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Mostly, nowadays we just look at computers and go to marketing meetings. How interesting and photogenic is that? Personally, I'd rather see photos of sun, sea and sky; and it helps if they were taken when we were all younger.

Chris off the South Foreland             Tony up a tower in Sienna
[still sailing after all these years]           [Tuscany wine, architecture, and wine]

Now, you'd never guess by looking at me (Chris) that I'm an art lover, so here is some of my favourite art. These are from Horta; try and guess where that is from the following murals.

Well, you should have got it by that one. They are, of course, on a sea wall; around the harbour of Horta, in the Azores (you can see Espalamaca Head on the left above, which protects the harbour to the north; and the big rock in front of Madalena on Pico, to the right - east - in the haze). This the ocean sailor's rendezvous, since you can't get there except by sailing across a thousand miles of ocean or more. Until recently, that is, when it got an airport - the blight of many an island paradise.

World's hairiest airports: #2, Horta
Like Funchal in Madeira, though (or the old airport there at least), it is one of the hairiest* in the world to fly into on a rough day - definitely not for the faint-hearted. Only British and Portuguese pilots used to be allowed to fly in to Madeira, and coming into Horta in a high wind,
you know why. And they get plenty of high winds there, in the middle of the North Atlantic - and it's also the only place 'in Europe' that gets real hurricanes. As the pilot banks the plane round hard and stands it on its wingtip to get in under the cliff, just missing the big white headland to the south, the lower wing points down into the sea, the tiny runway perched out on a rock shelf on the sea below looks impossibly small, the engines are screaming, the whole plane is shaking and jarring hard, you can see the wings flexing a yard up and down, passengers are terrified and moaning all round - it's kinda fun.

Got to be honest, I'd sooner go by boat - I prefer a Force 9 in a 32-foot boat in mid-ocean to that, it seems a whole lot safer.

* UK slang: 'hairy' = well risky = ensure Last Will & Testament is in the post

The Azores High
, you've heard of the Azores High and you think it never blows a hooley out there? Sure, there are seemingly endless summer days when the only way to sail the islands is to motor - if that makes any sense. Out of season, though, it's a different matter. Big winds can come in at any time, though you normally get plenty of warning as the weather charts out here are superb due to the civil and military airports.

And then at the end of summer, September or so, there's always the chance of a hurricane. One starts south of here near the Cape Verdes, and on its journey north-east to the Caribbean, something goes wrong and it curves up and round toward the Azores. A big swell, monster waves, and a solid 40-knot wind for days is the result of just a near miss. Watching the big full-rigged sailing ships surging along the quayside, stretching their warps to breaking point, is an unforgettable sight. You can understand why rough-weather ports like this had laws that made mooring up with chain compulsory. Hard on the ship but better than a loose ship in port in a big blow.

It seems unfair to only comment on one of these works, as they are all noteworthy. When you consider they are done on a rough old harbour wall somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic, with paint bought from the local hardware shop (in a Portuguese outpost mostly forgotten by the world) and passed around between the boat crews, they are really something. The one above for the Swedish yacht Trygvason is done in wonderful pastel shades that don't come out well in this quick snap of mine. Many of these people are highly skilled, and perhaps graphic designers and so on in their land-locked lives.

One of my favourites. The marine world is of course divided into rag & stick merchants or stinkpot pilots - and these Martians look suspiciously like the latter.

This one by the crew of New Hope is a - what? I can't remember the word for a collection of real objects made into a work of art. Collage? Anyway, again it's hard to tell from the snap, but this is a striking collection of items that are (probably) epoxied onto the wall. There is a small dinghy anchor - useless, so no wonder they stuck it on a wall - and some neatly-spliced rope. The whole thing is finished off with a coating of the local black sand.

The Horta harbour wall paintings

Above are a shown a few of the many thousands of boat 'signature' paintings that seem to cover every inch of space on the walls, ground, and everywhere else in the harbour of Horta, on the small island of Faial in the Azores. This is a group of islands around a thousand miles west of Portugal out in the North Atlantic, on the sailing route from the Caribbean and US east coast to Europe. From Horta you can head north-east to the Channel (it's 1,250 miles or so to Falmouth, most likely with a building wind up your transom) or south-east to the Med, down the Portugal Current and into the Canary Current. Head south till the butter melts, then turn right, keep going straight till you hit the Caribbean. You'll have a nice strong 20-knot north-easter on the starboard quarter most or even all the way. Go far enough south, to the latitude of the Cape Verdes, and that wind might be a very solid easterly. Hot and strong.

The Horta wall paintings or murals are famous among ocean cruising sailors, and have been widely copied. Now you can find similar wall paintings in many far-off ports. But Horta is special and will always be the 'one-and-only'.

