Further sailing in the Azores, under the grey sky, along green fields… This is a nice transition between the tropical wonders and the European traditions. As the capricious weather refuses to show any stable forecast, we wait, getting ready for the last leg of our return trip home.
10th June 2012 : Horta on Faial – Velas on Sao Jorge (23M)
For the last couple of days we have not been able to see further than the breakwater outside of the marina in Horta. Our friend Richard on Sya sailed away yesterday and warned us: it’s foggy and full of wind acceleration zones to Sao Jorge… some to look forward to :-S
9am, the rainjackets and heavy trousers on, we are ready to leave. An old sailor with a white head comes closer as we are working on the ropes and asks whether we remember him… of course, Roberto, the Uruguayan from Porto Santo! (see here). What a surprise to find him here! We tell about our trip, he tells about his, and we pay a short visit to his boat moored on the same pontoon. Seen from outside, it looks just like a bigger Saltimbanque of 10m – actually pretty much our dream boat for the next time around… Funny to see how everyone ends up in Horta, and somehow touching to see this character of our first island again on last stop – coming full circle…
In the end it’s past 10 when we exit the marina, and for the better as the mist has cleared, revealing beautiful views of the Pico behind (the giant volcano is the highest summit of Portugal, 2351m). Cautiously sailing with front sail only not to be taken by surprise, we meet a little swell in the canal while the tidal stream flows against the wind, but nothing big.
As the wind veers we send some main sail up and take the pole down the genua. Some little wind acceleration, nothing bad, as the breeze is feeble anyways even along the cliffs of Sao Jorge
The Pico topped by the rest of its night-cap
Arriving to Velas (copyright Sya)
Entering Velas bay around 3pm, we get no answer on the VHF from the harbor master, but see a guy waving to us from the jetty. Well, that technology works too. “Welcome to Paradise”, he says, “there’s a spot there next to Sya – a friend I think”… Richard helps with the ropes, 3 Gouttes invites us for a coffee, SterVraz comes along…funny feeling to find ourselves at home in an unknown place!
Velas marina belongs to the same group as the other Azorian marinas: same price (10 eur), power and water, wifi onboard, showers not included but billed according to how many you say you took. Smallish and cosy, tucked at the feet of the high cliff, 5min from a convenient small town.
As we came in the local band was parading in the street, saluting our entry with loud trumpets. This is another “Holy Spirit celebration” today again. At night we walk to join the traditional music and soup with 3 Gouttes. The designated street can be found thanks to small flags, but nobody is around… we go on have a drink in the main bar (where SterVraz has no trouble finding us). An hour later, we try again: this time some families have gone out, some kids are playing around, a couple of men are holding a sbeer… but nothing much happens all the same… 5 minutes of the non-event is enough, back to the bar for a good basic diner. Not exactly what we had hoped for, but a very good evening all the same!
11th – 13th June : visiting Velas
Velas is coooooooool! In the small harbor the staff is very friendly and the few boats almost all friends (most of them have been in Flores too! The small harbours squadron…). But locals don’t greet you in the street, that’s a sign of a bigger town. And some tourists are not on a boat! (came from Horta with the ferry…). Another familiar sound at night: the cagarros (= local shearwater birds) are even louder here than in Flores!
Quiet little marina…
Hey, long time no see!
What do you think will Camille and Laure do in a new island? Hike of course! First day trip to the western part of Sao Jorge, after being dropped by the bus in Rosais. There’s a lighthouse to be seen at the point, they say. Well, seen… today everything above the 300m altitude is lost in the clouds – and we’re happy when we see a couple of cows on the side of the path. The Natural Park of Sete Fontes is nice and well arranged with semi-tropical plants, but as it starts raining we are happy to be back onboard!
For the second trip we set higher targets. According to our crystal ball there should be some sun today and we hope to see as high as 600m altitude. This morning we are up early to catch the only bus to the northern coast, but the indications were wrong and we miss it… damn! Lucky to be in the hitch-hikers’ paradise though: we just have to start on the road and we find ourselves at the back of a ranger’s white van, between his backpack and his speargun, on his way to clear out some trails :o)
Sao Jorge is a long thin island, looking like a boat heading west, or like the spine bone of a sleepy brontosaur, others say… In the middle, high meadows spread on each side of a regular series of small volcanoes, distributed in small pieces of land separated by dark stone walls. A few roads. Then a sheer drop of 500m off the green cliff, and you’re in the sea. Every now and then at the bottom of the steep cliff lays a piece of flatter land, some former lava flow, capturing the heat of the sun in the dark soil and sheltered from the wind. Those tiny heavens are called “fajas”, where hard-working farmers managed to grow some crops.
