28 July 2012

Chatham docks; one early Winter morning

Several years ago, while still navigating as a professional mariner, I made a couple of seasons on the North Sea, doing a little bit of tramp cabotage here and there. Although I don't miss it so much (nautically speaking), since that particular trade is becoming harder and harder on seafarers, it was always with pleasure that I called the English ports.
England, for the moment, still manages to keep herself as a nation of mariners. And we can see that in every coastal town. Historic vessels are recovered and dry docked for posterity. For the future generations to see. Maritime History is, itself, cherished and preserved. All that heritage is kept alive and present in everybody's hearts. Perhaps, some of the times, with a little bit of excess. Like if they are the maritime nation of the world, instead of just one more. But who can blame them? It's their History. I'm glad that they defend it.
Not so with the country where I'm coming from. We are on the exact opposite of the scale. We don't cherish our maritime traditions at all. We were the first ones departing to the Age of Discoveries. Actually, we invented the all concept. And when the others started to wake up for that new world and vision we, basically, have already discovered pretty much everything.
And then, one day, we turned our backs to the sea. And this country was forever never the same. To this day nothing happened to change that. And while our politicians only remember our maritime heritage on their empty speeches, the only true connection of Portugal to the sea remains within the dominant and elitistic social class that rule our common destiny and their sailing yachts and "wine bottle" regattas.
For the rest of us, the plebs, the Portuguese maritime History is basically written words in the school manuals. Fading through time.
Not so for the Brits. For them the sea and all connected with it is a matter of national pride. A nation's design. To be shared among all. But you would have to visit England's coastal cities to truly understand what I mean.
The Chatham docks, near the river Thames estuary, in a very British and melancholic Winter morning. Once a important naval dock, Chatham is now a port facility mainly divided in two areas: a historical one, comprising the former naval docks and buildings and also with several historic vessels to be visited and the commercial docks, where we stayed alongside for a few days, while waiting for clearance to load a bulk cargo in a terminal up the river.
Picture made with Nikon FM3A and Nikkor 28-105 AF-D kit lens.
Fujichrome Velvia ASA 50 scanned in Nikon Coolscan V ED and post-processed in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

26 July 2012

Cabo Girão

Cabo Girão, one of the highest promontories in Europe, is bathed by the late evening sunlight, in a picture taken from Câmara de Lobos.
With a height of almost six hundred meters above sea level, the cliff's face falls almost vertically on the ocean below.
Picture taken with Nikon F100 and Sigma EX 70-200 f/1:2.8D APO HSM (uuufff!) lens.
Manfrotto tripod and ball head.
Kodak Ektachrome E100VS scanned in Nikon Coolscan V ED.
Post-processing and resizing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

25 July 2012

Central massif of Madeira

The central massif of Madeira island, seen through the limbs of a tree, on the trail from Achada do Teixeira to Pico Ruívo.
Picture taken with Nikon D300 and Sigma DC 18-50mm f/1:2.8 EX Macro HSM lens.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

