Regatta on the Douro

By Ray Isle Posted June 29, 2007

It was a pleasantly sunny afternoon when the gun went off to start the annual barco rabelo regatta on the Douro this past Sunday (we're going to be bouncing around in time a bit with these Portugal entries; bear with). I'd abandoned my usual journalistic neutrality and was rooting for the Sandeman boat, largely because I was on it. 

In way of background, rabelos are the shallow-bottomed, keel-less boats once used to transport port casks down the Douro to Vila Nova de Gaia, the sister city to Oporto and home of the major port shipping companies. Back in the days that people actually used these boats—which are steered by a single long oar poking into the water from the stern, and feature a large square-rigged sail—the things were treacherous, since they were piled full of full port casks (heavy) and were sailed down the Douro before it was dammed (full of rapids) and had no stabilizing keel. Ours, on the other hand, were lightly loaded with empty casks and sailed on the Douro at the mouth of the river; entirely different proposition, which is to say that to become a fatality statistic in the annual regatta would take a lot of doing.

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