We have arrived. We got in on Saturday morning at 5 am local time. Just getting day light as we dropped the anchor off Shirkin Island opposite Baltimore. It was a fine passage, however a bit short of favourable wind. We ended up doing a fair bit of motoring. Flat sea, comfortable but not fast.
Half way we had a fantasticly exciting encounter with some huge whales. We havent identifyed them yet, photos attached, any one know?… They swam right beside the boat surfacing and breathing. One cut accross our bows, thought we would hit it, but it knew what it was doing. They were huge though, bigger than the boat! Dan unplugged the depth sounder as we thought the sounds it makes might be attracting them, yes they were almost un-nerving to have them so close, exciting as they were. Every wave slam of the hull, we thought was an impact later that day/night.
As we approached past the Fastnet light we could smell the land, it smelt like peat banks after a hot day, lovely and familiar. As we entered the loch we had a massive dolphin swim with us, piloting us in and to anchor.
So we have had a great time finding our feet in Ireland so far. We had a great walk yesterday, and delicious pint in the pub and last such a lovely evening/night with folks on a neighbouring boat on anchor.
In the evening sun, I thought I would have a swim from the boat. The huge dolphin was swimming round the boats and a chap in a wet- suit, face -mask, fins etc, was swimming with him! On the spir of the moment I thought I would take the plunge too. Well oh boy I don’t know what I said to this dolphin, but when it came all-together too close to me I got some what apprehensive. Next thing I knew it was blooming well thrashing me with its tail. I took three hits on my way back to the ladder on Hestur, the last one the hardest, it hit me and then with all its weight pushed me down. I shot up that ladder, Chee-so, I thought my time was up! Dan who was watching from the boat thought I was just making new friends! The drink with our neighbours ( who had watched it all ) was very well appreciated! Its great to have that ticked off “the list of things to do ….”, but once is enough!
so exploring Shirkin to day – by foot!
Well we have been busy exploring the islands, visiting Faial , Sao Jeorge and now Terceira
We spent a quite few days on anchor in Horta on the island of Faial. Horta is a very busy and popular harbour for yachts passing through, as the harbour wall testifies with all its paintings. The town is very nice, not big, with lovely cafes and bars. We met up with lots of friends here.
One day we hired scooters with Fred and Tina, and made a lap of the island; dirt tracks and country lanes. We rode up to the top of the island, over 1000m ( easier than the push bikes! ). It was great fun to zoom about on these, breathing in the fresh smells of flowers with the wind in our faces looking for cafes and swimming spots. On the east point of the island there is a lighthouse which stands strangely cut off from the sea. It was at the eastern most point of the island till in the 1950s there was a volcanic eruption which spewed out a new arm of land, cutting the light house off from the water. It stands strangely in the barren dusty landscape, matching the grey of the new land around it.
In the bay of Porto Pim, on the south side of the town of Horta there is a lovely beach. There is also a whaling museum where we watched footage of a hunt and catch of a sperm whale from the early 1980s in the traditional long narrow wooden boats, just before the whaling industry tailed off and came to an end. The museum is in an old processing plant, where the whales were dragged up and cut, ground and rendered.
We of course visited “Peter Cafe Sport” the famous sailors bar a few times. One night there was good live music there and a big sardine BBQ to celebrate an anniversary of the bar.
On the 1st of July we headed off 20 odd NM to the little port of Velas on south of the island of Sao Jeorge, where the most friendly harbour master works. We spent a very happy week there on anchor by the mini marina. Sao Jeorge is a great island. Its 30NM long by about 4NM wide. We walked, cycled and scooted about. We did a loop of the west end one day on the bromptons. We hired scooters again with friends Pierre and Corrine and toured the length and height of the island, up through the cloud to a view of Pico popping up above the cloud across the channel. Pico is often present in view from the neighbouring islands, a great triangular mountain, pale blue and often ringed by a stripe of cloud.
There are 3 cheese factories on Sao Jeorge. We visited one, dressed in white plastic coats, head nets etc etc we toured at the great stores of delicious cheese, maturing gently on their shelves.
It was Festival time when we were in Velas, a 4 day event. There were two big stages set up with music each night ( till 5 am) , traditional music and new, lots of food stalls and Super Bock ( one of the Portuguese beer brands) bars. We frequented a really nice Pizza stall a few times (most evenings). The guys had made their own portable pizza oven, and also prepared delicious Capperhinas.
