Sao Jorge and return to Faial

Sun 31 May 2009 12:02

We left Terceira (together with its excessively noisy fireworks at all hours proclaiming the Holy Spirit festival) last Sunday for the 40 mile trip to Velas, on the SW end of Sao Jorge. This involved going most of the length of the channel between Sao Jorge and Pico with fine (though intermittent) views of the summit of Pico. A few dolphin were about but otherwise little activity apart from the ever-present Cory’s Shearwaters.

This picture doesn’t do them justice – they glide along the wave-troughs using the “surface effect” inches above the water, then pivot on a wingtip to change direction, all without any visible wing movement. More of them later!

Velas harbour turned out to contain the promised small new marina, so we parked in one of the visitors’ places near the entrance.

The helpful and enthusiastic harbourmaster showed us the local attractions. These included his office, the office of the Guarda Nacional Republicana which we also needed to visit and the Clube Naval with restaurant and Wifi. The delights didn’t include loos or showers as the construction for these has only just started, but these were small hardships compared with the pleasures of this charming though low-key town. The Clube Naval lived up to its billing, offering a 5€ lunch including chunky veg soup, a large plate of pork ribs with veg, salad and rice, half a litre of wine each and an espresso.

The harbour has taken over the former anchorage area behind the harbour wall (the same sad story the world over), and opens onto the main dockyard which handles various shipping including the daily ferry (chartered from Greece, named Santorini Express and still wearing its Greek ensign).

Some of the containers being craned off the freighters looked like cages and mooed; dairy farming is very big in the Azores and Sao Jorge is the most important dairying island, producing outstanding sharply flavoured cheese.

During the day the local terns provide plenty of noisy entertainment in the harbour, The night shift of birds consists of hundreds of Cory’s shearwater that nest under rocks and vegetation on the cliff behind the marina. The Bradt Guide describes their calls on approaching the nest as “like a strangled clown breathing laughing gas”. Liv thought they sounded like Mr Punch, which got it exactly right. It was a fascinating and eerie noise but, being natural, didn’t interfere with our sleep.

From the sea the long, narrow island of Sao Jorge is ringed by high cliffs but, once up the steep cobbled streets and steps leading out of Velas, it becomes apparent that the interior consist of rolling, grassy hills divided into meadows by hedges of hydrangea punctuated by tree-heather.

The occasional traffic on the minor roads and lanes consists of tractors, small motor-bikes and ponies, all pulling carts filled with milk churns on their way to or from the local creamery.

The countryside may bring to mind Devon, the Welsh border or even the coast range of northern California, but the smell is totally like the cattle country of north Dorset.

We decided to move on Friday back to Horta on Faial, as the forecast showed a small but intense depression parking itself right over the Azores at the weekend; Velas faces south and is no place to be with such a forecast. Inevitably, lots of other boats had drawn the same conclusion, so the reception quay at Horta was four deep in boats awaiting berths. Being smaller than most, we were allocated a berth straight away and, after seeing the Immigration and Customs people, we parked at the north end of the well-protected old marina as the outermost boat of a raft of four. As the wind came in, we had to secure extra shore-lines in all sorts of strange ways to prevent the banana effect. It’s now Sunday and here we sit, looking and feeling more like Weymouth Custom Quay on a bad Bank Holiday than the mysterious Azores. The weather looks as if it will remain unpleasant for at least a week, so we will make the best of this pleasant town and be grateful that we don’t need to move on for quite a while.