More things about the Azores

Every day, I am struck by some of the differences in lifestyles and cultures between here and the US.  Not things that are better, nor worse, just different.  In a lot of ways, things are similar to small-town US 50 years ago, but in a good way.  Here are some things that I thought noteworthy:

Transportation – Not everyone has a car, nor do they need it.  Most people live within walking distance of the places they go everyday, and when a longer trip is required, they ride the bus.  This works very well if you live life at a slower pace than we do in the US.  If you are in a hurry and time is money, then you need a car and a cell phone to talk on while driving.  I remember.  But here in the Azores, time seems more plentiful and people don’t mind the time it takes to walk or wait on a bus.

By the way, the busses are air conditioned, immaculate, cheap, and have seat belts.  There is no trash, graffiti, or chewing gum on the floor.  They are like Japan-Clean.  Taxation is different here with (I think) 18% VAT added to everything.  (This is why they have no income tax, and I believe the revenue works out about the same.)  When you board the bus you tell the driver how far you are going and he looks it up on his table, adds tax, and tells you the fare.  Then he MAKES CHANGE for you.  This is a great system, and works very well for transporting people around the islands.

On Flores, I needed to get to a marine store for parts.  The driver said it was near his last stop at the end of the line and he would take me there.  Great, I think.  Well, we get there and he parks the bus.  He says something like “let’s go” and is off like a shot.  I’m walking as fast as I can to keep up with him, and Laura, Cory, and Geoff are strung out behind us. It was a half mile to the store.  I could not believe he walked me that far to make sure I got where I was going.  This is only one example of the friendliness and courtesy we experience every day here in the Azores.

Metric system – Saki once said “A little inaccuracy sometimes saves tons of explanation”.  This is the only reason I can come up with for some of the common misconceptions perpetrated by the media and our educational system.  For example, I was taught that the whole world uses the metric system except for those guys in the US who wouldn’t go along with the rest of the world.  Well, it just ain’t so.

Throughout the Azores, and, I’m told, Europe, all plumbing fittings are measured in inches, not millimeters.  You can go to any hardware store and buy a 1/2″ threaded elbow in galvanized or brass, just like in the US.  Now if you want hose or flexible tubing, that is in millimeters.  But for whatever reason, plumbing piping is in inches.  Even in Europe.

Distances and speed limits are posted in miles and miles per hour (not kilometers) in England.  Here in the Azores, they are in kilometers.  I will make a note of other exceptions to the metric rule as we travel.  But for the moment, just know that the metric system is not as all-pervading as people would like to have you believe.

Stores – There are very few large stores in the Azores.  We have seen a couple of Wal-Mart type stores, but only one or two per island.  As a result, there are a lot of small stores, particularly for housewares, hardware, and clothing.  What I thought was neat was what they did when the store was closed.

Remember, the stores are small, with only one or two shop windows to show their wares and entice people to come in.  When the store is closed, they use the window in the door to the store as another shop window.  They lay a lot of merchandise on the floor in front of the door as a temporary display for the night.  Not on a table, but on the floor.  Then, when they open the store the next morning, everything goes back on the shelf.

Foods and Brands – When we go to the grocery store, I am always looking for the food that I know I like.  I like plain Triscuits.  Laura prefers Great Grains cereal.  Etc.  Well, a lot of those just don’t make it over here, so you try new things.  Two exceptions are Oreos and Chips Ahoy! cookies.  Apparently, EVERYBODY likes those no matter where you are.  However, we have had some great surprises by trying new things.  And of course, the converse…

If you order french fries at a restaurant, they bring you mayonnaise (!) to go with them.  You have to ask for ketchup.  But, for whatever reason, when you are buying potato chips (which they have in multiple flavors) you need to be careful not to pick up a bag of ketchup-flavored chips.  Apparently, ketchup is great on potato chips, but not on fries.  Go figure.

