15 December 2012

Regina Oceanis

All the great ship's, similarly to Kings and Queens, have, by secular tradition, a cognomen. Sometimes, these nicknames are so strong, so descriptive, that they survive the erosion of times better than the actual baptism name. To my mind came the Portuguese galleon São João Baptista (Saint John the Baptist). Built in the XVI century, around 1534, she was, at the time, the most powerful warship in the world. With a displacement of 1000 tons and 366 bronze cannons, she was a floating fortress. Due to all that artillery power, she was nicknamed Botafogo (Spitfire). And the name lasted 'till today. And almost five hundred years later, the tradition goes on.
Presently, with a more peaceful significance, the Queen Mary 2, the latest, greatest, among a long lineage of ocean liners, is the Regina Oceanis.
Regina Oceanis. The Queen of the Oceans. I must say that it fits her like a glove.
The Queen Mary 2, from Cunard, approaching the Funchal bay, closely followed by the Aida Bella (second in berthing order), during her last call in Madeira, a few days ago.
Being the biggest ocean liner ever built, she always creates quite a stir on her arrivals.
Picture taken with Nikon Coolpix P7100 and post-processed in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, Ver. 4.1.

13 December 2012

Rainbow over the Pontinha breakwater

Rainbow over the Pontinha breakwater, a few days ago and after the departure of a Costa Crociere cruise vessel. Snapped this photo while returning back to the Pilot Station, from the deck of the Ilhéu do Lido Pilot boat.
Picture taken with  my trusty Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT3 working camera and post-processed in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom ver. 2.3.

28 November 2012

Early rising

Returning to work, after a couple of weeks on holidays, I had my first manoeuvre (the M/V Seabourn Quest) at 0600 in the morning.
Since the next vessel (the M/V Aida Bella) would only arrive at 0900, I used the space in-between to take a chance photographing the dawn of the day.
Our signal mast, at the end of the Pontinha breakwater, early in the morning. A reminiscence of older days, when the communications from shore to ship were basically done by visual means, it's now, somehow redundant (to say the least). However, as a former Captain of mine used to say, in my seafaring days, we may loose the ships but let's not loose the traditions.

A vision of Funchal, taken from the Pontinha breakwater, at dawn. More precisely the East part of the town, comprising the Old Town, the Santa Maria Maior church and the S.Tiago fortress, a fortification constructed on the early XVII century.
Both images taken with Nikon D40X and Sigma 18-50mm F/2.8 DC EX HSM lens.
Manfrotto tripod and ball-head. Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, version 2.3.

27 November 2012

Portuguese Merchant Marine

Vasco da Gama must be turning over in his tomb, in Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, if he's following what happened to the Merchant Fleet of this so-called "Nation of Seafarers" during the past thirty-five years.
From one of the biggest merchant marines in Europe, during the forties, fifties and sixties, we ended up with a miserable cabotage fleet, comprising a handful of vessels, almost totally dedicated to the public service of supplying the Autonomous Regions of Madeira and Açores.
And I'm sad to see how things also changed so fast (for the worst) during the past two decades. When I entered in the Portuguese Nautical School (Escola Náutica Infante D. Henrique), in 1990, I remember that things were already in a fast decline. I recall that, most of the times, we were discussing among each other the sadness of arriving to a professional market that was already, by the time and in Portugal, anachronic and heading towards collapse.
During those days (and I say again: only twenty-two years ago), I remember that we still had about thirty shipowners and, roughly, seventy ships, most of them still under Portuguese traditional register and flag.
Almost five years later, when I boarded a merchant vessel to start my career at sea, the vast majority of that fleet was gone forever.
It's sad to see that we should, particularly now, be looking once again to our vast Atlantic border as a form of escaping to the economical dramas faced by the continental Europe. Just like we did almost six hundred years ago, when we first noticed that this little parcel of land was to small for our ambition and our entrepreneurial vision.
And the solutions for this are already around us. We just have to look for them, learn with them and adapt them to our particular needs. Like a former Captain of mine used to say, we were not aboard to invent anything. Everything was already invented.
But not in this country. Here, we don't have the humility to learn from those who know better. And some of them, paradoxically, were not even maritime nations two hundred years ago. But they are now. And powerful ones.
The weak government we have nowadays and the corrupt political "nomenklatura" that supports it doesn't have the slightest idea where to lead the nation. Which course to steer.
And I'm starting to get tired of listening, year after year, the empty, ignorant and incongruent speeches of both politicians and academic "summities" praising the benefits of returning to the sea and thus fulfilling our destiny as a nation. Empty words of ignorants that don't have the slightest idea of what kind of sea strategy they are talking about, since, most of the times, they don't even waste their precious time to write their own speeches.
We have a saying in Portugal: a weak King weakens a strong people. Poor people and poor country. Are we really to blame for the incompetents that rule us?
The cabotage boat "Rival", navigating in the waters of Faial, Açores, almost twenty years ago. A sad visual metaphor of the present day's Portuguese Merchant Fleet. A nation whose destiny was, once, the sea.
Picture taken with Pentax SF1 and Pentax - A SMC 70-200 f/4 lens.
Agfachrome 100 RS scanned in Nikon Coolscan V ED and post-processed in Adobe Photoshop LIghtroom.

26 November 2012

Invicta Grand Diver Automatic - An Omega Seamaster look-alike for twenty times less

