Wednesday 31st May. Distance Sailed: 32109nM
Quote of the night: "Are you sure it was a KILLER whale Russ?"
The sun shone, the water was crystal clear and the beach was dazzling white yet gritting our teeth we left the shores of the Caribbean for our third and final Atlantic crossing. The first few days were slow with wind on the nose but true to the forecast it gradually shifted around to the beam giving us perfect conditions for sailing and epic backgammon sessions.
The fishing rod was deployed and after a few days of catching weed we hooked a fish. We're not sure what type of fish it was but it tasted great and didn't cause any unpleasant side effects. Russ did hiccough almost non-stop for 4 days afterwards but we think that was probably just excitement. Strangely it seemed to stop after we made him gut the second catch of the trip (a dorado). The excitement must have worn off.
The last few days of the trip saw an increase in wind strength and wave height. This put an end to the backgammon and necessitated the use of our shiny new oilies (bought on our quick trip home). We were thrilled with the novelty of oilies that actually kept the water off, our old ones probably should have been replaced a long time ago but when the rain was warm it didn't seem to be worthwhile. Needless to say the rain is now cold...and the new waterproof oilies are now a permanent fixture rather than a novelty!
As we approached the Azores we were treated to a personalised wildlife documentary. Birds filled the skies, dolphins jumped and whale(s?) were spotted. The photographic evidence supports the boys claims on the first whale however Russ's subsequent claim that 2 killer whales did a swim past is somewhat under dispute!
We arrived into Flores to be greeted by Steve and Katherine who had arrived a few days earlier. An approaching low pressure meant that we only had a day to enjoy the spectacular scenery before having to seek shelter at the better protected island of Faial. Fortunately Sylvio came to the rescue whizzing us round the islands top spots, stunning us with dramatic waterfalls, tranquil lakes and picturesque villages, whilst giving us a great insight to island life.
We're currently en route to Faial. The sun is shining and the sky is blue. So am I in my bikini?...No, the thermals have been dug out and I'm desperately searching for my hot water bottle. Vive la difference?!!
Sunday 18th June. Distance Sailed: 32274nM
Pete's quote of the day: "There's definitely probably maybe a path going over there"
Well it's been a blur, we're travelling around the Azores and coming across a festival of one kind or another wherever we turn - fantastic! We're now on the fourth island, unfortunately we've missed a couple, but we can't do everything.
We arrived in Horta on Faial to find the weather deteriorating and the marina full of sheltering yachts. Horta is one of the busiest yachting centres in the world with approximately 1500 yachts passing though each year. We managed to catch up with Andy and Kathy aboard Trefusis who we haven't seen since South Africa. We also found evidence of old friends on the dock. The tourist board have developed a superstition that it is unlucky for any yacht to leave before leaving their mark, so out came the paint and New Horizons and Nimrod were re-united!
We hired a car and travelled around the island, finding amazing views of fields and windmills, the volcano which appeared in 1958 and a ship, stranded on the rocks in the tropical storms of last winter. Certainly a day for appreciating the forces of nature!
We had a day trip from Horta to Madalena, on Pico, by ferry letting someone else do the navigation for once. We'd been told of a festival taking place in the town which shouldn't be missed. We arrived to find little evidence of activity and a very small and quiet town. So off to the car hire to source some wheels, explore the island and find that the festival was indeed taking place but not until 4pm...
Pico has the highest peak of the Azores and indeed of Portugal at 2351m and when the weather is unsettled (as it was), it becomes a very foggy place, great for driving tours!? We also found that all the islands museums were closed for the festival- it made for a quick sightseeing trip of the island!
A great day sail moved us along from Faial to Terceira and the sunshine. The weather has improved and even though we still find it cold the sunshine is appreciated and the lack of rain more so! We moved into the marina in Angra Do Heroismo and caught up with Stephen and Katherine on Batrachian. It's great to arrive in the evening and meet up with the Batrchians as the social diary is already laid out for you and even the next days activities as there is usually a car on stand by!!
