Fairwinds Goes South . . .
Adventures in a small boat on a big sea

Albin Vega 27
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Thurs June 14th - Depart Santa Maria for Sao Miguel

It was blowing 20 knots WSW gusting 25 in the morning, and I wandered up to the library for yet another weather check. It looked as though the time had come to go . . . the wind for Sao Miguel was forecast to go Westerly by mid-morning Friday, so we wanted to get there before that. The local forecast for 24 knots wasn't ideal, but otherwise it looked like it would be Tuesday at the earliest before there was any chance of escaping the Pontoon of Doom.

Loefsteker Leaves Santa Maria for Madeira
Loefsteker Heads for Madeira

I met Charles the Czech and his crew up town, and they said they were leaving at lunchtime. I said we were also going this afternoon, and they insisted on giving us a big slice of a tuna they had got from a local fisherman - I just knew we were never going to manage to cook it, what with pre-departure nerves and a rough passage in prospect, but I couldn't say no.

After a quick lunch I took the two fenders we had borrowed back and went to offer some money to the Club Navale for the use of the pontoon. It turned out that although they don't actually want yachts on it there is a scale of charges - only about three Euros a day, but that is more than Graciosa for a lot less in the way of facilities. The Club Navale - with the exception of Marco - were the only conspicuously unfriendly people on the whole island - let's hope they get their act together when the new marina opens, and that there are some facilities to go with it.

I got back to the boat and began untying some of the knitting, extracting the old rope we had used as padding and generally getting ready to leave. Loefsteker left about ten minutes before us, rolling heavily as she left the harbour and shaped a course for Madeira.

We got the main up triple reefed inside the harbour then headed out into the waves just before two o'clock . The first part was a two mile motor sail almost directly into wind to clear Isla do Porto at the SW corner of the island before we could set our course for Ponta Delgada. We had 25-30 knots over the deck and it was wet uncomfortable work, but the Beta did its stuff and an hour after leaving the pontoon we were able to unroll a bit of genoa and start sailing.

By four o'clock the wind had eased a bit and we shook out the third reef, powering our way through the heavy seas at six knots plus. The wind and waves were almost on the beam now, and we were rolling heavily with the boat periodically dropping bodily off a wave with an enormous crash that shook the hull from stem to stern. At seven we ran into a bit of a squall, with the wind gusting up to 27 knots, and the third reef went back in for the night, though by eight the wind had dropped again to 16-18 knots and we had to deploy the full genoa and fiddle with the Navik to continue on course at five and a half knots. Rain was a regular feature, though fortunately not continuous.

Just after ten o'clock I could see the shore lights of Sao Miguel from about 18 miles out. A small ship passed us quite close on a reciprocal course to ours; it may have been the Baia do Anjou, the cargo shop that is the lifeline from Ponta Delgada to Santa Maria. By midnight, when we were eight and a half miles offshore, the shore lights had totally vanished. A ship overtook us heading for Ponta Delgada, and all we could see now was its stern light receding into the murk ahead of us.

The highlight of the night for me was the appearance just after eleven of a group of dolphins who played with the boat for about twenty minutes, their bodies and wakes outlined in the phoshorescence as they chased, raced and dove around us. I have seen phosphorescent night dolpins once before in Biscay, but this time I heard them speak as well. It was a really wonderful experience to lighten what was otherwise a rather grey and lumpy sail.

Fri June 15th - Arrive Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel

At one o'clock in the morning we were four miles off Ponta Delgada and - yes, again - in thick fog. I put in our current position as a waypoint in case we had to retreat, then we closed the shore cautiously. I tried calling Ponta Delgada radio - allegedly a 24 hour service - to enquire about visibilty inshore, but got no response. We reduced sail and stood in cautiously, and at just under three miles off the shore lights appeared again much to our relief. Fog, according to the Pilot, is 'uncommon' in the Azores, so we really should have expected it after encountering it in Madeira where it is 'virtually unheard of'. Fairwinds must be a fog magnet.

We could see boats rafted up alongside what we guessed was the reception quay of the marina, and didn't fancy going into an unknown and crowded space in the dark, so we proceeded cautiously down the harbour - which was littered with flashing orange danger marks showing new construction - in search of moorings. Eventually we spotted a couple of yachts attached to large oil drum type moorings, and found an empty one with a rope on it which we managed to pick up with only very minor hull abrasion. I put an extra rope on and let us fall well back from the hideous object, then we had a couple of drams and fell asleep.

In the morning we woke feeling good - although we had only had four hours sleep the boat had been at peace. We breakfasted, blew the dinghy up and headed into the marina to see what the score was. To our delight they said they had a place for us today - we had thought we would have to wait until Saturday - so we headed back to the boat, getting somewhat damp in the rising chop, then wasted no time getting under way and tied up to a nice safe finger in a very crowded marina full of AZAB boats.