23 July 2012

The enchanted forest in danger

The climate is changing. There is no more doubt about it. In Madeira, after the dramatic floods of February of 2010, we are now facing two years among the driest in History. We could, eventually, live with that, if it weren't for one additional danger, already taking it's toll: the large scale forest fires.
Until 2010 these were unheard of. However the Summer of that same year changed that, when thousands of acres of mountain vegetation were burn to ashes. From that year on we forgot what Winter time looked like, since the precipitation was scarce.
And now, after a reasonably peaceful year of 2011, we are facing once again the drama of the fires. In just a couple of days vast areas of Ponta do Pargo, Calheta and Santa Cruz were burnt beyond recognition.
Doesn't really matter, presently, to attribute guilt or responsibility for the fires. This should have been a prevention job first. And that failed. Now is a time for reflexion. To prioritize. To understand what went wrong and to correct it for the future. In the end... a political responsibility.
However, one thing is certain: Madeira cannot live without water. And her vegetation cover plays the most important role in producing it. In a time of global warmth, the preservation of our forests is not only a question of aesthetics. It's a matter of survival.
Nearby Madeira, the semi-desertic (although beautiful) island of Porto Santo is a dramatic example of how the lack of water can have a decisive impact on the landscape. And on the human societies living on it. That can be the future of Madeira (and the continental Portugal also) if nothing is done. If no prevention is made. If we keep letting the forests being burn faster than we can protect them.
Portugal, as a whole, depends heavily on tourism to survive. It's one of our biggest sources of income (in Madeira, particularly, it's the biggest). And people visit us because we have a lovely climate, gentle people, rich History and... beautiful nature.
We have to ask ourselves if the only thing, in the future, we have (and want) to offer them is scorched earth.
The pristine Laurissilva forest, near Caldeirão Verde. One of the most visited spots in Madeira, for the nature tourism. This enchanted forest has managed to be kept safe from fires. For how long?
Picture taken with Nikon F100 and Tokina AT-X Pro 17mm f/1:3.5.
Fujichrome Velvia ASA 50 scanned in Nikon Coolscan V ED.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

19 July 2012

Shipwreck one

Twenty-two years ago (time flies!), while a student at the Nautical School, I went to Peniche to do a school work about the fishing industry of that city. At the time, although decaying, Peniche was the most important fishing port in Portugal, with, by far, the largest fishing fleet of the country.
One clear Spring morning, while "circumnavigating" the port basin in search for ideas, I spotted this old trawler sunken in the shallow waters near the abandoned shipyard. To the present day, this picture is for me an epitome of our nation's maritime politics, since our entrance to the European Union until now. A nation of mariners? Not anymore.
Mar Azul old fishing trawler in the ancient port of Peniche.
Picture taken with Pentax SF1 and Pentax SMC 50mm f:1.7 lens.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

16 July 2012

A different day

Yesterday we received a different kind of vessel in Funchal. The so-called routine calls (disembarking crew members, bunkering, supplies, etc) are not the most common in our port. However when they do happen we are, some of those times, faced with curious professional situations. But those are the interesting days in our professional career. The ones when we can do something different.
This was yesterday's case.
The deepsea tug Multratug 17, coming from Rotterdam and heading to Soio, Angola, approached the Funchal bay with bunkering intentions. However, she was towing two large barges (each one towed by its own towing line) that she would have to leave at a safe distance from the coast before entering the port for the bunkering procedures. It was decided that two port tugs would connect to both barges, hence freeing the  Multratug 17 for her port operations. Secured by our tugs and therefore avoided the risk of drifting ashore and grounding, the barges would wait outside until the Multratug 17 left the harbour and proceeded to the area where we would handover the towage train back to her. Easier said than done.
The job that took place on that day, from early morning until mid afternoon, was a choreography of precise operations and team work. And it went so smoothly that it could even be mistakenly interpreted as too easy. But it was not. Not easily at all. It was only the professionalism of those involved that made it look like that.
For me, since I've made my professional seaman's life in container-carriers and general cargo vessels, it was a priceless day's lesson on the towage business.
Up to this day I'm amazed of the diversity that we can find in the maritime career. Although we have the same origin (nautical sciences), we end up facing almost endless professional possibilities upon finishing college. We might choose to work on container-carriers, on general cargo ships, on tankers, on reefer freighters, on cruise ships, on chemicals, on supply-vessels... you name it.
A former Captain of mine used to say that all oceans are alike. Meaning that, nautically speaking, if we can sail in one we can sail everywhere. And if we just think about the rules of the road that is true. However, navigating a ship is not only plotting courses and knowing the difference between Port and Starboard. The commercial exploration of a merchant ship is the core business of the industry. And here is where the specialization takes place. And that particular knowledge takes years of practice to master. You can be a container carrier Officer or Master all of your life and a damn good one and still be learning new things every day.
And, at the same time, you have absolutely no idea of how to load or discharge a tanker or a heavy-lifter. That is the specialization of our professional life. And the beauty of it. It's our personal choice. Either voluntary or (like me) by accident. After college that was doomed to be the actual beginning. And it will take a lifetime to achieve.
The Multratug 17 alongside the Pontinha breakwater, yesterday, for bunkering operations.
Pictures taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT3.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

