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.
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!).
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.
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.
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.