34 Horta and Homeward,

Fri 16 Jun 2023 18:32

Friday 16th. 

We currently have 600 miles to go to Scilly  and are about half way. The passage has been reasonably straight-forward and our position at 1300hr was 45:31.00N 019:37.40W.

The time spent in and around Horta was a great experience: the weather, apart from being a bit windy at anchor for 24 hours, was fine.   The island of Faial, Horta is the main town and port, was very green, highly agriculturalised and with a low-density of dwellings had an alpine look. Clearly of volcanic origin situated on the Mid Atlantic Ridge, small volcanic mounds are evident close to Horta and some of the coastal bays are volcanic caldera but the ‘big daddy’, the extinct volcano of Pico on the island of Pico, and Portugal’s highest mountain, is visible just across the water from Horta – when the cloud allows - but often the peak is above the cloud level.  Looming over Faial itself, and often in cloud, is the caldera of a long- extinct volcano with an elevation of 1000 m.  Keith and I took a hire car up to the caldera on a beautifully clear day and gawped at the scale: there is a 7km walk right around the perimeter, the caldera is about 3km across and, guessing here, about 500 m deep.  The interior, as far as I could see, is inaccessible to ramblers, and is a sheltered, micro-climate containing examples of most of the island flora and fauna- according to the notice board. Depending on rainfall there are sometimes lakes in the lowest part of the crater.  When we walked a bit of the perimeter, the sun was out, there were no clouds and the only sounds were bird song and from insects.  The foliage had a lovely ‘high moors’ aroma that reminded me of Exmoor walks.

Having the car for a day we also drove out to the far west of the island to visit an abandoned light house that had been partly buried by lava and ash from an eruption just off the coast in 1957 that formed an extension to the island.  The dwellings associated with the light house comprised a two- story building and ash had buried the building so that only the very top of the ground floor window frames were visible.   To enter the lighthouse, therefore, required descending the equivalent of normal house flight of stairs to reach the base of the tower from the new ground level.  From the parapet of the lighthouse the view of the surrounding area was of a barren, black, ash and gravel moon scape, with only the hardiest of scrub bushes trying to establish a hold.

Getting the furling system replaced or repaired turned out to be a damp squib.  MAYS (Mid Atlantic Yacht Services) who had said they had a replacement furling system, wouldn’t look at the boat until we had an along-side berth. I badgered the harbour master as soon as the weather improved and he put me alongside a wall on Wednesday evening, On Thursday, I had an apologetic What’s App from Duncan Sweet at MAYS simply saying that it turns out they didn’t have a furling system in stock after all!  Duncan then went off for lunch and I never managed to contact him again.  One of his staff picked up my email saying how disappointed I was; they said that to order new bearings in from Profurl in France was likely to be a two to four week delivery but suggested they had, in the past, repaired furlers using non-standard bearings.  I asked if their rigger  could attend to discuss the feasibility of a repair; he called around on Thursday morning but the outcome was not positive:  the old housing would have to be machined to take an off-the-shelf bearing, the timing for this was not clear, we would have to remove the housing to do the work, this might preclude using the foil if we couldn’t reassemble due to corrosion or breakage. Hearing that I wanted to replace the old unit rather than repair it, Jaol, the rigger, was of the impression we should sail back to the UK for a replacement and not spend time and money on a repair.  We had already sailed 1600 miles changing sails in the foil (rather than furling/unfurling) so, in the end, the co-pilots agreed that was least worst option, and returned to anchor in the harbour. On the way to anchor we rafted up outside the marina office and filled up with diesel and water.

Friday was the day we had a hire car and on returning to Horta we collected the Genoa which had gone in for minor repair and reinforcements and then used the car to for a major supermarket shop to stock to up for the 1200-mile trip back to the UK.   

On Saturday Keith and I took the ferry across to Pico for a wander around Madalena, the main harbour.  The volcano itself was shrouded in cloud so not inviting to climb, even if we had felt strong enough.  We had some lunch in the town square and then visited a museum dedicated to the Pico winery.   Vines on Pico were grown in cracks in the gravelly lava in earth transported from Faial, individual vines were surrounded by walls made of lava stones; these provided shelter from the wind and the stones held the sun’s warmth.  Looking over the vineyard it appeared to resemble a giant, black, honeycomb with a central brilliant green splash of colour in each cell.  The only downside was that there were no samples!   A bar, or even an ice cream shop, would have made a killing.   Brian joined a dive trip while we were away.

