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Sunday, August 26, 2012

"Rocks" for supper 22 August 2012

Our friends João and Ana from S/V Danny Boy decided that we should be introduced to some of their favourite typical Azorean food and took us to the Restaurante O Silva in Ribeira Grande in order to, amongst other things, eat the local delicacy "Rocks". Soon a plate full of  "Rocks" was placed before us together with the necessary tools to attack them with - namely a sort of small skewer with a bent tip and half a straw. Ana and João then proceeded to give us a lesson in how to use them
The "Rocks" turned out to be the giant barnacle, Megabalanus Azoricus, which is endemic to the Azores Archipelago. In the Azores these are known as Cracas
The skewer with the bent tip is required in order to extract the animal from its shell

 and the half straw is then used to suck out the tasty, salty juice - a very special tasty dish
 This was then followed by grilled Limpets or Lapas Grelhadas

 The main course was Arroz de Cherne or White Grouper in saffran rice
 followed by two bean based delicious sweet deserts Queijada de Feijão and Pudim de Feijão

The restaurant then kindly presented us with bleached Cracas shells and a bent skewer as a souvenir

Thank you very much Ana and João for such a delicious, memorable meal.

I have since been doing a bit of googling to find out more about Megabalanus Azoricus.
In addition to the Azores, this barnacle can be found in the archipelagos of Madeira and Cape Verde.
However, as it is such a delicacy, it is in danger of being over-harvested and OSPAR, the European organisation charged with protecting the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic has put it on the danger list for over fishing - please click on the below link:-

In order to conserve the species whilst catering for the tastes of the islanders, Horta University has instigated a pilot project to investigate the possibility of marine farming the Megabalanus Azoricus.
This study was conducted in Baixa do Norte (38º32' 26,342”N 28º33' 50,726”W) , a shallow water bank (minimum depth of 17.5 meters) located in the channel separating the islands of Faial and Pico, a zone characterised by strong currents of up to 1m/s.

Lets hope it will be possible to farm the barnacle as it would certainly leave an unfortunate gap in Azorean cuisine if harvesting were to be banned !

More can be found on Horta Universities website - please click on the below link:-

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sail Lajes do Pico to Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel 20-21 August 2012

Unfortunately the Grib Files indicated that , if we wanted to be have a chance of sailing to Ponta Delgada this week we would have to leave Lajes do Pico on Monday 20 Augustus as the wind would move to the East from Tuesday onwards.
So we started the lengthier than usual process of  removing our mooring ropes (15 in total). 
By 1130am were heading out of the harbour, following in the wake of Hurricane Gordon which, as can be seen on the below Grib File for 1200hrs, was at that time still roaring over Ponta Delgada
 Motoring in the lee of Pico

As we left the wind shadow of the island, the wind increased to a pleasant NNE4. The skies above us were clear with a band of low cloud on the Eastern horizon ahead of us - presumably the tail end of Hurricane Gordon which only 5 hours earlier was over Ponta Delgada, our destination 135 Nmiles away.
There was a residual swell of about 3 meter height but as it was a long swell it was not uncomfortable.
Unfortunately, after about 4 hours of sailing the wind became more easterly and variable so, not being interested in a slow beat, we motor sailed the rest of the trip.

Dawn is breaking 
 Beautiful sunrise over Sao Miguel
 Sao Miguel clearly visible
 After a pleasant but noisy (engine) trip, we arrived in Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel at midday on Tuesday 21 August  - total trip time just over 24 hours.
 Dutch Link safely moored in Ponta Delgada Marina
 Talking to yachts that had been here during the Hurricane, they all felt they had been let of lightly - there had been quite a swell in the marina but this had been reduced as the ferry had stayed in port which acts as an additional breakwater and the swell and wind turned from the East to the NEast - a much better direction for Ponta Delgada. Also the maximum wind speed was only around 50 knots - still a lot, but much more manageable than the 85 knots which the Hurricane was delivering earlier. One could tell they had had an anxious night, however by the spiderwebs of mooring ropes  to keep them off the pontoons.

