Tag Archives: sailing

Sailing is for the Birds – 2

seagullThe sun was dipping into the great Atlantic Ocean that stretched away to the west. Our sturdy vessel romped along at 7 knots under reduced canvas. The seas were painted orange and deepest indigo, the wind was steady out of the northeast. Off to our east was the unseen coast of Portugal, indicated only by a ridge of cloud above the haze of evening. We were sailing offshore on a converging course with the shallowing water along the coast south of us, aiming for the passage between the mainland and Berlenga Grande Island. At our speed and with the current helping us along, our passage planning had us there for first light and we would transit the channel long before the start of the busy ferry traffic to the popular tourist island.

The boat was squared away for the night and we were relaxed in the cockpit watching the changing colours of the sunset as we enjoyed our evening meal. We were chatting companionably, when, above the sound of the sea and our passage through the waves, we heard a splashing commotion. We turned to see a small flock of seagulls attacking something in the water. Seagulls are generally quite garrulous and it struck us how silent these birds were as they assaulted their target, viciously tearing it to pieces. We could see feathers floating on the water and we got the binoculars for a closer look.

All at once a dark shadow flapped about above our boat and after a couple of attempts it managed to land on the cockpit bimini. It was a pigeon, hardly able to stand with exhaustion and the difficulty of the slanting surface. As we blinked at this uninvited guest another joined it and then a third bird fluttered down alongside. In the fading evening we saw more pigeons off our port quarter. Their flight was butterfly-like, a sort of lifting and falling and we realised that they were trying to land on the water yet too afraid of the running seas. Meanwhile the seagulls hovered nearby, taking off from the water to harass the dipping pigeons and dash them into the sea. The exhausted birds were being swept along by the wind and the few who had any strength circled around to land on the oasis of our boat. The majority was pushed past us to a watery end, food for the gulls or the fish.

Our visitors showed no fear as we offered them an assortment of crumbs and seeds but it was water that they needed, thrusting head and neck into the glasses we held for them, stretching their gullets to let the water run down into their dehydrated bodies, dunking their bills again and again. Each bird had a leg ring and we jotted down some of the numbers, thinking that we might find out where they had come from, where they were going. Racing pigeons, obviously, blown off course by the strong offshore wind. We left the food out for them, regretting it later as they deposited the digested remains everywhere.

Our watches through the night had us checking frequently on the welfare of our guests. There were about 15 pigeons, perched on the dinghy and the booms, standing about on the cockpit coaming and bimini, some fast asleep in the armpit of their wings, others restless and watchful, dark eyes glittering in our torchlight.

As we approached the early hours and the coast we started to see the faint glimmer of land lights and our attention was focused on navigation and the approach of the Berlenga passage. Not to the extent that we missed the first soft ‘crrr’, soon taken up by more of the pigeons who preened and stretched their wings. As the darkness lifted so too did one bird. He rose off the boom and started circling the boat and in a rush the others did too. They joined him in his circling and then they left, the small flock heading to the land close by. We watched them until we could no longer make them out in the dawn. Then we turned to the task of navigating the channel. Cleaning up the mess could come later.

SAILING IS FOR THE BIRDS

DovecotWe saw this rather attractive but vacant dovecot and wondered whether Health’nSafety had put a demolition order on the old place as it did have a roof shingle missing. We imagined the Dove family carted off to some bleak high-rise with dank, urine-scented stairwells while the local council allocates this bit of Greenbelt land for a large housing estate in order to meet latest government targets.

Our fanciful musings segued into memories of bird meetings at sea. Our first close encounter was with a booby  that took refuge on the mizzen boom as we sailed in the south Atlantic towards Brazil. Our cat crouched immobile below the spar, his tail lashing. After an hour he came below for his dinner and as the moonless night drew in he curled up on our bunk and we thought he’d lost interest. At midnight unearthly shrieks and squawks had us fumbling for the spotlight to find the cat trying to push the large bird through the small cockpit porthole to the cabin below. We rescued the unfortunate creature, checked that it was quite unhurt and encouraged it to fly off into the night. It declined and returned to the boom and no amount of shooing would remove it from its perch. We closed the cat below and resumed our watch keeping. That darn bird stayed with us for 3 days, returning from its fishing forays to the boom to preen and scratch and drop foul deposits on the deck below until the sun sank and it settled its head under its wing to slumber. The cat watched it obsessively, distracted occasionally by flying fish on the deck and we monitored him closely and closed him below at night. We well understood how this stupid bird had got its name!

