Land Horta! The Sorcerer II on Faial Island, the Azores

City of Horta on the Island of Faial in the Azores.

We sailed into Horta on the island of Failal Saturday, May 9th around 1pm.  The Sorcerer II crew was excited to visit the island but then again, we were just happy to walk on land and sleep in a bed that was not rolling from side to side! As usual when we arrive in a new port, we cleared customs, arranged dockage, hooked up power, cleaned the boat and organized gear. Afterwards we arranged a tour of the island.

While I took in the sites and sounds of Horta from the back of the van, Karen our chef, sat next to the driver so had a much more detailed discussion about what we saw. Here is her account of this interesting island.

The guide, Louis took us up the closest old volcanic plug — Monta du Guia.  So called because of the guiding light of Virgin Mary to all the seafarers (guia means guide in Portuguese). Every August, there is a procession to the top to bring the image down from the chapel and put her in an old whaling boat and circumnavigate the mount. As you look down from the top, much volcanic activity is evident. There are two beautiful calderas and Monta Quemada (burnt mountain). Next we drove 900 meters to the highest point of the island to see another caldera — this one created from the main volcano that formed the island. Unfortunately the fog obscured everything so we had to take Louis’ word for it although he showed us a picture of something that looked like it could have been this caldera.

As we drove down the mountain we noticed two types of plants — blue hydrangeas that bloom in profusion in June and July and the other a Japanese cedar imported in the 1750s to be grown as a source of timber for the island. This cedar was used in making the windmills that we saw at the north end of the island.

There is little agriculture done on the island anymore because Louis told us it was so much easier and cheaper to get everything from the mainland EU.  I witnessed the lack of local produce when going to the supermarket to provision the boat. Fresh milk was especially impossible to find. We saw farmers and milk cans in trucks but we learned the milk was sent to the creamery to be made into butter and cheese which is much more exportable.

As we passed through a valley first populated by the Flemish, we saw the results of the 1998 earthquake. Large areas of houses were destroyed and the principle church ruined. Continuing along the road there were many small, quaint towns. In one the men were playing a traditional game which is a cross between the French game of boules and the Italian bocce. Every town has its own chapel dedicated to the Espiritu Santu and every year one family provides a typical meal of soup and beef to all the villagers and anyone who is hungry.

Next stop was the Calderinhas volcano. From September 1958 to November 1959 the volcano spat out smoke, lava and ash inundating the village houses, with the whaling station and lighthouse being especially hard hit. The lava flows also created a new spit of land. Luckily no lives were lost but many, many homes were destroyed. As a result of this loss of property, approximately 30% of the population of the island fled to America with most of the people settling in the coastal whaling cities of New England. Since it was the Americans that brought whaling in to the Azores, many of the people on the island already had ties to those American cities and so the immigration wasn’t perhaps as shocking as it could have been. With our tour ended we said goodbye to Louis and left with a better understanding of these wild and rugged islands in the middle of the Atlantic.

Next we headed to see Dr. Sergio Stefanni from the Department of Oceanography and Fisheries (DOP) IMAR-University of the Azores, our science contact in the Azores, who offered to give us a tour of the facilities and research vessel.

Dr. Stefannin and the captain of the University of Azores research vessel explain the sampling they do to Sorcerer II captain Charlie Howard.
Dr. Stefannin and the captain of the University of Azores research vessel explain the sampling they do to Sorcerer II captain Charlie Howard.

The Department of Oceanography and Fisheries of the University of the Azores is a reference research center on deep-sea ecology, fisheries and conservation with a special interest in seamounts and hydrothermal vents. I was very impressed with the scope of research conducted there, and the state of art research equipment in the molecular, chemistry, optical, fisheries and oceanography labs. After the tour we asked Dr. Stefanni, his colleagues and some of the University’s graduate students to come visit our floating lab. While this team was onboard Sorcerer II, Captain Charlie and I took the opportunity to discuss the sampling sites we’d applied for in our permits. Dr. Stefanni and team explained to us some of the unique conditions around these sites such as the unusually warmer waters and the in-depth and long term chemical and oceanographic data for the one site, and the hydrothermal sulfur vents near the other which has been extensively studied by the Department of Oceanography and Fisheries. After the tour of Sorcerer II was completed and local sampling plan in place, the crew was given a tour of the Research Vessel, Arquipelago by the boat's captain Manuel Fernando Serpa.

University of Azores team touring Sorcerer II.
University of Azores team touring Sorcerer II.

If you would like to learn more about the University of the Azores or the R/V Arquipelago, please visit their website.

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