On the last day of the Festival there was a Bull Run. This was held on the main pier. Big containers sealed off the area. The harbour in Velas wall is built with three concrete tiers which along with the containers provided an industrial amphitheater from which to watch the ‘sceptical’. I was extremely nervous of what this event may be. Being absolutely totally against the whole thing that is, Spanish Bull fighting, I was scared that this may be similarly as violent and gruelling. There were 4 bulls, they were let out one at a time after a rocket fired. The bull was on a long rope. 6 men dressed in grey trousers, white shirts and a black flat brimmed hats held the other end of the rope and to a small extent kept the bull under control. The bull proceeded to carrier around the stadium and head-but members of the public ( stupid enough to be on the same level as it) off the edge of the pier into the water, with great uproars from the audience. A lot of these people were prepared in their swimming shorts and ready to jump. To attract the attention and stir the emotions of the Bull, an umbrella is twirled at horn height, the bull charges and the umbrella wielder(s) jump to one side. It does stress the animal, and it must surely confuse it, ” what are these people doing?” But the bull is physically unharmed and released back into its field at the end of the day. It does seem that it has the upper hand at times? It is certainly not as awful as the Spanish ‘fights’.
After 20 minutes a double banger marks the end of the run and the bull goes back in its box. We subsequently saw fields of bulls in Terceira, green open and lush, a nice place for them between their appearances in the towns.
From Sao Jeorge we sailed and motored to the city of Angra do Heroismo on Terceira, 50 NM from Velas. Angra is a beautiful small city ( its like a town). Black and white cobbled streets, beautiful buildings and very elegant botanic gardens.There is a marina and an anchorage off the beach where we were for a few days. Angra is full of lovely cafes and bars. There are lots f boats we know in the marina: boats we have got to know here in theAzores and friends we met last year who are also heading back to Europe after Atlantic winters. We have even been quite engrossed in the World Cup this year as many of the friends we have met are of nationalities who were competing in the exciting later stages. We have just watched the final with our German friends!
We shared a hire car one day with friends and toured the island, this time it was : volcanoes and caving ( including the ‘off piste’ / out of bounds section of a lava tunnel , crawling flat on our tummies with phones for torches), an ice cream factory ! and another cheese factory-come-bar. The following day – a supermarket shop.
We encountered more Bull Running in the streets of Angra one saturday evening. Hot-dog and beer vans set them selves up along the side streets ‘taped’ off from where the bull was to run. Venders with baskets filled with sweets and bags of popcorn fed the crowd.
In each tourist shop window there are videos showing Bull Running ‘mishaps’, people being charged, butted and floored by bulls, or jumping over bridges etc in their desperate escape.
With this video in mind, I joined those who kept themselves behind garden walls or up on platforms higher than the street level. The windows and parking meters on the street were boarded up, in preparation for the rampage. Dan however joined the small throng of 20 to 30 somethings who ran hell for leather up and down the street like a surge of bubbling excitement every time the animal came their way. Dan broke both his shoes in his flight, and resorted to climbing up drainpipes. He said it was like being a kid in the playground.
So after a month here in the Azores, we are preparing our selves and Hestur for the next leg. We are leaving this afternoon and will beheading for southern Ireland. We came into the marina yesterday to get things all sorted, and get water etc so we had a good nights sleep and are ready for the 1000 odd sea miles ahead
We spent a few more days exploring the island, making the most of the calm weather which allowed us to visit some frequently untenable anchorages. We have been really lucky to have glorious weather to see it all in (well mostly).
As I said in my last post we sailed up to the island of Corvo 12 NM north of Flores for a night. The island is a little green bump in the big Atlantic. It has a population of fewer than 400 people, cows out number people 3 to 1. We arrived in the tiny harbour just as the weekly delivery coaster the ‘Lustiana’ (which had passed us at sea) was tying up and starting to unload. First the little red Pugeot 106 which was balanced on top, was lifted off, then the mini containers then the gas bottles. It was enthralling to watch the goings on, and the busy scene of pick-up trucks and spectators who had wandered down the hill to watch the weekly arrival. The swell however was sweeping in to the harbour and tossing the Lustiana up and down the pier wall, straining her lines and flashing the water from them in stripes as they stretched taught. It did not look good for a dingy landing so we gave it some time before braving the turbulent swell on the harbour wall: we reached the ladder, timed it right and skipped up. It wasn’t as bad as it looked.
The Villa Nova du Corvo is the only inhabited part of Corvo, its tiny, and boasts the title of Portugal’s smallest and most westerly town, but its like a little village. We wandered through the quiet narrow old streets and climbed the road trailing up the hill behind to get a view down on the cluster of orange roofs and the harbour. We found a couple of little bars.