Lunch, beer, a shower and the washing followed in short order. The facilities are excellent here and we are on our holidays again.

Some of the AZAB fleet in Ponta Delgada
AZAB and ARC boats

I have also had my first Azorean swim . . . on our way to the Club Navale for food and drink this evening I noticed a Henri Loyd jacket remarkably like mine heading out of the marina on the ebb . . . and despite boarding an unoccupied boat with our longest and only boathook I was eventually forced to strip off and swim for it. Luckily Kathy failed to take a picture of this.

The food in the Club was excellent, and the drink very cheap - I ended up drinking huge glasses of Jamiesons with ice for about E1.50 each. There is free WiFi in the club, and in addition to getting the blog up to date we got an email from Nigel and Ronnaug on Nano saying they were en route to Ponta Delgada from Horta, so we are looking forward to meeting up with them again.

Sat June 16th - Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel

After a late and leisurely breakfast we went for a wander round the city, which was pleasant but a bit damp at times. We came back to the marina for a late lunch, and in the cafe we met up with Malcolm Moffet from Carrickfergus, who has a Vega called Helga based there. Malcolm came in at 3am this morning as crew on An Giall, a Moody 33S. She is the second last boat to finish the first leg of the AZAB - apparently there is still a Rival 34 with the appropriate name of Late Arrival out there somewhere. Malcolm explained that all the boats that went too far East have spent days beating into strong Westerlies to get here. It took An Giall all day yesterday just to beat up the length of the island.

Moody 33S An Giall
Moody 33S An Giall
Marina, Ponta Delgada
Jardim Antero de Quental, Ponta Delgada
Hills behind Ponta Delgada
Some views of Ponta Delgada, the capital city of Sao Miguel and the Azores

Amazingly the shop in the marina was able to sell us a new Saltire to replace our existing tatty rag at the port crosstrees, plus an Azorean flag to fly underneath the Portuguese courtesy flag.

Early evening saw us up the Club Navale skyping various people - and finally getting the June BlueMoment desktop calendar online, the latest it has ever been I believe. Kathy made an excellent chicken curry for tea, and afterwards we fell asleep until after eleven. When we got up expecting to find the place full of partying AZABers it was completely quiet, so after a short stroll we retired to our mercifully motionless bed.

New flags
New Flags

Sun June 17th - Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel

Nano appeared briefly in the marina this morning but had disappeared again before we could say hello. They turned up later this afternoon - turns out they had been out for a shake-down sail with their new crew. Nigel and Ronnaug did the trip from the Caribbean to Bermuda and then from Bermuda to Horta (15 days) double-handed, but have crew for the next leg back to England. It was good to see them again, although when I put the VHF on so they could call us I discovered that the interference problem withthe radio has mysteriously reappeared . . . I suspect more water in the plug, and will check it ASAP - we did take rather a lot of water over the deck on the way here, although we didn't notice any interference when we were actually at sea. Perhaps it is the rain.

Nano and NIgel in Ponta Delgada
Nigel on Nano

Just before lunch I went on board Amoret, Peter Haslam-Brunt's very nicely presented Vancouver 34. Peter is a YBW forumite (Peterhb) and he had emailed us previously to say they would be in Ponta Delgada with the AZAB. They lost their ability to make to windward after a disastrous genoa wrap and had to resign and motor for 36 hours just to get from the E end of the island to here in the very strong Westerlies. The forestay and genoa are now both fixed and they are looking forward to racing back. Late Arrival is now expected at midnight tonight . . . too late for this evening's dinner and prizegiving unfortunately.

Car hire is pricey here, but we have bitten the bullet and hired a car for two days (the only way to get unlimited mileage) so should see something of the island tomorrow. This afternoon we went for a short walk down town and had a look at an exhibition of gifts from visiting heads of state, which was a bit odd . . . then back to the boat to read a three day old copy of the Daily Mail we acquired.

At the moment the plan is to leave here on Wednesday and head for Horta, 150 miles WNW - in the light winds expected that could take two days or more, but I expect we will fire up the motor. After a few days there we will head for Terceira, which will probably be our last port of call in the Azores before heading North.

Ponta Delgada
Street, Ponta Delgada

Mon 18th June 2007 - Car Tour of Sao Miguel

We have a hire car for today and tomorrow - this is a big island. We did about 170 km today, and we still have the Eastern half to see tomorrow.

