Portugal Road Trip July 2019

So …. here we are in Europe, sailing Mira in the Mediterranean! Our loose plan is to sail Mira to the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Explore their waters and coastlines, but, also leave Mira and discover Europe by car, train or bus.

Our first land adventure was a two week car trip through Portugal. We LOVED Portugal! Driving is definitely the way to go. There are so many little towns and villages just begging for you to drive through and stumble upon – it was magical! The people were super friendly – even to those of us that massacre the Portuguese language.  The food and wine were fresh, delicious and inexpensive (!) – what more do you need?

A map of our driving itinerary is below. We left Mira in a marina in Gibraltar and made our way in a big circle – heading north first, briefly through Spain and then followed the coastline all the way around Portugal. Our stops were in Ronda, Seville, Douro Valley (Pinhão), Amarante, Porto, Viana do Castelo, Aveiro, Nazaré, Lisbon, Belém, Sintra, Cascais, Boca do Inferno, Lisbon, Sagres, and Tavira on the Algarve Coast and back to Gibraltar.


Ronda, Spain
is an ancient town that is one of the most visited in southern Spain. Ronda perches dramatically on two sides of a 100 meter deep canyon through which the River Tejo flows.

The jaw-dropping Puente Nuevo, “new bridge” ironically built in 1751, connects the two sides of the city.
I was so happy to be in Spain on my birthday!

Seville, Spain
is the southern Spain that everyone imagines. Perpetually sunny, blue skies, beautiful architecture, with an old bull-fighting arena and ancient ruins. Seville is bustling with activity – busy tapas bars, dramatic flamenco dancing, and live music everywhere. The historic center, where we stayed, is laced with winding alleyways that are magic to explore and get lost in.

Rooftop bar drinks with a view of Seville was a perfect way to start off my birthday celebration.
The Cathedral of Seville was elegantly lit up at night.

Narrow streets and alleyways with something to discover around every corner.
Ornate, colorful buildings of Seville, heavily influenced by the Moors.

Seville is a city bursting with parks, green space and palatial buildings.
A portion of the original Arabic wall and tower in the Santa Cruz area, the historic Jewish district.
Promenade along the River Guadaquivir.

El Rinconcillo, Seville’s most ancient tapas bar, preserves the magical taste of old Seville. Tapas orders are still tallied up with chalk on the bar top!
Fun evening that began with tapas and ended with a dramatic Flamenco dancing performance at La Carboneria.

The Douro Valley, Portugal
is one of the most ancient wine regions in the world, but actually, the lush green mountains, valleys and the winding river are what I remember most. We stayed in a lovely Quinta (picture a b&b vineyard) perched on the side of the mountain close to the lovely riverside town of Pinhão. A stunning view from our balcony.

A cruise down the Douro River in a traditional river boat – topped off with a port wine tasting.
D’Origem olive oil factory tour in the mountains above Pinhão.
Perfect way to end our last night in the Douro Valley.

Amarante, Portugal
is a romantic town whose reflection on the water of the beautiful San Gonzalo bridge drew us in. A walk through the church, squares and terraces of the town preceded a delicious Portuguese lunch of freshly caught, grilled fish.

Reflection of the Ponte de São Gonçalo on the Rio Tâmega.

One of the freshest and most delicious lunches of our trip at Restaurante Estoril in Amarante.

Porto, Portugal
is a charming city that straddles the River Douro with colorful traditional fishing boats constantly on the move. Its cobblestoned streets are lined with squares of orange-roofed buildings, beautiful monuments and landmarks.

Vila Nova de Gaia across the river from Porto is the port wine capital of the world.
Many of the multi-colored houses of the Ribeira district in Porto were constructed during the 15th century.
Our first glimpse of the traditional Portuguese azulejos – ceramic tiles found in churches, palaces and public spaces. The São Bento Train Station, one of the most beautifully decorated stations in Europe, has 20,000 blue and white tiles.
Ingreja de Santa Clara do Porto in the Se district.

Port wine tasting and tour included visits to three of the major wine producers’ cellars.
The golden color of the beautifully aged tawny port.
Hilltop view of Porto from the Miradouro Serra do Pilar.

Porto and the River Douro captured at sunset from the Jardim du Morro viewpoint.

Viana do Castelo, Portugal
is a city situated in a picturesque setting, nestled in between the Rio Lima and the steep Santa Luzia hills and the rugged Atlantic Ocean coastline.

A panoramic view of Viana do Castelo and the Atlantic Ocean.
An historic tram led us up into the hills from town.
The magnificent Santuário de Santa Luzia towers above Viana do Castelo.

Aveiro, Portugal
is a city on the west coast built along a natural lagoon called the Ria de Aveiro. Colorful moliceiro canal boats navigate through the middle of the Venice-like historic town.

Couldn’t miss a boat ride!
Look what we found on the drive down the coast between Porto and Lisbon!

Nazaré, Portugal
is one of the most popular seaside resorts on the central western coast of Portugal, known as the Silver Coast. Nazaré is best known for its high breaking waves that form due to a nearby massive underwater canyon. Numerous surfing records have been set here. The most recent unvalidated world record was set in 2018  when a Portuguese surfed an 115 foot wave, trough to crest!

Sadly, no massive waves breaking on the hot, cloudless, windless day we visited. But, the beach was impressive.
The rocky coastline leading to the town of Nazaré.
Glenn was thrilled with his Portuguese hanging kebab.

Lisbon, Portugal
is the perfect combination of fascinating history, trendy culinary scene, vibrant night life, stunning vistas and charming neighborhoods, begging to be explored. We walked our way through Lisbon and enjoyed all of this and more!

Special dinner at the Palacio Chiado – an 18th century mansion turned restaurant.
The view from our apartment down the pedestrian street of Rua da Vitoria  in the busy Baxia-Chaido district.
The famed Arco da Rua Augusta in the city center which was built to commemorate the city’s reconstruction after the great earthquake of 1755.
View of the city and the Tagus River from the top of one of Lisbon’s many hills. Miradouros (viewpoints) are one of the best features of Lisbon.
View of Lisbon from the São Pedro de Alcãntara Miradouro.
São Jorge Castle which towers on a hill overlooking Lisbon.
Courtyard of Ingreja de Santo Antonio de Lisboa in Alfama, one of Lisbon’s oldest neighborhoods.
Praça do Rossio with its famed statue and wavy mosaic tiles.
Wandering through the beautiful grounds of Sao Jorge Castle.
Miradouro Das Portas do Sol
Originally a 17th century church that was turned into a monument, the National Pantheon of Lisbon.
The hilly, wandering streets of Alfama.
I was fascinated by the tiles on the homes in Lisbon. They are called Azulejo tiles, dating back to the Moors who brought them in the 13th century.
The word, azulejo, means “small, polished stone” in Arabic. The tiles were used to cover up large blank walls that were common during the Gothic period.
Originally the tiles were blue and white, but, soon expanded into many different colors and ornate designs.
The Ascensor da Glória is a funicular railway line that also colorfully displays local street art.
The famous pastéis de nata is an iconic Portuguese custard tart, usually served warm w a dusting of cinnamon or sugar. They really do taste as delicious as they look and are available literally EVERYWHERE in Lisbon for about 1 euro each. There is a big debate about which shop serves the best pastry.
After sampling many, many, many pastéis de nata all over Lisbon, our FAVS are the warm and creamy ones from Manteigaria!
Our final view of the city from the rooftop deck near the Elevador de Santa Justa.

Belém, Portugal
was the original location of Lisbon’s shipyards and docks – so, of course, we had to spend the day there. Today it displays the rich seafaring heritage with museums, monuments, and extravagant buildings.

The Mosteiro dos Jeronimos is a great example of the Manueline style of architecture.
The interior of the Igreja Santa Maria de Belém is magnificent.
The sheer scale of the extravagant buildings is amazing.
The Torre de Belém is Lisbon’s most famous and photographed monument.
We are always happier by the sea.
We had to try one more pastéis de nata – at the Fábrica Pastéis de Belém, the original home of the tart since 1837.

Sintra, Portugal
is a delightful town just a day trip from Lisbon. The highlight of Sintra is the Palácio Nacional da Pena – one of Europe’s finest palaces with a brightly-colored exterior and an interior restored to its 1910 appearance.

Game of Thrones’ fans theorize that the Iron Gate and many other features of the Pena Palace were an inspiration for the show.

Lunch in the historic centre of Sintra.

Cabo da Roca, Portugal
is the westernmost point of mainland Europe, whose coordinates are well-known by those sailing along the coast of Portugal.

Chilly, grey and windy when we visited, the cape at 150 meters above the sea felt like the end of the earth.

Cascais, Portugal
is a delightful Portuguese fishing town and is located next to the some of the finest beaches in Portugal. Historically, Cascais was the summer retreat of Portuguese nobility, and today Europeans and Portuguese alike flock to this charming town for their holiday.

Portuguese fishing boats moored next to the beautiful Cascais beach.

Sagres, Portugal
is the extreme western tip of the Algarve coast of Portugal. The Algarve Coast contains more than 150 beaches and stretches 200 km along the entire southern coast of Portugal. The beaches in the Algarve range from small rocky beaches surrounded by towering cliffs in the west to long, wide sandy beaches in the east. With its temperate climate and wide range of nature, beaches and partying, the Algarve is a premier summer destination for many Europeans.

Sagres with its dramatic landscape of seas and immense carved cliffs.

Tavira, Portugal
is one of the most charming towns in the Algarve. Located on the far eastern end, Tavira reminded us of a quaint, white-washed Greek village.

Pousada Convento de Tavira, a former convent, was our home for a few days.
Enchanting views of Tavira from our room.

A quick ferry trip from the center of town took us to the beautiful, wide sandy beaches of the Ilha de Tavira. Though the water in the middle of July was still too cold for us!

Dinner by the Gilão River that slowly flows through Tavira.

Tavira in the Algarve was our last stop before heading back to Gibraltar to return to Mira and head off for our next sailing destination – the Balearic Islands – Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera!

Sao Miguel, Jewel of the Azores, June 2019

Again, we say – the Azores are our favorite place we’ve sailed to – EVER!!

Sao Miguel is the largest island in the Azores, and if you could only visit one of these magnificent 9 islands, we would be hard-pressed, but Sao Miguel is the one to choose. Sao Miguel is the ultimate nature lover’s paradise brimming with velvety green fields, sparkling volcanic lakes and craggy volcanoes. Nature beckons from all sides – begging to be explored, swam and hiked, and it has an international airport. Ponta Delgada, the largest and capital city of the Azores, was the perfect spot to keep Mira and launch more than 7 days of island exploration.

Mira’s home in the Marina Ponta Delgada.
Ponta Delgada, historic capitol city, that is a study in black and white.
View of the city from the top of the bell tower.
Church of San Sebastian in downtown Ponta Delgada.

Lagoa das Sete Cidades is the iconic picture everyone sees when they google the Azores. The scene is even more beautiful in person, if you can possibly imagine. Two amazing panoramas capture the entire vista of the 12 km crater of Sete Cidade. Vista do Rei (the King’s view) is the historic view from one end of the twin lake. But, our favorite sight is the Miradouro da Boca do Inferno with a 360 degree view encompassing the twin lake, much of the crater and two other lakes, Rasa and Santiago.

The twin lake with one blue and one green side was born from rainwater that filled its almost perfectly round crater, left behind from a collapsed volcano. But, I prefer the romantic version of the origin of the lake. The tragic love story goes like this. Long ago, a Princess and a shepherd fell madly in love. The Princess had been betrothed to another, and her father, the King, refused to allow them to see each other. At their last heartbreaking meeting, their flood of tears filled the lake at Sete Cidades – a blue side from the tears of the blue-eyed Princess and a green side from the tears of the green-eyed Shepherd. So Sweet!!

Miradouro means viewpoint in Portuguese. All over the island, there are signs that point to the “Miradouro”.  Like Pavlov’s dogs, we learned quickly. Upon spying a “Miradouro” sign, we would careen wildly off the winding roads and were continually rewarded with astounding sights.

Why are there so many miradouros? Thousands of years ago, the towering volcanic peaks of Sao Miguel became dormant, collapsed and created yawning craters all over the island. Abundant rainfall filled the craters or “caldeiros” with water, forming magnificent lakes. The ridge lines surrounding the caldeiros, yielded breath-taking viewpoints. Santa Iria, Pico do Barossa, Escalvado, and Lagoa do Fogo, just to name a few of the captivating vistas.

Sao Miguel is like Jurassic Park! The stunning backdrop of Sao Miguel literally dripped bands of color. Lush, green, oversized ferns and trees. Pools and cascading waterfalls in the Caldeira Velha were striped with bright orange minerals. Flowers in the Terra Nostra Garden were brilliant in every color of the rainbow, fed by the volcanic soil. Smooth green glass shimmered in the Lagoa Congro. Hydrangeas as big as my head and dense shrubs taller than Mira. Left us speechless!

Lagoa das Furnas 

Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeiroes is a park that stretches along the Ribeira dos Caldeiroes on the slopes of the beautiful mountain range, Serra da Tronqueira. The forestry flourishes with large-sized tree ferns, cedars and hydrangeas in abundance. Abandoned stone water mills dating from the 16th century perch on the edge of the river. Rambunctious waterfalls tumble and cascade over the rocks and boulders. A picturesque spot to launch the drone!

There is 1 Cow for every person on Sao Miguel. Cows and bulls are a big deal in the Azores. There are statues and monuments everywhere. Beef and milk products are used locally and for export. Seafood, unique fruits and vegetables, wine, and tea are some of the other natural resources that the Azores are blessed to have.

 I am fascinated by the black and white tile mosaic streets and sidewalks all over the Azores. Turns out that the delicately designed walks are called “Calcada Portuguesa” and can be found throughout Portugal. Talented, and very patient, craftsmen chisel black volcanic basalt and white limestone into tiny flat squares and painstakingly place them on a gravel bedding to form beautiful designs. The Azores have no shortage of volcanic rock – so their patterns seem to be mostly black. And, I loved that every street in Sao Miguel seemed to have its own unique pattern!

NEXT BLOG – OUR DRIVING TOUR OF PORTUGAL

Terceira, Azores, June 2019

Finally, we have an answer!! What is the ONE favorite place we’ve sailed to?? The Azores. Hands down – no contest. If you ever have a chance to visit this spectacular group of islands, GO!!

The Azores is an archipelago composed of nine volcanic islands that sits 2/3rds of the way across the north Atlantic Ocean between Atlanta, GA, and Europe.  The islands are 850 miles west of Portugal and have been part of Portugal since the 14th century.

The Azores were born quite dramatically hundreds of thousands of years ago when three tectonic plates crossed paths deep within the Atlantic Ocean and jerked and twisted at their junction. The earth’s core thrust mountainous, rocky volcanoes up through the surface, eventually exploding, spewing ash and lava, forming the spectacularly rocky and fertile Azores.

Within days of our arrival in the Azores, we learned about their unusual climate. Due to their location in the middle of a volatile Atlantic Ocean environment, the weather is difficult to predict and changes dramatically – sometimes hour to hour.  Locals are fond of saying that they often experience all 4 seasons in one day in the Azores. It can be cloudy and chilly in the morning and sunny, breezy and warm by lunch and raining by dinner time!

After returning to Sao Miguel from our visit back to the States, we sailed overnight to Terceira and arrived at the port town of Angra do Heroismo, an UNESCO World Heritage site. The marina at the base of this fascinating, preserved old city would be our home for the next days.

Quaint, cobblestoned streets lined with mosaic sidewalks.

A million shades of green! – that’s what our guide, Tanja, explained to us – and, she was SO right. Everywhere we turned – on top of the highest volcanoes and at the bottom of  the lowest craters – all carpeted in lush, vibrant shades of green.

Bulls and cows are a big deal here in the Azores, and on Terceira you must see the running of the bulls – we were told. So, one evening, we dutifully headed off to the tiny fishing village of Sao Mateus. What we discovered was a very festive event where men, women and children line the streets behind protective barriers and pile onto the steps of the town cathedral. Food trucks, jam-packed with local food and drink, crowd the streets. We eagerly joined the throngs – eating and drinking and waiting.  Glenn even tried percebes which is a local delicacy – goose barnacles.
Eventually, a huge black bull, followed by five festively dressed men clinging to his very long leash, galloped down the street in front of us. What ensued was actually not a “running” of the bull — but a “teasing” of the bull. The Tournedos a Corda would alternately pull on the tether to direct the bull and run very fast when the bull advanced. Other “brave” spectators would venture down to street level to tease the bull and usually ended up frantically climbing to the top of the fence. It was quite an event – one we will never forget. But, Terceira has nothing on Pamplona!

A few of the “brave” men teasing the poor bull.
The bull literally at the end of his rope.
Yes, we were enjoying the party more than the bull teasing.

Hiking along the rocky cliffs with views of the sparkly blue waters of the north central part of the island was one of our favorite days on Terceira. The Baias de Agualva trail follows along the jagged coast and alternately curves out onto peninsulas like the picturesque Ponta do Misterio and runs back down the rough hillsides.

Algar do Carvão is one of the few volcanoes in the world where people can visit, and the only volcano in the world where you can go inside the chimney and chambers. A rare phenomenon occurred thousands of years ago that left the volcano extinct and empty and allows visitors inside without getting burned alive. We literally gasped upon descending into the volcano. Drippy, stone steps circle down into the volcano ending in a clear rainwater pool and stalactites and stalagmites protruding from cavern walls.

Furnas do Enxofre are a collection of fumaroles which are geothermal cracks in the earth where plumes of smelly gas escape. For us, it was just another beautiful example of Mother Nature’s handiwork on Terceira.

Travel for us would not be complete without local food tasting. Terceira was no exception. We received recommendations for several “don’t miss” dishes. Some we enjoyed – others we were just happy for the experience!

Caldeirada de Peixe – fish and potato stew. Delicious except for the conger eel head.
Alcatra – beef stewed all day in a clay pot accented with wine, onions, bacon, garlic and bay leaves. Delicious – like pot roast.
Lapas, an Azorean ocean delicacy, are grilled in the shell with butter, garlic and wine, and were high on our list to try in Terceira. They were indeed delicious – especially with bread dipped in the delectable sauce. Looking similar to clams, we were definitely not happy to learn that they are actually sea snails.
Much easier to enjoy were the Bolos D’Amelia, a delicious dense molasses pastry spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg.

The Azores are engulfed by the hammering, frothy surf of the Atlantic Ocean. But, because of their volcanic origin, long, sandy beaches cannot be found. In fact, locals and visitors alike have learned to adapt. We were quite surprised to see sunbathers lounging lazily on their towels spread on concrete. Different, but it works – especially when their view is focused on the natural ocean pools carved out by the pounding of the Atlantic on their rocky coastline.

NEXT BLOG — THE ISLAND OF SAO MIGUEL – THE HIGHLIGHT OF THE AZORES!!

Atlantic Crossing – Leg 3 Azores to Portugal and Gibraltar

Rested and excited after spending some weeks exploring the Azores, we began focusing our energy on completing the final leg of our Atlantic crossing to Europe.

Below is the passage summary and Pam’s diary of Leg 3 – Azores to Portugal to Gibraltar

  • Depart Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel, Azores June 18, 2019
  • Arrive Lagos, Portugal June 24, 2019 
  • Depart Lagos, Portugal June 25, 2029
  • Arrive Gibraltar June 27, 2019
  • Total distance  1041 nm (861 nm to Lagos plus 180 nm to Gibraltar)
  • Average speed 6.4 kn
  • Max speed 10.1 kn
  • Max wind speed 22 kn

18 June Tues – Glenn and I had spent 15 wonderful days exploring these amazing islands (Azores posts coming) and it was time to prepare for the completion of our crossing to Europe. Several days earlier, Glenn awoke early to meet our friend Jim at the Ponta Delgada Airport.  He had flown in from Atlanta to join us for the passage to Lagos.  Waiting for a good weather window, had given me a few day to provision and prepare meals for the trip.  We also wanted to treat Jim to some of the highlights of Sao Miguel including a final dinner at A Tasca.

We cast off the dock lines at 4:45pm on the 18th and said good bye (for now) to the Azores. The skies were overcast and light rain fell and the forecast called for light winds for most of the passage.  Mira was loaded with fuel and could motor the entire way if necessary. Motored at 2200 rpm along southeast coast of Sao Miguel.

19 June Wed – Beautiful clear blue skies under high pressure ridge. Sunny. Cool. Dolphins visited us while we cruised in flat calm water over 16,500 feet deep.

And again… still averaging less than 6 knots one engine at a time. Current from the west helping boost our speed a bit. Pretty sunset. Beautiful orange Moon rising every night around 10:30pm. Made chicken a la king for dinner.

20 June Thur – Quiet day. No wind. Motoring. Sunny but not too hot. I sat on front of boat for awhile. Worked on blog posts from Azores and Portugal travel plans. Beef stroganoff for dinner. Wind picked up some in night. Only to 10 knots but bumpy.

21 June Fri – This morning wind continued to build and came close to 15kn by afternoon. Halfway day…Made brownies! Ran generator. Made water. Showers for all!. Changed from due east course to northeast towards Lagos. Making 7-8 knots headway. Should arrive Monday sometime. Wind averaged 18ish through the night. I started to feel queasy but heated up my boat lasagna for the guys.

22 June Sat – Winds averaging closer to 19kn. Seas calmer. Mix of sun and lots of clouds. I took a dose of stugeron to stave off seasickness for the first time in my life!  Nice sailing but seas are choppy. Still on target for Monday morning arrival. Made a sausage broccoli rice parmigiana cheese dish for dinner and afterwards we continued our Rummikub tournament. Got very cloudy and hazy around dinner. Winds died during night. Motor on at midnight. Quiet night. We spent most night watches watching shows or movies on the iPad.

23 June Sun – Still cloudy and a little rain. Winds only 5-6 knots. Seas still choppy. Boats beginning to appear. 1/2 mile miss of 900 ft tanker on my watch…. Busy busy. Ran generator.  Made banana bread and washed hair! Spa day for Pam. Winds still light. Sun peeking through. Both engines on – trying to make Lagos tomorrow morning. Glenn and I continued our dominoes tournament while Jim was heads down reading his textbook for a finance class he’s teaching. Glenn worked on watermaker projects.

Pizza & salad for dinner. More Rummikub variations. Little wind tonight. Cloudy and cool. Both engines still on. Main sail set tonight. Quiet night. Lots of dodging of huge ships in the traffic separation zones as we approached Sagres, Portugal.

24 June Mon – Mira’s first glimpse of mainland Europe – sighted Portugal around 8:15 am! And, also exciting, cell coverage by 730 am!! Beautiful cliff and beach view of Ponta da Piedade on our sail into Lagos. Arrived Marina Lagos and tied up to our berth at noon.

Had lunch in the marina at Quay Bar & Bistro. Jim took 3 pm train to Lisbon for flight home tomorrow. Naps then explored the town. Lagos is a great vacation beach town. Sunset drinks on rooftop of Lagos Avenida Hotel. Then more exploration. Dinner at Don Sebastiao in Old Town. Great recommendation by our son and his wife. Best swordfish ever!!

25 June Tues – Up early. Beautiful morning.  Wandered the streets of Lagos. Igresa de San Antonio, Pasteleria Gomba, Central Padareria, and Mercado Municipal. Bought awesome swordfish steaks.

Welcomed our returning crew, Diego, back on Mira at 11am. He would join us for the final passage to Gibraltar. Went to grocery. Dinner at Pizzaria in town. Left fuel dock by 815 pm. Light winds. Motoring on my watch. Lots of fishing boats milling around. No wind all night.

26 June Wed – My 6 am watch same. Still no wind. Fog rolled in for few hours in middle of day. Quiet night through the Straits. Tons of cargo and tanker ships but they stayed in their traffic lanes.

27 June Thurs – We stayed close to shore and rode the current and tide into Europe!  Arrived in dark and zigzagged through the cargo ships at anchor in the Bay of Algeciras and into the Queensway Quay Marina reception dock at 415 am in the fog!  Harbormaster knocked on hull at 8 am. Need to move to our berth soon. Moved to our convenient berth – close to restaurants!

Cleaned boat and galley. I walked through city to tourist office and supermarket. Dinner at The Landings on water.

28 June Fri – Walked to Main Street. Taxi tour to the Pillars of Hercules view of Morocco and Algeciras then St Michaels Cave, monkeys and then to Great Siege Tunnels for view over Spain and airport. Then walk through Main Street and Gibraltar museum then lunch at The Jury cafe and wine bar. Commonwealth Park.

Back to boat. Packing etc. After a final steak dinner aboard Mira, we said goodbye (for now) to Diego early the next morning as he began his long trip home to Argentina.  Diego was a great crew and had become a good friend. Glenn and I were finally in Europe and excited to hit the road exploring Portugal by car for a few weeks.

Pam 🙂

 

Mira takes a break in the Azores

In case you missed the previous post, my crew and I arrived into Horta, Faial, Azores, on May 15th after 14 days at sea on our sail eastward across the North Atlantic from Bermuda.

After a one day stop in Horta to celebrate the crossing, we departed at 11:00 for the 150 mile sail to the largest island in the Azores, Sao Miguel, home to the only international airport at Ponta Delgada. Winds were 20kn on the beam as we left Faial on the horizon.

The sail to Ponta Delgada was 24 hours overnight with gradually lightening winds. I had agreed to take one of the crew from sv Salana with us to Ponta Delgada as he and my crew all had flights to catch. Saul rewarded our generosity with some great drone footage of Mira as we sailed past the coast of Sao Miguel.

Arriving at noon the next day (May 17th) under light winds, we tied up at Marina Ponta Delgada and worked on cleaning and closing up Mira before the crew’s flights and my two week trip home.

Diego checking the rig.
Mira happy in her new temporary home at the Marina Ponta Delgada.

After a final dinner out at a traditional Azorean restaurant, I said farewell to Diego, Javier and Saul.  Mira had sailed 2,149 miles since departing Tortola in the BVIs on April 21st, and she (and I) needed a rest. Two days later (May 19th), I left Mira securely moored in the marina and caught my flight back to Atlanta.

I would be soon returning with Pam to sail and explore the Azores before we completed Leg 3 of our Atlantic crossing to mainland Europe. Look for our posts on our favorite Azores islands.

Glenn

Atlantic Crossing – Leg 2 Bermuda to Azores

After clearing the crew through customs & immigration at St Georges, Bermuda, on April 27th, 2019, Mira secured a berth alongside the quay opposite the customs office. It was a convenient location for our shore side excursions though lacking any water or electric service and a bit too accessible to the tourists. We opted to stay put for our short stay.

Javier (our third crew member) arrived that same evening from Argentina,

and we all got busy the next morning going about the typical crew tasks following and preceding a long passage:

  • clean the boat & ourselves
  • make one repair (following the manufacturer’s instructions via satellite phone, we were able to quickly fix the troubling leak on the port shaft seal)
  • laundry & haircut
  • refill the diesel tanks and jerry cans of extra diesel
  • provision (grocery shopping) for the next leg
  • plan the route
  • and, wait for a good weather window to leave Bermuda

The last task allowed some down time for exploring St Georges and some of its nautical traditions (including dark & stormy drinks & fish and chips).

Like most of Bermuda, St Georges is beautiful and full of history.

After waiting several days for winds to return, we finally departed St Georges harbor on May 1st. We knew from the forecast that the first few days would have very light winds, but we were eager to get going. Also, we had taken on plenty of fuel so we could motor through the doldrums. In fact, by the time we reached the Azores, we had used much less fuel on this passage than on the prior much shorter passage from Tortola.

The rhumb line is the nautical term for the compass heading to sail directly to a destination. Where wind and weather are not a factor, it is usually the preferred route. Of course, wind and weather are always the factor.

How we plan for weather: Our primary system for weather forecasts and route planning is called PredictWind which we run on our onboard Macs and ipad. It’s one of many apps available, but we like it the best. As I mentioned in the prior Leg 1 post, we also use a professional weather routing service (www.mwxc.com) for our longer passages. Their suggested route is based on the experience of professional meteorologists and their interpretation of global weather models – which are shockingly accurate for a 3 to 5 day forecast. So, for a passage of 10-15 days we’d need to receive in-route updates from both sources. Enter satellite communications and IridiumGO! This device acts like an onboard wifi hotspot, only much slower (think dial-up days…).

IridiumGO! is our primary system for all our offshore communications. We rely on it to call, text, and email (without pictures or videos) with family and friends and receive weather forecast updates from PredictWind and MWXC.

On this passage, we would be sailing the north Atlantic during the late spring when the winter pattern of eastward moving low pressure systems (i.e. storms) would still be a threat along the northeastward rhumb line. So, rather than sailing that direct line, we planned to leave Bermuda heading northeast then turn to the southeast for most of the passage – followed by a final steep northeastward jog to the Azores. This would result in a longer but safer passage. In fact, as we later learned, other boats that took the more direct route to the Azores experienced much rougher conditions and damage to their boats. We planned to depart Bermuda on May 1st and make landfall 12 days later at the traditional sailor’s sanctuary harbor of Horta on the island of Faial.

Below is a summary and my diary of Leg 2 – Bermuda to the Azores

  • Depart St Georges, Bermuda May 1, 2019 13:00pm
  • Arrive Horta, Faial, Azores May 15, 2019 10:00am
  • Total distance 1,998 nautical miles
  • Total time 336 hours (14.0 days)
  • Average speed 6.0kn
  • Max speed 18.6kn
  • Max wind speed 50kn!

 Glenn

1 May Wednesday
Departed St George’s, Bermuda today at 13:00. Heading 080 (northeast).

Clear skies, winds from 320 at 4-5kn. Seas very calm.

Friends on SV Flying Loon left at 15:00. Talked by VHF. Made water to fill both tanks. We we’re nearly empty as there was no water available on the quay. Pam’s chicken pasta for dinner. Crew settling in. Motoring with mainsail but still very light winds

2 May Thursday
Continued heading 084 to Chris Parker’s (MWXC) suggested waypoints. Benign front passing north to south in the morning. Winds still light. Shifted with the front to heading 069. Still Motoring…
Saw a large pod of dolphins off our stern. They seemed occupied chasing dinner and didn’t visit us. 17:00 Diego caught a nice tuna and we grilled some tonight for dinner.

3 May Friday
Again light winds. Motoring all night with screecher sail set at 04:00. A small front blew through with light rain for 30 min then clear skies. At 9:00 we furled the screecher and set the asymmetric spinnaker.

Winds still light 8-10kn but finally no motor. Gentle rolling seas. Everyday we see large blooms of sargassum (seaweed) floating and for the past 2 days we see jelly fish with clear bubble heads floating on the surface (thought they were empty water bottles or plastic bags). Asym and full main flying with 12k and apparent wind angle 133.

4 May Saturday
Light wind sailing day with asym. Winds from northwest finally shifted to Southwest before midnight but very light so we are motoring. Made water and charged batteries with both engines. Diego, age 48, is doing great. This is his third trans-Atlantic sailing trip. He has a quiet competence and is a very knowledgeable sailor and mechanic with a great sense of humor. He is also a sailing instructor in Argentina. As expected, I am learning from him every day. Fortunately for the crew he also enjoys cooking!

Javier, age 63, is one of his students. He manages his family’s farm business in Argentina. He’s enthusiastic and a great help on the boat.

Both speak good English and I’m improving my Spanish with their patience every day. I’m feeling fortunate to have a great crew.

5 May Sunday
Motor sailing with main and screecher. At Chris Parker’s suggestion we altered our course to the southeast to stay on the southern edge of an approaching front expected Wednesday and a gale (low pressure system) coming on Saturday. Hope to resume northeast route to Azores after sat/sun. Received email from sv Flying Loon. They had a steering failure during the night and were unable to repair the frayed cable. They have turned back to Bermuda with their emergency manual tiller. Later in the afternoon received email from other boat that left at the same time as us, sv Salana. They are sailing to Azores but on a path much further north. They report losing their propeller so have no way to use their engine. They are continuing to sail towards the Azores but will need to be towed into the harbor at Horta. Mira had a great sailing day with wind astern and making 6.5 avg SOG and 150 miles in 24 hrs. Trouble always arrives in three’s so I’m wondering what equipment failure we will face… Oh yeah. Our SSB radio makes the aft electric winch turn when we are transmitting..! Also, it sets off an alarm on the Victron battery inverter/charger too. I turned off the power to the radios and will keep off until we can diagnose the problem. Finished dominoes tournament today. Diego kicked our butts!

6 May Monday
Our turn… During the night we had difficulty maintaining battery charge so I turned on the generator at 1:30am this Morning. Battery was at 83 before and at 7:00 was only 89%. This is not normal. At 12:50 we passed tanker ship mv Scot Leipzig 1m to stbd.

Spent the day trying to diagnose the inverter/charger. It’s just not coming on. No way to charge the batteries with the generator. No way to make water since our watermaker right now is running off the inverter. Contacted a marine electrician in Annapolis for help. Trying to assist via SMS text but so far not good. May need to rig a wire to bypass the inverter… frustrating!

7 May Tuesday
Spent all morning trying to rig a bypass circuit to power the watermaker pumps directly from the generator. Lots of time spent tracing wires. I decided to call the Victron tech support office and got Justin who was very helpful in walking me through a reset of the inverter. Apparently when you switch it off from its on/ off switch vs. the color panel, it gets confused and needs a reset. Simple fix and problem solved. User error..? Nevertheless, Diego and I celebrated with a beer at lunch! Winds picked up this evening as expected ahead of cold front. 20-25 knots of wind and we’re doing 8kn. Talked by VHF with French boat sv Gheo. He’s a solo sailor who was just to the north of Mira enroute from Guadeloupe towards the Azores.

8 May Wednesday

Rough night with winds and seas up on the starboard quarter. 25-30kn and sailing 8-10kn with M2R (main w/ 2 reefs) and G2R (Genoa w/ 2 reefs). At 11:30 local time we level off SE course and now heading east. Crossed 1,000 nautical mile mark!

9 May Thursday

Beautiful sailing today. We finally made the turn back to NE this evening. Horta is now 800 miles away. Expecting stiffer winds and higher seas but mostly will be on our stern until we arrive. Autopilot has been working non stop since Bermuda and seems to drain our batteries faster than in the Caribbean. Each night we are having to run genset or motor to top off batteries. Still plenty of fuel on board so running genset or engine not an issue.

10 May Friday
Light rain last night. This morning the gale/ front finally hit.

Winds and huge seas from the stern – 30kn gusting to 45-50kn. Sailing with no main and small scrap of Genoa. 6-9kn average speed but we saw 18.6kn while surfing large waves. Autopilot working hard against the waves. We were all stunned by strength and size of the wind and waves. Largest by far for Mira. Front passed in about 6 hours by 3pm and winds gradually veered from SW to NW during the night

11 May Saturday
We have traveled 1,400 miles since Bermuda. Less than 600 remaining to Horta.

Morning clear skies with bright sun on large waves from the west. Winds still rocking at 25-30 knots on port quarter making SOG of 7-9 but very rolly. Main and Genoa both have 3 reefs. Mira is well balanced until a bigger wave knocks her sideways, then autopilot recovers and we continue. It’s a continuous roller coaster ride as Mira rises and falls 50′ as the big rollers pass under her hull. Relentless! Occasionally, the sea reminds us who’s in charge by engulfing Mira with a wave from the side. We’ve had the cockpit enclosure down for the past 2 days – so we stay dry. Air and ocean temps have dropped since the front. Today water is 66F; when we left Tortola it was 79F.

Diego: he’s exceptionally good at handling the boat. He knows the Antares boats intimately. He takes his time to think through proper sail set and trim. I let him take the lead on this after the two of us did the leg from BVI to Bermuda. Keeps his cool in stressful situations.

Brutal waves. All day today hitting us from port quarter. Seas definitely still up from yesterday’s front.

Mira taking a pounding. sails reefed down completely.
mainsail with 3 reefs and genoa with 3 reefs. Winds 30kn TWA 125 SOG at 9kn

12 May Sunday
Cold last night. Waves reducing in size, but still large. Longer period waves. Winds down and from 260 and motoring. Nice broad reach when we finally get wind. Feels like the home stretch. Sea temp 66F

13 May Monday
Surfing down big waves from the stern in overcast skies this morning. SW Winds 22-30 knots, and we do up to 14kn down the waves. Main and Genoa 2x reef and wing on wing. Boat is very stable. 280 miles to Horta. Winds died at 1600 as front passed. Motoring since 1800 in choppy seas. 202 miles to Horta. Sea temp 63F.

14 May Tuesday
7:00. 150 miles to Horta. Motored all night in heavy swells from port quarter. Winds just 12-15 knots. Morning overcast skies. Sea birds fishing near us. Breakfast with crew this morning followed by a surprise visit by a large pod of common dolphins – grey with white belly.

Swam and played in our wake for 1 hr. Also lots of birds..must have been attracted by a large school of fish. 100 miles out. All in good spirits. Playing dominoes. Sunny afternoon still motoring, running genset, watermaker, washing clothes for Diego and Javier.