A faja : (small) flat ground at the bottom of a (high) cliff
Faja de Alem : nothing changed in centuries
Today’s program is to explore a few of these “fajas” on the northern side of the island. We start with the official trail n°4 (on the reference website trails-azores.com), leading to Faja de Alem. This is a steep 500m downhill on a rocky path among the flowers and laurel forest, over numerous streams oozing from everywhere on this ever-wet cliff. Down there, a few little stone houses stand still in their neat little garden. All very well maintained even though most of them look empty. There never came a car here. Barely a power cable. Tiny pieces of land are still farmed by a couple of diehards. No animal. The path wind amongst the little houses and over two streams before bumping against the cliff again at the other side of the faja. Time to climb. Back up, there is a cable plunging down almost to the vertical, the only way to carry things down – some gaz bottles are waiting here to be delivered.
Back on the main road we reach Norte Grande, starting point to our second faja of the day: Faja de Ouvidor. What a change! That faja lies 500m downhill as well, but is linked by a good asphalt road and has been turned into a low key – nature lovers holiday resort. Older fishermen houses have become weekend villas. A concrete quay and a crane make a “harbor” (in these islands small fishing crafts are pulled out of the water every day, always safer on the ground when the next gale comes). We have a quick lunch next to the tiny lighthouse before climbing the 500m back up.
Little harbor in the Faja de Ouvidor
Little boat in the faja de Ouvidor
The third faja is a little bit further away from the main road. We could walk but... it’s so easy to get a ride! No more than 2 cars pass before one takes us along to the next town, Norte Pequeno. This is the start to trail 6: down we go the 500m to the sea on a little narrow (slippery) path. Down below there’s one, two, three fajas next one to the other, linked by a dust road. The little hamlets there have electricity and running water thanks to the cables and big tubes running down the cliff. The dust path becomes a road, winding back up to Norte Pequeno, bringing cars and provisions. Here again the houses are very nice and well kept. The cute little black and white monastery facing the sea would almost convince us to take holy orders…
We climb the cliff once more to the town. There comes the bus this time to bring us back to Velas. This was a nice sunny day (thanks to the fajas’ microclimates), climbing 1800m down and up!
Faja do Mero
Parrot fish… in red !
Not only the land is beautiful in Sao Jorge – the submarine life is reputed as well. Laure takes on the challenge (as Camille is recovering from a cold and fighting a nasty hay fever… already allergic to Europe…) Wetsuit on, Laure gathers her snorkel gears and her courage and dives in the bay behind the breakwater, next to the cliff. Brrr, a little 18°, that’s cold! Better stay moving, and rather on the surface. It’s pleasant to swim again. Under the water, the spectacle is worth the effort: curious mix of tropics and Europe, the bare rocks are not covered by coral but seaweed – but the fishes look familiar: parrots, snappers, wrasse, sergeant majors…all the same as under the tropics… but they changed colors! Here the bright blue parrots are dark red! There are also a couple of big eels to be seen, weird fish fumbling in the sand with their whiskers, and bright blue urchin. 15min is enough to be cold and run back to warm on the rocks in the sun.
Finally we resort to our favorite activity and end the day with a short hike up the hill next to the town. This former crater is home to a herd of cattle, lots of bees and beautiful flowers.
14th June : Velas – Angra do Heroismo in Terceira (53M)
This is a long trip to the main town of the next island, Terceira, and we get up early this morning to try and complete the journey before dark. Richard had followed the same reasoning and we leave 10 min apart. The light hitting the bare summit of Pico island is beautiful.
We start by sailing in a narrow canal (10m wide) between Sao Jorge and Pico. The wind blocked and funneled is very fluking there, entailing us to maneuver a lot. There’s 10 to 12kts and we set to butterfly sail, surrounded by quick dolphins on the hunt. In this light wind we can even outrace Sya for a while!
Reaching the eastern point of Sao Jorge the wind veers again and the current becomes stronger. The landscape is very beautiful! Cliffs there, 300-400m high, look like green walls dropping in the sea, stripped by huge waterfalls! Further east the rocks are more colorful, displaying all the shades of red to yellow typical of volcanic grounds… and the sun shines!
