TALL SHIPS REGATTA,
By Margaret Macdonald
Onboard: John Kapp (Skipper), Margaret Macdonald (Mate), Jean King, Andy Cook Brian Vaughn, Sarah Allen, Carlina Nightingale, Janet Kapp/Sam Wright, Karen Cruiks/Robert Crawford (crew exchange from Salex)
Oporto is a magnificent city – although the inhabitants will tell you that it is, in fact, two cities; Porto on the north side of the Duoro and Gaia on the south. In reality, it is the river that is the life and spirit of the city – without it, the city would not exist. Henry the Navigator, the patron of Portuguese exploration, was born there 600 years ago. For centuries, sailing barges have drifted downstream, loaded with barrels of port wine to mature in the cellars owned by famous names such as Fonesca, Sandeman, Croft and Cockburn. The river is strongly tidal and the sand bar at the mouth guarding its entrance has an awesome history of wrecks. The modern commercial harbour, Leixcoes, constructed on the coast to avoid those hazards, has left Oporto as a historical sea-faring city of enormous character and charm. It is difficult to imagine a better setting for an international celebration of sailing and of ships, which is what the Tall Ships Regatta really is.
Marabu was one of the earlier arrivals at this party. This was greatly to our surprise, because we had been beating against contrary southwesterly winds all the way from Coruna and were a day later than we had intended. However, Atlantic weather is a great leveller and nearly all the other ships were a day late too. The warmth of the welcome we received from our Portuguese hosts more than made up for the discomforts of the voyage – no sooner had we tied up than our Liaison Officer, Joanna, a delightfully friendly student, was aboard with details of various receptions, expeditions and parties that we could attend. Some of the timings were a little inexact – this is Portugal – but the warmth and generosity were overwhelming. From no reception did we come away empty-handed – there was always a carrier bag of souvenirs to take back to the boat. Other gifts appeared from time to time during our stay – a presentation box of six bottles of port was a particularly acceptable present. The formal parade through the streets of Porto, accompanied by the Bands of the Portuguese Navy and the Porto Fire Brigade, was one way in which we could show our appreciation to the people of the city for all their kindness.
Everyone in the Tall Ships’ Regatta is on show. Surprisingly, perhaps, there is a great freedom in this. Modest and shy though you may be, the persona of your yacht gives you the liberty to go anywhere and talk to anyone. People stop by for a chat, you invite them on board, you go visiting and spend hours talking to Swedes and Russians, Spaniards and Poles. I got into conversation with the German STA Officer seconded to the Sagres (the great square rigger owned by the Portuguese Navy) and, in no time at all, it was arranged that the crew of Marabu could have a private conducted tour. All you had to do to start a conversation was to walk up to a stranger, smile and ask what ship he or she was from. The only time this gambit failed was when I found myself sitting next to two men who turned out to be British arms dealers trying to sell radar equipment to the Portuguese Navy. They gave the distinct impression of having gatecrashed the wrong party and spent most of the time talking to each other about golf. National divisions disappear and age differences don't seem to matter either – for four glorious days you can escape from all the conventional stereotypes you are just yourself and are there because you love sailing.
Two highlights stand out from the many colourful impressions. One is the magnificent firework display set off from the upper level of the huge two-tiered bridge, which spans the Duoro. There can be few more comfortable or spectacular ways of watching fireworks than lying on Marabu’s foredeck gazing up at a sky ablaze with vivid sparks.
The other, equally memorable, impression is the start of the race from Oporto to St Malo. Since Marabu was not competing, we were able to keep station close to the start line and watch this great assembly jostle for position, let their sails drawn and, quite literally, sail off into the sunset. If you have ever been even remotely touched by the romance of the sea, the Tall Ships’ Regatta is a festival that you should not miss.