Ship's name: Multratug 17
IMO number: 9481752
Type: ASD Deepsea tug
LOA: 35.70 mts
Beam: 11.50 mts
Max draft on manoeuvre: 5.00 mts
Propulsion:  Two azipods, total power 3858 KW, bollard pull (traction): 70 tons
Pitch: N/A
Rudder: N/A

As soon as the bunkering operations were completed we left the port and proceeded to the position of the barges so that the tow lines could be handed to the visiting tug. Towage train once again secure and the Multratug 17, together with her two barges, sailed to a long twenty eight days voyage to Angola.
The command bridge of a tugboat is one of the most ergonomically perfect in the marine industry. The visibility is notable, most of the times with plain 360º, and the central console has most of the operating commands doubled, meaning that you can operate the vessel with total control either moving astern or going ahead.
In the picture, the Captain approaches the barge, stern first, to receive the towing line from the tug Boqueirão. His Chief Engineer, at his right, controls the towing winch.

NRP Sagres in Funchal

Three days ago we received in Funchal another call of the NRP Sagres, the sailing school ship of the Portuguese Navy. A common presence among us, the NRP Sagres is one of our most cherished visitors. Sailing ships have always a mystic aura surrounding them, and the Sagres is no exception. She was built in 1937 in the Blom & Voss shipyards, in Hamburg and sailed first under German flag as a school ship for the German Navy. Later came the Second World War and she was taken by the allies. At the end of the war the Americans took possession of her and in 1948 sold her to Brasil, where she remained as a Brazilian Navy school ship until 1961. During that year she was bought by Portugal, named Sagres, and enlisted in the Portuguese Navy as the nation's school ship.
Under Portuguese flag she has already three round the world tours on her curriculum and she is one of the most important ambassadors of Portugal.
The NRP Sagres entering the port of Funchal, in the morning of 12 of July, under assistance of the ASD tugs Comandante Passos Gouveia (on her stern) and Boqueirão (on her starboard bow)...
... and approaching the berthing place, along the key nº 2 of Pontinha breakwater. The Sagres is a sailing vessel, having only an auxiliary main engine. Therefore her manoeuvring characteristics in confined spaces are  very limited, hence the need for tugboat assistance in these particular situations.
Both pictures made with Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT3 waterproof compact camera. Post-processing with Adobe Photoshop CS3.

11 July 2012

Marine acrobatics

The funny thing about my professional seafaring career is that no two days are ever the same. Like I've said before, in a previous post, a routine day aboard is hardly that. When we are sailing between ports there are always paperwork to be made, either internal or commercial. Safety drills are also, most of the times, performed during the sailing periods, since it's the only time when we can reunite all the crew together without compromising the commercial operations of the vessel.
However, there are some jobs that, by its innate specificity, can only be achieved in port. Alongside. Crane works are one of those. The maintenance of these electrohydraulic systems is one of the most important jobs performed by the Engine and Deck crew members, since all the cargo operations of the vessel (and therefore her sole purpose in life) depends of its readiness.
As much as a car cannot run out of oil, also a marine crane without the proper lubrication and regular maintenance can only lead to a catastrophic failure in the future.
The maintenance schedules for these particular equipments is vast and complex. However one of the simplest of those operations is also the most vital and important: the lubrication of the main cargo wire.
A Merchant Marine Bosun, suspended on the cargo hook of a container ship-based marine crane greases the cargo wire under the watchful eye of a fellow seaman who is operating the equipment from the control cabin, fifteen meters above deck.
Picture taken with Pentax P30-T and Pentax SMC 50mm f:1.7 AF lens.
Fujichrome Velvia ASA 50 scanned on Nikon Coolscan V ED.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

