Full Moon & Fireworks

Sunday August 12, 2014

moon rising over Pico, Azores

Wow, Semana do Mar has kept us out every single night this week.  Since forced into a marina though (they don’t allow anchoring in the harbor here, we were a little disppointed about that), there’s no reason not to step off the boat every night and check out the festivities.  Plus I can usually talk Matt into buying us at least one round of those incredibly delicious 1€ sangrias, which are almost worth getting off the boat for themselves.  With equally incredibly low wine prices here, I’ve found 1 liter boxes at the supermarket for 1,25€, I’ve actually tried to make my own sangria but have come nowhere close.  I may have to spend much of my time in Europe perfecting this and possibly buying some brandy or Triple Sec.

While sitting around this evening drinking one of my own not-so-perfect sangrias while making dinner, and momentarily running up the companion way to take some photos of the sunset reflecting off the volcano of Pico, I heard a friendly ‘Hello!’ off the dock next to me.  It looks as if someone else had the same idea as I did, and happened to be another American who was quite surprised to see another vessel in the marina carrying stars and stripes on it’s stern.  He introduced himself as Richard, a New Yorker that had just arrived in his 44 ft Katy Krogan, the exact same boat that our friend Luis owns in Guatemala.  After talking for a few moments about our trips over from the States, he informed me that not only was tonight going to be a full moon, something I’m not sure I’d been paying attention to, but that this moon was going to rise right over the peak of Pico.

An awesome photo opportunity it sounded like, and while thanking him I let him know of the fireworks show that was supposed to be going on that night, a piece of information I’d gathered from the local OCC Port Officer when he came to greet us a day or two after our arrival.  (João, an extremely nice gentleman that gave us so much great information on the town and on Sea Week).  I let Richard know that I didn’t know exactly what time these fireworks would be put on, but if they followed suit of the late night beginnings of most other events, it would probably be sometime between 10:30 and midnight.

After my nice chat with Richard I went back to making dinner and almost forgot to keep an eye on the time for when the sun was setting and the moon was rising.  I had barley cleared the plates from the table when I remembered, and I grabbed Matt’s arm and rushed him out the door with me as I ran down the docks to the breakwater to try and get the best spot for a photo op.  We were just in time to get a few shots of the full moon hovering right over the cap of the volcano, although I am a little sad I didn’t get there just a few minutes before to watch it peaking out from behind.

sunset over Horta Marina

sunset over Pico, Azores

full moon over Pico, Azores

full moon over Pico, Azores

After going back to the ‘Dip for a bit, honestly after going out every night since we’ve been here can be a little exhausting after our recent laid back lifestyle, we waited a little bit before going back out for the fireworks.  We knew they must be starting soon since the walls overlooking the harbor were quickly lining up with people.  Snagging one of the last available spots we sat down and waited for the bright explosions of light to begin.

There must have been a lost in translation moment somewhere along the way, or fireworks in Europe are completely different than they are back home, but we never got the big bangs and fizzles.  What the show was instead was a bunch of sky lanterns.  Over by the quilt-work patterns of the breakwater, glowing lights began floating into the sky, a few at a time.  We oooh’ed and awwww’ed, still not aware this was their ‘fireworks’ show.  Soon the sky was full of tiny glowing dots, drifting off toward the dark horizon, and then it hit us.  Ohhhhh, this is the fireworks display.  We weren’t let down though.  How could you be?  Watching those soft lights float over the harbor, past the volcanic cone of Pico, and out into the darkness of the Atlantic was one of the most beautiful sights either of us have ever seen.

fire lanterns at Horta's Semana do Mar

fire lanterns over Horta's harbor

fire lanterns over Horta's harbor, Azores

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Horta’s Sea Week

Saturday August 9, 2014

view of Horta from marina

Did you know that when we checked into Horta this week, we were the 1,000th boat to pass through? They decided to throw a party in our honor, Semana do Mar, or Sea Week.  Eight days of celebrating just for lil’ ol’ Serenipity’s crossing.  No, I’m just playing.  Yes, there is something called Sea Week, and yes, it did happen to be going on when we got here, but it was no way in honor of us.  (Although we truly were the 1,000th boat of the year….so the man at the marina told me.)

The tradition of Sea Week began back in 1975 geared towards yachtman, but is now a big tourist draw between all the Azorean islands and even folks from the mainland.  It is always held between the first and second Sundays of August, which is great news for us because we thought it was soley the first weekend of August and that we’d just missed it.  Luckily that was not the case, and even after we pulled in after our multiple weeks at sea after leaving Bermuda, things were in full swing, current American music blasting from speakers lining the street as we covered the mainsail and began throwing out fenders.  Let’s just hope that everyone was already tipsy enough that they didn’t notice our dock line debacle as we were just hundreds of feet from the marina office.

