No wonder generations of tired and thirsty sailors have fallen in love with the Azores

Horta is an amazing place. I’d never been to the Azores before
this week or to the town on the island of Faial that is the favourite stopping
place for sailors crossing the Atlantic from west to east.

Now I’m here I can see why people come back time and again. By
shaping a route to Europe via the Azores you can make the best part of a
transatlantic crossing with winds abaft the team.

But if Faial is anything to go by, this archipelago is one of
the most beautiful, interesting, friendly, completely unspoilt by mass tourism
and cheap anywhere in the western world. There’s something of the land that
time forgot about Horta that is really charming.

The architecture is lovely, the views of the volcano on the
neighbouring island of Pico spectacular, the food is good and within a short
stagger from the marina is Peter’s Cafe Sport, the sailors’ favourite bar and
meeting place since 1918.

It’s a true crossroads and right now is the busiest time.
European yachts are returning home at the end of the Caribbean cruising and
racing season, and a smaller number of US yachts are making their way to the
Mediterranean and northern Europe.

This is a place where, sooner or later – and certainly if you
hang out in Peter’s long enough – you are almost certain to meet someone you

What makes it so unique is that nearly everyone has crossed an
ocean to get there. Having flown in via Lisbon I’m one of the few imposters.
Visitors by boat have all earned their stripes because the west to east
Atlantic crossing is far from an easy one.

After a downwind crossing to the Caribbean with largely day
sailing for a season, the passage here is a return to life at an angle, full
sets of thermals and foulies at night and strong winds from passing fronts.

That has been the experience of the 34 yachts on the ARC Europe
rally – 35 if you include the 37ft Hanse that hit a whale some 300 miles out
from Bermuda and whose crew evacuated on to a ship. With passage times ranging
from 9 days to over two weeks, most have had quite a quick trip, with following
winds sometimes up to 40 knots.

Those with full crews seem to have enjoyed it more, while the
two-handed couples considered it a tough passage. Conditions and wind
directions are much more varied that on a tradewinds passage and frequent sail
changes and reefs meant that the short-handed crews went short on sleep.

This crossing can also be bumpy, with cross seas spinning out
from those lows rolling yachts gunwale to gunwale. Cooking, eating, sleeping
all becomes more difficult.

For those who have just arrived and experienced strong winds and
persistent rain as they approached Horta the moment of rounding the breakwater
is even more keenly awaited. So the shelter, the meeting places, the bars and
greenery here are among some of the most welcome and well appreciated anywhere.