Sailing in the Azores – Guest Post by SV Delos
Sailing in the Azores
Departing from Bermuda in late June 2019, we were aware of leaving at the tail end of the season and eager to put some miles under our keel. Day blurred into night and for the first 72 hours, our around the clock watch schedule had everyone feeling a little under the weather. Slowly but surely our bodies adjusted, and we found our rhythm in the middle of the deep blue ocean.
We weren’t without challenges on that crossing, but our 53-foot vessel cut effortlessly through the three-meter waves and we were able to handle all that mother nature threw at us. We were on route to the Azores islands, an archipelago of nine islands located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. We had approximately 1800 nautical miles ahead of us and we wouldn’t see land for almost two weeks.
Sailing across an ocean is unlike anything I have experienced on land. Time slows down and the lack of distractions really creates space for your body and mind to appreciate the full experience of living in a tiny space for an extended time. It is a rare opportunity, where you can allow yourself to truly switch off.
When your watch is over or the boat is humming along nicely, you can read or listen to music, watch movies or even bake a cake, but more often than not you will choose to simply sit and watch the world go by without any feelings of guilt, because there is absolutely nowhere else you have to be.
Despite seeing nothing but water and sky for the entire time, somehow the scenery is forever changing, and no two days are the same. Mealtimes are looked forward to with great enthusiasm and the small things, like enjoying a cup of hot chocolate in the cockpit under a starry sky, become lifelong memories.
Flores was unlike any port we had arrived into before. Steep cliffs rose from the deep blue ocean and brilliant green rolling hills dotted with fat cows could be seen in the distance. Stepping onto land after 12 days and 1921 nautical miles at sea was surreal, and although we were all exhausted, the energy and beauty recharged us.
The temperature was noticeably colder than the balmy Caribbean islands we had left behind, and the neat whitewashed buildings with their terracotta red roofs were a far cry from the beach shacks found on the Caribbeans’s white sandy beaches.
We made landfall in the town of Lajes, and stayed at the small Porto das Lajes Marina. There is also space inside the tiny harbor should boats prefer to anchor, however there is often a persistent roll and conditions can turn quite nasty if the wind picks up, which often happens in the Azores.
There are only a couple of other harbors on the island of Flores and they are rarely used by sailors. The old harbor in Santa Cruz, which is the capital of the island and the tiny harbor of Ponta Delgada, on the north coast. Throughout the Azores, anchorages are only to be used in fair weather, and, as conditions can change quickly, it’s important to stay on top of the weather forecasts.
Flores had a mellow vibe with friendly locals and a great café culture. It is the most western of all the islands and is commonly referred to as the most beautiful. It was easy to see why. Flores – meaning flowers in Portuguese, truly lived up to its name. Rows of cloud like hydrangeas lined roads and cliff edges, paths and driveways, and the pastel pinks, blues, mauves and whites blended together to form the most stunning bouquets.
The coffee was the best we had tasted in years and the wine was cheap and plentiful. After just one week in the Azores, we had already amassed a terabyte of footage. With endless waterfalls cascading directly into the ocean over windblown cliffs, sculpted by millions of years of wind, and waves, and massive caves in which we could explore, we were spellbound by the islands enchanting beauty.
Unlike the Caribbean, sailors need to report to the authorities at every port, even if you have only arrived from around the corner. Be sure to take your passport and boat papers with you each time you check in to a new location. As US citizens, we were entitled to stay for 90-days and visitors could easily fill that time (and more) between the nine islands.
Next on our “Sailing in the Azores itinerary” was a 133 nautical mile hop south east to the island of Faial. Here we rafted up alongside other salty ocean-going vessels at the Horta Marina.
It’s no easy feat sailing across an ocean and those that arrive into Horta like to mark their achievement in two ways. Firstly, it’s a rite of passage for any captain and his crew to have a drink at Pete’s Café Sports Bar. Renowned for stocking the best local gin, and with a unique scrimshaw museum located upstairs, this cozy tavern will make you feel like a real seafaring skipper who has definitely earned his stripes.
Secondly, visitors who arrive by boat are welcome to mark the occasion by emblazing their logo on the stone walls surrounding the marina. With permission from the port authorities, we left an epic reminder that Delos had made it safely across the Atlantic Ocean.
This tradition has been around for decades and we spent the evening and well into the night, creating an SV Delos mural the size of a semi-trailer! We will definitely be taking a piece of the Azores in our hearts when we leave, so it’s only fair that we leave a sweet, not so little token of Delos behind.
The landscapes in Faial are mind blowing. In 1957 a volcano erupted under the sea and formed an entirely new peninsula. Residents of the island were so mentally and physically affected by this event, that an underground museum was constructed to mark the 50-year anniversary of the eruption.
This sight is called Capelinhos, and experiencing it felt as though we had left the Azores and arrived on another planet. The barren hills, and vegetation free slopes, resembled the moon, and were nothing like the green pastures we had passed throughout the Azores island. It was so wild to see the power of mother nature’s wrath and once again we were spellbound by the unique beauty the Azores had revealed to us.
