Wednesday, May 28, 2008

High Seas

Yesterday I finally got out in a boat on the Atlantic Ocean, going from Lajes das Flores to Corvo. Flores may be the westernmost of the Azores, but Corvo is the most remote. For example, while Flores is dependent for a lot of its food and beer on a boat that comes in once every two weeks from Portugal, Corvo is dependent on Flores.

To get to Corvo, I was invited onto a sailboat called the Hannah Brown. She is a beautiful aluminum boat with a blue hull, and the owner, George, a very fit retired guy who used to be a cowboy (he is originally from New Mexico, and learned to sail in Chesapeake Bay), has been living on it since 1990. He has stories of Iceland and Norway and the Alentejo, in Portugal. He made us coffee, and had prepared paella, which we had for breakfast, with red wine, chucking the clamshells overboard.

Speaking of chucking things overboard, I was all right as long as we were protected by the island, but when we hit the open sea and George put up the sails and the boat heeled over to starboard, I realized I'd never been on a sailboat in the ocean before. In order not to get seasick, I had heard, you're supposed to focus on the horizon. George said it also helped to sit outside, where it was easier to keep your body centered, so I did that: sat in the chair in the stern, gripping the arms of the chair, breathing deep, and looking at the horizon, especially when a big wave came. I turn out to be a bit of a white-knuckle sailor, but I did not lose my paella.

We were welcomed to Corvo by two men and a St. Bernard. There is only one village, Vila Nova, and about four hundred people. We saw chickens and pigs and windmills and vegetable gardens (onions, carrots, potatoes, green beans, melons, cucumbers). The oldest houses are stone, with ancient tile roofs and wooden doors with faded paint jobs and improvised handles. The ship came in from Flores while we were looking around the village, and we watched it unload. It delivered lots of beer and sacks of cement and one container full of potted plants that had sat on the dock at Lajes all week. It took on some styrofoam crates of fresh fish. George was staying in Corvo, but I took the transit boat back to Flores. I was the only passenger, and it was not easy boarding: both feet on a big tire tied to the dock, right foot in a porthole, left leg up onto the deck, but the damn thing had a raised edge that I had to get over, and I ended up getting hauled on board like a heifer.

At first I sat on a padded bench right in front of the bridge, but the captain told me it was better if I moved, otherwise I'd get wet. So two crew members untied the bench and moved it to the stern, on the port side, and tied it to the rails. I sat there for most of the trip, until we were again in the shadow of Flores, when I got up and looked out over the rail at the volcanic stone covered with velvety vegetation and the waterfalls and the ancient stone marina at the foot of one gully that I'd hiked down to a few days earlier.

They did not charge me for passage. I stayed and watched them unload. The fresh fish were going to the airport and then on to Spain and other parts of Europe. The guy who drove the fish truck opened a case to show me a fish called an imperador. It was a gorgeous red fish with huge eyes (apparently they bulge out when the fish, which lives in deep water, is brought to the surface).

I had a beer in the bar at the port to celebrate my successful return, and a man named Izaias (I think), who lives across across the road from the house where I'm staying and keeps sheep and goats and cows, bought me a beer and gave me some peanuts (amendoim, one of the few Portuguese words I know). I thanked him and he gave me a solid platonic pat on the shoulder. I think I will remain on terra firma for the rest of my stay.


erieblue said...

Wow. This is not just a writing retreat, but an adventure as well. I'm not sure how I would feel with no land to reach back and touch (figuratively speaking).

hb said...

Wow...You are brave to run off to sea with young man like George.