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AZORES

Captain's Log, 12 September 1998
Position: 39d 36m north, 31d 7m west (passing between Corvo and
Flores)

We have spread our wings again, after a delightful stay on the island of Flores. We had intended to make a brief pit stop here, but it was so beautiful, and the people so friendly, that we stayed 5 days. The harbor of Lajes is nestled within 300' cliffs to the north and west, hence our inability to get any kind of radio signal out.

Flores is one of those end-of-the-earth kinds of places, the westernmost point of Europe. 3000 people live here, on an island so craggy and wildly volcanic in origin as to be almost unbelievable. Tiny communities, some with as few as 50 people, have sprung up wherever there was enough of a flat spot for dirt to form. In 3 places, rudimentary ports huddle behind breakwaters, providing just enough shelter for fishermen to launch small boats. Seven large caldeiras, each with its own beautiful lake, crown the top of the island, which is almost permanently shrouded in a cloud cap. Those who do not fish, eke out a living raising cattle and goats. The cattle are genetically adapted to the 45 degree slopes on which they must graze, some with shortened left legs, who munch counterclockwise around the hills, and some with short right legs, who go the other way. Ha, ha, gotcha!

It is a magical place, just being discovered by Europe, but still holding on to its unique identity. There is now a small airport, and the port of Lajes is being enlarged, courtesy of EU funds. So, eventually, it will become a major tourist destination. But we were one of only 2 visiting boats, and if there were tourists they were well hidden. The other vessel, belonging to an American couple, arrived in July, intending to stay a few days. They never left, have bought a house and land, and are in the process of "going native". It is a place that exerts that kind of magnetism.

None of our crew has jumped ship, thankfully, and we are all well rested and fed. We hooked up with a local fisherman, Jose, who showed us around. Joel went fishing for tuna with him one day. Joel has become our resident fisherman; he caught a fine dorado a couple of days out from the Azores, and today caught a 10-lb bonito which we will have for dinner. Blackberry picking was at its peak while we were there, and Shifra made some outrageous blackberry tarts, which we shared with our boat neighbors.

Now we are headed for Horta, where we will visit the legendary Cafe Sport, get some sail repairs done, and hopefully get the hardware items we need for our other repairs. There was a major eruption and earthquake elsewhere on the island of Faial a month ago, and we should also get a chance to see the effects of that. Probably we will head south to Madeira after that, as the weather in the Azores gets pretty unsettled toward the end of September.

MR


Captain's Log, 18 Sept 1998
Horta Harbor, Island of Faial, Azores

Bom dia:

If you are a reader in search of calamity and epic feats of stupidity at sea, read no further. We have nothing of the kind to report (this time). We had an uneventful passage from Flores to Horta, aside from the fact that the wind was dead against us, making a 120 mile trip into a 200 mile, 2 day slog tacking back and forth. However, the blessed anemometer never went over 25 knots. We enjoyed the bonito caught by Joel, which provided 2 dinners en route. By the way, for those who have asked about the toxicology
reports on the famous swordfish, we actually stopped eating it when Joel caught the first dorado. At that point it had been in the reefer for a week and was quite fresh; probably about as fresh as what we buy at Shop'n'Save. And the signs of delirium seen among the crew were, in my professional opinion, baseline--not due to mercury toxicity.

Horta is legendary on several counts: It has, since the great age of exploration began in the time of Prince Henry the Navigator, been a stopping place for European and American ships going in every direction across the Atlantic. Because it is nearly mid Atlantic, it was a stopping place for Amphibious planes going from New York to Europe. More recently, and for the same reasons, it has been THE stopping place for sailboats crossing the Atlantic, and has long had the most protected harbor in the Azores for small boats. This was the first rest stop for Joshua Slocum, who brought SPRAY here in the late 1800's at the start of the first solo circumnavigation of the globe. Since then, virtually every famous sailboat has stopped here as well. The sea walls are covered with the painted logos of hundreds of cruising boats. And the equally famous Cafe Sport, watering hole for the crews of said boats, is also covered with flags and memorabilia from boats passing through. Horta has been reputed to be one of the friendliest ports in the world as well. We haven't seen so much of that: I think the locals are shagged out after a long season of boat people, and ready for the lot of us to go away for a few months. Perhaps this is only by contrast with the atmosphere on Flores.

