Archive for the the Azores Category


Posted in Cooking, Cornwall, French canals and rivers, Music, Photographs, Sailing, Surfing, the Atlantic Ocean, the Azores, the Canary Islands, the Madeira archipelago, Walking, Wildlife with tags , , on August 19, 2016 by maidofmettle

5 years ago yesterday night (yesternight?) I sailed between the Wolf Rock and Gwennap Head / Tol Pedn to the accompaniment of fireworks exploding somewhere over Land’s End (yep, I’m claiming they were for me 😉 ).

And 5 years ago today I dropped anchor in Mullion Cove after leaving the Azores on the 3rd of August.

2011-08-19 #09 Mullion Cove (Custom).JPG

That was the beginning of the end of two years of living on Maid of Mettle, just over a year and over two thousand miles with Chris and Caroline and another 10 months or so and a couple of thousand miles on my own. It seems a while ago now..

So, what don’t I miss?

  • handling wet and very cold ropes on the canals, not to mention stamping my feet to keep the circulation going while motoring in a wet and chilly France. This may have had a permanent effect – warmth is definitely one of the things I do miss!

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  • rough seas, when you know things may well get worse before they get better and there is no escape till they calm down – while they were only a small part of the trip, and on the whole a price well worth paying, they do leave some lasting impressions. I seem to have blanked nearly the entire trip from Madeira to Tenerife from my memory after a few days when I didn’t feel well, despite the fact that looking over some photos and videos there were clearly some nice parts to the journey as well. Some passages you just want to end.

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And what were the best things?

  • the freedom – the time to properly enjoy cooking, to go walking and get to know places, to meet people, to take up new hobbies such as surfing and playing harmonica, or simply spend at least an hour in the surf to end up with one half-decent picture of a breaking wave – this is special, more so than exotic places.

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Thanks Jon for that photo

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and thanks Quiksilver for that one

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Though that said:

  • discovering beautiful places, and experiencing things I never knew existed. I could name something in any region we went, but the following stand out particularly:
    • the peaceful waters of the Guadiana,

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  • the levada canals winding among the peaks, valleys and terraces of Madeira,

2011-06-15 #40 Boca da Corrida to Barreiras (Custom)

  • the hill country of northern Gran Canaria

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  • and the hot springs of the Azores

2011-07-12 #37 Sao Miguel - Poco da Dona Beija (Custom)

  •  the people – while getting to spend time with my family and friends in this country again is fantastic, for meeting and getting to know new people it’s much easier while sailing (though the same effect can be true coastal sailing in this country, especially in the west country).

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  • Also in the first part of the trip having so much (okay – yes, sometimes too much at times!) time with two of my best friends

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  • the sailing on passage – there is a real satisfaction in taking plenty of time and patience to the boat set up to travel as safely, quickly and comfortably as you can, and a peaceful night sail miles from anything is a delight. There are similar pleasures in coastal cruising but it’s a different mindset as you usually have to change things much quicker!

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  • the accomplishment of offshore passage-making – it’s a rare opportunity,  definitely a special feeling, and one that lasts whereas so often in other fields there is always the next deadline lurking.

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  • the stars at sea – an incredible spectacle. You could reach out and touch them, but you could never count them (they’re not easy to photograph from a small boat either)
  • dolphins – very hard to predict when they’ll turn up, and there is something utterly magical about their presence, bringing an instant and lasting smile (that got crossed off after seeing dolphins several days in a row sailing west down the Cornish coast, culminating in them playing round the boat for ages sailing into Portscatho in the evening sun)

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  • the food – the Madeira market is the greatest for spectacle, but my favourites are those in Alcoutim (tiny but welcoming, frequently including a massive bunch of coriander as a gift) and Las Palmas (enormous and well worth browsing all round), the challenge of provisioning and cooking on a boat in general and especially on passage, and the many regional delicacies. Except the barbecued dried squid, which I’m not convinced was actually edible

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You’ll notice many of those overlap – a symptom, I think, of a fundamentally different lifestyle. Though that said, there are many things I have taken (or try to) from the time away:

  • the willingness and confidence to try new things – without some of the experiences while away I’m not sure I’d ever have ended up playing for my football team, or sung at my local folk club (to be fair that’s pretty rare even now)

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  • friendships with people I/we met while away. While I hear from others further afield, it was a special pleasure to be present when Si and Cat launched Kensa, the fishing boat they’d built since returning from their extensive travels in the Mediterranean

