Yacht paintings in Horta (Azores)


What a splendid place Horta is. A famous sailor’s stopover situated as it is practically in the middle of the North Atlantic. Every boat that passes through leaves a painting in the harbour somewhere. Over the years thousands have been done and many of them are simply awesome. Now they literally cover the harbour of Horta on the Island of Faial. I find it excellent that the powers that be have not tried to stop this lovely custom. It’s graffiti yes, but it’s not mindless tagging. Each one of these paintings tells a story. What you see below is just a very small selection.


I love this one. Crude it might be but the cat is classic. Kotik 2005


The local hardware shop must have made a fortune every summer selling pots of paint to passing sailors! Many of these paintings have a lot of colour in them. Nuage 2004 


Boats come from all over the world. This one from Canada. Shadowfax 2003


There are a lot of common themes in these nautical paintings. Sea creatures are one of the most popular. Here’s a rather chilled out sea horse from Norway. Patagonia 2002.


There are so many paintings in Horta that sometimes you have to paint over an old faded painting. They generally seem to last a maximum of ten years. This one is obviously very recent and very colourful and full of sea creatures.


There sure are some talented sailors out there. Honey Pot 2003.


This one’s doing well. Ten years old in 2005 when this picture was taken. Every picture tells a story. What can this one tell us? We could surmise that they didn’t have too much money as there are only three colours. Also there were seven crew so the boat was probably about 40 feet long. The name could be Portuguese or Spanish perhaps but the names don’t seem latin. Cat looks a bit cross eyed. I guess we’ll never know but it’s fun to wonder. Faro Fino II 1995.


Houdini the Great 1997 & 1999, eastbound and westbound.


Unquestionably a French contribution. The French are great and adventurous sailors. This is from the ‘Petit Prince’ by Antoine St Exupery L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux, basically translates as: The important things in life are invisible. Asteroide 2005.


This translates: Always reclined, glass in hand. As well as the obvious use of sea creatures in many of these paintings, booze also features prominently! Amzer’zo 1998.


Yet another French painting. Can’t work out whether the boat is called Ashini or Miel. 2003.


One of my favourites. This one from Holland. Argo 2000 & 2003.


Another French painting. Onyva means ‘Let’s go’. 2001


When there’s no space left on the walls they even start painting the rocks. According to the date this was 15 years old when the picture was taken. If that’s true they used a damn good paint! Haven 1990.


No idea what the date is but I’m guessing 2005. No idea what the artist was trying to say. Maybe they had a hard crossing and felt victimised. It’s a bit odd but has a certain charm none the less. Plutonus.


No date but about 2003. Looks like they sailed from south America to get to the Azores.


Great simple graphics. Flying fish 1999 from Holland.


This one from Ibis, They are from Cornwall.


No idea of the date but it’s a lovely bit of art work. The dolphins are excellent. The Last Dance  from Vancouver.


Ah, that booze theme again. Saoirse 1998.


This amazing painting was about 4 feet in diameter and must have taken days to do. Absolutely brilliant. Pundit 2003.


Another stunning bit of artwork Fleur Australe 2004.


Another one of my favorites. Really different but still on the sea creatures and waves theme, with some other symbols thrown in for good measure. Rosko Atao 2004.


I guess not everyone has an easy trip. I love this one of a sea sick girl puking into a top hat. This was printed on a T shirt and then the whole thing was glued down and epoxied over. Arkadi 2005.


More waves. Great stuff. Syllogic 2000.


Look in the back ground, you can see how the paintings go all the way around the port. Volcano Pico just poking out of the clouds. The whole time we were in Horta, we only once saw it without a cloud! Note the little black boat on the right, that’s Doolittle.


Looks like another French effort. This is so sweet, a real family affair. Laaland 2004.


One great whale. The Azores only banned whale hunting about 25 years ago. Now, I’m please to say that the Islands make more money from tourists who pay to see the whales alive than they ever did from slaughtering them. Ago 2003.


So professional and nicely done. Yakwa 2003 & 4.


Faded but fabulous. Hesperus 2004.


An Irish contribution. Fanai 2005.


A lot of effort went into this one. Cat looks impressed. Calypso 2003.


Another Cornish painting. Rahala 2005.


Love the look on his face. Pegase 2005.


And last but not least, our contribution. Not being much of a painter I asked my brother to paint and glaze a tile for me. I figured it might last longer than paint. It was a sushi plate (note the dimples for sauces) Not being much of a sailor, he turned Doolittle from a sloop to a Schooner but it’s still great. It was glued down at the top of C pontoon where we had the boat. I used epoxy and polyurethane to stick it down. The only way to get it off will be to smash it off. That was 5 years ago. Wonder how it’s doing… If you happen to be passing, please have a look and let me know. Doolittle 2005.

