Donnerstag, 28. Juni 2012


Looking at the weather we saw nothing nice coming and it seemed that if we wanted to leave Velas within the next five days, that we should return the car in the morning and sail to Horta, with the wind still from Southeast. Later Southwesterlies lasting for at least 4 days were forecast.

In theory we could also have used the SE t get to Flores, but there the weather would be even worse and certainly no good to explore the island. So we thought we better be weather locked in Horta, with more possibilities ashore even on a rainy day.

We also hoped that the bulk of the boats that wanted to go to northern Europe, would use this opportunity and leave, so the the marina would not be totally filled. So, on Thursday, June 21 we cleared out again in Velas and headed across the channel towards Horta. Near Pico the wind accelerated and then dropped to nothing. Only to pick up from the other side some 3 miles further. Put up quite a wave in the channel between Faial and Pico and the clouds driven around the big volcano on Pico looked really spectacular.

Our guess was wrong, no boats had left or where leaving Horta and the Marina was bursting, with boats rafting up 4 deep, in the marina and on the long reception stone wall. So we decided to anchor in the harbor and clear in with the dinghy. The guy in the marina confirmed, that we could possible raft up somewhere, but no decent space was available and so we chose to stay anchored for a day or two and then check again.

Now it is a week and we are still anchored in the harbor. At first more and more boats arrived and none left for three days. The weather got ugly and gusty winds were driving through the harbor. There was a lot to see off course, overlooking the entire harbor basin from our vantage point on Taniwani. The ground is very foul and rocky, so many boats had problems with their anchors. Two times we saw another boat bringing up an orphan SQR anchor with chain on it, but now boat obviously attached to it. A swiss Amel dragged her anchor with nobody on board, left the harbor and was just on the rocks of the marina breakwater, when two other Yachties saw it and got on the boat in the last minute. Fortunately they were able to start the engine and bring the boat back in where they anchored her. A totally astounded owner showed up when they were just finishing the anchoring maneuver. I don't think he ever realized that his boats was already on the rocks.

The night from Sunday to Monday was worst with wild gusts blowing through the harbor, yanking the boats around on their anchors. By now it seems all anchors had found something to hold on to. Certainly Taniwani didn't move an inch. Still we were up in the cockpit around midnight, just to see what is going on, when a panicked Mayday call came in on VHF. A frightened women's voice just crying Mayday. Came up twice, with no more info and then did not respond to any inquiries any more. You were wondering what had happened to the poor folks, and the cries were still in our ears for some hours.

Two days later we read in the local news, that a french yacht with a couple had stranded on the south coast of the island. Not a nice looking shore as we know. They must have been caught by surprise and somehow, with the help of the local fire brigade they were safely brought ashore and to the hospital.

Monday the weather cleared up again, the wind went to NW and many boats started to leave. By now there are still boats rafted in the marina, but only two deep on average. It would certainly be possible to get a good place in the marina, but we didn't ask any more. Used to be at anchor we enjoy it out here.
Driven by curiosity, I went snorkeling to look what our anchor found to hold on to. I found our anchor deeply engaged with a steamer size chain, which it had dragged under a big rock. While we could possible have lifted the big chain with our strong windlass, so that we could get a rope underneath to free our anchor, it would not have been possible to pull up the anchor the way it was locked under the rock. I had to attach a line to the anchor and have Beate pull it back from the rock using the dinghy at full reverse, while I went down to wedge the chain out from behind the flukes.

Finally I moved the anchor over the chain towards the ship, that way it may not be holding the next storm, but we could get it up easily we thought. Well, today the wind picked up from the north this may well drag the anchor back into the chain in the other direction. We shall see. At least we are safe here.

Weather is still nowhere near perfect, but we think, with the northerly winds we should be able to just about lay course for Flores. If the reports don't change significantly, we plan to leave tomorrow Friday afternoon, and sail over night to Flores. Stay tuned….

Sao Jorge

A smooth overnight sail of some 135 miles brought us to the little town of Velas on the island of Sao Jorge. Jose, the very nice man in charge of the marina was already on the pier waving and welcoming Taniwani, he had seen us approaching on the Marine Traffic website, which tracks the AIS signals sent by all big ships and now also by an increasing number of yachts.

We were lucky, as another boat had just left the T-end of the first pontoon, which is long enough to accommodate us. The little can take about 10 visiting yachts and is quickly filled. The next T-end one pontoon in, which we had also used in the past is now occupied by the new pilot boat and all the inner berths on the long pontoon paralleling the breakwater are now assigned to permanent local boats. The good news is, that it is still possible to anchor outside, reasonably sheltered most of the time. Still, June is probably the only month in which the marina fills up.

Long before there was the marina, we had anchored at the coast of Sao Jorge, looked at the island and regretted that we couldn't leave the boat alone a explore the very interesting looking place.

Now, back in the new marina for the fourth time, we still love to get a car for a day and drive around the island. It is very pretty, with lovely sights and every time we discover something new.

Again we started by driving east on the southern side visiting places like Urselina and Calheta, the second, but less sheltered harbor on the island. Along the south coast, with the island of Pico just across a 10 mile channel, one has a feeling of being at the shore of a large lake. Sheltered by the whole length of pico, the south coast of Sao Jorge is milder and friendlier than any other in the Azores.

The eastern tip, called Toppo has a nice natural swimming pool, a freshly painted lighthouse and a flat round island just off the eastern cape. Pico isn't visible any more, but in the far one can see the island of Terceira. Turning back west again there is a road with magnificent views leading straight over the hilly highland with green meadows and happy cows.

