Sunday 2 August 2015

"The Long Way" .... to Horta, a friendly reception, a dark side

The above shows possibly the longest/slowest recorded passage from Velas on Sao Jorge, to Horta Fail and my failure to reach Flores. It was a shame for obvious reasons and because I was hoping to re-tread some nostalgic footsteps in search of the ghost of the great OSTAR pioneer, Timmy Hubbard,  deceased, also long time old friend of my Stepfather. He famously stopped for a break at Santa Cruz in I think the 1962 race and told of his passage in his book, "The Race". I will just have to make sure I call there on my way back across the Atlantic next year (he says confidently, not yet having even crossed it yet).

I turned back late on Friday afternoon having spent most of the previous night and that day motor sailing into a fresh westerly wind and fairly steep seas in an effort to get in before the weather got worse. It all started in the most promising way. I left Velas at 0700 on Thursday and unexpectedly soon had a following wind and had good sailing for most of the day. But then the wind steadily veered to the west until I could no longer point to Flores. With the steepening seas I had to make increasingly shallow tacks to maintain boat speed and realised I would arrive at night  in poor weather. So on went the engine and for the next 12 hours I had an eta of Friday evening. However with increasing seas that got pushed back until night time. With the likely poor weather I reluctantly abandoned Flores.

However, it turned out to be the right decision for various reasons.

Firstly, poor weather in the Flores. Shortly after turning I could see thunder storms over Flores, so I was glad I was not in them.

Secondly, I suffered a couple of gear failures. First the mast track gate failed. The threads in the mast into which the gate catch was bolted, corroded through and the gate could therefore not be closed. I took it off rather than risk it falling out. That meant that every time I reefed or un-reefed, or when lowering or hoisting the sail sliders kept falling out of the gate. OK in calm conditions when of course no reefing was required, but it would have been a real drag to have had to cope with that in heavy weather.

Next when looking at the gate I suddenly noticed that the "pin" (about 10mm diameter) holding the boom onto the goose-neck  fitting was almost falling out. Again in the calm down wind conditions I was able to lower the mainsail and get the boom at the right angle so that I could knock the pin back in. Within an hour I had it fixed and the sail back up just in time to catch a freshening breeze. If the boom had come adrift in the fresh conditions behind me it would have been very nasty indeed. As it was I managed to get a smack on the head from the boom.

Thirdly and in stark contrast to our first visit to Horta, I enjoyed the most fabulous welcome to Horta and realised why so many people like the island. I arrived just after the redoubtable Susanne in her wonderful aluminium cutter who had just sailed single handed non stop from Iceland in two weeks, which put my 3 days in perspective! We both ended up berthing closely together alongside a couple of French boats "Trekker" and "Syzgie" crewed single handedly by two wonderful "old" salts of France, 

Susanne, John and Jamie

Fortunately they were both around to make up for my poor approach alongside and John (Syzgie) and Jamie (Banic). After my afternoon nap John lost no time in inviting us aboard for drinks. Soon I was being plied with liberal quantities of Rum, honey and lime and was rolling for quite a different reason from yesterday's. Quite by chance too, we had arrived at the beginning of festival week (Semana Do Mar)  and all visiting yachties were invited to the yacht club for fish soup.

So well primed off we all rolled to the Yacht club with others both - strangers and friend of John's - in tow, who had made the mistake of passing John's boat and had been swiftly press ganged for numerous sundowners. Our crew now included Pascal, Frank, Mohamed and Essen with his dog. It turned out to be prize giving night and so we listened avidly - most of us visitors not understanding a word but it was all great fun. The soup was amazing and came with generous helpings of fish and potatoes and "lashings" of red wine. Afterwards some of us we got as far as the marina bar which we propped up for an hour or so consuming a number of beers. I started falling asleep on my feet at about 0200 and staggered back to bed.  A memorable night with wonderful sailing folk, reminiscent of another memorable night in Guernsey in 1979 more than 30 years ago, where whilst waiting for the "Fastnet" gales to blow through in my Dad's boat "Chlamys" - a standing gaff cutter and converted ship's lifeboat, I and my crew of friends, including Helen, my then girlfriend, were invaded by a load of friendly Frenchies and plied with gallons of home made Calvados! After that I had the mother of all hangovers and to my great shame woke in the morning in pool of vomit! Quite why Helen didn't leave me then and there I'm not sure. Thankfully, age has brought a lesser appetite for such excesses and despite the generosity on offer I didn't consume enough to make myself ill and even awoke this morning without a hangover. I did feel a little light headed during the course of the day though.

After rising just before noon I bumped into Jamie, Suzanne and Pascal again and headed for the marina cafe for a simple breakfast of the best and cheapest coffee and great chocalate pastry. Susanne and I then caught up on internet and email stuff and swapped accounts of our spouses, families and life stories and were later joined by Mohamed, another far travelled single handed sailor. He like Susanne had recently arrived from distant lands, Nova Scotia in his case. Another charming and delightful sailor.

After a very late light lunch I went for walk and watched one of the dingy fleets come in...

Then I ventured into "Peter's" the scene of such disappointments earlier in the cruise. This time I decided to visit the scrimshaw museum upstairs first which is highly recommended in the Atlantic Islands Pilot. 

Part of the now extensive "Peters" establishment with pictures of famous old salts in the windows

What a treat it was to be given a personal tour by the charming Marilia from the Cape Verdes. Not only was she very knowledgeable about the artifacts - a large collection of whale bone art - but also very interested in the lives of her visitors and we were soon swapping accounts of our families and I was showing her photos of Sharon, kids and grandchildren. I look forward to hopefully seeing photos of her 9 year old before I leave. I'm now even more inclined to visit the Cape Verdes and if so will look up her family there.

The art is known collectively as "scrimshaw". The word is derived from an old Dutch word to describe idleness and was ascribed to the activity taken up by the whalers in times gone by of creating artifacts on whale bones and teeth in the long periods of idleness between whale sightings.

The museum includes a famous photograph of a tremendous winter storm battering the coast with 20 meter waves, taken by its founder. To her great amusement, Marilia had to point out the wonderful curiosity in the photograph which makes it so notable. Can you see it?....

Neptune's head

In my defence, it apparently took a friend of the photographer to point out the image too him. But what an amazing one it is too. If he had taken the photograph a second earlier or later it would never have existed apart from that one second in all time!

During my excursion around the town I learnt that despite the wonderful time us yachties (often) experience here, Horta, unfortunately has it's dark side. Suicide rates are rocketing as families struggle to adjust to changing times on this small island, which, despite the international yachting scene, is still a very isolated place for most of the islanders most of the time. Beneath the surface, Austerity is perhaps having an abrasive affect on this once traditional community. No doubt there are other reasons too. At least one valiant person is doing their utmost to fight the insidious cancer that appears to be affecting the island. I very much their efforts are recognised and supported by the powers that be.

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