Radio and video – Here is one point that seems lacking in the Azores.  There are few radio stations, and Pandora does not work in Europe.  (For anyone not familiar, Pandora is a way to listen to music over the internet, and allows TONS of choices for listening to music that you like).  This was a shock to me, and apparently is some licensing issue with the music companies.  The european equivalent is “AUPEO!” (yes, they capitalize it and add an exclamation point in the name).  I don’t know what “AUPEO!”  means in whatever language it is, but I’m not impressed.  The good news is that it is free if you stay with the standard version, and the only advertisements are those telling you how much happier you will be if you upgrade to AUPEO! Prime.  The bad news is there are limited stations and no skips allowed.  If they play some song you dislike, you can hit a thumbs down button, but you are stuck listening to it until it is over.  Presumably, they won’t play it for you again.  You cannot go to a station based on an artist (e.g., Beatles radio)n unless you upgrade.  There is a station called best rock of the 2000’s, but let’s just say their opinion of the best rock is different from mine.  Overall, AUPEO! gets a very generous grade of “C”.

I have not seen a place to rent a DVD since Florida.  Okay, I did not expect to see a Red Box on every corner, but I DID expect to see a video rental store.  Not here.  I asked what the locals do for movies and the answer was that they all have cable, and some people have high-speed internet for streaming.  Well, neither of those is a choice here in the marina, so we are out of luck.

Alcohol – Wine and beer are the preferred drinks.  Almost everyone has a small beer with lunch, and it’s a given to have a glass of wine with dinner.  The beer is light, similar to Coors Light, so you could probably drink a dozen and go back to work.  They seem to only have one for lunch.  It is served very cold, and in much smaller glasses than in the US.    People seem to drink it because they like it, and not as a means to get drunk.

A decent table wine is very inexpensive.  Last night Laura and I had pizza on a small cafe overlooking the water.  A large deluxe pizza was ten Euro, the wine was half a euro per glass, and the bottled water was the same as the wine.  The whole dinner was 12 Euro, or about $13.25 US.  But the wine was about 60 cents a glass.

That’s pretty much all I got for now.  Yes, we are still having a great time and loving the life we have.  I tell people that God blessed us way out of proportion to what we could ever have hoped for.

We miss everyone and hope things are going well!



Sao Jorge pictures, Azores, July 2015

We took a ferry over to Sao Jorge to sightsee with Geoff and Marie.  Every island has unique features and some similar.  We have enjoyed all the ones we visited!


Approaching Velas, Sa Jorge by ferry.




Caldera off coastline to west of Velas


20% grade Road to small boat marina

DSC06697 “Sao Jorge“, Main church in Velas.


Dragon sculpture with moat in front of main church.


Pavilion in Central Park


Huge fern in park


Arch near tide pool


DSC06682DSC06690 Mosaic in walkway to overlook.

DSC06650Steve after hike to Pico da Esperanca, another volcanic caldera.

DSC06653Caldera in center of island



A great place to visit!!

Horta, Faial, Azores Pictures, 2015


DSC06354Horta bay/marina area.  The bigger ships dock on the inside of the outermost piers, and the ferries come to the dock at the bottom of this picture.  We were docked to the right of the sailboats in the center that were anchored.


Church along a roadway


Our boat rafted next to a French boat and this was their darling son on board in the cockpit!!


Airing out the mattresses and bedding in Horta.  Nice sunny day gets some of the dampness out from the prior rains we had.  Our deck is almost level in this picture with the dock.


In this picture, you can see the tidal change, about 2-4 feet twice a day, so we had to climb off the boat to the dock!

DSC06482View of downtown Horta from the main church we attended.  Very easy to walk anywhere in Horta, but mostly up and down hills!

DSC06560The clock tower in Horta, a landmark.


Geoff and Marie on one of our walks around Horta, showing steep incline of street down to sea level.


Steve working on mast during our stay in Horta.  Cruising has been defined as doing boat work in exotic places!!  LOL!!!


World War II Sentry box found on one of our hikes to a caldera.

There are numerous hikes, places to sightsee and things to do on Horta!



