Santa Maria - The First Island Discovered in the Azores, The Last One Discovered by Us

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October 14th 2012
Published: October 14th 2012
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Our safe marinaOur safe marinaOur safe marina

The marina at Santa Maria was a good one to stay at while tropical storm Nadine passed through the area
September 17 - September 25, 2012

(note - I have included many collages to include more photos - if you can not see them, click on the photo to make them larger)

Yes, we had said that Sao Miguel would be the last island in the Azores we would visit before going to the mainland, but tropical storm Nadine had other plans. Earlier in August hurricane Gordon came through when we were in Terceira. The marina was very careful to take in some of the floating docks near the opening and moved boats to more protected areas. Everyone prepared for the worse, but fortunately Gordon went to the south of us and passed close to Santa Maria which is about 90 miles from Sao Miguel. All we received were much higher waves and quite a bit of surge in the marina which made sleeping somewhat uncomfortable. We found out from boats that were at Santa Maria that they were very well protected and no one had any damage. Tropical storm Nadine which started on the memorable date of September 11th was quite different. In fact she kept changing back and forth between a tropical storm and a hurricane over
Map of Santa MariaMap of Santa MariaMap of Santa Maria

Hope this helps in finding a few of the places mentioned
a 21 day period making her the 5th longest Atlantic tropical cyclone known in history. We were in Sao Miguel when Nadine first came to visit the Azores. She stayed to the west of us going toward Flores and Corvo . The second time Nadine decided to swing through the Azores, she was aimed closer to where we were located but it was not clear as she was moving very sporically. The harbor in Sao Miguel was not the most protected and from what we knew of Santa Maria we decided that would be a better place to wait out the storm. Santa Maria is farther south and not typically on the path for those going to the mainland, but we figured it was worth heading in a southeast direction to be in a safer place. Additionally since we had been in Sao Miguel for some time we figured we might as well wait out the storm and visit a different island at the same time. We left Sao Miguel in the company of Titom and made it safely to Santa Maria 10 hours later (52 nm). This marina is a small one similar to the one in Flores where
Chimneys Are Different HereChimneys Are Different HereChimneys Are Different Here

One noticeable differerence with the houses on Santa Maria is the 2 different types of chimneys - the older type in the upper left is called "praying hands" while the newer one is the round stovepipe type
everyone gets to know everyone else on the dock. Fortunately for us we already knew most of the other boats– it was a great reunion! We had to say thanks to Nadine for bringing us together again. When we got to Santa Maria we weren’t quite sure how long we would have to stay, but knew that we had a few days before Nadine was to come close to us. This gave us some time to do some exploring. We were able to rent a car for a day with our friends, Christa and Pascal on Titom. We had a great time together exploring despite the fact that the weather was not the best with overcast skies, some rain and lots of “low flying clouds”. With the hurricane in the vicinity it created some spectacular waves crashing on the rocky coast of Santa Maria.

This island has a small population of only about 5,000 people and we found out that many of the homes in the ocean side villages are owned by either emigrants that left the Azores and come back for a few months a year or by foreigners using this island as a holiday resort. As with
Beer for ReflectionBeer for ReflectionBeer for Reflection

The reflection was perfect on this Sagres beer that you could even read the name
the other islands the roads are in very good shape and we were able to get around the whole island in a day due to the size of the island. It is only 9.7 miles long and 5.4 miles wide. It is also the first discovered island in the archipelago – it is still argued by who, but either way it was sometime between 1427 and 1432. It was first colonized in 1439 by the Portuguese. The local economy was based on woad (a dye plant producing a blue color used for dying cotton and wool), wheat, and clay used for the making of pottery and roof tiles. The 18th & 19th century brought in numerous other crops such as grapes, potatoes, corn as well as beef and dairy production. The United States built an airport here during World War II for anti-submarine aircraft and for a stopover point for aircraft being ferried to Europe. After the war the Americans wanted to continue occupying the airport but the dictator at the time wanted them out. After a significant amount of negotiation it was agreed that the Americans would move their air base to the island of Terceria. The vacated airfield
Sailor Went TravelingSailor Went TravelingSailor Went Traveling

We tried to take to Sailor to the vet, but we found out that the vet was located this month on a different island - oh well, she had a trip off the boat
was turned over for civil use and became a major airport for trans-Atlantic travel. Currently it is not as important due to the longer range of aircraft, but it is still an active airport and a major gateway for those wanting to visit the Azores. The village of Vila do Porto was much bigger than we expected for an island with a population similar to Flores. The number and types of shops available were more numerous than we saw on Flores, but many of the buildings were in disrepair with caved in roofs and walls. We could see that many were being repaired; however, they have a long way to go to re-claim all of the buildings that need extensive work.

Tropical storm Nadine finally made it to Santa Maria but we were all ready for her with our mooring lines checked and our boats battened down for the rains we knew would hit us. When we awoke in the morning the most obvious impact were the numerous waterfalls that we saw all along the cliffs surrounding the marina that did not exist the night before! The water was also completely brown from the run off as the rivers
Windmills Here TooWindmills Here TooWindmills Here Too

We have seen windmills on many of the islands - this one is on Santa Maria
that had been almost dry now were flowing strong into the harbor area. The waves were high outside the break wall, but all of us inside were safe and sound. When a storm like this comes through the seas are stirred up and are quite high for quite a few days – even the professional fishermen were staying in port. Everyone in the marina was anxious to either sail to the mainland like us or to head south toward the Canary Islands, but we all knew that we needed to wait for the seas to calm. This gave us some time to continue to socialize with friends and to do those odd jobs that always need doing on a boat.

