Sunday 2 June 2013

The Carlos Barral

When I first started planning cruises on the Catalan coast, rather than studying a pilot book, I looked to the Catalan nautical writers who, though writing sometime in the past, used language that I could readily absorb. Two writers stood out—Josep Pla and Carlos Barral. Both sailed extensively on this coast from the '40's to the '70's and as I lapped up their prose I began to feel an almost personal attachment to them. While Pla was paused, detailed, literary and enjoyable purely for his masterly use of the Catalan language, Barral described sailing and the coast with larger, more spontaneous brush strokes and his vivid colours reflected his passionate nautical spirit.

Pla died in 1981, his boat 'Mestral' long lost to scrap. Barral died in '89, and his boat 'Capitan Arguello' ended up in Tarragona's 'Museu del Port.' Barral was from Calafell, just round the next headland from OB's beach, and the dedicated souls of the association 'Pati Catala Calafell, Mar Mitic, Mar Ludic' have striven to return Barral's boat to its home beach in Calafell. But for all the negotiations Tarragona Museum hold tightly to the treasured Capitan Arguello. So the association studied the possibility of building a replica but that plan unsurprisingly was beyond their budget. They did the next best thing, found and restored a deteriorating llaut which, though of smaller dimensions, they painted in Capitan Arguello's distinctive black and orange colours and named La Carlos Barral.

 I went along for the launch ceremony and arrived in time to see the boat chugging out of the port, running parallel to the beach to the place on the sand where the ceremony was to be held. Conducted by Vicente Garcia-Delgado, author of the definitive book on the lateen sailing rig—Nuestra Vela Latina—and historical expert of Mediterranean sail the ceremony recreated the pagan rites that mariners hoped would appease the fates. With fitting pomp and deliberation Vicente burnt a potful of olive branches under the prow, dressed the stem head with a lamb's fleece and bade the 'patron' soak it with wine, then he doused the boat in sea water followed by coarse-grained salt. Finally, moving into christian territory, the boat builder responsible for the restoration nailed a gold coin to the mastfoot to pay St Peter for entry into heaven should the boat founder. Then a virgin climbed aboard with a cross to be placed inside the boat at the bows. With the fates and deities suitably catered for the La Carlos Barral could begin her career.

Dawrfed by the local dark-suited bigwigs attending the occasion was the pettite guest of honor Yvonne Barral, Carlos Barral's widow, accompanied by her children and grandchildren. While she waited for the local radio station to sort out its signal I introduced myself and explained the role her late husband had played in my personal sailing story. As occasionally happens when I talk about Onawind Blue ears pricked to the simple tale of a small boat on the sea, but now I was more than flattered that this elegant lady who had sailed many miles with her husband might be interested in my adventures. Emboldened I pulled my book from my rucksack and showed it to her. As she flicked approvingly through the pages I felt that quite unexpectedly I made a significant connection with part of Catalonia's literary and maritime heritage. 


Anonymous said...

Hi Ben, just finished reading The Invisible Workshop from the initial build entries up to the present posts, just wanted to thank you for taking us along on all your journeys! Great inspiration to get my pram sailing dinghy finished! Cheers Alistair

Ben said...

Thank you Alistair, that's exactly the sort of comment that makes my day. All the best for the rest of your pram build.