The weather was rather miserable as I steered Fathom out to sea from Horta harbour on the 22nd June on the 82 mile passage to the island of Terceira. Ben and Caz on Balou left half an hour after me and as forecast, the conditions quickly improved as we enjoyed a fast downwind sail through the channel between the islands of Sao Jorge and Pico. We were hoping to spot some whales and dolphins on the way but they remained illusive. The wind shadow from Pico required a couple of hours of motoring and then it was 10 minute cat naps through the night and an easy downwind sail the rest of the way. As the sun rose on the approach to the harbour of Praia da Vitoria it was a satisfying moment for me as this had been my original destination after setting off from Plymouth in May 2016 as part of the Jester Azores Challenge. To pass between the two breakwaters and finally finish after 4 years and a slight 35,000 mile detour felt fantastic. Ewen Southby-Taylor, the organiser of the Jester events, has since confirmed I have completed the inaugural ‘Jester World Challenge’!
The marina at Praia is very reasonably priced at around 7 Euro a day including free electricity and water so I treated Fathom to a berth. Ben and Caz were on a timeline but keen to explore the island for a few days before heading off to Scotland so it was nice to join them. We hired a car and explored some of the sights Terceira has to offer including the natural bathing pools on the north of the island at Biscoitos, squeezed in between the volcanic rocks. The most stunning place was Algar do Carvao, one of very few places in the world you can go and walk down into a lava chimney and magma chamber. The chambers were created during two eruptions, 3200 and 2000 years ago. Over 80m down from the entrance is a clear water lake formed by rainwater and stalactites and stalagmites line the walls. An amazing place which the photos don’t do justice to. We also made a stop at Angra do Heroismo, the capital of the island and a UNESCO world heritage site with it’s colourful buildings and winding streets. It was very sleepy though without tourists so apart from the locals we had it all to ourselves, a far cry to normal times here in summer when the high energy festivals and bull run attract thousands of people.
I was sad to see Ben and Caz depart, they had been great company through the lockdown period but I look forward to seeing them again at a Fathom/Balou raft up on the south coast of England in August. With only one other visiting yacht in the marina at the time it was all quite sleepy at Praia but I got to know Matt, a Canadian crewing on a 50 footer, who had been here for 5 months all through lockdown and Pedro, a local dentist who has a boat moored on the same dock as Fathom. On a couple of occasions Pedro invited me over for dinner with his family and I enjoyed tasting the great local food and learning about life in the Azores. Matt is passionate about climate change and likes to interview different people he meets on his travels. You can read the interview he did with me here http://thefacesofclimatechange.com/thom-isle-of-wight-united-kindgom/With lots of time on my hands I decided to make amends for my rushed mural in Horta and paint a better one. I went all out and washed and wire brushed the wall before starting to try and make it stay attached a few years. The result looks much better and is in good company alongside the paintings of fellow Jester Challengers.
In early July, Chris and Frankie on Gitain and Richard and Tracy on Zephyr arrived from Sao Jorge. It was good to see them again and fun to go out exploring together over the following weeks. I even got the fold up bike out from the depths of the bow and am ashamed to say it was the first time it had seen the light of day since Cape Town. On a few occasions Matt would drive and a few of us would ride our bikes and then we would convene somewhere for a hike. Life continued to be very sociable with us all meeting up regularly at the local beach bar for an evening beer and I even resurrected the Fathom Ti-Punch bar for rum cocktails. One of the best things we did was go coasteering with local company ‘Rope Adventures’. The official definition of coasteering is the movement along the intertidal zone of a rocky coastline on foot or by swimming without the aid of boats, surfboards or other craft. We donned seriously thick wetsuits, boots, gloves and helmets and spend a lot of time jumping off cliffs. It was great fun and definitely pushed my fear level to the limit on a couple of occasions.
I type this now in the midst of final preparations before heading off to sea on the final leg of my voyage back home. The last weeks have rolled by quickly and although I had originally planned to set off for the UK around mid July the Atlantic weather has again had other ideas with calms and headwinds on the rhumb line home. In hindsight I’m glad I stayed in the Azores longer, the local weather has been sunny and warm and the islands have been a really relaxed place to spend time. With no positive cases, I know all us visiting sailors have felt lucky to have the freedom to explore so easily in these COVID times. It is with mixed emotions that after 4 years of voyaging, it is finally time to head home.