Exploring the Azores

The Azores are a group of 9 small volcanic islands that are spread over 375 miles of ocean from the easternmost to the westernmost island. While they are 800 miles from the coast of Portugal, they are very much a part of Europe. (See the map at the bottom of “Follow our Track” to see their position in relation to the US and Europe). We were told not to rush through the Azores on our way to the Mediterranean, so after arriving in Flores on June 30th, we took our time and checked out several of the islands. To help you picture the places mentioned in the following descriptions, here’s a good map:

Azores with arrows

Our first stop was Flores, the northermost and, in fact, “Europe’s westernmost point.” Known as the Isle of Flowers, Flores lived up to its name. Beautiful hydrangeas formed blue flowered walls across the hillsides to mark the farmers’ fields.

Flores flowers and hills

Flores

Did we say hillsides? We failed to find a flat spot on the whole island, making for stunning scenery. This small island had five mountain lakes and countless waterfalls. One particular cliff had no less than twenty cascades.

One of the highlights of Flores was Paula’s Place. Paula was a delightfully spunky woman who, like many Azoreans we met, had lived for many years in Massachusetts. She not only spoke flawless English, but she knew what customer service was all about. Even though she was a restauranteur, she could arrange anything cruisers needed. Within minutes of ordering our first beer and pizza in a month, Paula had lined up rooms for our crew, an English-speaking driver and car for a tour of the island, diesel for our jerry jugs, and she agreed to personally do our laundry!

There are two small harbors on Flores, with only one large enough for Liberty to anchor. Our first three nights there we enjoyed a respite from the constant motion of our long passage. The fourth night, however, the wind shifted out of the NE, making for by far the most miserably rolly night at anchorage we’ve ever experienced. Ever sleep in a washing machine? That motion made the decision to move on quite easy!

Travis painting wall

Travis makes a preliminary sketch of Liberty’s mural.

From Flores we made the 24 hour trip to the island of Faial. There we tied up to the famous sea wall in the town of Horta. Since the 1800’s Horta has been a popular destination for ocean voyaging sailors. It was quite a thrill to lie alongside boats from all over the world and know that we had earned the right to put our own mural on Horta’s famous wall. Even though boats had to raft alongside each other along the wall, that only added to the sense of community. We soon joined the others in a very important mission: to find the cheapest wine with the best taste. It was a tough job, but we were up to the task. Sadly, we haven’t yet found a winner, so the search continues. We also enjoyed trying the many varieties of local cheeses, fresh bread, and trying to figure out the different cuts of meat.

There could have been a party every night if we wanted one. Dinner in the Azores, as in Portugal, is late, so often “cocktail hour” went several hours and was followed by a meal at a local restaurant. Prices for a meal averaged about $15. It took a little getting used to fish served whole, but it was always fresh and delicious.

While on Faial we rented a car and drove to the top of a long-extinct volcano to hike around the rim of the crater. Rudy especially enjoyed this 6 mile trek, surprising us with his tireless energy (See Rudy’s Visits the Azores).

We’ve been surprised at how technologically up to date things are compared to the last time we were in Europe. Internet cafes are easy to find and even the smallest stores have computerized check-out.

The narrow, cobble-stoned streets and tiny stores are wonderfully “Old Europe,” however. It may take a little getting used to not being able to zip over to Walmart or West Marine when we need something, but that’s what makes this such an adventure. We developed a leak in our engine’s exhaust hose and put several miles on our legs trying to locate new hose. We never did find any and Ty had to simply repair the old one.

After a week in Faial we set sail for the island of Terceira. We enjoyed a great beam reach in 19 knots of wind on the 70 mile trip, and even got a glimpse of a whale’s flukes before he dove. We traveled down the channel between the islands of Pico and Sao Jorge, then headed straight for Terceira. There we got a

mural

The finished product!

slip at the beautiful new marina in the UNESCO world heritage town of Angra do Heroismo for the same price as in Horta: 13 Euros per night. In Angra Liberty lay nestled at the foot of two fortresses and an ancient church. The atmosphere there was totally different than in Flores or Horta, as we were the only American boat. There were several French boats and one Brit, but the rest were all locals. What an unusual feeling! There was certainly no shortage of opportunities to try our Portuguese.

