Horta Faial.

Paul Huntley
Tue 9 Jun 2009 10:05

Good morning to you all,

Since our arrival in Horta we have been very busy. We arrived at midnight on Saturday, rafting alongside a fellow ARC yacht on the fuel pontoon, as I have mentioned ,we were asked to clear customs and immigration early and clear the berth, this accomplished we moved to a rafted berth alongside the north harbour wall.

Horta has a reputation for being the crossroads of all the Atlantic yacht traffic and it certainly is well deserved. More than twelve hundred yachts a year visit this island and its main the town of Horta.

Sailors are great ones for superstitions; rabbit’s feet and bananas are considered unlucky on boats as well as whistling for fear of whistling up a gale. In Horta it is considered bad luck to leave without painting a picture on the harbour wall, consequently the mole and any available space on the harbour arm and surrounding infrastructure are covered in a vast selection of colourful paintings recording the visits of countless thousands of yachts on passage to or from many exotic destinations. Drew has volunteered to take on this challenge for Libertad , he has designed and attractive flag motif reflecting the international flavour of our crew with a cleverly interwoven French, American and British flag overlaid with our name, we will take some pictures of the completed artwork and hopefully publish them on the blog site at some point.

Early on Sunday morning our attention was drawn to a cacophony of ships sirens and fog horns along with a fire tug and all it hoses shooting water in the air in the form of a Fleur de Lies greeted a returning mariner who had apparently sail around the world twice, returning finally to his home port in the Azores. One can only assume he missed Horta the first time around and had a second go improving his navigational skills on the second circumnavigation.

Sunday seemed to pass in a flash; we had lost three hours of valuable sleeping time adjusting to our new time zone which is now the same as UTC. We explored the waterfront of Horta and discovered the famous Peters “Bar du Sport” that has welcomed yachtsman for almost a century. The cafe opened in 1918 and has been run by the same family ever since, the walls are lined with club burgees and yacht pennants including that of this year’s ARC Europe to which we proudly added Libertad's name. It is odd that Horta has a fine yacht club that has remained resolutely closed since we arrived, it would seem they are missing an opportunity to attract this international yachting fraternity or maybe they have accepted that they will never have the popularity of the Bar du Sport. On a more mundane note, Sunday afternoon saw us, along with many other crews, catching up on our washing at the marina's Laundromat, lugging very large bags of decidedly smelly washing along the quay, this simple operation taking up a disproportionate amount of time as only four machines were available, jostling to capture that illusive machine as it became empty became an art form.

Monday saw a rush of many skippers to the nearby chandlers seeking illusive spares, many seen clutching obscure and unrecognisable pieces of their boats machinery for repair or replacement.

We had some minor repairs that were completed by lunch time.

World cruising Club had arranged a tour of the island for the afternoon, We piled into waiting taxis and departed for the summit of Horta’s now extinct 1000 meter volcano, this was unfortunately shrouded in mist and low cloud. Our assent was less than dramatic, stopping frequently at viewpoints but relying only on the colourful description of our lady taxi driver, undeterred, we continued to climb to the summit and all dutifully exited the car  to stare optimistically,” that word was carefully chosen”, at a sign board with a picture and description of this eight kilometre diameter crater.

Descending this twisting road to an altitude that at least had a visibility of more than ones hand metaphorically in front of one’s face.

We continued this island tour around Faial at little above sea level, passing through many small villages on route. We stopped at the site of the most recent eruption on the North West of the island which occurred in 1958. This eruption formed a completely new island which eventually joined the mainland covering much of the surrounding area in a deep layer of ash. This baron area is only now showing   signs of regeneration, with the establishment of a low scrub and some grasses. The only surviving building is the lighthouse, once on the coast, now many meters inland and half buried in ash.

The area has a strong similarity to the visit that Corrie, Emily, Sarah, Tim and I made on Libertad to Montserrat near to Antigua, when only twelve years ago the southern end of the island erupted, covering the capital, New Plymouth in a deep layer of ash. The Horta volcano is quiet now but not dormant .The population are still aware that their future is precarious to say the least.

Returning to the boat with armfuls of local cheese purchase on route we shower in readiness for dinner at a local restaurant with the rest of the crews, enjoying a selection of  Azorean fish and meat that you cook on your own individual hot lava rock at the table, the neighbouring dinners disappearing in a cloud of smoke as we all start to cook the raw fish and meat before us.

Accompanied by an endless supply of local red wine, we wash these delicious delicacies down with gusto and everlasting nautical tales competing for the top spot, comparing our passages both past and future with exaggerated gusto.

We intend to visit Soa Miguel, an island to the extreme south west of this island group, here we hope to catch up with the rest of the ARC yachts before we split, some like us turn north for England or other northern European ports, the majority making the relatively short passage of six hundred miles to Lagos in southern Portugal.

It is now Tuesday morning and we will be looking for that weather window  allowing what we hope will be a relatively comfortable passage to Soa Miguel passing the island of Pico with its volcanic peak of  2351 mtrs and claiming to be the highest mountain in Portugal, a good question for the local pub quiz.

As I sit at the chart table this morning the rain is hammering a tattoo on the cabin top in competition with the clanking halliards of the yacht astern. I can only assume they have booked in to a local hotel or are profoundly deaf, either way our patience and sympathy is wearing very thin.

I should now go and do something useful although I am not sure what in this inclement weather, I will update you on our wanderings around these green, lush, and wet subtropical islands when we arrive at our next port of call.

Our very best wishes to you all, from the crew of Libertad