I am just a little bit disappointed that we weren’t here to experience the whole thing, because the open ceremonies sound pretty cool.  Here’s a little description taken from The Azores Islands Blog.  Following the official opening of the event, a Mass is celebrated in the chapel of Our Lady of Guia, on top of the hill of the same name and the image is then transported by boats in the Nautical Procession, passing through Porto Pim Beach, entering the Horta Harbour and disembarking in the Santa Cruz quay. The image is then carried in procession to the Church of Angústias under the alert gaze of the people with houses along the route, who exhibit their valuable mattresses out of the windows of the upper floors.  Sounds pretty cool, right?

There was still plenty to keep us entertained though, even though we’d arrived half way through the celebrations.  Most of our interest was focused on the nightly events, although all the nautical competitions are held during the day. This includes a full list of things ranging from the typical yacht races (Regattas of the Channel; of the Mermaids; of the Former Participants; and of the Horta trophy) down to things like a Horta to Porto Pim canoe race, swimming across the harbor competition, and even water polo.  I um, may not have researched these awesome sounding events until they were already over.  Ooops.  Now you can see why we were focused on the evening activities.

Each night so far we’ve wandered out, still on East Coast time, which seems to be perfect because it fits perfectly into European lifestyles.  Music groups start at at the big stage around 10 pm, and last until 3 in the morning.  Even little kids are wandering the streets with their parents until well after midnight.

During these nights we break up our time between watching shows of traditional music and dance at the little park situated across from the marina, browsing the crafts sold by locals and gypsies, although honestly, half of it looks like the $1 junk made in China and breaks after three uses.  Loooots of cheap plastic toys for kids.  There are also tables set up with jewelry and knickknacks made from whale bones and other stones and jems.  Then we’ll usually grab a 1sangria and sit on the sea wall, doing a bit of people watching until something starts on the main stage, or we find ourselves in bed a little too early because we still haven’t gotten over our exhaustion of 29 days of sleeping in 4 hour shifts.

Last night though, the best thing in the world happened.  Not only had we met up with two other young cruisers to wander around with, always fun to hang out with people around our age, but after milling around the large stage and listening to a band that I think is popular in mainland Portugal, they brought a DJ up on stage to start playing electronic music for the rest of the night.  We l-o-v-e electronic music.  We’ve been listening to DJ Tiesto since he first came on the scene over a decade ago.  One of the best parts of being in Miami was getting an electronic station on the radio, something that is very hard to do, and we’re normally left trying to download new music through A State of Trance.

Breaking to the front of the crowd, we literally rushed the gate as we began jumping up and down and pumping our hands in the air.  Being outside, a light rainy mist fell on us and caught the lights that pulsed out through the crowds.  It was honestly like a scene out of a music video, and possibly one that we looked ten years too old to be a part of. Behind us I’m sure the adolescent crowd wondered what these old people were doing, but we couldn’t have cared less.  At least we weren’t as bad as the guy next to us.  Late 30’s, semi bald, bearded face, wearing glasses and a skin tight leotard and doing the robot.  Does seeing that mean that we’ve officially arrived in Europe?

8.9.14 (1)

Horta Sea Week

Pico, Azores, at sunset

Horta, Azores, breakwater at dusk

Horta's marina at dusk

musical performance Horta Sea Week

musical performance Horta Sea Week

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Blue Island

Thursday August 7, 2014

blue hydrangeas of Horta, Azores

We could live here, we honestly could.  Horta is so much better than we ever could have expected, and our expectations were already pretty high.  It doesn’t matter that we’ve been here all of 24 hours or that we’ve only seen within a few blocks of the city center….we’re sold.

A little history on Faial is that it’s called Blue Island, for the masses of blue hydrangeas that cover the island.  Introduced from China in the 18th century, these flowers have become a symbol for the Azores as a whole.  Originally settled in 1468, this island has gone back and forth between Spanish and Portuguese rule with many bloody battles fought here, and the town of Horta had to be built back up after being burned to the ground twice.  City status was given to Horta in 1833, and in 1877 the building of the harbor’s breakwater began.

Horta itself has three very big draws to the traveling sailor.  The first is viewing the insignias of transient yachts that line the breakwater. Once this tradition started it only took two seasons for the walls to be completely covered. Bright images contain boat names, crew members, burgees, and designs of the yachtsman that have passed through.  The tradition has now built up to ghe point that it’s considered unlucky to leave Horta without making your mark.

