30 June 2014 | Azores
A nine island archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic (L=38.5 N, Lo=28.5 W) about 2,000 nm from New York and 1,000 from Iberia (Portugal & Spain) is relatively unknown by the non-sailing communities. The Azores however are very well known amongst sailors as the “Crossroads of the Atlantic”. The winds and currents of the North Atlantic Ocean make the Azores an easy landfall from which to break up a long bluewater passage and take on provisions. Our 2007 Atlantic crossing on Necessity was originally designed to be a provisioning stop before heading to the Med. After some research we decided to spend a sailing season in the Azores and ended up finishing the crossing in 2008. This turned out to be a great decision.
On this trip we chartered a Dufour 40 foot sailing vessel from the newly formed ‘SailAzores’ company. The two week cruise began in Horta on the island of Faial. It was exciting to find the sea wall painting of Necessity still there. From Horta we headed to nearby Pico island with its enormous mountain at 2,400 meters making it the highest point in all of Portugal. Pico is the best location for whale watching and we were thus entertained. And dolphins of course. Actually there are dolphin visits to the bow every day one sails these waters.
A long overnight sail to the big island of Sao Miguel began with whale watching stops along the route. Numerous plumes could be seen all around. The dolphins came by as well, in fact a very exuberant pod leaping out of the water upon arrival at Ponta Delgada.
Ponta Delgada is the capital and largest city in the Azores, an autonomous region of Portugal. There is a brand new marina complex here just steps from the city core.
So many flowers grow wild along the roads of all the islands. Mostly Hydrangeas. Workers are required to cut back the flowers so one can safely navigate. The Blue Lagoon, the Green Lagoon, Calderas, waterfalls, hot springs and warm mineral waters…..so much to offer on San Miguel.
Terceira Island is the third largest in the Azorean group and plays host to numerous bull fights. Typically a group of six bulls arrive in crates and are released one at a time. A very long 100 meter rope held by six brave men try to direct the bull through the streets of the town with hundreds barricaded behind makeshift crates and pallets. The brave remain in the streets. The idea is to try to touch the bull’s head without being gored.
The largest city on Terceira is Angra do Herosimo where the Festival of ‘Sanjoaninas” is held each year. Large groups dance through the streets in festive costumes. There was a Canadian contingent participating and was very well received.
The final island on or itinerary was Sao Jorge, very famous for their cheese. It was to be our best day on the water. Spent an hour with four large leviathans, Fin Whales we think. They came very close aboard and even dived under the boat.
The new marina at Velas boasts floating finger docks, free WiFi and immaculate washrooms. The small town of Velas is very charming with good restaurants and cafes.
A one week charter would allow for proper exploration of the central island group (Faial, Pico, Sao Jorge, Terceira and Graciosa). Two weeks would be necessary to explore the group to the east (San Miguel, Santa Maria) or the western group (Flores, Corvo). From Horta it is 150 nm to Ponta Delgada and 140 nm to Flores so some overnight passages are required.
As always a good crew is so important for an enjoyable sailing adventure. Thank you Frank, Olga, Majed and Leslie for being that crew.