The giant's tooth

In 1915 Alfred Wegener proposed a radical theory that would change forever our knowledge of the Earth's dynamics. Contrary to the many lab rats that abound on the scientific world, he was an active field researcher, having spent several years of his life in the remotness of the Greenland glacial deserts collecting data to prove his visionary idea: the continental drift.
According to him, in a certain time in the Earth's life, the continents were joined together thus constituting a vast and unique land mass, which he called "Pangea", surrounded by a vast ocean.
Somewhere in time, due to the tectonic movements of the Earth crust, that mass literally broke into pieces and those pieces started to separate from each other. Those pieces we now recognize as continents. Studies conducted during the fifties, particularly on the sea bed, just reinforced the theory.
The result of that latter investigation, together with the pioneering studies of Wegener, is now recognized worldwide as the correct interpretation of the Earth's telluric forces: the theory of plate tectonics.
And nowhere in the world can we see those forces in their full dimension as in the great mountain ranges.
As I was approaching, some years ago, the colossal massif of the Pyrenees, rising vertically above the Aragonese plains up to three and a half kilometres high, all that vision became my own. It's easy to imagine the Iberian plate clashing with the European one. Converging to each other. And after millions of years of geological torture a new mountain range is born. And its still growing.
That night, while resting in my tent, with the intimidating and cyclopic presence of the Midi d'Ossau peak close by and the vast celestial sphere above us, I felt more warmer than ever inside my sleeping bag. I was feeling the Earth as a living being. And I was a part of her.
And with that comforting though in mind, I fell asleep.
Pic du Midi d'Ossau (2884 meters), in the French Pyrenees, from the approaching trail.
Picture taken with Pentax SF1 camera and Pentax SMC 50mm f:1.7 AF lens.
Fujichrome Velvia ASA 50 scanned in Nikon Coolscan V ED.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

10 July 2012

The rise of the dragon

Until the Second World War, the global Merchant Marine fleet was basically an imperial one.
It operated in the so-called "protected markets". The world, then, was a vast net of water-tight protectorates, with a very small amount of communication in-between. In those days, the merchant fleet was orthodox in its commercial approach and territorial in its own area of influence. Basically, the Europeans dominated the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Indian basins leaving the Pacific to be mostly shared between the Americans and the Far-Easterners.
Aside from a few interactions, nobody bothered to question the sanctity of this establishment. Things were OK that way.
Those were the days of the traditional flags. Meaning that every nation had its own merchant fleet, registered under its own flag. The market was heavily regulated. Both in the commercial matters and in the labour ones.
In those days having the nationality of the vessel was a nearly-global mandatory requirement for achieving a job as a seaman.
But then came the Second World War. And the world equilibrium of forces started to collapse. And so did the Empires. And, within six years, the war was over.
Suddenly, somewhere between the end of the forties and beginning of the fifties, the world had a vast fleet of thousands of "Liberty Ships" and former "imperial" vessels alongside. And all of them desperately craving for a freight contract.
And so did happen. While the world was being rebuilt over the second global conflict, we, mariners, entered happily in a new-era of globalization. And I say new-era because the actual globalization have started four hundred years before those days, with the Portuguese Discoveries.
First in the form of convenience flags (with the purpose of making the fleets commercially competitive) and afterwards (as a direct consequence of the latter) in the form of labour market deregulation, the globalization arrived to the modern maritime world.
It's hard, presently, to attribute a direct responsibility to anyone for the happening. Like most things in human History, this had also a direct relation between cause and effect.
And one of the causes being the traditional maritime nations starting the loose the vocation to the sea. And it happened through all European maritime nations. Faced with (at the time) large fleets and no crews, these nations started to open their labour markets to foreign citizens.
However, and regardless of that, the European maritime power was still hegemonic. And that hegemony lasted until now. To the days in which our European economic power, once mighty, is being challenged by the so-called "emerging nations".
And so is our Merchant Fleet (or what is left of it).
I'm not a very old professional mariner. Truth being told, I've started my professional life about seventeen years ago. But I do remember, not long ago, the racist comments I used to listen on the VHF open channels and related to the non-European seafarers navigating in our waters.
Nowadays those colleagues are respected members of our profession and were embraced (due to their proven value) by the maritime community.
But things continuously change. And while we are sitting and enjoying the view of the China's rising economic star, we should also take a time to see and analyse the development of their global transport net.
Once a timid regional player, China is now opening her eyes to the more profitable global freight market.
And so we see them now. Calling every deep water port in Europe. The Coscos and the China Shipping Lines. And this is just the beginning.
While I was tramping in the North European short-sea market, some nine years ago, I had the chance to discuss that with the Bar Pilot leading us in the port of Rotterdam. According to him, they still have a "shy" approach to shipping. They take (at that time, at least) a Deep-Sea Pilot while arriving to Ouessant and they don't disembark him until they left the North Sea for good (and with that crazy traffic... who can blame them?). Also according to him, their English is very, very weak. And fluent English is now becoming mandatory for any seaman.
But I guess this is not a problem. There's one beautiful thing about us humans: we can learn anything if we are taught. So, soon they will learn their English and they will be ruling our waters as they are already ruling our economy.
Unless we learn mandarin first.
The container carrier Xin Pu Dong (IMO nº 9270440), from China Shipping Line, entering the port of Rotterdam, under escort by two tugboats, pictured from the bridge of our "petit" Wani Venture (IMO nº 9117208).
Photo taken with Nikon FM3A and Nikkor 28-105mm AF 1:3.5-4.5 D kit lens.
Shot on Fujichrome Velvia ASA 50 and scanned on Nikon Coolscan V ED.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

