Sao Miguel

Mon 6 Jul 2009 12:51

About the last significant event of our stay in Terceira was a birding walk along pleasant stone-walled farm lanes south of the bay, ending at what the visitors’ guide accurately described as a “grotty quarry”. Grotty or not, it lived up to its reputation as a good place for waders, producing three white-rumped sandpiper (an American species) as well as pleasant but more familiar birds including ring plover and little egret.


 Our berth in Praia da Vitoria, being on the outside of the wavebreaker on the south side of the marina, would not have been a good place to remain in a fresh wind from the S or SW. Since exactly this was forecast for June 25th and 26th, we debated the pros and cons of anchoring near the commercial port at the S end of the bay. We both agreed that it would be better to sail the 90 miles to Ponta Delgada on São Miguel before the strong wind arrived. We left Praia early on the evening of Tue 23rd, sailing a pleasant broad reach in a northerly Force 4. This improved later by veering NE so that we could lay our course without needing to gybe or pole out the genoa. Overnight we kept 4-hour watches so we both got plenty of sleep. The lighthouse of Ponta da Ferraria (Fl3 20s for the technically minded) appeared just after midnight, and as the sun came up we sailed about a mile off the SW coast of São Miguel, rounding the harbour mole at about noon.


Ponta Delgada opened its new marina within the glitzy new Portas do Mar development a year ago.

This all lies to the west of the old marina (Pêro de Teive) the two being separated by a T-shaped spur with a liner and ferry berth on the outside and restaurants and shops on the inside. Virtually all visiting boats are berthed in the new marina, but the concrete reception pontoon is still in the entrance to the old marina

so, after checking in and being allocated a berth, one has to motor right round the liner berth to reach the new pontoons. Although (or the guide perhaps because) Ponta Delgada is the big city and capital of the Azores, it takes the record for the number of officials that need to be visited on arrival even from the next island – a total of four (Marina Office, Immigration, Customs and Maritime Police). This involves a fair amount of form-filling and question-answering, but everyone is friendly and the offices are all in the same building so it isn’t really any hassle, and the cost for a high-quality marina berth (including electricity and showers) is only about €9 per night. The marina is well placed to watch all the activity in the harbour, though our presence is resented by the gulls who evidently expect to have the pontoons to themselves and tend to reassert their rights each night by roosting on unoccupied fingers. Moored just across the harbour from us is the Portuguese frigate that Brian and I met between Pico and Terceira – Ponta Delgada is evidently its base when stationed in the Azores.


Although the eastern part of the waterfront has had serious modernisation, the western part is elegant with some fine architecture. The streets are cobbled with pavements patterned in black and white (a feature of the whole Portuguese world).


The fine square with the town arch at its landward end was the original harbour before the first breakwater gave a bigger sheltered area.

The guy whose statue overlooks it is Gonçalvo Velho Cabral.

He was a graduate of the navigation school founded at Sagres in the Algarve by Prince Henry (the Navigator) in the early 1400s. On his first voyage of discovery in 1431 he missed the Azores by a whisker, only finding a reef which in disgust he named As Formigas (the ants). As the guidebook says, this didn’t get him a high mark from the Sagres Management School! Next year he did better, discovering Santa Maria, from which a slave sighted São Miguel soon after.


The marina celebrated its first birthday this weekend.  Jollities included a concert by Roger Hodgson from Supertramp on Friday evening – lots of singing along to Breakfast in America et al from the boat, and there is supposed to be a Giant Cake today, although where and when (and even what) remains mysterious so far.  (Note next day - we got a couple of slices!). We have done well with town celebrations on this trip; we still remember the 130th anniversary of Mindelo, CV, with great affection.


 As well as meeting boats that we have seen elsewhere, we have had the pleasure this week of spending some time with Berend and Teresa Hillen, whose plans are for a week’s hotel followed by a week on Amoret. Apart from a reunion with old friends who we haven’t seen for some years, we were able to share their hired car for a couple of days to visit the remoter parts of this quite large island. Our first excursion called first at Furnas, where an impressive display of volcanic steam vents and pools of boiling mud has been exploited by canny locals as a means of cooking stew that is served up to visitors in the nearby restaurants.

 We then took the mountain road near Pico da Vara at the E end, leading to a spectacular viewpoint where we not only gawped at the mountains and forest but also sighted a rare bird species unique to São Miguel, the Azores Bullfinch.


Berend and Teresa come aboard tomorrow (Mon 6th); the weather looks suitable for a trip down to Santa Maria, the other island of the eastern group about 50 miles to the SSE.