Archive for Santa Maria

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next I continued in this direction:

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

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

They stand out especially clearly where channels have been formed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Madeira to the Azores part II

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

Day 5: Tuesday 28th June

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 6: Wednesday 29th June

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

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

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

Day 7: Thursday 30th June

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

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

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

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

This turned out to be quite fortunate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arrived in the Azores

Posted in Sailing, the Atlantic Ocean, the Azores with tags on July 1, 2011 by maidofmettle

Santa Maria seems much more welcoming than it used to be – having been made very wary by repeated pirate attacks, the inhabitants once imprisoned half Columbus’ crew on the return from his first Atlantic passage.

I had some problems, but nothing that dramatic. Overall, it was a very good trip. I managed a fair bit of writing on the way, but video will take a while as ever, so I’ll let the final Madeira blog conclude tomorrow and then try and do one of the trip here fairly soon.

First impressions on arrival – it’s really QUIET.

And as I say, very welcoming – the harbourmaster got me to move my boat to a smaller berth this morning, and then came back a couple of hours later to check I was happy there – claiming I’d needed to move so that people ashore could see my beautiful boat.

Just now a maritime policeman appeared to say I need to pay my 2 euros lighthouse tax, and said he’d walk me (and a couple of others) up to the Capitania in the town later to make sure we found it.

I’m looking forward to seeing some of the town as well – it’s all higher up overlooking the harbour.