Adventure sailing

The Voyage of Storm Petrel. Book One. Britain to Senegal Alone in a Boat. Published by girl in a gale, February 2011, available April 2011 at


The French boat, Karak left and I gazed out on a gecko-less sea. Those sailors were inspiring voyagers and I recalled a conversation with George on his way back from the covered market clutching a plastic bag full of rolls. He shook my hand firmly and then held up his rolls. I exclaimed, “Aha, du pain,” (Aha, bread), George, eyes smiling, replied, “Mais oui,” (But yes) and feeling really competent in speaking French I plunged into the shallow pool of my knowledge and said, “Pour mangé avec du buerre et la confiture?” (To eat with butter and jam). George, his beard looking like a tide rip over the shoal of his chin said, “Certainement, est le miel,” (Certainly, and honey). I began to wonder if I was delaying George and his freshly baked rolls were going cold, so I said a conclusive, “Bien,” (Good) but George added, “Ou avec des oranges,” (Or with oranges). I was confused by this development in our brief chat and by the idea of eating bread with oranges so I tried to resolve it by saying, “Ah oui? Du pain, avec des oranges?” (I see, bread, with oranges?). A grey moustache poured around his mouth in two curling eddies and George said, “Mais oui biensure,” (But yes certainly) and failing to mix together the taste of oranges and bread in my imagination, I fell back on table manners, saying, “Bon appetit,” and George held up his bag of rolls, twinkled his eyes at me and left with, “A beintot” (Seeya). I walked on trying to imagine eating bread with oranges and slowly my mind found the concept I needed - marmalade. I realized marmalade is oranges eaten with bread. I had been away from the UK for 6 months and somehow the idea of marmalade had been forgotten. George dressed in well worn pullovers and plain slacks whether at sea or in port. He moved energetically and lightly, with a stance I had noted in other long distance cruising folk. He looked balanced on his feet with arms slightly apart and large open hands. The fingers were permanently swollen into extra strength and his stance was one of readiness to catch hold of a swinging boom or a person in the midst of a fall. Helene was feminine with thick, well kept hair and glasses. She was a little smarter than George. There was colour in her clothing - sunset reds, storm cloud mauves, sea greens and on cold windy days they both wore fetching red bobble hats. The majority of the time they remained inside the boat with the main hatch slid closed, but also took walks along the seafront or in woods, and Helene invariably returned with posies of local flowers. They were headed for Brittany in France, where they were going to sell Karak, the boat they had had built over thirty years ago. There they planned to retire from long distance cruising. George had expressed interest in a small wooden sailing dinghy which was out in the harbour and told me they would continue to sail small boats locally in France. So, with a whole new sailing career ahead of them they left Peniche with no ‘goodbyes’ or hooters hooting, they simply put to sea as they so often had. Such quiet ways had taken them around the world, several Atlantic crossings, and Japan, a rare cruising destination due to the year round occurrence of storms. When people set out on a big journey it was always slightly alarming if a conspicuous ‘leaving do’ was held. Confident declarations of future intentions seemed to be an omen of themselves and the most successful voyagers were somehow always the ones who slipped away unceremoniously. Peace Four had a public leaving date, but, Ann and Nev told me they were going to sail out of Bristol a couple of days prior to that. February 17 2003. There were two types of galao, the coffee which came in a long glass with a spoon with an equally long handle resting in it. The ‘direto’ has a shot of espresso, filled up with milk and heated using a steam nozzle. The ‘normal’ often came from an insulated jug and was weaker than the direto, so making a pleasant drink for people who feel unhappy after drinking strong coffee. ‘Normal’ closely resembled the ‘milky coffees’ I was plied with as a child, by my Mum who hoped the milk would strengthen my growing bones. The fishing port was separated from the leisure marina and public slipway by security fences and a gatehouse with a security guard. The fence had innumerable holes which had evolved, like animal paths, as a result of the flow of people into and out of the commercial harbour area. The fishing industry was labour intensive, with twenty five or thirty men aboard a medium sized trawler of twenty metres length. Auxiliary tenders with Volvo diesel engines rode piggyback, being winched up behind at a steep angle even as the main vessel accelerated away from the quay, with one or two crew still aboard. The tenders had flat bottoms, known as ‘chata’, with substantial bilge runners to protect the hull. Penimar was one of the main engineering works for the Peniche fishing boats. There I saw one of the auxiliary tenders being fitted with massive bilge runners made solely from stainless steel. The tenders had two functions. One, they carried crew members between the quay and the boat in correspondence with the lunchtime siren from the fire station. Two, the tender towed the end of a large net in a wide circle around a shoal of fish before it was winched aboard the trawler. The fishing area was mostly just 4 to 5 miles from the harbour. As the net was drawn up into the fishing boat, closing like a purse bag, a cone shaped net of around two metres in length and with a