06 July 2018 | Faial Island –Atlantic Portugal
IMAGE – various images
For ocean sailors the island of Faial and its port, Horta, is one of the great destinations – a historical nautical crossroad .
Horta is famous among yachties for two things. One is Peter’s Café Sport, for several decades the favourite watering hole for ocean sailors
The bar is full of an amazing collection of nautical knick-knacks on the walls and ceiling and because of the 100 year anniversary the atmosphere is full of fun.
Upstairs is a museum devoted to scrimshaw, the art of decorating ivory from whales’ teeth and the tusks of narwhal.
The second thing for which Horta is famous is the tradition that every visiting yacht must leave a picture on the sea wall, or bad luck will surely follow. Nautical graffiti it is not – some of the paintings are true works of art
I am not artistic at all artistic but we knew that we had to follow the tradition. So we came up with a simple design, and set about finding a site. This is not easy, but tradition allows over-painting of really old works of art and so we found our spot and went to work.
The Harbour and small town has a lot of charm and history – whaling being the main theme. We have enjoyed our stay here in Horta – but its time to move on again.
We will commence our final ocean passage on 7th July – back to the UK, its been a long, long time since we left in 1999 – its been a wonderful adventure indeed.
Feast of St John
24 June 2018 | National Holiday day in Faial
IMAGE – various images
We are so lucky – we are here on Faial on the day the island holds its official holiday on 24 June.
The Feast of St John is celebrated annually on 24 June, at the village church devoted to St John.
As in many catholic countries there is a local fiesta associated with the little village patron saint and church every weekend. But here were are around for the biggest party of the year.
This celebration is a two days affair – commencing on Saturday afternoon, through to a midnight bonfire and then on Sunday a traditional church service and procession, followed by more music and dance entertainment.
Late afternoon on Saturday 23rd June we caught a local taxi up from the harbour, inland to where the St John fiesta was being celebrated.
It was a very local affair. Stalls had been set-up along the local adjoining streets – the men were busy serving drinks and the local ladies very busy cooking us local dishes. A whole pig was being roasted over wood coals in a nearby field – wow – this is how the locals party – good, drinks and entertainment!
As we arrived, folk dancers and traditional music filled the small square in front of the tiny traditional church.
A little later, the music changed pace with the islands Dixie Band blasting out some traditional foot-taping favourites.
The next entertainment show was the local children’s dance group – all ages enjoying performing for their families and friends – all very local. Very proud and fun loving participants.
The total population of Faial is approx. 16,000 – by well into the night several thousand locals of all ages crowded into the church square and surrounding streets to party well into the night – it felt like to the whole island was on big night out.
We enjoyed talking with some of the locals – everyone was very open, friendly and interesting to talk with. They are very welcoming to sailors.
A WHALE OF A TIME
22 June 2018 | afternoon whale watching boat trip
IMAGE – various images - some mine - some for whale watching company website
Another of the very enjoyable activities arranged for the OCC Rally participants was Whale Watching boat trips.
On Friday afternoon 22nd June a group of 20 sailors piled into a big rib for our on-the-water adventure. We were led by a local Marine Biologist, skippered by Mike, a born and bred young local guy, from a whaling family and Pirate the dog as our on-board spotter.
James and I have experienced whales VERY close to our boat in the French Island of Martinique in the Eastern Caribbean – so this was a less stressful experience.
We had a fast and wet rib ride out to into the deep Atlantic ocean waters between Faial and Pico Islands - all for that moment of silent exhilaration to glimpse a whale – and we were not disappointed.
These Azorean waters are FULL of whales, due to the very deep Atlantic waters and the abundance of krill for feeding during April and October. Because the volcanic islands have sheer drops very close to land the whales can easily be seen both from the mountain sides and not too far out to sea.
Our guide was very experience and knowledgeable and our skipper was in constant VHF radio and mobile phone contact with land-based spotters. They were keen for us to experience and see as much whale activity as possible. We were informed that the cliff-top spotters could see at least 12 whales in our path –possibly a family group.
It was not long before we could see off in the distance tell-tale signs of whales in the area - blowhole spouts.
Our rib came slowly and carefully close to clearly see smooth, torpedo-like forms of a few surfacing sperm whales.
We did see one or two whales breaching out of the water AND the odd tail appearing as whales around us went for a deep dive.
Numerous Cory’s shearwaters birds dived and played close to the water and provided a great aerial display.
It was yet another wonderful opportunity to experience nature here in the Azores.
PICO ISLAND – VOLCANO IN THE MIST
20 June 2018 | an enjoyable day trip to another island.
Mount Pico is absolutely stunning.
IMAGE – various images of Pico Island.
