Mike and Amy’s Azores Adventures: Santa Maria Island, Portugal

Published on: Aug 13, 2012 @ 20:15

Mike and I moved aboard a sailboat a couple of years ago, and we’ve been liveaboard cruising sailors ever since. In the past, we stuck mostly to cruising around SoCal — Santa Barbara, Ventura, Oxnard, Catalina Island, the Channel Islands. Well, SoCal is nice and all, but this summer we decided to go big.

Our vintage wooden sailboat, Typhoon, has been our pride and joy for the last couple of years. We love her. She’s amazing. She’s the perfect vessel for cruising around SoCal, especially Catalina Island. We’ve especially loved her low freeboard for easily getting in and out of our old dinghy, Mist (which we sold before departing. *sniffle, sob.* I loved that little dinghy.) But for crossing the Atlantic? Typhoon is seaworthy enough to make the trip, but you’d have to be a braver and better sailor than I am to sail her across.

So, Mike and I bought another boat that was more what we wanted for crossing the Atlantic, cruising the Mediterranean, and living aboard a boat in the Med.

Meet Viva, our new home.

Crossing the Atlantic

We left Colonial Beach, VA with the outgoing tide at around 6:15 am, 7-6-12. Had a few panicky moments because even at high tide the surrounding area is too shallow for Viva, and we came close to going aground. After we got out of the shallowest area, it was mostly smooth sailing, but only for a couple of days. There was steady wind at about 10-12 knots that morning, and the water was calm. Mike’s family called and I told Linda, my mother-in-law, that I’d seen mud puddles with bigger waves. Of course, at that point, we were sailing the Potomac River, a much more protected area than the open ocean. Still, we’ve seen the Potomac get rough, and were grateful for the calm.

We took advantage of the favorable conditions to take care of some of the things we hadn’t had a chance to finish before leaving — stowing a few things, etc.

I’d planned to journal every day during the crossing, but that turned out to be an impossibility. I wrote the above journaling on 7-8-2012; after that my journal got doused with salt water and the conditions got too crazy for me to even think about writing.

If I were to tell you in detail about the trip, I’d probably scare the pants off of the parents and family reading. Let’s just say it was pretty gnarly. Thirty knot winds. Fifteen foot waves. You get the idea; we’ll leave it at that.

Father-in-law’s advice prior to departure: “Bring plenty of barf bags.” Hahahahaha! George, just so ya know, we didn’t need the barf bags. Well, OK, there was one night when I was doing night watch and the ocean decided to toss buckets and buckets (and buckets, and buckets) of salt water at me, and I did get rid of a little salt water; it just plain wasn’t agreeing with me. But otherwise I did pretty well.

The secret: our juice recipe — organic ginger, organic lemon juice, water and stevia. It helped us to stay hydrated and kept us from getting seasick for just about the entire trip.

Mike and I normally eat a diet that’s close to 100% organic, and we also do our best to eat mostly raw food whenever possible. We’re used to eating raw salads at least twice a day, and we typically reach for raw fruits and veggies whenever we want a snack. It’s reasonably easy to eat that way in SoCal; it’s a little more challenging in Colonial Beach, but we managed. Out on the open ocean, however, our raw food quickly disappeared and then we were limited to canned and freeze dried food. Mike had stocked us up on Backpacker’s Pantry meals, which are pretty amazing. They’re all organic and super easy to prepare; we even managed it during storm (after storm, after storm) at sea. And they are super yummy! Here’s a shot of Mike chowing down on some Backpacker’s Pantry organic Spinach Puttanesca. We had bunches of packages of their scrambled eggs aboard as well.

Mike also amazed me by baking some bread. Mind you, this was no easy task — considering for one thing that we do not even have an oven aboard. Mike made the bread in the pressure cooker. He’ll hopefully be sharing the recipe on our organic food website. Stay tuned for that. In the meanwhile, feast your eyes on this regretfully blurry and not-that-stellar photo of our yummy organic bread baked at sea. Unfortunately we didn’t take many photos and the few we do have are not impressive. It isn’t easy taking photos in gale force winds, when heeled over at a crazy angle, sorry to say.

Reaching the Azores

We’d originally planned to resupply at Sao Miguel Island. When we actually arrived there, it rained on us and the fog was so dense that we couldn’t see where we were going. So, we decided to head for Santa Maria Island instead. That turned out to be the right choice. From a distance, Sao Miguel looks beautiful, and I’d love to explore there sometime. But Santa Maria? It was exactly what we needed.

We arrived at around 3:30 Eastern time / 7:30 local time. We were greeted by a uniformed man who helped us dock the boat and spoke with us regarding legal entry of the country. He spoke excellent English, with an American accent; he also spoke French, and I’m sure, other languages as well. The best part: when he interviewed us later, we found that he had a fantastic sense of humor. He asked us if we had any pets aboard. We said “no.” He said, “no tarantulas, snakes, lions?” Teehee! Then when he and the customs official were ready to come aboard our boat, we told him, “Sorry, it’s a mess! We’ve been at sea for over a month.” He told us, “Well, I’m not interested in doing any cleaning for you.” LOL!

