18 December 2013

What's a chronometer?

First, let us all agree on one thing: there's no such thing as a hundred per cent accurate time measuring machine. Not even the almighty atomic clocks. Even those have errors (although, on the most perfect ones this means gaining or losing one second in a hundred million years interval). Presently, the champion of precision seems to be the Quantum clocks technology, with a precision of about (take it or leave it two or three hundred million years :-) ) 3.4 billion years. Now, that's accuracy. But still far from perfection, since the estimated age of the Universe is (according to scholars) about 14 billion years. So, these watches are still not error-free, despite looking at this fact with a metaphysical approach.
So, forgetting these marquee players, what are the time-measuring instruments that we all know?
Well, two comes into our minds: the watches and the clocks.
What's the difference between the two? Well, I'm no horologist... but I'd say that it has something to do with portability. A clock is a time-measuring instrument that (due to its size and weight) is supposed to be fixed somewhere (be that the hall of your home, the bridge of a ship or an airplane's cockpit). On the other hand, the watch is a portable one (e.g. a wristwatch or a pocket watch).
And both of them can be (but not necessarily) chronometers. So... what's a chronometer, anyway? Since the web is a little bit short of interesting definitions, let's pick up one from my times as a nautical student (because these instruments were, in fact, created for navigation purposes), in Paço de Arcos, authored by our first year navigation professor.
Contrary to a chronometer, a regular clock is not tested and certified by a regulatory institution and, therefore, cannot be used for nautical calculations. Pictured above, a Marine Master Clock, on the bridge of the M/T Peonia (IMO nº 9313436). The left dial is kept all the time on GMT (or UTC), while the right dial shows the local time of the meridian where the ship is navigating or operating at any given moment. Since this electric master clock is linked to all the remaining clocks aboard (hence the "master"), when you change the time on the right dial (the "slave"), the remaining clocks aboard change too.
Definition of a chronometer.
A chronometer is a time-measuring instrument, or (I think, more correctly) machine, which rate (or "marcha", in Portuguese), for a given condition of atmospheric temperature, humidity and pressure, is regular. That is: it gains or looses a certain amount of time over a period of (normally) twenty-four hours. This "amount" of time lost or gained is, usually, expressed in full seconds or in its fractions. How is this defined?
Well, there is no actual standard worldwide. And many nations have their own chronometer testing institutes (among the most famous, one comes to our mind: the Swiss COSC). But they all agree on one thing: these (government) institutions are the market regulators in terms of time-measuring machines. So, any common watch - or clock - secretly wishing to be promoted to chronometer has to be subjected to the battery of tests imposed by the national authority on the matter. And, only after passing all of them with flying colours will the wannabe receive the so desired Chronometer Certificate. It's a bit like college: you study, you train and you pass the exams. In the end, you'll have your Degree.
A modern certified quartz marine chronometer, from the British house Lilley & Gillie Ltd, on the bridge of the M/T Peonia. Contrary to the clock pictured above, this particular timekeeping machine sole purpose is to assist the nautical calculations on board.
Practical considerations.
By this time, you are already looking at your cheap automatic Invicta with suspicion, thinking that you should have bought a Rolex or a Jaeger-LeCoultre instead. Well, don't.
The fact that you don't own a Chronometer Certificated (C.C.) time machine does not necessarily mean that it's not up to chronometer standards. It just means that the testing of your particular watch or clock was not requested by its maker to the reference institution. Why? Because it costs money. Money that you, the consumer, will pay in the end price. And since most of the watchmakers are already working on high standards, they don't feel the need for an additional expense, leading to a costlier product.
Fact is: the Chronometer Certificate is only valid for the time and place of testing. You leave the laboratory with your newly-certified chronometer and it's already (in a microscope point of view, granted!) behaving differently.