Update on projects after one trans-Atlantic passage

For our sailor friends, I thought I would take a few minutes to talk about all the upgrades we did in preparation for leaving Texas, and how they worked out.  In general, most things worked very well.  But not everything…

First, the Home Runs.

Solar panels – We have three 140 Watt Kyocera panels with a Blue Sky 3024iL MPPT controller.  On sunny days the panels completely meet our energy needs, even underway.  The highest energy consumption is underway since you have the same loads as at anchor (refrigeration, freezer, lights, fans, etc.) plus instruments and radar. The nav lights pretty much equal the draw of the anchor light, so no increase there.  If we have the wind vane steering, our batteries stay over 95% capacity.  Sitting here in the marina we only use shore power for hot water and use the panels for everything else.  At 8:30 AM we are producing 7 Amps of current and it will max out at 30 Amps near noon.  Coupled with our new Lifeline 900Ah AGM batteries, it is a great system!

Storage upgrades – My buddy Ed Lowry did a couple of projects to help with storage on the boat.  The biggest was the addition of three large drawers where the washer/dryer was originally located.  This gave us a lot of storage for canned goods, hardware, and tool bags below.  He also built shelves in one of the hanging lockers to greatly increase clothing storage (we really didn’t need three large hanging lockers for clothing).  Finally, he built a really nice teak trash bin which perfectly fits the available space to maximize trash capacity.  It has a tight-fitting lid to minimize odors.  On the trip across the Atlantic, we filled this bin twice and had no trash smell in the galley.  A big thanks to Ed!

Instruments and AIS – We have Simrad instruments, autopilot, and radar with a Si-tex AIS.  First off, the Simrad and Si-tex components work together seamlessly.  We bought the Si-tex unit since it was so much cheaper than the one from Simrad, and we are very happy with it.  For those who have not used AIS, I will tell you that at night it is invaluable for maneuvering anywhere near ships and commercial traffic.  I have trouble estimating distances at night and the AIS takes all guesswork out of it.  Ships appear on the chart plotter as triangles, and, since the chart plotter is a touch screen, all you do is touch the triangle to select the target, hit one button, and you have the name of the vessel, it’s heading and speed, and radio call sign.  The unit utilizes our speed and heading along with the target’s to calculate the closest point of approach and what time that will occur.  This is incredibly useful when you can’t tell for sure how close you are going to get to ship at night.  Even better, it broadcasts OUR information so other ships see us as well.  This greatly increases our visibility to ships and makes sure we show up on their displays.  We talked to a couple of the ships via radio and they were very professional and responsive to us.  It seems to be SOP that they maintain one and a half miles distance from other vessels to prevent collisions.  Fine with me!

Remote mic for the VHF – I got this idea when I saw one of these installed on my buddy Bob’s boat.  For anyone who is still on the fence as to whether to install one of these, I highly recommend it.  It is extremely convenient when talking to marinas, conversing with other boats, and, when in the ICW, talking to the lock masters.

Wifi Booster – We installed a Mikrotic Groove router that I bought from Island Time  and it has been great.  While at anchor in St. George, Bermuda we paid for one week of internet access from one of the sail lofts that caters to cruisers.  They were shocked to learn we had great signal as far away as we were anchored.  One rainy afternoon we streamed a movie to pass the time.  Here in Flores we have free wifi and the booster really brings in the datons.  It has really made life more convenient having internet access readily available.

85 lb Mantus Anchor – This thing grabs the bottom like no tomorrow.  We used it from Texas, through the ICW, then on to Florida.  When we left Florida we disassembled it and stowed it in the cockpit locker to keep it off the bow in case we hit heavy seas.  Boy, was that a good move!  The trip to Bermuda was rough and we had days of 20 knot winds and 6-8 foot seas on the nose.  The bow was repeatedly buried and that big Mantus may well have come adrift.  Being able to stow it was a big plus.  It will stay in the locker until Portugal, when it will once again become our primary anchor.

