Going ashore in an unfamiliar place is always a pleasure, the more spicy the more time you have planned and prepared for it. It is always a meeting of reality and the picture you have created in your head. Will reality match it? Over the course of a decade of sea voyages, my wife Mia and I have been fortunate enough to experience this feeling many times on the islands and in [...]
Going ashore in an unfamiliar place is always a pleasure, the more spicy the more time you have planned and prepared for it. It is always a meeting of reality and the picture you have created in your head. Will reality match it?
During a decade of sea voyages, my wife Mia and I were lucky to experience this feeling many times on the islands and in the countries where we came, both on board our boat and on others that we ferried. This list includes Bermuda, Cuba, Canada, Scotland, Ireland, United Kingdom, Sweden and Finland. However, not with many places we have experienced such a "romantic relationship" as with the islands of the Azores archipelago and Madeira - Portuguese pearls in the Atlantic, which we visited in 2012 and 2017.
Long way to Horta
Isbjörn, our Swan 48, ran through the water until Orty on the island Faial... Under a dark sky, in which only a few stars peeped out from behind a foggy cloud cover, we flew forward, giving out a confident 8.5 knots. The ocean was black under an ink sky, and the dolphins that accompanied the boat that night glowed. The phosphorescence was so thick that anything that stirred the water left a fluorescent trail, including Isbjörn Like a comet's tail, a streak of light, three feet wide, stretched a hundred yards behind us.
"Sixty-two miles is a long way if there is no wind."
Mia's words were prophetic the day we went ashore in Faialeis actually the second island that you will sail on the east course from Bermuda. Before Flores closer, but traditionally here - a stopover for yachtsmen on Azores.
The Portuguese military flew past our stern, and at that moment it seemed that Isbjörn did not move much faster than one of the jellyfish. The wind has completely stopped, and given that we were "technically" competing in the rally ARC Europe, I didn't want to start the engine. The last seven miles took us almost three hours. But what the hell is three more hours after 12 days at sea? This made the champagne on arrival only nicer.
Horta probably the most classic of all the classic landing sites in the Atlantic. It is also one of the most picturesque and iconic marinas, with slabs covered with "murals" left by different crews over the years, overlooking the Pico Volcano jutting out among the clouds. And it is so good to watch all this while sitting at the table of the legendary Peter Cafe Sport.
And although the sights Orty well described, in the Azores, cultural differences between islands just a few miles apart become apparent. Especially when you are sailing among the harbors that are relatively newly created by man.
Running of the bulls on Terceira
On Azores many cows - cheese is one of the main local commodities and what distinguishes the different cultures of each island.
"Is this cheese local?" Mia asked at the market in Horta.
“No, what are you! Not local!" - answered the woman.
The cheese Mia chose was from the neighboring island of Pico, visible literally over her shoulder and only a short ferry ride away. No, not local.
Terceira, an island overnight crossing east of Faial, has bulls and is known for its version of running with them. Mia and I first visited Terceira in 2012 when we surpassed Kinship, Saga 43, across the Atlantic at the rally ARC Europeand this island immediately became our favorite destination in the Azores. We even decided to skip the rally stop at San Migueleto get an extra day in Angra do Heroísmo, a historic and picturesque town on the south coast of the island.
The bulls literally helped defend Terceira from the Spanish invasion in the 16th century. When King Philip sent a fleet there for a "hybrid" takeover, his crew was met by no fewer than 600 bulls and subsequently defeated. The memory of the event is captured by an anatomically correct 33-foot bovine monument at the entrance to Angra do Heroísmo.
Each village in the middle of the rocky landscape has its own bull run day, a kind of culmination of summer street festivals. Bulls run through the streets and six or seven guys try to control them with a long rope. Crowds of people stand to the sides on the balconies and outside the walls. People tease the bull with umbrellas and red blankets. When we returned to the island in 2017, one of the rally crews ARC Europe wanted to run with the bulls - and ended up with serious injuries in the hospital.
In 2012, for the first and last time I approached one of the bulls, and I must say that all I saw was fear and confusion in the eyes of the animal, as if wondering who these people are and what the hell is going on? ! I admit it is an interesting and exciting cultural tradition. However, I'm not sure if it really should continue in our supposedly enlightened times.
Fast-forward to 2018 when Mia and I were planning our transition calendar for fall and ended up adding a final ride from Lagos, on the mainland Portugal, on Madeira and back - 500 miles each way.
After a cold summer in High arctic ending the year with a warm, dry transition to enigmatic Madeira was exactly what the doctor ordered. We would leave Isbjörn in Lagos for the fall and then returned to cross the Atlantic in 2019.
In the sea Isbjörn rushed with a favorable wind. In the daytime, in full sunlight, the deep ocean water was blue - the bluest you will ever see. At night Milky Way was clearly visible overhead. Paul, one of our crew, even mistook a bright star hanging low on the horizon for a ship.
I almost forgot how awesome sailing can be in warm weather. Shorts and T-shirts on deck. Bare feet. A sheet to cover my bunk, with a porthole open to fresh air and wind. Lie on your nose, read a book and sunbathe. Amazing.
We landed on Madeira exactly three days at sea, arriving at sunset and circling the eastern end of the island after dark. City lights illuminated the steep slopes. With only 8-10 knots of apparent wind, our large white spinnaker pulled us forward at a speed of 6-7 knots until we completely lost the wind behind the high peaks and were forced to speed the last few miles to Funchal.
Funchal on my feet
We arrived at Funchal late Thursday night shortly before midnight and docked longside along a large wooden ketch with a Danish family on board bound for the Caribbean. The boat looked like a miniature Ticonderoga... The lacquer of her wooden spar gleamed in the sun.
