I meet the owner of this legendary Azores bar, a welcome club for generations of sailors
This is Jose Azevedo outside Peter’s Cafe Sport, his bar and
restaurant in Horta on the Azorean island of Faial. You may recognise him -
tens of thousands of sailors do. (Main picture:
Jose Azevedo outside the famous Cafe Sport in Horta)
His bar is one of the most famous yachting pubs anywhere in the
world and since it was established by his grandfather in 1918 has played an
important role in refreshing, sustaining and helping successive generations of
travellers. It is like a yacht club in its own right.
“I’m the third generation of Cafe Sport,” says Jose
proudly, “and the fourth generation of the family business.”
His great-grandfather first opened a small shop selling
artefacts and drinks on the site overlooking the harbour in the late 1880s. As
a young man, his grandfather (also called Jose) opened the cafe next door in
1918 and called it Cafe Sport because his hobbies were football, tennis and
Even then Horta had a very international outlook, unusual for
such a remote island. Trading ships came and went, and later whalers. By the
time Cafe Sport opened, four companies specialising in communications were
based there. The Azores were a hub for transatlantic underwater cables.
The cafe and bar became known as Peter’s because Jose’s father
Henrique Azevedo worked on the RMS Lusitania during the war and reminded one of
the officers strongly of his teenaged son at home. He started calling Henrique
‘Peter’ because of the resemblance, and the name stuck.
As for the blue shopfront, that’s become part of the tradition.
It came about because some blue paint was given to Jose’s father by crew from
the Smit Tech tugs that were based there. It was the colour of the company’s
flag and livery.
Besides the food and drink served there, Peter (who died in
2005) and now Jose prided themselves on helping sailors and this is how their
long relationship with yachtsmen began.
“My father rowed out to visiting yachts and helped them
with the passports and paperwork,” says Jose. “There would be a
welcome party in the cafe and he would go shopping with them and tell them what
they needed. He changed money. If there were problems with the boat he would
The cafe became a poste restante for sailors passing through,
holding mail and packages for sailors. The service is still in demand despite
the ubiquity of email. “We became the post office for the Atlantic because
we were open from eight in the morning til late at night and also during holidays,”
Nearly all the great adventurers came here and were befriended
by Peter. Francis Chichester regarded him as a friend, as did many others. When
he was sailing alone round the world Chichester’s wife, Sheila, sent a letter
for him to the Cafe Sport. Peter rowed out to Gipsy Moth as she passed so that
Chichester could pick it up without stopping.
Peter was a great collector of scrimshaw, the illustrations
carved on whales’ teeth. He set up a museum of these artefacts above the bar
and Jose keeps adding to the collection.
Above: This fantastic piece of scrimshaw shows a man’s face and, in the background, the volcanic eruption of 1957/8 that caused half of Faial’s 30,000 population to emigrate
Large whaling fleets once came to Horta, many from New Bedford
in the US, and followed the whale migrations down to Madeira, the Cape Verdes
towards Cape Horn – or even further – until they’d had their fill of whale oil
and could return home.
Fishermen from Horta learned the trade and adopted it,
continuing hunting until the last boat stopped whaling in 1985. Nowadays, an
alternative living is made from whale watching so preservation is a priority.
But the last of the scrimshaw artists still work in Faial, and
Jose’s collection at Peter’s Cafe Sport exhibits some of the finest examples
from the best artists.
They were were made by polishing the teeth, covering and
blackening them in burnt whale oil (later Indian ink was used) and scratching
out white areas with a fine pin.
“Each piece takes several weeks to make and you cannot make
a mistake because you can’t go over it,” Jose explains.
These photos show Jose in the museum with some of these
incredibly intricate and beautifully imagined works of miniature art.
If you have not yet had an opportunity to sail to Horta and go
for a drink or several at Peter’s Cafe Sport, put it on your list of things to
do and places to visit. Finally, I can understand exactly why sailors think the
welcome here, and the beauty of the Azores, is worth sailing across the
Atlantic Ocean to experience.