Archive for Graciosa

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.