Rewind to Sao Miguel

“Editor’s” Note: I started this post last night (Sunday, July 10). However, I’ve found that the most consistent thing about marina internet (regardless of the marina) is its inconsistency. Midway through drafting the post, the internet went dark and I went to bed. Therefore, I’m finishing the post on Monday morning and a careful reader may see some date inconsistencies. No worries, Im happy to say that in those few intervening hours, Rhett and Sunny have arrived and they are both sleeping off jet lag.

One hint to world travelers: If you really don’t like jet lag, just sail across the ocean—it’s as easy as that!

As you probably know from my satellite micro posts, unlike in most every movie about ships and the sea (Titanic, Jaws, The Perfect Storm, All is Lost, etc.) the boat didn’t sink and we made it! Hazel and I are transatlantic solo voyagers and are now tucked comfortably in the totally cool and fantastic Oeiras Marina (pretend it’s Irish when you pronounce it…O’Irish). It’s on the Rio Tejo (River Tagus) midway between Lisbon, Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean.

Hazel has enjoyed three straight “spa days” in the marina and although she took some knocks on the crossing, her evident pride in accomplishment more than makes up for any wear and tear. She’s the embodiment of “punching above her weight class,” and has never looked better as she awaits Rhett and Sunny’s arrival.

The marina has many local weekend boaters and on Saturday and Sunday a stream of friendly neighbors stopped by to ask, “Are you really from the US?” “Did you sail here?” “Did you visit the Azores?”

Before I get lost in the challenging passage from Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel, Azores to mainland Portugal, let me do a quick rewind to our time on Sao Miguel. If you recall, I was a bit on the fence as to whether or not we should depart, and once we made the decision we left quickly—before I could give Sao Miguel its due via a proper post. In the end, I’m glad we departed when we did. Although the wind and weather wasn’t great on the eight day passage, it didn’t get any better over the week after. Also, the timing of me arriving several days before Rhett was perfect, giving Hazel and me a chance to rest and get ourselves cleaned up.

By a considerable margin, Sao Miguel is the Azore archipelago’s largest and most populous island (Sao Miguel’s population is 140,000, the other eight islands have a combined population of 100,000).

Sao Miguel as I approached from the west and from Horta.

After getting Hazel in the Ponta Delgada marina, cleaning her up, and attending to a few boat projects, I had a couple days of exploration before departure.

Hazel tidied up in the marina with Azorian capital buildings in the background.

Day one of exploration was in the town of Ponta Delgada and I started in the town square and by climbing the town’s bell tower that in the past was used to notify citizen’s of emergencies, curfews, etc. (piracy was a constant threat in these remote islands).

Town square.
View of the marina from the town’s bell tower (red circle around Hazel).
Zooming in with Hazel James front and center.

Just a couple blocks away from the touristy waterside streets was a dizzying array of cobblestone alleys running in all directions. I was especially taken with the number and beauty of the churches. It seemed like every few blocks was a different parish. They all had a similar external architecture of white stucco offset with dark timbers and were incredibly ornate inside. Sitting in a pew for five or ten minutes was a welcome respite and a chance to reflect on the miles behind me and the miles yet to sail. I just loved the smells of the churches—all the same, but all a bit different—a mix of wood and stone, salt air and humidity, incense, and years and years. I inhaled deeply trying to imprint each in my mind so I could eventually see if mainland Portuguese churches smelled similar.

Church bell tower taken from the town’s bell tower (just about to strike noon).
Another church.
View of the harbor from the gardens of the previous church.
Sao Pedro (St. Peter’s) church.
The main altar inside Sao Pedro.
Another altar within Sao Pedro (just to the left of the main altar).