While we were moored in the Horta marina, we couldn’t help but notice the enormous volcano to the east, shrouded in cloud and looming over the island. Located on the nearby Island of Pico, five km’s from Faial, Ilha Do Pico stands at 2351 m tall and is an impressive active volcano that visitors can climb.
The SV Delos crew are always up for a challenge, so we packed eight different cameras including our GoPro and DJI drone and embarked on an intense mission to reach the summit. It was here that we camped in the freezing cold crater in the hopes of witnessing an epic sunrise the next morning. Luckily, as the sun rose, our aching bodies were rewarded with a spectacular view that made the journey oh so worth it.
One of the most memorable experiences on the island of Faial was chumming for sharks. While we don’t agree with this practice, we wanted to check it out for ourselves, in the hope of raising awareness for the majestic blue shark, which are intentionally killed for their skin, liver, cartilage, meat, and fins. Diving with these creatures was an incredible privilege and a reminder of why we love the cruising lifestyle so much.
As avid divers, we take every opportunity we can to explore our underwater world. A friendly local told us of an offshore dive location called Princess Alice Bank. Here we spent the day anchored in 35 meters of water, surrounded by open ocean.
The feeling of diving in open waters is always exhilarating but to be able to scuba dive with Mobular Rays in their natural environment was a real highlight. It was such an amazing experience to see not one, but a whole group the Mobular Sting Rays flying around the underwater sky.
Speaking of flying, it’s not every day that you witness a flying dinghy, but that’s exactly what we saw over the skies of Horta one sunny afternoon. We knew the minute we saw this contraption flying over the anchorage that we needed to track down the pilot.
After searching high and low, we eventually ran into him at a local festival. He explained that if we joined the local aero club for 70 euros, we’d get a free flight! The ride didn’t disappoint and was the most fun we’ve ever had in a dinghy.
Sao Jorge Island
Eventually the time came for us to make the short sail to Sao Jorge, a mere 22 nautical miles away. Sao Jorge is a long oblong shaped piece of land with a coastline that rises steeply out of the deep blue Atlantic Ocean.
While all the islands are naturally impressive, Sao Jorge is known as the nature island, even among the locals. With a long mountain range forming the backbone of the island, there are endless cliff tops and mountains to stand atop and drink in the views.
Agapanthus and hydrangeas line the edges of roads and cliffs, creating infinite photo opportunities of these iconic Azorean flowers, with the vast blue expanse of the Atlantic as a backdrop. With a small protected marina and harbor, sailors can tie up to a finger or drop anchor just inside the breakwater, however, like most anchorages in the Azores, this should only be attempted in fair weather.
More Tips for Sailing in the Azores Islands
The best way to explore the Azores islands – other than by sailing – is by car or scooter. While public transport does exist, the routes and schedules are often limited. English is widely spoken, and it’s never been easier to visit, with direct flights from both the USA and the UK.
There is something for everyone on these enchanting islands. Black sandy beaches, thermal hot springs, calderas, active volcanoes, endless festivals, kayaking, canyoning, whale watching, surfing and mountain biking, the list is endless.
The Azores are a feast for the senses and sailing in the Azores is a great way to explore the islands. The dramatic landscapes, quaint fishing villages, green pastures and extraordinary rock formations combine to make a truly breathtaking destination that almost feels as though it has yet to be discovered by tourists.
Often described as a mix between Iceland and Hawaii, time spent on these picturesque islands will have you wishing you had discovered them sooner. The Azores islands ticks all the boxes and is fast becoming the next ‘must see’ destination, especially if arriving by sailboat.
Who are SV Delos?
We are a group of four adventure enthusiasts exploring our diverse planet by the power of the wind. With a passion for film and photography, we decided to share our journey on YouTube, in the hope of inspiring others to undertake their own adventure. However, we are much more than just a YouTube channel. We represent a lifestyle of inclusiveness, adventure, and discovery. We are dedicated to helping others chase their dreams, whatever they may be.
Exceedingly passionate about sharing our vision, we have created over 240 episodes of our travels sailing around the world, spanning six continents and 45 countries. Through our unparalleled production quality and cinematography, we are leaders in our field and an inspiration to millions of viewers around the globe.
We have crossed every ocean on the planet – some more than once. What started out as a journey of pure self-discovery and exploration, has evolved into a project focused on showing the world as the beautiful place it is, both above the water and below.
SV Delos uses the power of social media to highlight environmental issues, inspire others to follow their dreams and urge us all to live a more sustainable lifestyle. We are crowd-funded by a passionate world-wide audience, known as The Delos Tribe, and it’s thanks to our loyal followers that we are able to film content and subject matter we are passionate about. Our audience has grown organically from humble beginnings. We now have over 360,000 subscribers, from 195 countries around the world, to which we share the successes and failures of the crew as we continue to develop our own unique style of travel and adventure content.