Last year we had visited Sao Miguel (biggest island of the Azores) for 20 hours only, because big cruising ships had brought thousands of tourists to Ponta Delgada. Therefore, the city had been very crowded, and it had been impossible to find a place in the restaurants. This time it seemed less busy and we decided to stay a bit longer since we also wanted to climb the highest peak in the east. After saying goodbye to Ursina and Roger (who had to fly back) we picked up a scooter.
First, however, we needed to buy loads of groceries – one cannot find all the food on the other, much smaller islands. After three visits to the super market, we had filled up all our food compartments – loads of pasta, flour, rice, risotto, milk, red bull, cereals, fresh vegetables, meat, wine and beer.
Afterwards, we sped east along the coastal highway heading for the highest point of this island; Pico da Vara (1'105 above sea level). It was quite late by the time we reached higher ground, the fog got thicker and it started raining. With the air stream it got cold quickly and we had to put on a pullover and our rain gear. Normally, it takes a one-hour-detour from a mountain pass to the sea and back up again to reach the starting point of the hike. Since we could make out some windmills between the mountain pass and the starting point, however, we presumed that there had to be some kind of maintenance road. Going around a small gate we found ourselves on a dirt road, which led to each one of the wind mills and further on to the hiking trail. Climbing down from the scooter all our extremities felt stiff because of the low temperature. We put on a fast pace, and as we climbed up, the warmth came back. The trail lead through swampy areas and later along a rocky ridge. The summit was wrapped in thick fog at all times – even when we reached the top and were searching for a view down to the ocean.
Shortly before the sun sunk on the western horizon, we found back to the highway (some more shortcuts) and drove back to the boat in the cooling night air. Next stop: hot showers!
Next, we took some time getting ready for the crossing to the island of Terceira – our first night sailing of this year. The wind couldn't have been more perfect in the beginning – pushing us with 20 knots and almost no swell towards Angra do Heroismo with up to seven knots of cruising speed. As the night progressed, we tried to go directly downwind like a butterfly, booming out the big sails to each side. But as soon the waves grew, the autopilot struggled with holding the course and we put the sails back on one side, zigzagging before the wind.
As neither one of us was tired, we stayed up until midnight, looking at the night sky with its bright stars... And suddenly both wanted to sleep, not really looking forward to the watches because of the shifting wind. As we had feared, the wind shifted around quite a bit and we had to change the sails more than once. Thus, we were still sleepy when we approached Angra do Heroismo, recovering the sails. Suddenly, there was a loud splash – only ten meters before our bow a huge sperm whale started diving and disappeared right in front our noses. We assumed, that he had been asleep and had not noticed us before it was almost too late. We had heard stories that lighter boats had been sunken by a crash with a sleeping whale...
With the sun just over the horizon we arrived in the quiet marina of Angra do Heroismo. The town with its 40'000 inhabitants was established in the latter half of the 15th century. It was hit by a major earthquake on 1 January 1980 that did considerable damage to the city's historic center and to many other locations on the island of Terceira. The Azores had experienced many earthquakes and volcanic eruptions since prehistoric times, but the 1980 event was probably the most serious since the eighteenth century. The damage in the city was repaired and rebuilt within four years. In 1983, the historic center of Angra do Heroísmo was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
After a couple hours of sleep, we strolled through the narrow alleys, marveling at the rebuilt houses and enjoying the atmosphere of a small, but lively town. The next day, we once more picked up a scooter (best way to experience the island with its narrow roads, plus you can stop anywhere) and headed to the western, less crowded part of the island. Before starting a hike to the highest peak from Serreta, we stopped at a small restaurant – buying cakes and coffee for less than five euros.
Starting on an official trail, we hoped to find some kind of cow-trail to get to the Lagoa Funda – the most famous photo subject on Terceira – located in a florestal reserve without any official access. We were indeed able to walk along a meadow for an hour, before traversing a dense forest on animal trails and finding an inconspicuous track pointing to the rim of the crater. Over and through thick juniper shrubs, through knee deep moss it went up and up until we approached the lagoon. Peeking over the rim, we could spot the small lake in the middle of the old crater, more than a hundred meters below. Tired from the ascent, we reclined in the soft, dry and one-foot deep moss and took a good nap.
Back in the marina, Danielle started to paint the compulsory logo on the harbor wall. In the meantime, Ben started to reinforce the lines from the boat – there was already some swell in the basin and more predicted for the night. The boat was rocking back and forth as well as to the side, 20 tons of steel absorbing the incredible force of the waves. It was almost impossible to walk around inside the boat without been jerked in a wall by the bigger waves. It was not long before the first line, made for 8 tons, and equipped with a feather, broke with a loud bang. Time to get the heavy equipment out; old car tires, knotted between the lines, were able to absorb a lot more of energy, granting us at least some sleep during the night.
The next day was mostly used for boat repairs (there is always something that breaks), doing laundry and baking fresh bread. Only in the evening we went off to the nearby Monte Brasil with its marvelous flower gardens and its huge, famous fortress. Due to the early season, most of the colorful blossoms where just starting to open – appearing as small spots on the green hill. But the greatest surprise were two deer, appearing around a bend, in the middle of the path. At first, we thought that they were not aware of us and tried to get closer unnoticed. A group of locals, talking quiet noisily and starting to take pictures with the tame deer explained to us, that the animals come here, because it's the only place on the island with a ban for hunting.
We were hugely relived, when we left the harbor with its horrible waves. At the start of the short cruise to Sao Jorge, there was only little wind and we had some time to play with the GoPro camera – putting on the long boat-hook, taking pictures of the boat and even below the water line of some dolphins.
Just before reaching the easterly headland of Sao Jorge, a big powerboat overtook us, with some tourists on board, taking pictures of our boat, with all its sails up. It was the first time somebody was able to take a photo from us under sail and we hoped to obtain some of them. After some clicks on the web, we sent a mail to the owner of the vessel who, much to our surprise, responded within five minutes, promising to send us some shots the next day :-)
Upon reaching the channel between the islands of Pico and Sao Jorge, the wind turned more than 90 degrees, coming in gusts up to force 5 along the coast directly at our nose. Should we use the engine to go the ten miles directly against it? It would have been faster, yes, but we decided against it and started tacking up towards Velas. After 15(!) turns and twenty miles later – the sun had already disappeared – we got closer to the harbor. We had been there more than once, but at night, everything looked a lot different. Fortunately, a good German friend we had met last year was already in the small marina, feeding us with information about the situation in the basin and where the last free berth was to be found. It’s a lot easier, when you know, where to go inside a dark harbor and that there is a friend helping with the lines.