The following day -Mid Summers day – we walked and hitched a lift in the back of a farmers pick-up on one of the only two roads on the island: up to the rim of the Volcano where we could look down on to the two lochs 300 m below us in the bottom of the crater. Cows grazed. The mist at this height, ( 600 or 700m )swept in over us and allowed the view in glimpses.
After lunch in ‘The’ cafe in town we set off for the island of Flores again, this time to anchor on the west coast at a bay by the village of Faja Grande where we had walked to a few days before. On route Dan caught a monster mackerel! A beautiful big fish, so that was dinner. A few days before a fisherman had given us one a similar size, they are bigger than the ones we get at home, and very tasty. We BBQed it that evening on board when we anchored, it fed us both and the was still left overs! We watched the sun sink over the horizon on this: the shortest night. I put some peat (which we still had on board from home) on the BBQ fire and we drank hot chocolate.
The anchorage in Faja Grande is one of the most spectacular we have ever been in. The cliffs rise vertically behind the beach, streamed by waterfalls, a ribbon of road skirts along below them to the tiny village at the end, visible only by a few prominent white low houses and the little church, white and stark against the green enormity of the cliffs behind. The sea was a clear and deep aqua-blue, black lava fields jut out from the flat land where Faja Grande is built, into the water, and are fringed by white waves. It reminded us a lot of Iceland. The water is beautiful and clear but there are unfortunately a lot of stingy jellyfish to be seen. They are fairly small but nasty looking with long tentacles. There are some ‘Portuguese men of war’ jellyfish amongst them which we had been seeing also on the Atlantic crossing. These are strange looking things, they are inflated transparent sacks of air with purple ribs and lines, they have a keel in the water and a ridge curving up with the air sack, as a sail, they too have long streaming tentacles. I have had a couple if swims here, though keeping a good look out for the stingers. The water is refreshingly cool after the Caribbean, but so beautifully clear. It has a very different quality. We both ( separately) also had a swim mid Atlantic from Hestur ( in fact on route to Bermuda). The chart guessed that it was 4000m deep. The colour of blue was so intense and it was so incredibly clear that shafts of sun light sank deep into it. We swam in oily calmness.
So that giant Mackerel… while Dan was cooking the delicious fish in the seemingly calm anchorage , a miss timed wave toppled the carefully propped BBQ lid into the drink! (Only 6 m deep) It was getting dark and the sea, at that point was swarming with jellyfish, so we took transit fixes so we ( Ahhem, that is Dan: the one who allowed the mishap) could look for it tomorrow. The following morning however as if by magic, low and behold- a free diver with full wetsuit, fins, face mask , hood, gloves and spear gun appeared on the scene. He swam close enough for us to indicate what had been dropped and its position, he ducked down and emerged with it on his 3rd attempt, we exchanged it with him for a bottle of wine and he swam off.
Swimming has not been confined just to the sea: we found a beautiful fresh water pool at the foot of a huge waterfall just near the boat. A little path lead up to it from the road. It was deep and large enough for a proper swim about, and a powerful ‘power-shower’ under the falling water. We went there after a long hot walk one day, very nice indeed!
We did lots more walking while in Flores. Several of the the old agricultural paths are maintained and marked as routes. They are a pure joy to follow. We walked from Faja Grande to the neighbouring village of Fajazinha one day. The path we followed out of Faja Grande took a route between little fields, encapsulated by stone walls. The path, cobbled, was flanked by two walls either side. It was like the main vain of a leaf, with the cells of fields branching off it, nuclei of cows stood grazing in several. It lead up and over little hills, we then entered forests, thick and dark with cedars, before entering the out skirts of the next village – which took the form of more stonewalls and mini fields. As we walked down into Fajazinha we could hear the sound of a brass band bubbling up from the church in the village. the church hall was open as we passed, busy with people. Cakes were being auctioned and port pored for the band. We took an old route back to Faja Grande which we had been told had washed away. The bridge across the Ribeira Grande had indeed gone, and points along the top of the sea cliffs had given way to landslides, but we managed to pick our way on and off the old paths back to Faja Grande.
