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Sailing in the Azores - Whale watching & Island Hopping

The Azores is a favourite stopping off point with ocean sailors. The islands are lush and bountiful. Fruits and dairy products are a treat if you are running low on provisions and the climate is warm and pleasant. The seas seem full of life with flying fish and in Spring the bigger whale species like humpback, sperm and sei whales migrate through the deep waters between these volcanic outposts. 

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Yacht paintings on Horta Sea Wall, Azores. Grayhound added hers on her Atlantic circuit
Sailing lugger Grayhound adds her painting to Horta sea wall

Blue water sailing around the Azores

The Eastern Atlantic Islands of The Azores, lies at just far enough north to catch the prevailing SW wind and carry sailing ships towards Europe and the English Channel. Thus they have been a staging posts for square rig sailors and yachtsmen through the centuries, these mountainous island landfalls with lush vegetation are a welcome reward for any ocean passage, whether it is a short one from Europe or the Canaries or  a Trans Atlantic from the Caribbean or Bemuda. 

There is more to becoming a blue water sailor than swapping oilskins for shorts, but a winter suntan certainly helps. Ocean sailors happily adapt to a watch routine and the constant motion of the ship day and night. Experience all the ships moods from glassy calms to white capped swells launching flying fish from crest to crest

Deep blue seas on Bark Europa. Photo Debbie Purser

Azores for Island Hopping

The Azores has welcomed Ocean travellers and sailors for centuries, nowadays you can have a modern adventure sailing holiday on our traditional sailing ships. It is a unique place and will bring out the explorer in you. The ports on each island are fairly small and with ocean swell it is often too wearing on a wooden ship to be alongside a stone quay for long. Therefore the majority of stops will be anchorages so you need to be fairly agile with a sense of adventure for these voyages. Sea passages between islands like Sao Miguel and Pico are nearly 150 miles so you will be doing some night passages and watch keeping.

Azores blue skies

 Azure Seas and Lush Volcanic Flora

The Azores are Portuguese, and there are 9 islands in 3 distinct groups – all volcanic with ancient Caldera craters. Only Pico still has an original cone over 2351m high. From June – October the weather is dominated by the Azores High. Summer temperatures typically reach 23 degrees centigrade. Evenings are cooler than the Caribbean. The shorelines are often steep cliffs and the vegetation is lush with much tropical fruit as well as fresh dairy products.

Azores is famous for their dairy products and fruit

Whale Watching & Humpback Migration

Fishing, green tourism and whale watching are an important part of their economy today . Whale hunting was historically a major source of income in the Azores. The local island communities continue to reap the benefits of being on the migration trail but now they have turned to whale watching replacing their bloodier past. A tall ship has a great advantage over island boats for cetacean spotting – A 'crows nest' vantage point. If you are brave enough to climb to the Royal yard (or a platform lower down) we challenge you to resist that tempting "thar she blows, Captain Ahab"

March April and May is a good time to be in the Azores as Humpback whales pass through the islands on their annual migration. The more time you can spend at sea in deep oceanic waters, the more chance you have of spotting whales and dolphins. Large sperm whales, Sei whales and blue whales  have also been regularly sighted off the islands.

Humpback whale breeching. Photo Debbie Purser

Tall ships passing through the Azores (crew changes)

The Azores have been a staging post for sailors for centuries and several of our vessels are carrying on that tradition, as they stop in Horta or Ponta Delgada for a crew change. Why not sail to the Azores on a tall ship and combine with a holiday ashore in the Azores. Alternatively you could plan to arrive a few days early and then sail back from the Azores to Europe. Ships that regularly use the Azores as a staging post as they head from Southern Hemisphere, Caribbean or Mediterranean are Bark Europa, Oosterschelde, Lord Nelson, Tenacious, Grayhound.

Super pod of dolphins escorting Bark Europa
Super pod of dolphins escorting Bark Europa
Which ship for my adventure?

Island hopping here has great sailing but not a huge number of ports of anchorages that are safe from the ocean swell. Therefore sailing seasons  within the Azores tend to be for a few weeks rather than months as the wear and tear on vessels is quite high.

The Azores are still a firm favourite with ships and the vessels that know the islands well enough to island hop include big square riggers like Tenacious or Lord Nelson and smaller ships which can get in more harbours like sailing lugger Grayhound. The owner and skipper of Grayhound Marcus has lived on the Azores and knows the islands well.

Other regular visitors are our ships that use the Azores as a staging post. Bark Europa usually does a crew change here on her annual voyage from Cape Town to the Netherlands. Big three masted schooner Blue Clipper and Oosterschelde regularly do Atlantic Circuits in winter to the Caribbean with Azores on the way home.

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The Azores Archipelago

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