We were amazed enough to find that the port officials here are so personable, but as it turned out that was not a fluke; we’ve found just about all the people here to be charming, delightful and hospitable.

Getting to Town in Santa Maria

We arrived in Santa Maria with no cash whatsoever, only a credit card. Well, I had a five pound note (British money) and some quarters of American money, but that was it — no Euros. When I saw the island, I got a little freaked out because it looked like it would be impossible to walk into town. Vila Do Porto is dominated by steep hills, and at first glance it looked like the only way around was a steep winding road populated by crazy in-a-hurry Portuguese drivers. We had no cash to take the bus and no way to get cash to take the bus. But all was well; as it turned out, we were able to walk into town and get what we needed.

Our first day, we wandered around seeing the sights. Here’s where we went and what we saw:

We discovered an old cobblestone path that went straight uphill.

At the top of the hill is an intriguing old fort, and an observation tower.

Here’s how Vila Do Porto looks from above. Beautiful, don’t you think?

From there, we discovered the hiking path. Silly us, if we’d continued uphill from the fort, we would have found the town. Instead we took the hiking path, which turned out to be scenic and gorgeous.

This little calf made my day! He is soooooo cute. Later, walking around the island, we’ve seen bunches of farm animals: horses, goats, chickens, roosters (no pictures of most of them.)

Santa Maria Island: The Food

By the time we reached the Azores, we’d been at sea for more than a month and were craving some fresh food and a chance to rest, relax and resupply. More than anything, resupplying was the main purpose of our visit.

Mike Says: “This pineapple is unreal. Even the center which is typically harder is delicious.”

We were bummed to find that none of the food here is organic. There’s plenty of fresh, raw, locally grown produce around — at least, if you’re quick enough to grab some of it before it sells out. For example, the pineapple pictured above: it was locally grown on Sao Miguel, and it tasted like little slices of heaven. I think it may well be one of the yummiest things I’ve ever eaten. The pineapples were available at the market for all of two days before they vanished from the store.

The customs official told us that much of the food on the island is flown in from Sao Miguel, and that it arrives by plane every couple of weeks.

We did find, as well, that there are some things grown and produced here on Santa Maria island. We bought melons and honey and some other things that originated right here.

Mike and I generally get sick when we eat non organic food in the USA. We’re pretty sensitive to pesticides particularly. There have been quite a few things we’ve eaten here that have bothered us; after I ate some of the cherries I bought at the market, my teeth and tongue went numb. Overall, the non-organic fresh food here seems slightly less toxic than non-organic fresh food available in the US, but it’s not clean by any means. The processed food here seems to have a lot of junk in it and for the most part, we’ve avoided buying it, with a few exceptions for things like olives in bags and jars.

Here’s how our gear hammock looks. I took this picture approximately two minutes before it broke and tomatoes and onions went flying everywhere.

Everything’s Smaller in Europe

People in the USA have this thing with “super-sizing” everything. In Europe, everything’s smaller. The cars are smaller. The portions of food are smaller. Probably not coincidentally, waistlines are generally smaller as well. And plenty of other things are smaller here too.

Repairs and Refueling

Mike had quite a few chores to do around the boat. In the photo below, you can see him gearing up to climb to the top of the mast. I didn’t take any pics of him up there (I have bunches of those already, no need for more at this point.)

Mike’s Comment: “I can’t tell you how “Oh Joy” excited I was to climb this 50 ft mast after being at sea for 30 days, but at least it was fairly calm, in the marina, but it did get windy on me at the top.”

Mike says,

“There is no shortage of chores on a sailboat It is like being on a farm. Here I am headed out to the North 40 to milk the diesel pump. Fuel costs pretty darn close to the US. I was amazed after growing up with stories of how expensive fuel was in Europe.”

Santa Maria’s Annual Rally

An interesting coincidence: Mike and I arrived in time to watch Santa Maria’s annual rally. Here are some pics we took before the main event; I guess this was some kind of presentation. In the photos below, we’re sitting in chairs right outside the grocery store. At our feet are bags of groceries we’d just purchased and we were on our way out of the store when the demo started. Fun times!

Mike Says, “Mineral Water, that right. Everyone else is on wine and beer….”

Mike’s Comment: “It’s Europe!!!!! They race every chance they get and the people love it. It helps when you build streets that last for hundreds of years as opposed to those in the States that are good for at least 1 rainy season.”

Mike Says: “Most people in Santa Maria drive little cars like these, and there are no slow pokes in the bunch!”

Mike says: “Every driver was on 3 wheels, but I missed it.”

Fort De S Bras, Again

Somehow, we can’t seem to resist taking more pictures of the fort every time we walk by it, which is basically every time we go into town. Which has been pretty much every day since we figured out how to get there!

Bits and Pieces of Everyday Life on Santa Maria Island

In a foreign country, even the parking lots are interesting.

…And the doors…

even the doorknobs.

So, that’s our story. We’re planning on heading out tomorrow, getting back in our boat and setting sail for new adventures in the Mediterranean. Please don’t wish us *luck*; we don’t believe in that. But, please do wish us success, fair winds and following seas… We miss y’all back home but we’re excited to see what comes next.

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