Arising before dawn on 20th June, James, Malcolm and I made the dingy ride and harbourside wall walk to the very far end of Horta harbour to catch the 7am inter-island ferry to the port harbour of Madalena on Pico Island for our OCC arranged day tour. Thankfully many of our fellow sailors had not yet arrived so we could enjoy hot coffee and croissants before the large numbers started to arrive.
It was just a short 30 minute ferry ride from Faial to Pico, with Mount Pico dominating the skyline at 7700 feet above sea level shrouded in cloud - it is truly an awesome sight.
Our two coaches and guides were ready and waiting for us. The weather for the day was not brilliant and there was some discussion as to the possibilities of driving up to the volcano to ‘Mountain House’ where the road stops and the hiking trails to the summit commence - the guides would monitor the weather throughout the day. We were all keen to get up close and personal with Mount Pico, the highest mountain in the Azores at 2351m. At the top is a 700 meter crater, 30 meters deep. It's the third largest volcano in the Atlantic.
Pico Island (generally referred to as just Pico), like all the islands in the Azores, is volcanic. The last major eruption took place in the late 1700s and much of the northern end of the island is still a savage jumble of lava rocks. Pico is the second largest of the Azores archipelago, scenery is magnificent, particularly if you enjoy the stark black volcanic scenery.
We are at anchor in Horta harbour, on the neighbouring island of Faial, and the view we have of Pico is awesome, and changes every minute of the day. All you see of the island is a whopper of a volcano: a perfectly symmetrical cone thrusting above the deep blue Atlantic, its summit often wreathed in mist and cloud. So big it threatens to swallow up the entire island, the 2351m Montanha do Pico is the first (and last) thing you see whether arriving by boat or plane. When we sailed into Faial we could clearly see the peak up to 70 miles before our arrival.
Our 1st stop of the day was a visit through the wine Lagido vineyards, apparently established by monks around the beginning of the 1800s. Due to the unique surrounding and cultivation these are Unesco-listed volcanic vineyards. Incredibly, the inhabitants have cleared the ground into tiny plots and piled the rock into walls a metre or so high to surround them.
The vineyards themselves are on rock with black volcanic rock walls very close together, with only one or two vines growing within the walls which create a micro climate very conducive to grape growing and wine production. There are acres of these fields. Here they grow grape vines, and from these vines they make both red and white wine, for which the island is famous.
Pico was also a major whaling island, where whaling was the primary source of income for a couple of centuries.
We visited the coastal village of Lajes, formerly the Azores’ principal whaling port and now, ironically, the hub of the tourism industry spotting Blue and Sperm whales and the islands main whale-watching resort. Ashore, the main attraction is a brilliant museum that documents the lives of the town’s whalers and showcases the tiny boats and hand-held harpoons with which they used to hunt the biggest animals on the planet.
The Azoreans continued to hunt whales from open boats propelled by sail and oars until whaling was banned in 1984. Their only concession to modernity was that petrol-engined launches would tow the boats from port to within a mile or so of the quarry. Most villages still to this day maintain a fleet of whale boats and these are raced in competitions through the summer months. Meanwhile whale-watching has become a significant business and brings many tourists to the islands.
We visited the village of São Jorge which is famed for its cheese. We visited the Finesterra cheese factory at the eastern end of the island. We tasted cheeses varying from mild and creamy to sharp and tangy - we have since enjoyed different types of São Jorge cheese with the odd Port for our afternoon sundowners and pre dinner snacks.
Pico, with its 18th century churches, beautiful winery manor houses, volcanic scenery, whaling history, and rich farmland - It was a really interesting, varied and enjoyable day out.
Sadly we never got to drive up high up the volcano side and the cloud and mist engulfed the mountain peak most of the day.
guided walk around Horta
19 June 2018 | Fabulous Faial. – Azorean Island
fresh mountain air – rather than humid sea level conditions
IMAGE – various images – from our hike around Horta
The afternoon activity on Tuesday 19th arranged as part of the OCC Rally was a guided walk around Horta.
James, Malcolm and I met about 20 other salty sailors at Café Sport just after lunch, expecting a short stroll around the town with a historical guide informing this motley, casually dressed crew on the various churches and monuments etc – and maybe even a coffee shop stop of afternoon pastries etc.
WELL - our afternoon guided walk turned out to be a FULL-ON three and a half hour trek/hike around the interior of the island!! (the red route on one of the photos will show our route)
We all piled into a bus and were driven for quite some time to the western side of the island. The drive gave us stunning views out across the countryside into the Atlantic. Our 2 guides described our ‘walk’ as medium difficulty across trails in the high country. Mind you they both looked dressed for the activity - much fitter, younger and healthier than all of us!
