Friday, 20 November 2009


Flores has a little satellite island called Corvo about 10 miles to the north.

Despite having a population of 400, it's not an easy place to get to. Where I come from, an island of 400 people would get four calls a week from a 4,000 ton car ferry. But Corvo is visited only two days a week by a ferry from Flores with space for only 12 passengers (no cars). Its main link to the outside world is the aeroplane four times a week to Faial: some of these flights call at Flores en route but they don't permit a day trip.

In September, we tried to go for the day on the passenger ferry. We started in the Posto de Turismo to enquire about the timetable for the following day and where to buy tickets. We were directed to the Rede Integrado de Apoio ao Cidadao (Portuguese equivalent of the CAB but without the stigma). Their timetable was totally different from the PdT's but we would not be able to buy tickets for tomorrow because we didn't have our passports. (Why? Is Corvo execpted from the Schengen treaty or something?) In any case, all sailings were subject to estado do mar - sea conditions - which surprised me a bit as I'd read in the local press that the Portuguese tax payer had shelled out a six figure sum for an all-weather vessel. Was there a phone number to find out if the boat was sailing to save us driving over from Faja Grande only to discover it wasn't going? No, there isn't. So, the next day, we drove over, passports in hand, sandwiches buttered, and were told the boat would not be sailing por causa do estado do mar. No, there was no way of finding out when the boat might next sail. It was all very dispiriting and almost calculated to make you never want to attempt to go to Corvo ever again.

So it was with no intention of imagining we might actually go there that we found ourselves at Lajes harbour the other week watching the Corvo supply boat (not the ferry) loading up with everything from petrol to white wine. The skipper was keen to let me come aboard for a better picture:-

Purely out of curiosity, I asked when they'd be sailing - "Tomorrow at 9am, do you want to come?" was the answer. No passport required. Not even a fare to pay.

The following morning, the good ship Santa Iria was off at 9.15am - very punctual by Portuguese standards. We were the only two passengers on what was, after all, not a passenger sailing. The only "passenger accommodation" was a bench of three seats on the poop deck although the crew made it clear we were welcome to join them in the wheelhouse if it got too cold outside.

As it happened, it was fair all the way although the ship rolled a bit in the heavy seas and you really had to hang on. The Santa Iria, not exactly being a greyhound of seas, took 2.25 hours to get to Corvo. On arrival, the skipper told us it would take 1.5 hours to unload the cargo so that gave us time to wander round the only settlement on Corvo, Vila Nova do Corvo:-

Where I come from, Vila Nova do Corvo would be a "Conservation Village" where the cheapest property would be six figures (with the first one not being a 1 or a 2) and resident artists would fight retired lawyers for places on the community council and unanimously object to every planning application. But I don't think they have planning applications in VNdC never mind objections to them. It reminded me of one of those fishing (conservation) villages on the coast of Yorkshire like Staithes or Runswick Bay except a bit more "lived in".

There was also time to visit Corvo's "must see" - well, let's face it, Corvo's "only see" - the caldeira, the volcanic crater. That's not fair to call it the "only see" as just being on Corvo at all is a very interesting experience. But as this post is getting overlong, I'll talk about the crater next time.


Marisa said...

yoer getting very portuguese, eheheh, that's what we call "desenrascanço", you got a lift to Corvo no matter how!
A truly azorean experience in a canal wich is not easy. (I didn't understand the part of the passaports.... has Corvo been sold to a foreign country?)
Corvo is very neat and cosy,like a presépio, whwn looking from Flores at night, with th ligths. But it's a one day trip for me, eheheh.

Kathie said...

When I visited Flores the boat to Corvo wasn't running due to high winds and choppy seas :-( (BTW, the idea of sailing to Corvo makes me think of the inept Sir Richard Grenville.)

I gather from a friend who was on Corvo on government business a few weeks ago that there's not much in the way of overnight tourist accomodations there -- a (likely small) residencial, where the President of the Azores stayed, but others in the delegation were farmed out to the priest's house, the volunteer firefighters' hall and the health center, inter alia.

Couldn't you have swum to Corvo from Ponta Delgada das Flores in less than 2:25? Or are there sharks in the channel?

Neil King said...

Kathie - there is the Commodore Guesthouse.

We had clients this year who had come from there and were very complimentary about it.

Marisa - what is a "presepio"?

Marisa said...

it comes from latin praesepio (try to google it with images)it´s a nativity scene, but the portuguese ones, specially in Azores, are very traditional and peculiar, they represent our litle villages and the country life, and include scenes like processions and "filarmónicas" (music bands. here in S Miguel we have constests in several locations to see who gets the best one. I'll send a picture of my own when it's done.