circular hooped opening, a ‘chalavar’, was used to scoop up sardines. The tenders were called ‘traineira’ and a sardine like fish also had the name ‘traineira’. The catch was loaded into the hold and kept alive in boxes containing sea-water for three or four hours before returning. The returning trawlers kicked up a horrendous wash, rushing in to offload the catch. The noise of air-cooled single cylinder diesel engines crackled across the harbour as the cargo was disembarked. During wintertime the boats went out once per day, leaving around 6.30pm and returning at around 9.30pm. During summertime, when the weather was calmer, they did two trips per day, adding a 4am shift which returned at around 8am. The boats were traditionally made in wood and some were still being built on the north beach. For a while boats were produced in steel but glass reinforced plastic was gradually dominating the industry. Old fishermen were familiar with the rich taste of gull eggs gathered from the cliffs. In modern Portugal, herring gulls were protected and egg gathering prohibited, but in contrast there was an attempt by the Portuguese government to reduce the population of herring gulls. The choice of control was poisoned bread and butter sandwiches which were fairly successful on the nature reserve of Ilhas de Berlenga, where rarer species of birds, reptiles and animals were being overrun by shrieking gulls. The method of destroying gulls was questionable on environmental grounds, as the poison was bound to enter the food chain, pollute the beaches with poison-ridden gull carcasses. The added waste of plastic bags used to collect carcasses also polluted the islands and some inevitably ended up blowing free to be swallowed by dolphins who mistook them for jellyfish and then suffocated. I was told gulls’ eggs tasted delicious. It would seem to be natural and logical way to control the population by allowing people to gather eggs and eat them. There would always be inaccessible cliffs and hidden rooftops where the gulls could nest successfully. It would seem a better solution than adding poison to the equation. The canary sings because she is happy - the canary is happy because she sings - one of the keys to happiness is living life simply. A man sat watching the centre of Peniche, his bicycle stood on its stand in front of him, a shiny new reproduction classic cycle with bright chromed fittings, a chain guard, dynamo set, and mudguards. On the back mudguard was a number plate, 1-PNI 77-99. There was a similar man in Bristol who would always greet me with an enthusiastic smile and chat. If it was raining he would shelter until it stopped, wishing never to get his bike dirty. He would often cycle long distances, sometimes before midday he would be returning from a ride of 25 miles. He knew people on several of the boats along the harbour and I would most often see him aboard a converted trawler or in the ‘Buttery’ tea kiosk. The Peniche cyclist looked similar in the way he joined in with the social milieu, but kept himself from slumping into the scene as many of the other retired men did. The Bristolian cyclist seemed as happy as anyone I had ever met. I think as long as he had his bike, his health and the friends spread about the routes he took every day, he would remain so. There was much to be said for being a little single-minded to achieve contentment and I sensed it was those people who were able to gain a small niche based upon simple requirements, such as an immaculately kept bicycle and a constantly refreshed social network, were closest to real happiness. Another Bristol man, also a cyclist, seemed to possess a similar simplicity in his contentment. I would often see him sitting by the harbour with a flask of coffee, enjoying the day. He was a ‘whistler’ and quite proud of his particular ability in it and he told me how he whistled himself into a state of melodic happiness and how he really considered himself to be a good whistler. Apparently his neighbours were driven mad by his whistling and he had even been threatened violence. His face was interesting with the look of a pale-skinned native American, he wore his silver hair long and when he spoke about ‘life’ it was very intense and drawn out. One day he appeared with a small pair of binoculars he’d bought from a charity shop. He wanted to discuss them and peer at the harbour through them, for what seemed like an uncomfortably extended period of time. I placed him at arms length after he asked me to sleep with him. I confess to being a ‘whistler’ too and the idea of a relationship between two whistlers would be bound to failure. In the Clube Naval de Peniche was another ‘whistler’ who was often busy around the workshop. As a hobby he made artistic and stylized boat pictures out of sawn woods of contrasting tones and textures. When I was engaged in a project I often had a tune on my mind which surfaced in bouts of whistling. One day he entered the workshop with a whistle at the same moment as I let fly a lilting refrain of my own. We looked at each other with a strange recognition, two canaries in the same cage and I was sure he was thinking something like, ‘Gosh, the English whistle just like us Portuguese do’. Another Peniche person always greeted me with a wide smile and a wave. He looked to be aged around seventy and would always gesture at the sky. If it was going to rain he would say, “Chuva” (rain) and point to clouds approaching from far off in the west. If it was not going to rain he would simply wave a hand at the sky and beam like a sunflower at me. He lived in a pastel yellow villa which was entirely shuttered and had smart concrete steps leading