I say, São Jorge!

Velas Marina – gorgeous spot

Last Thursday we had no wind, but that didn’t stop us motoring 20nm to the small marina at Velas, at the island of São Jorge. After saying goodbye to Coruisk, Inishnee, Inish and others who we’d meet at Horta, we enjoyed a beautiful sunny calm day. Along the way floating in the flat water were many Portuguese man-o-war jellyfish and dolphins playing in the distance. No whales to be seen, thankfully!

José Luís, who speaks very good English, as most people do in the Azores, runs the marina and welcomes cruisers to this secluded location beneath high cliffs of volcanic trachyte. The marina is good – clean showers, laundry and everything we need to make our stay comfortable.

Outside the Pizzeria Australia – Crikey!

The village of Velas is the oldest on the small island; around 500 years old. It is very quiet and tidy and the friendly locals smile and say “Bom dia” as we stroll around.  In the village is the Hospedaria Austrália – a hostel with a pizzeria on the ground floor. We decided to check it out and see why it was referenced to Australia. The young girl serving us didn’t speak very good English, and didn’t seem particularly impressed when I mentioned that we were Aussies. The only reference to Australia seemed to be the menu where you could have pineapple and ham on a pizza! Either way, the food was cheap and tasty.

Maps of the island and village can be obtained from the tourist office near the port and there are plenty of car hire places in the village. A relaxing stroll through town in the evening is a pleasant way to end the day.

Along the shoreline are two natural swimming areas located between the black rocks. Ladders and concrete platforms have been built making it easier for people to get in and out of the water. Despite the warm weather, we didn’t venture in (after a few years in the tropics this was just a little too cool for us!).

Saturday football

Walking up a zig-zag road high on the hill is a small church with excellent views of Velas and Pico in the distance.  Further west a half hour walk to the football field where on a Saturday the locals were out in force, supporting their teams, cooking chicken on a BBQ and enjoying the day with family and friends. Back in town there is a large well-stocked supermarket where you can buy just about anything you may have forgotten in Horta.

Locals lined up for a feast of fish, potato and wine for the Festival of St John the Baptist

During our visit the village celebrated the Festas de São João (Saint John the Baptist). On Friday night the locals queued up for a feast of fish, potatoes and local wine, with more street festivities taking place on the Saturday night with fireworks, dancing and music.

Cheese from São Jorge is the mainstay of their economy, apparently producing over 1800 tonnes of cheese per year. Also supporting the economy are a few unassuming souvenir stores which sell hand-made bags, tea-towels, and local ornaments, many of cows or cow-bells.

The basalt and mortar houses in the village have the same black and white look as the Holstein-Friese cattle, don’t you think?

One of the delights of staying at the marina is the strange bird-calls from the Shearwaters once the sun goes down.  The sound is quite strange – when we first heard it in Horta we thought it was someone’s funny phone tune!

Now Inishnee and Inish have joined us at the marina and maybe we’ll see Coruisk at Terceira next week.

On Monday we sail to the port of Angra de Heroisma, 50nm away. From there we will wait for good weather for our Atlantic crossing.

Until then…

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Horta, Azores

Approaching Horta, with the 2350m volcanic island of Pico hidden under a veil of cloud, a huge dark shape appeared on our port side about 30m from us. The massive unidentifiable whale dwarfed our small vessel. It is great seeing these huge water mammals, but I’m not so keen when they frolick too close though. A sober reminder of the damage they can cause, when a few days later we would read that a vessel recently sank after hitting one of these beauties only 350nm from the Azores.

Brian, Jim, Kathy, Emma, Dave and us having a celebratory drink after three weeks sailing.

After spending a day with the drogue trailing behind us, our final day sailing into Horta was about as good as we could have hoped for. After 2,485nm and 21 days at sea, we were very pleased with our voyage and within a few days, the crews that had left St Maarten three weeks earlier got together to celebrate our crossing.

The Azores is an archipelago of nine islands located 1200nm south of the UK and about 1000nm west of Portugal. Sailors from all around the world on their way to their homes in the UK, Europe or the Mediterranean, congregate at the Azores to prepare their boats ready for the next leg of their journey. Horta is the main ‘hub’ and has most things sailors and boats need.

Marina at Horta with Pico in the background

As you might imagine, Horta is very busy with sailors at this ideal sailing time of the year. The marina has only 300 berths, but there is probably 600 vessels here; most of which (including us) are rafted up three or four deep. We have rafted up to a German vessel, which is next to a fishing boat. It’s a bit of a leap and jump to get ashore! The clearance into the Azores is straightforward, doesn’t cost anything and the Immigration, Customs, and Harbour-master are located conveniently at the marina office. The cost of a berth depends on the size of your vessel, but we pay around 18 Euros a day which includes water and electricity. A busy shower block at the end of the marina also houses washing machines (which are usually very busy) and there’s a 2 Euro fee to use the hot water showers and the washers are just under 4 Euro. It’s all very good really.