The next day we went to explore caves, see the bull farms where bulls are reared for street running which we managed to see the next evening. The local bull running event consists of bulls let out in the streets tied to long ropes. 4-5 men try to control the bulls while all the locals try to entice it to chase them down the streets. We managed to find a lady who would let us into her garden to have a safe viewing point - thankfully.
Angra marina seems to be generating the same supestition as Horta, so the paint came out again.
The following days have been taken up with more caves and an exploration of the hills which allowed me to lead everyone off on a walk through a bog while trying to look into a foggy caldeira. An afternoon spent having a barbecue in the local park, seeing the island and exploring the local town have been great ways to relax and start to think of returning home - at least we hear the weather is warmer in the UK than here!
Sunday 25th June. Distance Sailed: 32374nM
Pete's quote of the day: "Please, no more parades!"
Our last weekend in Terceira saw the start of the San Joaninas Festival. The streets were beautifully decorated with lights and bunting and the locals all hung their quilts out of their windows to show the neighbours how clean they were. Friday night's parade consisted of 4 floats. The greatest entertainment occurred when they took off down the side streets only to find they were taller than the lights draped across the street! The streets were filled with food and drink stalls and at least 4 bands were playing. The plate of snails was blamed for the squemish stomachs the next day, however I think the Caipirinhas played a bigger part!
Saturday night was spent watching a Bullfight. I was a little dubious about watching nasty men tease a defenceless animal but was assured it would be a great cultural experience and that the bull wouldn't die (killing the bull in the ring is illegal in Portugal). The fight started with a blast of music from the brass band, the bull burst into the ring and after a bit of distraction from the matadors, the toreador started riling it by running rings about it on his horse. Once it was angry he stabbed it on the back with a tinsel decorated stick and the band gave a celebratory toot. Writing it down it does sound a bit gory and cruel but watching the horsemanship and the the accuracy of the Toreadors was amazing...and the bulls did get their own back.
The bulls became friskier as the competition progressed. At one stage a matador hoping to escape the ring jumped over the wall only to be followed by the rather athletic bull. The people seated in the front rows got a closer view than they wanted and I thanked all the deities that we had bought the cheaper seats. As each bull became tired the signal came for them to be put away. We initially thought this was the job of some funny little men with green noddy hats. In fact the best bit was still to come. These men are called the Moço de Focado. Their leader is the Pegador. The men line up facing the bull then the Pegador starts walking towards it shouting until he provokes the bull into charging them. Theoretically he then "takes the bull by the horns" and his team mates help him tackle it to a stand still. Good in theory, however no-one explained the rules to the bull and it found trampling the Pegador more fun. The Pegador wouldn't give up until he had caught the bull cleanly, so the bedraggled blood-stained men kept marching at the bull shouting. It was hilarious.
An overnight sail brought us into Ponta Delgada, the capital of San Miguel. Whilst the old architecture is still beautiful this city is much larger than the others in the Azores, so lacks the small town charm. Exploration of the island has given us spectacular lakes, beautiful waterfalls and lots of volcanic caldeiras complete with sulphurous smoke, hot springs and bubbling ponds.
On our travels we were fortunate enough to discover that the Sao Juao Fesival would be taking place whilst we were here. After persuading Pete that he really did want to go to another parade we set out to spend the evening in Vila Franco da Campo. The streets were decorated with lights and the town square was full of people. Each town in the region had their own float and followers in the parade, as did the two schools. The marchers wore fantastic costumes and sang loudly about their towns as they paraded passed. Periodically they stopped and did little dances with lots of hip swinging and skirt swirling. Each town was accompanied by its own marching band. It was a fantastic sight, the amount of effort put into the costumes and props was amazing. Here are photos of the best!
Well thats enough dallying here in the Azores. Next stop Ireland. Remember, you can e-mail our satellite phone by clicking this link (120 characters max) send message, if the link doesn't work for you the address is: email@example.com. All messages gratefully received, especially those which tell us about the World Cup scores... and you wonder why we're leaving Portugal?!