What makes cruising sailors stand out as a group is how talented they are. Plenty of artists there, as you can see; and more musicians, authors, linguists, skilled laptop computer users and no doubt other talents, than in any other group that comes to mind. Put that together with the fact that they are of course resilient characters by nature, and you have a formidable group of people. One might have guessed that in any case, since people who enjoy prolonging for weeks or even months, what many consider to be agony if it only lasts for an hour or two - bumping up and down the waves offshore - are hardly likely to be of the usual calibre.

If you want to discuss publishing a book, writing music, or getting a job in Fiji or Estonia, with some rugged characters, you couldn't do it in better company than in a bar in Horta; possibly Peter's Café Sport but there are plenty to choose from. This is also the spiritual home of the square riggers, and late in the season especially you'll probably see two or three in port.

It's said you can't call yourself a sailor until you've sailed into Horta; I'd add to that: until you can sing out a sea shanty or three, have singlehanded a night passage of 50 miles, taken a sight or two that got within 5 miles, and made a port-to-port passage of 1,000 miles. I'd leave out all those things I haven't done yet, of course - like being shipwrecked - but that's only through a matter of luck, not skill...

I was in Horta after a quick jaunt, singlehanding my Sadler 32 up from Cape Town, on the way to the Channel. A port-to-port passage of around 6,500 miles on that leg of the trip, and a leisurely 75 days at sea without sighting land - well, apart from a glimpse of Brava (probably) in the Cape Verde islands, through the thick golden haze they get down there when the wind blows off the Sahara.

If you ever get the chance, sail the South Atlantic in a small boat: dorado and tuna swimming alongside, showers of flying fish bursting out from under the bow of the boat, dolphins chattering at you, frigate birds overhead, and a huge, warm, friendly ocean to play in. The Indian Ocean can be hot, humid and vicious, with 50-knot winds that come from nowhere; the North Atlantic has a real mean streak, cold and hard; but the South Atlantic is extremely pleasant by comparison. Big, friendly rollers pushing you onward north to the Doldrums, the south-easterly tradewinds always on the starboard quarter, and fresh dorado for lunch - what more do you need? Ah, there's a slight lack of DSL, of course, but nowhere's perfect.

Sailor's tips for Horta

  • Take a mosquito net if, like me, you suffer from their attention more than most people. They've got big, hungry skeeters there year-round, though March is the quietest month for them. Many people don't notice them, though. I believe it depends on how much carbon dioxide you give off, since that's how they locate a target from a distance.*
  • Take a long power cable as you might find the hookup is some way off. It's a standard blue 16-amp external plug.
  • You might find a long-range WiFi set-up comes in handy.
  • The Modelo supermarket has most of the stuff you need. However you can get some interesting local groceries and other bargains up at the far, far north end of town. The market is there, plus many little shops that sell local foods cheaper than Modelo. For example the best cheese is St Jorge, from the nearby island - kind of like a medium Cheddar. Say "My-oh keelo de sow george, por favor" to get a pound of it ("half a kilo of St George please"). The locals in the little old shops are often old-timers who speak no English. Try some Portuguese and watch them smile.
  • An alternative Internet cafe to the main choice, Hortanet, is available in a back street near the market. It's well hidden so a local will have to show you. Useful in high summer when Hortanet is packed.
  • Drinks: the only local spirits worth drinking are brandy and the local illegal firewater, bagaceira (if you're a potheen fan). The best make of brandy is '1920', 'Mil nov centos e vingt' in Portuguese. It was £4 a bottle when I was there so went down well. Don't try Portuguese rum, though, whatever you do (typically in a raffia-covered bottle) - toilet cleaner is far superior. Nearby Pico produces the region's wine, on the slopes of the volcano. 'Terras de Lava' is their best-known white, and goes down OK. I find it a tiny bit acid, so don't drink it too late in the evening. The name alludes to the fact that the vines are grown on the slopes of the volcano; and the small stepped fields are walled with lava blocks.

  • If you stay a while, get an electric cooking hotplate. All liveaboards have them, and it may make sense even for a couple of weeks.

  • Visit the Scrimshaw Museum above Peter's Cafe Sport. Well worth it if you're a deep-water sailor.

* Carbon dioxide location is an incredibly efficient method of finding a human. Mosquitoes can certainly find you from 50 yards away and it may be as much as 100. Then they switch to infra-red heat-seeking as they close in; and their eyesight also helps. Carbon dioxide location is so efficient that the UK Police use CO2 detectors to find illegal immigrants stowed away in Channel Tunnel trains coming in (they hide under the floors in machinery compartments).

Sailing and sailboat tech articles
Perhaps, if you enjoyed this glimpse of the voyager's life, you might like to read more on sailing boat technical issues and cruising experiences.

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