Leg 14: Santa Maria
The small village of Vila do Porto harbours about 50% of the entire island population. It is a very picturesque, next to the harbour, though be it about 100 m above it… At places it is full of deserted and ravaged homes, and despite the laid back island mentality, everybody drives like a maniac in the town centre. The most peculiar thing was the fact we saw at least three churches in the town centre, for a population of a mere 3000 people. Either Santa Marians are very devout, or they had a very hard time praying against pirate attacks.
Leen had to spent about 30 minutes to get our Azores Tourist tax settled, which amounted to a staggering total 2 Euros… Afterwards she had to take the receipt and show it to the port branch of the same Policia Maritima to which she had made the payment earlier in the town centre. Portuguese burocracy certainly is the worst we encountered on our trip, though still far less than what we were used to in Latin America.
We decided to tour the island with a cab due to its small size and reasonable taxi rates. The Azores lived up to their reputation, the nature being beautiful, full of flowers and green. This off course needs water, and it rained all day. Nevertheless the beauty of the island still stands out. The good news about the rain is that all salt is washed from Aspro, something she really needed after our crossing from Madeira.
Unfortunately for the beautiful island of Santa Maria, many of the island’s inhabitants have emigrated, making for many spook towns with 1 or 2 resident families only. All other, mostly beautifully maintained, houses are summer homes of emigrants living in the US or Canada.
On day three of our stay we got into the town centre to run some errands and finally get our internet related business updated. It was not difficult to bump in to the crews of the other yachts in the marina, as the town only holds one truly interesting street. The marina is brand new, and still needs some finishing touches. On the water side everything is in place, though electricity and water are not yet connected. Therefore the Portuguese do not charge harbour dues yet, which was an unexpected plus. In fact Aspro was visitor number five to the new complex. All infrastructures are planned for, including a travel lift position for boats up to 6 meters. I seriously doubt however if the 120 berths will get filled easily, due to Santa Maria’s isolated location. The shelter is good, even in Southerly winds, though entering the Marina with strong winds from the Southern direction might be a bit of a challenge. The port entrance only is about 30 meters wide, and the swell in the commercial port in front builds up considerably with winds from this quarter.
After three days we had truly seen all there is to see on Santa Maria, and decided to continue to Sao Miguel. The weather forecast showed too light a breeze to get reasonable speed in Aspro, only 6-10 knots, but Sunday would bring a strong southerly. We therefore preferred to cross in light airs, be it partly under engine.
The waves were high and uncomfortable, and the wind remained light, so we put the sails to stabilise the boat while running the engine around 1700 rpm to keep some speed. Wouter discovered a sea turtle, which Leen was quick enough to see. The kids though were not, much to the disliking of Kwint and Lotte. Again a group of common dolphins dropped by to play with Aspro’s bow. They stayed a long time, and even returned a second time.
We also discovered what the strange plastic-like little things are we often see in the water: Portugese man of war, a small type of jellyfish that puts a little sail-like part of their body on the water surface to ”sail”. They seem to be extremely poisonous if you do not get in time to the hospital.
At 18h00 we arrived in Ponta Delgada, where a very confusing nest buoys, none flying any international codes or colours, were lying in the middle of the entrance to the marina. Neither the marina nor port control was answering the VHF or the telephone, so we had to wait for a local yacht behind us to get some idea of the situation. We finally got through, and were directed by the maritime police to moor along the quayside. With the wind and waves rubbing us against it, we indicated the officer we first wanted to moor Aspro safely before giving him boat or crew papers. Being Saturday evening, nobody from the marina was available, so Mr. Portuflik decided we had to moor on a small, unstable pontoon in the middle of the port entrance and swell... Not the nicest welcome ever, though we always had a bit of a problem with Portugal through our entire trip.