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  • and more than that, I think I’ve managed to stay in better contact with at least some friends since being away and having that bit more time and impetus to keep in touch via email etc when not meeting face to face (if you’ve read this with some surprise, disappointment and/or offence, please drop me a line and we can start putting things right! 🙂 )
  • enjoying a continuing connection to offshore sailing through various friends; the members of the Ocean Cruising Club – I am still amazed and humbled that they awarded me their Rose Medal for 2011, just being part of a club containing so many people who have achieved extraordinary things is an honour; and the general collective of sailors coming and going from and enjoying the south-west

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2011-08-30 #11 St Mawes - Wylo II (Custom).JPG

  • speaking of which, discovering south Cornwall as a cruising ground – it is a very special area

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It seems a good time to repeat this sentiment from 2010, for adventures near or far 🙂


“A toast to onward voyages on land and sea”

(that last picture and inspiration for the style of post come from Caroline’s last entry 400 days to get there 400 minutes to get back)

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..

If all roads lead to Rome, all sailing routes lead to Horta

Posted in Photographs, Sailing, the Azores, Walking with tags , , on September 15, 2011 by maidofmettle

Surprisingly, it’s proving rather harder to write blog entries in a regular fashion in England than while cruising remote islands. But then I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at possible job opportunities and places to keep the boat.

Hopefully this will have been the longest gap, and I’ll probably start alternating between catching up on the time in the Azores and trip back (which I know is what you’re all waiting for..) and what I’ve been doing lately.

Historically Angra do Heroismo on Terceira was probably the more important harbour in the Azores – it was the calling point for Vasco da Gama returning from the first rounding of the Cape of Storms (later to be renamed the Cape of Good Hope) and for vast numbers of trading ships following the same route.

But more recently Horta on Faial has taken over as the main cross-roads for sailing boats, with well over 1,000 passing through every year. I planned on going there myself, but first I thought I’d take a look at it from the far end of Sao Jorge. Faial is the island on the right; Pico is to the left.

That end of Sao Jorge is also home to a big lighthouse and numerous outbuildings, all now abandoned since it was damaged in an earthquake.

Quite eerie.

The first photo was taken from near an old whaling look-out point – here’s the view from inside it looking the other way, north towards Graciosa.

The road away from the lighthouse was remarkably straight..

Having got very used to winding my way around a volcanic landscape it came as quite a surprise. Perhaps a Roman ship got blown out into the Atlantic at some point? The locals seemed a bit bemused by that theory though.

The countryside is largely open pasture (Sao Jorge cheese is very well known…), but near the end of my walk I passed through a woodland recreation area – also very beautiful, and a pleasant change to have some shade.

I stopped off for a galão

– a milky coffee similar to a latte, before getting the bus back down from Rosais to Velas.

After a bit of re-stocking the galley cupboards (definitely not forgetting some of the local cheese) I couldn’t help noticing there was still a rather nice wind blowing, though none was forecast for the next few days.

Having got rather frustrated in Angra I decided to take the opposite approach here and just go for it. Even if it did die before dark I ought to be able to get most of the way to Horta before then.

So, this is Velas disappearing into the background..

…and this is Faial appearing.

Horta is on the far left of the picture above, on the slightly lower ground just to the right of two hills. It was a beautiful sail, with the mainsail and one of the biggest jibs up..

… but the wind was dropping, and not long after I’d finished making a cheesecake (note – must check if this is unlucky at sea) it ded away fairly completely.

So I finished dinner (curry night, finishing off the final jar of mango chutney! and a raita made using wild mint I picked while out walking)..

..and then got the engine on to motor the last hour or so to Horta. It was taking a bit longer than I’d hoped as the tidal current in the channel between Horta and Pico didn’t seem to be changing as quickly as I’d expected, but it wasn’t too long past midnight when I got into the harbour and tied up alongside another boat with the help of the night watchmen.

Even at that hour I could see the paintings covering the breakwaters were impressive, but I thought I’d wait to take a photo till the morning. Time to help a Canadian couple who’d just arrived from the other side of the Atlantic tie their boat up, and then to go to bed.

I was looking forward to looking around in the morning, and hopefully finding at least one prior acquaintance. It’s nice to seek out isolated places like the beautiful anchorage off the Ilheu de Vila, but there’s definitely something exciting about being at a big crossroads as well.

Looking back in Angra

Posted in Photographs, Sailing, the Azores, Walking with tags , , , on September 1, 2011 by maidofmettle

since that’s where we left off in the Azores, and we wouldn’t want to miss anything, would we?

