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Firefly - Great sailing and interesting trivia...

The past 48 hours on board Firefly have been superb – we’ve seen the return of the sun and some extremely favourable winds for sailing, meaning that we’ve been able to relax and enjoy everything at our comparative ease.  We’ve been on a comfortable broad reach most of the time, sailing at between 7 and 9 knots directly towards the Azores.  The swell has been around 2 metres from behind, but rolling very gently giving us a lovely smooth ride.  We’ve been basking in the sun, we’ve seen plenty of dolphins, and we even managed an afternoon tea with scones and jam – very civilised!  Winds have just eased slightly so 30 minutes ago we furled the jib and raised our gennaker, and we’re hoping that should bring us most of the way to the Azores.
Speaking of which.....
During yesterday’s radio net we asked the crews of the various yachts to do a little research and come back to us with various fun facts and trivia about the Azores (and our first port of call Horta in particular), the results of which were quite interesting.  As might be expected for such an isolated but strategic group of islands, there is quite a maritime history there, not always peaceful.  In 1597 (when under Spanish control) Sir Walter Raleigh attacked Horta and razed it to the ground, however when Captain Cook visited in 1775 his intentions were far more benign, just using the stop to check his navigational instruments before heading south on his voyage.
Azoreans themselves have a strong maritime tradition, as well as one of emigration during times of hardship, and in the late 1800s, over the course of a decade over 11,000 Azoreans left to work on the sugar fields of Hawaii, all of them rounding Cape Horn in the process.  The first ‘recreational’ yachtsman to visit the Azores was Joshua Slocum in 1895, during the first solo circumnavigation of the world, paving the way for hundreds of yachts today, making the marina in Horta the fourth most visited in the world.
We also learned that “Cafe Sport” in Horta (which is a hub for all things outdoor) was founded by an ex-whaler and is now in third generation ownership.  Upstairs is a scrimshaw museum (engravings of whale teeth and ivory by seafarers, particularly whalers) which we’re looking forward to visiting.  We also found out that it’s possible to hire a mountain bike from there and be driven to the highest point of the island (the 1043m volcanic peak of Cabeco Gorda) from where it’s possible to look down into the extinct crater before freewheeling all the way back down to sea level at Horta again – that one’s on our list too.
One of the crews found out that 1st June is the Azorean ‘national’ holiday, meaning that bars will be open late (could be dangerous) and there will be fireworks etc..  On a slightly more sombre note, it was discovered that the 2351m summit of neighbouring island Pico is under continual monitoring by the World Seismic Institute as the western part of it is considered unstable, and any eruption/landslide could trigger a tsunami that would engulf the entire eastern seaboard of the USA, destroying New York etc. in the process – armageddon stuff!  Hopefully the WSI are good at their job, although I’m not sure they could do much to prevent it when it happens...
Signing off for now,
Paul, Peter & Mike.

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