Along Sao Jorge
Under the sails, Saltimbanque (copyright Sya)
Once out of Sao Jorge’s shelter the wind picks up and veers to the stern, 15 then 20 then 25kts before the arrival. Sya is heavier with her additional meter and more at ease beyond 15kts! Some white Grampus (also called Risso’s dolphins) jump and splash around in greeting.
Angra is tucked under a big hill called Monte Brazil. As expected the wind bumps against and runs down it in unpredictable gusts… first 30kts, we have furled our genua to take the hit… then calm…then gust again, this time so hard it makes a little whirlpool next to the boat. We bear away before the gust hits us – short but intense! The only time we had seen this kind of little “williwaws” was in Madeira, by the Desertas Islands on the big catamaran of our friend Philippe. The wind meter then showed 42kts.
Richard reached the bay just ahead of us and we get in the harbor, first checking in by the reception dock, then mooring at the designated berths inside the marina. Sya has a space next to the other small yachts, and we are given one in the middle of the zodiacs and small fishing crafts!... uhm Saltimbanque, don’t listen to them, you’re a good boat!
Saltimbanque in the middle of his friends dinghies
15th-17th June : visiting Angra do Heroismo
Angra do Heroismo claims it was the first European city away from the continent. As soon as 1450 the first settlers spotted this bay rather sheltered in the middle of the Azores archipelago and decided it would become the best stop on the way back from the West Indies ( ie the Antilles, we haven’t invented anything we our routing choices actually…). Heavy Spanish galleons loaded with gold and spices make the city prosperous. The Spaniards take her at the same time of the rest of Portugal, then are driven away after heroic battles from which the island is still proud. Until the 19th century and the growing power of Horta, Angra will remain at the heart of the economic life.
Greatly damaged during the earthquake in 1980 the town has been well repaired and registered as world heritage by the Unesco. Public funds are obviously very helpful in keeping all those buildings and houses so clean and nicely painted! The houses on this island are colorful (contrasting with the traditional white walls / dark volcanic stones combination of the other islands). No less than 48 churches intown! Walking around is very pleasant despite the constant humidity (sometimes growing into a drizzle). The botanical garden reminds us of Funchal, the wide street with its decorated pavement and many cafes of Lisboa. Angra is a city where it’s nice to live!
One of the churches
One of the cafes
The weather doesn’t show any sign of improving and we opt for the museum rather than the walks. There is a famous Wine Museum on the northern side of the island in a little town called Biscoitos – and a bus supposed to go there. The bus stops are amazing, equipped with screens showing the remaining time before arrival and even an information machine with tactile screen in 12 languages to check the timetables. Incredible! We haven’t seen so much technology since… err, some anterior life probably. The bus is new and comfy, taking us in an hour to Biscoitos.
The bus took us to nice weather! No rain here, and lucky so because most of the small museum is actually outdoors. No sooner have we set a foot in the entrance yard than a “senhor” rushes towards us and starts speaking: “do you speak Portuguese? Are you on a yacht here? Wonderful wonderful!...” and he starts talking about the wine, the vineyard, the island the family, the Azores, the whales, the wine again… nothing can stop him! Everything in Portuguese, slowly enough and pausing to make sure we can follow. They grow vine here like in Lanzarote, every plant in a separate little hole in a rocky ground of dark volcanic stones that keeps the heat up to 37°. Yet the sun here doesn’t shine enough for red wines to be produced, only white. “Fortified” afterwards by adding some aguardiente. Initially the Terceira wine was destined mainly to the crews of the big ships sailing back from the West Indies to Europe, to keep them from scurvy. Today (thanks to heavy European financing) the Azores keep up a reasonable production of red and white, including the typical “Vermelho”. At some point in time, Terceira was specialized in the production of aguardiente destined to fortify the Port… which they made sometimes with sweet potatoes! In a small hall the tools are displayed that were used in the fields, including some ropes in whale’s tendon! Indeed many whale hunters used to work in the fields waiting for the animals to be spotted.
After two hours focusing on every word, we appreciate a little tasting. As we are sipping from different glasses of dry and sweet, our host comes back with a huge bag of lemons and a camera. “They’re from the garden”, he says – “it’s against scurvy”, with a wink. He wants us to take the whole bag! We manage to keep only 5 of them while he takes our picture and explains about his blog (http://bagosdeuva.blogspot.pt/2012/06/saltibanque-em-angra-do-heroismo.html)... And sure enough we stand up there a few days later. Both our host and his colleague made the visit unforgiveable!