Searching for some time for an affordable automatic diving watch, I looked over the Internet for cheaper alternatives to the ridiculously expensive Swiss makers and also to the not-exactly-cheap Japanese alternatives (Citizen and Seiko).
Over the past months, while searching on the net for alternatives, there was a company where I've always stepped over: Invicta.
However, many of the negative reviews frightened me to buy one of their products. The fact is Invicta history is a bit nebulous.
Searching the web for information and we can be even more lost: the company is supposed to be an old Swiss watchmaker, founded in La Chaux-de-Founds, in 1837. Over the decades the company lived though several processes of merges and acquisitions and is presently in American hands an now known as Invicta Watch Group, headquartered in Hollywood, Florida.
There is no information on the web that allow us to believe that there is still a manufacturing unit of the company, producing their own timepieces, either in Switzerland or in the United States.
The web, always prolific in information, doesn´t even give us a glimpse of a concrete information about the physical location of this corporation.
Soon I discovered that more than an industry, Invicta is now only a brand. They might idealize the watches, however their manufacture is made somewhere else. The collection is large, with models raging from a few dozen Euros to more than a thousand Dollars. And, within it, we can find all the types of possible configurations: Swiss-made, Swiss movement, japan movement and... probably... Chinese made.
Even within each model there are changes over time. Some batches can come with a non-identifiable machine and others can arrive in the market with a well-known movement. I don't doubt that these changes have the client satisfaction and the technical evolution in mind. However, and due in part to the lack of information coming from the company (their web page is really poor), the consumers don't have time to adjust themselves to the upgrades taking place. Meaning that, sometimes, you might not be buying exactly what you thought in the beginning (more on this later!).
Regardless of those details, the brand is generally assumed as a  collector's starting point to the many watch fans worldwide.
Supported by this assumption, I decided to take a leap of faith on one of their timepieces. The idea was, basically, to buy a simple diving watch. Simple stainless steel design and without any additional complications. Basically, I was looking for a cheap "expensive Swiss look-alike time piece", similar in shape and style to the classic Rolex Submariner or Omega Seamaster, without the disadvantageous prices of these last ones.
I was looking for a big watch, but in the 150 to 200 Euros interval. Invicta has a few models in the collection, with these mentioned characteristics, particularly their "Reserve" collection that go well above the 500 Euros. However, for that price, we have already a few attractive choices along the traditional Swiss watchmakers. This reality already presupposes a difficult dilemma: to buy, for that amount of money, a true Swiss watch (if you are really into it) or, instead, just one trying to resemble one. I guess for most people (myself included) there's no place for conflict in this decision.
Avoiding this trap, my choices in Invicta were reduced to a few models.
Among them, the Invicta Grand Diver Automatic (model 3045) immediately caught my eye. And, frankly, one month after buying it I honestly can say that it's now my favorite watch.
The Invicta Grand Diver Automatic quickly became my favorite watch in my small collection. Powered by a Seiko movement (the NH35A), it's, however a big watch. And heavy one also. So be prepared for it, when you wear it on your wrist. You will notice it. The construction is in stainless steel (case and band) and the watch band has an excellent, machined and solid fold-over clasp with safety lock, quite uncommon for a watch in this price tag (compare it to the lame clasp of the Rolex Submariner, costing forty times more, and you will understand what I mean).
The case has two engravings: on the opposite side  to the screw-down crown the word "Invicta" and on the crown side, in smaller letters, the words "Grand" and "Diver". The clasp has also engraved the Invicta logo and the word "Invicta".
The band is a two-tone stainless steel one, easily adjusted at home with a simple tool kit that you can buy at E-Bay for a few bucks. I've read some remarks on the web regarding loose pins, dropping from the band. I've never (until now) had this problem. The band remains solid. On either side of the case, both band links have a diving helmet engraved in relief. The symbol is similar to the one found on the blue dial and also in the crown. Although I'd much prefer a "cleaner" look, I don't find these engravings conspicuous enough to be un-elegant.
Contrary to the higher-end Invictas (namely their "Reserve" collection), the Grand Diver doesn't look  to be equipped with a Flame-Fusion crystal. It's probably a conventional mineral crystal (it's a flat crystal, not a dome one) with the practical loupe (or magnifier) above the date window.
The heart of this timepiece is a reliable Seiko NH35A twenty-four jewels automatic movement (however I read in the web that previous batches were coming with the Miyota 8215 movement, from Citizen). A skeleton see-through case back allows us to see the interesting mechanism at work.
Accuracy:
I've set the watch according to Greenwich Mean Time on the past 04 of November, around 2100. At 2400 of 25 of November (507 hours later - or 21.125 days) I checked once again both times. And noticed that the watch was advanced in relation to GMT a small amount of 7 minutes and 51 seconds (7'51''). This gives a time advance for the machine of roughly 22.295 seconds per day in relation to the atomic time. This is well within the margin defined by the movement maker: -25 to +35 seconds per day (23ºC/+or-2ºC). A friend of mine had bigger accuracy problems with an Omega Seamaster, and it was a 4000 Euros watch. He had to send the watch back for calibration and, after the service done, it remained nowhere near as accurate as this cheap Japanese movement. My Invicta Grand Diver is still on factory calibration.
The watch, presented in its box and bought directly from the Amazon.Co.UK. It's, to me, a mystery how can a watch have a retail price of 545 USD and be sold on the web by a mere 125 UK Pounds. It's probably not for us, humble consumers, to understand.
Meanwhile, I'm keeping on enjoying it. It's the most fun piece of time measuring that I've bought so far.

19 November 2012

Covão da Ametade in Winter time

About twenty years ago, by this time, the highest mountain in Portugal was already covered in white. The first snowfalls were arriving in late October and the temperatures would drop below freezing, only to recover a little Spring warmth late in March.
Those were nice times in Serra da Estrela. We had, basically, a snow covered 2000 Mt's mountain for almost five months per year. And that mountain was our playground. Although with some stormy days every year (it's a mountain, right?), the Serra da Estrela had, generally, a gentle climate, even during the cold season.
So, when the first snows started to paint the mountain in white, we all started to program our weekend "expeditions" to the massif. Suffering in anticipation with the vision of a peaceful white mountain under a blue sky canopy.
And we would spend a few days, sometimes a full week, camped in Covão da Ametade, our small Throne Room of our small Mountain Gods, enjoying mutual camaraderie and making our first attempts in ice climbing.
Those days of youth linked for life a few dozens of persons, commonly bonded by the love for the mountains and for the mountain activities.
The Covão da Ametade, our noble room in Serra da Estrela, was the place where it all happened during those years of curious discovery of the mountain activities for our generation. There we would meet friends that we haven't seen, sometimes, for more than a year. And we would program our daily activities in the massif. At the end of the day, the usual campfires would warm both our camping place and our souls.
The Covão da Ametade and a frozen Zêzere river in the beginning of Winter, nearly twelve years ago.
Picture taken with Nikon F100 and Nikkor 28-105 f/3.5-4.5 AF-D.
Fujichrome Velvia ASA 50 scanned in Nikon Coolscan V ED and post-processed in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

07 November 2012

Cane sugar mill

Madeira has a secular tradition in the plantation of sugar cane for the purpose of producing white and raw sugar, and also sugar derivatives as bagasse and the famous sugar cane honey used profusely on the island's cuisine.
One of the oldest factories still laboring is located in the village of Calheta, on the South coast. With half-a-century of activity, the Sociedade dos Engenhos da Calheta is, today, a mixture of industrial unit and live museum, with daily visits by the tourists.
Sadly the sugar cane presses no longer operate with steam engines, having being replaced by electric ones a couple of years ago.
Funnels on the cane sugar mill of Calheta, on the South coat of Madeira.
Photo taken with Nikon D40X and cheap Nikkor AF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 G DX VR kit lens.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3 and Lightroom.

04 November 2012

Why I want to be a Captain

I found this Xerox copy on the bridge of the M/S Bremen, during her last call in Funchal, about one week ago. I've found it so funny that I've requested a copy to the Staff Captain. I particularly enjoy the part "...and when the propeller falls off they have to know what to do about it.". Hilarious.
Xerox copy scanned in Cannon Canoscan N676U flat scanner and converted to jpeg. Post-processing and resizing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

03 November 2012

Mafra. A baroque extravaganza.