Angra marina02

Liberty lies at the marina in
Angra do Heroismo on the island of Terceira

After being at sea for so long when it was too rolly to even do sit-ups, it was a real treat to get to run again. The only problem is, the Azores are volcanic islands. Just like in Flores, that translates to one thing: lots of hills! That and the ever-present cobblestones made for challenging, but interesting runs, as we aways get to see twice as much when we set out double-timing... That’s military for “running” - and since we’re speaking military, one of our main reasons for going to Terceira was to go to the US Air Force base at Lajes. Being retired Navy, we were able to go to the commissary and exchange to buy things we won’t be able to find for a long time. Yes, we know that cruising abroad means trying the local products, and we’re doing plenty of that, but it doesn’t mean we have to pay twice what we’re used to for things like AA batteries and dry goods! Now

that we’ve seen what’s available in the local grocery stores, we knew what to stock up on. One example is powdered milk. Even the largest grocery store in Horta didn’t carry fresh milk! They only had UHT milk in boxes, and it was either whole milk or “half fat.” Powdered milk has come a long way since we were kids, so we’ll keep it on hand for those times when we can’t get fresh. 

This Last Story is Total Bull...

Other than our arrival after sixteen days at sea, the highlight of our visit to the Azores was experiencing the local version of “running with the bulls.” Rather than a mob of crazy people running away from a herd of stampeding bulls, the folks on Terceira take on one bull at a time. This afforded those of us standing behind a flimsy plywood barrier the chance to view thousand pound bulls up close and personal for an extended viewing period.

bull fight

Our close-up view of the fun

This tradition originated years ago when dating on the island was almost non-existent. The bull fights allowed young women to watch the young men display their bravado. Well, Ty is married and Travis is spoken for, but they wanted in on the action, too! While Suzanne (wisely) stayed behind the barrier, off they went with the crowd, following the behemoth. Minutes later a breathless Travis returned to report that he’d taken on the bull. He proudly described how he’d gotten close enough to get bull snot on his jacket, while Ty observed from a nearby barbed wire topped fence! A local gentlemen then warned the crazy American (Travis) not to do that again! After all three of us were safely back behind our barrier, a woman next to us said, “You know the bulls can jump over this fence, don’t you?” We all looked for an escape route, then continued to watch the memorable show. What fun!

Travis and bull
bull 40

Travis goes face to face with Mr. Toro
(He got to within five feet of the bull, but our digital camera’s delay missed the shot)

Time to Move On

Our original plan was to complete our Atlantic crossing in Gibraltar. After getting a taste of the Azores, however, we want to see more of Portugal. And so, within a day or two of updating this site we’ll set sail for leg three, from the Azores to Lisbon! This will be an 850 mile passage, longer than the 675-mile Beaufort to Bermuda leg, but less than half the 1960-mile distance we covered from Bermuda to the Azores. (See Beaufort to Bermuda, Bermuda to the Azores, and Atlantic Crossing Journal for details). Sadly, we said farewell to crew member Grant in Horta, so for leg three it’s just Ty, Suzanne and the ever-eager Travis. Oh, and Rudy, of course! We’ll be standing three hours on watch and six off, so it won’t be as nice as having four watch standers, but still better than two! Our route will take us due east, and the winds are predominantly northerly, so Liberty and crew are hoping for a nice beam reach passage all the way. We can always hope, can’t we? We learned on the second leg of this voyage not to estimate how long the trip will take. We know what it SHOULD take, but we’re not even going to talk about it. We’ll get there when the winds get us there! Please join us again in a couple of weeks to see how the third and final leg of Liberty’s Atlantic Crossing went. In the meantime, keep us in your thoughts and we’ll do the same for you!