falmouth, and tied up ahead of the boat I’d crossed paths with in mid-ocean on the way back from the Azores. Having chatted with Richard via VHF radio and satellite phone it was nice to finally see him at closer range than half a mile!

We had a lovely meal with Liz, Chloe and Anne, and a few days later welcomed Mark, Liz and Chloe onto Maid for an evening.

Mum and I also did some walking – both on the Roseland peninsula

along St Just creek

to the beautiful little waterside (well, at high tide anyway..) church

and around Pendennis Point at the entrance to the harbour

as well as having a look in the impressive National Maritime Museum.

When Mum went back home I went with her a few stops up the branch line to visit Penryn, where Chris & I had first bought Maid several years ago. It looked fairly similar

though most of the people who’d been there had moved on, though I did find one of our further neighbours, and further down the bank another acquaintance I’d made in the Canaries.

Back in Falmouth I met up with Si and Cat again, who’d sailed over in Planet for a quick stop

before we both sailed back over to St Mawes. Since this was the first time we’d actually seen each others’ boats under sail after meeting a couple of years ago we obviously took a few photos..

Here are Maid just leaving Falmouth…

and Planet setting out across Carrick Roads.

We met up again a few days later for lunch after I’d walked over to Portscatho – a slightly odd experience as it’s not that long after leaving the banks of the Percuil that you can see the sea on the other side of the high ground –

and then again for dinner on Maid the following day. I’d made a bit of an expedition of getting blackberries for dessert, walking up over the fields around the Percuil

to Place Creek

and along to St Anthony’s Head before taking the other path along the coast back to the dinghy via Towan Beach.

It’s not that convenient a place to keep the boat, which is something I’ve been spending a while considering, but it’s a very nice place to holiday.

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!

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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 : )

 

 

 

 

 

 

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..

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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 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).