It's, sometimes, for me hard to understand why do we devote so much time building monuments to our own vanity. But, anyway, the thing that scares us the most (like my fellow colleague :-) Joseph Conrad wisely wrote in Lord Jim) is oblivion. We are scared to death that everybody forgets our microscopic passage through this world as soon as we close our eyes. To avoid that, men built pyramids and palaces. Sometimes we also made wars and created a lot of pain and misery. Very few ascended to the immortality condition with anything related to the mankind well-being.
After visiting the Mafra monastery I'm still in doubt about the group where we should include the King João V, the monarch of the time and the idealist of this barroque extravaganza. Built in a time when the gold from Brasil was arriving to Lisboa in buckets, this was, probably, his signature for posterity.
Strangely, and according to the late great historian José Herman Saraiva, this massive palace (still one of the biggest in the world) was built for nothing, since nobody from the royalty ever lived there. Probably turned down by the sheer size of the palace and its cold emptiness, the royals only visited Mafra for hunting games in the nearby "Tapada".
The palace, also a monastery, remained occupied by the monks until 1834, year when the religious orders were extinct in Portugal.
Nowadays, it's a national monument and also houses the Infantry School of the Portuguese Army.
Probably the most breathtaking division in the monastery, the fabulous library, housing 35000 books, rivals in sheer size and opulence with others built during the Renaissance years all over Europe. According to the Wikipedia, the tv miniseries Gulliver's Travels, from NBC, was shot partially in this amazing Rococo division. You'd have to visit it to understand why.
Handheld photo taken with Nikon D40X and Sigma 10-20mm EX DC HSM f/4-5.6.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

The Madeira bread soup

Most of the times there is nothing more rewarding, after finishing a levada walk or a hike through the high peaks of Madeira, than a hot meal and a warm bath. However, if you are still away from home and it's already late in the evening, just the hot meal will do. At least it will warm up your stomach and give back some of the energy lost during the day.
This is especially true during the Winter months, when the inclement weather becomes a constant on the mountains and hypothermia is a risk not to be taken lightly.
Most of the times, under these circumstances, dry, solid food is not really something that you are craving for. What we wish, normally, is an easily digested food with lots of nutrients to compensate our day losses. And warm. Hence... liquids. A tea is very good for this, escorted with a few crackers or a toast. However, if you are feeling homy, there is nothing better than a soup to feed and relax you at the same time. So, while you wait, late in the afternoon, for your connecting bus to Funchal, just enter in the nearest restaurant and ask for the Madeira bread soup.
This typical meal of Madeira is, somehow, a sub specie in a vast family of Portuguese bread soups (açordas, in Portuguese). They all have in common the fact that they are, in a certain way, cheap to be made. They surely were invented in a time when people were poor and didn't had the resources to buy all the culinary items that, today, we take for granted. Therefore their base is quite simple: it consists of bread cubes and boiled water over it. Without forgetting the Portuguese olive oil. The subsequent diversity just depends of how rich you store room is. You just add the ingredients and culinary herbs that you have at hand, at your heart's content. Depending of your technical expertise you can go from a simple Madeira garlic bread soup to a high-tech (and delicious, by the way) Açorda de Camarão (a shrimp bread soup, but more consistent... more solid).
Just try the simpler one, while in vacations among us. After a day's walk, I'll promise you it will taste like Heaven.
The Madeira bread soup, as served in Casa de Chá da Ponta do Pargo (Ponta do Pargo tea house), on the West coast of the island, some weeks ago. To the best of my knowledge, this soup consists of bread, in slices or in cubes, olive oil, salt, pepper, a boiled egg, segurelha (satureja montana), garlic, hortelã (mentha spicata), chili pepper and... hot water.

02 November 2012

An endless week

My God. It's finally Friday night. We are fully in the cruise season and this week was, to say the least, frantic. Cruise ships all over the port. Waking up between four and five A.M. and never ending the day before twenty-two hundred. And the weather was not helping. Under the effects of a low pressure for almost a full week, we were having, during the same period, the usual Southwesterlies so common in Madeira, during Winter time.
Spoiled by the past two years of impeccable weather, I'm finding myself with difficulties in adapting the body to work under these more rough circumstances. Particularly funny are the boarding and disembarking moments, with five meter swell and forty-five knots winds.
Oh well... like we, cynically, say, if this life was always sunshine and roses it definitely wouldn't be for us.
The Finnish cruise vessel Kristina Katarina leaving the port of Funchal and heading to La Palma during the present day's rainy afternoon.

28 October 2012

MS Deutschland

Although not so old (she was launched in 1998), the MS Deutschland has the looks and the feeling of the late great liners and their Era, which finished during the sixties.
Contrasting with the modern cruise ships (usually a mix of resort, shopping mall and Las Vegas casino), the Deutschland has the classic interiors now, sadly, lost in the modern naval architecture. The profuse use of noble woods and wood work and the ever present shiny brass should make any ship fan more than happy to sail with her.
As for me, with was a pleasure to be her Pilot.
A sculpture in MS Deutschland's beautiful main stairway. It's not the only one. Along the vessel's different halls and stairways there is plenty of artwork to be admired.
Picture taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT3.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

Pilot Card:
Ship's name: M/S Deutschland
IMO number: 9141807
Type: Cruise ship
LOA: 175.30 mts
Beam: 23.00 mts
Summer displacement: ?
Max draft on manoeuvre: 5.80 mts
Propulsion: Diesel engines, two variable-pitch propellers, total propulsion power: 12320 KW
Rudder: 2 Spade rudders - Independent
Bow thruster: 1 (total power: 1000 KW)
Stern thruster: N

24 October 2012

AIDAcara

Started today my three weeks working period, after a couple of weeks off-duty, in the port of Funchal. We are already in the full cruise ship season, so today I've had house full. Starting with the arrival manoeuvre of the M/V AIDAcara, at 0700 in the morning, we received also the cruise ship Ventura (with ETA to 1230) and, subsequently, the M/V Braemar, arriving at 1600. Southwesterly winds, varying from force 5 to 7, were a constant during the all day. Add some rain showers in the mix and a two meters swell outside and you'll got the receipt for Pilot's wet feet, which, in fact, did happen.
Well... seaman's life. Like a fellow colleague has the habit of saying: if this was easy, it would never, ever, be for us.
The AIDAcara leaving the port of Funchal, a few hours ago, and heading to Santa Cruz de Tenerife, in the Canary islands, her final call in Europe before the transatlantic crossing that will lead her to Rio de Janeiro and to a two-months period sailing in the South-Atlantic waters. Godspeed.

