Timeless port of call

I was born on Faial Island, from the central Azores. The American whalers used to call here the “western islands”. Horta has always been a port city, sailors call for the azores since men dominated the wind, their endeavours though have change along the centuries: discovery and exploration; whaling and fisheries; piracy and war; trade and commerce; communication and tourism; or the simple pleasure of sailing. A lot of change happen on more than 500 years of History, but some things are constant to this day, and one of that things is that now and then a sail is spotted on the horizon coming in to find shelter at Horta’s bay. It’s like “Fado”, the sailor changes his reasons, alternates his ship but he is always called or pushed by the wind towards here.

The Azores is a place of strong traditions, and this doesn’t mean we are somewhat stuck in the past, it’s much the opposite, there’s no tradition without modification. We are people of strong identity, for most of our 500 years of history we were autosuficient sustainable farmers and fisherman. Isolated in the middle of the north atlantic ocean, stuck between mountains and the sea. The azorean always have this paradox view of the ocean: it is at the same time what inprison us and also an opportunity to escape.

It’s maybe because all of these that some of us feel that the Azorean Whaling culture is one of the biggest identity traces of our culture. this might sound horrific for “save the whale” enthusiasts or activists, but see, there’s no simple narrative about this kind of whaling: There is no more whaling here since 1984, but until then, the sperm whale was hunt using open wooden boats with hand thrown harpoons. An activity that lasted in the islands for almost 150 years and that marked so much the social and economical scene.

We see our whaler ancestors has heroes, for the risk they’ve take for such and endeavour, to hunt the giant sperm whale with the same technics used on Melville’s Moby Dick. And the boats were launched from the land, so you see, this men weren’t only whalers, they were farmers, fishermans, stonemasons, etc, the whole community and family was involved. The activity embraced the live here in so many ways, inspired so many people, how many people were born because of Azores whaling? how many love stories, books, poetry, films? in the hand to hand fight to the death with the sperm whale, our community learned a lot about humanity.

Whale watching now kind of replaces the whale hunt, the first whale watchers here learned with whalers, the look outs are still of paramount importance to spot the whales from the distance, the boats are different, the reasons are others, but sailors and sea dynamics are the same. Skippers still compete to see which is the more sea worthy, look outs still work to be the first to see whales each day

And this is yet only one more example of how our heritage perpetuate. We don’t hunt whales any more, but still sail the beautiful Azores Whaleboat, for pleasure and sport, during the the summer regatta season. A boat unique of it’s kind, and I can’t stop to shiver when I sail it or when I see it sailing, it’s like I’m seeing my ancestors. Like I’m seeing my young grandfather, a whaler, a hunter that was born after his father met his mother during a whaling season of on another island.

In a world that keeps telling us the importance of the instant, of the moment, The Azores is a place where that notion is left in pause. Here I feel the weigh of the centuries, the relative impression of time. there’s a very thin line between now and then.

by Luís Bicudo – Our island Guide
for the Azores Trade Winds blog