So, what's the use, for the normal people, of a C.C. watch? None, except vanity. In (professional) navigation things are a bit different. Just because in this industry, everything has to be certified. Chronometers are just one thing more in the endless list of certificates that we have to carry on board, ranging from life rafts to shackles.
Chronometers were born to conserve (interesting concept) the time on board with the purpose of longitude calculation.
On the eighteen century, when its use became popular, and while at sea, there was no way to check their accuracy. Hence the need for a high precision movement. Back in those days, a ship would leave the port of Lisboa and would arrive to Rio de Janeiro one month later with no way to check the local time in between. They could only rely on the accuracy of the ships chronometer to all the duties involving time (including the astronomy calculations, for navigation purposes). That was the basis for the C.C.'s: assurance and reliability for the mariners.
They had to know the limits of their clocks for their daily routine aboard. Lets not forget that before this technological advance, everybody was checking time with a sandglass.
Nowadays, things are different.
When I was a Second Mate, on freighters, one of my duties, around noon (besides the bloody Noon Sight astronomical calculation) was to check the daily chronometer rate. For that matter, we would listen one radio station from the USA (but there are others) synchronized with an atomic clock and giving the time signal in the form ...poc... poc... poc............... piiiinnnng... ten hours-twenty-two minutes... poc... poc... poc............ piiinngggg.... etc.
By this (mandatory) procedure, we had the chronometer error updated every twenty-four hours making the need for a certificate of accuracy less important, unless we are talking of a really piece of cr.. time measuring machine.
Talking about precision.
Lets face it: any cheap Casio digital watch existing today can have an accuracy of (plus or minus) twenty seconds per month. The quartz technology revolutionized the industry. My Quartz Solar-Powered Casio Riseman G-Shock GW9200 even has Multi-Band Atomic Timekeeping; that is, it makes automatically what I had to do manually as a Second Mate: receives the atomic time signal of several radio stations worldwide and synchronizes, several times a day, with them (as long as you are located within their transmission range). It's virtually errorless. I paid for it 250 Euros. A COSC certified Omega will cost you over three thousand. Which one do you prefer? I know. I do too :-)
Generally speaking, there's not much separating your one hundred Euro "cebola" ("onions" is what we call - in a caring way - in Portugal to the cheaper time pieces) from a four thousand Euros Swiss one. If you know your machine and with some knowledge of what you are doing , you can even use it for accurate navigation calculations. 
The point is a Certified Chronometer is supposed (theoretically) to have a regular rate, by testing standards. That is if it advances it advances, if it looses it looses. On the contrary, a non-certified watch has a non-measured error. It may (or may not) gain one or two seconds in one day, and it may loose that same amount on the next. It may reach the end of a month with exactly the same time of the other. But for accurate work, we have to discard it since we don't have a base to start from. It has nothing to do with precision. It's only a matter of standard testing.
Speaking about precision: you know what is the value of one second of arc in meters, at Equator level, for astronomical navigation purposes?
A little navigation.
At Equator level, the Earth has about 40000 kms (or 40.000.000 mts) of circumference, right? And the good ol' Earth is a sphere, right? Since it is circular in shape, we can divide it in 360 degrees, and each degree in 60 minutes and each minute in 60 seconds, right?
Let's do that: 40.000.000/360/60/60 = about 30 mts.
That's the error that you may get in your nautical calculations for every second that your watch forgets.
Today, ships with ten times that distance in length are becoming common. It's a bit funny, if we think of it. You are calculating the position of your bridge wing, not of the ship as a whole (her bow is two hundred meters away).
On the other hand, the best I've managed, in astronomical navigation, was a chart plotting precision, with sextant and chronometer, of roughly half a mile (nearly 900 mts). And believe me: I've trained a lot as a Cadet. I had a Captain that insisted on it.
You know what this value means in terms of time? Thirty seconds. You always have more chances to make a sextant (optical) error than a time one.
I rest my case.