(the marina is less than ideally constructed as the ferry jetty looks as though it should provide shelter from an easterly swell. However, the jetty is supported on concrete pillars with large gaps between which, unless there is a ferry on the dock, allows any swell to proceed into the marina more or less unimpeded)

Hurricane Gordon 19 August 2/12

We have never really considered the Azores to be a hurricane prone area. So we were somewhat surprised when what seemed like a normal low pressure
 started to look on the grib files more and more like a revolving storm.

 As the days went by the feature got a name, Gordon, and became a Tropical Storm
and then as it got yet closer it became a category 2 Hurricane heading straight for the Azores.

However, the track forecast by NOAA indicated that it would pass south of Pico, the island where we were moored. 

 On Pico, the wind would be less than 20kts and from the East, a good direction for the Lajes do Pico marina.
 NOAA prediction for wind strengths above 50 knots - Sao Miguel and Santa Maria clearly in the danger zone

 The resulting swell according to Passage Weather website would be around 4 meters from the SWest - also a good direction for us. Hence we decided to stay put.

Sao Miguel and Santa Maria would not be so lucky  - the eye of the hurricane was predicted to pass over them by 0600hrs 20 August with wind and swell initially from the east - the worst possible direction for Ponta Delgada on Sao Miguel.

However, two days before the Hurricane was due to be due south of us, the harbour authorites based in Horta issued the advice for all yachts in Lajes do Pico and Sao Jorge to move to Horta on Faial.
We considered their advice, one yacht left Lajes do Pico for Horta but returned as progress was poor against headwinds and swell.
So, as the weather forecasting in this area is very good and put the track well to the south of us, plus the local fisherman considering that Lajes do Pico would be safe in the predicted conditions, plus I, (Mike) had the flu and was not feeling well enough for a tough passage unless absolutely necessary, we decided to ignore the advice and stay.
The harbour authorities required us to sign a paper which made us liable for any damage we might cause to their harbour facilities - a bit daunting but by then there was no way we were going to move.
We then prepared as best we could for the possibility that the track of the hurricane shifted more northerly than forecast by adding extra lines - 15 in total (normally 5 !)

 including a 40 meter rope from the bow across the harbour to a stone jetty to keep the bow off the pontoon finger.

Luckily we had thanks to Paul of Picomatica, very good WiFi so could keep continuously  informed of Gordon's progress and the latest predictions. 

2100hrs Sunday night, Gordon's closest point to us, came and went and there was hardly a whisper of wind and no significant swell and a beautiful sunset

 The peak of Pico looking majestic in a pink glow - red sky at night ... shepherds warning?

Went to bed and woke up next morning after one of the calmest nights we have had on Pico, to a calm, sunny day - very very thankful that Gordon had not had a sudden change of  direction during the night.

 even the often shy cloud shrouded Pico was clear

We are even more impressed with the weather forecasting abilities these days.

Information received later from boats who were in Ponta Delgada indicated that they had been let off lighter than expected - the eye was slightly south of them and the winds had reduced to just under 50 kts with wind and swell changing from East to North East which is much better for Ponta Delgada.

Have looked up Azores Hurricane statistics on Wikipedia - the links of the hurricanes that have hit the Azores are listed below - click on the link to go to the writeup.

1973 Hurricane Fran (1973)
1976 Hurricane Emmy
1992 Hurricane Bonnie (1992)
1995 Hurricane Tanya (1995)
1997 Hurricane Erika (1997)
2003 Tropical Storm Ana (2003)
2005 2005 Azores subtropical storm
2006 Hurricane Gordon (2006)
2009 Tropical Storm Grace (2009)
2012 Hurricane Gordon

So one can see that whilst not exactly Hurricane prone, the Azores have had several hurricanes over the past years.
Amazingly the last Hurricane to hit the Azores was also called Gordon and hit in 2006, 6 years ago - hopefully it will be at least 6 years before the next one!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Sail Horta to Lajes do Pico 14 August 2012

