ACUSHNET – After being forced to halt most activities on land and in water for nearly two years due to the pandemic, 2022 is gearing up to be an exciting year for the Azorean Maritime Heritage Society (AMHS) with the election of a new president, several projects in the works and the anticipated participation in the International Azorean Whaleboat Regatta in the Azores in September.
Last Saturday, about 170 AMHS directors, members and community members came together at the Century House in Acushnet for the organization’s Scholarship Fundraiser Dinner and to rub elbows with the newly elected president Donald Rei.
“Our biggest goal right now is to build a Casa dos Botes [boat house] to store our beautiful whale boats,” Rei told O Jornal. “We had one at the Whaling Museum years ago, but during the museum’s expansion they ended up knocking it down.”
There are only 63 authentic Azorean whaleboats in the world, and three of them ‒ Pico, Faial, and Bela Vista ‒ are under the maintenance of the AMHS, which was founded in 1997 with the mission of preserving and educating the public on the Azorean whaling tradition.
Without an official home, the three whale boats have been moved around to different storage sites and mills in recent years, said Rei.
“It’s a cultural thing and we have to make sure that we maintain them,” he said. “But the only way we can maintain them is to actually have a place to store them and work on them.”
The AMHS is in the process of raising $600,000 to build a new Casa dos Botes on a vacant lot on Taylor Street in New Bedford donated by José Castelo, founder of Castelo Real Estate.
“We have close to $200,000, so we are 1/3 of the way there,” he said. “By next year, we definitely should start breaking ground and building.”
The new structure is expected to also include a workshop to maintain and repair the boats as well as a classroom and meeting area.
Rei said he would like to get more youth involved.
“We’re hoping to come into an educational program, where we take high school students and teach them how to work, row and sail on these Azorean whaleboats,” he said.
The whaleboats are 40 feet long, made entirely of wood, and carry a boat steerer (coxswain) with six rowers.
Part of the AMHS mission is to ensure the boats are maintained and used for cultural, historical, and recreational events, including parades and festivals.
“It’s a lot of money to maintain these boats,” said Rei. “We did a full restoration on the Bela Vista, and now we’re half way doing restoration work on Pico. We’re actually having (master boatbuilder) João Tavares come from the Azores in June to bring it to its original condition. That’s basically a $25,000-$30,000 expense.”
On June 4, the AMHS will be holding a “Sails of Portugal” wine and food tasting fundraising event at the Kilburn Mills in the South End of New Bedford. Monies raised will support the organization’s projects and participation of its male and female sailing and rowing teams in the International Azorean Whaleboat Regatta, which will take place off the coast of Pico and Faial from Sept. 9 to 11.
The regatta pays homage to the rich whaling history shared between the United States and the Azores during a full week of cultural events and three days of racing.
Being away from the water for so long due to the pandemic, Rei said the AMHS rowing and sailing crew members will have to train extra hard to do well in the regatta.
“We’re trying to get our boats in the water at the beginning of May, once the weather breaks. Most of our people work, so our time is limited. We’re going to try to have as many training sessions as we can,” said Rei, a native of Beça, Chaves, mainland Portugal, who joined the AMHS in 2004 after competing in J/Boats in Newport and Marion.
Rei said he couldn’t help but fall in love with the whaleboats.
“They are beautiful, that’s what makes you fall in love with them,” he said. “It was quite the experience for me because I used to sail with boats that had keels. This is more of a team sport – the crew is what keeps the boat up right. Everybody has to know what they’re doing. It’s very easy to go over, if the crew is not in synch.”
In addition to the efforts of preserving and educating the public on the Azorean whaling tradition, the AMHS gives out scholarships to area students annually.
Barbara Traban, chair of Scholarship Committee, said the AMHS is accepting applications for five scholarships through April 1.
Eligible candidates are high school seniors or first time freshman applicants who will be enrolled in an undergraduate college program during the next academic year.
“It’s hard to pick the winners because almost all of them are A students,” she told O Jornal during the Scholarship Fundraiser Dinner. “We typically have somewhere between 60 and 80 applicants. It’s very nice that everyone coming tonight is helping to support the scholarships.”
The Dr. Mary T. Vermette Memorial Scholarship ($1,500), which is named after the Society’s founder, honors her dedication to keep the shared maritime heritage alive.
The Pico, Faial, and Bela Vista scholarships ($1,000 each) are named after each of the AMHS whaleboats.
New this year, the Diamantino Fidalgo Memorial Scholarship ($1,000) will be awarded preferably to a student who plans to pursue Maritime Studies.
Scholarship eligibility details and application are available on the AMHS’s website at https://azoreanmaritime.org/scholarship
The AMHS is also recruiting new members. Anyone can join.
“Even if you don’t use the boats, which you can, it’s still a way for you to help keep the Azorean culture alive and preserve these beautiful boats,” Rei said.
The event also served to present an award to Paul Curado in recognition of his time and dedication as AMHS immediate past president and longtime supporter. Rei also presented ‘A Steering Force’ award to Dyan Kieltyka, who could not attend the event, in recognition of her volunteer efforts.
For more information about the AMHS, visit https://azoreanmaritime.org/
Lurdes C. da Silva may be reached at email@example.com. To read more stories about the Portuguese-speaking community, in English and Portuguese, please visit ojornal.com.