06 December 2013

Rural tourism

As the 35th most visited country in the world in 2012 (numbers from the UNWTO), Portugal has, since several decades ago, a mature tourism sector.
The Portuguese hospitality is legendary, and it's rare to find a foreign citizen issuing negative comments on account of a bad touristic experience in our country.
The reasons for this are quite simple: we are a small country and thus (at least for now) quite safe. There are no internal fractures that threatens the nation's social stability, since we, besides being a state, are also a nation (the oldest nation state in Europe, in fact; independent since 1139 and with its sovereignty recognized by the Pope Alexander III, on the year 1179).
On the other hand, we are naturally curious for other cultures. Contrary to the present general philosophy of the so-called (wanna-be)hegemonic states worldwide, we do enjoy to learn. And what a better way to do that than talking to a foreigner. Learning is what we've been doing since the Discoveries.
You don't believe it? Check our globally respected cuisine and you'll know what I mean: you'll find pieces of Africa, the Americas and Asia on it.
So, it's no surprise that, with this modest, interested, down-to-earth and cosmopolitan way of living, our country became a destination for more than 13 million tourists on the past year. You have to recognize that, in a nation of nearly ten million, these are not bad numbers.
Such a strong worldwide demand for Portugal is answered by the country's hospitality industry, which is increasingly complex, year after year.
Nearly forty years ago, after the Carnation Revolution, the country was poor and tourism accommodations were restricted to hotels in the main cities and pensions and hostels in the smaller towns.
Well, a lot has changed since then. Like everywhere in the world, we now have resorts, lodges, motels, you name it.
Increasing in popularity (taking, for that, advantage of the perfect conditions offered by the country for nature tourism) is the rural tourism.
It uses the concept of "casas de campo" (country houses) as accommodation units and it aims at a growing niche in the market: that one of people tired of city noise, pollution and confusion and looking for a more relaxed vacation experience, preferably amidst nature or inserted in a true-to-values community lifestyle.
Portugal has now thousands of these places, many recovered from ancient secular constructions and given a new life from new owners. The autonomous regions of Madeira and Açores are no exception to the national whole.
A couple of days ago, interested in the concept, I accepted a kind invitation from a friend and headed to the North of the island to enjoy a relaxed day, away from the South coast more frivolous existence. The chosen place was the "Moinho do Comandante", or Captain's Mill. Located in the small place of Fajã do Cedro Gordo (São Roque do Faial), this was, previously, an old water mill, used for flour production.
An old building (dated from 1829), the water mill constructed near the Ribeira da Ametade stream changed hands several times in its life until being bought (already in ruins) by the former TAP airline Captain Carlos Melo Vidal in more recent years.
From that time on, an intense reconstruction and expansion work took place, leading to the inauguration, in 1999.
Nowadays, the "Moinho do Comandante", fully integrated in the surrounding landscape, is a fine example of what the "sustainable development" concept means, when particularly related to the tourism industry.
I'm glad to live in a country were thousands of these small good examples keep flourishing.
The "Moinho do Comandante" as seen from the bridge over the Ribeira da Ametade stream...
...and picturing the high peaks above Fajã da Nogueira valley, in the distant horizon.
Covered in green leafs during Spring time, the mill walls exhibit now a more bucolic, autumnal and naked look, nevertheless equally interesting.
The gate bell.
All pictures taken with Nikon D300 and Sigma 70-200mm 1:2.8D APO EX HSM, 18-50mm 1:2.8 EX Macro HSM DC and 10-20mm 1:4-5.6 EX DC HSM lenses. 77mm Hoya HMC Super circular polarizer and Cokin graduated neutral density filters.
Manfrotto 055 NAT3 tripod and 410 Junior Geared Head.
Post-processing of all images in Nikon View NX2 and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1

