Archive for the Azores

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.