Fortunately for us our friends on Takari had visited the lighthouse on the southeast corner of the island at Ponta do Castelo and reported that it was well worth the drive. Our tour of the lighthouse, complete with climbing up in to where the actual light is, it is quite an amazing system, was extremely interesting. The light keeper was more than willing to answer our questions and explained that even though the lighthouse is automated, they still have
Fixing the Fishing LinesFixing the Fishing LinesFixing the Fishing Lines

Patching up fishing lines is quite a production and entails quite a bit of work
the manual system in place for emergencies. They had to use this recently when hurricane Gordon visited the island this summer. As sailors we really appreciate the importance of the running of these lighthouses which have their own unique signature so you know exactly which light you are seeing. This really does work as we recently could see a light from one of the lighthouses 35 miles off shore – a comforting feeling.

One major difference geologically speaking is that Santa Maria is the only one that is made up partially of sedimentary rock as well as volcanic rock. One side effect of this is that the island has a number of beautiful sand beaches. Unfortunately with the seas riled up from the tropical storm, we could not see too much of the beaches. There were numerous oceanfront ” swimming pools” like we have seen on the other islands, but in this case they were not in use as most of them were completely underwater or being pounded by large waves. We ran into and out of rain all day while touring around, but we still had an enjoyable time. Many of the places appeared to be closed up
Quonset HutsQuonset HutsQuonset Huts

When you go out to the airport you see many old quonset huts that remain from when the US army air corps was located here
as those that come for the summer months had already gone back to their other homes either in Europe or North America. Fortunately we did find a couple of nice, small restaurants and had some local Portuguese food to eat as well as met a couple of people while walking around the town to talk to. One place in particular we had a chance to talk to a couple that live in the US but comes out for a few months a year. They explained that the hills had been covered with vineyards and the area produced a large amount of wine, but now they cannot compete with the vineyards on the mainland so most of the vineyards have closed. We did see that a few of these areas are now being planted with banana trees, but many lie fallow.

While we were in Santa Maria there was a conference being held for professional underwater photographers. We were able to attend part of the last day where they showed the photos that won awards – it was very impressive to see not only the photos but to see what wildlife is in the sea around the Azores. We were
Haricut anyone?Haricut anyone?Haricut anyone?

How do you get your hair cut while cruising? Our friend Christa gave Sylvie a haircut on the dock
sorry to think that we didn’t take advantage of doing any scuba diving while out here. It just may have to be on the list for another time!

We arrived at Santa Maria on September 17th and decided that the weather was good enough for leaving on September 25th. 7 boats decided to leave that day, 3 headed to mainland Portugal and 4 to the south to Madeira. We all knew it wasn’t perfect weather, but it appeared to be the best that we would have for some time. It was sad to leave as we knew that many of these people we now call friends would be scattered far afield and we do not know when we will see them again. That is one of the downsides of the cruising life – you make friends but then soon separate and head off in your different directions. Looking on the positive side, even though we separate we stay in contact by e-mail in the hopes that someday our paths will cross again.

We have thoroughly enjoyed our 3 month stay in the Azores if you haven’t been able to tell from our blog. When we first arrived we
Our friend, Guy, playing waiterOur friend, Guy, playing waiterOur friend, Guy, playing waiter

We have a great evening aboard Takari with our friends Sylvie, Guy and Christa & Pascal from Titom
thought we might be here 1 month, but it easily turned into a longer visit. We now can say that we have visited 7 of the 9 islands in the Azores archipelago missing only Graciosa and Corvo. Many times your stay is determined by the weather. In this case we did have a few cases where that was true, but the main reason we stayed so long in the Azores was the beauty of the islands and the warm welcome we received from everyone we met. The people of the Azores are a proud people and want you to know about their island and its culture. We want to thank all that we met while visiting their country for making us feel so welcome. It was very heart-warming and we will always remember the Azores and its people with great fondness.

Additional photos below
Photos: 67, Displayed: 29


Why is the Stop Sign So High?Why is the Stop Sign So High?
Why is the Stop Sign So High?

The lane is so narrow the stop sign has to be very high so the car can get through without hitting it!
Colored TrimColored Trim
Colored Trim

Another noticeable difference on this island is the use of colors for trim on the houses
5 Star Resort?5 Star Resort?
5 Star Resort?

When you look at this pool you think you are at a 5 star resort, but in fact it is an International Youth Hostel - quite the place to stay!
Transportation Anyone?Transportation Anyone?
Transportation Anyone?

Anything with wheels qualifies as transportation here
Like those Jackstands?Like those Jackstands?
Like those Jackstands?

For those of you that can't see the details the jack stands holding up this boat are tree trunks that are then secured to concrete blocks - they are rustic but work
The Fascade Is Still StandingThe Fascade Is Still Standing
The Fascade Is Still Standing

There were numerous buildings here that were in ruin while others were being restored
The local LibraryThe local Library
The local Library

The libray in town is quite new - we had a chance to see some underwater photography here
Convent of Sao FranciscoConvent of Sao Francisco
Convent of Sao Francisco

The convent was destroyed by pirates in 1616, rebuilt in 1725 & enlarged in 1822. Today it is used as the seat of the municipal hall of Vila do Porto.
The Fishing Co-operativeThe Fishing Co-operative
The Fishing Co-operative

The fishing co-operative here is quite large & we saw many fishing boats coming in with huge catches of fish

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