Portugal (Azores) 2010

One of the bearded stranger’s daughters asked whether her camera would be safe on the journey. I gave her a heartfelt reply: ‘The best photograph is the picture in your memory’.

We boarded my boat and we set out. The waters around Faial, near my home harbour of Horta, are full of dolphins and of whales, some resident and some which migrate through the warmer waters around the Azores. I make no promises that my clients will see whales or dolphins so I also tell them about the islands. They are volcanic, standing where three of the world’s tectonic plates meet. This is why Mount Pico, the tip of which which we could see above the early morning clouds, may be the tallest mountain in the world, measured from its base on the bottom of the ocean to its peak.

 

I let the girls steer the boat across the flat seas and I listen out on the radio, ready to change direction instantly if I hear that another boat or the viglia (a colleague on the island with powerful binoculars) has sighted any creatures.  Soon we sped off to see sperm whale, and then waited fruitlessly where a pilot whale had been spotted: it stayed under water.

On the way back we were accompanied by a school of dolphins, so sleek, speedy and friendly. So photogenic. And when we returned I served them all a glass of complimentary sherry and asked what picture would stay in their memory. The bearded stranger said he had loved it when the school of dolphins had swum around the boat. His father-in-law had a firm fix on the whale’s twin tails sticking high in the air before it dived. The daughters looked at their grandmother and didn’t answer.  When we had docked she had stumbled and fallen dramatically back onto the boat from the wooden jetty. Happily she hadn’t hurt herself badly but that moment put ten years on my life and clearly is the photograph her grand-daughters will always have in their memory.