Horta, Faial, Azores – From white sand beaches to black volcanic rock; from warm, crystalline waters to deep dark blue cold waters; from sundresses and sandals to long pants, shoes and socks…. we have all finally arrived in this beautiful archipelago of the Azores! After a long voyage for Sebastian by boat, and me with the kids from Saint Martin we are finally together again.
There are nine total islands, and the island of Faial, where Horta is the main city and has the only marina on the island, is where the majority of sailors first make landfall. The islands are an autonomous territory of Portugal, so Portuguese is the language spoken here. Faial is not the biggest of the Azores, but is one of the most western ones where Sebastian and crew arrived a week ago. This is a frequent stopover for boats crossing the Atlantic since the Azores are located about ¾ of the way across the Atlantic en route to Europe, from the Caribbean or from Bermuda. The month of May is the “weather window” when most boats leave the Americas, so by June of every year, Horta is packed. We are now about 3-4 boats thick across the marina wall, making for a very social environment, as we have to climb over all the boats tied up beside us to get to the dock. Many of these sailors also passed through Bermuda, like Sebas, so it is yet another place for everyone to reunite, compare notes and anecdotes.
The islands are volcanic making for very interesting landscape of high mountain peaks offset by green hills full of cattle and goats. The Portuguese are well known for their dairy prowess, so we have been enjoying many local cheeses and milk. The Azoreans specifically are known for their whale-fishing prowess, and although whale fishing has been banned for a couple of decades now, Horta at least, is very focused on the whaling culture, with a museum dedicated to the industry as well as various scrimshaw (the art of carving and painting designs onto whales’ teeth) shops around town.
The first day we arrived, we went to the whaling museum (= “school field trip” for the kids!) where we learned about how whaling was done here throughout the centuries. There actually was a man here in Horta whose sole job was to climb up onto a hilltop, where he had a chair and a pair of binoculars - and a telephone!- to watch for whales all day. If he saw one, he would use that phone and call another guy down in the village, who would then set off a rocket/firecracker to alert all whale-fishers that a whale had been sighted and to run to the marina with their wooden boat to catch it. Since whales were not spotted every day, these fishermen held other jobs but would be allowed to leave them to catch whales when necessary. The fishermen would use small wooden boats which they would row out toward the whale: no motors so as not to scare the whale away! Each of the 8 or so crew had a very specific job: one was to place the rope of the spear into a very neat spiral (if not, the rope could knot up or catch itself on something which would ruin the catch), another’s role was to spear the whale, etc. It is amazing when you compare the sizes, that a man with a spear and a wooden boat could actually kill a beast of this size. And, it is difficult to believe that this tradition had been practiced in this archaic fashion (except for the telephone of course!), exactly how I am relating it to you now, up until about 25 years ago.
The kids enjoyed this whaling “lesson” but we swear Sofia is going to end up as president of Green Peace or something after this trip (she could not stand to see the pictures of the whales actually getting killed). On the bright side, this experience inspired her to rewrite the story of Hermann Melville’s “Moby Dick.” But instead of about Ishmael, her story is about Ishmael - and Max (after her uncle, my brother) and how they both got stuck in the whale’s mouth, and then somehow Moby Dick morphs into Dumbo…. That’s my girl - very creative!
Now our life aboard has a very different focus. Many sailors who have done this trip have told us the Caribbean is more about sailing and frolicking in the water, whereas from the Azores on, the trip is more about wearing real clothes and sightseeing. The cold and the rain here is a welcomed change from the life we have lived for the past six months, but it also has made a little less motivated to get right up and at ‘em in the morning and get outside. This is fine since the kids and I are basically moving back into the boat after the five weeks in Saint Martin; so we have been pulling out all the homeschooling books again and now getting out all the colder weather clothes, reorganizing, etc. We are also still on the Americas time zone (Kimberly, my sister-in-law, will get a kick out of this!), so we are all going to sleep after midnight and not waking up until after 9am! It really doesn’t get dark until 9:30/10pm so we are really off.
I keep saying that he world is getting smaller… Sebastian actually ran into a guy he knows from the sailing community in Argentina and they spent the afternoon today drinking “mate” and catching up on old times. We also finally met, in person, the people from the boat PRATI who are originally from Spain and have been participating in the same daily radio net we participate in also. We felt like we already knew then since we have been communicating with them since back in Puerto Rico... and ran into them here.
Our proposed itinerary may be changing from here on out in the big picture, and it is not clear exactly where we will be and when. In talking with sailors here, many of whom have done his trip before, some say the Mediterranean (or “The Med” as they all refer to it), is extremely expensive for sailors with some marinas charging 300s euro per night especially in the summer months, and others say not to worry that there are many anchorages available for free where one can go. In order to avoid the Med, a thought was to spend our time on the west coast of Africa. But again, you find people who say it’s too dangerous and poor, and others who say it’s not dangerous at all, in fact it’s beautiful and very inexpensive. So we have a lot of researching and planning to do….
What we do know for a fact is that we will wait here in Horta to meet up with Aurora, the Argentinean woman travelling solo, who is to arrive on Tuesday. Then to spend time around other island of the Azores for the next two weeks or so, and then onto the mainland, to Galicia, Spain, with the idea to head south down the Portuguese Coast from there.
That’s all folks!
|Aerial view of the town and marina of Horta on Faial Island in the Azores.|
|Que tul, Begonita!|
|The traditional paintings of sailors from all over the world who have passed through this Mid-Atlantic port. The boaters paint directly on the walls and floor of the marina boardwalk.|
|Horta Marina with Pico mountain, of Pico Island, in the background. This is the highest point of all the Portuguese territories.|
|Busy marina with boats tied up 3-4 in a row.|
|Horta street scene.|
|Another view of the town.|
|The beginnings of a masterpiece.|
|Who would have thought? Little Sofia in the middle of the Atlantic!|
|Work in Progress.|
|Ta-da-da! Couldn't be left behind... had to leave our mark.|
|Welcoming Aurora, first Argentinean woman to cross the Atlantic solo!|
By the way, she proudly states her age of 66! Unbelieveable! Only a few more nautical miles to go and she will reach her goal to arrive in Portugal.
|Ready to dock after 22 days at sea from Bermuda.|
|Part of the welcoming committee.|
|Helping Aurora clean and dry out her cabin cushions on Begonia.... everything gets salty and damp during a long passage. Aurora is tied up next to us in the marina.|
|Is that Henry the Navigator!?|
|Sebastian and Enrique Celesias, a sailing friend from back home.|
|The kids get creative with their cabin spaces!|
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FOUNTAINE PAJOT ATHENA 38 CATAMARAN FOR SALE – After our wonderful experience, BEGONIA is ready for its next sailing family – with or without children! Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.