Pilot Card:

Ship's name: M/V AIDAcara
IMO number: 9112789
Type: Cruise ship
LOA: 193.34 mts
Beam: 27.60 mts
Summer displacement: ?
Max draft on manoeuvre: 6.00 mts
Propulsion: Diesel engines, two variable-pitch propellers, total propulsion power: 21720 KW
Rudder: 2 - Independent
Bow thruster: 2 (total power: 2000 KW)
Stern thruster: N

Picture taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT3.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

17 October 2012

Love and hate

I've always had a bipolar relationship with my professional seafaring life. Sometimes it seemed to me the most romantic career that anybody could ever dream of. Other times it simply looked just like a big waste of my (ours!) time in this good old planet. Granted, most of it is filled with water. So being a professional mariner in it is not as out-of-place as we might think. However, seafaring is a rose filled with thorns. To live this "adventurous" life the price to pay is high. We'll gradually loose contact with family, with friends. And that solitude will walk with us through our entire career, being it ten or thirty years long. It's like being a monk, without the habit and the implied celibacy.
And this feeling is not a new one. Already in the ancient Greece, a philosopher of the Era stated that there were three kinds of persons on the planet: the living ones, the dead ones and the seafarers. During my two years as a Cadet, when everything looked sunshine and roses and when I, rightfully, thought of myself as being a descendant of Magalhães or Vasco da Gama, I used to listen a lot one of my older shipmates favorite remarks: the sea is for the fishes. Sometimes they went as far as to emphasize that if this was the right place for us, we should have born with flippers, something that I obviously had not.
From those days on, my relation with my chosen career was always a tie between the good days (and they normally were marvellous) and the bad ones (normally disgusting).
One thing, however, I never forgot from those early days. I asked a shipmate (a First-Class Seaman, now retired for years), during one of the many boring lookouts on deck we used to do, what would he like to do after retirement. He said he'd love to make an ocean voyage. On a sailing vessel. Pushed only by the wind. To forget the endless seafaring life on motor-vessels, their main engine vibrations and the propulsion cavitation. Free from the rat race.
Like all souls in this Earth, he, too, searched the purity of his life though simplicity. And I knew that our happiness in life is merely dependent on the satisfaction of (mostly) a simple wish. And that our personal universe, to lead us to happiness, doesn't have to be so large. The beauty of life is on the simple things. We just have to learn to discover and cherish them.
We just have to take (as Robert Pirsig wrote in "Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance") a handful of sand from the endless landscape of awareness around us and call that handful of sand the world.
A fisherman launches his raft to the sea, one early morning, in Porto de Galinhas, Pernambuco, Brasil.
Photo taken with Nikon D40X and cheap Nikkor 18-55mm AF-S 1:3.5-5.6 G VR kit lens.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

12 October 2012

A trip to the North coast

The North coast of Madeira has unique landscapes. Both human and natural. Today I made a short afternoon trip to the coastline between São Vicente and Santana. Rainy afternoon and not the best light. Anyway, the trip was merely a sigthseeing one.
The North coast of Madeira (camera aimed to the NE), photographed from the S. Cristóvão restaurant belvedere, in mid-afternoon. On the left upper part of the photo, near the horizon line (and almost disappearing in the lower clouds), lies the island of Porto Santo.
Rose garden in Quinta do Arco, in Arco de São Jorge. North Coast of Madeira. One of the biggest in Portugal, this rose garden has more than 1700 different species of these lovely flowers.
Swimming pool decorative figures in Quinta do Arco, in Arco de São Jorge. Although the air temperature was merely so-and-so and the sky was cloudy, the pool's water was truly inviting for a swim.
The fabulous altar of the XVIII century São Jorge church, one of the most beautiful in Madeira. Handheld photo at ISO 3200, already in the physical limit of the Nikon D40X (sorry for the noise!).
All the photos taken with Nikon D40X and Sigma EX DC 18-50mm f/2.8 Macro HSM and Cokin System P linear Polarizer (except last one).
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

30 September 2012

Chão da Ribeira

Chão da Ribeira is, probably, the loveliest valley in Madeira. Located in the NW coast, close to Seixal, it's basically a suspended valley, about three kilometres long, and cut in the rock by the erosion forces of the Ribeira (stream) do Seixal. Contrary to most mountain valleys in Madeira (which are narrow and deep), its floor (about one kilometre wide) is flat and with good land for agriculture. Therefore, although the valley has no permanent human residents, the lands are well kept and a permanent source of potatoes and other vegetables for their owners.
Due to its altitude above sea level (about 300 meters) and because its opening to NNE, the valley has a moisty climate though all the year. However, the mountain walls around it keep it sheltered from the strong NE winds so typical in Madeira, helping, therefore, the agricultural efforts and making it at the same time one of the best spots in Madeira for a relaxed weekend among nature.
Endemic of Madeira, the Massarocos (Echium Candicans) are one of the symbols of the island and a common presence also in the Chão da Ribeira valley.
Picture taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT3.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

29 September 2012

Dawn of a new day

While watching, though the tv network, the ending of a massive public demonstration that took place, until a few minutes ago, in Lisboa's Terreiro do Paço square, I can't help but to be afraid of the future laying ahead of us all.
Portugal, a notoriously peaceful country, is giving signs, during the past weeks, of cracking under the stress-induced austerity measures placed by the government. I'm, personally, deeply worried that what lays ahead is social turmoil and political instability.
Meanwhile, in our small Madeira, life goes on. Day after day. We just don't look for that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow anymore. And we don't dream anymore. We are just trying to keep our jobs, to survive, and, while squeezing the Euros (shorter from day to day), we wait. Like this mooring foreman, in the Pontinha breakwater, standing-by for the berthing manoeuvre of the M/V Oriana, one day ago.
A mooring foreman awaits the arrival of the M/V Oriana, from P&O, to the port of Funchal, yesterday, at sunrise.
Picture taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT3.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

24 September 2012

NRP Cacine

The NRP Cacine, a patrol boat from the Portuguese Navy, enters the Funchal port in the present day's afternoon.
This class of vessels were built in Portugal and with the military effort in the Colonial War on sight. After the war and the consequent Portuguese colonies independency, in the mid-seventies, all the units of the family were stationed in the Portuguese mainland and autonomous regions of Madeira and Açores, serving mainly for fisheries patrols and SAR operations. From an original class of ten vessels (each one baptized with the name of a river from the former Portuguese African territories), only four still navigate.
Pictures taken with Panasonic DMC-FT3 waterproof and shockproof digital camera.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

22 September 2012

Sétima Legião live in the Santa Catarina Park

Few bands shaped a whole generation in Portugal as did Sétima Legião. A pop sound with clear roots in the Portuguese ancient medieval music and troubadours, these musicians shaped the eighties and early nineties generation in Portugal. "Authentic pearls of the Portuguese music", as the Blitz music newspaper once said, both the LP's "Mar d'Outubro" and "A um Deus desconhecido" hardly had a weaker song in a perfect production of both lyrics and music. Multi-instrumentalists, the use of ancient instruments during their concerts, such as bag-pipes, hurdy gurdies, flutes, accordion and percussion, was frequent and added depth to the characteristic solemn sound of the band.
I spend my whole youth and also the Nautical School years listening to these guys. And suddenly (and sadly!) they disappeared.Most of them with college education, they went searching for their respective careers.
And now, after years away from the music world, they returned. To another (probably the last one) tour. With mandatory passage by Madeira (Ricardo Camacho, professionally a Physician, and the band's keyboardist, is natural from the island), it would be a sin not to be a part in the concert. I was not disappointed. I, suddenly, returned back twenty-five years in my live. To the dreams I had when I first listened to them. Some of those I managed to pursuit. And they became real. The others remained just like that. Dreams. To be fulfilled in the future. If life permits.
In the end, we are all twenty-five years older. Me, the band and the generation (my own!) listening to them in that peaceful end-of-Summer night in Santa Catarina park. But their music is still as young as when I heard it, two-and-a-half decades ago.
Sétima Legião, live in Santa Catarina Park, Funchal, yesterday's night.
Picture taken with Panasonic DMC-FT3.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

