A short story about the community of liveaboards in a small marina on the Atlantic coast of Portugal.
Dear friends, family and readers of this blog,
the last post was a while ago. This is because I took a longer break in Porto to concentrate a little on my work. Sometimes, being in one place for a longer period of time is also a welcoming change to the nomadic lifestyle.
In addition to all the work, I also got to know the unique community of liveaboards in the marina. In order not only to describe the individual characters, but also to capture the mood a little, I put the whole thing in a little prose. As a little Christmas greeting to all of you.
Have fun reading and I wish you a happy holiday
PS: I’m visiting Germany over the Christmas days. You can expect more blog posts from mid-January on.
The sun slowly rises above the container terminal and bathes the harbor in a bright, clear light. It is the beginning of December, and with the sunny weather came the cold, which makes the coffee in the cups steam and ensures that the fuses on the docks regularly pop out when the marina’s residents turn on their electric heaters in the morning.
A pilot boat that has just moored at the quay wall makes the sailboats dance up and down on the floating docks with its swell. The masts sway back and forth to the rhythm of the waves running through the harbor basin, and the old, ramshackle jetties squeak as if they wanted to compete with the screaming of the seagulls.
After a few minutes, the swell subsides and peace returns to the small marina on the Atlantic coast of Portugal. In recent weeks it has rained almost continuously, so extensively that even the locals, who are used to rainy Novembers, spoke of unusually bad weather. It was so damp that the leather shoes in some cupboards got covered in thick, greenish-blue mold and dehumidifiers became the best friends for some residents of the marina.
But the time of constant rain is now over, and the beginning warmth of the sun’s rays and the light provoke an unusual activity on the jetties, which otherwise seem rather deserted.
Thomas*, the philosopher, sleepily rolls up the port side of his cockpit tent and blinks into the sun. Satisfied, he sits down on his small foam seat cushion, which has an imprint of his butt on one side and an imprint of the cockpit benches on the other and which is now so flat that he might as well go without it. Thomas rolls a cigarette and leans back.
In his previous life, Thomas was an engineer with a large corporation. But now, after almost a year as a liveaboard, Thomas is so calm and relaxed that it has an infectious effect on his surroundings. This is probably one of the reasons why the residents of the marina like to drop by for a coffee on Thomas’ boat. Whatever burns on the mind of his visitors, whether homesickness, lovesickness or a problem with the engine, Thomas listens, nods understandingly and then tells a few anecdotes about his life, when he felt the same way.
With a smile Thomas observes how Amos, who has just peeled himself out of his bunk on the opposing jetty, stretches as well as possible under the tarpaulin that covers his cockpit and then climbs from board to balance towards the main jetty on the edge of his finger pier. He has to move carefully, because both the deck of his brightly colored 28-foot boat and the finger pier are filled with diesel canisters, a removed tank, an outboard motor, a folded dinghy, a standup paddleboard and a bike that he got for a cheap price after his arrival, but that after a week, like so much else in the harbor, fell victim to rust.
The marina is located in the industrial port of Porto, in a small town called Leça de Palmeira. In contrast to other, more expensive marinas on the Atlantic coast, this port has not lost its original charm. Slightly ramshackle and a bit messy, but unbeatably cheap, this place attracts a kind of sailor that most readers of German sailing magazines would turn up their noses at. With some of the boats, a safety-conscious sailor would not even dare to take a day trip on the Flensburg Fjord. And yet most of them came here on their own keels, beat their small boats across the Bay of Biscay and were in real contact with the elements. Something that one could not say about the many experienced “sailors” on their brand new yachts with interior steering position and heating.
If a fancy yacht does get lost into the harbor, it usually takes just a few days, sometimes even just hours for the crew in their brand new Musto gear to recognize, that they are better off in the expensive marina near downtown Porto. And so the small community of liveaboard bon vivants usually remains among themselves.
The residents of the marina shook their heads and watched the hustle and bustle on some of the passing yachts that absolutely wanted to be in the Canaries at the start of the ARC (Atlantic Rallye for Cruisers). For them, it didn’t matter whether it was blowing against at 7 Beaufort, the schedule had to be kept. Most of the boatbums in the marina have long given up planning such appointments. Some deliberately travel slowly, others had to learn the way to patience due to necessary repairs on the boat.
By now, Amos is now sitting in Thomas’ cockpit with a steaming coffee, and the two make a plan on how to deal with his current problem. The hard crossing on the Bay of Biscay not only gave his engine the rest, but also his rig was badly affected. The chainplaites are loose and in some places the deck has even been raised due to the strong pull on the lower shrouds. In addition, the bulkhead on which the weight of the mast rests seems to have taken a major crack.
Amos is the resident of the marina, who was by far the most unlucky on his trip so far. Whether it were tattered sails, fire on board, slipping anchor, diesel bugs, three cell phones and a laptop with water damage, a leaky deck, mold on board and now also structural damage on the hull: some of the other liveaboards would have given up long ago or would have switched to a campervan. And even Amos has phases during which he is about to give up his dream of a life under sail.