We did learn a lot about the island in general from them, and specifically about the geological history, plants and wildlife etc. We were somewhat skeptical of the term "medium difficulty" however, we ventured forth!
The low scrubby vegetation interspersed with flowers and moss threaded with sometimes boggy, but predominantly grassy track, provided pleasant strolling for the first few kilometres. Strawberries were growing wild on the walking trail – sadly not quite ready for picking and eating!
There were some gradually climbs – but nothing too strenuous until we came across a section that was indescribable -a savage jumble of small lava rocks we needed to descend! Many trips and falls later we all made it to the rock walled fields below. After two of so hours, the trail became never-ending – with now lots of moans from weary non-hikers about ‘not signing up for this’, and ‘are we nearly there yet’, and ‘is this really a medium difficulty rating’ etc, etc.
Faial – like all the Azorean island is volcanic in origin. The island has been subjected to multiple earthquakes. In 1957 was the largest volcanic eruption of recent years, when the volcano at Capelinhos appeared out of the sea, going on to engulf the lighthouse and resulting in over 50 percent of the population leaving the island, never to return.
Much of this new volcano has now been eroded away so it has little impact on the vista as a whole, while the old lighthouse stands half buried in ash.
We could clearly see the ashen landscape that falls abruptly to the ocean.
Faial is a beautiful island with spectacular views in all directions. The countryside is lush and just framed by the blue hydrangeas, and wild flowers for which the Azores are famous. It is one of the smaller islands, with maximum dimensions of around 22km by 15km giving it a land area of 173km2.
The inhabitants have cleared the ground into tiny plots and piled the volcanic rock into walls a metre or so high to surround them. These rock walls are testament to generations of tenacious Portuguese settlers who have cleared the land to create small fields of rich fertile farmland. The cows looked very happy indeed!
Many of the 16,000 or so inhabitants still live by farming, though fishing and trades at all levels are also important. The population is sadly not growing. All the young people have good education facilities on the island, but those seeking university or skilled courses must travel to Lisbon or elsewhere in Europe – most never return to live here – the opportunities are just now available.
By the time we had made it back to the coach most of us had wobby legs. I did have a bit of a trip and fall on some of the mossy pavings. The guides were very helpful, and thankfully Sue from Camomile had a cloth that James could soak in cold stream water to get a cold compress on my shin as soon as possible to allow me to continue.
Upon reflection, it was a wonderful experience, however had I know what was involved I would not have gone, and will probably never get James on any type of hike again!
OCC AZORES RALLY
18 June 2018 | Faial Island – Horta Harbour - Mid Atlantic
1st to 17th June – sailing in light winds and adverse current.
IMAGE – various images from OCC Rally
We departed Bermuda on the 1st June for our passage of 1800 nautical miles to the Azorean Island of Faial.
We experienced light winds for the majority of the passage, AND adverse currents – so not a quick trip. We sailed as much as possible – carrying on when the others we were travelling with went to their engines.
The night sailing with 10,000’s of stars and a little moon – all alone in the mid atlantic was wonderful.
We arrived into the harbour of Horta at 1st light on Monday 18th June– on the opening day of the OCC AZORES Rally 46 yachts from 11 countries attended – what a wonderful atmosphere in the VERY busy harbour. Most of our ‘buddy boats’ from Bermuda had arrived ahead of us – but those yachts taking the PURSUIT RACE seriously crossed the finish line at 12noon.
LET THE PARTY BEGIN – the next 5 days were full of fun, activities, shore-side events and evening drinks and dinner parties. Our good friend Malcolm flew out from London to join us for the 5 days – it was great to have his company.
The famous Peters Café Sport quickly became the hub for all the OCC crews, where the evening drinks flowed and the meals of Azorean specialities were excellent for every evening dinner.
The final dinner – (a sit down, posh affair) and awards presentations was held in a palatial Masonic Hall in the centre of the old town. We enjoyed the evening with some of the sailors we had met in Bermuda and had maintained SSB contact for the passage from Bermuda to the Azores – Ken & Ulliu from Antares, and Sue & Bill from Camomile.
Every yacht skipper was presented with a memorial plaque. Line honours for the Pursuit Race, longest passage, a seamanship award and an award for the Japanese skipper and his crew were also boisterously acknowledged by all the sailors present.
For ocean sailors the island of Faial and its port, Horta, is one of the great destinations, crossroads and meeting points around the globe. When we purchased La Aventura in 1995, there was a plaque on the nav area bulkhead dated 1989 when Jimmy Cornell and his family were on board, and it was always our goal to visit here.
This OCC Azores Rally was a great finale for us on our return to the UK. 2018 is our 23rd and last year of our wonderful voyage.
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