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Azores Cruising

By Sue Richards last modified Oct 22, 2009 08:23 PM

Published: 2009-10-22 20:23:54
Countries: Azores

It is a pleasure always to wake up the first morning in a new anchorage after a long passage, having entered harbour in the dark of night a good look around is the first priority.

Flores

The harbour in Flores is not pretty, consisting of a long high breakwater to the South stretching around as quays to the west, high cliffs to the north and open to the east. The cliffs are black lava but topped with lush green fields extending upwards to the horizon. There is a small town extending up the hill behind the quays.

There are some 12 or so other boats in harbour including 2 yachts that we moored next to in Bermuda and have been in contact with during the crossing. We go ashore in the dinghy and find the GNR man is in the bar just up the hill, so clearance formalities are quickly completed in his vehicle. A short walk uphill leaves us short of breath as this is the highest point we have been since leaving the mountains in Guatemala at the end of October some 8 months ago.

We find the ATM easily - there are two banks - and wander on upwards to find the foodstore. Again there are 2 small supermarkets come general stores selling a limited range of goods but we are able to buy some fresh bread, fruit, vegetables, cheese and wine. Everything is much cheaper than in the Bahamas or Bermuda.

In the evening we go ashore to the Bar, Paula’s place, no longer run by Paula but by Helena, a Lithunian, who is very obliging. She does laundry, arranges car hire and knows where to get most things fixed, although chandlery here is virtually non existent. We eat in Helena’s small restaurant and the food is simple but ok, her Pizza’s however, are really excellent.

We spend the next few days relaxing and doing some minor repairs, cleaning and maintenance. We hire a car through Paula at the bar, it is an informal arrangement but just 30 euro’s for the day. Driving around the island we realise just how beautiful this island is, green pastures and woodland cover the hills, Lakes abound in old volcanic craters and waterfalls cascade down cliffs. Everywhere there are flowers, the roads and fields are lined with hedges of blue hydrangea’s and every house has a pretty little garden as well.

After 5 days in Flores we find the wind has shifted to the north-east and the sheltered harbour is no longer so comfortable with a short swell finding its way in. We decide it is time to leave so we pack up and sail the 135 miles overnight to the island of Faial and the cruising centre of the Atlantic in Horta.

Faial

Arriving here we find some 200+ other cruising yachts moored in the large marina. We meet a few old friends from years before. Horta has all the facilities you need to effect repairs. Mid Atlantic Yacht Services (MAYS) operate a small, no frills, but really well stocked with essentials chandlery. We buy a new masthead light, some wire to replace steering wires and get new seals and bearings fitted to our raw water pump on the engine. We spend a few days fixing things on board.

We find a little time to explore, Horta is a small attractive town surrounding the harbour. We find a good supermarket, fish and vegetable market, lots of other shops including several good hardware stores. We tour the island by catching a bus that goes all around the island, again it is beautiful like Flores only a bit bigger. We also catch a ferry and visit Pico the neighbouring island which is impressive with its volcanic peak towering some 8000 ft into the sky. Here there are extensive vineyards growing vines over black lava rock walls and lots of green pastures and dairy cattle. Cheese is really good here, probably the first good cheese at a sensible price we have found since leaving Europe 5 years ago.

Sao George

We leave Horta and head to Sao George finding a new if not quite finished marina at Vila da Vela. The pontoons have water and 220v mains power and the cost is the same as Horta but shore facilities are still being built. Checking in with the GNR and the Port Captain is easy. The town has an attractive main square, waterfront and a number of small shops, fish market and restaurants. There is a good supermarket a short walk away. We take a taxi to the high point on the island and walk back down quiet country roads some 6 or 7 miles down hill to the boat. The views are stunning but the walk is hard as most of the way the gradient is 10% and we suffer badly with aches and pains for the next few days.

Graciosa

We sail onwards to the island of Graciosa and enjoy a mainly downwind sail with the cruising chute until the fitting on the turning block snaps as we near our destination, dumping the sail into the water again. All recovered and we enter the fishing harbour and port of Vila da Praia. There is a newly completed marina here provided mainly for the local fishing fleet but there is space for a few visiting yachts with really good protection behind high breakwaters. Not quite complete there is water on the dock but no electricity connected, although the fittings are all present.

Check in is with the GNR. There is no marina office and no charge either. Maybe this will change in the future. It is just a small village but has a bank, a few bar/restaurants small supermarkets etc.

We enjoy a walk to the Caldeira just a couple of miles distant, this is a volcanic crater entered through a road tunnel and has been mainly preserved as a national park. There is a large volcanic vent which you can descend down a stairway (295 steps) with a guide, you can hear sulphur bubbling its way to the surface and the smell increases as you descend. There is a large cold freshwater pool within the vent but access is restricted as concentrations of sulphur gas may build to lethal levels.

Terceira

Departing from Graciosa we head for the next island, Terceira and the old capital of the Azores, Angra do Heroismo. There is a really nice marina situated here right in the heart of the old harbour and city.

This city is steeped in history as in days gone by all ships crossing the Atlantic called here. Today there is an American NATO air base on the island as well so it retains its strategically important position in world affairs. Ashore in Angra, a World Heritage site, old buildings dating back to 16th century make up the old city cobbled streets. At every corner a new vista awaits of balconied streets. Everywhere is up hill from the harbour and leg muscles take the strain as we explore to find essentials like supermarkets, fresh produce market and more propane.

The harbour itself is surrounded by old fortifications, which mounted a formidable array of canon and atop Monte Brasil there are reminders of more modern times with Artillery remaining from World War II when the island was at the centre of the battle of the Atlantic. We enjoy a few days here although it should be said the weather has been unsettled with days of rain interspersed with a few fine days, so we did not get to explore the island. We are watching the weather for that all important weather window, for our onward voyage 1200 miles to the UK.

After 6 days the weather looks good and we plan to depart and head north to the Isles of Scilly, the closest landfall in England it should take between 10 and 12 day. We visit the fresh produce market to stock up on fresh fruit and some vegetables for our voyage. Clearing out is really easy with all formalities completed by the marina office.

Roy and Sue Potter
SY Vindomar

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