Unsurprisingly for an island situated in the middle of a vast ocean, the sea is determinating the life on the island. Faial and the sea is a symbiosis which shaped its history. The island appeared on maps even before the first settlers put their feet on the shore. The first settlers came across the sea from Portugal, Josse van Huerter came from the low lands, followed by people from other seafaring nations. Whenever there where hardships on the island, the people from Faial emigrated across the sea, mainly to the new world, the United States, Canada and Brasil. Today, the marina of Horta is probably the major yachting hotspot in the Atlantic, sailors from both side of the Atlantic use it as preferred stopover during their adventure. The colorful paintings on the walls of the port are a living memory on how the sea shapes the culture of the island.
A safe port for sailors
The ocean has been a source of living over the centuries. One would imagine that fishing has been the key activities of the Faialense, but surprisingly the Azores are more a culture of agriculture than of fishery. Traditional fishing villages are mostly situated in places which are less adapt to farming. It was always more the location of the port of Horta which influenced the connection between Faial and the sea. From the beginning of sailors crossing the Atlantic or travelling to Asia around the Cape of Good Hope, Faial was the preferred port of supply. The bay of Horta is well protected from severe weathers by Monte da Guia and Monte Queimado. The shoreline is flat and easily accessible to allow ships to be unloaded and maintained in the time of need. Once the era of the big sailing ships came to an end, the port of Horta became quickly a refueling point for the newly emerging steamers. The quai built at the end of the 19th century provided the necessary infrastructure. During a short period in the 1930’s and 1940’s, the bay of Horta was the airfield for the big clipper hydroplanes which secured the first transatlantic passenger flights. Nowadays the private sailing yachts and super yachts of the rich use the port to stop during their crossing of the Atlantic.
The wines of the Azores started to become fashionable in the late 18th century and at some point the Azores were one of the main source of wine imported to the United States. Within the Azores, Pico is definitely the key wine producing island, but Pico was lacking a major port through which its products could have been shipped abroad. Horta, just opposite the canal took this role and became the place from where the ships parted to the Western Hemisphere and to Northern Europe. Faial’s role took such an importance that the wines exported were even branded as Fayal wine.
Whale hunting was exercised in the Azores as late as the 1980’s, after about 200 years of whaling history. In the beginning, whales where not hunted by the Azoreans, but it was whalers from Nantucket on the East Coast of the United States which came with their ships not only to hunt whales but also to resupply their ships. Soon Azoreans were recruited as crew members on these ships and the knowledge about whaling became part of the Azorean culture. In the late 19th century commercial whaling started in the Azores with know how from sailors returing to their homeland. Unlike the American whaling industry, the whalers in the Azores did not hunt the mammals from specialized large ships but from small rowing boats launched from the shore. At first on a small scale, later on industrially. On Faial, the whaling factory buit in the 1940’s has been turned into a museum showing the process of the cruel business. Nowadays the heritage of whaling became an important part of the islands tourism industry. With the help of the know how of the whalers, the tourists can admire the peaceful animals in their natural habitat.