up to a balcony, from where he often called out to me in greeting. The small exchange was a daily vitamin pill which gave me an extra smile most mornings. I always walked away from this encounter with a feeling of wonder at how some people seem to have the ability to be just happy. Plenty of other men in Peniche looked tired and worn out by life, sat on public benches, old retired fishermen. The difference was a real lesson. I asked myself whether I would be diminished in my spirit in old age, or someone who sparkles warmly into the daily life of others, young and old. As a particularly scruffy Peniche man ambled by on one of my walks in search of contraplacado, a string as a belt and a grubby old beret over a stubbly chin on a grumbling old face, I said, “Bom dia!” and his whole face mobilized into a big smile as he replied, “Bom dia!” I was pleased to have said good day to him because it brought out a most friendly expression on a growl of a face. March 2 2003. On the first of three days of Carnival I walked into the town centre to have a look at Peniche in high spirits. A blond wigged, mini-skirted man sauntered by, the first of many transvestites. Next a black man wearing a leather mini-skirt and glossy make-up strolled by elegantly. I thought he looked very sexy. I chose a seat with a view of the street in the enclosed terrace of the pastelaria ‘Oceano’ and relaxed with a galao coffee and an errufada. A small girl came in with perhaps her mother, the girl wore a long red-checked skirt with a lace head-scarf and looked very sweet as the archetypal country maiden. A crowd of lads went by dressed as fishermen, with crab pots swinging from lines around their necks, flat caps and old yellow or green oil-skin Salopettes. They swigged out of beer bottles and were rowdy for 11am pushing each other about playfully and leaving beer bottles in inappropriate places. A small girl arrived in a white tressled dress draping around her to the floor, with a silver conical fairy tale princess hat with a swathe of pink material trailing from the point. A boy in a batman suit sat driving a red fun ride jeep, which had not been activated by a coin so was not moving. A little girl dressed in a milkmaid outfit with a long dress in a rural check, beckoned him and they ran away together. A small, olive-skinned boy offered me a tired looking box of Elastoplast and I understood he wanted me to buy it. I said no thank you into his sad little eyes and he skimmed around the rest of the café Oceano terrace and sold nothing. Outside the guy in blond wig and short skirt wandered about looking for his mates who had left the Pastelaria Presidente. Beer bottled men stumbled by stuffing bolos into their lipstick smeared mouths, making drunken sounds. The blond-wigged transvestite went to the park across the road, still looking around for his crowd, looking furtively about, like a nervous hooker, under the palm trees, near the public toilets, eyeing the cover afforded by thick bushes and the thinning out of people. A float drove by pulled by a flat bed Nissan. It had a central palm tree over an umbrella terrace where several people sat on chairs taking refreshments. A band played oom-pah on the rear, with silver plated brass instruments rather similar to my own Ramponi silver plate C-melody soprano saxophone. The sun had broken through a four day cloud bank and I felt excited that the month of March had begun. A sky blue luxury coach piled high with people, had rear view mirrors which are set like the feelers of ants. It was a Wednesday and the final carnival procession had ended the previous afternoon. The sun had shone strongly and the procession was really fun. There were about thirty floats accompanied by costumed dancers in themes, such as a protest against the Prestige oil hazard. The troupe wore yellow oil-skins painted with black oil marks, like black and yellow cows. The float itself was a van made up as an oil tanker. On the whole though, men were in drag, with hairy and muscular legs clearly maintaining a masculine presence beneath their costumes. The oom-pah band with silver plate instruments mimed to Latin style music. They looked very much like a real band as individuals took sparkling solos. Half of them wore a band uniform and half were in drag. The café terrace connected to the double trailer of this band was populated by male transvestites serenely sipping cocktails. One of the persons was of a great age and I found out this particular float had been going for thirty years. After the final day of carnival I expected everything to have died down, but in the centre of Peniche was a crowd who were still drunk from the day before, obviously having stayed up all night. One of them was banging beer bottles together and he made me feel a little threatened, but they were good mannered after all. The beer bottle banger and two friends came over to me and introduced themselves. The leader of the oom-pah band float appeared in the café doorway blowing a party squeaker. His eyes were puffy from being up all night and he looked wrecked. I remembered his face clearly from the parade the day before as he walked in front of the band float with mock ceremony and importance. The crowd of friends who had said hello to me gestured at me and told the band leader to say hello to me. He chose to wobble away down the street blowing his party squeaker, obviously heading for his bed. It was eleven am.

/END OF EXTRACT ©2011 Clarissa Vincent

The Voyage of Storm Petrel. Book One. Britain to Senegal Alone in a Boat. Published by girl in a gale, February 2011, available April 2011 at

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