Autumn leaf

It's now official.
Meteorology changed abruptly in the past couple of weeks. The weather in Madeira is moving towards Winter. And contrary to the past two years, it seems that the upcoming rain season it's going to be exactly that: rainy.
Not that I'm complaining. The land was already needing some water, with the levadas around the island with dangerous low levels, thus compromising the cultures, the hydroelectric production and also the fresh water supplies to the population. We never, actually, had any shortages in these matters. However, since Madeira is fully dependent on pluviosity to equilibrate the water consumption all the population welcome these early rain showers with a smile.
Oh well, as long we don't have strong winds (Pilot's worst enemy in this neighbourhood), the Autumn season is clearly welcome. And I'm sure missing the colours.
Autumn leaf close to Queimadas, last year's Autumn.
Picture taken with Nikon D300 and Sigma EX 18-50mm f/2.8 DC HSM.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

20 September 2012

Waterfall

Along the forest road connecting the village of Santana to Queimadas (the starting point to one of the most beautiful levadas in Madeira: to Caldeirão Verde) there are a few water streams and waterfalls. This is the land of the green-coloured forests and trouts enjoying their creeks.
And, although the past two years have been quite dry, the Northern forest stills keeps its magic and monochromatic enchantment. Under the green canopy, you'll find people like you passing by, and, just like you, with a strong bond to the natural world. In front of you might lay several miles of a fairytale forest. Made from the same stuff that molds our dreams. And "a river running though it".
Small waterfall in a creek close to Queimadas.
Picture taken with Nikon D300 and Sigma 18-50 f/2.8 EX DC HSM.
Manfrotto tripod and geared head.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

19 September 2012

Costa Deliziosa

After a couple of weeks on holidays, I have returned to my job as a Funchal harbour Pilot. While we wait that the rests of the passing-by hurricane Nadine pays us a visit, we keep on enjoying the remains of the Summer with nice weather and a few early-morning manoeuvres.
Today, besides the Aida Sol, under Pilotage by my fellow colleague João Santos, we had also the visit of the Costa Deliziosa, currently the flagship from Costa Crociere.
Color picture converted to Black & White in Adobe Photoshop CS3.
Picture taken with Panasonic DMC-FT3 compact waterproof and shockproof camera.

17 September 2012

Roncesvalles

On a cold and rainy November night, back in the early nineties, I stepped off from a bus coming from Pamplona and started looking for a place to sleep. While walking to the town's only hotel along the desert road, with the sound of the rain and my own footsteps as my only companions, I couldn't help but ask to myself what was I doing in the middle of the Winter in that small Pyrenean village. As soon as I settled down, the answer quickly shined in my mind. I came looking for a legend. A legend of medieval times, of dark ages, of war and Heaven, of courage and fear, of heroism and fate. The legend of a King, the Emperor Charlemagne, and a devoted knight, Roland, dying in his final battle not far away from here.
It's the legend of his courage and his more than legendary sword Durandal striking a final blow on the Pyrenean spine, while attempting to retreat with his army to France, in one of the many religious wars that grassed over our old Europe.
It's the legend of Santiago de Compostela. And the Way of St. James, passing by and leading to it. It's the legend of the Rocesvalles order of warrior monks, protecting the pilgrims to Compostela since the late XII century.
On my second day there, around two coffee mugs in a restaurant nearby, I met the priest of the collegiate church, of the cathedral. We spoke a little. About the History and about the Legend. He asked me if I was a pilgrim. I said that I was not. Just a simple wannabe-freelance journalist on a personal quest for light.
Now, when I look back and think about it, a pilgrim, truly, was what I was. Because there is no way that you can go to Roncesvalles without being in your own pilgrimage.
The altar in Roncesvalles abbey on a quiet November night, almost twenty years ago.
Picture taken with Pentax SF-1 and Pentax SMC 50mm f/1.7 KAF lens.
Agfachrome RS 50 ASA, scanned in Nikon Coolscan V ED and post-processed in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