01 December 2013

Ribeira da Janela mouth and hydroelectric power plant at dusk

Built in 1965, the hydroelectric power plant of Ribeira da Janela, located in the mouth of the stream bearing the same name, is one of the two (the other being the Central da Calheta de Inverno) that is located at sea level.
Contrary to its higher-altitude sisters, which water is channelled in the famous levadas, after energy production, to irrigate the agriculture fields located in the lower altitudes, the Ribeira da Janela plant is a pure energy-generating unit, losing its water to the ocean nearby, after turbination.
A totally automatic installation, the Ribeira da Janela power plant is remotely operated.
The plant, normally operating just one generator in daylight, activates the second turbine-alternator group at evening time, normally at sunset, when the electrical energy consumption increases.
The Ribeira da Janela power plant is responsible for an yearly average production of 8 GWh.
Picture taken with Nikon D300 and Sigma DC 18-50mm 1:2.8 EX Macro HSM. Manfrotto 055NAT3 tripod and Manfrotto 410 Junior Geared Head.
Conversion of the NEF 14 bits to TIFF 16 bits file in Nikon free View NX2 software. Post-processing of the resulting TIFF file and posterior conversion to JPEG for web publishing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1

24 November 2013

First visit of the NRP Arpão

Yesterday, on account of the military exercises (Lusitano 2013) taking place in the island of Porto Santo, comprising air, sea and land operations, we received in the port of Funchal one unusual visitor: the submarine NRP Arpão.
The NRP Arpão is one of the most modern units of the Portuguese Navy and, to the best of my knowledge, is calling Funchal for the first time. Second unit on a class of two (the "Tridente" class) and mostly based on the Type 214 submarine, built by the German consortium HDW, the Tridente and Arpão submarines are, probably, the most sophisticated weapons systems serving in the Portuguese Navy nowadays and meant a giant leap over the previous four ones - the Albacora class, based on the French Daphne - already retired of service.
According to the guys (and girls) that know a little bit about this stuff, these are, presently, the most sophisticated conventional submarines in the world.
And since they are equipped with AIP (Air-Independent Propulsion) - using for that hydrogen cells - they are just one step below, in the food chain, from the dangerous hunter-killers nuclear attack submarines (that these smaller guys, but, nevertheless, with a bad temper, also prey).
Some say that, in certain circumstances, they are even better. What they loose in immersion autonomy and sheer speed (the nuclear ones are faster and with a theoretical endless autonomy), they gain in a stealthier signature and discretion.
The submarine weapons are probably the best kept secrets among the navies of the world. Easily understandable why: it's the perfect weapon by nature. Designed to be stealth and appear everywhere in the world, without warning, launch her weapons and disappear once again in the vastness of the oceans, they can be virtually undetectable while underwater, as long as they keep their mouth shut and don't make a sound.
So it's no surprise that the military are always shy in revealing some operational parameters of these vessels.
Years ago, while still at sea, I spoke a bit with the Chief Mate (the XO in military jargon, right?) of a German submarine alongside in Leixões. When I asked him how deep could they go with that thing, he told me (full of pride for his toy) "that's classified!".
Difficult to explain to these guys that, as a humble civilian that I am, I couldn't care less if they can submerge to three hundred or, otherwise, to four hundred meters. Also, I don't look very Ruskie.
The NRP Arpão, escorted by the APRAM tugboat Boqueirão, approaching the port of Funchal, yesterday, at noon time.
Both lines connected (forward the tugboat Cte Passos Gouveia, and aft the tugboat Boqueirão, both units from APRAM) and proceeding at slow speed and already under towage to the berthing position.
The Officers of the NRP Arpão, positioned on the conning tower (aka "sail" or "fin"), watch the vessel's evolution along the port basin. Except on some rare occasions, the vessels belonging to the Portuguese Navy or to state-owned organisms don't require Pilotage on Portuguese ports. As far as I know, this rule holds true for the vast majority of maritime nations.
Approaching to the berthing place, a floating barge: "hard-a-starboard!", "slow-astern!", "in position!" and "make fast!".
The final cosmetic touch: placing the vessel's name plate on its support.
NRP Arpão (general characteristics)
Class: Tridente
Constructor: HDW, Germany
Type: U209PN (a variation of the German type U214 design)
LOA: 67.90 mts
Breath: 6.30 mts
Displacement: 1700 tons (surfaced), 2020 tons (submerged)
Max. depth: more than 300 mts
Range: 22000 kms at 8 kts
Endurance: 60 days
Crew: 33 persons (additional embark of 14 special operation elements - Fuzileiros - possible)
Submerged autonomy (using AIP fuel cells): three weeks? (some authors even claim more)
Submerged (using snorkel?): about 22 kts
Submerged (AIP fuel cells): about 6 kts
Surfaced: 10 kts
Weapons: Blackshark torpedoes and Harpoon missiles
All pictures taken with Nikon D300 and cheap AF-S Nikkor DX 55-200mm 1:4-5.6 G ED kit lens. Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1 and Nikon View NX2.