Then over to the north side which has those beautiful "Fajas", flat land down at the sea, created by major earth slides many years ago. Many have only been accessible by boat, but now hard to maintain small roads lead down along the cliff sides. Down on the Faja, at a small restaurant, we hoped to have our lunch. All he could offer was a really very nice vegetable soup and we enjoyed it thoroughly.

We didn't drive all the way to the western end, with its derelict army facility and damaged lighthouse. Just before that end, there is a nice little park and a hill with great view in all directions. That's where we turned around and drove back to Velas. Still we had done 130 km with the car, the island is quite long.

Freitag, 22. Juni 2012

Santa Maria

We were early this year to head for the Azores, 7 weeks earlier than last year. On the other hand, early June is the time when the first boats return from the very popular Atlantic circle to the Caribbean and back. It is said that about 1000 yachts come via this route through the Azores every year. That, however doesn't change the fact, that the weather isn't really settled in the islands at this time, and rain and westerlies are still prevailing. The reason why the bulk of the boats comes in that early in the season, is that in the Caribbean that Hurricane season starts and it is usually time to leave there in mid May.

For us, cruising this side of the Atlantic, it is wiser to stay south in the Canaries or the Cape Verdes before heading for the Azores in late July. But this year we singed up for the Rally Bayona, which starts in early August and thus we need to leave the Azores in late July.

It is also easier to sail the Azores from west to east, and that is why last year we sailed straight to Flores, the westernmost island. Now in early June, this wasn't so easy, as the lows are still tracking at fairly low latitude and it would be head winds most of the way.

Even sailing to Santa Maria, at the south-eastern end of the Azores, required us to sail first westwards for two days until the north easterly winds die, and the almost straight north, close hauled westerly winds. While the direct distance fromLa Palma to Santa Maria is 620 miles, we had to sail 710 miles, which isn't so bad given the conditions. It took us four and a half days and we arrived in the well known marina after dark, on June 7.

We went straight to a berth that we had been in before, and were quite astonished to see the harbor master that late in the night taking our lines and telling us at the same time that we will have to move the morning to a smaller berth further in, as he was expecting part of the ARC-Europe fleet with several bigger boats.

Next morning we moved with fairly strong wind blowing in to the marina, which is never ideal for maneuvering, but with our bow-thruster we thought we should be fine in the narrow confines of the marina further in. The surprise came when we tried to turn into the berth we had picked. Just at that moment our bow-thruster decided to not work towards starboard, the direction we needed to bring the bow into the wind. We quickly turned the other way and picked another berth and managed to get in without any serious problems. Thanks to the deck crew, who had set up docking lines on both sides, just in case. The electrical problem was then solved in 10 minutes, a corroded contact in the steering column.

In the third picture you can see Taniwani as the left-most boat, all the way in on the middle pontoon. It was actually a nice spot, much quieter then all the way out towards the fishing dock, where the big tuna boats keep running their generators all need to circulate the bait tanks. The down side however was rather poor WiFi reception.

THe ARC-fllet had joined a local regatta, down from Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel and it finally was just 8 ARC boats and 4 local boats. Still, the little marina was fuller than we ever saw it before and the little Village of Port Vila arranged various performances for the entertainment of their visitors. See for example the drummers in the second picture. The gang left after a day and Port Vila was back to its usual tranquil life style. And we eventually moved out again, to get a better WiFi connection.

As always we took a car for a day and toured the little island. It is easy to see about every corner during a day, driving less than a hundred kilometers. But it is always a nice tour and the advantage of being early in the year, is that the island is still lush green and the waterfall in the east still has some water purring down the narrow chimney it had cut in thousands of years. Santa Maria is a lot drier and warmer than Flores on the other end of the chain, some 300 miles to the Northwest.

We drove by the little hospital that helped Harald last year, but chose to skip it this year. We definitely avoided swimming in the bay, but it seems that the sewer problem, that caused Harald's prostate infection, might soon be under control: The eastern part of the village, that seeming drained some sewage into the river is now is now getting a new sewer system. See picture 5 for that.

We spent about a week in Santa Maria, waiting for favorable winds to go westwards, but they didn't appear. When it seemed we would be better of further north, we moved on to Ponta Delgada on the big island of Sao Miguel. Ponta Delgada as such is not our favorite, but the excellent market there is definitely worth a short stop. That's not saying that the island isn't nice, rather the opposite. Sao Miguel has a lot to offer and it takes a few days by car to just see the best places. We had driven around on Sao Miguel a few times before and just thought we skip this part this time around.

We left Ponta Delgada bound for Velas on Sao Jorge on Sunday, June 17. More about Sao Jorge in the next episode.

Samstag, 2. Juni 2012

La Palma

Here are just a few impressions from La Palma, which we confirmed to be our favorite Canraian island.  This time we had a rental car for three days and toured the island extensively. As always, impressively beautiful. It is hard to tell wether it is the clear height at 2000m with their impressive views, the laurel forests at the wetter Northeast, the rather distinct fir trees in the central caldeira, or maybe the fairly young volcanos in the south.

Together with just light tourism and the friendly capital of Santa Cruz, it  all adds up to a wonderful impression.

For us a week went by in no time. Now we plan to finally take off for the Azores. While the summer weather, with the typical Azores High hasn't yet settled in, so that we will have to deal with westerly winds once north of Madeira's latitude, we thought we will aim for Flores to make some distance towards west, and after two days turn north to Sanat Maria.

This means we will sail trough the Azores East to West and then West to East again, before taking off for the mainland in late July. - At least, that's the plan…...