16 September 2012

Altimeter watches

About 25 years ago, back when I did my first steps in mountaineering, altimeter watches were a rare thing. During those days the instrument of reference for altitude measurement and weather prediction was the analog altimeter.
Basically it was a aneroid barometer (quite similar to those I would find in the maritime industry years later, although smaller) with a regulable needle, to allow the calibration of the instrument to a known reference altitude (the condition needed to have accurate readings in the future).
Later came the digital altimeters (I remember the pioneering ones from Avocet, particularly their Vertech line) and the game rules started to change. The developments of electronics drove to achievements in miniaturization and, as a consequence, systems integration. And the first altimeter watches started to appear. But like every time when we are face to face with evolutions or revolutions, there's always that moment of doubt. Our conservative side. Dependent of the technologies that, regardless of being dated, we've learn to trust. Will it work? And more important than that... will it be reliable?
Well, my two cents worth on this subject is that what was new and doubtful twenty years ago is now a more than tested mainstream technology.
If there's a nation that can take Mankind's best technological ideas, make them even better, mass-produce them and sell them at a cheap price, it's Japan.
And in this particular market niche, due to its genial politics of functions integration, Casio was always on the lead.
So, when I bought my first altimeter watch, about ten years ago, among all the (few choices) on the market, the Casio brand was the most obvious. The company had, until then (still has), a record of well engineered, reliable and durable timepieces. So choosing Casio was a no-brainer.
Therefore I bought the Casio G-Shock DW-9100ZJ-1T Riseman. The G-Shock armour made the watch look ugly as Hell but also made me confident that it could withstand a nuclear explosion, if needed.
But since I bought it mainly for its altimeter function, my biggest question was: how accurate the altitude sensor was?
Didn't have to wait too long to find out. A few weeks after buying it, I was standing in the Torre plateau, in the Portuguese Serra da Estrela, at a geographic altitude of 1993 metres, and the watch on my wrist (still on factory calibration!!!!) was showing 1990 metres. Now, considering that the altimeter function in these watches is a sub-function of their barometric sensor and, therefore, the altitude of a given place is measured by the particular air pressure detected in that spot (which is hardly the same everyday), we have to take our hats off to the competence of the engineers that designed this product and to the perfection of the software included in it.
I was so amazed with that measurement, that I left it untouched on the watch memory for months. Just for the sheer pleasure of looking at it.
Honestly, you would have to use a Differential GPS to have better accuracy. Because the conventional one don't go nowhere as near.
A couple of years later, however, I had to change its battery for the first time. So I send it to the Casio repair centre in Lisboa. Together with replacement of the battery, they performed (mere routine) the hydrostatic test, to confirm its water tightness. And with that I lost its factory calibration forever. From then on, I would have to calibrate it manually, in a place with a known altitude, before starting my mountain activities. But, performed that procedure, the measurements remained always accurate.
Now, the watch is starting to show its age. First the watch band, due to the intense use, was damaged beyond repair. So I bought a new one. However, a few months after the band replacement, the bezel (made of some kind of rubberized plastic) started to crack itself near the sensor, the joints and in the more pressure subjected areas around the fixing screws. For that damage there is no easy repair, except replacing the entire exterior carcass. However, the watch is already discontinued for several years. And spares for it are not easy to find.
So, I've decided to buy a new one. Its younger brother: the Casio Riseman GW-9200J-1JF. This is, basically, the same watch. However, there are some major advances. It still is based on the same dual-sensor architecture: One sensor for atmospheric pressure and another one for air temperature. The altimeter, as I have said previously, is a sub-function of the barometer sensor. The new model, nevertheless, is a clear improvement of the old one's characteristics with the addiction of a few more. It's now a solar watch, so goodbye cell replacements; it's also a world timer, with a memory of up to 33 different time zones; it's an atomic time-regulated watch, meaning that (depending on the world region where you are) it can receive, automatically or manually and several times per day, a radio signal from reference stations, thus keeping the watch with an almost atomic precision.
For the outdoor use, the altimeter has now a range from -700 mts to 10000 mts (the early model had a range from 0 to 6000 mts), meaning that the barometer range was also extended (from 260 to 1100 mbar, contrary to the old model, which range was from 460 to 1100 mbar).
However, the thermometer of the new model is a little short (from -10º to +60º Celsius), when we compare it with the older one (from -20º to +60º Celsius). For outdoor activities, and in particular for mountaineering, this is not nearly enough. Minus ten degrees I have in the Portuguese mountains, during Winter time, and they are not, by any mountaineering standards, particularly cold. What would say about that a climber in the Alps, in the Rockies or in the Andes? This was clearly a step backwards, Casio. Why?
Meanwhile, while I was looking, searching the web for the Riseman's best price, I stumbled over a curious offer from Pulsar. Also a twin sensor watch, with temperature and pressure gauge, the Pulsar/Seiko PS7001 caught my eye. Cheaper than the Casio, this Alti-Thermo offer from Pulsar has a stainless steel bezel and, therefore, a more conventional (nevertheless elegant and stylish) look than the Casio. It's also a cheaper option. So I ended up buying both.
Yesterday, I went to the highest peak in Madeira to test their accuracy. After calibration of the two units at sea level, close to home, I hiked to the top of the island to check with my eyes the competence of these small wrist computers.
No surprise to me, they both performed very well. Both watches allow for manual calibration of the altimeter and thermometer functions. And that, as you might imagine, is quite important. The barometric sensor might become inconsistent with the aging of the equipment. It's not a defect. It's a technological reality. So, a sensor unable to be calibrated is useless in the long run. However, only the Casio watch has the ability of, besides the altimeter, manually calibrate (in full mb units)  the barometer function. In mountaineering activities, an exact barometer is not truly needed. As long as it's consistent, doesn't really matter if you have 1020 mb of pressure or 1010. The atmospheric pressure in the high mountains is completely different (lower, naturally!) than at sea level. And for weather prediction (supposing that you stay at the same altitude enough time - at least twelve hours -  to get sufficient data for interpretation) you just need to read the graph tendency: if the curve goes up (pressure rising), you will have good weather, if it goes down (pressure falling)... be aware.
However, I'm a professional mariner. And, for me, a barometer has to be exact. That's the reason why we send the ship's barometer and barograph every year ashore for calibration. To get, as much as possible, accuracy in readings. I'm prepared to accept five or six millibars of error as long as I know how much error do I have and if it is up or down. Much like the chronometers on board. They don't have to be exact. Actually, they never are. But we always know their errors. And the knowledge of that error makes a great difference in astronomical navigation.
So... that is a failure in the Pulsar that I cannot accept. On the positive side: the Pulsar data refreshing rate is faster, while the Casio is lazier. The Pulsar calibration is in full units (1596, 1597, 1598... etc) while the Casio altimeter is calibrated in multiples of five (1590, 1595, 1600... etc). Both units calibrate their thermometers in full units. To me, honestly, the multiples-o- five altimeter calibration in the Casio is not really an handicap. Like I've said before, you will be lucky, at any given place,  if you get a GPS accuracy for altitude of twenty meters. So, if you can get a precision of five meters with an alti-baro, we are already on the surrealist level.
In this point both units performed remarkably well.
So, in the end both are very interesting offers. The Pulsar is not as rugged as the Casio. It's a dressy Alti-Thermo. Looks nice, either with crampons or with a sporty suit. Its WR of 10 Bar is half of the Casio. Its altimeter only?! reaches 9000 mts, against 10000 of the Casio. And the displayed temperature (between 0 to 50º Celsius) is a tad more limited. On the other hand, the Casio is a legitimate heir of the G-Shock name. With a rugged design, you'll either like it or hate it. Environmentally speaking, it's a watch built for rough use. And abuse. And with a solar cell, it has the autonomy of a lifetime. For me, personally, if I had to be on the mountains everyday, I'd choose the Casio. Hands down. Surprisingly, on my daily near-the-sea-level routine I find myself grabbing the Pulsar quite frequently right after awakening.
Truth be told, you will be happy with either one.
The Casio Riseman GW-9200J-1JF and the Pulsar PS 7001, side by side in Madeira's highest peak (Pico Ruívo, alt. 1862 mts above sea level), showing their altitude measurements. Three meters error for the Casio and two for the Pulsar. Both units were calibrated at sea-level, several hours before. Sadly, since I don't have a precise meteorological thermometer, I wasn't able to check their temperature sensor accuracy.
Picture taken with Nikon D40X and Sigma EX DC 18-50mm f/2.8 Macro HSM, with Cokin Series P Linear Polarizer.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

