Azores Day 1 4th Sep
10 divers less 1 ( David, Mike, Andrew, Dewi, Brett and Nia, Malcolm and Melanie and myself) all met at Terminal 1 Manchester without any dramas for what was to be one very, very long day. First leg of the trip was a flight to Lisbon. During the flight the first of many “empty seat” photos began.
On arrival at Lisbon, we were very much off one aircraft and onto another for the second leg of the trip.
Arriving in Horta we had a short taxi journey to the ferry port where we had over a 2 hour wait for the next ferry over to Pico. Having time to kill we all proceeded to a small snack bar on the quay where some very welcome beers were enjoyed. As well as a group photo, Mike was also photographed enjoying his first and last drink of the trip.
After some food and refreshment we all made our way to the ferry terminal for the final leg of the journey, and arrived in Pico in darkness at the end of a very, very long day ready for day 2.
Azores Day 2 5th Sep
After a restless night’s sleep at Hotel Caravelas in Madalena it was an early start with breakfast at 7am and we were to be picked up for 8:30 and taken to the Twin Peaks Diving Centre at Santo Antonio. We had kindly refused the offer of diving at Princess Alice Bank dive site which was 96 kilometres off shore for our first dive of the trip to the annoyance of the owner of the Twin Peaks Diving Centre.
Dive 1 @ Santo Antonio
We opted for a shore dive over the road from the Diving Centre for our first dive of the trip, we set up our kit and walked over the road to have a check dive, good job as a few of us needed a couple of extra kilos to get down. There were two guides one at the front and one at the back, it was pointed out to use a compass was pointless as the volcanic rocks have an effect on them.
Eugenio the main guide briefed us on the surface what we might see on the dive and warned us of 2 species to watch out for, the first was the Fangtooth Moray Eel as it was more aggressive than the other species of Moray and had big teeth and the second was a Bearded Fireworm which are usually about 15 to 30 centimetres in length with bristles, when flared, can penetrate human skin and injecting a powerful neurotoxin “NICE”.
During the dive we saw many species of fish, which consisted of Ornate Wrasse, Atlantic Lizardfish, Forkbeard, Macaronesian Sharpnose-puffer, Wide-eyed Flounder, Parrotfish, Canary Damsel and others species of which I couldn’t identify. The dive time was 46 minutes with a max depth of 19.4 meters and a water temperature of 22c.
Dive 2 @ Cais do Pico
The second dive site was a 4 minutes drive down the road, the entry point was interesting with a stride entry of about 2 meters off a wall but Nia opted for the steps. The dive itself was much like the first one with the same species of fish but we did see a glimpse of a large Dusky Grouper hiding in a cave. The dive time was 52 minutes with a max depth of 18 meters and a water temperature of 22c.
We ended the day with a nice meal at the "Ancoradouro" Restaurant and 1 or 2 glasses of wine.
Azores Day 3 6th Sep
Azores Day 4 7th Sep
08:30 start at Pico harbour. 3 cylinders and all the weights left at base. The start was a little delayed. No panic, everyone is used to the easy way of life here.
We eventually set off for Monde De Guai, on Horta. It’s remarkably like Bardsey Island (N. coast).
Plan A cancelled due to weather. So to Plan B, a bit more sheltered. A rock breaking the surface about 50m from shore. Vis 20m plus. Sandy seabed.
Entry 10:00 hrs. We swam over to the pinnacle. At this point I decided to go round the side of the pinnacle whilst everyone else went over the top…. It was at this point everyone, except me, saw the biggest Sting Ray in the Atlantic Ocean !!! (not to mention the friendly Grouper the following day)!! I did manage to see a few baby Sting Rays.
We had lunch and the second dive commenced at 13:09 duration 53 mins.
All I remember about that was a close encounter with a trigger fish which swam straight at my mask, then veered off at the last minute. Phew !!!!
Pretty average day for me .
Azores Day 5 8th Sep
Azores Day 6 9th Sep
Last day of diving Pico was a late start with some taking full opportunity for a late breakfast especially after the late night pool competition from the previous night. Fantastic weather and sea conditions couldn’t be any betterThe pickup was at midday and we were transferred over to the dive centre where we kitted up and then transfer to the boat.
A short boat ride along the South / North East side of the Island with some stunning scenery. A quick deviation to recover a bouy and shot before the dive.
1st dive was inside a volcanic crater which had erupted several hundred years ago. We circumnavigated the whole chimney with a very nice wall at a max depth of 27-28 metres. Life on the reef could have been better, plenty of small fish and morays with dive times of 45-50 minutes.
We returned to port for lunch and change cylinders before the second dive. Having kitted up the 2nd dive were on some underwater lava arches, plenty of nooks and crannies to shine your torch, octopus, morays and barracudas sighted on the dive, Dewi got excited thinking that he had spotted a huge Grouper lurking in a cave only to find that it was Mr Duke skulking in the darkness.
We retuned ashore, back to the dive centre the diving was over with everybody's thoughts turning to the dreaded task of having to transfer the wet kit back to the hotel and commence the drying process to ensure that we don’t exceed our 23kg allowance. Meanwhile Malcolm had eventually navigated the hiring of his scooter and had decided to explore as high up the Mountain as he could go, obviously he had to open it up to see what it could do and pushed it out to 92kph, not sure if this was downhill from the mountain with the wind behind
With kit all lined up on the balconies a quick shower and we had a table booked for 8pm at the Atmosfera do pico restaurant, Italian food being the order of the day. We struggled to get taxis to takes to the location but it was well worth the wait, stunning views with the sun setting to the west and Pico mountain behind us to the east.