What can I say about Sao Miguel? Most of the scenery is breathtaking, and very varied. Parts are like rich English farming country, with the difference that the hedges consist largely of hydrangeas, roses and lilies. Other parts are reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands - except for the thermal springs of boiling mud and water. Everywhere is lush and green, with birds singing and hawks circling (the goshawk is the bird on the Azorean flag). Every few kilometres there is another miradouro (viewpoint) overlooking some spectacular scenery, usually surrounded by beautifully land- scaped gardens with barbecues, water taps, stone seats and tables.

After the long drive back along the North coast we cut across over the mountains, stopping at a natural pool in the forest heated by a volcanic vent, but although the water was warm it was cold and windy outside, so we refrained and watched a much younger couple taking the plunge instead.

'View over Lagoa
View over Lagoa
'Lagoa Do Furnas
Lagoa Do Furnas
'S Coast Above Povocao
S Coast Above Povocao
'Caldeira at Furnas
Naturally boiling water
Tea Plantation
Tea Plantation
'Volcanic Pool
Volcanic Pool

In the evening it was up to the club where a bunch of AZABers watched interestedly as I downloaded a GRIB and showed them how it worked. Looks like not much wind for the start of the return leg tomorrow. Nano is also leaving in the morning for Falmouth.

Tues 19th June 2007 - Further exploration of Sao Miguel

After saying goodbye to Nano we headed for Mosteiros at the Western end of the island. It is a charming, rambling town or large village, and we stopped for cakes and coffee in the sun before heading up towards Sete Ciudad, a sleepy town in a deep crater with two connected lakes in it, one green and one blue. It is an extraordinary place - you could be a hundred miles from the sea instead of three.

Climbing out of the crater to another magnificent viewpoint we were seduced by a roadside trader - Kathy bought an Azores T-shirt and I got a sweatshirt. We then headed back towards Ponta Delgada and took the main road for Ribeira Grande, Sao Miguel's second city. It is named after the river that runs through it. We wandered round there for a while then headed back via the Caldeira de Velha again - where I went in this time - and over the hill to the Lagoa do Fogo - with the sun shining and no fog it was worth the second visit.

Final use of the car was to shop at the hypermarket, then back to the boat worn out by all that tourism. What a place though - glad we took the car for two days.

'Mosteiros Beach
The beach at Mosteiros
'Typical Azorean roadside
Typical Azorean roadside
'Sete Cidades
Sete Cidades
'Lagoa Azul and Lagoa Verde
Lagoa Azul and Lagoa Verde
In the Caldeira Velha
In the Caldeira Velha
Lagoa do Fogo
Lagoa do Fogo

The marina was quite different when we got back, with all the AZAB boats gone. We had watched them for a while earlier on in the afternoon when we came back down to a viewpoint on the S. coast. Most of them seemed to have elected to go West-about the island and were beating into a moderate NNW breeze . . . but it looks as though, having had to much wind on the outward leg, too little is likely to be the problem on the return.

We meanwhile have decided we will probably leave early Thursday for Horta with the plan of only spending one night at sea and arriving Friday evening in daylight . . . if we leave midday tomorrow the chances are we will have to spend two nights at sea, and we would rather sail down the coast of Pico in daylight anyway. (This plan, like all, subject to change . . . )

Weds June 20th - Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel

The weather is still looking reasonable for going to Horta, 149nm WNW of here, although it may get a bit strong around Faial on Friday afternoon - when we hope to arrive - so we will look again tonight. We are checked out - a process which involves visiting all three authorities again - and if the weather looks OK tonight we will be off at six in the morning to spend the shortest night of the year at sea. Our alternative destination is the island of Terceira.

John, a singlehander on his Vancouver 27 Tanna, showed us round the boat - a very impressive little 27ft bluewater cruiser which probably weighs twice what Fairwinds does.

Tanna, a Vancouver 27
Tanna, a Vancouver 27

Checked out this afternoon - which involved going to see the marina then all three authorities again and getting a signature from each of them (Police, Immigration and Customs) on our permission to leave slip - just as well they are all in the same building. Now all we have to do is hand this slip in to the policeman on duty along with our electronic keys before we leave in the morning.

When I downloaded a new GRIB timed at noon today it showed nothing too alarming, so the plan is still to leave in the morning. Met two guys in the Club Navale off Reiver, a Rustler 36 we have seen around the W. Highlands before. They were very interested in GRIBs, s I gave them a brief overview but my tea was waiting for me on board and I had to rush off after givingthem our email address. They are hoping to get out to Flores, then back to Horta and eventually Ponta Delgada to refit their masthead with a new tricolour. Apparently they hit a whale on the way here while 600 miles from land and everything was shaken off the masthead - wind instrument, tricolour, aerials, the lot. They were singing the praises of encapsulated keels, a song I am happy to sing along to.