For us, it has been an excellent place for repairs, as there is a good supply of marine hardware and other essentials. In the 4 days we have been here, we have steadily worked down through our list. Sail repairs are done, the new spreader is made, winches are working again after removing great clumps of salt. Numerous changes have been made at the mast head to reduce chafe, and a new inner forestay fitting is being fabricated. Our old fitting was showing some cracks in the welding, and we decided to have a completely new one made. The heroic parachute sea anchor has been lovingly rinsed with fresh water, dried and carefully repacked, ready to save our bacon again. Joel has torn down the propane cooking stove, cleaned up all the salt water and old cooking schmutz, and got it back in tip-top condition. Shifra has painted our logo on the sea wall, and so we join the long tradition. We have also found a fine bakery and pastry shop, which we are generously supporting.

We are quite late in the season here, so the marina is far less crowded. Rather than rafting up 10 deep along the sea wall, we have been 1-2 deep, first alongside a South African boat, and now alongside SEA BEAR, a steel boat from Bath, Maine. Aft of us is a British boat, DOVE, with a BBC film crew filming whales and sharks. Among other things, they have a huge cage for filming sharks on their foredeck; quite a sight on a 60' boat. Hard to imagine them actually sailing. Forward of us lies a sad tale in the form of MAREBLU, a 72' German charter boat which has been sold and is en route to its new owner in France, but has been laid up here for 2 months with a broken propeller shaft and twisted roller furling rig. It is already very late in the season for heading to Europe, and they will probably break lots of other things before they make France. A friendly Canadian aboard FREDHEIM gave us a fine piece of close-grained western red cedar to make our new spreader with, in exchange for a cup of coffee. It had been looking like we'd have to use some of the oak we have aboard, which would have been heresy.

We will finish up our refitting work in a day or two, with luck, and then will look for a good weather window for Madeira, possibly with a brief stop in Santa Maria, the southeasternmost of the Azores. There is great turmoil to the north of us, with poor old England getting one deep low after another. Here we get the southern edges of these systems, with brief episodes of rain and strong westerly winds. As time goes on, however, they will get closer and closer. The general wisdom is that late August is the deadline for getting safely to northern Europe, and mid-September for Spain and the Mediterranean. For Madeira and the Canaries, late September is OK, but not later unless one is a masochist. Interestingly, it is mostly Americans who are left here. Is this because we think we are immune to the forces of nature, or because this weather seems quite delightful compared to what we are used to in New England? I would compare this weeks weather, for example, to a fine July in Penobscot Bay, without the fog.

I notice, as I look over this and previous logs, that weather occupies the bulk of the discussion. This is peculiar to sailors, and perhaps people who fly. This may be why books about voyaging hold so little general interest, and generally fail to qualify as literature, except perhaps for those authors who deal with psychosis at sea, like Melville and Conrad. Among seafarers, even those able to feign normalcy by land, there seems to be an inversion of priorities, with weather dominating all other topics. For example, people will sometimes open a conversation with an innocuous weather comment, such a "Hot today, isn't it", en route to what they are really interested in discussing, such as, "I notice you have an amputated leg...". Among sailors, by contrast, such a conversation might begin like this: "Nice wooden leg you've got there, mate".
"Ar, shark bit off me leg".
"Did he now, well that's a pisser. What sort of wood is that?"
"Ar, teak that is; carved it me'self. Won't never rot, that leg."
Haven't primed the conversational pump, they would quickly move on to the real meat of the discussion. "Hell of a blow we had coming down here; force 10 for 36 hours, barometer got down to 980 millibars in the middle of it....." And they're off for a good hour, reviewing in minute detail the weather of the past month, storms they've seen, high-pressure ridges, 500 millibar prognoses, the 96-hour surface prediction, equinoctal gales, etc., etc. It's best to avoid discussions like this if you are a truly normal person: they can induce coma within minutes, even death in artistic or literary persons......

Well, perhaps next time we will have some actual news. Until then, we hope you have really good weather wherever you are.

MR


Captain's Log 22 Sept 1998

All repairs completed, left Horta marina at 1400 UTC. Now rounding the island of Pico, bound for Ilha de Santa Maria,180 miles to the southeast. This will be a very brief pit stop en route to Madeira. Wind is gentle, northeast, barometer preposterously high. We are on the eastern edge of a large high, and should pick up the northeast trade winds between Santa Maria and Madeira. All systems and crew doing fine.