A second draw to the visiting sailor is a stop at The Cafe Sport, a meeting place for yachtsman that overlooks the harbor.  Opened by Peter Azevodo in 1953, this cafe has stayed in the family for three generations and has been catering especially to the cruising crowd.  The rooms above the cafe hold a museum of Azorean scrimshaw,  and the walls of the cafe itself are hung two to three deep with burgees bearing the names  of some of the best known yachts of ocean cruising.

The last, and biggest draw, I think, is the Semana do Mar, or Sea Week, and something we were lucky enough to make landfall during.  It begins during the first week of August and is a week and a half of festivals with music, dancing, craft displays, and of course, yacht races.  There’s a fully crewed opening race, a single-handed race, ladies race, and the all-comers Canal Race.  From what we’ve experienced last night, it looks like a pretty big deal with plenty to do.  More than I can give a quick synopsis on, and something I’ll have to dedicate a full post towards.

Of the 9 islans of the Azores, Faial is one of the smaller ones with a size of 22km by 15km.  The highest point of the island is the rim of Cabeco Gordo, part of its volcanic crater.  Farming and fishing are the biggest trades on the island, but as they’re becoming more of a tourist destination, restaurants, shops, ansd whale watching tour offices line the waterfront.

As we’ve spent the past day wandering around we’ve fallen in love with its small town European charm.  The sidewalks are paved with black and white stones that form cute little designs, and the buildings give off an old world appeal.  The many churches that sit atop the hillsides have an interesting and beautiful style of architecture.   We found an abandoned one at the top of a hill that we think would be a perfect place for us to renovate and move in to.  I think I can definitely live the rest of my life staring across the water to the volcanic crown of Pico.

*Information on Horta taken from Imray’s guide to the Atlantic Islands.

house at Porto Pim, Horta, Azores

Porto Pim, Horta, Azores

Porto Pim, Horta, Azores

Horta marina, Azores

views of Pico, Azores

abandoned church, Horta, Azores

abandoned church, Horta, Azores

 

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Atlantic Crossing Part II Day 48: Land Ho!!

Wednesday August 6, 2014

Faial, Azores

When I woke up this morning there were only 45 miles separating us from Horta. A very dangerous distance because it gives you just enough hope that you will in fact be there before the sun goes down, but also allows you enough leeway to completely eff it up and leave yourself at sea for another night. We had 10 hours of daylight left and would have to average 4.5 knots to make it in time. Not normally hard, but the king of ‘I won’t turn on the engine, what’s another few days out here’ has seemed to move on board sometime since the Bahamas.

Luckily for me the winds have shifted behind us and built up enough, near 20 knots, that we were just holding that 4.5 average when I came up on watch. Through my whole four hours I watched the spedometer like a hawk, and even a momentary dip down to 4.3 would result in a sharp intake of breath. I was not going to lose landfall tonight.

Just as I was beginning to go crazy near the end of my shift since the winds were now almost completely downwind of us which was causing the headsail to flop around a bit (and drop into the low 4s..gasp!), Matt woke up from his sleep shift and I quickly ordered that we raise the spinnaker pole to get our speed back. That did the trick and we were comfortably coasting at 5 knots.

All afternoon I kept my eyes glued to the horizon in front of us for any sign of land or life. Directly across from the island we’re landing at, Faial, is another island, Pico, with a volcanic peak of 2350m high. It’s said that on a clear day you can spot it from 50 M away. This unfortunately, was not a clear day. After thousands of miles of nothing but sun and clear skies, our welcome back to terra firma was presented with low lying clouds and mist ahead of us. I had been burning holes into my eyeballs staring into the reflected light, trying to be the first one to yell ‘Land ho!’ while Matt napped below, but I couldn’t make anything out through the haze.

It wasn’t until hours later when I had given up and begun my showering routine to make myself presentable to people again after a month at sea that Matt was able to pick out a shadow through the clouds. After lots of pointing and references I was able to see it too, honestly a little disappointed that this barely visible outline was my welcome back to humanity. It was land though, and we were quickly approaching it with just enough time to eek in before sunset. Although I think it’s high time we finally update our clocks to the proper time zone, a full two hours ahead of what they’re currently reading.

If anyone was even going to be there to check us in at the now revised hour of 8:30, I wanted to make sure I looked very nice and hopefully distract them from the fact that I was handing over veterinary papers for our cat, just in case we didn’t have all the right ones. Plus I was just excited to have any reason to wear something different than the pajamas I’ve been living in for the past four weeks. Now came the very important decision of what to wear for my first night in Europe. Khakis and a cable knit sweater? My llama skirt from Peru?…there were just so many choices! I had finally settled on a pair of skinny jeans, a tank and a cardigan, but Matt stared with disappointed eyes. “I thought you were going to wear a dress?” he asked. “Have you looked around?”, I replied, “It’s cold out here”. I guess a drop down into the low to mid 70’s now makes freezing weather for us, and it was more than my Caribbean geared attire could handle.

