Thursday, 31 December 2009

The last catch of the year

The trawler fleet return to Vilanova harbour in the watery afternoon light.

The more elderly wooden boats have a distinctive sheer and pleasing proportions.

The more modern boats have the aggressive features of natural predators.

Not all returning boats trail a cloud of seagulls. Please tell me that this is because they have already sorted and stowed the catch and not that the nets came up empty.

Friday, 25 December 2009

The Mediterranean this morning

Looking over the water in the dawn light, breathing the sea’s salt breath. 

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Rowing to the brothel

Despite inauspicious beginnings with the local rowing team I’ve continued, training when ever time is available. I even participated in a couple of races over the summer and just about avoided spewing my guts into the bilges.

Interest in training has flagged but there are a few of us that are still sufficiently keen to go out in the evenings. Sometimes there are only four or five of us, sometimes the full eight plus cox. But if the weather permits we always row out of the harbour and along the coast in the dark.

Our destination tonight, announced by Pegleg the cox, is the local brothel.

In Spain houses of ill repute are not discreet affairs. They scream their presence in flashing neon. They make a fine landmark at night and a useful navigational aid. A captain of the Spanish merchant navy once explained to me that cargo ships on coastal passages would measure their progress by these colourful lights. In one Spanish port the pilot would give transits that included the brothel.

Outside the harbour the sea is slick and inky. The boat twists on the remains of a particularly vehement northeasterly swell. It’s too dark to make out the oar blade and you can only tell if it’s angled correctly by how the pull stroke feels. There’s a risk of ‘slicing the ham’— tallar el pernil . This is when, through lack of awareness and control, the oar blade becomes angled forward, a perilous situation that often leads to ‘catching a crab’. Interestingly the Catalans chose to highlight the moment that the blade becomes horizontal with a colourful phrase, rather than the moment that the badly angled oar dives as we do in English with ‘catching a crab’. The Catalan slicing the ham leads to the English catching a crab.

Over my shoulder I can see the brothel lightshow two miles up the coast. Of course having such a landmark to aim for promotes bawdy talk. Once when still a beginner, resting on the oars amid cackling laugher at bow oar’s crude joke, Carpet Slipper—still considering me a complete wuss—leant over and warned, ‘Things are said in this boat that would never be said on land.’

Away from the shore the stars are brighter and the cold is biting but Pegleg drives us hard with series of 10, 15, 20 long, strong strokes. Our only navigation light is Pegleg’s head torch. We all move as one, powering the boat through the oily waters. We reach our destination and turn. The distant pulsing pink nubile silhouettes and the green lights atop the bawdy house ladder up and down like, ahem, well, like a whore’s drawers.

By contrast, over to port, a more traditional navigational aid hangs huge in the night sky. Orion. There’s a sharp edged beauty out here, the scattered constellations above and more immediately the boat, the pale bow wave, the heaving rowers. A shooting star arcs over Rigel. It would be enough to bring a tear to my eye if I weren’t concentrating so hard on not ‘slicing the ham.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Slowly rotting

I can’t go to a neighbouring beach without stopping to look at a particular boat and firing up a little pipe dream. Rationally I’d be better off avoiding the beach altogether but I’ve found myself making excuses to wander in that direction whenever I’m in the area with a few minutes to spare.

The boat was apparently built on the Costa Brava assuring her pedigree as a traditional Catalan llaüt or llagut or, being fairly small, gussi. Carvel built of thick pine, distinctively vertical at stern and stem and bathtub beamy amidships she looks to be on the precarious cusp between restoration and rebuild. The name painted on the side is Rocamar (literally ‘rock-sea’) a name often given to houses built on cliffs overlooking the sea.

But I’m in no position to entertain plans for restoration. Onawind Blue is the largest, most complex boat that I can afford to maintain and own. However, I can’t help feeling a genuine desire to take some positive step to save a piece of Catalonia’s maritime heritage.

I couldn’t resist leaving my name and number at the sailing club though, in case the owner comes by. Just to find out more about the boat’s history and to know if he has any plans for Rocamar.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Empty world

Late autumn in Catalonia can bring some beautiful days. After a week of cold, roof-tile-flinging winds and crashing swells with fierce undertows that move more sand in an afternoon than a regiment of bulldozers could in a week, a Mediterranean jewel of a day is conjured from the chaos. And it begs to be lived to the full.

Dutiful as always in the face of fine conditions I pack the boat and go for lunch on a little beach that, during the summer months, is inaccessible due to buoys and bathers and rules and regulations. I see no other sailing boats on the three-mile reach and there are no people on the beach. Feeling luckier than a lottery winner I give a OB a salt water clean out and cook a simple lunch. I wonder why people round here use the coast seasonally, why they pack their beach towels and boats away in September. But I don’t wonder for too long, I don’t really care. Today I’m just glad they do.