Icom M802 SSB radio and P4 Dragon modem – I have been using the radio for talking with Chris Parker (the weather guy), chatting with other folks, sending and receiving e-mail while underway, and downloading weather faxes.  All of this proved to be very useful.  Connecting to the servers for e-mail takes a little trial and error, and I discovered I have some electrical interference between my Simrad instruments and the radio.  Still working on solving the noise problem.  I actually had to read the directions of the Sail Mail manual in order to receive weather faxes.  After reading, it took me all of ten minutes to start the download.  It’s pretty easy!

Tasco stove – we replaced our aging Force Ten before leaving Seabrook and are very happy with it.  Laura gives me big hugs and kisses every night and tells me how much she loves me for installing it.

Qualified successes

Wind vane – We installed a Scanmar Autohelm wind vane before leaving.  For those not familiar with it, this is a trim tab unit which utilizes a separate auxiliary rudder.  The process is to first balance the boat as well as you can using sails alone and then let the wind vane handle the final steering.  Orontes II balances very well, so this was not difficult to do.  We promptly named her Wendy, and she has steered over 1000 miles so far.  She does a great job close hauled and on a reach, and we are still working out how to use her on a broad reach.  The only downfall is that it has been hard to keep the cables properly tensioned.  After a few hundred miles of usage, the cables slip through the clamps to the point that the unit no longer steers at all.  I worked on this several times underway, perched up on the davits and hanging out above the solar panels.  Yes, I wore my inflatable pfd while doing this, and only in daylight with other people in the cockpit to watch me.  I think I finally have it fixed and am looking forward to the next few legs while in the Azores to test her out.

AC power system – I installed a Charles Marine isolation transformer and it works great.  Since Europe (and the Azores) are 230 Volt, all I had to do was rearrange two small jumpers inside the transformer to give me 120 Volts for the boat.  Once I emptied the cockpit locker to give me access, it took all of ten minutes.  Where I messed up was by not preparing a european shore power cord.  I should have brought about 75 feet of 3/c #14 SOW cord to make my new shore power cord.  This would be a lot smaller, lighter, and more flexible than the big, bulky cords I have now.  In Europe, since the voltage is double the US voltage, the current is half, so you can use smaller power cords.  I just never thought about it before leaving the US.  Everything on the boat seems to at least tolerate 50 Hz power, with the exception of our air conditioner.  Even though it is rated for 50/60Hz it doesn’t work very well.  We didn’t give it a very long test so I will continue to try this to see if it improves.

Swings and misses

Bow roller extension – Our two bow anchors are the 85 lb Mantus and a 60 lb CQR.  These two are both very large and they interfere with each other when both are stowed.  There just is not enough room for both of them with them rubbing against each other.  Some of my friends advised me to dump the CQR, but I want two anchors and I think the CQR is a good one.  I did remove the 75 lb unit since it was too large, but I kept the 60 lb anchor.  To keep the CQR and Mantus separate, I installed a bow extension to keep the Mantus farther forward and separate it from the CQR.  This way, instead of having two big anchors sitting side by side, I had one about 16 inches forward of the other.  Well, this didn’t work at all.  There may be a way to weld an extension in place, but trying to bolt one on is just not rigid enough for the loads involved.  I removed the bow extension before leaving Louisiana.

Hawsepipe for secondary anchor rode – To go with that second anchor on the bow, I needed a way to get the rode down below to the chain locker.  My solution was to cut a hole in the deck and install an oval hawsepipe with a hinged cover to keep out water.  I located the hawsepipe aft of the windlass, and could not think of a way to drain the locker.  I actually drilled a drain hole for this area but it was so low (actually in the boot stripe!) that it let in a LOT of water while under way.  Luckily I found this out while still in Texas.  I plugged it and just resolved to try and not let water get below when retrieving the anchor.  Well, this didn’t work at all.  While pounding into those seas on the way to Bermuda, we had sheets of water going over the bow.  The cover for that hawsepipe does nothing to keep out green water; it is only good for keeping out rainwater.  So we had lots of water pouring down into the chain locker with each wave that swept the foredeck.   When the chain locker was full of water, it started overflowing into the vee berth and soaked our mattress.  The water then started draining into all those big lockers UNDER the mattress.  It was an awful mess.  In Bermuda it took us days to remove everything from these lockers and clean and dry them.  Some things were ruined, like our space heaters we had bought for use in Europe.  Laura’s sewing machine may or may not be a fatality; we are still working on it.  I don’t think I lost any tools to rust, but we will see.  To fix this I now have a drain for the forepeak that comes down to the bilge.  I also taped the hawsepipe with duct tape before the trip across the Atlantic.  So far, no more water down below.