11 November 2013

Ribeira da Janela islets

Located at the mouth of Ribeira da Janela stream, on the Northern coast of Madeira island, near the touristic village of Porto Moniz, these islets represent one of the most dramatic landscapes on the North coast of the island.
Generally beaten by strong winds and rough seas, the Ribeira da Janela mouth is, nevertheless, a magical place, although a bit intimidating.
One of the most photographed spots on the island, here you rarely find two days alike.
Picture taken during the past afternoon, with Nikon D300 and Sigma DC 18-50mm f/2.8 EX Macro HSM. Hoya Pro 1 Digital 72mm MC UV10 filter. Manfrotto Junior geared head and 535 MPro carbon fiber tripod.
Post-processing of converted RAW to TIFF file in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1

10 November 2013


The cruise vessel Albatros (IMO nº 7304314) steaming South and photographed, during a nice sunny afternoon, from the deck of the Pilot Boat Ilhéu do Lido, on her departure from Funchal on the past first of November.
Picture taken with the Panasonic Lumix DMC FT3 "combat" camera and post-processed in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1

08 November 2013

Safety first!

Safety first.
I don't know how many times I've repeated these two words in my mind, like some kind of obsessive mantra, during my Merchant Marine years.
It seems that everything revolves around this sentence on the professional seafaring world, these days. However, a part of me can't help to see this policy as, somehow, hypocritical. Most of these regulations are technology-driven, instead of focused on human resources, like they should, increasingly, be.
With the present strategy, the biggest accomplishment made by IMO is to keep on feeding the gear-driven lobbies proliferating worldwide.
Confronted with the situation, ship owners are forced more and more to upgrade their vessels with some new high-tech stuff year after year.
But that, more often than not, isn't a revolutionary evolution (pardon the pun) in safety of navigation methodology.
Meanwhile, a true revolution still to come, the one focused on the management of human resources aboard is lingering, in slow-motion.
And by that, I don't speak about formation courses slash certification. Those we, seafarers, have already enough. To be at sea, as a professional, we have to collect, presently, a minimum of fifteen to twenty different plastic cards. Does this means that a similar evolution in the safe navigation procedures was accomplished? I don't think so. But they surely look nice on the wallet.
The problem goes deeper than a specific formation (although these are, by no means, less important!) or another credit-card look-a-like endorsement.
It's a question of the minimum safe manning aboard a ship to operate her safely. And these numbers are decreasing year after year, with the adoption of more and more automation systems.
In most areas of shipping (except some specific fields) this policy of crew reduction is already on the red line.
The market discovered long ago that it's profitable to place a single person doing the work of two, particularly if this person can work twice as much. In my opinion (and I think I'm not alone), at sea this is a receipt prone for disaster.
Because nowadays the philosophy is to do more and even more with less and less. And then, at sea, to overcome this, we decorate the cake with a few check-list pages and reports and a handful of assorted safety drills. Just to make all look nicer.
The opposite direction should be the goal of the maritime industry nowadays, in a future reform of the maritime careers. Embraced by seafarers, ship owners and governments alike.
Because the technology, just by itself is not a bullet-proof solution for everything. And the humans crewing ocean-going vessels are not entirely replaceable.
But, and meanwhile we all wait for the tide to change, we might as well remove the lookout from the navigation watch and leave on the bridge just the navigation Officer, with the dead-man alarm switched on.
Just in case the poor guy has a heart attack, when everybody is asleep.
In the picture: watertight door and Security Officer aboard a cruise ship.
Picture taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC FT3 and post-processed in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1

