Cloud Islands: Volcanoes in the Ocean

Cloud Islands: Volcanoes in the Ocean

There’s a perpetual cloud over the mountain nearby.

It’s more than a cloud. It’s an immense white-grey pillow of damp.

It gives the vibrant green to this island, the innumerable dairy cows their grass, the people their food.

These are cloud islands.

They lie alone in the Atlantic, nine hundred pelagic miles from mainland Europe – over a fifteen hundred from North America. They were the greenest things I seen in months when I arrived. A year ago now. Almost to the day.

Cascading falls off the green green cliffs. Calderas sat silently in the drizzle housing ferns and moss and even the odd banana palm. Last summer turned from misty to searing within weeks.

A long hot, dry summer. Now I’ve returned, so have these islands returned to their more natural state. Cloud islands.

I launched my boat on Friday, her hull impossibly shiny with a new coat of paint she hasn’t seen in two decades. She leaned slightly to one side in the strops as she was driven to the water.

Cupboards had stopped opening during her time on land. Wood joins were gaping apart. Her shape, her skin, her body had changed, unused to the difference of weight bearing.

After all, they say a blue whale would crush itself to death if it were placed on land.

I checked again, her land-based problems, after she’d been floating for a few hours. They were gone. Her cupboards slid smoothly, her joints invisible, her weight once again where it should be.

She floated.

I released the lines after a day and we slid out of the berth on a mirror calm. Past the breakwater and into the harbour, the fastest I’d felt. Her clean hull singing through the water.

Mainsail up, genoa out past the outer harbour breakwater. The wind had filled.

The Americans are here. Huge frigates appear from time to time. Fighter jets scream over the town often, in groups of three. Huge aircraft thunder in sometimes – they look capable of carrying cargo. Helicopters, Osprey, whatever. Their noise and aggression shatter the peace, only ever out done by the domineering low pressures that hurl their vagrancy at these volcanoes.

The volcanoes sit quietly.

luke paris azores

We sail out of the harbour.

She’s stretching her legs, her wings, her sails. She works. This shouldn’t surprise me. It doesn’t. But it does.


There’s a tremor of swell and a whole heap of sunshine. We have the fishing lines out the back, craving something fresh. I steer and watch the fickle wind. It’s so easy, so easy to steer her. I know where the sails will luff, I know it instinctively but it still surprises me. She feels good. Happy.

I forget the acceleration zone. I see white caps ahead and remember. Ah yes. Terceira is an island, for a start. Better than that, it’s practically round. The wind gleefully shoots around the curves and whips up a frenzy, even though there’s hardly any wind to begin with.

Islands create their own.

I was hoping for dolphins or the lazy puffs of pilot whales but the sun is enough. A seagull swings by to see what we’re offering. But no flying fish grace our bow wave and it glides away, unenticed.

The acceleration zone deters us from further forays. We have yet to put the reefing lines in the main. We stream up and down for a few miles, hoping to catch lunch but the fish aren’t biting.

The first tuna was caught in the islands yesterday. The year has begun. These islands produce more fisherman than anyone else. Maybe even more than dairy farmers. These isolated people have been taking care of themselves for centuries. No need to stop now just because container ships can finally dock in sheltered, breakwatered harbours.

We return to the marina after a few hours. I feel like I’ve had too much sun. The sun at sea is different to the sun on land. As though it needs the salt air to really get you good and proper.

I retire to the forepeak and nap.

Want to know what it’s like living in a boatyard? Watch my video blog!

Or check out my post on why our lives should be defined by the weather.

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