During the very early hours of the morning, we sailed along the south coast of Faial. Fenders blown up and coffee’s in hand we watched light appear on the horizon and the sky change colour. The island of Faial and Mount Pico stood in silhouette in front of the spectrum coloured sky. The sun appeared between a dip in the hills of Faial. The volcanic Mount Pico stood in all its splendour, a ring of cloud crowning its summit. It was an incredible sight. A moment I will never forget.
We turned a corner in Faial’s coast line and motored our way into the capital, Horta. Secured on the dock I stepped onto land. The concrete docks of Horta’s Marina are covered in paintings. Boat names and dates layered on the floors and walls, both faded and new. Each time I walked down the dock I would read more and more memories set in the stone, spotting the odd few boat names I recognised.
After a day of tidying and organising the boat, freshening it up from the smell of salt we wandered off into Horta in search for a place to have supper.
A lovely dinner at Restaurant Atletico. The crew shared a variety of fish and vegetables and tasted the local wine. This was followed by a traditional messy night a Peters Bar…
To blow away the cobwebs and burn off a hangover, myself and another crew member went on an incredible hike around the crater of the volcano, Cabeço Gordo (1,043 m of altitude) in the Caldeira area. We were extremely lucky to have reached the top and have clear blue sky. The view stretched out for miles. By the time we had walked half way around the crator the cloud smothered the view and the view of Mount Pico disappeared. But the sun remained shining and we continued our walk over the uneven path that was carved out of the volcanic rock. Two hours later we found ourselves back where we began and ran down the last few steps to catch a ride down the mountain with the last car in the carpark that was about to leave. They were a lovely french couple who were island hoping around the Azores, it was their last day on Faial before flying to their next destination. They explained, from their experience, how the islands are so different, each having its own distinct qualities. Pico, for example is well known for its wineries and hikes. Where as Faial had a good reputation for its beef and whaling stations.
After a fantastic hike, we managed to persuade a few of the other crew to catch a ferry over to Pico and climb its volcano. After a mad rush for the ferry early the next morning we chugged across the bay to Madelena, from there we caught a taxi and drove to the hiking centre that sat on the mountain side. As we drove higher and higher up the mountain, the fog became thicker and thicker, until we could only see a few metres in front of ourselves. Stepping out the taxi, the cold sharp air hit us. We all quickly chickened out…we were ill equipped for the hike and blamed our decision on the fact the Irish man was wearing sandals. The team at the hiking centre explained that it was minus seven at its peak.
Even though it was nine in the morning, we decided not to waste our trip. So, we went on a wine tour. Tasting Pico’s famous fine wines. We found ourselves a very enthusiastic tour guide, who was extremely proud of this little island he called home. In general the white wine was more appealing than the red. My favourite being Curral Atlântis Arinto dos Açores Colheita Seleccionada 2013 and dessert wine Curral Atlântis Verdelho/Arinto dos Açores Colheita Seleccionada 2013 . Look out for them as they are exported worldwide.
On our final day in the Azores I went horse riding. It was blowing thirty knots of wind and forecast torrential rain in the afternoon. But, I’ve ridden in worse… We tacked up and climbed the hillsides, galloping up the dirt tracks that led deeper into thick fog. It was mental, but so much fun!! It had been well over a year since I had ridden a horse, back when I was competing with British Eventing, it made me miss it so much! We reached the highest point we dare go in the conditions. It was a shame the visibility was poor as the view of the sea would have been remarkable! The steep trek down was slippery and the strong winds swept round the hillside, almost blowing us away. By the time we got back to the yard we were soaked through to our skin. It took us seconds to untack the horses, run them to their fields and retreat to the house where we had a well deserved lunch and a warm cup of tea.
Early the following morning, provisioned, packed and ready, we set sail, north towards Britain. Everyone excited to be heading home. Little did we know what was about to happen…