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.

03 August 2012

Ponta do Pargo lighthouse at dusk

Lighthouses are as old as seafaring. And although, nowadays, the evolution of the electronic methods of navigation is exponential and makes us think that the act of positioning a ship on a nautical chart is as easy as child's play, nothing will ever compare to the human ability of trusting in our own instincts and in our most primitive senses.
In a certain way, seeing is believing. And in the maritime world few things are truer than this Saint Thomas's idiom.
Several times at sea I questioned myself about the fiability of a GPS fix. So much things can happen with an electronic system, either at sea or in the space above us.
On the other hand, there will never, ever, be a question about a lighthouse information to the surrounding navigation. It's there, clearly identified, gives you a bearing, one that you can trust, and lights the darkness around you.
To all the lighthouse keepers around the world: thanks for your long lasting aid to the maritime community worldwide. Keep up the good work. Godspeed.
The Ponta do Pargo lighthouse, in the Westernmost point of Madeira island, at dusk.
Picture made with Nikon F100 and Nikkor 28-105 AF-D kit lens.
Manfrotto tripod and ball head.
Fujichrome Velvia ASA 50 scanned in Nikon Coolscan V ED and post-processed in Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop CS3.

01 August 2012

North Sea trade

The North Sea trade is, for us, mariners, in many aspects, the Foreign Legion of a seafaring career.
Inclement weather, unpredictable even in Summer, short port calls, insanely intense traffic, uncomfortably shallow waters (although well charted), commercial pressure, reduced rest and hard work and... a bureaucratic hell, with endless reports and paperwork.
Nevertheless we seamen have short memories and, most of the times, we tend to forget the bad moments. We leave easily behind the storms, the struggle for our lives and the (comparatively) underpaid hard work.
So, when I remember the North Sea my mind navigates to the midnight sun above the polar circle, in the Summer days of the Norwegian and Icelandic fjords, to the oil rig burners that lit the night and turned it almost into day along the British and Dutch coasts, or to the many wonderful people I've met in my maritime expeditions.
Do I really miss it? You bet!
The Motor/Tanker NCC Tiahmah (IMO nº 7384871), under tug escort, enters the Berendrecht lock, in the port of Antwerp, on a very typical grey North Sea morning.The Berendrecht lock (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berendrecht_Lock) is presently the largest in the world, with 500 metres long and almost sixty meters wide. Depending on their size, it can accommodate several ships at once and allows them to access the port of Antwerp interior basin, where the vessels can be alongside free from the natural tidal movements.
Picture taken with Nikon FM3A and Nikkor 28-105 AF-D kit lens.
Fujichrome Velvia ASA 50 scanned on Nikon Coolscan V ED. Post-processed in Adobe Photoshop CS3.