The concrete walls, pavements and even breakwater rocks around the port of Horta are covered in paintings completed by sailors. Many sailors pass through this port numerous times updating their paintings with the year of their voyage. Our first time here (and more than likely our one and only time), so I sat in the sun to paint Blue Heeler’s contribution to the outdoor gallery. Of course, I had to include an image of ‘Spud the Blue Heeler‘ plus the seven-point stars of the Southern Cross from the Aussie flag. Walking around the port I also found a few paintings by people we’ve met along the way.

Found a good spot for Blue Heeler!

Ta da!

Eating out in Horta is inexpensive, compared to the Caribbean. And I think the variety of food is better too. Famous Peter’s Café Sport on the waterfront esplanade is a popular place for passing sailors and we often ended up there for a drink or a meal. Upstairs is the famous Scrimshaw museum, where many fine pieces of delicately carved whales teeth are on display. Tucked away on the narrow cobblestone streets are various small shops that are worth poking around in.

Great bunch of sailors heading out to dinner

For the crews of the boats that participated in our voyage HF net, we got together for a meal at Genuino’s restaurant, enjoying their tasty local cuisine, seafood and delicious red wine, along with good company. Genuino Madruga is a Portuguese sailor who sailed around the world twice and his restaurant is a showcase for all his souvenirs.

Before we went site-seeing around the island, there were a few small jobs we had to attend to, but the big one was to fix the auto-pilot (which skipper managed to do quite easily once we located the parts and had them shipped in from Portugal). While we waited for the part to arrive we hired a small ‘smart’ car and zipped around the beautiful green island.

The roads were very quiet despite the fact that the day we hired the vehicle, a car rally took place around the island, cars often overtaking us as we weaved our way around the tiny island. Within a couple of hours of slow driving passing fields filled with rows of colourful hydrangea plants, we reached the other side of the island to visit the volcano and lighthouse at Capelinhos. This volcano appeared out of the sea in 1957 then promptly half-buried the lighthouse.

Around the island and even in the town of Horta, most buildings have little if any signage. That is a good thing generally and looks tidy, although it was sometimes difficult to locate a cafe to stop for a coffee. Fish and chips in the old part of Horta completed our driving adventure. Before taking the car back we loaded it up (which didn’t take much!) with more goodies for the next voyage from the well stocked Continente supermarket.

Now that the auto-pilot is working again, the fridge is full of meat, yummy Greek yoghurt and we have veggies in our nets, we are ready to continue our trip. Each day we look at the weather between the Azores to the UK to familiarise ourselves with the weather patterns. So far it’s looking okay, with a few lows now and again to keep things interesting.

But before we head to the UK, we plan on sailing across to the island of Terceira, which is only 70nm from Faial. We’ll leave for the UK from Terceira, but will let you know what we get up to over there.

Until then.

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Azores Arrival

A nice high to finish our trip with a great 24 hours sailing. The trip took 21 days – best day 155nm; slowest day (with drogue) 35nm. Overall, great sailing and great learning experience.

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Day 21: Saturday 10th June 2017

Position 38 31N 28 37W – Blue Heeler and crew arrived safely at Horta at 9.30am on Saturday 10th June. Yay!

More to follow in next post.

 

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North Atlantic crossing to Azores 9th June 2017

Thursday 8th June. We weren’t going to outrun this low. Forecast winds from PredictWind and Saildocs.com suggested winds no more than 35-40kn and seas between 4-5m. Experience has taught us not to believe grib files to that degree! Fully expecting winds gusting up to 50kn and wanting to slow down and let this thing pass over so we could have a nice sail to finish the trip we decided to deploy our Jordan Series Drogue and ride out the weather. Good idea?

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Hi everyone, Did we really think we could sail across the North Atlantic without Mother Nature slapping us around somewhere along the way! Ha! After 19 days and 2300nm of mostly great sailing, the final days would prove to be the most challenging.

Day 19: Wednesday 7th June
7.30am: 255nm to Horta. Barometer 1020hPa.

Fresh weather GRIBs show no signs of the impending low easing. Not that I expected it to, but it would be nice to see it shift further north. The low pressure system is forecast to steamroll over us starting in the wee hours of Thursday 8th and last for around 24-36 hours. Winds forecast between 35-45kn and 4-5m seas, but of course grib files are notoriously conservative when it comes to gauging wind speed. So today while still in light winds, we double checked that we were ready for the blow. Sara 2 and Coruisk are around 400nm behind us so the blow will arrive much earlier for them. Inishnee have headed for Flores and should be in harbour today.

We plan to deploy our Jordan Series Drogue. We’ve never used this – never had to – but it’s designed to keep the stern into big seas to avoid getting knocked about or prevent hurtling down huge waves potentially broaching in the trough. We have to know how to use it, so it seems like an ideal occasion to try it out. Our speed should drop dramatically as we trail a weighty chain attached to the end of a 100m x 20mm rope with over 130 small parachutes attached to drag in the water. So our trip will take a little longer, but I’d rather arrive at Horta safely than go flying in there at 10kn in the middle of the night! An email from another cruiser with two inexperienced crew aboard says he’s taking no chances, preferring to sail 500nm south to avoid the blow. He’ll sail north to Horta again next week once it’s passed.