13 September 2012

Shipwreck two

The Portuguese West coast is not among the gentlest in the world. In fact, it's so beaten by storms and heavy seas during the Winter months that it is, somehow, a surprise that this country embarked in a bigger-than-life expeditionary effort six centuries ago. We don't have a myriad of safe natural ports and sheltered basins like the guys on the North Sea. And we don't have the fair weather of the Mediterranean basin. All we have is a tempestuous sea beating on a square-drawed and vertiginous rocky coast. Hard to imagine that a small and poor nation of fishermen could see anything more than desolation in that distant liquid horizon. Granted, one thing I've always enjoyed while navigating in our waters: you have always a mile of water under your keel. At a distance of more than two miles from the shore line and you can forget shallows, sand banks, rocks, reefs and other nautical nightmares. In fact, this factor alone was so relevant for me as a seafarer that I really didn't care so much that every Winter time I was being served, quite often, with ten meter waves while on my personal quest to supply the supermarket shelves with fresh yogurts.
So, only for this circumstance alone, we can consider the Portuguese coast as a safe body of water for navigation. You can draw straight lines to your heart's content in the nautical chart. Just pay attention to the rules of the road.
Due to this evidence it's always a surprise when we hear of a grounding. Touching the bottom with your keel is something not very common while navigating along the Portuguese coast. And for that sad happening, there are only two main reasons: nautical error or propulsion/steering malfunction.
I don't really know how the fishing trawler Vougamar's life started, but I do know how it ended: lying down on her port side, agonizing on a rocky coast, near Peniche. There are two thoughts that haunt a seafarer during his entire career at sea: one is the loss of his vessel, being the other the loss of his life. And, for many that I've known, the loss of the latter would be a bearable price to pay compared with the first alternative.
Sadly and quite often, the seafaring family looses both.
Fishing trawler Vougamar grounded near Peniche, in the West coast of Portugal. Early nineties.
Picture taken with Pentax SF-1 and Pentax KAF SMC 50mm f/1.7.
Agfachrome 100 ASA scanned in Nikon Coolscan V ED.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

10 September 2012

Fall skies

The weather in our North-Atlantic island is slowly changing towards Winter. I've noticed that already about two weeks ago, while at work, early one morning in the port of Caniçal.
The hot temperatures and hazy skies of the morning time, regular during the past months, gave their place to a fresh dawn breeze and crystal clear atmosphere.
In the mountains things are no different and during the past two weeks the reduction of daylight time was so abrupt that made it noticeable.
Luckily, as in the previous year, we'll have a peaceful transition to Autumn. Meaning general decreasing of air temperature, increasing of the cloud cover and, hopefully, some rain showers (it has been a dry year and the levadas through all the island are somehow on the low level) and light breezes from the North. Better than that, only Spring time, during May and early June.
The skies look already different and yesterday, while descending from Pico Ruívo I had the first glimpse of the next season as you can see by the colors in the photos below.
Yesterday, while descending from Pico Ruívo, the highest in the island, I turned back, looking West, to watch the setting sun. The cloud cover, nonexistent during the afternoon time, was already thickening as a premonition to the rain showers promised for the next few days.
The cloud shape has also changed and the Summer sky, composed mostly by Stratus and Cirrus clouds, gave place to the more water-friendlies Cumulus clouds. During my professional mariner's life, we used to call Cumulus "the good weather clouds". Life's always good for a seaman while navigating under a sky filled with these puffy friends.
Pictures taken with Nikon D40X and cheap Nikkor AF-S 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED kit lens.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

09 September 2012

Into the Garden of Eden

Since my first days in Madeira, about eight years ago, I've been dreaming about hiking along the Ribeira da Janela valley, in Porto Moniz region.
However, the sheer length of the levada that leads us to the depths of the valley was always enough to turn me off. In fact, from the end of the levada (in Lamaceiros) to the beginning of it (near it's source, deep in the valley) we have a good fifteen kilometres. And since when we reach the end of it (or the beginning!), we have to turn back and return by the same way we easily end up our hiking day with thirty kilometres in our Vibram soles.
That's not too bad, since it's a gentle walk along one of the most modern levadas in Madeira, with a few tunnels along the way.
However for a person alone it can become quickly tedious, since you have to be prepared to be on your own in the mountain for at least eight hours.
For this reason only this levada, whose construction started in 1961 with the objective of feeding water to the hydroelectric power plant of Ribeira da Janela, was never to me a priority.
Until yesterday.
With a couple of friends, I finnaly decided to give my feet a little bit of action. Starting the hike in Fonte do Bispo (at the end of Paúl da Serra plateau) a forest road first and a mountain trail later would lead us to the levada itself, after seven kilometres of (sometimes) steep terrain.
When we finally reach the levada, it becomes obvious to us that we are in one of the most magic places in Madeira.
The Ribeira da Janela valley is one of the most pristine places in the island. There is nothing man-made here, except the gentle water stream flowing at our feet.
From this intersection, and since we've came a long way from the high plateau, we might as well walk upstream a couple of miles to reach the "mother" (or the spring) of the levada.
Up there, surrounded by a dense primeval forest and deep inside the Laurissilva, we easily imagine ourselves as characters in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World.
The return would take us three and a half hours, in a good pace, to complete the remaining fifteen kilometres separating us from Lamaceiros. Three and a half hours of thick green Laurissilva in the most preserved forest area of Madeira.
When we finally reached it, our feet were sore but our souls were shinning. Seated in a nearby bar, drinking a glass of fresh water, in a peaceful September afternoon, I was thinking to myself that we went to the Garden of Eden and returned back. In the same day.
Who has the courage to say that time travel is impossible?
The Levada da Ribeira da Janela begins (or ends) right at this spot, in Lamaceiros. From here it will be fifteen kilometres...
...and nine tunnels up to the spring, deep in the valley.
This levada is so vast and remote that, for maintenance purposes, some houses were built along it to help the "levadeiros" with their works. In the old days these professionals spent an entire working week away from civilization, only returning home at the weekends. These "levadeiros houses" were, therefore, vital structures to help the levadeiros with their works. Here they would have a shelter, a place to rest and to prepare their daily food.
The levada spring (or "mother"), near the end of the Ribeira da Janela valley, fifteen kilometres upstream from Lamaceiros. The levadas springs are, quite often, humanized places. Most of the times there's a small concrete wall, a dam, crossing the river in the optimal position to deviate part of its waters to the levada channel. However all this construction is well integrated in the landscape. So, it hardly hurts your eyes.
A friendly inhabitant of this levada. Always a nice companion along the trail. If, by any chance, he notices that you carry crackers, you'll have a friend for life.
Pictures taken with Nikon D40X and Sigma 18-50mm EX f/2.8.
Post-processing and resizing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

05 September 2012

The second horseman

Maybe it's just my natural pessimism, but, in these volatile times, I, sometimes, have the feeling that the worst days lay further ahead. That the crisis in which the all world is submerged is far from being dominated and vanquished.
And, amidst all these cyclopic forces, that we seem unable to control and truly understand, lies our old Europe. Helpless to herself. Navigating without a coherent course and lacking a competent helmsman. Heading to the shallow waters of a prophetic disaster and risking the peace project that took the founding fathers of our united Europe decades to build.
As we advance in time, the sinister look of this shell-beaten building in Budapest, the capital city of Hungary, is always a strong reminder to me that the war in Europe is, in the future, more than a virtual possibility. It's a fact corroborated by the past History. And that keeping the peace and fraternity among all the European citizens is a matter of survival. Survival of us all.
In these uncertain times, we can only expect that our leaders know what they are doing. For their sake. And for ours.
Shell impacts on a Budapest building.
Picture taken with Pentax MX and cheap Cosina 50mm f:2.
Kodak Ecktachrome 100 VS scanned in Nikon Coolscan V ED and post-processed in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