MR

Captain's Log, 24 September 1998
10 miles West of Santa Maria, Azores

We've had a very pleasant run from Horta, 190 miles in just under 48 hours, wind with us all the way. Spinnaker halyard chafed through and parted during the night, with all hands on deck in a hurry to fish the spinnaker out of the water. I guess that problem isn't solved yet. Will have another go at it when we are at anchor. The wind is now building to low 20's, and forecast to increase to northwest force 7 (28-33 knots) tonight, due to Hurricane Ivan, which will pass about 800 miles to the west of us. No real threat there, but we will sit it out in Vila do Porto until settled weather returns, hopefully in a day or two. This will give us a little time to explore Santa Maria, the first of the Azores to be settled, but now something of a backwater, eclipsed by the larger and more populous islands to the north and west. At 37 north, 25 west, we should now be pretty well south and east of the major storm tracks (lots of wood to knock on around here).

MR

 

Captain's Log, 29 Sept 1998, 1200 UTC
Position: 33d 30m north, 19d 14m west

We are now closing on the Madeiran Archipelago, with the island of Porto Santo, our destination, 150 miles to the east. The remnants of Tropical Storm Ivan passed about 350 miles north of us on Sunday, giving us a nice westerly flow of wind for the first day or so, but nothing over 20 knots. We covered 154 miles in our first 24 hours out of Santa Maria, which is our record for this trip. It was a little strange knowing that a tropical storm was in the neighborhood, but having only fair winds, blue skies, and no dip in the barometer. There weren't even any high cirrus clouds, which invariably precede a low pressure system of any kind. All we really got was about 24 hours of oppressive humidity, like summertime in the Caribbean. Now we are alternately wafting along under cruising spinnaker, and motoring through the lulls, just enjoying the fine weather. Yesterday, we hove to in the heat of the day for a swim. The bottom of the boat is remarkably free of growth, for almost 3 months in the water. It is always strange to swim in mid-ocean, with miles of water beneath you; none of us strays very far from the boat. It is a bit like the sensation of being at great height.

Reflections on the Azores: Due to my work schedule, we ended up arriving much later in the season than we would have liked, but got enough of a taste of the islands to feel they would be worth a real visit in the future. July and August would be the ideal time, with lots of festivals, and more settled weather. It would also be good to come back with more fluent Portugese. There are a remarkable number of people under 40 who have lived in the US or Canada, and we mostly communicated with them. It is quite common for young people to work outside the Azores for a time to accumulate some capital, then come back and buy land and perhaps a fishing boat. Many of our impressions are therefore filtered through people who have lived much of their lives in North
America. With true natives we had very little contact.

There is a kind of small town syndrome at work in all the islands, something like what we see in Maine. Young people bemoan the lack of action, long for the stimulus of city life on the continent, and go to Lisbon or Boston or Toronto; many come back regretting they ever left. We saw other examples of this phenomenon: we had heard that there was an excellent Azorean wine made in Graciosa, but whenever we asked about it people would laugh and say, no, no, you should get wine from the continent, not these local wines. Finally, we did manage to find some, and it was excellent. Sort of reverse marketing. Even on Flores, which easily rivals Maui for charm and stunning physical beauty, most of the people we talked to were a little bemused that anyone would come out of their way to visit the island, which to their eyes was nothing special.

There is an interesting east-west gradient as well. In the west, there is lush vegetation, lots of moisture, a more simple and open friendliness, and villages with houses which are neat, well-maintained and fairly uniform in style, none very opulent. Fishing and farming are active, and appear to dominate the economy. As one goes east, the islands get drier, more tired and exploited-looking, the people more urbane and less friendly. And class differences seem more blatant, with well-demarcated rich neighborhoods and more dilapidated obviously poor neighborhoods. Faial suffered a major earthquake a month before we got there, and people were pretty preoccupied with getting their lives and homes put back together, so it is difficult to say what Faial is normally like. This may account for Horta being less welcoming than usual. And even in Santa Maria, we encountered unexpected warmth and friendliness. The port captain there is keen on having more visiting yachts, which he views as a mark of prestige for the island. He was
ludicrously cordial, even to the point of saying I spoke excellent Portugese--Ha,ha.. So, generalities are dangerous. But, overall, a fascinating place, and we are glad we were able to at least scratch the surface.

MR

 

 

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