A fantastic welcome, and the recommended dish being a ham shank, apparently Mike was desperate for a ham shank!!at this stage of the holiday. Some excellent grub was enjoyed with David grabbing the attention of the waitress who served him up his desert with amore followed later by blowing kisses.
Azores Day 7 10th Sep
Day seven, sabotage day.
Well the day started well, we had breakfast and got ourselves ready for a land based exploration day of adventure. Malcolm and Mel went off on a scooter, as did Dewi.
Micky was to have a chill day and Tim was catching up on some business work. That left Nia, Andrew, David and myself to Car share for the day. Andrew and his phone were Chief Navigators.
The day started well with visits to many of the various ports and sea shore pools built along the coast. We came across several of the old whaling vessels and rowing boats which were all in pristine condition. We found it quite a task to find somewhere to eat, but managed a coffee and eventually we arrived at the previous days dive site where we refuelled our selves. From here on out we went o a treasure hunt, well that's what it seemed to be. We were heading for the base camp for the summit of the volcano. We ended up heading up a road which resembled the lane going to Porth Ysgadan, except it went on and on, maybe five miles, maybe ten! Even the cattle looked on and bellowed Bloody tourists with a cheeky grin.
We found a blow hole which had been turned into a cattle handling pen which was quite amusing as next week’s menu was enclosed ready for transportation. We eventually arrived at base camp which was at the height of Snowdon, and thus made the size of the mountain very impressive. Apparently it takes eight hours to navigate to the summit and back again, not for the faint hearted I would say. We then made our way back to the hotel, where I had to make the plans for the evening. But Mickey had been taken ill and had to see a Dr after which he was shipped by ferry to the other island Hospital for some tests. Dewi sorted out accommodation on the other Island for Tim and Micky, as Tim went with him to make sure he behaved himself.
I decided to visit a restaurant we had visited previously as we could sit outside and we'd had good food previously. The night went well as we had received the all clear from Tim, so we relaxed and enjoyed the evening. We then proceeded to a local watering hole which was closed, so we went into the one next door. David opted for an ice-cream, yes the ice-cream parlour served until midnight. We then went back for a night cap at the Hotel, but the bar was closed, so we got the pool cues and balls and had a couple of games of pool.
We had Dewi the hustler as he had been nicknamed after a previous tournament, Malcolm and Mel and then Andrew ,Nia and myself. Both games were tactical, long and both games the black was potted by Nia and Mel. But unfortunately Mel's was a wrong pocket and forfeited the game to us, but Nia's shot, a shot off the cushion into the middle bag, amazing what a little alcohol can do for ones eyesight After the shock of our teams prowess on the pool table it was decided to retire after what had been a long day for all. All’s well that ends Well..
Azores Day 8 11th Sep
I suppose that I got lucky in picking up the day we left Pico and travelled back to Lisbon. Not actually a lot to report as we had a morning to kill before getting the ferry back to Horta at 2pm. I did manage to get totally lost in Madalena trying to find a petrol station to fill up the hire car, then finding out that unmanned pumps didn't accept either Credit or Debit cards, so I was able to get lost a second time trying to find the same (manned) station that I had looked for in the beginning. In the end I got the car back with seconds to spare. Gary, the owner of the dive outfit, didn't show up to see us off, also forgetting to send the ferry tickets, but Eugenio, our first rate dive guide for the week, did make the effort which was great as he was something of an inspiration. The ferry crossing was a lot calmer than the big sea on the way out and the flight back was trouble free. So with the excellent Hotel Tryp at the airport booked for the night young Dewi had excelled yet again.
Just in case no-one else has summarized the week's diving, I would venture the following assessment. Very good, not least because we were blessed with good weather, but a slight disappointment in as much as there wasn't much of the big stuff. Surprisingly, there was less of just about everything here than there was at the eastern island of Santa Maria where we dived 2 years ago. The viz. was very good on most dives but a bit cloudy on one or two of the inshore (afternoon) dives. I suppose the highlights for me were the dive early on in the crater in the channel off Magdalena and the brilliant cave and wall dive over on the Horta coast where we met the eagle rays. The topography was definitely a big part of most dives. Dives were usually around 20 metres, my maximum being 28, with current occurring on only 2 or 3, so the trip would have been fine for the Ocean Divers - but you don't know that beforehand. We did pass on the offer to travel out 96km (3 hours plus each way) to see the mobula rays at Princess Alice Banks, which I'm sure didn't endear us to Gary, but the two Dutch girls who dived with us for 2 days confirmed our choice as both of their dives there were spent hanging on a line, one in a strong current, seeing just the rays, followed by an even longer trip back as the boat lost an engine. I suppose that the one big negative remains the duration of the journey - about 16 hours out and 32 hours back door to door.
ps Just in case Malcolm forgets, or is a little late (surely not!) in getting round to his report for the final day, it's suffice to say that it all went to plan but with an afternoon flight it did take just about all day. i.e. there's not exactly much for him to report on.