To be continued …

LOW TIDE ON THE RIVER

As our shore-side neighbours slosh around in their flooded homes we ride the high tides, dry and warm. Rain lashes the decks, we heel to savage gusts of wind and feel grateful to be moored safely in the river. Portugal’s west coast is ravaged by giant waves, as is the UK, and 7 boats are damaged in a storm off Cape Town.  To restore our balance after such weather-related drama here’s a sketch of the river at low tide on a still day. And happy new year to you all!

Low Tide

CHECK OUT THE DECK

As most people know, owning a boat is all about lounging around on the deck sipping martinis and occassionally changing position to ensure an even tan. Well, sometimes, just for a change, we do a spot of boat maintenance. This summer we replaced some decking and this is our latest work of art:Image

MARBLED PAPER – NIGHT SKY

In the music video for CANDLE IN THE DIVINE WIND we used a marbled paper as the background to the title in the opening sequence. Mr Photoshop kindly re-hued and de-saturated the dark tones, manipulating them to match the lighter colour of the part of the painting that the title fades into.

Below is the marbled paper we used. We think it looks like a night sky at sea … the stars startling in their brightness against the black firmament before the moon rises to add her glory. These things are the jewels of our fortune.

marbled paper night sky

 

Cascais, Portugal – visit if you can

On Portugal’s western Atlantic coast, near the Tagus river estuary, is the town of Cascais. From ancient and humble beginnings as a fishing village, in the late 19th century it became the cool hang-out for European royalty after Portugal’s King Luis  turned the citadel into his summer residence. The town’s popularity with the rich and noble continued on through the next century, thereby blessing it with an architectural heritage of magnificent mansions.

From our place at anchor in the bay we spied, through the binoculars, a large poster advertising a Goya exhibition. And lucky that was too, as a walk around the town and a visit to tourist information gave no clue that such an exhibition was on locally. Unless one had actually walked up to the Cultural Centre hosting the exhibition (and on whose wall the poster was affixed) which is situated on a rise outside of the central town area, one would never have known about the exhibition. That’s probably why we had the place to ourselves and we were able to enjoy a’ private viewing’ of Francisco de Goya’s lithos and etchings including his famous Disasters of War. Congratulations to the Cascais Cultural Centre for hosting and presenting such an excellent exhibition (with free entry) but if you want to draw people away from the beaches, the pavement eateries and the tourist shopping you need some promotion!

Here’s a sketch of Cascais from a boater’s point of view:

Cascais, Portugal

Cascais, Portugal

A SEA VIEW

fishermen-huts-ibizaWe were enthralled with our first view of a fisherman’s hut! It was a modern sculpture of timber and stone, bound together with twine and wire and reachable from the land above by a long tree limb with crosswise treads nailed every half metre. A good-sized hemp line dangled helpfully alongside. We saw many more of these huts while sailing around the Balearic Islands. Ranging from a few bits of wood nailed to a crosspiece and wedged across the mouth of a cave to elaborate double-storied structures with terraces, many of the huts are only visible from seaward. Crammed between rocky outcrops, dug into an overhang or built into a sheer cliff, the huts are practical, secure boat shelters … once you get your boat in them! Using manpower alone to push a small but hefty fishing boat up a series of tree crooks set into stone or, sometimes, concrete and then to negotiate wet and slippery rocks to get to a scree-ridden track heading upwards to a dirt road where, hopefully, someone waits with transport home does not seem like any kind of fun at all. This vital necessity to protect the means that feeds the family isn’t about fun anyway but it is a precious cultural heritage that should be protected.  There aren’t many fisherman’s huts left on the mainland: waterside property is far more precious. We can only hope that the Balearics don’t get sucked up by the EU’s health and safety rules, regulations and other requirements that are used to leach places and people of their individuality and their freedom to choose for themselves. Viva España!