A « tourada » = a bull and many people around
An hour later we are back in Angra… just on time for the “tourada”. This is another tradition on this island during the celebration of the Holy Spirit: a bull is let loose on the street, controlled by a team of men and long long rope, and brave men play with him. No killing involved, only lots of onlookers sheltered behind walls and men running and jumping fences. The team of rope-holders are dressed in perfect grey and white, with a black hat. They let the bull go or hold him depending of the circumstances. The name of the game is to run in front of the beast and jump the fence before getting horned. Some other people wave their umbrellas in front of the excited beast. Actually not so impressive as some bull-runs in the South of France, where men actually face the animal and play tricks with him. Impressive here only the control of the guys in white on their bull: at some point the bull was running after one of the team who had to jump a fence for shelter, but then turned and stared at the bull, extending his hand to him – and the bull stopped and bowed his head, very humble in front of his master! Unfortunately it doesn’t happen always so well and 3Gouttes told us that the bull they saw had his horn half torn away and was cruelly led to run while bleeding… anyways, we have soon enough of the show – especially under a pouring rain…
On the next morning the sky clears for a while and we can climb on the Monte Brazil, the nice little hill next to the town where the Spaniards built in the 16th century the biggest fortified place on any island! The walk is pleasant in the flowers and through the pine forest. At the top there is a semaphore still extending its arms, along with a board explaining the code used. We walk back down under a fine drizzle next to the fields where soldiers are firing exercise shots and amongst the numerous BBQ and picnic tables bustling with families enjoying a Sunday out.
After an idle afternoon we end up in our favorite café watching the Euro 2012 football game Portugal – Holland. A mixed crowd of men and women, children, teenagers, elderlies and even an elegant couple smartly dressed who came to have a hamburger and religiously watch the game. Portugal wins and qualifies to the quarter finales – there’s honking and shouting on the street while we enjoy a late diner of a local specialty: a big pot of beef boiled with many spices called “Alcatra”.
18th June : Angra do Heroismo – Praia da Vitoria (16M)
Terceira is proud and boasts its glorious battles in the names of its cities. Today we leave the Heroic for the Victorious, a nice little 16 miles trip, with never more than 8kts of wind and under a dark grey sky. After a couple of hours tacking to little progress we grow tired and turn the engine on to help keep the sails full. Rounding the southeastern point of the island offers some nice views on green green fields with stunning colorful rocks. There must be a harbor here, according to the chart… but we see only green fields and black rocks… oh, yes, there, a crane: that’s a harbor!
The nice coast of Terceira
After 4 hours sailing (of which 2.5 hours motorsailing) we reach Praia da Vitoria. The marina is full of yachts waiting for the right weather to set sails again, and we see SterVraz, 3 Gouttes and An Tarz. Some negotiating in Portuguese and the officer finds us a nice place at the pontoon. Thank you Saltimbanque for being so nice and cute! But this time we are not the only small and cute around: Praia is the arrival of the “Jester Challenge”, a race from Plymouth to the Azores reserved to yachts less than 30 feet (as a tribute to the famous Jester skipped by Adlard Coles).
Other reasons for the marina to be full include the localization (on the eastern side of the middle islands, the end of the jumping board again for all the yachts crossing back to Northern Europe – while the Mediterranean-bound sailors tend to favor Sao Miguel). The price must have a role also: the cheapest marina of Azores, 4.5 eur/night, including water, power and wifi! Laundry is 5 eur, lifting up the boat to careen costs 110 eur… this place is the best deal in the Azores!
19-21 June : stop in Praia da Vitoria
The stop in Praia is mostly devoted to the preparation of the boat for the journey back to Europe. So we spent our time mostly shopping, working on the boat, on the website, and we spare a few hours to visit the town. It’s cute, but nothing to see with Angra. The hypermarket Continente, 10 minute walk from the marina, is very convenient. Our favorite products: strawberries, and pineapple, both locally produced! Azores are a very particular mix…
We also spend nice moments with our friends on SterVraz, 3Gouttes and Didier from An Tarz, watching football matches, or improvising a lunch on the pontoon. Actually it should have been a barbecue, but the picnic spot is apparently part of a military area and we have to leave quickly… Strange as it is just on the beach, but anyway… We finish our day with a (short) swim in the ocean… followed by a (long) warn shower !