Left Horta marina 14 August 2012 and headed SE for the southern tip of Pico en route to Lajes do Pico on the south coast of Pico.
As the wind was a NWerly 5 and we were on a run and it was only 20 nMiles to the marina, we decided to sail only on the Genny - fully expecting to have to motor once in the wind shadow of Pico.
A cloud covered Pico
 the wind freshened to a 5/6 Bft and we were making 5 to 7 knots SOG
 rounding Pico.
After about an hour the wind became somewhat variable and the Genny was flogging in the swell so we furled it in and motored. The wind became quite gusty under Pico reaching 30 knots at times.
On approaching the small marina of Lajes do Pico, the wind was steady at about 25knots - not ideal for manoeuvering in tight spots.

The outer North / South harbour wall
The Navionics chart on the Ipad proved very handy on our approach through the narrow channel

Close up of outer harbour wall

 I messed up the mooring as I understood that we would have to moor on the reception pontoon as the marina was full - so unlike our usual procedure, we had fenders and ropes only on starboard. So when someone indicated we had to go to a berth which needed fenders and ropes on port we were not ready. However, there was no time to rearrange so I tried to turn the boat into the wind so as to enter the berth in reverse. With the strong following wind and very little space to turn, this manoeuvre proved to be impossible. To cut a long story shorter, we ended up on the hammerhead of the next pontoon . Unfortunately this was the domain of the many whale watching ribs who were not amused. With the help of our very friendly Harbour Master, Jose, and some discussion, we agreed that we could stay put until the wind died down a bit later in the afternoon

 Lajes do Pico at low water with the rocky shoals to the north of the marina clearly visible
Dutch Link safely moored in one of the only two berths available for our size of boat
The narrow buoyed channel between the harbour wall and the rocky reefs
(Chartlet from Anne Hammicks Pilot Book for the Atlantic Islands)
We are happy to say that the WiFi here is excellent and free thanks to Picomatica. Initially we had problems with the registration so called the help number. Within 5 minutes of calling, Paul, the owner of the company, was on board tweeking the system and indicating where to point our directional antenna - fantastic service.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Faial Sea Week 7 to 14 August 2012

Horta celebrated its annual Sea Week festival in fine style between 7 and 14 August. The boulevard was festively lit at night and restuarant marquees and other stalls erected

 The Club Nautica invited all sailors to a traditional fish soup supper
 and bands played traditional songs from two different stages at either end of town
 one evening was celebrated with Fada.
Unfortunately, after midnight the traditional music was replaced by very loud pop group bands till the early hours of the morning - the supply of earplugs from the festivities in Praia da Vitoria from last year came in very useful
 The town dignitaries made speeches
 and local bands marched through the streets

 one evening we were treated to folklore dancing
 A sailing race was held for any cruisers that wished to take part.
 As with all the Azores Island, the old whaling heritage is not forgotten and the local fleet of whaling canoes had a race between Faial and Pico
 zooming in ...
 and in ...
 Later they took of their sails and had rowing races in the Harbour

 During the week we visited the Horta Whaling Museum which is basically the renovated site of the old factory where they processed the various parts of the Sperm Whales which they hunted. Below are the boilers for producing whale oil from blubber - at the time this was liquid gold
 Other equipment produced bone meal for fertiliser
 This is the arch at the end of the ramp through which the massive whales were winched
 the ramp
 Between the whale museum and the town is Pim's beach off which we have had several good swims
 The other side of the museum is the volcano Monte da Guia which has a good walk to the end of its peninsular
 views of the small Caldeira do Inferno bay to the south of the peak which is a nature reserve

Our friends Riens and Ineke from S/V Zeezwaluw were very industrious
 and contributed to the yachtee artwork on the quay with their magnificent painting
Met up again with singlehander Chuck from S/V Reflections who we had last met at anchor off La Gomera in the Canaries 18 months ago. Chuck introduced us to the novel cooking method of Sous Vide - the steak he cooked for us had been cooking very slowly vacuum packed in a water bath for about 3 days at a precisely controlled temperature of 55 degC - end result - delicious. On Googling Sous Vide - see Wikipedia link below,

we find that this is a technique used by many top chefs.