The landscape and vegetation on the island is so varied. I wrote about the green fields and hydrangea hedges in a previous post. They are now more fully in bloom, along with a profusion of pink and white wild roses tangeling in the hedges. These incredibly sweet, well maintained patches of land which somehow fill me with total delight, give way suddenly and often to wild and exposed cliffs, forests, and rivers, raw and awesome. The cultivated landscape worked by people for centuries and the untameable, side by side. There is such a diversity of vegetation. In one little patch, being picked over by hens and their handsome cockerels were; figs, cabbage, bamboo, bananas and grapes. Sphagnum moss grows in fluorescent green mounds and facades on the hills and low wind-swept trees cling to the sky line of the misty summits.
We walked with our friends Fred and Tina one day along the costal path to the north of the island. We picked our way along the exposed and dramatic path above the sea to Ponta Delgada in the north of the island and walked back over the island skirting the highest point. We hitched a lift in the back of the bread van on the strait smooth roads over the high moorland, then walked down the incredibly steep old path down back to the village of Faja Grande. Steps built into the cliff zig zagged down. By the time we got to the bottom and looked back for our route, it was invisible, consumed by trees and rolling mist over the edge of the cliff wall. I could feel the pace picking up through the afternoon. We were nearly running into Faje Grande. Tonight was the night for the Festival of St Jaoa (?) and there was to be a feast of sardines in celebration. Fred was Very excited and determined not to miss out on a single fish. ‘ Sardinas ‘are a thing in France apparently, on the beaches in summertime. The bar which was hosting the feast was set up with long tables, white paper table cloths, big bowls of salad were on the table with bread and wine and when we were seated we were brought platters of whole freshly grilled salty sardines. Fred instructed us how best to tackle them: by hand. It was a busy bar, fish kept coming in on silver trays and the whole village ate. This was all incredibly and generously all for free! We met and ate with a German and Nepalese couple who we had met walking one day. We had lent them our fishing line while we were walking that day and they had caught 4 fish, one of which they had left for us in our dingy.
After a really rolly night at anchor ( the swell now was rolling in as predicted from the west) I got up and tackled this fish… I didn’t recognise it and it wasn’t till later I saw it on a fish identification chart in a bar: a Grey Triggerfish- know it? A funny looking thing and tricky to dissect. By the time I had chopped and cut all the meat from its thick skin and bones, I had a lot. Not knowing really what to do with it, and first thing in the morning as it was, I concocted a soup as we got the anchor up and sailed off.
You will need:
One large Grey Triggerfish ( or what ever else happens to have bitten the hook)
Half a big onion chopped
A sprig of Rosemary, chopped ( I found some on a walk)
Glug of water
And few spoonfuls of ground corn ( so this I discovered is what makes chowder! I never knew)
Fry up the onion and fish with oil, add water, bullion, salt, pepper, garlic, and rosemary, bubble. Then stir in the ground corn, and let it cook in for a while adding more water as needed.
It was really delicious!
While we were anchored in the Faja Grande anchorage several other boats were there also, we had a BBQ one evening with the guys we had gotten to know from the boats at the BBQ / picnic places provided which over look the bay. There were tables and benches, and fire places all set up for the use of. Very civilised. We saw ( and used )several of these BBQ places across the island during our stay. There was also a nice cafe there where we would have coffee each day, and Pastel de Nata (very typical Portuguese egg custard tarts) hot out the oven in the morning. On the weekend this place was busy with locals,there was a little swimming pool for kids and a concrete slip-way where people spread out their beach towels and dipped in the sea.
We lapped the island by sailing south back round to Lajes where we anchored for the night while waiting for wind to head to Horta on the island of Faial. We left for the 130 NM passage on Wed the 25. I am currently writing this on route. Its 10 am on the 26th , Faial is in sight now off our port bow.
…. Sitting in the famous Peter Cafe Sport ( http://www.petercafesport.com ) on the High Street of Horta now,gentle rain outside.
Not that I feel Coca Cola needs any more advertising space…., but I thought I would post a link ( click the blue writing above) to their recent advert filmed on the island of Corvo in the Azores, 10 miles north of Flores. We sailed up there 2 days ago, lovely little island! We are back on Flores at the moment, its the festival of sardines tonight…. Will write more soon .
We stumbled ashore in our full oilskins. Soon we found a bar; busy and steamy with young sailors drinking and celebrating Atlantic passages from various ports on the other side ( all drinks: wine or beer are 1 Euro here! ) : local men mutely watching the ‘world cup’ sitting on hard backed chairs, tiled yellow and green floor, white washed walls. The barman/ DJ was sellotaping blue cellophane to the strip light as the evening progressed. We played snooker with our fellow sailors (mostly french).
