A taste of the Azores

I often seem to write my blogs at airports – something to do with the WiFi, no doubt, but also because I tend to be at them when there is a change of crew, marking the end of a stage of this journey.  And so it is today: Spellbinder has been in the Azores now for over three weeks, and is about to depart with new crew for her final leg of this Atlantic circuit, from Ponta Delgada on São Miguel back to UK.

From Flores, with the original Atlantic crew, we headed straight for the island of Terceira.  I would have loved to have visited Horta, a great mid-Atlantic crossroads for cruisers (a night at the Cafe Sport bar, and painting your yacht’s mural on the harbour wall are rites of passage), but it will have to wait for another time.  At this time of year it is very crowded, and the winds and time precluded a visit.  However, we found a snug berth in Praia da Vitória,  from where I was able to fly back to UK briefly.  During my absence Julian stayed aboard for a few days – a good thing, as there were 40+ knot winds one night.

The autopilot had broken a couple of days out from Bermuda, so I was keen to get it fixed.  Julian and I had done a good diagnosis, which was confirmed when I took it to David at Hudson Marine on the Hamble.  A new clutch for the drive unit was required, which we duly fitted.  I’m pleased to report that all is now well – a good thing, as steering while motoring through ocean calms is no fun at all!

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Fixing the Raymarine autopilot drive unit

Once back in the Azores, I explored Terceira, hiring a car. It was fiesta time, and I joined fellow Ocean Cruising Club (OCC) members to watch the bull run in Angra do Heroísmo.  They block off a few streets, and let half a dozen bulls run rampage. Amateur matadors play with the bulls, and if you can touch their horns (thankfully protected with a soft end placed over them) the crowd roars in approval.  Beer and testosterone combine to make men do dangerous things, and every year people get hurt or worse.

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Parade before the release of the bulls.  Olé!

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Bulls on the run, Angra do Heroísmo…

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A local matador showing off…

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…but I think the bull rather got the better of him

Most spectators are safely sat on lorry beds, or up in trees, but we found a spot where a local said that in 61 years of watching it, no bull had ever come near.  He was wrong! Moray, a fellow yachtsman stood next door to me, took the following footage:

Luckily no-one was hurt, including the bull. It was a tad discombobulating though.

After an hour the bulls are rounded up and returned to their farms.  That evening there was a bullfight in the local arena, but although they place darts in the bull’s body it is illegal in Portugal to kill them.  It was difficult to envisage all this happening in UK: not the thing of Health and Safety and the RSPCA!  But in the Azores, it is part of the very cultural fabric, as much as cricket is with us.

Terceira was lovely, for its architecture particularly.

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Ornate architecture, dates of construction clearly shown

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Churches in the same style

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Statue of bulls in Angra do Heroismo

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Ugly silos spruced up with vibrant depictions

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Street in Angra do Heroismo, ready for the fiesta

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Looking south from the island: a typical Azorian patchwork of fields

My time on Terceira ended with a fun and international OCC gathering, kindly organised by Jonathan and Anne Lloyd (photo courtesy of the local OCC port officer, Lina Lane-Thornton).

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The next morning the weather was set fair for a passage down to Ponta Delgada on the island of São Miguel.  It was to be single-handed, so I left the marina at dusk and anchored in the harbour, so as to get an easy start early the next morning.  The passage proved straightforward – I left just before dawn into a nice broad reaching wind, albeit with a 2-3 metre swell on the beam.  At 90 nautical miles, this was the equivalent of a Channel crossing and for me the longest single-handed passage I have undertaken so far.

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On passage between Terceira and São Miguel, amidst seagulls

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Heading down the São Miguel south coast 

After 13 hours I arrived safely in Ponta Delgada, found a berth and sorted out formalities in the morning.

Before the arrival of the next crew I hired a car and explored the island.  Like all of them there is ample evidence of EU money being spent: modern roads and infrastructure, and a system which seems to work.  São Miguel is, like many of the others, volcanic in nature and I explored two areas of great beauty: Caldeira des Sete Cidades and Furnas.

The former is a town right down in the bottom of a volcanic crater, with two lakes named Lagoa Verde and Azul (green and blue). It is a truly spectacular descent.

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Caldeira des Sete Cidades and its lakes

Over in Furnas, there are thermal springs galore, where you can bathe and also eat the  local dish Cozido, a delicious stew.

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Thermal springs…

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…’Cozido’, geo-thermally slow-cooked for your delight…

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…which required a geo-thermal bath to aid digestion

The flora on São Miguel is spectacular, with ubiquitous hydrangea and agapanthus lining the roads.

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Delightful flora abounds

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The north coast of São Miguel 

It’s a lovely island.  As elsewhere in the Azores, I found the people calm, polite and helpful, and English is widely spoken.  They know how to be kind and welcoming to tourists.  Prices are extremely reasonable (and a positive delight after Bermuda) and the cuisine delicious.  I have just tasted the Azores – and I will be back. Having crossed the Atlantic twice, the distance from Falmouth (7 or 8 days for Spellbinder, with fair winds) means that the Azores will continue to call me.

Tomorrow I depart with my new crew – elder son Tom, and friend Crispin – for the final passage back to UK.  This morning I filled up with fresh fruit and vegetables in the local market, and studied the weather forecast – not that favourable, with a round-about approach needed to ride the west side of an anti-cyclone and to avoid some north easterly winds.  It will take us a few more days than it might.

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The market at Ponta Delgada

 

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