09 July 2012

The North Face of the Ogre

It's difficult to explain in a single picture the sheer respect imposed by this wall. You'll have to be there... nearby, at least. Since only a few in the world have the courage to tackle her.
You have to arrive at evening time to the town of Grindelwald, located in the valley beneath. And have a frightening first vision of the monster. A Swiss mountain guide to whom I've talked one day after my arrival told me that the mountain already lost most of her sinister fame. That, thanks to the efforts of the Swiss mountain rescue, nobody dies there for more than twenty years.
However it's hardly forgettable that more than sixty persons lost their lives in the "Wall of Death", since she was first climbed, in a four-days battle, by an Austrian and German team, in 1938.
Together with the Walker Spur, in the Grands Jorasses, and the North face of the Matterhorn, also in Switzerland, she belonged to an elite team of three called "the last great problems of the Alps". And she was the last to be vanquished.
There are higher mountains in the Alps. However, due to the combined forces of stormy weather, sheer verticality and objective dangers, the Eiger North Face is unique. A massive vertical monolith almost two kilometres high (1800 metres to be exact) rises above the Kleine Scheidegg grassy plateau, the typical point of view for the tourists. But the most dramatic vista is achieved while you are travelling on the mountain train that connects the town below to the hotels on the Kleinne Scheidegg.
The rack railway passes right beneath the wall, showing us the most dramatic mountain landscape in Europe. I was thinking to myself "how can it be possible to climb this?". And I, surely, wasn't the only one.
With my limited mountaineering knowledge I can assure you, however, that there are many eight thousand meter peaks "modern conquerors" that simply don't have what it takes to face this mountain. Because, before conquering her, they have first to vanquish their fear.
Because that's all that she is. Fear.
Self-portrait and the North Face of The Eiger, as seen from the Kleine Scheidegg grassy plateau, taken during my solo-Interrail through Europe. Winter of 1998.
Picture taken with beaten second-hand Pentax MX and cheap Cosina 50mm f/2, both bought for the voyage.
The camera was bought in an antique shop in Restauradores, Lisboa, and received a slight overhaul, prior to the voyage, in the professional and capable hands of the camera mechanics at Fresnel, a Lisbon-based repair shop.
Shot on Kodak Ektachrome 100VS Professional film and scanned on Nikon Coolscan V ED.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