With his calm, relaxed manner, Thomas manages to convince Amos to keep his boat and not to give up. In his opinion, the problem can be solved with a proper substructure made of stainless steel and the advice of a capable rigger and a good shipyard, provided Amos would proceed in a structured manner. Half an hour later you could see Amos standing in front of his boat with a pen and pad, writing a long todo list.
In the meantime, Micha, the MacGyver of the marina, has donned his wetsuit to install a new propeller on the boat of the Prince. He lost the old one along the way, together with his mainsail, which according to his stories, was destroyed in the storm on the Bay of Biscay at 40-meter waves.
The Prince is by far the most peculiar character in the marina and regularly makes a good topic for conversations. Opinions currently differ widely as to whether his idea of running a dehumidifier as a watermaker is brilliant or crazy. The prince doesn’t care, he believes in his unconventional idea and has already installed a hose from the dehumidifier’s water collector into the water tank. To produce the 270 watts needed for the dehumidifier, he has now equipped his 30-foot boat with five large solar panels and a wind generator. According to his calculations, this should also be enough for the operation of the giant television that he installed in the otherwise completely gutted interior of his boat.
If you walk across the jetty at night, you can hear from far whether the Prince is at home. In this case, a bright neon light shines from the barren interior of the royal yacht and the television runs at full volume. Much to the delight of Amos, whose boat is just opposite and who now knows the conspiracy theories from the Prince’s favorite YouTube channels by heart. Of course, the television must be so loud, because for unknown reasons the Prince permanently has foam ear plugs in his ears.
Nobody knows the real name of the Prince because he introduces himself to different people under different pseudonyms. He obviously lived in Sweden for a while, but originally comes from the Middle East. The Prince is very covered about his past, but he tells his plan to everyone, whether he wants to hear it or not: he wants to sail his boat to New York, where a great heritage awaits him. (“More money than you can ever imagine …”) and where he wants to start a great career in politics (“You’re gonna see me on TV, man!”). He is in close contact with Bernie Sanders and when he arrives he wants to donate his boat to a homeless person. It is not entirely clear why he, as the son of a king, wants to travel with an old 30-foot boat, but rumors tell that he has a spot on a no-fly list.
Despite these fantastic stories, the prince does not seem penniless. Several times a day he can be seen returning from the hardware store, heavily loaded on his electric scooter. By now, he brought more solar cells, a welding machine, an electric grill, a second dehumidifier, two Torqueedo outboards, a stern thruster on the bathing ladder and numerous other electrical devices on board.
For a long time, however, he had no mooring lines. The prince’s solution was lashing straps from the hardware store, with which he had lashed his boat to the jetty so hard that it tore two cleats out of the jetty in the swell of the pilot boats within a week. Only after complaints from his jetty neighbors and an intervention by the marina’s personnel did he switch to traditional rope.
The water of the marina is by far the most unsavory soup you can imagine. Often a light oil film covers the cloudy water, and especially with Southerly winds, a thick carpet of plastic waste and polystyrene, but also of branches and whole tree roots lays on top of the water. Fish heads, dead seagulls and chickens are bobbing alongside, and a dead goat has already been spotted floating between the boats.
This doesn’t seem to bother Micha in his wetsuit, he complains more about the cold temperatures of the wintry Atlantic waters. After a few dives, he installed the Prince’s new propeller according to his instructions. He is not convinced of his work. Without a lock nut and only tightened with a hand ratchet, he believes the prop will loosen quickly. This is not so important to the prince. He doesn’t want to go backwards, and he thinks it will last until New York.
MacGyver-Micha is the resident who gets by on the smallest budget by far. He is traveling on an old 30-foot boat that he bought for € 2000 with a damaged engine. He then installed a powerful electric motor, which the previous owner originally intended for a huge model tank. In this way he set sail in Germany, without having ever sailed before. But because Micha is self-taught with an incredible “can-do” mentality, he was not discouraged by two strandings on sandbars in the North Sea and is now actually quite good at sailing.
In the marina, the word of his skills to repair hopelessly broken things has spread around. He has already brought several autopilots back to life, saved a totally rusty cordless screwdriver from the scrap, shorted ignition locks and was just assembling the prince’s propeller. Micha’s most important tool on board is his soldering station, with which he is currently working on a charger for lithium-ion batteries. His plan is to increase the range of his electric motor by building a battery bank from the lithium cells of the 30 defective hoverboards that he bought cheaply.
* Name changed
Here the story ends abruptly. I hope in the coming weeks I find the time to write a sequel. But maybe already this short piece gave you an impression of why I feel so comfortable in Matosinhos (even though the marina is indeed a bit rancid). I simply love the people there.
Let me know in a comment if you want to know more about the marina and its residents…