Portugal Opens

Portugal Opens

The Ocean Doorway to a Wider World

The evening light, filtering through sullen cloud banks to the west, reached across the sea. It touched the whitewashed faces of the buildings ashore with a faint blush.

Watching the play of light across the dark intervening water from the decks of the cutter Iolaire,

one had a strong feeling of the many ships which had come this way and of the varied scenes the houses of the fishing village of Lagos had looked out on.

Once the ships of Prince Henry the Navigator had sailed from here! And before his time, unnamed others, brave seamen all.

The moment passed, and standing in along the coast, close-hauled against the vagrant light airs in the lee of the tall hills to the north,

the Iolaire took a tack to the southward, to clear Cape Saint Vincent before standing out into the night ocean before us.

Passing the cape a little before midnight in continuing light airs, we heard the deep-throated roar of the ocean swell crashing against.

The rocky headland as though it were alive with the sea monsters

the ancients so persistently filled it with in their picture of the world.

As the expected north wind came up at daybreak, the Iolaire picked up her pace and went on to complete her passage home to Portsmouth, on England’s south coast, in fourteen days.

We met no sea monsters but a series of gales, leading the Spanish deckhand Jose Cerda to comment “Mucho viento!” (lots of wind!) in urging us to take in sail.

One took a more understanding attitude about this after learning that he had been in a trading schooner that capsized in a Caribbean squall.

Jose was an able sailorman and sewed beautiful patches in the aged cutter’s weathered canvas sails,

but he took some time to appreciate the power of the deep ballast keel that kept the vessel on her feet in dusty going.

The indomitable Iolaire still sails deepwater today, nearing her hundredth birthday.

And as early as 129 l they actually sent the brothers Vivaldi out into the Atlantic to find the sea route to India.

The Vivaldis never returned from this voyage, and a long-lived tradition maintained that they settled in Africa.

Indeed, by the early 1300s, one of the Canary Islands, 100-odd miles off the bulge of West Africa,

had acquired the name Allegranza, after one of the ships in the Vivaldi voyage.

Genoese merchants went on to set up trading posts south along the African shore as their Phoenician predecessors had done more than two thousand years before them.

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