Monday, July 20, 2009

Landfall in Santa Maria

Another day, another plan. A slip of a new moon rose just before dawn and illuminated what I'd feared, the waves were building from the rising head-wind and we were making tortuously slow headway west. I'm sure the Hiscocks or other hardened sailors of a previous generation would have hove-to or tacked towards the islands thinking nothing of another night at sea. I had other plans - I could see the outline of Santa Maria, I'd plenty of diesel in the tank and I'd serviced the engine in Gibraltar so I motored the last 30 miles. Still progress was slow, I considered changing destination again and heading off to Sao Miguel as at least I'd have a better angle on the wind, but eventually I decided on an anchorage on the north-east end of Santa Maria which looked perfect for strong westerly winds and saved me 7 miles over yesterday's planned landfall of Vila do Porto.

As I closed on Santa Maria I was mobbed by sea-birds. It felt like they'd mistaken me for a fishing boat - could I really smell that bad? Perhaps I've spent too long recently in the Greek islands and have begun expecting all islands to be similarly diminutive, so I was impressed with the size and scale of Santa Maria especially as it's one of the smaller islands in the Azores. Most of the island appears to rise vertically directly from the sea becoming forbidding shear cliffs above the water. As I approached I spied a couple of settlements clinging to a slightly less vertiginous slope, though the way the exit roads wind their way up into the interior quickly put an end to any idea of exploring by bicycle.

The most startling sights in the anchorage, are the gravity defying terraces surrounding the bay. Apparently they are put to use as vineyards producing a locally famous wine. The guide warned that a lot of the houses are holiday homes and although not expecting to be mobbed by Pacific islanders in dug-out canoes, I didn't find Sao Lourenco to be the social place where I'd hoped to make landfall.

Admittedly I only ventured ashore briefly between rain showers and my Portuguese is extremely limited, so not ideal conditions. Still the anchorage is well sheltered from the swell, although frequent squalls whistle down from the cliffs - at least the wind-generator is earning its keep. I should have a restful night then if the weather allows, I'll shift to Sao Migel tomorrow.

13:30GMT, 20/7/2009: Baia de Sao Lourenco, Azores: N36deg 59.2' W25deg 03.0'

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