24 May 2013

[Cruise News] Angra Do Heroism, Terceria, Azores

After a very enjoyable week in Horta, having Georgie join us, visiting the neighbouring Pico Island and touring Faial itself with sailing friends Karen & Nigel, we departed Horta yesterday for the 80 mile sail across to Terceira.  As ever the forecast winds which would have made sailing possible didn't materialise so we ended up motor-sailing virtually all the way arriving just before midnight.  We sailed along the channel between Sao Jorge and Graciosa, two more of the Azorean islands.  The north coast of Sao Jorge was all steep cliffs with deep, wooded ravines cut into them we presume the relics of volcanic activity also.  It's one of the least populated of the islands and it was easy to see why: Not exactly very accessible!

It was Georgie's first passage at sea (she's been a dinghy sailor to date) but she proved to be a natural on the helm, sure-footed and very keen to help and learn.  Luckily for her we saw whales and dolphins, including some rather unusual white spotted dolphins with a very tall dorsal fin, and apparently called Grampo Risso's dolphins.  We were all tired by the time we got here and didn't get a great nights sleep thanks to the swell entering the marina.  So this morning, after Paul had checked us is with Customs & Immigration, we moved further into the marina and are hoping for a better night tonight.

We're actually berthed in the marina at Angra Do Heroismo, a town awarded World Heritage Site status by UNESCO back in the 1980s.  We've been exploring the old town for the rest of today and have all really liked it.  Georgie and I have indulged in a little shopping and we've also all enjoyed the ambience of the place and friendliness of the people.  Architecturally it's very pretty with a lot of balconies and properties painted in pastel colours.  Definitely worth a visit.

Unbeknown to us, Terceira has a tradition of bull-fighting.  Unlike in Spain where the poor animals are skewered and can't escape an arena, here the bulls are left to run the streets very much like in Pamplona.  They have the end of their horns squared off and most spectators watch  from the balconies of properties lining the streets, but a surprising number of men bait the bulls and are lucky to avoid being gored.  We're off to watch one such spectacle tomorrow .... from a safe distance!

22 May 2013

[Cruise News] Tour of Faial Island

We decided to hire a car today with fellow ARC 2012 sailors Karen and Nigel to explore Faial.  We'd been told about the incredible geography of the island and were keen to witness it first hand.

The Azores are of course tips of volcanes sticking out of the Atlantic.  A lot of these are dormant but do erupt reasonably regulalry in volcanic terms.  Pico Mountain last erupted 15 years ago whereas the main volcano on Faial hasn't erupted since 1957.  The result of this volcanic activity is a very dramatic landscape with barren plains intersected by lava flows at Capelinhos - a real lunar landscape at the western end of the island, and home to a still-working lighthouse.  In the centre of the island is an enormous crater, approximately 2km wide and 400m deep, called Caldeira.

There is a well-known 10-volcanoes walk on the island covering a distance of 27km which we didn't have time (or the inclination!) to do but it just shows how many volcanoes are present on such a small island.

One disappointment for me was that the hydrangea bushes that cover a lot of the island weren't quite in bloom,  Oh well, there always has to be a reason to revisit a place!

21 May 2013

[Cruise News] Pico Island

We caught the local ferry across to neighbouring Pico Island today having been advised it was a local festival day (Spiritos Do Sao Santos) in honour of Patron Saint of Sailors so we thought it was appropriate we attend.  Pico is the second largest of the Azorean islands and is home to the highest mountain in Portugal - Pico Mountain, a volcano.  We took a taxi up to the visitor's centre but sadly everything was shrouded in low cloud and so we couldn't see a lot!   So we retreated back down to the town square in Madalena, claimed a table in the square and partook of beers and wine until the festival proceedings started.  These seemed to comprise of a procession through the streets of local ladies carrying paniers of bread on their heads for blessing and distribution to the poor, plus brass bands and local dignatories.  It proved to be a very pleasant afternoon, expecially given the wine was only 1 Euro a glass and was  pretty decent.