28 October 2013


If I had to find a just a word to characterize the Invicta Grand Diver, model nº 13697, this would be the one.
Still in my quest for cheap automatic movements, I laid eyes on this particular one, while surfing on the Amazon.co.uk.
Already a bit familiar with the Invicta time pieces - and happy for now - it was not that hard to press the "buy" button for this one, particularly because it was, at the time (end of September), at a very affordable price of ninety pounds.
The Invicta Grand Diver, model nº 13697, soon became a winner for me. The case is basically similar to the conventional Grand Divers, like the model nº 3045 and brothers. The difference is that, since in this particular model the crown is located at the two o'clock position, it wears perfectly on the hand for such a big watch. You can move and twist the wrist as much as you like and the watch never gets uncomfortable to use. You never notice that there's a crown on it.
A heavy watch by definition, the "Grand" Diver 13697 is a lovely timepiece to wear, and like all the family, it oozes build quality. The member Pebe, from the Forum Watchuseek, was writing on the mentioned forum, on the past year's October, that "The Grand Diver and Pro Diver lines are the only Invicta's worth owning".
I have to agree with him, so far. In a pure relation price/quality, these watches are unbeatable. Like all the members of the family, its stainless steel bracelet is equipped with a fold over machined clasp with safety lock.
The heart of this timepiece is a NH37A automatic engine, with twenty-four jewels. Built by the Time Module company of Hong Kong, a subsidiary of Seiko-Epson, its accuracy was a surprise for me (more on this later).
The watches' face, showing its dial and counter-clockwise rotating bezel with click stops (120 clicks for a full rotation). The dial is decorated with a sea swell pattern in relief, part of its enchantment. Complications are just two: a date window at four o'clock, with a Cyclops loupe for us Magoos out there, and a second smaller twenty-four hour dial, located at ten o'clock. Regarding the latter one, I still don't really know if I like it or if it is just a waste of dial space and materials.
The fact is this sub-dial is merely a twenty-four hour repeater of the twelve hour larger dial. It's only a way to clear any doubts in your mind regarding the time you are reading: is it two o'clock in the morning or fourteen hundred in the afternoon?
Well, it might prove useful on the polar regions. Imagine yourself as a polar explorer, stationed at the Amundsen-Scott base during the whole Antarctic winter, with absolutely no sun light whatsoever for almost four months. You have to know if it's time for breakfast or for dinner, don't you agree?
Anyway, if you are working in Antarctica, chances are that you are rich enough to use a several thousands Euros Swiss watch, instead of a cheap Invicta, like we, working class heroes, do.
So, my guess is that this second dial will not be that useful. Even on the South pole.
Did I mentioned that its movement is permanently linked to the main hands? So, you can forget any ideas of using it as a second time zone. That, in fact, would be quite a useful application for it.
Grand Diver engravings and diving helmet on the crown. The diving helmet in relief is ok. However, the engraved letters are a tad too much. They are not that shocking, but a cleaner look on the stainless steel case would not be that bad either.
The same on the other side. We know it's an Invicta. It shows on the dial, on the bracelet, on the case back... did I miss some other place?
The "cyclops" is an acrylic loupe glued over the mineral crystal, to allow for a better vision of the calendar. The one on mine, due to my professional marine life, is already scratched (see the shadow between the "2" and the "7"?). The world is divided between the "Cyclops" haters and lovers. It's up to you to join any of the factions.
If you are against and want to remove it, check the video of rtomson on Youtube. Kids, don't try this at home.
The Grand Diver model 13697 on my wrist. A lovely and cheap piece of watchmaking.
Accuracy test:
Synchronising (08-Oct-2013):
Watch:             23h56m00s
GMT website: 23h56m00s
Compared (19-Dec-2013):
Watch:             20h54m36s
GMT website: 20h47m00s

