The Azores

We made it into the tiny port of Lajes, island of Flores, late on the Sunday afternoon, 20th May. The port was very quiet, it being Sunday evening. So was the village up the hill, and it took us some time to find a bar open. They were not serving food, but we had a beer and bought a loaf of bread (which was immediately set upon by the ravenous crew). We retired to the boat for another dinner out of cans, and slept.

IMG_3926_Flores_LajesIn Lajes harbour, Flores, with Shearwater nesting cliffs above

IMG_3929_Flores_WhaleboatsWhaleboats in Lajes

In the morning S tried the shower in the ‘ facilities’ – which was strong & cold. R & J decided to stay un-showered until Horta.  The harbour office was closed, but at 10:00 the Policia Maritima came on board and checked our papers. They said the harbourmaster would be there next day.

R tried to book a taxi-tour but was told ‘ tomorrow’, so we walked into the town looking for a supermarket. We couldn’t find one, so kept walking, admiring the many flowers along the verges and the flowers and vegetables being lovingly tended in many gardens. At Fazenda we waited outside a mini- market – but it didn’t open. We visited a small caldera, saw cows, a graveyard & walled gardens before stopping at the sports & social club for lunch (beers and a generous lunch all for under €20!).

IMG_3937_Flores_cowCows and gardens in Flores

We walked on, down into a steep gorge with river, abandoned watermill & beautiful variety of trees  – and up the other side, and next village. After questioning a couple of locals, it seemed that the next town (Santa Cruz) was over 12km away, so eventually we turned back to port. After a very long walk in search of supplies, R & S went off to check out the local supermarket – thus confirming both its location & the fact it was a bank holiday!

IMG_3950_Flores_GorgeLuxuriant trees in the gorge

That evening after a dinner of cheese-on-toast, R&J lurked at the end of the pier & recorded the shearwaters’ cries in the darkness, as they returned to their nests on the cliff opposite. We had been greeted by scores of shearwaters flying around us as we neared Flores.

 

Tues 22nd May

Flores is well-named, an island of flowers with well-tended gardens and small fields. The local people were friendly and proud of their island (featuring the most westerly council in Europe!). Regrettably, we needed to move on, as there were just 2 days of favourable wind before easterlies set in again. R visited the harbourmaster to check out and pay our dues, which were very reasonable, then we walked up the hill again to the supermarket, now open at last! We stocked up with whatever local fruit & veg we could find, and fresh cod. At 11:00 we motored out of the port, raised sail and headed for Horta, 124 miles to the East. The weather continued fine with a variable southerly, mostly around 12k, and we made good progress, sailing at 5-5.5k. Several shearwaters were diving round the boat.

Flores_FlowersFlowers from the Azores

One yacht had left ahead of us and soon disappeared from view, and a container ship passed us, heading NE. At about 5pm, a group of 5-6 dolphins, including 2 young ones, briefly swam and leaped behind the boat. Ambition II sailed on all night at 5-6k with light to moderate SW wind. A couple of ships passed in late evening – one distant and one 2-3nm off.

After a breakfast of porridge, the wind began to slacken as we approached Faial, a group of about 10-12 dolphins swimming & pirouetting around the boat. We could see the remains of the last volcanic eruption in 1958 protruding from the West coast of the island as we sailed past. We were met by a police RIB before the mini caldera just west of Horta, who asked where we had come from & were going.

We looked into the caldera on the way past, then motored into Horta harbour and tied up to the reception quay. After checking in (harbourmaster, immigration & customs), which was straightforward as they already had our details from Flores, we were allocated a berth inside the same quay, rafted alongside a German yacht – who were none too happy to have a rusty steel boat alongside! Up the hill we found the supermarcado, stocked up our provisions, and called at Peter’s bar on the way back in the drizzle. The harbour facilities are OK, if distant, and at last we could indulge in daily hot showers!

