Friday, June 15, 2007

The Atlantic cossing and the Island of Horta and on to Fowey in England

View across the immaculate terraced fields on Horta from our vantage point of the volcanic crater

Mike and I had planned to go to Europe this year in Cheshire Cat. But, as we cruisers say, "Plans are written in wet sand at low tide". Now we had decided to go the other way, west, through the panama Canal and the Pacific Islands. Consequently we felt we had to make the rendezvous with all our friends who were sticking to the original plans, the Atlantic Crossing and Europe.

Rendezvous Antigua, coinciding with Antigua Classic week (old boats - some very famous in the sailing world) and Race Week (a big event in the racing calendar - more famous boats and crew). So we hot footed from Venezuela north (more of a pleasant sail for once) intending to take four days. We had a small incident mid ocean with a steering problem - lost the thing entirely (the cable broke) but eventually made the date, little the worse for wear. (you should see us now - Mike has white hair and
I am almost bald!).

Cocktail hour on Gallant - Cheers!

We had also arranged to sail with a friend in Classic week - great fun, lots of memorable (to us) photos of all those beautiful rigs. We met lots of old friends that we hadn't seen for some time and had some great re-unions. Whilst we were anchored in Falmouth Harbour, Andrea of Gallant of Fowey decided to fly home to the UK, and David invited us to help him crew his luxurious Amel Marimou back to England.

Consequently, we left CC high and dry on land in a yard in English Harbour. We packed the poor lady up ready for a possible hurricane - which meant absolutely everything stacked down inside the boat, sails and canvas and hitched a ride to St Martin on a Tristams boat Usquebach.

David and Mike with their laptops on passage

David's yacht was lovely. Very big - 53 feet compared to our 36 feet on CC. Here we had own private state room, with en suite bathroom, we were limited to one shower per day mind you, and I got calloused hands from pumping the loo.

The boat was fully equipped with dishwasher, clothes washer, electric winches on everything, a huge generator to provide all necessary auxiliary power, vast water tanks, 600 litre fuel tank, 1,000 litre of water and enough food to feed a small army.

we set off on the appointed day - 25 knots of wind and a bit bouncy - but what a smooth ride compared to CC! Unfortunately we soon discovered the foresail was delaminating and as David was a bit seasick, we pulled into Anguilla for a couple of days before setting off in calmer weather.

Yachts rafted up to five deep in the marina in Fiail

To cut out the boring stuff - it took us 19 days to get to the Island of Horta in the Azores. We had a storm - 45 knots, but it was fun rather than terrifying and hardly hard work. David was a little inclined to be seasick, but luckily Mike and I were able to make up any shortfall in watch keeping and boat chores.

We had a shift system, three hours on and six off at night, and four hours on with eight off during the day. This allowed plenty of time for sleeping or relaxing. We had lots of fun on the trip - it wasn't all work. There was a great selection of books, DVD's and games on board, and as the pantry was so well stocked we had no problems indulging in some pretty decent meals.

Weather was a bit of an issue - Herb on the radio said it was more like November weather (and how we remember that - the trip from Halifax). He advised us to slow down to avoid gales. We had alternative weather information coming at us from other sources, so there were times when it looked as though we had rather too many choices. But - we made it to the Azores safe and sound and without incident.

Sun rising over Pico Island on our arrival to the Azores

The Azores were wonderful to see - dawn approach, clear sky, Pico island standing tall with the top peeping through a halo of cloud,
Fiail - lush and green, the hillsides decorated with terraced fields divided into a variety of sizes and shapes with hedges of hydrangea. Peter's Cafe (the hottest spot in town) received our most immediate attention, cold beers all around.

There were over 300 boats gathered in the harbour and marina, crews with different languages, flags from many countries flying from yachts of every shape and variety. We were surprised to see a contingent of Nordhaven motor trawlers that had come all the way from Florida, bound for Europe. That is a long passage for a motor yacht in open seas. This was the time of year to make the crossing and avoid most of the adverse weather conditions in the Atlantic.

Nick had also arrived in town - one of the crew delivering another boat to Brighton in England with Derek and Gerry. Soon after Tristam on Usqueabach from Classic week arrived accompanied by Dave and Steven after a hard five week crossing from St. Martin. Steven headed home for a few weeks.

I'm sure he wasn't the only one to jump ship as we heard of several crew changes in the brief time that we as we heard of several crew changes in there there.