23 August 2012

Hurricane Gordon

Almost all of my professional seafaring career was made in the domestic trade, between the Portuguese mainland and the autonomous regions of Madeira and Açores.
Having sailed for more than six years in the Açores trade, I developed a deep respect for the Azorean people and for those enchanted islands in the middle of the Atlantic. Over the course of that amount of time I collected my share of tropical storms, gales and rough weather in general, either heading to the islands or simply navigating between them. The Azorean islands are beautiful, granted. But the ocean surrounding them is a completely different story. Except for the Summer months, the weather in Açores is, in the lack of a better word, unpredictable. And stormy is a word quite often used.
Also, being the islands located in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and therefore subjected to tectonic activity, the volcanic activity and earthquakes are present everyday in the lives of its citizens.
Facing the danger on a daily basis and having developed a deep respect for these cyclopic forces of nature over the centuries, the Azorean citizens were always molded from a different steel than the rest of the portuguese population.
So, when I heard the news and found that a Class 2 hurricane was heading to the Açores I wasn't really that worried. The poor storm had to face one of the most valiant people that God placed on the surface of the good ol' Earth.
And two days before the storm arrived to the islands, all the society (citizens, police, regional government, firemen and the rest of the civil protection authorities) was already holding fast and starting the prevention procedures. To avoid bigger damages. At air, land and sea.
When the stormy winds finally passed over - except for a few mudslides and fallen trees - nothing happened.
A distracted person might say that it was sheer luck.
Knowing the Açores and the Azorean people, I, honestly, tell you that luck had nothing to do with it.

19 August 2012

MY Excellence V

MY Excellence V arriving yesterday to Funchal, for a routine call:
As soon as the global financial crisis reaches its end, I'll buy myself one of these. With my seafaring savings. Honest-to-God. She's already ordered.
Pictures made with Panasonic DMC-FT3 digital compact camera and post-processing in Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop CS3.

13 August 2012

Pico do Areeiro and the Milky Way

Yesterday I spent the night in the mountains. A few snacks for the way, a thermos with hot tea, a camping mattress and a Summer sleeping bag and the absolutely needed photo equipment were the items for another astrophotography attempt.
Still much to learn, tho. Photographing the night sky is not easy. And although I've tried my best... my best was not good enough. First the landscape itself. Madeira is not the best place for pictures of the night sky. Plenty of human lights everywhere. See the yellow-orange glow above the peaks? It's the city of Funchal litting the night. This man-made light effect can, sometimes, be counteracted by a low cloud cover, who can work as a diffuser. However past night was clear as crystal.
Second... the equipment. We are always limited to small shutter speeds. A max. of 30 seconds. However, a max. of 20 seconds is advisable. And that's with a wide angle. Use a normal or a telephoto lens and you have to dramatically reduce those times. Otherwise, you'll have star trails instead of dots. And the sky will be blurred. To avoid that, you'll need also the fastest lenses (between f/1.4 and f/2.0) and/or high ISO's. And we all know how difficult is to focus a lens with an f/1.4 aperture. Try that at midnight, in a dark landscape and with a dark viewfinder, to make things easier. Also, with the high ISO's comes the noise. All in all, a receipt for disaster. Or maybe I'm just not a good enough photographer for the task.
Could I've made a better photo? Eventually. Technically speaking, and with some thousand Euros more, a Nikkor 24mm f/1.4 (sharp even wide open) and a full-frame format body (D700, D3, D800 or D4), with it's remarkable behaviour in very high ISO's, would have made a clear difference. A different framing could have helped also. But that is a very different discussion.
The Pico do Areeiro (and it's Radar station) and the Milky Way seen from the Achada do Teixeira-Pico Ruívo trail, yesterday, around midnight.
Picture taken with Nikon D300 and Sigma 24mm EX f/1.8.
Manfrotto tripod and Junior geared head.
Exposure details: 15 secs at f/2.8, ISO 3200, Auto WB.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop CS3.

11 August 2012

The Levada Nova da Ponta do Sol

The Levada Nova, in Ponta do Sol, is one of the rare round hikes in Madeira. In fact, with most of the levada walks, you start at the end and you go upstream until you reach it's source (in Portuguese the "madre", meaning "mother"). Regardless of the fact that these walks are generally beautiful, as soon as you reach it's end, you have to return all the way back through the same route.
That doesn't happen in Levada Nova. You begin your hike in the village of Lombada da Ponta do Sol, where you park your car near the town's church. From there, you will walk uphill for about five hundred meters (and ascending a couple of hundred), along the village, though a well signalized route. At the end of a small alley you'll reach the Levada Nova.
From there, you'll have a relaxed two hour's walk along the levada 'till the beginning of it, right in the heart of Ribeira da Ponta do Sol valley.
Upon reaching the Levada Nova's "madre", you'll walk a few hundred metres downstream, along the Ribeira da Ponta do Sol bed, until you notice, on your left, another levada, on a lower level than the previous one you've just hiked.
This one, the Levada do Moinho, will bring you to your starting point, right near the Lombada da Ponta do Sol church, two hours and some dozens of blackberries later.
The Levada Nova da Ponta do Sol is presently subjected to an intense repair work, including also the protection of the vertiginous places with handrails.
Although in some places the levada is quite exposed and vertiginous, the quality of the construction and repair works made makes it quite secure for walkers, as you can judge by the perfect cement path along the water channel. In the near future, with the last handrails in place, this levada will become one of the most enjoyable and safest walks in Madeira.
Contrasting with the present peaceful days, the past human attempts to control the waters in Madeira were not always sunshine and roses. The History of this massive engineering feat is filled with minor and bigger dramas that crossed thru generations. About halfway along the Levada Nova, we noticed this small shrine. A talk with a passing "levadeiro" (the public servant responsible for the levadas maintenance and repair) unveiled the mystery. It was an homage to a lady that fell to her death in that exact same place, in the early eighties. The circumstances of her death are, to the present day, not quite clear. Some say it was a distraction and a fall. Pure and simple. Some claim that the fall was preceded by a strong discussion with others and related with the rights to the water. Peace to her soul.
After a one hundred and fifty meter tunnel we reach the most lovely spot of the hike. A deep canyon...
... and the usual waterfall.

The way back, along the Levada do Moinho, is punctuated by wild fruits of all kinds. So, if you happen to forget your daily snacks at home... no worries. We've seen figs, prunes, apples and the ever present and delicious blackberries (pictured) along the way. At least during Summer time, our food problems are solved.

Thus ends the Levada do Moinho, close to the Lombada da Ponta do Sol church. With a small and luxurious garden watered by an aqueduct.
Pictures taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 and Panasonic Lumix 14-42mm kit lens.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop CS3.