IMG_4121_Horta_CalderaCaldeira Inferno, a volcanic cone flooded by the sea

 IMG_4086_horta_PetersPeter’s bar, Horta

Family events at home meant R & J might need to stay on in the Azores for a while, or even fly home. S needed to get back to the UK, so booked a flight on the following Monday. In the meantime, we explored Horta and dined out at Peter’s bar. Horta has charming period buildings and is largely free of tourist overkill – we even struggled to find ice -creams near the beach!

The harbour walls and paved quays at Horta are famous for their painted record of visiting boats (now much copied at other ports). We found “Arabel” and “Travelling Star”: friends’ boats that had visited over a decade earlier, with the paint flaking, so decided to re-paint them with “Ambition II” alongside. We found masonry paint in a nearby shop, supplemented with some from the boat, and applied our somewhat modest signwriting skills.

IMG_4097_Horta_quayThe decorated quay where we were moored

IMG_4152_Horta_GrafittiArtistsGrafitti artists?

R visited Mid-Atlantic Yacht Services and ordered a spare steering cable, and asked for a technician to check the screen freezing issue on our Raymarine plotter. On Friday we removed the starboard steering cable and fitted the replacement (original spare). Now both cables were in nearly-new condition. Other maintenance tasks done in Horta included:

  • Replace split pin on boom swivel
  • Get spare wind vane steering cord
  • Spot painting for rust & white paint
  • Check windvane pins & bolts
  • Routine engine checks
  • Grease shaft bearing and steering
  • Check condition of sails
  • Check sealing on hatches (replace rivets on fore hatch catch).
  • Grease toilet plunger

 

The marine electrics guy from MAYS came aboard to check the chart plotter, and agreed to raise a case with Raymarine support, as he had seen several similar software issues with touchscreen instruments. Another software upgrade did not fix the issue, and Raymarine support were unable to provide a fix, so we had to go on with our old Seiwa plotter.

IMG_4115_Horta_OldHarbourWildflowers above the old harbour

IMG_4138_Horta_CalderaPathSteep path up to a church on the caldera rim

Our walks included the impressive Caldera to the S of Horta, its rim breached by the sea. Wild flowers cover the hillside overlooking the town and the old whaling harbour beside the town beach, which was covered with people, apparently oblivious that they were swimming in the mid -Atlantic. We also found an arboretum park on the north side of town. The market building was under renovation so the traders were scattered elsewhere, but we were able to buy fresh local produce from various benches and cabins, and found an excellent beef butcher in the back streets. We did a canned food audit and made up our stock from the supermarcado.

IMG_4177_Horta_ArboretumIn the arboretum

IMG_4061_Horta_SupermarketViewView from the supermarket

IMG_4082_Horta_ShipsPico seen from Peter’s Bar, at dawn

The bay of Horta faces the island of Pico with its spectacular (largely inactive) volcano peak. The view early in the morning is particularly splendid, the sun rising behind the cloud-wreathed cone. For Thursday 31st May, we booked a trip to Pico (at the information kiosk by the castle). We had to catch the 7:30am ferry across the strait, then had a 4-hour taxi tour around the western part of the island, past striking lava flows on the north coast, up to one of the lower crater lakes, and down to the old port of Lajes in the south. We then had a guided tour of Gruta des Torres lava tube, an enthusiastic and informative exploration of these underground formations, followed by wine tasting at the cooperative in Magdelena.

IMG_4217_Pico_VinesVinyards on the north coast of Pico

IMG_4258_Pico_Lajes_SlideApproaches to Lajes, the old whaling harbour on south Pico

IMG_4264_Pico_CaveEntranceDescent into the lava tube

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAExploring the lava tubes

IMG_4286_Pico_FerrySalvageSalvaging the ferry, wrecked entering Magdelena in a winter storm

As it turned out, we were able to set off for the UK sooner than expected, and the weekend weather looked favourable. So on Friday 1st June, we got our laundry done, stocked up on fresh produce, and took the boat round to the fuel berth. Everything was a bit frantic because the ARC were in port, (also heading out next day). We paid for our berth and checked out, impressed how easy and efficient it was after the Caribbean!

IMG_4288_Horta_FireStationThe fire station, Horta

 

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