The watch was not serviced yet. It's still on factory regulation.
I've used the GMT website to check the watch accuracy. Although this is not as valuable as an accurate test with more sophisticated instruments, we can assume the error of the website in just a couple of seconds. If we refresh the web page, while taking the measurements, so that both clocks show exactly the same time, we can assume that we have a precise time calculation.
Based on that fact, we can consider that (in the measured time interval from 08 Oct 2013 to 19 Dec 2013 - about 6.209.460 seconds) the watch advanced in relation to the Greenwich time the sum of 7 minutes and 36 seconds or 456 seconds.
                              6209460 s ------------- 456 s
                                  86400 s ------------- x          (being 86400 s the number of seconds in a 24h day)
x=(86400*456)/6209460= aprox. 6.3448 seconds of advance per each 24 hours period.
Not bad for such a cheap watch, equiped with a China-made-under-Japanese-specifications automatic machine.

23 October 2013

Ships 'n' boats

The Pilot boat Cte Cristiano de Sousa, our oldest in operation (and still roaring), leaving the port of Porto Santo, yesterday at sunset, and taking me to the container-carrier Funchalense 5, of the Portuguese company Empresa de Navegação Madeirense, a centenary Portuguese shipowner still working.
An amateur photographer, positioned on the port of Porto Santo North breakwater, shoots a video sequence of the ferry Lobo Marinho approach and berthing, today, around 1000AM.
Both pictures taken with Nikon Coolpix P7100 and post-processed in Adobe Photoshop Lightroon, ver. 4.1

21 October 2013

Club Med II

The Club Med 2, one of the largest sailing vessels in the world, pictured here alongside the key nº 2 of Pontinha breakwater, in Funchal, was my manoeuvre of the day.
Built in 1992 on the Havre, in France, she's one of our "twice-a-year" visitors. During the Northern Hemisphere Summer this five-mast ship stays in the European waters, navigating mostly on the Mediterranean, and heading to the Caribbean in October.
Pilot Card:
Ship's name: Club Med 2
IMO number: 9007491
Type: Cruise ship
LOA: 187 mts
Beam: 20 mts
Gross tonnage: 14983
Displacement: 7671.1 tons (light ship)
Max draft on manoeuvre: 5.30 mts
Propulsion: Diesel-electric, two variable, inward turning, pitch propellers, total propulsion power: 5890 KW
Rigging: Five mast schooner, about 2400m2 sail area.
Rudder: 2 Becker rudders
Bow thruster: 1 (1000 HP)
Stern thruster: 1 (800HP)
Picture taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT3 and post-processed in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1

18 October 2013

Las Tres Sorores

The Monte Perdido ("lost mountain") massif is, unquestionably, the most dramatic mountain landscape in all the Iberian Peninsula.
If you are stubborn enough to hike the ten kilometres from the parking lot, in Pradera de Ordesa, up to the Circo ("cirque") de Soaso, walking along the Rio ("river") Arazas, you'll be blessed with one of the most magnificent European mountain scenarios.
A National Park since 1918, the Parque Nacional de Ordesa y Monte Perdido attracts every year thousands of mountaineers, willing to climb its vertiginous rock walls, its three thousand meter peaks or just hiking along the many endless trails along and around the valley.
The Circo de Soaso, pictured here, is the last stop for many daily hikers that just don't have the time to climb the via ferrata at the end of the valley that would lead them to the Góriz plateau and to the Delgado Úbeda mountain hut (the starting point for the Monte Perdido ascension).
Above it, from left to right in the picture, are visible the Cilindro (3325mts), the Monte Perdido (3355mts) and the Añisclo (3254mts). These three are named "Las Tres Sorores" or "the three sisters".
On the right corner of the picture, hiding behind the Añisclo, there's still place for one last three-thousander: the Punta de las Olas (3022mts).
Picture taken, from the "Senda de los Cazadores" with Nikon FM3A and Nikkor 28-108 AF-D lens, in Ektachrome 100ASA film. Post-processing of the scanned TIFF file in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1.

