Leaving the Azores…cont’d

Over the summer as Oh! explored the Azores they have slowly and steadily become my favourite Island group. A wonderful mix of 9 islands and many smaller islets that are often nature reserves. Each island is unique with interesting geography, geology and botany. There is a range of Portuguese lifestyle, culture and history that varies from centuries old traditions and methods to the very best modern technology offers. The islands are clean, with a real sense of working hard to preserve the beauty and natural bounty of the islands. It also shows in how the Azorean’s take pride in their preserving their Islands. Litter is very rare, unlike a lot of the Caribbean islands. Recycling is everywhere ( which is wonderful to see) even remote parking lots for trail heads often have recycling bins to separate all disposable items. The only disappointment throughout the islands is the prevalence of cigarette smoking. The acidic, strong, nasty European tobacco that is preferred is very irritating on the lungs. It is difficult to get away from it if you do any dining out, visit cafe’s or even spent time just walking around in the cities. But get away from those areas to immerse yourself in the natural wonders that abound in the Azores and these islands are magical! No wonder we are comfortable being forced to return to Santa Maria to get the shroud repaired!

The service we received from Mid Atlantic Yacht Services (MAYS) has been fabulous. We arrived in Santa Maria on a Monday evening and removed the shroud and mast cup Tuesday morning. It was delivered to SATA air Cargo by noon and they had the shroud cable, toggles and mast cup on the Island of Faial by 9 am Wednesday. As promised, MAYS went to the airport and picked up the cable as soon as it arrived, took it to their shop, fabricated the new cable complete with the stronger Norseman fittings, and had it back to SATA air cargo ready for the noon flight Friday that would have the cable in Santa Maria by Friday night at 8 pm. Talk about great service. Especially since Friday was a holiday throughout the Azores. So, that alone should have meant we could not get the new cable until the following Monday – except for Grace (who runs the SATA air cargo operation in Santa Maria). Grace said if I was there when the plane landed Friday night, she would personally go retrieve the cable from the cargo system and let me get it. Wow, even Duncan Sweet the owner of MAYS could not believe the service we got.

Now the only remaining challenge was could Nauti-Bothelho, the local marine yard operator get the mast cup re-riveted back in place. Ricardo, the owner made it clear if we got the cable he could do the work Saturday morning. He also was starting to look at the weather and it was not evolving in a way that would be good for Santa Maria. By noon Saturday Oh! Was once again a sail boat and ready to leave the Azores…ugh not so fast!

Murphy’s law says something about “what can go wrong will go wrong” and that something was Leslie. Leslie? Who the heck is Leslie and what did she do?? Leslie is a hurricane that was in the initial stages of forming earlier in the week around a Thursday. But she wasn’t moving and that makes it really difficult for weather models to predict her path. By Saturday when we got the cable re-installed, her path was looking like she could come to Santa Maria, or the Madeira’s or the Canary Islands. The only thing certain about Leslie was that she wasn’t going West or North. Most model predicted she was going east…but when and to where?

Sunday’s mornings models weren’t much better, but were starting to look like staying in Santa Maria wasn’t a good option. Then we received a note from our Norwegian friends Mona and Arno who indicated the marina at Porto Santos in the Madeira’s was full and if we sailed there to get away from Leslie we would have to anchor in the small enclosed harbour outside the marina. So the option of escaping Leslie’s path wasn’t very attractive. At least in Santa Maria we had a well protected marina and really great neighbours in it. Plus there was a lot of uncertainty as to where Leslie was going. The Sunday afternoon forecast was the opposite of the Sunday morning forecast – stay in Santa Maria because Leslie was going to the Madeira’s and then to the Canary Islands. The spaghetti plots of possible paths were looking like… well, rainbow spaghetti! There is a reason I need to wear a hat to cover my bald patches, argh! By now pretty much everyone was preparing for strong winds later in the week from a massive low pressure system north of the Azores. No matter which direction Leslie went – it was going to get windy where we were, and time to make a change of location was not only running out- so were the apparently safe options.

North into the Azores – no there was a huge Low pressure system and high winds moving in.

East to Morocco or Portugal – no too far and the long period at sea would leave us terribly exposed if Leslie suddenly moved NE as forecast and just kept going, which was not forecast ( remember that last sentence for later).

Southeast to the Madeira’s looked good but there were several forecast models that showed Leslie kinda fancied the Madeira’s – and might even just hang out there for 48 hours. Not good.

South to the Canary Islands would run the risk of sailing right across Leslie’s highest probability path to get to safety, but if the models on Sunday afternoon were to be believed – after visiting the Azores, Leslie was going to turn 160 degrees and go checkout the Canary Islands.

By Friday morning Oct. 12 it was clear hurricane Leslie wasn’t coming to us, but instead was heading to the Madeira’s.

Ha! Tricked yah, by Friday afternoon Leslie changed her mind ( assuming Leslie was a female hurricane) and decided to bolt straight to Portugal and Gibraltar. A hurricane moving at 33kts (61km/h) packing winds up to 75kts (140 km/h) is pretty amazing. Especially when it practically stood still for about 8 days. So, six hours after the forecast shown above we got the one shown below. Now all we had to do was wait to make sure it was accurate and let the wind and seas settle before leaving.

Fortunately for us, once Leslie made up her mind, and the forecasts all agreed, she finally left and we can now leave for the Madeira’s.

So when the weather gets crazy what do you do? Nothing. Do some hiking, explore this beautiful Island and keep analyzing the forecast to decide. How much you need to prepare verses the potential of Leslie actually showing up at Santa Maria. So we took 2 days to explore the island and then 2 more doing a lot of the bigger to do list stuff. Like refinishing the interior woodwork. Wow, what a difference that has made. Some fibreglass repair work and some socializing with our marina neighbours. Plus frequent weather analysis and review of, the NOAA, PredictWind, Windy TV and Passage weather forecasts we like to compare.

The bottom line? We ended up in Vila do Porto, Santa Maria for a total of 12 beautiful days. Some windy, some calm, some rainy, but mostly spectacular. We go a lot of multi day projects out off the “to do list”; met cruisers from all over Europe. Learned a lot about Santa Maria, the Madeira’s and Canary Islands and ended our extended stay with a pot luck dinner Saturday night Oct. 13 with the couples from six boats. Two of those couples have been all around the world cruising for the past 20 and 28 years! Then Sunday morning 3 of the 6 left for Santos in the Madeiras ahead of us. Oh, was the last to leave departing at 1300. Destination the Island of Santos, Madeiras!

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