Volcanoes and Street Art

Wednesday 19th June 2019

Here we go again, weather window antics, we plan to leave Tuesday, no Wednesday, no Tuesday, no Wednesday. I think we have settled on Wednesday but maybe that will be Tuesday afternoon or perhaps next week.

In the end we left rather quickly Tuesday lunchtime and before I had managed to upload this post, there are photos but I will have to attach them when we reach the UK. Reach the UK, how strange that sounds.

Horta the main port and capital of Faial in the Azores is a pretty town full of often crumbling but decorative terraced buildings. Churches white, with black detailing stand out in the sunshine and flowers greet you on every spare piece of ground.

Church of Nossa Senhora das Angustias, in Horta

The Marina was friendly and being Europe the formalities straight forward. It was choc-a-bloc with transatlantic boats that continually arrived, stretching the facilities to the limit, for most of the stay we were rafted three deep.

The first few days were warm and sunny as we rushed about getting the normal mundane tasks completed. The laundry, run on a confusing part service, part do it yourself regime, was dictated over by a woman with Hitler pretensions and with so many boats continually arriving with weeks worth of dirty washing, it was a slow and painful process.

The supermarket however was well stocked and although everything was totally in Portuguese and it took us a bit of time to find what we needed, we, for the first time in a while, enjoyed delicious lunches of fresh fruit and tasty local cheese.

With the weather forecast looking unsettled for the weekend, Friday morning we took a taxi tour of the island. As we left the town of Horta and climbed into the hills, the smell of freshly mown grass assaulted our senses, with the lower temperatures, cows grazing in buttercup filled meadows and familiar bird song we could almost have been in Devon.

However, like most of the oceanic islands we have visited, the Azores were born from past volcanic activity. As we continued to drive higher we entered the cloud base that cloaks the highest peak here, as the mist swirled and thinned we caught glimpses of fantastic views of the island and the huge picturesque volcanic peak on the island across the channel, Pico.

We were headed to near the top of the Caldera do Faial, where a tunnel has been created through the rock side to a viewing platform to see the interior of the still perfectly circular cone. At 2km wide and 400m deep a unique ecosystem has sprung up in its base, with plants and birds not found anywhere else flourishing in their own tiny world.

Caldera do Faial

During the eruptions that created this volcano, pumice stone was flung out onto the island and this has made the soil here very fertile but acidic. Crowding every hedge row and many gardens are hydrangea plants, the acidic soil turns the normally pink flowers a bright blue and Faial has become famous for this magnificent summer display.

In stark contrast to the lush growth of most of the island is the barren headland on the NW coast, created by an eruption that took place less than 60 years ago, it resembles a moonscape. A huge slab of rock juts out to sea backed by rocks of solidified lava and slopes of sweeping black sand.

Volcanic landscape at Capelinhos

We were glad to have taken the time to explore because the weekend turned out to be quite stressful. We were tied up to the harbour wall, right in the corner, where the wash back from the swell, with the weight of two boats hanging off us, had us straining and jolting uncomfortably on our cleats, the creaking and groaning of the lines keeping us awake. Hours were spent tightening this rope, then tightening another, then loosening everything again as the tide dropped.

Finally Monday afternoon things quietened down and the showers cleared, time to get creative. As in a lot of ports and anchorages where ocean sailors gather, people like to leave their mark. Often it is in the form of national or yacht club flags, that adorn the insides of local bars and cafes or, as in the Percy Islands off the Australian East Coast where crews carve plaques that are nailed to the large A frame shelter on the beach. In the Azores the tradition is street art, every inch of the walls and paving of Horta marina are covered by paintings left by previous visitors.

We were keen to join in the fun and Rick had in his head planned a complex design to include the names of everyone who had helped us by joining us for an ocean passage. Unfortunately the combination of the busy first few days followed by the wet weather, had thwarted our attempts to put paint to concrete. Eventually, Monday, as an evening sun appeared we picked our spot and painted the background. This was nearly as far as we got, with a change in the forecast later in the week, making a quick departure looked advantageous. The original complex design had to be ditched and I and Tony were still painting Rick’s much simplified effort, as he refuelled Raya just an hour before we left.

As Rick and Tony prepare the boat for departure I’m still busy painting

It is our first night out and we are motoring again in very light winds, the full moon shines brightly, the only star visible in the light sky is Jupiter twinkling to our south. In the log Rick described the sea state as, motoring through melted chocolate, it’s glossy dark surface heaving gently beneath our keel.

Wind is promised in a few days time, Plymouth and reality beckon.