On day two of my exploration I wanted to get out and see the western end of the island. If Rhett were with me, we probably would have rented a car. However, while I rather enjoy eating dinner alone in a restaurant accompanied by a good book, the prospect of renting a car by myself seemed utterly depressing. Besides, what would the car-rental person think as some creepy loner filled out the paperwork? What’s this guy going to do with the car? I might as well have asked to rent a van with no windows and see what they thought of that (probably surreptitiously call the policia). To avoid that whole situation, I hired the taxi driver Marco to drive me around for several hours. We had a great time and while Marco’s English wasn’t the best, it was far better than my four words of Portuguese and we were able to communicate and have some fun.

Sao Miguel with taxi tour drawn in (north is up). The city of Ponta Delgada on the southern shore of the island is underlined.

As previously discussed in my Horta and Faial post, the archipelago of the Azores sits atop the Azores Triple Junction where the boundaries of three tectonic plates intersect: the North American Plate, the Eurasian Plate and the African Plate. As on the island of Faial, the evidence of plates colliding and separating and geologically recent volcanic activity dotted the Sao Miguel landscape.

Climbing into the foothills of Sao Miguel. Note the Hydrangea flowers in the foreground.
Aqueduct that was used to bring water from the hills to Ponta Delgada.

Next we drove into the Lagoa das Sete Cidades Nature Park with its many inactive volcanic calderas (from the Latin, cauldron) that have filled with water forming picturesque lakes (lagoas).

Lagoa de Santiago in the foreground.
Another caldera.
Lagoa Verde in the foreground and Lagoa Azul in the background. Marco told me that in direct sunlight they are indeed green and blue (driven by the different dissolved minerals in each). Unfortunately we couldn’t see the colors with the overcast sky. Note the town of Sete Cidades in the upper left.
Here’s a picture of the two lakes from the internet.
Path to scenic overlook.

Marco next drove me down into the town of Sete Cidades where we stopped and walked around for a bit. While the churches in the “big city” of Ponta Delgada were much more ornate, Sete Cidades’s parish church, Igreja de Sao Nicolau built in 1857, possessed a simple, country beauty.

Walkway leading to the church. Note more hydrangeas.
Inside the church.

To conclude our tour Marco drove me along the stunning north and west coasts of the island.

Cows on the way to the coast. Azorian cheeses are amazing (those are clouds on the horizon line, not land).
North coast town of Capelas in the background.
Another seaside town with the ubiquitous hydrangeas in the foreground.

A final note on the hydrangeas, or as the Azorians would say hortencias, they are the national flower and literally line every roadside.

Hortencia (hydrangea).

I settled up and said my adeus to Marco (my goodbye, literally “to God”). When he asked where I was going next and I said mainland Portugal and Lisbon, he reflected, “I no like Lisbon. Here, life is good. There, too much stress.”—enough said.

Thanks as always for tuning in and we’ll work to get out a post shortly about the passage to the Iberian Peninsula and Rhett and Sunny’s settling back aboard Hazel.

8 thoughts on “Rewind to Sao Miguel

  1. We are SO EXCITED for you! Proud right along with you and Hazel for your amazing and successful crossing!!

    1. Beautiful pictures. Hope you had a chance to try the Azorian pineapple. Raquel said it is only grown there and is quite delicious. If not, maybe you can find on mainland Portugal. Glad to hear that Rhett and Sunny have made it to Portugal. Enjoy.

    2. Great read as always. We met when you stayed overnight at Merchants off Spruce Head Maine last summer. The owner Skip is impressed with your sailing skills and wanted to know the make of your sailboat.

  2. Just wow. Incredible accomplishment and journey. Glad you are safe and sound. Thanks for the detail as always. Makes me feel like I was there but without all of the work 😉

  3. Great post on the Azores, Dan. Congratulations on such a fantastic accomplishment! It’s been a blast following along with your regular satellite posts and imagining what it’s been like for you and Hazel crossing the Atlantic. Looking forward to hearing more from Portugal.

  4. So glad you made it safe and sound Dan! Thank you as always for the detail – it’s like I was there but without all of the hard work 😉 Relish this one and enjoy your next adventure!

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