Nth Atlantic – Azores to Ireland, 5 July 2017

Already halfway into our trip; it’s so much shorter than the last voyage! Out here, sounds of jars tinkling, wood creaking, blocks straining, wind generator whirring, and blue ocean slapping against the hull are familiar. Although the ocean is colder than before, and will get much colder. Unfamiliar sounds, such as a squeak, may indicate a problem somewhere but can be easily rectified with a squirt of lanolin oil. Now and again a bird flies by, or a whale’s spout blows in the distance, but otherwise we are alone.

All alone out here…

Last night though another yacht sailed by and called us on the VHF to say hello. The crew of S.V. Pipistrelle know a couple we know from our time in Indonesia and Malaysia (Ann & Chris if you’re reading!) – it’s such a small world!

Tuesday’s weather was an uncomfortable close reach as NNW winds gusted up to 30kn at times, but generally stayed between 22/25kn. We had little option but to head further east than we would’ve liked to maintain a good course. Twenty four hours later the wind backed and eased, the sails unfurled, the course altered and we continued on our merry way towards Ireland.

Our position is: 45 24N 19 15W
Distance to go: 535nm

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Nth Atlantic – Azores to Ireland, 3 July 2017

After three weeks of pleasant weather during our wonderful time in the Azores, it was time to leave. The Azores is a special place for sailors and I shall remember our visit there fondly. From Angra do Heroismo we said farewell to Jim and Kathy (Inishnee) who will eventually head to Portugal, and Rob and Josien (Inish) who will head to Ireland in a few days.

This North Atlantic passage is 1100nm direct from Azores to Baltimore, Ireland – our chosen arrival port. Each morning we’ll make contact Brian and crew on Coruisk, as they left Horta at the same time we left Angra. We expect our voyage to take around ten days, so this is a relatively short crossing for us!

The weather grib file showed little wind for the first couple of days and it was spot on. Leaving on Saturday 1st July, we motor-sailed for the first 40 hours with less than 5kn of wind keeping our sails set, just. In the wee hours of Monday, we finally broke away from the high hovering above the Azores, turned the engine off and sailed.

Winged out with 15/20kn from behind, and flying along calm seas at over 7kn we are making good progress. With darkness between 10pm to 5am, and a waxing moon illuminating the sky, we only have one watch at night and can enjoy more daylight hours. Autopilot is working perfectly and so far all is good aboard. So now we sit back and enjoy a good book, or two…



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Angra do Heroismo, Terceira, Azores

A tourist flyer describes the city of Angra do Heroismo on the Azores island of Terceira as “The First City in the New World”. As the Azores lie on a route between Europe and the Americas, over the centuries sailing ships from Malacca, Cartagena, Puerto Rico, or Havana would stop at Angra on their way to Lisbon, Cadiz or Seville. However, with gold, silver, and other treasures from the Americas passing through, it wasn’t long before strong forts were built to defend this strategic commercial port. Overlooking the city is the 400 year old Castle of São Filipe/São João Baptista do Monte Brasil. Apparently this is the largest fort built by Spain around 1590.

How’s the serenity?

For us, the Azores are our first taste of Europe. The Azores archipelago are an autonomous region of Portugal so the clock has begun for our stay in the EU. Or rather, Blue Heeler has 18 months before it has to leave the EU. To get another 18 months we need to sail the boat out of the EU and check into a non-EU country. After that we can return to the EU and get another 18 months. Fortunately we also hold dual passports (Aussie/UK) so we can stay in the EU without effect from the rules of the Schengen Agreement. But what the Brexit will mean for us and Blue Heeler is anyone’s guess.

In 1983, Angra do Heroismo was classified as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. Much of the old city is well preserved and is one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever visited.

Street lights during the festival

As luck would have it, we managed to arrive during the eleven day festival of São João. Every evening the streets are blocked and street-lights switched on while a variety of events takes place. Artisans, drummers, dancers and singing groups fill the streets, while onlookers, like us, enjoy the harmony and cheer.