07 July 2012

On the Levada do Rei to Ribeiro Bonito

Levada do Rei is, probably, one of the most luxourious hikes that I had the pleasure to do in the mountains of Madeira. Since its beginning, near the water treatment plant of Quebradas, in S. Jorge, up to the end, in Ribeiro Bonito river bed, we walk along a misty primeval forest, deep in the heart of Laurissilva. It's a ten kilometres round tour along the typical Madeira enchanted forest. Or about three and a half hours in walking pace.
My hiking companion was talking about "Avatar", from James Cameron, and how much the ecological message within that movie was a strange paradox with the natural painting we were part of. According to her its message was quite simple: if we humans keep on despising the natural laws in a natural world in which bosom we also belong, the future will be our unquestionable extinction.
I really don't know why we started to talk about the film. Maybe the deep green forest we were in reminded her of the visually stunning natural scenarios of that multi-million dollar production. However that free association stops right there.
In a world where the word "sustainable" is breaking daily records on the written press, most of the times in a cry of despair, the "levadas" show to us all that is possible to disturb the natural equilibrium without destroying it.
And when we finally arrived to the starting point, about three hours later, we left behind a world of trees, flowers, birds and bugs. And a peaceful water channel running though it. A secular human work-of-art that confounds itself with the surrounding nature. And a creator of life.
Could this be the definitive sustainable human intervention?
Hundreds of years after their construction, the "levadas" are becoming a part of the natural ecosystem.
Picture taken with Nikon D300 and Sigma DC 18-50mm 1:2.8 EX Macro HSM Lens.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.
A major engineering achievement, the Madeira's secular irrigation system is a work-of-art. A testimony to human ingenuity and sustainable intervention in nature.
Picture taken with Nikon D300 and Sigma DC 18-50mm 1:2.8 EX Macro HSM Lens.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.
The "madre" (meaning "the spring") that feeds the Levada do Rei is located in the Ribeiro Bonito stream bed. Our hike ended here. Where the levada begins.
Picture taken with Nikon D300 and Sigma DC 18-50mm 1:2.8 EX Macro HSM Lens.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.
The author advancing through a serious thick jungle of Coroas-de-Henrique (Agapanthus praecox ssp. orientalis) during the first expedition to Ribeiro Bonito. We could hardly see an inch in front of our eyes :-)
Picture taken with Nikon D300 and Sigma DC 18-50mm 1:2.8 EX Macro HSM Lens.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.

05 July 2012

From Prazeres to Ponta do Pargo along the Levada Nova

Last Saturday I went on a trip to the West coast of the island. The objective was to hike the Levada Nova, between Prazeres and Ponta do Pargo. A friend, to whom I've talked about the idea, was not very supportive about it. As he pointed, "don't expect to see any Laurissilva on the way". And in truth, there wasn't any. However the landscape is quite lovely anyway. Along the way there are pine tree and eucalyptus forests, lots of agricultural fields and a few (very) small villages. And, since we were on the SW coast, the sun and nice weather were constant.
Also, the levada, built during the fifties, was recovered on the past year. The track is quite safe, without any vertiginous sections.
So, all things considered, this gentle levada is one that can be recommended for everyone. From eight to eighty years old.
The Levada Nova main pourpose is to irrigate the sunny SW agricultural fieds. So, along the way, we can see some small rural villages...
Picture taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 and cheap 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6 OIS Panasonic kit lens.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.
...and some old and abandoned houses.
Picture taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 and cheap 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6 OIS Panasonic kit lens.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.
The Levada Nova was fully recovered last year, taking advantage of some European Union funds for that matter. In the picture you can see a "levadeiros" house. These houses were built along the levadas, every few miles, and had the main function of supporting the "levadeiros" on their construction and maintenance works.
Picture taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 and cheap 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6 OIS Panasonic kit lens.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.
We finished our hike in Ponta do Pargo, although the Levada Nova was still snaking along the hills a few more miles to the West. In the small town, people were already preparing themselves for the festivities honouring Saint Peter, as you can see in the Church's decoration.
Picture taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 and cheap 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6 OIS Panasonic kit lens.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.
The lovely painted ceiling of Ponta do Pargo Church, portraying rural Madeira scenes.
Picture taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 and cheap 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6 OIS Panasonic kit lens.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop CS3.