That’s it for now.  In summary, most of our upgrades and equipment additions have worked out great.  A few are still works in progress and I have more left to do.  I’ll let you know how things work out.

Interesting things about the Azores

First off, the Azores are BEAUTIFUL.  The islands are volcanic, which means lots of mountains, cliffs, and rich soil.  Just about anything that grows in dirt will thrive here.  If you  stroll through any Wal-Mart in the house plant section you will see what we are seeing growing wild.  Norfolk Island pines, those little christmas tree house plants, love it here.  Trunks are up to 8 feet in diameter.  Likewise sycamores.  Lots of seeds have made it here from the US, Central, and South America so many of the plants are very familiar to us.

What we have not seen is even better – poison ivy and poison oak are nowhere to be found.  And somehow, chiggers have not made it here, either.  The only thing to look out for while hiking in the woods are blackberry thorns.  They tell me there are no snakes, but I have not confirmed that.

The mountains and cliffs are stunning.  There are gorgeous views everywhere you look, especially with the contrast of the sea.  While the cliffs are stunning, there are not a lot of sandy beaches.  Each island will have one or two, but most of the “beaches” are actually rock.  It is prettier than it sounds.

The Azores are the only islands for a long ways in either direction.  They were instrumental in the first transatlantic undersea cable linking Europe with the US, and also have the only airstrip for emergencies while crossing the Atlantic.  This airstrip was an alternate landing spot for the space shuttle for this reason.  The US maintains a small military base here on Terceria because of the importance of the island for air traffic, both military and commercial.  A few dozen airline flights make emergency landings here each year from in-flight problems.  I understand there are some in Congress who want to close the base for budgetary reasons. From what I can see, it looks to me like a real handy place to keep one since the Azores have such a strategic location.

If you have any relations joining the Air Force, tell them to put this as their number one choice for a posting.  Between the scenery, the fact that most people speak at least some English, and the strong dollar to the euro, this is a great place to spend four years.  Also, because of the air base, there is a very nice golf course on the island.


Columbian Naval Ship, Horta, Azores, July 2015

DSC06719 DSC06717

This is the tall ship “Gloria”, a 76 meter (228 foot), Columbian naval training vessel from Cartagena, which came into Horta for a brief visit and provided free tours, which we thoroughly enjoyed. They sail all over the world, training 60-70 cadets for 1 year.  It is considered an honor for officers to get time on this ship.  As you can see, her flag is huge!


Walkway to get on ship.  The cadets were polishing the bronze above while we toured.

DSC06715 Mariana, in her dress whites, was our tour guide, chosen to work on her English with us!  She finishes her 4 year service in about 1 year, and says she will return to Columbia to work.


Coils of lines, on every mast!


The cadets whip the ends of every line on this ship to keep them from fraying.  They use twine in 3 colors to match the colors of their flag, as above.  Our whipped lines do not look like this on Orontes II!!  LOL!

DSC06737 DSC06731

This is the “Gloria” leaving Horta.  It is a tradition that the cadets line the yardarms on entry and departure to wave and sing their national anthem.  Their attire again matches their flag’s colors!

They were in this position for at least an hour as they left the Horta marina area!

We enjoyed this opportunity to tour their ship, of which they were obviously VERY proud.  Steve also bought a t-shirt and some very good rum (VERY hard to find in Portugal!)