This week Sunpenny Publishing is celebrating summer with a series of posts by the authors of its boating books, which alongside Far Out: Sailing into a Disappearing World include A Whisper on the Mediterranean, Tonia Parronchi’s book about sailing with her husband and young son – which can be won by a lucky UK resident this week by visiting Facebook – and Valerie Poore’s popular memoir of life on an historic Dutch barge, Watery Ways, and her children’s book, The Skipper’s Child.
Sunpenny’s summer boating week made me think back to all the countries where we have sailed. We bought our yacht, Stella Maris, while working in the USA, and I learnt to sail on the challenging waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Summer there is hurricane season, so our longer training trips to Mexico and Florida had to be undertaken in winter, and summertime was limited to day sails on the calm and protected waters of Clear Lake, Texas, where we kept Stella Maris as we prepared for our trip across the Pacific to Australia, and ultimately around the world.
Our circumnavigation seemed like two and a half years of blissful summer sailing, visiting tropical paradises from Belize in the Caribbean, to the coral island of Niue in the Pacific, the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean, and Ascension Island in the South Atlantic. In reality, though, it was winter sailing, as we had to cross these oceans outside the hurricane and cyclone seasons. But when the sun is always shining, the water is a shimmering aquamarine, and you’re collecting shells along the golden shore of a Pacific atoll, how can it not feel like summer?
After our circumnavigation we worked for a few years in Kuwait, where we joined the local sailing club and spent the weekends sailing a Dart 18 catamaran on the mostly placid waters of the Persian Gulf. With summer temperatures soaring to above 40ºC, being on the water offered welcome relief from the kind of searing heat that even made walking a challenge.
And here in the Azores we know summer is just around the corner when the first boats start arriving from the Caribbean, where the approaching hurricane season sends them across the Atlantic to Europe. The superyachts of the super rich are the first to appear, stopping to refuel before continuing to the summer playground of the Mediterranean. Then come the sailing boats, a slow trickle in early May that builds to a peak by late June, when Horta marina on the island of Faial is so full yachts are rafted side by side against the wall and anchored in the harbour. Every year around one thousand boats stop there to break up their transatlantic crossing, have a drink in the famous sailors’ bar Peter Café Sport, and leave a painting on the walls of the marina hoping to ensure good luck for their onward journey.
For those of us who stay, there are local yacht and traditional whaling boat races, Laser and Optimist sailing, interisland regattas, such as the one between Faial and Sao Jorge we participated in with Stella Maris last year, and Semana do Mar, an annual festival of the sea that takes place in Horta in early August. This year we plan to explore more of the Azores’ nine islands, short trips we hope will turn our adopted street cat into a nautical one. Apart from being a little seasick on her maiden voyage a few days ago, the signs were good that she might well find her sea paws. Then those short trips would lead to longer voyages, to other Atlantic islands and beyond. Next summer, may be.