All Safe

– photo: Helder Gonçalves

The dramatic image of “Mestre Simão” transport ferry, sunken in Madalena do Pico harbour, is a new chapter in a very old story that tells of the intimate, organic connection between Faial and Pico islands.

For reasons that are still unclear, the ferry, that was transporting 61 passengers from Faial to Pico ran aground inside Madalena’s harbour, pushed to the rocks by the strong swell. Despite being the first recorded incident with this vessel since it began its operation, in 2014, the crew’s brave and swift action assured the safe evacuation of all passengers ashore. Happily.

Besides the serious pollution problem its leaking fuel tanks are causing, that local regional authorities are expected to address swiftly and properly, we were left facing the depressing view of the half sunken 40 meter long ferry vulnerable and defenceless to the strong swell that keeps on pounding him with a deep excruciating sound. The damage is material but also emotional. There isn’t a soul in the two islands who doesn’t suffer at this sight.

The link between Faial and Pico has always been a true lifeline. It is the nearest connection between two islands in the Azores, and both towns, Madalena and Horta, have grown and been unmistakably outlined by this pendulum movement across the water. On board the ships that have been making this trip since the 16th century there are goods, necessarily, but also ideas, development, progress, and most of all people, travelling for the most human purposes: work, worship, party, love.

Since the days of old people from both sides would cross to see a doctor, to go to high-school, to bring news from relatives far way, to marry and to follow a dream, to escape the law or the army draft or to go look for fortune, to give birth or the visit the departed, to play soccer or to attend local festivities. There isn’t almost anyone that hasn’t got relatives or great friends on both sides. This continuous trip has turned the two islands from adjacent to contiguous and the people one, united – not separated – by the waters of the “Canal”. And to serve as proof to this: in the exact same night of the accident, a Pico woman gave birth on one of the older ships while crossing to Faial. The voyage continues.

“Mestre Simão”, the sunken ship, is named after one of the men that are a part of this adventure of connecting two islands with the same people, summer or winter, calm or rough. Manuel Alves Simão, born in Faial in 1914, was Captain of several of the boats that did this trip for twenty years. His bravery facing the sea is still remembered by some of the older folk and it would be difficult to calculate how many lives his courage, experience and skill saved in the rough crossings. Today, the ships are bigger and more modern, but it’s on men like him that we still rely to cross between our two islands. We’re all safe.

Tiago Redondo

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