As we returned to the ferry port, we were all given a loaf of sweet bread as well .... obviously not looking like wealthy yacht owners today!!

[Cruise News] Horta Marina

We've enjoyed a lazy few days here in Horta, exploring a bit of the town but mainly relaxing - Paul was weary after his crossing.  Two fellow British ARC sailors who we got very friendly with in Bermuda and left Bermuda 3 days after Paul did (and I have kept in email contact with throughout their passage to the Azores) arrived on Saturday evening.  They did the crossing in half a day less than Jay Jay but their boat (Persephone) is a racing yacht so I think Paul et al did very well.  They had to be towed the last 40 miles because their engine failed but fortunately another yacht was close by and came to their rescue.

We offered to prepare dinner for them on their arrival day and spent a great evening together, hitting the various flavoured rums we have on board after midnight.  They returned the favour last night but we did forgo the rum!  We're all off to Pico Island on the ferry today as it's a festival day and has been recommended to us.

Georgina, our crew member, arrived yesterday and seems very excited and enthusiastic about the trip.  It will be great to have a third pair of hands and eyes on board for the crossing - around 1500 miles so 12 days or more at sea.  Looking at the forecasts, it should be reasonable providing we head due north for the first couple of days ... but we know how (in)accurate the forecasts can be so the exact route will no doubt develop as we progress.  At least we have plenty of food and water on board so should be fine in that regard. 

18 May 2013

[Cruise News] Horta Marina

Well life is back to normal now: The crew left early yesterday morning and we've been cleaning/provisioning/maintaining Jay Jay ever since .... and there people think it's a glamorous life!  All joking apart it's fantastic to be back on board with Paul.

It was an amazing feeling watching Jay Jay approach the customs dock on Thursday morning ... all four on board had beaming smiles and were so obviously delighted to be here having completed what is probably one of the toughest adventures of their lives.  Paul was on the helm and brought Jay Jay smoothly alongside before leaping off to give me a big hug ... so good to see him again.  After clearing in with C&I, we moved Jay Jay into the marina proper and then all went ashore for a celebratory beer in Peter's Sport Cafe, quite the place for newly arriving sailors to drink to their success and toast one another.  I, of course, was just a free-loader!

I fully expected to find a boat picked clean of anything edible given the extended passage but there's actually quite a lot of tinned stuff and dried goods on board!  Paul did all the cooking on the crossing and is justifiably proud that he didn't serve up the same meal twice.  Quite the creative chef!

Our new crew member (Georgina) arrives on Monday so we had planned to explore Faial Saturday / Sunday but both of us feel weary - Paul because of what he has just completed and me because I've caught a cold!  Damn!!  Hopefully we'll both feel a bit brighter tomorrow.

Looking at the weather forecast, you guessed it, the winds are from the wrong direction for the forseeable future.  So I think we'll visit a couple of the other Azorean islands this coming week and keep our fingers crossed the winds swing to the north (or even better, the south or west) very soon.

16 May 2013

[Cruise News] 0745 local time

I'm demoted back to Cruise News now after my temporary presence on Captain's Blog!  I thought I'd let the Skipper complete today's entry given he's made the passage after all!

Well I've just received a text from Jay Jay to say they have rounded the south of Faial and have 10 miles to go to the marina.  So I'm keeping an eye out from the hotel restaurant for their arrival and will run down to the dock to greet them.  Can't wait!

Talking to other people in the hotel who have made the crossing during the same period (crew off a 90' Swan yacht and others off a 49' catamaran) it's been a really tough crossing so I'm both very proud of the four of them on Jay Jay and also glad I took the easy option, although I guess I'll always have a few regrets I missed out one stage of the full Atlantic circle.

So, they've made the crossing in 17 days and 20 hours, 4 days longer than originally hoped but here safe and sound which is all that matters!