Improvised Picnic on the pontoon in Praia
The weather is not very comfortable to leave, an ancient tropical storm is reaching the Azores generating south-westerly winds moderate to strong. It will blow hard, but in the right direction. We will head to Ireland (Dingle), weather depending of course. Otherwise we may stop for shelter somewhere else, in Skull, or Baltimore, or Kinsale, or Falmouth, or Camaret, or La Rochelle, or A Coruna, or Lisbon, or Madeira (well, may be it’s a bit to much South…) The suspense will end in 10 – 12 days, after we have sailed the necessary 1000 – 1200 M to reach old Europe.
Eric et Sandrine (JINGLE) - 02/07/2012 23:29:12 Bravo les filles et félicitations pour votre traversée!
Une bonne pinte dans un des pub près de l'embarcadère et zou vous pouvez dégagez en Irlande via les Scilly (ou l'inverse)...
Penzance, sans doute le port le plus glauque que l'on connaisse...
A bientôt !
E&S Kariine - 02/07/2012 23:24:01 Bien contente de vous savoir arrivées. Saltimbanque bien amarré, un pub et une pinte plus tard, vous nous raconterez ce que ça fait de visiter la ville jumelée à Concarneau : l'air de rien on vous y voit revenir, petit à petit, vers notre Bretagne là :o) saltimbanque par iridium - 02/07/2012 14:14:20 BIEN ARRIVÉES à PENZANCE,UK!!10J4H POUR 1236M :-) SOUS CIEL..TYPIQUEMENT ANGLAIS..
SuDad - 01/07/2012 10:29:49 Paraît qu'il y'a des plaisantins qui veulent faire le tour de la France avec des vélos ! Ridicule, petits-bras. Ca doit faire marrer Saltimbanque, après sa "petite" virée. Etes-vous allée montrer le présent chapitre de votre livre de bord au comité du tourisme des Açores ? De toute façon, vous aurez mis tout le monde en appétit, comme d'habitude. Si la météo n'est pas capable de vous sourire, rebroussez donc chemin. Vos descriptions vont devenir de plus en plus familières aux vieux européens que nous sommes. Serons sacrément contents de vous revoir. Bon vent vers la perfide Albion... saltimbanque par iridium - 30/06/2012 20:50:07 3006 A 18UTC 47N34 7W58 5ND AU 35.5BFT TRAVERS&MER FORTE,AVONS ETRENNE PETIT FOC.VISONS PENZANCE,180M.SOLEIL,DAUPHINS :-)
la mamou - 29/06/2012 16:08:13 des nouvelles de saltimbanque:
TVB 45°33N 10°04W cap au 30 Sylvia - 28/06/2012 21:45:31 Welcome back to Europe girls!!! Nearly there :-) saltimbanque par iridium - 27/06/2012 15:23:13 2706 13UTC 44N27 14W57 5ND AU 80.TVB,MER CALME & REPOS AVAN LA DEP KI NS FROLE CET NUI&DEMIN.PASSÉ 15W,ON RECOI F.INTER! DAHU(Alain Cayenne) - 27/06/2012 00:11:17 un petit coucou revenue de la veille France pour la survoler pendant le championnat de france ULM (c'est beau aussi en l'air)mais je suis de tout coeur avec vous grosses bises saltimbanque par iridium - 26/06/2012 18:21:24 26/06 16H 44N09 17W19 CAP AU 80. POS PREVUE JEUDI MIDI:45N 12W. QUE DIT PASSAGEWEATHER EN VENT ET MER? POUTOUX A BTOT CAMILLE.
la mamou - 25/06/2012 17:34:55 des nouvelles de saltimbanque :
TVB 43°16N 20°08W .
elles suivent la météo de près et font cap au 65 pour éviter le plus fort de la dep qui arrive . Eric et Sandrine - 25/06/2012 10:29:28 Super météo , les filles !
Pour le thon, du jaune je vous ai dis, du jaune ! :) saltimbanque par iridium - 24/06/2012 14:45:34 2406 12UTC 41N39 22W06 5ND AU 40.VT PORTANT MODÉRÉ+CIEL BLEU=TRANSAT ALIZÉS :-) LE PTIT PULL EN PLUS..ET TJS PAS DE THON :-( BIZ
Nadia - 22/06/2012 09:54:49 j'aime bien le com de la Mamou , la Bretagne est partout lol ....
bon retour !!!! la mamou - 21/06/2012 19:46:20 c'est quand même très rigolo , cette architecture portugaise sous ce climat et cette flore bretonne .... Dick - 21/06/2012 18:49:12 You've done a great job! Fantastic journey, you must be very proud of yourselves and little Saltimbanque! la mamou - 21/06/2012 11:57:07 yes !! le nouvel article est arrivé !!