Captain's Log, 29 Sept 1998, 1200 UTC
Position: 33d 30m north, 19d 14m west
We are now closing on the Madeiran Archipelago, with the island of Porto Santo, our destination, 150 miles to the east. The remnants of Tropical Storm Ivan passed about 350 miles north of us on Sunday, giving us a nice westerly flow of wind for the first day or so, but nothing over 20 knots. We covered 154 miles in our first 24 hours out of Santa Maria, which is our record for this trip. It was a little strange knowing that a tropical storm was in the neighborhood, but having only fair winds, blue skies, and no dip in the barometer. There weren't even any high cirrus clouds, which invariably precede a low pressure system of any kind. All we really got was about 24 hours of oppressive humidity, like summertime in the Caribbean. Now we are alternately wafting along under cruising spinnaker, and motoring through the lulls, just enjoying the fine weather. Yesterday, we hove to in the heat of the day for a swim. The bottom of the boat is remarkably free of growth, for almost 3 months in the water. It is always strange to swim in mid-ocean, with miles of water beneath you; none of us strays very far from the boat. It is a bit like the sensation of being at great height.
Reflections on the Azores: Due to my work schedule, we ended up arriving much later in the season than we would have liked, but got enough of a taste of the islands to feel they would be worth a real visit in the future. July and August would be the ideal time, with lots of festivals, and more settled weather. It would also be good to come back with more fluent Portugese. There are a remarkable number of people under 40 who have lived in the US or Canada, and we mostly communicated with them. It is quite common for young people to work outside the Azores for a time to accumulate some capital, then come back and buy land and perhaps a fishing boat. Many of our impressions are therefore filtered through people who have lived much of their lives in North America. With true natives we had very little contact.
There is a kind of small town syndrome at work in all the islands, something like what we see in Maine. Young people bemoan the lack of action, long for the stimulus of city life on the continent, and go to Lisbon or Boston or Toronto; many come back regretting they ever left. We saw other examples of this phenomenon: we had heard that there was an excellent Azorean wine made in Graciosa, but whenever we asked about it people would laugh and say, no, no, you should get wine from the continent, not these local wines. Finally, we did manage to find some, and it was excellent. Sort of reverse marketing. Even on Flores, which easily rivals Maui for charm and stunning physical beauty, most of the people we talked to were a little bemused that anyone would come out of their way to visit the island, which to their eyes was nothing special.
There is an interesting east-west gradient as well. In the west, there is lush vegetation, lots of moisture, a more simple and open friendliness, and villages with houses which are neat, well-maintained and fairly uniform in style, none very opulent. Fishing and farming are active, and appear to dominate the economy. As one goes east, the islands get drier, more tired and exploited-looking, the people more urbane and less friendly. And class differences seem more blatant, with well-demarcated rich neighborhoods and more dilapidated obviously poor neighborhoods. Faial suffered a major earthquake a month before we got there, and people were pretty preoccupied with getting their lives and homes put back together, so it is difficult to say what Faial is normally like. This may account for Horta being less welcoming than usual. And even in Santa Maria, we encountered unexpected warmth and friendliness. The port captain there is keen on having more visiting yachts, which he views as a mark of prestige for the island. He was
ludicrously cordial, even to the point of saying I spoke excellent Portugese--Ha,ha.. So, generalities are dangerous. But, overall, a fascinating place, and we are glad we were able to at least scratch the surface.