August, 2003 – Greetings from the Azores!
Hello All, Greetings from the Azores!
We arrived in Lajes Das Flores in a thick fog on July 1st after 19 days at sea. Our third crossing of the Atlantic was not completed to the sound of trumpets or drums. There was no fanfare; only sounds of the birds and the waterfall cascading down next to Entr’acte. We took that hot shower, made a large pizza for dinner and got set for a good night’s sleep.
The customs clearance was quite smooth; literally. A wet rock on the stone sea wall served as the office; quite informal. The Guarda Officer asked us if we had radar and glanced at our passports. Now off to town! This would prove to be a challenge!
The Azores are an archipelago of nine islands just 800 miles West of Portugal. They are incredibly high and volcanic in origin. It is quite impossible to adequately describe the size of these islands. When coming from the sea they dwarf everything you see on shore. What appears to be a small oil barrel is actually a huge lighthouse and a little shack becomes a seven story office building. Entire villages look like Toy Town! The size is overwhelming!
Flores is probably the most grand (highest) of the islands and once you leave the dinghy everywhere you go is UP!
The entire village of Lages is built into the side of the island and all of the streets are switchbacks. After 19 days at sea, this was some hike! Every single step we took to go anywhere was UP! We quickly developed the strategy of traveling in a huge circle which would systematically include every stop we needed to make (laundry, post office, internet, hardware store and always culminated at the market at the very top of the run.) It was a once a day affair. If we forgot something it waited until the next time. Oh yes, the entire expedition had to be completed before noon as everything closed from noon until two or possibly three o’clock; Or maybe not until tomorrow! You get the idea. Things were pretty relaxed on Flores! We just loved it!
The first treat was a huge supply of fresh fruits and vegetables. The second treat was dinner at a local restaurant. Our favorite haunt quickly became Porto Velho (Old Man’s Place). We don’t know how they do it but the Portuguese can make a Pork Chop like no one else in the world and Porto Velho was no exception. We became instant experts in the art of Pork Choppery. There are probably a few chops left on Flores but it sure is not our fault!
More of the sailing fraternity arrived daily and the parties began. We had single-handers Goeff on Topaz and Vejay on Felix II. There was Mary and Rick on Svoboda, who were just completing their first major crossing and Kitty and Scott on Tamure who were beginning their third circumnavigation. And then there was Dykari! She departed Bermuda 10 days behind us and arrived in Flores 16 hrs after we did! They didn’t sail across, they flew!
Bota Fuma(Steam Boat) was a little outdoor cafe overlooking the anchorage. It became the first stop and rally point for the group. The main attraction was it’s position at the top of the first steep hill after rowing ashore. While enjoying the rest and a cup of coffee you might even hitch a ride to town if you were lucky.
Our social calendar rapidly filled with daily trips into town for shopping and sight seeing. These often turned into afternoon “meetings” at Bota Fuma which turned into nightly dinners at Porto Velho and even later night “meetings” back at Bota Fuma.
Jose Serpa was the kingpin musician on the island. Not only did he play the guitar, the mandolin and the violin but he made them as well. We were treated to a visit to his home and workshop. Quite a site. The waiting list for an instrument was three plus years! During our visit to Jose’s shop he invited us to listen to his band play at a local village festival. The trip to the festival was in Jose’s old Mercedes diesel sedan in a pea soup fog. We never saw the road or anything on it. We “flew blind” going around curves and down steep mountain roads that had no guard rails and all during this “passage” Jose talked non-stop conjugating verbs from English to Portuguese. His hands never seemed to be on the wheel.
The fog was so thick down in the village that though we were there, we never saw the festival, we only heard it. The trip home was a miracle! The last hill out of the valley was so steep and wet that Jose’s car went slower and slower until he finally stopped his verb conjugation and hollered “We’re not going to make it everybody out. I’ll meet you at the top!” So, out we went and gave Jose a mighty push uphill into the fog. We’ll never go anywhere without a flashlight and compass ever again! Several times we became separated and could only find each other by voice but in the fog it was difficult. No lines on the road, no lights, no guard rails, “O Dark Hundred” in the morning and a mile to the bottom if we walked off the road; and we came perilously close! And everyone thinks that the ocean is scary! It was a relief to finally see Jose’s tail lights ahead in the fog.
We finally tore ourselves away from Flores after nine days and set sail for the Island of Faial and the Port of Horta. We completed the passage in just over 24 hours and arrived at Horta again in the fog.
Horta is perhaps the most celebrated harbour in the Atlantic; a rite of passage for any sailor. Twenty years ago this was a sleepy little town that came to life when two hundred boats showed up throughout the summer. Today thanks to GPS more than a thousand boats visit Horta and the island has become organized. There is now a marina with all of the amenities and while prices are much higher than twenty years ago Horta is still an affordable stop. The fisherman are no longer the primary residents here, the yachties are!
