WE CLAMBERED BACK onto the RIB for a break, and those with any air or energy left tried their luck again a little while later.
The islands are a long-established stopping-off place for yachtsmen, and it was “somewhere off the Azores” that Sir Francis Chichester famously celebrated his 65th birthday on his single-handed round-the-world voyage, on his yacht Gipsy Moth in September 1966.
The walls in Peter’s Bar, which dominates the main road overlooking the little harbour, are completely covered with banners from visiting yachts. No visit to Faial is complete without a gin and tonic from this thriving local hub, which also serves grilled limpets (delicious) and octopus as regular fare.
Princess Alice Banks is a submerged seamount that rises more than 1000m from the sea floor to within 32m of the surface. From here, on a clear day and if you’re lucky, you can actually see the top.
Apart from being a well-known fishing area, it is also a world-class diving attraction, boasting many pelagic species including sharks, barracuda, mobula rays and shoals of tuna.
Mobula rays at Princess Alice Banks.
It is located some 60 miles west of Faial, and on our two-and-a-half-hour RIB ride we encountered several species of dolphin, including spotted, striped, common and bottlenose, some in huge schools, leaping right out into the air.
We were lucky; free-divers had been tagging mobulas from a research vessel, and we were able to moor up and join the party right away. Again, we gently slipped into the water and climbed down onto the four ropes provided.
What a thrill to see at such close proximity the mobulas and tuna that came to inspect us, and to watch the skill of the long-finned, lithe freedivers as they went about their work.
It was a beguiling thought to remember that we were right in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, a thousand miles from anywhere except for a small scattering of volcanic islands.
My second dive on the seamount was less successful; a strong current had developed during our surface interval and I grew tired of being a windsock after 10 minutes, and decided to abort the dive.
What a fool I was – those who chose to remain were rewarded by a school of 15 mobulas and, of course, the current had dropped off completely after only a few minutes.