Getting ready to launch
The first couple of days turned out to be long working days. We always got up at six, ate a rich breakfast and drove to the marina with Detlef. On the way we would stop at a small cafe and listen to the news of the locals.
As it turned out, and we of course knew to expect just that, from previous experience, the work to get the boat ready took much more time than planned. Hundreds of little things had to be put together and back in their place (network cables, power cables, wind generator, batteries, exhaust, water tank, sails, generator, pipes, cooling system from the engine, broken water pump...). And as always, there were any number of unexpected problems to be solved. The first time we started up the engine, the bilge underneath filled up with engine-oil because the new oil pipes weren't tight enough….
Fortunately, at the beginning of May, Ben's sister Ursina and her husband Roger arrived on the island, after having visited the central islands of the Azores for a couple of days. Right upon their arrival they helped put together and install a lot of things on the boat plus bring 320 liters of bottled water on board :-) The early brakes in the evenings were more than welcome to us. Our first stop at night would always be at an old court with several butcher stores in the basement. The selection was amazing and the prices even more so; 500g of entrecote, 500g cutlets, 300g calf filet and ten sausages would set us back no more than 20 Euros. Back at the apartment we would let the fire simmer down for an hour while drinking a couple of beers, enjoying the view of the ocean and playing with the dogs and horses.
With a delay of almost two weeks, the travel lift finally picked up our boat and put her back in the water. Danielle especially, was most interested in seeing how the boat would react in the water with the new propeller – one that turns the blades into the waterflow during sailing, allowing more speed. To our pleasure the boat was much easier to handle in the narrow harbor; because the blades are flatter, the rear of the ship turns much less. Finally, the time had come to put back in the boom and the sails and install the new baggy wrinkles. It felt great when our Happy Day started to look like a real sailing ship again. The next big piece of work was to adjust and trim the new rig. The 22 cables had to be adjusted to the correct length and tension to put the masts in their proper position. Time flew – the work would only be interrupted when we had to dive for the sunken tools. Our reward, however, was to be able to sleep on the boat in the water for the first time in much too long – it felt wonderful.
The next day Riccardo (mechanic) came on board and we went out on the open water to check how the completely serviced engine was working. Everything worked well, no oil, cooling water or diesel appeared in the bilges and we were able to run with up to 7knots. On the way back, however, a bad scratching sound started which came from the end of the shaft. On the inside we couldn't make out any problems – so it had to be the new bearing or propeller. Quite frustrated we decided to lift her out again to check those things. However, the only thing we could find, were some scratches on the bearing from the propeller, which was very narrowly installed. So, we cut back the bearing and were optimistic to have solved the problem. As it turned out, the rasping sound was gone, replaced by another noise as soon as we put the engine to full speed – the only thing wrong now could be some kind of cavitation. Because we only had one more day left for the planned crossing to Sao Miguel with Ursina and Roger, we decided to leave it alone for the time being and repair it later, should it get worse.
Once around Santa Maria
Luckily the two weeks had not only been for work. Joao, a good friend from Santa Maria had planned to go diving with us. Because the water was still very cold he changed the plans and invited us on a boat trip around “his” island. Late one morning we loaded his small motor boat with beer, sandwiches and fishing gear, turned on the engine and the stereo system and went off to round the island clock-wise.
Upon our arrival on the north coast, Joao told us a lot about the lava and volcanic formations. Some years previously, he had accompanied a survey team and learned a lot about the rock formations. Without hesitation he steered his boat into an ancient lava channel, now a deep cave in a sheer cliff. It was amazing how he handled the boat in the waves, the narrow and low caves. In one we could make out a light at the end, coming out form the ground – created by a small tunnel which lead to a connecting beach.
Heading east, we could make out lots of Portuguese man o’ war. These jellyfish with their long tentacles deliver a painful sting, which is venomous and powerful enough to kill fish or (rarely) humans. Despite its appearance, the Portuguese man o' war is not a true jellyfish but a colonial organism made up of specialized individual animals (of the same species) called polyps. These polyps are attached to one another and physiologically integrated, to the extent that they cannot survive independently, creating a symbiotic relationship, requiring each polyp to work together and function like an individual animal.
We also tried to catch some fish for the evening meal – but this time the fish won. Our only catch were some ugly lizard fishes. They are not tasty to eat and have a lot of small bones. Near the lighthouse of Maya we found an old buoy. It was covered with small mussel and tiny crayfish. Joao told us, that they are “very delicious” (just like everything we had seen swimming that day) and we should keep them for dinner.
Back near the harbor Joao spotted a group of dolphins. Getting even closer we started to hear a puffing sound and it smelled strongly. Not too far away a fin whale passed our bow, and for a couples of minutes we were able to follow him.
As a thank you for the lovely day we invited Joao to a nice dinner in Anjos. The mussels and crayfish from the buoy were our starters. They did not taste bad, were a bit salty maybe and crunchy. But it was a lot of work to get them out of their shells. The meal was followed by fresh fish, octopus, squids and accompanied by a great vinho verde.
Off to Sao Miguel
It felt like a small miracle – leaving the beloved harbor of Santa Maria before sunrise, a place where we had experienced many great moments and met lovely people. Even Joao came down to the harbor at 5.30 a.m. to say farewell...
During the first hour there was neither wind nor waves. Motoring we left the south coast, followed by a beautiful sunrise. As soon we left the wind cover of the island, a light breeze from the back permitted us to head north quite fast, towards Ponta Delgada. It didn't take long for the first group of dolphins to visit us, playing in the bow wave of the boat. Fortunately, the waves were very small and no one got seasick. It was a very pleasant and relaxed crossing – with four people sharing the watches and steering. By afternoon the wind picked up and the boat started stomping over the waves. Our guests, who had been very brave until now, started to turn quite white in the face. When the wind picked up even more, we had to put the first reef into the sails, but the fish remained just unfed.
As soon as we reached higher speed, the line of the fishing rod started to roll out quite fast. First, we had to slow down the boat by opening the sails and changing course. It took Ben some effort to bring the fish close to the boat – a tasty 70cm white tuna (albacore). With the help of the gaff and some alcohol we were able to take it up on board, and after cleaning into the fridge.
Upon arrival at the marina of Ponta Delgada, the sun was starting to set, and we were already looking forward to the showers and a big meal of tuna-steaks. When we entered the harbor, a pilotage boat appeared and asked us to wait in the first marina, because one of the large passenger vessels was about to leave. As it turned out, our luck. During the waiting time we were able to register at the marina and get the keys for the showers, minutes before they closed.
After we devoured one third of the tasty tuna, we were so tired that we went to sleep instead of to the famous night life of Ponta Delgada. It was a good thing because Ursina and Roger had to catch a plane the next morning at 7 a.m.