Thursday 02/06/2011 Póvoa de Varzim to Viana do Castelo

We left Povoa early this morning and had a brilliant sail to start with before (surprise surprise) the wind backed and started blowing on the nose. But with little swell, not too far to go and a reasonable amount of wind, we were able to tack our way up to Viana do Castelo, our last stop in Portugal. We had dolphins with us for the first half hour or so, playing around the bow, then being suddenly camera shy. Viana came into sight and we sailed in through the breakwater, with the engine chugging in neutral just in case.

The marina here is inside a lifting bridge, but we’ve found space on the visitor’s pontoon outside, next to a French boat and an English boat, both heading south. We’ve chatted and exchanged charts and nice places to see, and we’re really enjoying our last day in Portugal. You can take that both ways, as it is meant. We’ve loved Portugal itself; the places, the people, the food, everything really except the weather and the price of diesel and the sheer quantity of pre 5am starts we’ve had since leaving Portimao. Viana is a very nice town, and we ate grilled fish in a restaurant near the fishing harbour before mooching around the shops selling local textiles and embroidery.

We walked down to the waterfront and had a look round the Gil Eannes, the Grand Banks hospital ship here in the harbour. She was built here in Viana in the 1950s, to serve the Portuguese cod fishing fleet in Newfoundland and Greenland. Sometime in the seventies she stopped working as a hospital ship, and was put to work carrying various cargoes around. Eventually she ended up in Lisbon, rusting away in one of the commercial docks until someone decided to sell her for scrap. At this stage the people of Viana, rightly realising that a great piece of their history was about to be lost, clubbed together and raised the money to buy her and restore her at least partially, so that she could be on permanent display in the fishing harbour here. If you don’t know anything about the Grand Banks and the cod fishing industry, it’s probably a good idea to read Mark Kurlansky’s brilliant book ‘Cod’. I haven’t read it, although I started it once and then got distracted and abandoned it in favour of something more juicy, so that it sat on my bedside table giving me the guilts and gathering dust.

Instead I base my knowledge entirely on the black and white (although unusually not in an annoying way) film Captains Courageous, based on the eponymous Kipling story, featuring Spencer Tracy in a questionable Oscar winning performance as a Portuguese dory fisherman. It’s a riches to rags make over story of the best kind, suitable for Sunday morning sofa viewing when feeling delicate and including Spencer Tracy saying ‘leetle fish’ several times to the odious shipwrecked posho child they pick up from the water in the fog. There is also awesome and genuine footage of the Grand Banks Schooners at work, which makes modern trawling look like fun. It is incredible that these boats would leave Portugal, sail across the Atlantic to fish for the summer, then sail all the way back again for the winter and do the same each year. It struck me today when we were looking at the small wooden fishing boat tenders here that the word ‘dory’ (the small rowing boats put out from the large schooners to catch cod with hand lines) is probably a corruption of the word used to describe the boats from the river Douro. I wonder whether I’m right.

The ship was brilliantly restored, in that it is an ongoing project. This means there is a minimum of ‘Press this button to see what life was like fishing for cod off the frozen wastes of the North Atlantic’ and plastic mannequins wearing sowesters and more ‘you can’t go in this room yet because it’s not done’.

This means you can smell the strange chemicals in the operating theatre still, wonder at what is in the half full medicine bottles, sniff the Lysol bottle (possibly not supposed to do that) and peer through the gap in the door to the deckhands’ bathroom facilities which were frankly dire looking. I don’t know whether the stain on the surgery floor was rust or blood.

We walked back to Planet in the by now blazing sunshine, and the realisation that my flip flops had literally begun to melt, leaving black marks all over my feet. That is what you get for buying fake black Havaianas for four euros. Except these are not even called Hawaiianas or Habanas or some attempt at a name similar to the style they are emulating. They are called ‘Beppi’s’ and they are made entirely from tyres.

So all being well we should get to Spain tomorrow. One more early start….



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