Horta 1 week after arriving in the Azores
38:31.978N 28:37.498W Sun 17th June 2018. 970nm 7d30mins
We arrived in Horta on Faial in the Azores a weeks ago and have been very busy with Ocean Cruising Club (OCC) events ever since. The passage was uneventful, taking seven days and 30 minutes exactly (actually we slowed down during the last night to arrive when the marina office opened). As predicted we only sailed for the first part and motored for 90 hours altogether, yes, nearly 4 days out of the 7! The sailing sections were pretty good though; it was our first extended period of sailing into the wind (wind 40-50° off the bow) and it wasn’t as bad as we feared. A few days coping with the boat seriously tilted to one side is tiring though, so it was almost a relief when we reached the Azores high pressure system and the wind died away to nothing.
We had only one real noteworthy event en-route when a whale surfaced right beside us. He was big – I’m guessing about as long as our boat (hard to judge though as you can only see a fraction of its back at any time), and he came up for air about 10-20m away, blowing as it passed our cockpit where Lindsay was woken from her reverie but I saw the whole thing. We’ve seen quite a few whales in the distance before, but this was our first really close encounter and we were very excited.
Goldcrest dressed all over in amongst a crowd of other yachts:
We have had a terrific and very sociable week here and become much better acquainted with this particular island after a rather rushed visit 3 years ago. Rally members have been wined and dined and taken on tours, so that our feet have hardly touched the ground until this morning. It is probably a good thing that it is pouring with rain today, giving us an opportunity to stay below and write this up!
We tied up against 2 other boats on the harbour wall on the day before the “race” finish, as did many of the other participants who came from as far afield as Antigua, New York and Falmouth. In the end about a dozen boats did manage to approach the line at midday on the 18th and the rest of us turned out to cheer them and make a show for the local press. We put up all our flags (called being “dressed overall”), tooted our horns and admired those crew who had timed it this well after thousands of miles. In the evening we had a barbecue in the lovely setting of an old fort and began to meet other crews and exchange stories. One lone sailor had spent 27 days at sea to get here.
The 1st night barbecue at a nearby fort:
During the week, we have walked in the glorious countryside with its incredibly abundant vegetation and wildflowers and hiked around the 8km rim of a giant caldera with views to the other islands of this central group. We visited the barren western end of the island which only appeared after a major volcanic eruption just offshore in 1958 and were guests of the tourist board for a reception in the volcano interpretation centre there. Each of the rally boats was presented with a bronze plaque to commemorate the event. We also took a ferry across to the nearby island of Pico, named after its magnificent volcanic peak, at 2431m the highest in Portugal. We had a full day’s bus tour of the island of which the highlight was probably a look at the Unesco designated area of vineyards with 2-6 vines planted in almost bare volcanic rock and surrounded by walls of basalt stones. The system protects the vines from the wind by day and keeps them warm at night when the walls give off their stored heat. The work involved in growing vines this way seems heroic. Pico wines were exported as far as Russia and the US until affected by disease in the 19th century. More resistant vines from California were introduced but it is only in recent years that the wine industry seems to be on the up again. We passed areas where the old stone enclosures, long since reclaimed by rampant vegetation, were being cleared once more for new planting.
Looking back at Faial from Pico with a good view of the vineyards:
Close-up of the vineyards on Pico and their lava stone walls:
Pico was the most important centre for Azorean whaling and we visited the whaling museum in the town of Lajes and watched a film made in 1970 of a traditional whale hunt – not something to enjoy but fascinating nevertheless. Whaling stopped when Portugal joined the EU in 1984 and within 3 years some enterprising locals had started the first whale watching business instead. We joined a whale watching tour later in the week and were taken out in fast ribs to where sperm whales obligingly appeared and entertained us with their blows, some breaching and some views of their elegant flukes as they dived deep. The famous Café Sport whose 100th anniversary we were celebrating with this rally, has a scrimshaw museum on its premises and we learned some more about whales, whaling, the art of etching on to whale teeth and the background to the business when shown around by Jose Azavedo the 3rd generation delightful owner. The museum had a huge tooth weighing nearly 2kg and a jaw bone 5½ m in length!
A sperm whale having a breather:
The final evening of the rally was a smart dinner attended by local dignitaries and for which we yachties dug out our best clothes. Prizes were awarded and profuse thanks offered for such an enjoyable week’s events. Some sailors had stolen hearts, especially a Japanese crew who sailed from Bermuda and are off to Scotland next. The very best thing about a rally like this was the opportunity to meet so many different ocean sailors and hear their stories. It has also been a great way to pick up new ideas, useful tips for places to go and most of all, make some new friends within the club.
Lindsay receiving our bronze plaque:
We will now spend the next couple of months cruising the islands here, with a week’s visit to GB in July to meet our newest grandchild (due this week). There are 9 islands all together and so much still to see.
(Above) Pico seen from Faial’s crater rim: (Below) Faial’s main caldera: