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!!

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

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.

British Virgin Islands – like coming home

In April, we crossed the Anegada Passage in an uneventful 90 mile overnight downwind sail from St. Maarten to Tortola. The British Virgin Islands are always a favorite with our family and on Mira. In fact, we started our sailing charter lives in the BVIs. So, it’s appropriate that this would be our last stop in the Caribbean for awhile! Our good friends, Lori and Mark, were coming to visit for a few nights also, and we were excited to show them some of our favorite spots.

Lori and Mark arrived in the late afternoon to our slip in Nanny Cay Marina on Tortola. We were off early the next morning for the bouncy, up-wind slog in the Sir Francis Drake Channel to visit the iconic Baths on Virgin Gorda. Following a leisurely lunch on board, and we headed off to Marina Cay. Happy hour and dinner at the somewhat reconstructed Pusser’s was a perfect ending to our sailing day. Our third day started off with some amazing snorkeling at George Dog. The conditions and visibility were perfect. A quick sail over to Monkey Point on Guana Island ended with lunch on board and another perfect Caribbean snorkel off the boat. We motor-sailed down the back side of Tortola to the palm-tree ringed, white sand beach of Cane Garden Bay for the night and dinner at Paradise Club Sports Bar. The next morning we took off around the southern end of Tortola to snorkel the Indians and settled into our anchorage for the day and night in secluded Privateer Bay on Norman Island. A lazy afternoon was spent snorkeling the Caves off Treasure Point and swimming off the boat. Delicious Caribbean curry chicken on the boat was our last dinner. It was hard to drop them off the next morning for their ferry back to St. Thomas. But, we were so thankful for the chance to hop through the BVI one last time!

Then it was back to reality, full-on ocean passage preparation began in earnest. At the end of April, Mira would make her longest off-shore passage yet!

Pam

Lori and Mark relaxed and happy in vacation mode.

Our favorite picture-taking spot in the Baths on Virgin Gorda.

Our anchorage in Marina Cay

First mate maneuvers Mira to pick up a mooring ball.

Dinner at Pusser’s on Marina Cay

Sunset over Jost Van Dyke

One of the most peaceful, beautiful anchorages in Privateer Bay, and it is right around the boulders from the very busy Bight at Norman’s Island. We spent an entire day and night here – swimming, snorkeling the caves and rocks all along the bay.

We couldn’t keep Mark out of the water!

Something tells me that Lori will be back for another visit on Mira – maybe in Europe???

Our daughter’s first overnight passage – St. Lucia to St. Maarten

We’ve enjoyed sailing as a family for many years. Our adult children love the water, the outdoors, and travel of all kinds, and the six of us sail and travel on Mira at least once or twice every year. Usually short day sails around a favorite Caribbean island, so we were excited when our daughter recently shared her dream of sailing across the Atlantic with us.  We love that she has a passion for sailing and outdoor adventure, and we invited her to join us for an “intro passage” – a 2 night, 275 mile passage from St. Lucia to St. Maarten on Mira.

So …. in late March, she took a week’s vacation from work and met us in St. Lucia.  A quick few days of showing her our favorite St Lucia spots for sightseeing and hiking, and we were off!  Rodney Bay, St. Lucia, was left behind at 5:30 pm on Monday, and Mira arrived in Simpson Bay, St. Maarten, at 9:00 am on Wednesday. The remainder of her vacation week was spent working on the boat and some restful, sunny beach and pool time.

Kelly got a good sense of what an overnight offshore passage can be like! We sailed the entire way with strong beam winds never below 20 knots, and some pretty aggressive waves on the beam as well.  A couple of waves even splashed over the bow for added excitement, as Mira happily rolled her way up the Caribbean chain.

For night watches, Glenn and I don’t usually do the conventional 3 or 4 hours on and 3 or 4 hours off schedule. Because Glenn can sleep anytime, anywhere – I usually take the first long watch from 8 pm to 1:00 am or so.  Then, he watches from 1:00 am to 6:00 am, while I sleep. Kelly took watch with me from 8 pm to 11 pm then slept 4 hours and watch with Glenn from 3 am to 6 am. On the job training!

The passage was going very well. Despite strong wind and waves, the sail plan was stable – no dramatic increase in winds or change in wind direction was predicted.  There were a few tankers and cruise ships sprinkled around the AIS display, but otherwise not a lot of ship traffic. Kelly loves the night sky and was feeling quite comfortable watching the wind speed and direction, sails, and instrument screens, even in the pitch dark. In fact, when I came up early one morning around 5 am to relieve Glenn, I discovered him sound asleep in the salon! Panicked, I discovered Kelly perched alone on the helm seat – carefully watching the ship traffic  – scrutinizing the AIS and radar screens with Mira bouncing around underneath her! She was happy as a clam!

I think the Atlantic crossing might be in her future!

Pam

Leaving St. Lucia behind, heading out to sea!

Kelly enjoying her galley duty!

Approaching the bridge opening into Simpson Bay lagoon in St. Maarten.

The captain at the helm.

Some much-needed R&R at the pool at the Simpson Bay Yacht Club marina.

The stunning beach on Simpson Bay.

Beach day at the super-fun Karakter Beach Bar.

Loading our new anchor chain – all 300ft

Kelly went up Mira’s mast to check on the electronic instruments.

Hiking the Pic Paradis at Loterie Farm in French Ste. Martin.

Outstanding views from the top – looking over Marigot Bay.

Last lunch together at Oplongeoir.  Daddy is so happy with his sailor girl.

Merriment in Martinique

Martinique is not only a French island, but actually a part of France.  For us cruising sailors this means that we get to take advantage of all things French, as we hop from French island to French island.  France ships food, cheese, meats, wine, etc to Martinique and do not add additional taxes. So what it really means is that Pam can buy her fav bottle of Sancerre for $12 instead of $28 (at the Whole Foods)!!! We love France!

With 20+ knots of breeze and 9-10 foot swells off our beam predicted, we set off cautiously from St. Lucia for Martinique. Sailing along the leeward coasts of all of the Caribbean islands is usually fairly benign with the topography of the islands as protection. But, things can get a little crazy in between the islands. It is pure Atlantic Ocean with waves and winds to match. This day was no exception. We had about 2 hours  of rocking and rolling with strong winds and waves. But, arrived in Anse Mitan – a bay in the central part of Martinique – in about 5 hours.

Anse Mitan is fun beach town across the bay from the largest city and capital of Martinique, Fort de France. Fort de France is the home of Martinique’s famed Carnival. This is one of the reasons we headed to Martinique. We were going to catch up with other cruising friends for our first Carnival experience in the Caribbean.

Six of us grabbed the ferry from Pointe du Bout over to Fort de France on Fat Tuesday in time for the parade celebrating the Day of the Devil. Red was the color of the day with lots of wild costumes and colorful original interpretations. Our heads were spinning – there was music, singing, drums pounding all around us!

There were parades all over the streets of Fort de France with all towns in Martinique participating. 

All dressed in red!

Friends from SV Alegria and MV Iriana.

Exhausted from Carnival celebration, we all headed down the coast of Martinique for St. Anne’s a few days later. St. Anne’s is a huge sheltered anchoring bay where hundreds of sailboats put down their anchors – sometimes for weeks at a time. The quaint town of St. Anne’s has restaurants, bars, laundry, markets, a beach – everything you might want or need.  There is also the added bonus of Marin, just around the corner. Marin is a small town, but one of the largest yachting centers in all of the Caribbean. There are haul-out facilities, all kinds of marine stores and marine technicians for everything imaginable. We had our rigging adjusted and electronics updated and were thrilled with the quality of workmanship.

The anchorage in Ste. Anne’s

The next days in Ste. Anne’s were spent working on the boat, socializing, provisioning, eating, sight-seeing and a bit of hiking.

Experienced riggers in Marin repaired a sub-par rigging tune done in  Antigua.

View from Pointe du Morne Gommier – overlooking Marin and Ste. Anne’s

One day a group of us rented a van and did a bit of sightseeing, but mostly shopping. We hit every home goods, sporting goods and home improvement store we could find. Their stores were better than Home Depot and Dick’s Sporting Goods!!

We hiked down the coast from Ste. Anne’s 6 miles – through several interesting smaller beaches – Anse Trabaud, Pointe Catherine, and others culminating in  a magnificent white sand beach, Grande Anse Des Salines. And, we had lunch and drinks at the end. Well worth it!

Grande Anse des Salines

8 sailboats got together for a two stop night of fun. First, cocktails and appetizers on Mira and then, Mexican pot luck dinner on Freebird.

 

Delicious lunch at Zanzibar in Marin celebrating Tim’s bday – SV Lone Star, SV Shanti, MV Iriana
Last night in Ste. Anne’s

Grande Anse D’Arlet was our last anchorage in Martinique. We spent two nights there alone just winding down from all the merriment of the previous weeks. There is a little village with a white sand beach and magnificent mountains surrounding. We spent a lovely weekend there – hiking up Morne Champagne, snorkeling for turtles, relaxing on the boat.

Grande Anse d’Arlet

At the top of Morne Champagne

View from the back porch on our last night in Martinique.