Romantic Idea and Prosaic Reality

Zur deutschen Fassung.

When I got the assignment in the Azores, I immediately started searching for a passage on a ship to reach the far-away island by more adventurous and romantic means than by plane.

I searched in vain.

But I didn’t book a return flight, hoping to meet enough ferrymen, fishermen and sailors during three months on Faial to be able to hitchhike back to the continent.

And then, there was still the possibility of sneaking on board a cargo ship as a stowaway.

The other islands of the Azores archipelago also seemed perfect for exploring them by boat. 7 hours to Terceira, 9 hours to Flores, you can rarely travel in such a decelerated and relaxed way.

But today, the first ride on a ferry goes to Pico, the near neighboring island. The crossing only takes 30 minutes.

To enjoy the best view, I enter the upper deck. It is a small ferry, with about ten rows of seats on each floor, most of them facing the direction of travel. Just like an airplane. Only with free seating. I place myself right next to the open door to enjoy the sun, wind and water.

Almost unnoticed, the ferry boat is released from the grip of the terminal. The powerful engines are pushing it through the harbor with ease, steering it gently towards the exit.

But as it leaves the two protective quay walls behind and heads out into the sea, the ship begins to rock. Or rather, it begins to seesaw, from front to back. That’s probably normal, as you leave the port and enter the open sea, I try to calm myself.

But the movements do not stop, they become stronger. Higher and higher the boat rises. Deeper and deeper it falls. As does my stomach, rising and falling. I am glad I haven’t eaten anything yet.

Why go out to sea when there are such monster waves? On the other hand, I try to calm down, the captain doesn’t want to die either. He probably checked the weather report before he yelled “Cast off!”

Fresh air is coming through the door. I am breathing deeply and consciously. More and more water splashes in my face, too. White foam dances on the waves. I can’t take any photos, because I need both arms to claw myself to the seat. There is no seat belt and if I don’t hold on tight, I would fall out of it. At least I’m sitting right next to the door, I am planning ahead, so I can jump out, should the boat capsize.

But then what? The waves are now higher than the boat. When we are at the bottom of the wave valley, I don’t see Pico upfront, but only masses of water. I could never swim against these waves. This is the Atlantic Ocean, not the Mediterranean or so. And the sea has endless power, endless energy, endless water, like a perpetual motion machine. It never gets tired. I, on the other hand, have hardly any strength left to hold onto the seat.

A sailor is warpedly waling through the corridor, because the boat is now also rolling from port to starboard and back. He closes the heavy iron door in front of my seat and blocks it with a wooden wedge so that it cannot be opened anymore. The escape route is blocked.

The up and down was bad, but the sideways rolling is a hundred times worse. The boat is tilting to starboard where I’m sitting, and I can look the killer whales in the eye. Then it tilts to port, and I’m hanging in the air like a vulture. Meanwhile the boat gains and loses about 10 meters in height. Everything at the same time, every movement contradicting each other, everything out of control.

I am not sure if we are still moving forward or just dancing on the spot like a ball being thrown into the air and caught again by Poseidon. By a Poseidon who is very angry today. Maybe his football team lost the relegation.

It’s supposed to take 30 minutes to get across the channel. I don’t even dare look at the watch. I try to think of something else, but only get to the point where I have to go back from Pico to Faial in a week. By boat!

But I cancel all further plans. The passage by ship to other Azores islands. Definitely the return trip to Portugal,which would last at least seven days. The idea of going from Odessa to Georgia across the Black Sea. The cruise to Saint Petersburg. The crossing of the English Channel. All canceled! I just want to get my feet on solid ground, as far away from this all-consuming maw of the sea.

And then, to my big relief, Madalena appears, the port of Pico. The ship is staggering past two dangerous rocks. But thanks to the rocks, I can at least see that we are moving forward. When we enter the harbor, there is already another ferry, run aground. So, it’s really as dangerous as it felt.

ferry sinking

Because there are readers who say “oh, Andreas always exaggerates”, I present you with two videos of ferries on the same route. But remember, these videos only show them leaving the harbor. Once on the high seas, the going gets really rough.

Th first thing I did was to book a return flight to Portugal.


  • The island of Pico was quite beautiful.
  • I made the return trip from another port, so it took a full 2 hours instead of 30 minutes. But this time, the sea was calmer. A little bit.
  • That reminds me that I finally have to write about my two Atlantic crossings. But that’s such a huge project, with three weeks at sea and stops at Madeira, Sint Maarten and Antigua, so I have to collect some support for this blog before I can devote a few weeks to that project. Thank you very much!

About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a writer, a spy or a hobo.
This entry was posted in Azores, Portugal, Travel and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Romantic Idea and Prosaic Reality

  1. I don’t think I would enjoy that boat ride. I don’t get motion sickness but that doesn’t look like any fun at all!
    I was just thinking that I’ve never seen the Atlantic Ocean in person. I hope to do that someday.

    • Now, looking back after several weeks, it was worth the experience. I might even do it again. And then regret it again. :-)
      That’s how I am, stupidly.

      Having seen both oceans and a few other seas, I am not sure there is that much difference. I mean you can’t see China when you look out from California, and I can’t see Canada when I look out from the Azores, so we are all just looking over a ton of water with some fish.
      Water and islands and coasts have this romantic appeal, but in the end, it’s very limiting really. Especially for me because I don’t have a boat.
      When I am on land, I always know that I could walk all the way to Samarkand or Timbuktu or Vladivostok. Or take a train. Or hitchhike. On an island, I know I will end up back home after a day.
      There are some nice stretches of coast, but for me, it’s usually the coastline which is more impressive, especially if there are mountains rising directly from the sea, like in Montenegro.

  2. Imagine the people taking that twice everyday to go to work. It is much like a bus and everyone has some stories of rough sea 😁 I can’t talk much, I am always one of the most scared 😅. The simple solution to your problem is to stay put, settle down, grow the beard again, write and look at the sky.

    • The only thing that calmed me was looking at all the other passengers who were quite relaxed. They looked like people going to or from work and students going home.

    • I am not the type of person to settle down, really. And I find most islands too small, too limiting. When I stay on the continent, I know that I can walk down to the highway, stick out my thumb, and in a few hours I will be in Prague or in Tirol, and in a few days in Tallinn or in Tirana.

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