This was just a small selection of the thousands of excellent paintings in Horta. I hope you enjoyed seeing them.


Dolphins are awesome


All photos on this page: Leica Digilux 2 100 ISO

During the last 20 years of sailing I have been very fortunate to have seen a lot of dolphins, but no matter how often I see them it’s always a treat. I always go to the bows and say hello. I’ve often wondered what they make of us in our bright waterproof clothing. They are obviously intelligent, you only have to watch them for a while to see that. It reminds me of that fabulous Douglas Adams quote:

It is an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem. For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much — the wheel, New York, wars and so on — whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man — for precisely the same reasons.

The famous and revered French sailor Bernard Moitessier wrote about how some dolphins helped him one night when he was on course to run into an island. His book The Long Way is a fantastic read. He describes how a group of dolphins swam past and always to the right. The wind had shifted and he was off course. When he changed course one of the dolphins leapt high into the air almost as if he was saying, ‘look, we made that human understand, how cool is that?’ Even though Moitessier wrote in French the English translated version is still excellent. He was a true sailor and he not only understood but he could pass on his feelings in wonderfully descriptive stories. If you have never read Moitessier I cannot recommend him highly enough.

Dolphins have even been to my aid though sadly I cannot tell the tale as well as Bernard but I’ll do my best. We had left Sao Miguel in the Azores on route to Gibraltar on Doolittle our Dana 24. We’d spent a very happy 6 weeks in the Azores but we were both conscious of a feeling of harbour rot. Life was cheap and easy in the Azores and although we had sailed 2500 miles to get this far, we still had 1000 miles to go and were aware that we had become soft. We’d lost the rhythm of the sea.


To complicate matters, Hurricane Harvey was approaching the Azores so we wanted to get away before it arrived. There was a good chance it wouldn’t make it that far into the Atlantic but we figured putting as much distance as we could between us and it was a good idea. The window for leaving wasn’t great but it wasn’t bad either. One has to cast off at some time. Sometimes it’s hard to know whether you are being a wuss or whether it’s really not a good idea to go. The longer you spend in port, the harder the decision to leave becomes.

We decided to go anyway and had a cracking sail for a few hours under the lee of the land. As we approached the end of the island we could see white water ahead. I assumed it was the current, often strong around islands. As we sailed ever closer to the whiteness it became obvious that in fact it was the sea that was white. It was white because a gale was blowing.


As soon as we came out of the protection of the land we found ourselves in ten foot waves and 30 knots of wind. We reefed the sails and carried on but it seemed a bit much to be thrown into a gale so soon out of port. It’s much better to have a few days of gentle sailing before bad weather strikes. While I was dealing with the sails the clouds overhead were growing at a very fast rate. It was a cloudless day one moment, the next there was a wide cloud that went from one horizon to the other. It did not bode well.

When you spend a lot of time at sea, you begin to be able to read the clouds. If not consciously, then at least subconsciously and they can tell you a lot. What we were seeing was new to me. It was quite possible that it was just a local phenomena or it might just look bad and mean nothing. The question of whether to carry on was broached.


If we were going to turn around, now was the time to do it. Neither of us wanted to be spending our first night at sea in those conditions, not after 6 soft weeks ashore yet we knew what to expect. The boat could easily take the weather. So could we. It wouldn’t be the first time, but we still had ten days and nights ahead of us. As we were wondering what to do a small group of about five dolphins appeared.

Usually dolphins ride the bow wave when they come to visit, they drop away and you can see them dive deep only to come up behind the boat once more. They behave in many different ways but these dolphins were swimming across the bows, back and forth. Well, that decided it for us. It was a clear sign. If we had any doubt it was all gone now. We turned the boat around and pointed in the direction of the port.


The dolphins turned with us and swam with us a little way now acting normally. Then they disappeared as quickly as they had arrived. I’ve often thought about this. I am in no doubt that the dolphins were trying to tell us something. If crossing the bows was normal behaviour, why hadn’t I seen it before? Besides, why didn’t they do it after we had turned around? I wonder what would have happened if we had carried on. I guess that’s something that I will never know.

It’s entirely possible that they were winding us up however. ‘ Look Dave, a small yacht that’s been in port a long time, bet they’re shitting bricks, lets go and have a laugh. You swim from left to right and I’ll swim from right to left’. I wouldn’t put it past them. We met a guy in the Azores who had often swum with dolphins and he assured me it was quite safe to get in the water with them. He said that sometimes they come straight at you at 20 knots and then at the very last moment, deftly swerve around you making high pitched squeaks that can only be interpreted as laughter.

Dolphins are awesome.