Peter Cafe Sport is now packed not only with cruising sailors but with “tourists” who fly in to visit this Mecca for yachtsman. Yes, Horta has changed and mostly for the better but, it is still Horta! We planned to stay here awhile.
The boats on our dock were a varied group. We had Fred and Nikki from South Africa, Chris from England, Sergio from Italy, John,Okwa and Julliana from Canada, Phillip, Helen and Pip from Maine. All without doubt unique personalities. Our next door neighbor was Mylo a Jack Russell terrier with a wonderful personality. Mylo was “single-handing” while his captain was away in England caring for her father who was ill.
We all took turns caring for Mylo, not that he needed or wanted our care! Mylo was his own man and had his own routine every day. He would depart in the early morning, make his rounds all day and return to his boat at night.
Chris assumed most of the responsibility and insisted on “trying” to keep Mylo on a “short leash”. Each night around midnight we would hear Chris… “Mylo come heah! I say,… Mylo…come heah! And the next morning Mylo would be gone and Chris would be apoplectic. “I say, Mylo’s done a bonk! When he returns I shall have to put him in the nick!” And that night we would lie awake listening to Mylo’s cries to be set free. Everyone in town knew and loved Mylo. Everyone fed him. He would accompany us to one of the shops and instead of greeting us they would always say “Bom Dia Mylo!” Mylo a most unique person!
Here in Horta we finally slowed down enough to make all the preparations necessary for leaving NY almost a year ago! But it was not all work and no play. Not by a long shot!
Many days were devoted to exploring this volcanic Island paradise both by car and on foot. Most drives turned into walks which gradually became climbs; usually DOWN as there was always another dormant crater to explore.
The crew of Svoboda, Topaz and Entr’acte after the big hike down into Hort’a main Volcanic Crater.
One of our goals this visit was to climb Mt. Pico. the dormant volcano on the adjacent island of Pico.
We’re off to climb Pico. For our attempt we loaded up supplies, tent, sleeping bags (that had been used on the tragic Everest expedition) borrowed from the South Africans. We took the ferry across to the Pico and checked into a bed and breakfast so to get an early start on Pico. The procedure is to take a taxi to the 1200 meter level which is the starting point for the climb. Here you register with the Bombieros (fire dept) before you begin the climb. That morning the fog was so thick we could not even see the Bombiero who told us “Not Today! You will never find the trail.” Our consolation prize was the Festival of Magdalena. Over a plate of frango assado-pronounced “fragshshadsh” (fried chicken) we met Nelson a local bar owner who was also a Pico Guide. He told us that the fog was so thick that the guides would not even go up the mountain!
Our new friend the former Pico guide turned restauranteru Nelson.
We watched Pico daily for signs of improvement and after two weeks we made a dash-onto the early morning ferry, up the mountain and down all in one day! Not very romantic but we got there!
Three tries but “We made it!”
It should be said here that one trait of the Azores was that there was always a festival somewhere! One would end and the next one would begin. The highlight of these was Sea Week. In past years it was held in late August after the yachts departed to escape the fall gales which begin in mid-August. Sea Week has since been moved to the beginning of the month to encourage increased attendance and revenue. The Azoreans took all summer to set up lights, food booths and a huge sound stage. The marina was “Party Central” and the main stage was just 50 yards from our slip. We were going to those concerts whether we wanted to or not! Oh yeah, nothing begins until 23:00 or later! Welcome to Europe!
Sea week came and we raced (and lost) during the day and partied every night. We climbed more extinct volcanoes and visited “the old swimming hole” regularly; a most fascinating use of the natural lava formations to create an ocean pool.
Horta’s version of “the old swimming hole!”
One of the more interesting facets of this life style is the meals aboard the boats. Every one was interesting and unique. The most memorable was with Sergio who instructed us in preparing the “perfect pasta”. Or was it aboard China Moon when we had “dumplings in vast abundance” with a much needed and appreciated acupuncture treatment for desert. There were so many it’s hard to choose! We got back at the Italians and South Africans though with tacos and chili – something they knew nothing about.
The crew of China Moon – congratulations to Okwa Juliana and John on their first transatlantic crossing.
Of course no voyage to Horta would be complete without painting your yacht’s mural on the wall. It’s an old Azorian superstition that to leave the island without painting the wall brings bad luck.
Ellen updates Entr’acte’s wall painting in Horta for the third time!
We are now in the Harbour of Angra Do Heroismo on the island of Terciera. Ed just got a hair cut. We decided that as a celebration of our Atlantic crossing the regular barber aboard Entr’acte could take the day off. Ed was very specific about what he wanted and did not want. The barber assured us he understood and took Ed’s glasses. 20 minutes later he stood back, smiled and shouted “Ta BOM” (it’s great!). Yeah! Right! If he had cut any more off Ed would not have a head. Oh well, at least he’s set until Christmas!
The next stop 100 miles to Sao Miguel, and then the last 600 miles to — Lisbon.
More from “The other side!”
Ellen and Ed