Vicky and Andrew on Alexander Louise rafted beside us and provided more good company . We had an opportunity to exchange the limericks we had all made up as boat-to-boat entertianment on the way,

David, Derek, Tristam, Jerry, Andrew and Mike in Peter's Cafe

Everyone was thrilled to have completed the first part of their crossing and were celebrating a successful landfall. Inevitably everybody made their way to Peter's Cafe, where the parties started early and ended at dawn.

David, Mike and I shared a rental car with Charles and Bob from Itza Purla, and toured the island. We took a short, chilly walk up to a fantastic volcanic crater where we were able to look down over the rim of the volcano into the extensive crater hole.

Volcanic crater

We toured the small roads through neat villages where all the houses were painted white, and had a very pleasant lunch in a small restaurant at the other end of the island.

Later in the day we made our way to a beach and found black sand instead of the normal white sand we were accustomed to. This of course is because of the volcanic ash, but it was a very unusual sight.

The black sand beach was really hot to stand on!

Further on we could see an extensive promontory, and drove the car over to investigate. We learned that there has been a very unexpected eruption of ash which added several hundred feet to the end of the island, but had also succeeded in covering a small community of about two hundred homes that was established near the lighthouse.

The lighthouse was now useless partly because it wasn't anywhere near
the end of the island any more, and partly because the lower two stories of the house had been submerged in black ash!

Windmills stand alone and unused

Apparently the Azoreans had made good use of the wind as we saw several old fashioned windmills, their sails still intact, but presumably unused now.

Fiail itself is a pretty little town with narrow cobbled streets and immaculate houses. In the countryside miniature fields were divided by low stone walls and instead of hedgerows they had planted hydrangeas. All the houses were painted white. Of course there was a whaling station, and a guide to tell us how the whales used to be vital to the economy of the islands.

Delivery by donkey in the main street

David had to order new parts for a couple of thing on the boat (nice to know that things break even big luxury class yachts.

The small chandlery was quite busy as the various yachts made their repairs and got ready for the last leg of the passage either to Europe or to the UK. We restocked the happy hour goody cupboard which had been seriously dented, mainly cocktail hour snacks and choc bars, had our laundry taken care of, and did the few jobs that required our attention before we set sail again.

All too soon it was time to leave and once again we said our goodbyes to old and new friends.

Our final task was to paint our autograph picture on the marina wall alongside all the others from boats that visit Horta. The tradition here is to leave a pictorial autograph of some kind, thereby ensuring good luck; there are hundreds of paintings on the walls, pathways and even on the roads in the marina. We spotted a picture left by China Moon whom we'd been with in Bermuda and St. Martin, an old one left by Derek and Wanita on Dream Weaver several years previously, as well as those painted by several other boat names we recognized.

As we left harbour we heard that Brian and Deb on Chinook were just a few miles away and although it would have been marvelous to see them just one more time, we continued onwards, bound for Fowey in Cornwall.

Deirdre and Mike with Gallant of Fowey's painted picture on the marina wall

All too soon it was time to leave and once again we said our goodbyes to old and new friends. As we left harbour we heard that Brian and Deb on Chinook were just a few miles away and although it would have been marvelous to see them just one more time, we continued onwards, bound for Fowey in Cornwall, England.

Several uneventful days later, we were welcomed into Fowey with a fanfare of blaring horns and much flag waving by David’s family, making David's dream of sailing into his home Port a reality. We berthed the boat and were soon invaded by Andrea, Alex and friends with a delivery of cold champagne and delicious hot Cornish pasties – scrumptious!

Welcome flags for us in the harbour as we sailed past

England was cold, socks and sweaters for Mike and me - even though everyone else thought the weather was just fine, and it was wet and very expensive. Mike's father was in fine fettle, and his sisters and family welcomed us as usual with enormous hospitality. I caught a bus to the east and visited Barbara, my stepmother and my old friend Lizzie. I had a lovely time, and was sad to leave after so little time and without seeing everybody we would have liked to visit.

Everyone seemed pleased to see us - even so,, we are given to understand that although we are always welcome, its better to visit only once every six years or so!

We flew back to Antigua on 17th, a Saturday - to arrive in blistering heat, with the marina yard closed tight until Monday. Boat full of sails etc, no propane for cooking or coffee, no water, toilets or shower keys. How are the mighty swept off their feet for a thudding fall!

Mike and I had to get the boat back into shape as quickly as possible, and found it much harder work than it seemed to have been to tear it apart and pack up before we left! Soon we were heading south once again, out of hurricane territory and back to Venezuela where Helen and Tabs were due to visit around 20th of the next month. Then - off to the Pacific Islands in the new year.

Deirdre with Pico in the background

Onwards we go - off to see more and have more adventures. What a way to live , eh?

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