Day 20: Thursday 8th June
7.30am: 145nm to Horta. Barometer 1017hPa

About five hours ago just after I woke Wayne to come on watch, a sickening grinding noise emanated from the aft cabin. After so many miles, our auto-pilot decided it had had enough and decided to not play nice. Fortunately we have the wind pilot which we then used to maintain course. Once I returned to go on watch after a restless sleep, the sky showed signs that the blow was on its way.

While still at 20kn, we deployed the drogue (we’d never had to do this before, so wanted to make sure it was set up correctly rather than fuss about in 35kn winds). No sails up, locked wheel and wind pilot secured and not operating, the drogue’s 120+ parachutes caught the water and slowed Blue Heeler to a crawl.

We went below and waited.

Friday 9th June
7.30am: 115nm to Horta. Barometer 1010hPa

Held in position by 100m of rope with 132 little yellow parachutes meant we weren’t moving fast. While the wind piped up to around 40kn and the very rough seas swelled around 4m, Blue Heeler was held stern-to clocking over 1-2kn.

We hunkered below to catch some zeds and basically ride out the weather. The worst weather was overnight but by this morning, the wind had eased back to 20kn, although the seas were still big causing a lot of bashing of waves into the hull and knocking us about. Blue Heeler was pooped a few times, but with our cockpit curtains down and washboards in place, we stayed dry and warm.

By 10am we decided to try and haul the drogue back on board as the conditions were fine for sailing, despite not being ideal to drag a drogue aboard. Now, I won’t go into the detail of hauling in a drogue here – that story can take another 1000 words – but dragging it aboard using ropes and winches took all our strength and two hours, using rope techniques from our climbing days.

By 12noon the drogue was back on board, we’d set the course for Horta, trimmed the sails and had Blue Heeler bouncing along in 4m seas with 108nm to reach land. Time for a bacon and egg butty!

Note: Yacht crews participating in a transatlantic race were rescued much further north of us. The BBC would report this as a “once in a lifetime storm”. Read more.

Read more about our experience using the drogue.

Distance travelled so far 2420nm. Direct distance to Azores (Horta): 63nm

Date/time(UTC)/position: Friday 9th June 2017/ 2000UTC / 38*12N 029*53W

#BHAtlanticXing

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North Atlantic crossing to Azores 6th June 2017

With only 250nm or so to reach Flores, the low developing from the west was forecst to be nasty and fast moving. We decided that a 40kn+ blow and 5m seas at the tiny marina and anchorage of Flores might not be ideal. The wind was due to arrive as we were due to arrive. Not good. Changed plans and headed a further 100nm to the island of Faial, and the marina of Horta.

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Hi everyone, We’ve had some excellent sailing conditions over the past few days and making good progress. But we are expecting this to change. Wednesday will bring lighter winds, followed by a low with stronger winds as our voyage to the Azores comes to an end. Here’s the diary so far:

Day 16: Sunday 4th June

Yesterday and today we’ve had light winds (8-11kn), and fortunately some favourable current. We’ve maintained a course of 60degrees for the past 500nm and with wind from behind, today we had no option but to wing-out to keep our VMG close to our SOG (velocity made good vs speed over ground). At this stage, even an increase of half a knot over 500nm can mean arriving half a day earlier.

Today our speed isn’t fast at around 4.5kn, but the seas are calm and the conditions allow us to relax and enjoy the sailing. At 8am this morning we have 565nm to reach Flores / 670nm to Horta and the wind has picked up.

Day 17: Monday 5th June

A recently downloaded weather GRIB file shows a strong low building in the west and likely to pass over us later this week. As luck would have it, right when we expect to arrive! We are unsure how safe the tiny anchorage at Flores is in strong winds and large seas, so we’ve decided to head to Horta for our Azores arrival riding the storm out at sea. That adds a further 100nm to our voyage, but after the first 2000nm what’s another 100?

Despite the forecast, the sailing over the past two days has been like sailing in the trades winds. Steady 15-20k from the SSW and Blue Heeler clocking 150nm days, but it’s not fast enough for us to reach Horta in time to hole up from the forecast blow.

Day 18: Tuesday 6th June

It’s almost 1am and the night air is cold. The ocean temperature has now dropped below 20degC. Blue Heeler’s sails are reefed but we’re sailing along at 6.5kn, thanks to a slight current. I’ve just spent the past couple of hours watching movies on my iPad, looking around now and again for signs of life on the horizon. The AIS alarm hasn’t alerted me to other marine traffic, not that there’s much out here anyway. We’ve just crossed into latitude 37N and longitude 37W at the same time. Wayne will relieve me at 2am and I’ll enjoy the warm bed until 6am when I’m back on watch and start a new day.

Distance travelled so far 2085nm. Direct distance to Azores (Horta): 360nm

Date/time(UTC)/position: Tuesday 6th June 2017/ 1000UTC / 37*20N 036*09W

#BHAtlanticXing

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