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Huddled together in the Atlantic Ocean, isolated, some seven-hundred and sixty nautical miles south-west of Lisbon lies Portugal’s fascinating volcanic island group.- The Azores. 

These nine islands are believed by some to be the remains of the legendary Atlantis. 

This archipelago is, however, a veritable bastion of old-world European-style architecture, customs and charm. As though time has passed them by, the Azoreans maintain a lifestyle similar to that of their ancestors in centuries bygone.

Because of its geographic location, the island of Faial is a popular crossroads for Atlantic voyagers; a place to rest, undertake repairs and provision with food, fuel,  wine and water. The colourful and bustling port of Horta was a welcome landfall on my first trans-Atlantic crossing by sailboat. It was there where I first came to hear of Orthon Silviera.

Overlooking the harbour, enjoying a commanding view of Mt. Pico’s 5000 foot peak, is Peter’s Cafe Sport. Peter’s is where all visiting sailors meet, they exchange stories,  drink beer and eat sandwiches. It is also where one must obtain a permit to purchase fuel. Known as the ”sailors friend”, Peter, a rather slightly-proportioned man in his mid-fifties, sports a smooth and youthful face, with eyes that radiate enthusiasm.

Peter holds forwarded mail for the yachtsman, acts as banker with a good rate of exchange and sells various souvenirs and fine scrimshaw. Above the cafe Peter has built a private museum which displays, rather elegantly, his collection of magnificent carvings and scrimshaw art. These artefacts have been fashioned and worked into masterpieces by inhabitants from local and surrounding islands. A visit to Faial would be wasted without seeing the museum. It may well be the largest of its kind; it is said to have a value in excess of one million dollars, much more in today’s money.
A short stroll around the harbour is guaranteed to stir an interest in anyone. Depending upon the time of day or night, one can watch the fishermen preparing their nets, nimbly baiting thousands of hooks or hoisting ashore their hard earned catch. 
Further on, tied to dock walls and anchored off, are the boats of visiting sailors.   Some of those splendid craft are a hundred feet long, with teak decks, brass fittings and lavish interiors fit for royalty. The full-time crew members of those yachts can be seen in their personalised uniforms, obediently scrubbing teak, buffing the brass-work and otherwise catering to their often seen to be demanding owners. 

Conversely, only a few feet away and beyond, hitched to the same dock, will be at least one and often more seemingly untidy-looking craft.  A closer inspection reveals broken rigging, split masts and shredded sailcloth; the debilitating wounds of Neptune's wrath. 
It is here on this side of the harbour in particular, where Orthon is well-known.  To the yachtsmen of the larger, and well-fitted vessels, Orthon is renowned for his fine scrimshaw. This artist, for a reasonable price, will carve and etch a facsimile of your yacht onto a whale’s tooth. Often these artefacts end up as curios adorning some mantelpiece in a far-off land. 

Travelling our vast oceans are many small craft carrying a lone mariner or two. These brave adventurers sail great distances on their boats; their affinity for this kind of lifestyle, all too often, is rarely based upon solid financial planning. Diet for these folk largely depends on fish caught and all boat repairs are effected with materials on hand, which of course, is rather limited far out at sea. Those dedicated souls frequently arrive in port with no working motor,  broken masts and twisted rigging, little food and usually fund-less.   
Should the harbour be Horta and their plight genuine, they are fortunate, because sooner or later they will come to know Orthon. 
Already I had knowledge from personal observation of the assistance Orthon had made available to an older Swedish sailor. The Swede’s battered yacht was found early one morning, wallowing helplessly, not far off the harbour entrance, all sails were tattered and hanging limp; he was  becalmed.  A fishing boat returning to port took a line and delivered him to safety.  A seized engine, shattered mast, the rudder gone and no money placed this poor fellow in dire straits indeed. A good  Samaritan provided for the essential repairs; the Swede will make it home.    

photo for illustrative purposes  only

That good Samaritan was Orthon. 
I read a few letters at random from the reams he has tucked away in folders. Each of them was of a very personal  nature,  mailed  from all corners of the world. Most  letters  proclaimed  their author’s heart-felt thanks for aid received  from Orthon.   Many a yachtsman, down on his luck, owes the homeward  passage to Orthon Silviera. 
Portugal’s entrance to the European common market was drawing near and as  whaling is now prohibited  amongst members, the  once-small whaling industry  of the Azores has, over recent decades, ceased to exist and the previously ample source of whales’ teeth has all but vanished. Currently, the only supply comes from local  fishermen who, on occasion, encounter dead whales, either beached or floating at sea. Orthon has already begun  transferring  his  talents towards jewellery making.  Having met the man and watched him work, I  suspect his craftsmanship in that field will be commensurate to his scrimshawing expertise. 
Not often enough in this turbulent world do we find people of Mr. Silviera’s calibre.   Whether a yachtsman or not,  if you are planning a trip to the Azores, be sure to include Faial. However, Orthon Silviera is no longer. Perhaps his little house will have a plaque on the front door. As my sailing adventures of grand calibre are now over I will never know how he has been remembered.

RIP Orthon.
Part One


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