The following day the the rain clouds peeled back by late morning to reveal our new landfall. We moved into the tiny “marina” harbour where we can tie up for 12.50 Euro a day, inclusive of fresh lovely water on tap and electricity. ( first time we have been in a marina since November ) It is a gem of a place. There are lots of interesting boats, we have made friends with loads of folk here, and met old friends again, very social being on the pontoons! We had a lovely bonfire on the beach one night with folks from the boats.
The harbour is busy: with little motor boats, fishing boats and elegant traditional narrow -sailing-whaling- boats coming and going and ducks and cats padding about the pier. They have a static crane which locals use to launch their little boats daily instead of using the slipway, pick up trucks lap the pier, people paint their boat paintings on the wall- lots to watch. The village of Lajes sweeps up the hill from the harbour. The big church and gardens sit on one terrace and little streets twist up to, and past it , fields and houses sit between the ridges of hills. The buildings are white with tiled orange roofs, all extremely pretty. The grass is SO green, or is that just ‘cos we haven’t seen fields in such a long time?
There are several shops and cafes, one superb cafe for lunch, it seems to be a hub of the place, and a restaurant we went to the second night with a gaggle of folk from the boats. Its run by a German couple, they make every thing with local or home grown products, super good. There are absolutely delicious local cheeses , bread and wine, and – happily- its cool enough for us to buy butter again ( its been too hot for the past 9 months since we don’t have a fridge onboard ) so thats a delight.
The place feels old fashioned, and unspoilt. The buildings are traditional and farming seems to still be the main occupation. It is quiet and slow. The people are very friendly and welcoming. There are however some very new aspects like the modern mirrored-glass zig zag museum building, nestled amongst the village on the hill. It is a very attractive and satisfying building, with gallery space ( current exhibition : exhibition of religious art) , a theatre, little library, computers to use for internet and temporary cafe space.
We came across a party one evening in the street. Stings of lights and delicate pale bunting hung down either side of the little road. On one side was a decorated church hall and on the other a bar and a canopy over a square. A band was playing, a bar serving beer and the church hall selling white papers rolled tightly as raffle tickets. The little curled square tickets, blank without the winning numbers, lay like confetti on the church hall floor and street. Our friends Renzo and Edith won 3 prizes, even though the odds were low: a clock, a tea towel AND an oven glove! We danced barefoot in the street with the friends we met. Children ran in and out through the tent and the dancers with the blue flashing lights on the heels of their shoes beating at full pelt. A group of little girls set about demolishing a white flowering hydrangea with relish and carrying the flowers off. It was a great scene of life and goings-on after time at sea for so long.
We have explored on foot quite a lot, it’s so nice to get walking again after the passage. The hills are steep though so the thigh and calf muscles have been working! We walked up a hill (680 m) in the south one day. We found a brand new road which wasn’t on any map we had seen, steeply clawing its way up to the sky line crags. It was a double track tarmac road which we struggled to think of a reason to have been built, certainly no traffic on it. We heard later that it was the previous government who spent a huge of mount of money on pointless road building which no one seems to have relished. Anyway, great walk and superb view! We walked steeply back down a boggy, cow- hoof- pockmarked hillside on other side off the track and hitched back to the village.
The landscape is sectioned up into a patchwork of little fields in various shades of green. The patchwork is darned together with hedges of hydrangea which are just about in full flower, in a week or two the land will have rivers of blue and white frothy bloom. Dark green cedar trees form little forests. Bracken grows here and other familiar plants, palm trees are not uncommon however sometimes in a garden. The sound of bird song is thick in the air. There is a fresh chill in the breeze but hot in the sun. Really feels like Atlantic Europe. Its a joy to sea the place in this weather, we have been told its a completely different place in the winter: the highest recorded winds this past Feb were 143mph!!! Wow.
We had another walk one day on the west coast. We took the bus up and over and down the twisty roads to Lajedo and from there took the ‘old ways’ to Faja Grande, 13 km. The little track we took skirted along the hill side between fields and up and down over the shoulders of hill between tiny villages. The track was roughly cobbled. Horses, cows and calfs and a few sheep with bells around their necks were in the little fields along the way. We had a swim/ bath in a fresh water pool en route. Stopped at a water mill from 1860s( ?) which was still turning and grinding corn, worked by a stream which lazily ran its course into the cogs after having plummeted hundreds of feet down a waterfall from the cliffs in the distance.
We took the bus back to ‘our’ village, very friendly bus driver, we were his only customers .
We will spend a few more days here before setting off for Horta 130 NM away.
p.s. a few new drawings on the sketchbook page …