The Praça (square) and Town Hall fills with people eating and drinking, while various orchestras play tunes or marching drummers beat their drums. Underneath the Misericôrdia Church which overlooks the marina, plates of tapas stacked with presunto, chorizo, local cheese and fresh bread are easily washed down with large plastic cups brimming with Super Bock beer.

Monte Brasil overlooking the city has a good walking trail which takes around three hours. At this time of year hydrangeas, azaleas, lantana, lilies and bougainvillea display colourful flowers along the trail. Eucalyptus trees and familiar bushes give off a familiar spicy scent, that I almost felt like we were walking somewhere in Australia. At the top of Monte Brasil is the Signal Station (semaphore) which was used during the sailing era. Monte Brasil is actually a large caldeira and the trail will take you down inside the caldeira and around the rim.

Bull fighting is popular here too. Now, I have always baulked at anything to do with cruelty to animals, however, one particular day there was a demonstration bull fight, intended for children and old people. Having never attended a bull-fight (nor never wanted to), my curiosity got the better of me. As I fit one of the aforementioned categories, off I trundled to the Praça de Toiros da Ilha Terceira (Bull ring of Terceira) which is only a ten minute walk from the marina.

Entry to the event was free and the crowd consisted mainly of groups of school kids, grandparents and mothers, mainly local people, and not many obvious tourists. With my wide-brimmed hat on, I sat behind an old woman who held a piece of paper over her young grandson’s head to keep the sun off his face. It surprised me to see few people wearing hats here in this open-air venue.


Before long the picador (guy on a horse) with tight ‘Harry-high-pants’ cantered in on his fine steed. Minutes later a perky black bull with clipped horns appeared from the darkness. I was previously told that as the audience would be children and old folk, no bull would be slaughtered during the day’s event. At least not in front of the kiddies!

But despite that, over the course of an hour, ‘Mr Stabby’ stabbed the bull in the neck numerous times, ran the bull ragged, eventually causing the bull to collapse due to exhaustion. The bull’s tail was then twisted to coax him back on his feet, only for the relentless abuse to continue. I was hoping to see a white towel tossed into the ring…

“Trampled Underfoot” cue Led Zeppelin!

While I sat there feeling somewhat hypocritical (animal lover / blatant cruelty) the audience clapped and cheered whenever a sharp spear (pica) with sparkly tinsel was stabbed into the bull’s neck. I couldn’t quite understand their enthusiasm.

Stomping (go bull!)

Only when the bull managed to hook one of the guys with his horns then trample on him did I secretly cheer the bull!

After a while though, I’d had enough of bull tormenting. This wasn’t for me.

The bull, who had also had his fair share of bull tormenting, was led back into the darkness to an undisclosed fate. I’m surprised such an event still exists nowadays with many groups condemning this barbarity. Later that night we were invited out to dinner to help Rob celebrate his birthday. It was a great night and, er, we all had steak for dinner! Also during the months between May and September, Terceira is also well-known for the ‘running of the bulls’ which takes place in many of the towns around the island. We didn’t participate in this crazy activity, but videos of past events were displayed on walls and TV screens around the city. Maybe during this event the bulls have a chance to get their own back at the tormenting men. Here’s a taste from Youtube.

So that’s all I’m going to tell you about the Azores. If you want to know more you should come and discover this amazing place!

And now it’s time to leave. Saturday we plan to depart Terceira and head directly for Ireland. The distance is around 1100nm and it should take us between 7-10 days. The forecast weather to the north has improved and the lows don’t seem so threatening as they were a few weeks ago. Already many boats have left for either Portugal, Gibraltar, France or the UK, but the marina at Angra is still very full as you can see in the image above. Tonight the crews of Inish and Inishnee will join us for farewell drinks and tapas aboard Blue Heeler so we plan on enjoying what little time we have left in the Azores with friends.

Next stop…Ireland.


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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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