ARC EUROPE: Azores Cruise 2015
Yesterday, I ate a barnacle. Yes, you read it right. You know those gnarly attachments you’d find growing along the bottom of a neglected hull? Yes, indeed….and it was worth the flash of horror that crossed my mind as the waitress delivered our lunch.Unfortunately, you cannot really expect your kids to venture off the kiddie menu in foreign countries, if you do not exemplify the same adventurous spirit. Luckily it worked, and the boys were asking for seconds. If you had asked me six months ago if I would ever eat the crusty turd scraped off the bottom of boat, I’d have said, “Not in a million….”
So let’s back this up a bit. WIDAGO successfully completed a 1800nm journey from Bermuda to Horta, Faial (Azores) in 14 days. Our passage was very calm with light winds and seas, due to the “double high” pressure system. Frankly, that was just fine by me. When we did have wind, it was mostly downwind, making for a comfortable passage. No one was seasick, too tired, or too bored. Amazingly, not once did the guys complain about being “bored”. This may have to do with our quick solution to their problem, which includes cleaning toilets, and doing brightwork. The daily visits from whales, dolphins and turtles certainly helped keep spirits high.
Once we arrived in Horta, decompression from the voyage began instantly with spontaneous champagne parties dockside, and Gin & Tonics at Peter’s Cafe Sport. The ARC folks coordinated a great dinner of do-it-yourself where we cooked our food on cataclysmicly hot lava stones. The restaurant was packed, so our party of five was split up, leaving the kids to fend for themselves. Luckily, I did not need to pull out the Porter’s Salve, as the boys managed to cook their cook dinner with charring themselves.
One of the time honored traditions in Horta, is the painting of the walls in the marina. It is believed to bring bad luck to mariners if they depart without leaving their mark on the walls of the marina. The size, scope, and talent ranges wildly, leaving the tourists many great sights to behold. WIDAGO and her crew left their mark in style – and just before the rain started.
Being the cowpoke Virginians that we are (with the exception of yours truly), WIDAGO jumped at the chance to explore Horta on horseback. When asked by the owner’s of the outfit if he would be able to ride for 3 hours, Ahab responded, “Shoooot, I’m a Buckin’ham Boy. I can ride all day.” Needless to say, by hour two, we were all shifting in our seats. It was a fantastic way to see the island, and it only took four days to get ”un-sore”. Well worth it.
The island of Pico, just a short ferry ride across from Horta, provided a great day trip, and break from the decompression, repairs, and painting in Horta. We fell into good luck (probably from painting on the marina wall) as our random cab driver and his wife spoke excellent English, and provided a comprehensive tour of the island. Lava rock “minyards” (mini-vineyards) dot the countryside and coastline. Whale hunting has now morphed into whale watching. We were not able to climb to to Pico’s Peak due to poor weather (and even if the weather was good, our complete lack of cardiovascular fitness may have become a limiting factor), but I managed to capture a glance of the top.
Just a day’s sail from Horta is the island of Terceira. In the main city of Angra de Heroismo, we explored the seventeenth century as developed by the silver and gold traders did between Europe and the Americas. Unlike the Portuguese influenced islands of Faial and Pico, Terceira, was more strongly influenced by the Spanish. For this, we get the bulls. Every night for six months, they run the bulls through different parishes on the island. As one of our tour guides informed us, “Terceira is the island that parties all the time. The others work.”
Besides the vineyards, artesian cheese shops, and many cafes, our final tour gave us the chance to do what they claim cannot be done anywhere else in world. While on Terecira, we descended into to a volcano. Lucky for us, is was dormant. The lush verdant hills above belied the subterranean dungeon of doom. Just like any respectable tourist stop, upon approach we came across three big diesel tour buses filled with elderly cane carrying AARP members. We passed through the wide, brightly light entrance, and paid our fee. Turn right, head down the stairs. Keep going down. Further. Okay, now I’m having a little problem – and there’s no Xanax in reach. The seemly unending tunnel, not wide enough for two electric scooters to pass, would be the death of me. My stomach roiled, upper lip sprung a bead of sweat, and the heart palpitations fluttered like a migrating hummingbird. I was hoping this was a reaction to the previously consumed barnacles, but deep down I knew it was a panic attack crawling its way up the back of skull, making my tongue feel just a little too big in my throat. The kids obviously wanting to help put their poor mother at ease, launched comments: “How ya feeling Mom? Boy, this sure is a long, tight, dark, tunnel under millions of pounds of rock.” Bless their hearts. I thought about turning around on the steps just before entering the tunnel, but luckily there was a wave of elderly tourists in a riptide current. All I could do was just keep moving with the masses. Clenching and unclenching my fists as Dr. Carlos taught me, I managed to somehow keep breathing until we exited the tunnel into what could have easily been the set from any Indiana Jones movie. The volcanic tunnels opened up to daylight, and with it, I pulled myself together. Pictures just really can’t capture the display – at least mine can’t.
Our final stop in the Azores was Ponta Delgado in San Miguel. Just an overnight sail from Terceira, and another completely different feel to this island. High rises, modern structures, and much more populated. We don’t really have enough time to explore all that we want, as our next long passage is just a day away. Besides doing laundry and provisioning, hopefully we will get the chance to see more than just the marina. This stop is somewhat bittersweet, as we will split off from the majority of the ARC Europe Fleet when we head north towards Germany. The YellowShirts have been fantastic, and connections we’ve made with the other boats, priceless. We look forward to seeing some of these guys on our way back across the Atlantic this fall with the ARC. Cheers!