Captain's Log, 18 Sept 1998
Horta Harbor, Island of Faial, Azores
If you are a reader in search of calamity and epic feats of stupidity at sea, read no further. We have nothing of the kind to report (this time). We had an uneventful passage from Flores to Horta, aside from the fact that the wind was dead against us, making a 120 mile trip into a 200 mile, 2 day slog tacking back and forth. However, the blessed anemometer never went over 25 knots. We enjoyed the bonito caught by Joel, which provided 2 dinners en route. By the way, for those who have asked about the toxicology reports on the famous swordfish, we actually stopped eating it when Joel caught the first dorado. At that point it had been in the reefer for a week and was quite fresh; probably about as fresh as what we buy at Shop'n'Save. And the signs of delirium seen among the crew were, in my professional opinion, baseline--not due to mercury toxicity.
Horta is legendary on several counts: It has, since the great age of exploration began in the time of Prince Henry the Navigator, been a stopping place for European and American ships going in every direction across the Atlantic. Because it is nearly mid Atlantic, it was a stopping place for Amphibious planes going from New York to Europe. More recently, and for the same reasons, it has been THE stopping place for sailboats crossing the Atlantic, and has long had the most protected harbor in the Azores for small boats. This was the first rest stop for Joshua Slocum, who brought SPRAY here in the late 1800's at the start of the first solo circumnavigation of the globe. Since then, virtually every famous sailboat has stopped here as well. The sea walls are covered with the painted logos of hundreds of cruising boats. And the equally famous Cafe Sport, watering hole for the crews of said boats, is also covered with flags and memorabilia from boats passing through. Horta has been reputed to be one of the friendliest ports in the world as well. We haven't seen so much of that: I think the locals are shagged out after a long season of boat people, and ready for the lot of us to go away for a few months. Perhaps this is only by contrast with the atmosphere on Flores.
For us, it has been an excellent place for repairs, as there is a good supply of marine hardware and other essentials. In the 4 days we have been here, we have steadily worked down through our list. Sail repairs are done, the new spreader is made, winches are working again after removing great clumps of salt. Numerous changes have been made at the mast head to reduce chafe, and a new inner forestay fitting is being fabricated. Our old fitting was showing some cracks in the welding, and we decided to have a completely new one made. The heroic parachute sea anchor has been lovingly rinsed with fresh water, dried and carefully repacked, ready to save our bacon again. Joel has torn down the propane cooking stove, cleaned up all the salt water and old cooking schmutz, and got it back in tip-top condition. Shifra has painted our logo on the sea wall, and so we join the long tradition. We have also found a fine bakery and pastry shop, which we are generously supporting.
We are quite late in the season here, so the marina is far less crowded. Rather than rafting up 10 deep along the sea wall, we have been 1-2 deep, first alongside a South African boat, and now alongside SEA BEAR, a steel boat from Bath, Maine. Aft of us is a British boat, DOVE, with a BBC film crew filming whales and sharks. Among other things, they have a huge cage for filming sharks on their foredeck; quite a sight on a 60' boat. Hard to imagine them actually sailing. Forward of us lies a sad tale in the form of MAREBLU, a 72' German charter boat which has been sold and is en route to its new owner in France, but has been laid up here for 2 months with a broken propeller shaft and twisted roller furling rig. It is already very late in the season for heading to Europe, and they will probably break lots of other things before they make France. A friendly Canadian aboard FREDHEIM gave us a fine piece of close-grained western red cedar to make our new spreader with, in exchange for a cup of coffee. It had been looking like we'd have to use some of the oak we have aboard, which would have been heresy.
We will finish up our refitting work in a day or two, with luck, and then will look for a good weather window for Madeira, possibly with a brief stop in Santa Maria, the southeasternmost of the Azores. There is great turmoil to the north of us, with poor old England getting one deep low after another. Here we get the southern edges of these systems, with brief episodes of rain and strong westerly winds. As time goes on, however, they will get closer and closer. The general wisdom is that late August is the deadline for getting safely to northern Europe, and mid-September for Spain and the Mediterranean. For Madeira and the Canaries, late September is OK, but not later unless one is a masochist. Interestingly, it is mostly Americans who are left here. Is this because we think we are immune to the forces of nature, or because this weather seems quite delightful compared to what we are used to in New England? I would compare this weeks weather, for example, to a fine July in Penobscot Bay, without the fog.
I notice, as I look over this and previous logs, that weather occupies the bulk of the discussion. This is peculiar to sailors, and perhaps people who fly. This may be why books about voyaging hold so little general interest, and generally fail to qualify as literature, except perhaps for those authors who deal with psychosis at sea, like Melville and Conrad. Among seafarers, even those able to feign normalcy by land, there seems to be an inversion of priorities, with weather dominating all other topics. For example, people will sometimes open a conversation with an innocuous weather comment, such a "Hot today, isn't it", en route to what they are really interested in discussing, such as, "I notice you have an amputated leg...". Among sailors, by contrast, such a conversation might begin like this:
"Nice wooden leg you've got there, mate".
"Ar, shark bit off me leg".
"Did he now, well that's a pisser. What sort of wood is that?"
"Ar, teak that is; carved it me'self. Won't never rot, that leg."
Haven't primed the conversational pump, they would quickly move on to the real meat of the discussion. "Hell of a blow we had coming down here; force 10 for 36 hours, barometer got down to 980 millibars in the middle of it....." And they're off for a good hour, reviewing in minute detail the weather of the past month, storms they've seen, high-pressure ridges, 500 millibar prognoses, the 96-hour surface prediction, equinoctal gales, etc., etc. It's best to avoid discussions like this if you are a truly normal person: they can induce coma within minutes, even death in artistic or literary persons......
Well, perhaps next time we will have some actual news. Until then, we hope you have really good weather wherever you are.