Friday was spent, like many days after going ashore - lazily. We wandered through the Old Town, which turned out to be much larger than I imagined. He reminded us Ponta Delgada, the largest city in the Azores on the island of São Miguel. Like Ponta Delgada, Funchal, in fact, not a city of sailors - ordinary people live there, and it will exist regardless of whether boats appear in the harbor. Cities for locals, not sailors.
Madeira rises above the sea, steep cliffs plunge into the ocean, and there is little room on the coast for homes and businesses. Regardless, we were determined to explore the area on foot. Walking, like sailing, allows you to travel at a human pace, observing your surroundings slowly enough to accept it.
We ended up in a tiny cafe just east of the Old City, overlooking the ocean and public baths at sea level. Madeira has few beaches. Instead, in these public bathing areas, there are sun loungers on concrete platforms buried in the rocks. The floating docks were anchored right off the coast with jumps and ramps, and the ocean was right there. On calm days, the place looked peaceful enough. With a south wave in winter, it would be anything but idyllic.
In the cafe, we watched the locals sitting for hours at round tables for two, drinking coffee and orange juice, with chairs facing not each other, but towards the street. And looking at how people pass by, cars and mopeds pass by. Once in Madeira ...
Jardin do Mar
There is a book called "Barbarian days", a memoir of surfing William Finneganwho won the Pulitzer Prize. It very vividly describes a small village on the southwestern coast of Madeira called Jardim do Mar... In the 1980s and 1990s, it was called "Jewel of the Atlantic" Is a magical, often overlooked, big wave surfing spot, off the beaten track and difficult to reach.
And although I myself am not a surfer, I have a good attitude to this culture and love philosophy. When we added a stopover in Madeira, I knew that I would try to find this village and see it with my own eyes.
For this mission, we rented a 125cc scooter, the largest and heaviest I have ever ridden. And they quickly realized why models with a volume of 50 cubes are not popular here - they are too "hilly"! The height of the highest mountain the interior of the island is over 6,100 feet, making it the third highest peak in all of Portugal. The cliffs and valleys are dramatic and endless. We drove through one place, high in the village on the side of a cliff, where the only way to get to the secluded beach below was by lift.
The road to Jardin culminated in a small village square surrounded by typical Portuguese pavements: the alternating black and white polished cobblestones with intricate patterns found throughout Madeira and Azores - its own design on every street. In the center of the square, two small children splashed and played in a fountain that gushed out of the ground.
The village itself has a population of just over 200 people. There is a small guest house, a surfer haven called Joe's Bar, and a tiny boutique hotel. Otherwise, these are residential buildings, all of them are located on a steep cliff and overlook the midnight blue Atlantic from three sides. There are no roads through the village, only narrow footpaths, also paved with polished black and white cobblestones.
We walked down to the coastline several hundred feet below us, pausing to admire the rooftops and flowers in each small apartment. At the bottom, the trail opened onto a wide concrete sea dam that lined the entire promontory on three sides, creating an embankment along the coast. The sea-side wall was covered with large concrete boulders to protect the embankment from the same ferocious winter waves that made the site such a famous surfer destination. This is the same sea wall whose creation Finnegan long mourned in Barbarian daysas she shattered the wave.
What was once a surfing spot is now filled with breakwaters. The surf crashes right on the artificial barriers.
Despite the hills, I went for a run on our last day at the beach, during which I noticed a football field - it looked like a pool on the other side of the valley, with a 15-foot fence to keep the balls flying in the wrong direction before they will end up in the ocean a thousand feet below. I stopped on the sidewalk under a shady tree and watched the locals play their Sunday morning game, teams with players of all ages. A young woman in a pink and black floral dress sat in the stands overlooking the field.
Behind the chain-link fence there was only the ocean, a very long way down the cliff, and the marina in the hazy distance where our Isbjörnwhile awaiting departure back to mainland Portugal scheduled for the next day.
Deserve it, baby!
As fate would have it, we paid for the lazy tailwind to Madeira with four days of hard drives on the way back. However, this only made a short visit to Madeira even more special. On the way there we lounged in the sun and drank wine; on the way back they lurched 30 degrees, trying to stay on the toilet. And understanding much better where we just came from.
Islands are different from continents. Not so long ago, even during my grandfather's life, the only way to get to them was by boat. Flying was not an option. You obviously couldn't just walk there. I would have to swim.
In general, more or less this is true today. VWe need to swim to these places to truly appreciate them. You will miss out on something important simply by taking a 90-minute plane flight from Lisbon. Islands in the Atlantic must be deserved: the charm of cities with their tiled sidewalks and centuries-old architecture; the sadness of the old whaling ships sailing around the harbor at Horta; view from Peter Cafe Sport.
You cannot just fly to these places, not in a spiritual sense. Yes, maybe you can fly to them physically, walk to a physical bar and order a physical beer. But that guy next to you, who got out of the dock and was at sea for two weeks, who put in days, months, damn years of preparation, to do it safely, confidently and with style ... Well, let's just say he won't treat you beer when it sees a luggage tag dangling from your backpack. Like, "I'm sorry, it's not the same." You can drink your physical beer, but never quench your spiritual thirst in this way.
In this sense, the islands in the Atlantic exist, as it were, in two parallel universes: one for those who earned them, and the other for those who do not. The landmarks look the same. All colors are correct. Flowers smell delicious in both universes, and fish tastes great.
But in the universe of those of us who have moored in these places, those who deserve it - and so, we get a different "texture" of things, as if reserved especially for us. If you are reading this also after getting off the boat, then you will understand exactly what I mean. And if not ... well, then go and earn this understanding!
Interparus Yachting will help you organize an unforgettable sailing trip to the islands of the North Atlantic. Call now +33644142168 WhatsApp, Alexander
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