Sunseeker Chapter 19
Today’s Lisbon is a vast, sprawling metropolis, its modern suburbs crowding the hills and banks of the mighty River Tagus. However, the splendour of its mighty, seafaring, conquering past remains in the beautiful glory of its many fine buildings along the waterfront.
A stroll through the old town affords a glimpse of a proud colonial past; Portugal’s capital city, decaying now in old age. A peep inside any tiny shop or workshop conjures up times long gone as trades and crafts of long ago are still practised in timeless industry. Lisbon’s narrow, steep rua’s and elegant praca’s sleep now in the afternoon sunshine, as they have done for centuries. History is all around; from the humblest, crumbling hovel to the ruins of the ten-towered castle of St George towering proudly still, atop the highest hill; modern-day Lisbon at its feet. From this magnificent vantage point the entire city is laid bare to the gaze of eager, straining eyes. Westwards, into the golden sunset, flow the waters of the Tagus; linking the busy port and naval shipyards with the great Atlantic Ocean beyond.
How it must have stirred the imaginations of Portugal’s brave, seafaring explorers who created, five hundred years ago, the greatest age of exploration known to man. Portugal’s ships and seamen ventured beyond the horizon far out into the vast ocean to discover Madeira and rediscover the Canary Islands; known as Fortunatae Insulae (Fortunate Islands, or Isles of the Blest) in ancient Roman legends and renamed by later discoverers.The name Canaries is derived from canis, the Latin word for “dog.” Early explorers named them for the many dogs they found there. Onwards and southwards to the Cape Verde Islands, sadly no longer so green. The mid-Atlantic archipelago of the Azores, reputed to have been discovered by the Portuguese in the 14th century, is, together with Madeira still a part of Portugal. From Lisbon Bartholomew Diaz forged a trade route to the Indies, around the fearsome Cape of Storms; now the Cape of Good Hope, the tip of South Africa. Vasco de Gamma and Pedro Alvares Cabral, as a stepping stone to India and the rich, vast, exotic spice trade, exploited Diaz’s route.
Perhaps Portugal’s most famous navigator, Ferdinand Magellan, forged his passage around the globe; not on behalf of Portugal but for Spain; after the King of Portugal suggested that he offer his services elsewhere! In southwest Portugal, Prince Henry the Navigator did much to further man’s knowledge of navigation, founding a school of navigation at Sagres high on the cliffs of Cape St. Vincent; the furthest south and west corner of the Iberian peninsular and, indeed, Europe. He is remembered today by a huge memorial, in the form of a ship under full sail, on the north bank of the Tagus.
It was into this aura of history and seafaring might that Rene and I ventured forth, through the teeming backstreets of the old town, eager to see and smell and feel as much as our senses were able to absorb. In the early afternoon sunshine the streets were baking and the closeness of the stucco buildings reflected the heat ’till we, as mad dogs and Englishmen walking on the sunny side, baked too. Shade from the trees, lining the streets of many crumbling, beautifully decorated homes and shops, was much sought after as we learned to avoid the direct sunlight. As we climbed through the alleyways and backyards, children shouting and crying, dogs yapping and whining, a magnificent cathedral rose before us.
Approaching the huge, studded doors, the most melodious, gentle, sweet choral voices drifted out to greet us, beckoning us ever closer. Inside the cavernous vault of this celebration to God, the acoustics of the building clarified and purified the beautiful tones until, spellbound we were unable to move. Rooted to the spot we could only watch and listen in wonder at such inspirational sounds as a solo soprano voice soared its heavenly way aloft into the heady heights of the ancient rafters.
We enjoyed the choral experience together with our American friends, Dorothy and Peter from Breath. When we asked Dorothy why she never carried a camera she tapped the side of her head and explained that all of their memories were stored ‘up here’. That seemed like a really nice idea but I can’t help feeling that an occasional photo goes a long way to helping along the ageing memory banks in recalling a particular fond memory; just as a smell can take you back, instantly, to a long forgotten moment in the past. We were guilty of dubbing Peter a secret drinker because he would sometimes waver along the pavement and his hands occasionally shook uncontrollably. We learned that he suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and although this revelation suitably shamed us it taught us a salutary lesson: don’t jump to conclusions! We have learned many similar lessons along our travels and feel much richer for them.
Across the dock from Sunseeker’s berth was a very forlorn sight. The mast of a sunken yacht reached for the sky reminiscent of the arm of a drowning person. Other international friends, Brandt and Ingrid from the German aluminium yacht Free were returning to their home for a brief visit and kindly offered the shipwrecked sailor the run of their boat while they were away. It seems that the stricken yacht; a steel-hulled vessel, had been swept onto an arm of the dock entrance when making her approach in the swift-flowing current. She had been holed and made it to the quayside just moments before plunging to the bed of the dock. We felt very sorry for the lone owner as he repeatedly dived to recover some of his sodden belongings and took to heart yet another lesson. This time it had happened to someone else, but it could, so easily be our Sunseeker, our home and our belongings.
Sunseeker lazed away a week in the marina while her crew socialised with their new found friends. Parties were the order of the day most days until we felt we had known these people forever.
A highlight of our stay in the few marinas we visited was the ‘luxury’ of hot showers. The added attraction of the showers here, however, was not the hot water, nor the luxurious surroundings; but more the company with whom I shared the facilities. Because of a mix up with the keys for the ladies shower room and the fact that the marina office had closed an hour before, I found myself sharing the men’s showers with a not unattractive young woman from another yacht. I suppose I could have been a gentleman and left to return later for my shower; but, what the heck, she didn’t seem too put out by the situation and, without my specs’ my vision isn’t all that it might be. Mind you I did return to Sunseeker with a rosy glow to my cheeks; and Rene wanted to know when the young man of the other yacht would be taking his shower!
Seamanship is something that can be learned in a formal way by taking practical courses and studying theory in a classroom. The RYA Yachtmaster of the courses are good examples. However, if the lessons can be learned in real life and provided that not too much damage or injury is caused in the process then I am a firm believer in the ‘having a go’ approach. Whilst in the Doca do Terreiro do Trigo my seamanship was put to the test and failed miserably.Sunseeker needed to be refuelled and the fuel pontoon is at the far end of the dock. This would have been no problem if the wind, strong enough to be a reckoning, was not blowing directly on to it.
Getting on to the pontoon caused few problems that a bit of fending off didn’t sort out. Getting back off again was when the fun started. Large yachts were berthed in all of the pontoon spaces, many with bowsprits sticking out into the fairway. But the main problem was being unable to get Sunseeker’s bows to steer into the wind, away from the pontoon. We were held onto the dock by the force of the wind and, of course we had lots of spectators! Some, aboard the nearest yachts, were shouting for us to throw them a line to their bowsprits. That seemed like a good idea and they were able to slowly pull our bows around ’till they could fend us off their boats. It was a very messy bit of seamanship, of which I was not at all proud but Sunseeker was eventually safely returned to her berth, obviously much to the relief of the other boatowners. Had I any sense at all I would have carried the needed fuel around from the fuel dock in canisters and not moved Sunseeker at all. Even reversed off with a bow line attached to the dock ’till the stern was round into the wind; ‘though I had dismissed the latter because Sunseeker is pretty hopeless in reverse. Ah well, they say that hindsight is a fine thing!
Fuelled and watered, Sunseeker was, once more, ready for sea. Tomorrow we would take the ebb tide down river, back to the anchorage off Cascais, there to await a suitable weather window for the offshore passage to Madeira. But tonight we could relax and party again for the ebb would not be running ’till 2 o’clock tomorrow afternoon.
End of Sunseeker Chapter 19