I didn’t actually leave the capital while I was on Terceira, but Angra is well worth exploring. It’s a beautiful city, and especially so considering that it was devastated by an earthquake in 1983, causing many casualties and severe damage to nearly three-quarters of the buildings in some of the central parishes. If a roof looks shiny and new, it was probably replaced..

The title of World Heritage Site was actually granted a little later, while the city was being rebuilt, and presumably the effort towards and achievement of guided the restoration of the many old buildings – there’s certainly not much sign of the destruction now. This is the main street leading up from the harbour…

…and this one of the streets leading off it, clearly in festival mode for something or other.

It’s quite impressive by night as well.

There are some attractive gardens as well as beautiful old buildings..

….yet more mosaic pavements and paths…

..and an unusual drinking fountain.

I also went to one of the main museums on the island, and attempted to get my head around Terceira’s role in Portugal’s long and complicated history. It’s certainly featured quite often – the island was the last part of Portugal to be conquered by the Spanish, and was prominent in later internal Portuguese conflicts. The appellations of Angra do Heroismo (of heroism) and Praia da Vitoria (of victory) were granted after one of these.

It’s claimed the local touradas a corda, or bull-running events, date back to a skirmish when an invading force was repelled from the island by the poorly armed but determined inhabitants driving their cattle down from the hills at the landing party. Whether that’s true or not, it’s an exceedingly popular spectator sport today, with a few events being held in remote villages while I was there.

Rather than a dedicated arena, they take place in the streets , squares or beaches, with the bull being somewhat restrained by a team of men pulling on ropes attached to a harness.

I suspect I’d have gone if one had been handy, to see what it was like, though you can get a fair idea from the videos which are on sale and on display in many shops. And I did like this drawing in the museum, which rather reminded me of a Hogarth print – I’d have been very tempted to label it something like The evils of bull-running in the middle classes.

That and the videos certainly show the best and the worst of it – it’s obviously a popular event with a great atmosphere, but while there’s certainly bravery I couldn’t really say there’s sport in a man lying in one end of an inflatable dinghy tapping a bull on the head with a paddle, while the ropes stop it doing anything more than shoving it’s head into the near end – more depressing than exciting.

And the man who managed to get his foot caught in one of the ropes at the same time as the handlers lost control of the bull got rather more excitement than he bargained for, and I’d guess several broken ribs…ouch.

In between looking around ashore I was also getting a few jobs done on the boat, in particular a routine servicing of the winches. This one has just been cleaned and very lightly greased and oiled again.

And I was spending a while looking at weather forecasts, and at what seemed to be happening locally. There generally was quite a difference – no wind forecast, but a fair amount in the harbour – quite frustrating for trying to work out when to leave for Sao Jorge with the best chance of a good sail, rather than it dying away after a few hours or a mile or two away from the coast.

In the end with no wind forecast for some time I decided to just go for it.

It was a beautiful sail away from Angra at first…

…continuing into the evening.

But unfortunately the wind kept dropping… and dropping…

At least it was a very peaceful night. Even though it was frustrating, it was probably better than more waiting in Angra wondering if there was wind out to sea or not. And it was so calm I could hear dolphins breathing, even if I couldn’t see them. Or they might even have been whales. It’s a nice thought, since I never saw any!

The next morning Sao Jorge wasn’t looking much closer than it had the previous night.

Because it wasn’t. Time to get the engine on then. At least with the sea this flat I had very little steering to do, more just a matter of keeping an eye on things.

This was great, because I could spend most of my time watching dolphins – there were often some around the boat, but even when there weren’t the flat sea meant I could see several different schools within a few hundred yards.

The ones playing under the bow are always the most fun to watch though.

With them to watch, it didn’t actually seem all that long till I was passing down the channel between Sao Jorge and Pico.

I took a glance at Calheta, the first possible place to stop on Sao Jorge, but it looked a very small space to anchor in with some jet skis buzzing around, and there was suddenly a nice breeze.

I decided to continue on to Velas, nearer the western end. The breeze died about 5 minutes later, but I decided to continue. I motored around the anchorage checking depths, but it was very deep – I had enough chain if I combined the lengths for both the main and second anchors, but I didn’t really feel like doing that after the overnight trip and motoring for most of the day, so I headed in and got a very warm welcome in the marina.

By this time the sun had come out – you can see Pico, the highest mountain in Portugal, in the background on the island of the same name.

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 : )