Oct. 8 , 2007
By Ken Krayeske • 11:05 PM UCT
A small neighborhood in Horta.
O n the list of "Things I Never Wanted To Do," I can now check off "Cross the Atlantic In A Sub-Tropical Storm."
Slogging through seven days in 10 to 15 foot seas is as little fun as it sounds. I don't get seasick, but imagine a dull headache, a lighter version of the dizzy kind you got as a kid when you rolled down a hill too fast.
The payoff, though, was spending three days in Horta, a small port city on the island of Faial in the Azores – the Portuguese archipelago of volcanic mountaintops sitting two-thirds of the way across Atlantic.
Faial is an island of some 12,000 people. At one point, more than twice that number populated it. But 50 years ago, in 1957, a volcano erupted, and made life on the island difficult.
Sen. John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts responded by welcoming Azoreans to Massachusetts. Kennedy work magic with the federal bureaucracy and managed to invite 12,000 or so folks to the Bay state.
A sea-faring people, the Azoreans moved to coastal cities like New Bedford, but they also moved inland to Springfield.
So it should have come as no surprise to me, but when I sat down at the seaside restaurant Quebra Mar for a dinner of the local delicacy Guelly Fish with a special sauce, the owner Ernaldo turned out to have visited his cousin in Hartford during Christmas a few years ago.
He remembered how beautiful and cold and white and snowy it was, very different from the temperate island climate of Faial.
In Horta, if you look west and can see Pico, the next island, it is going to rain. If you can't see Pico, it is already raining, said one local, a transplant from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He moved there 16 years ago, and hasn't looked back once.
A few farm kids at the top of Monte Carniero in Horta ride broken bikes down a part of the hill on a Saturday afternoon.
It's a great place to raise kids, he said, and he and his wife love the island because it is so safe.
The worst of it would be the teenage couples sitting on the sea wall necking. The first time I walked down the dock and I passed by one such makeout session, I almost felt as if I was interrupting.
The dock and sea wall itself are sacred in the marine community. It is allegedly bad luck if you visit Horta and fail to paint your boat's name on the dock or wall. With 1,500 ships a season passing through, literally thousands of colorful paintings cover nearly every square inch of concrete in the marina.
Tourists walk up and down the marina, examining what amounts to an outdoor museum. Some of the paintings are decades old. It brings a festive atmosphere to the place, as every ship that makes it safely into port after crossing most of the great pond is happy.
Our chef opened a bottle of Veuve Cliquot champagne to celebrate our arrival after what was a bouncy, uncomfortable delivery.
Sub-Tropical Storm Jerry greeted us with rain and whitecaps cresting at 10 to 15 feet.
So to keep the seas on our side, I assumed the role of pretend Picasso and set about painting our homage to Horta. I picked my spot carefully, right next to our dockage. I found a painting that was chipped and cracking. It said "2000," and featured a Texas flag, but the names of the boat, crew and destination were no longer legible.
Considering the infamy that goes with Texas and "2000" on this planet, I saw it as my duty to paint over such. As I dabbed the brush for the white lettering on the uneven concrete canvas, tourists stopped and watched and photographed me.
It came out looking like an old Connecticut license plate, with bold white letters on a blue field. It said "2007 ‘Upwind' World Tour: Maverick II." Then I listed the names of the crew and owners of good ship "Maverick II."
'Upwind' is because we are mavericks, going east against the weather patterns. Most trans-Atlantic crossings in the yachting world occur in May, long before the hurricane season we are boating in the midst of.
The Mediterranean cruising season is June through September. After the storms have passed, the yachts head back to the Caribbean in November.
Thus, rather than artistic talent which dominates the wall, I tried to include some humor. The art is so famous in the marine world, and Horta is so proud of them that Ernaldo decorated his restaurant Quebra Mar with photos of some of the best yacht-art works.
They are like Ernaldo and Horta itself - intense and colorful, yet friendly, hospitable, and relaxed. It feels like that mythical construct - the old world. At the central market, you can purchase grapes in a wicker basket, sold by the woman who picked them.
Scenes from the central market in downtown Horta; fresh grapes and fresh fish.
Or pick a fresh local fish, like a forkbeard, and have a Ukranian immigrant named Wasil clean it on sight. Wasil said there was more work in Horta than in the Ukraine.
Horta is a place where – when the world is too much with you near and far - you could take a box of books and repair there for three months, and emerge well-read refreshed.
Perhaps one day I'll return to climb the volcanic peaks, commune with the cows and look to see if "Maverick II" is still on the sea wall. Or maybe our housepaint cracked and peeled so badly that someone else, enthralled with their safe passage, painted over our mark.
But our next stop is Gibraltar, then Malta. So until then, fair winds and following seas.