Finally I changed into a somewhat nautical themed sweater dress and applied some eyeliner before joining Matt out on deck again to watch that shadow on the horizon grow larger. We were finally getting to the point now where we could make out features on land and spot little houses and villages on the hilltop. The nearly setting sun was throwing rosy glows off the clouds, and even though I had imagined coming in to the crystal clear images splayed throughout our guidebooks, the view of Faial as we sailed in was indelible. It was just as beautiful as I could ever have imagined, and I stood there slack jawed until I remembered that we actually had to begin taking steps to get ourselves in the harbor.

Bringing down the spinnaker pole, we rolled in the genoa and coasted along with just the main for a little bit, until we were well into the channel between the two islands. As the engine was turned on and sputtered to life, we brought down the main and began running dock lines and hanging fenders. I swear, Matt and I can sail a whole ocean together and not have any arguments or communication issues until we’re landing. As I was trying to run the dock line at the bow it kept getting tangled in the wrachet straps for the dinghy, and since it wasn’t being done in a timely matter, a very impatient and agitated person was yelling at me from the cockpit until I became so flustered that I couldn’t touch anything and went to switch places instead. Since it was the only boat related spat we’d had since coming into Bermuda though, I think I’ll still consider our overall travel a success.

Faial, Azores, Portugal

Monte da Guia, Faial, Azores

Matt & Georgie coming in to Horta

Horta, Faial, Azores

Monte da Guia, Faial, Azores

Getting all the lines squared away we pulled up to the reception desk and music blasted from the main road. Unbeknownst to us, we arrived in the middle of Semana do Mar, or Sea Week. Horta’s biggest yearly event. Having read about it in our guidebook we knew that it was at the beginning of August, but we thought it only spanned one weekend and that we had already missed it. But from the sights and sounds on shore, it was still in full swing, lasting ten days instead of 3, and we could not wait to get out and partake.

Before we could go party though, ourselves and the boat needed to be checked in to Portugal. Having called many times on the radio prior to arriving and getting no response, I went to scour the office of the marina but could find no sign of life there either. Getting ourselves tied up to the fuel dock at 8:05, it looks as if we had just missed them. Our passports wouldn’t be stamped until tomorrow, allowing us one more day in a Schengen country. Darn.

We used up our last remaining hour of daylight talking to other sailors that had just come in within the past two days, many of them not faring as well as us. While we had taken a more southerly route and became trapped in the stillness of high pressure systems, most others took the northerly trade wind route and got a little bashed up along the way. We talked with one boat that had their autopilot crap out their second day out, meaning the crew of 4 had to hand steer the whole way. And to make matters worse, the halyard for their headsail broke not too long after, meaning they completed the rest of the journey with just the mainsail. Stories like that make me extremely happy we took the route we did, even if it means it took us twice as long to get there. Time we have. Money for fixing boat issues…not so much. Or at least, not that we’d be wiling to part with.

Bidding adieu to our new friends as our stomachs growled with the recognition that it had been about 8 hours since we’d last eaten, we pulled some Euros out of an ATM and went to join the throngs of people milling in the streets. One small section of park was set up with a stage playing what I’m guessing was traditional Portuguese music, and small food stands were set up all around it. Our noses guided us toward a mini doughnut stand where we happily handed over a few Euro for our first taste of fried sweet goodness in months. Continuing up the road we wandered into a tent filled with other food stands and restaurants.

Getting an eye full of this one stand that was selling huge sandwiches filled with sausage or presunto, we were sold. As Matt grabbed his sausage filled baguette and I asked for my presunto to be slathered in a creamy cheese, we ordered a few cans of Coke and went to sit with our new treasures on a wall overlooking the harbor.

Taking everything in as we enjoyed the food and the sights, I turned to Matt after about ten minutes and asked, “Does it feel strange to you to be sitting here, finally on land after 30 days, surrounded by people, and drinking a can of Coke? Do you feel as excited as you thought you would to be back on land after so long? Like this is what’s been missing from your life?”

He thought about it a second and observed, “No, not really. This is definitely nice, but it just feel like ‘Today we were at sea, now we’re on land’, easy transition, not as big of a deal as I thought it would be.” I pondered on it for a second, kind of surprised to hear myself say, “Yeah me too.” Smirking he looked over at me and asked, “So then you think you could go back out to sea for another month?” Laughing I looked back and him and replied with a resounding “Absolutely not!”.

Horta Harbor, Azores

Horta fuel dock, Azores

Horta insignia

Horta harbor at dusk, Azores

 

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