Winds from SW sailing at 7 kn on my watch

15 May Wednesday

Land ho! Woke up to another overcast day but within 10miles of Faial. Hidden in fog. We contacted Marina Horta by radio and were assigned a berth in the marina.

Landfall at 10:00am local time. Tied up Mira, cleared customs, and celebrated our successful passage!

Europe bound! – Leg 1 Tortola to Bermuda

Many sailors dream of crossing oceans on their own boat. I am one of them! When we bought Mira it was for, among other reasons (see Why Antares?), its suitability for long ocean passages…that is, if someday we wanted to venture out. That day came in April 2019.

We’d been aboard Mira for a year and a half and had enjoyed two wonderful seasons cruising the Caribbean chain. This was preceded by two decades of bareboat chartering throughout the islands. It was time for something new. As seasoned travelers, Pam and I concluded our next adventure would be to return to Europe by sailing Mira across the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. The journey from Tortola in the BVIs to Lagos on the south coast of Portugal would be approximately 24 days, 3,500 nautical miles.

This was a big decision for us. Was the crew ready? Was the boat ready? Long offshore passages were not new for us, but this would be our longest and most challenging. Previously, our first passage aboard Mira was 10 days/ 1,650 nm from Fortaleza, Brazil to Grenada as we moved the boat from its factory in Argentina to the Caribbean. Participating in last years ARC Caribbean 1500 rally (from Portsmouth, Virginia to Antigua; 12 days, 1,745 nm) really helped us “up our game”, and put Mira and crew through her first really tough passage. While still building “miles under the keel”, my recipe for our successful passages has always included two important ingredients: 1) seek advice from a professional weather router, and 2) have at least one crew member aboard with more ocean sailing experience than myself.

From our time in Argentina we knew several accomplished ocean sailors, and I was excited when Diego accepted my invitation to join as crew for the three legs. I would learn much from him, and he would also bring along Javier, another Argentine sailor. We also engaged the services of Chris Parker’s Marine Weather Center for weather routing advice. Chris’ sage weather wisdom and conservative approach has served us well in the past.

So the Atlantic crossing would be divided into three separate legs:

  • Leg 1 – Tortola to Bermuda (5-6 days, 850 miles)
  • Leg 2 – Bermuda to the Azores (11-13 days, 1,800 miles)
  • Leg 3 – Azores to Portugal (6-7 days, 1,000 miles)

Pam opted out of the first two legs, but was a huge help in preparing the boat, provisioning, and pre-cooking dinners for the passage. She would fly home for some girl time and join me in the Azores for the final leg to Portugal.

Below is a summary and my daily diary of Leg 1 – Tortola to Bermuda

  • Depart Nanny Cay, Tortola April 21, 2019 12:30pm
  • Arrive St. Georges, Bermuda April 27, 2019 12:00pm
  • Total distance 843 nautical miles
  • Total time 142 hours (5.9 days)
  • Average speed 6.0kn
  • Max speed 12.3kn
  • Max wind speed

Glenn

21 Apr Sunday – Departure

Left Nanny Cay at 12:30pm and headed west around the southern side of Tortola and then north around the west end of Jost Van Dyke.
Nice 15-20kn ENE winds as we set main sail and genoa
Agreed with Diego on 3hr watches and dinner daily at 5pm
Seas were 2-3m from the East but pretty choppy which made for lots of roll
First night had Pam’s pasta Alfredo and salad
Not a very restful first night due to sea state

22 Apr Monday – Hot.

Continued same sailing conditions in the morning. Winds eased in the afternoon. Started starboard engine @ 2200 rpm.

23 Apr Tuesday
Temperature coming down
No winds. Motoring both engines at 7kn. Caught a nice 5ft wahoo on pink lure and filleted. Enjoyed it on the grill for dinner. Froze the rest. Lots of fish left for meals.

24 Apr Wednesday
Passed large tanker heading south in the night. Closest point was 2 miles.
Still motoring both engines at about 7kn in very clear skies, gentle rolling seas, deep blue ocean
Saw first grey dolphins of the trip
Beautiful, low humidity day. Longing for return of sailing

ETA likely Saturday morning
Running both engines at 2200 rpm doing 7.3kn. Will need to use some fuel reserves at this rate.

25 Apr Thursday
Calm night. Glassy calm seas. Moon reflection is beautiful. Morning still very calm. 1-2kn from west. Rate of speed will have us at St George’s at midnight Friday so we reduced speed to 5kn with one engine at 2200 rpm. Added 10 gal of jerrycan fuel to each tank. Noticed continuous drip/leak in port side stuffing gland under motor. Will need to fix this in Bermuda.

26 Apr Friday
More motoring, alternating engines for 12hrs each. Caught up to becalmed sv Salana who left 1 day before us from Nanny Cay. Crossed shipping lanes with large cargo and tankers heading to Europe. Contacted the manufacturer about port side drip from stuffing gland. Offered steps to fix leak which we’ll try in Bermuda. Winds supposed to finally arrive this evening, from the south and build to 20kn by the time we arrive Sat mid morning. Leftovers for dinner. Sea temp now dropped to 72 from 79 in BVIs.

27 Apr Saturday
Winds finally arrived around 2am and built to the expected 20kn from the south. Night skies under sail were special! Half moon, bright stars, shooting stars, and gentle rolling motion. Just amazing. 7am watch. Land ho! About 20miles from Bermuda. Winds same, waves from behind building. Sailing under full Genoa. Arrived at customs dock at 12:00 Bermuda time.