Sunday was departure day: the wind which had been northerly for a good while obligingly turned southerly, as forecast.  Last showers were taken ashore, shopping for perishables was undertaken, a last lunch in Peter’s Bar was enjoyed and then it was back to the yacht to deflate and stow the dinghy and lay out the Genoa on deck.   We removed and stowed the anchor and hoisted the main sail in the harbour and then motored out of Horta in the late afternoon heading north.   During the first night we could see lights and lighthouses on Faial, Sao George, and La Graciosa but thereafter it was the open sea and surprisingly devoid of other vessels.

We headed north for two days as recommended by the sailing directions (World Cruising Routes, Jimmy Cornell) took the mainsail down on the second night in 30 knots and torrential rain and ran under storm jib.  Thereafter we have had a steady 16 to 20 knots on the quarter allowing us to sail directly towards the Isles of Scilly and enough wind for the working jib to set.  We have been averaging 130 miles a day since altering course for scilly.  I went up the mast in the bosun’s chair on one of the lighter days, only as far as the first spreaders, to put some reinforcement patches on some weak points on the luff of the mainsail.

We also had thunder and lightning overhead one morning at the 0700 change of watch.  This was accompanied by very heavy rain and an increase in wind necessitating a reef in the main – but should you stand by the only lightning conductor for miles around to lower the sail, with simultaneous flashes and thunder overhead?  We reefed. If we got struck it would probably be all over, if we didn’t reef we might trash the mainsail and progress then would be very slow; Brian did put on his rubber soled shoes -just in case.  I also put all the computers, phones, hand-held radios and the GPS set in the oven to protect them from a strike.  If the yacht survived a strike, that is, not blown to pieces, we would probably lose all the installed electrics, so the small computers and phones are our fallback navigation.  The oven is supposed to be a Farraday cage and, as we all remember from school physics, it is impossible to charge the inside of a metal box.

Since altering course for Scilly we have been sitting almost continuously in the southerly and south westerly airflow associated with a weak depression to the north of us (It is great being on the right side of the low for a change).   The depression seemed to be almost stalled, perhaps balked by the high pressure over northwest Europe which is giving the UK a fine summer and easterly winds.  But now the low is starting to move northeast and we expect the wind to swing from south westerly through south to a north westerly direction in the next 24 hours, probably with more rain if there is an associated front.  However, it still looks good for continuing progress.

We are eating well; breakfast tends to be a help-yourself to cereal depending on watch changes, we usually do something light for lunch: salad and cheese while we have fresh food, then perhaps wraps with some filling made from coleslaw, grains and beansprouts, or simply bread and cheese.   Thanks to Cilla’s advice, we have been sprouting Mung beans very successfully and these make a crunchy salad alternative when the lettuce and cucumber have gone.  We take it in turns to make an evening meal for about 6:30/6:45 pm coinciding with a watch change and eat together.   These are usually one-pot meals based on pasta, rice or potatoes, sometimes eggs.  We have been using soya protein instead of meat as it is easier to keep.  I also bought some chorizo sausages which work well in stews and the like.

The boat has been accompanied by the most amazing soaring birds since Faial.  They are dusty brown on top, light underneath and their wings curve downwards.  They fly with barely a flap of the wings and soar over waves, apparently effortlessly, with wing tips not quite grazing the water but sometimes leaving a slight trail in the water from the turbulence shed from the wing tips.   We have reference sheets for identifying whales and porpoises, but nothing for seabirds.  I’d love to know what they are; I’m guessing Fulmar but it’s only a guess.

The next update will be from UK waters.

All best, Tony, Keith and Brian



Faial looking towards Horta
The partly burried lighthouse
Vineyards on Pico
Yacht logo's on the quay walls at Horta
View from the mast
The  above the summit of Pico above the clouds