Digest>Archives> June 2007

A Trip to the Azores

By Hester H. Whitcher

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Probably the best kept lighthouse of the Azores ...

In the spring of 2006 on a trip to the Azores, my sister and I discovered some interesting lighthouses. The Azores are a group of islands 600 miles west of Portugal. These islands have long survived because of the skill of their sailors. Fishing, whaling and inter-island shipping have deep roots dating back to the 15th century. Volcanic mountaintops rising from the mid-Atlantic ridge formed the islands with rugged coastlines. Severe weather is part of everyday life as storms sweep across the Atlantic.

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The lighthouse at Ponta dos Capelinhos, one of ...

The best known lighthouse is at Ponta dos Capelinhos on the west coast of Fayal (Faial). In late September of 1957 an underwater volcano sent steam, sand and cinders high into the air, enlarging the area by 2.4 square kilometers. In addition to the volcano, there were severe earthquakes that killed and injured many people (this activity

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The Ponta da Ribeirinha Lighthouse, severely ...

went on until October of 1958) destroying homes and livelihoods. The pastures and crop lands were covered with ash and cinders. Cattle had to be removed to other islands and as far away as Lisbon.

The lighthouse at Capelinhos was built in 1894 and redone in 1903. The photo shows the base structures filled with sand and cinders. The tower was apparently removed due to damage and therefore a hazard to the many people who went to visit the site. In May of 2006, we found that a new tower top had been installed. There is also talk of excavating the buildings that were homes for up to four keepers and their families.

We then learned of another lighthouse on the east coast at Ponta da Ribeirinha. After driving over deeply rutted roads through farmland, we came upon a very sad sight. The lighthouse, its base and small structures were severely damaged in an earthquake in 1998. This was home to up to six keepers and families. There is no indication that reconstruction will be attempted. A substitute solar powered light has taken over the work of assisting shipping in the channel between Faial and the island of Pico, some five miles away.

Last but not least, we found a beautiful lighthouse in Capelo. It is automated and has no auxiliary buildings. Capelo is a short distance south of Capelinhos.

The major city on Faial is Horta (sister city of New Bedford, Massachusetts) with a long history as a haven for New England whalers, freight and passenger sailing and then steam vessels. Prince Albert I (1848-1922) made a number of scientific trips to the area. It was realized that Faial was a perfect place for meteorological observations. By 1901 the Prince Albert de Monaco Observatory was under construction. There was a telegraph cable as of 1893 between Horta and Carcavelos, Portugal and weather information started to flow to Europe. To this day the observatory is sending weather information around the world.

In the early 1900s, Horta was the primary port of call for repairs and supplies for vessels laying down transatlantic telegraph cable for English, German and American companies. In the 1930s Horta’s harbor was filled with

flying boats for American, French and

German airlines.

Horta is now a stop-over spot for sailing vessels making transatlantic crossings. From relative small oceangoing vessels to monsters up to 200 feet long (super yachts with all the bells and whistles) and a few square riggers that still sail the oceans of the world. There is a tradition that got started in the 1980s. Nearly every square foot of concrete that makes up piers and retaining walls is decorated by paintings from the crews of vessels that tie up in the marina. It is considered bad luck not to make a contribution to the walls.

So the lighthouses of Faial continue to guide one and all to a safe passage around the island.

This story appeared in the June 2007 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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