17 October 2013

Pico do Areeiro to Pico Ruívo trail (PR1) closed

Due to a landslide on the past weekend, in a position about 1 km down from the Pico Ruívo mountain hut, the Pico do Areeiro-Pico Ruívo mountain trail (PR1) - the most important of the island - is closed to hikers.
And since the landslide happened in a position already near the end of the trail (if you are arriving from Pico do Areeiro) and well after the tunnel that divides the route into two, this, now, makes the trail totality impassable.
Hopefully, the government responsible persons are aware of the problem and already adopting an active attitude (the sooner, the better) towards the resolution of the situation.
After all, this is only the most important mountain trail in a island with nature tourism as its most important asset.
Landslide picture taken from the nearby (and shorter) Achada do Teixeira - Pico Ruívo route (PR1.2), with a Panasonic Lumix GH 2 and Nikkor 28-105mm AF-D with adapter to m4/3. Handheld shot at ISO 2000 (sorry for the noise and lack of detail!).

15 October 2013

USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG58)

In a rare event these days (the global economic crisis also reached the military institution worldwide, forcing the navies to spend less fuel), the USS Samuel B. Roberts, a naval unit from the US Navy, visited our port of Funchal during the present day.
An Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate, the USS Samuel B. Roberts suffered a mine attack in the Persian Gulf, in 1988, and, as a consequence of the damages she had to be carried for repairs, in the United States, with the help of a semi-submersible heavy-lifter ship from the Dutch operator Wijsmuller.
Like in (mostly) all the naval units, the crews are friendly and manoeuvres are a nightmare. The problem is that the people that designed these ships only think about warfare and manoeuvring capabilities on the high seas.
You bring them to restricted waters for a berthing manoeuvre at low speeds and almost all of them are lame, to say the least.
Those limitations normally forces the operations to be conducted with the direct aid of tugs to compensate for the deficient slow speed manoeuvring characteristics.
And since the naval architects and engineers (apparently) never heard of winches, all the ropes have to be heaved or slacked by hand.
So, it's always a bit strange to see twenty guys (or girls, by the way) doing their best in trying to hold fast a rope with their bare hands and, thus, managing to stop a four thousand tonnes vessel.
Thankfully, these Oliver Perry class frigates already have what they call APU's (or Auxiliary Propulsion Units). These are, basically, two retractable azipods, located on the ship's keel and right under the vessel's bridge, that do wonders in controlling the ship in more restricted spaces.
Anyway, it was a pleasure to see a woman in command: Captain Erica L. Hoffmann.
The USS Samuel B. Roberts arriving in Funchal, today morning, at 0800 (Local Time).

Ship's name: USS Samuel B. Roberts
Type: Guided missile frigate
Class: Oliver Hazard Perry
LOA: 138.10 mts
Beam: 13.60 mts
Max. displacement: 4200 tons
Draft on manoeuvre: 8.30 (declared)
Propulsion: Two gas turbines, single shaft, single CPP propeller
Propulsion power: 31MW
Rudder: One (conventional)
Manoeuvring aids: 2 APU's (350HP each)

Picture taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT3 and post-processed in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1

14 October 2013

Morning glory

Back in my seafaring days, it was always a pleasure to me to see the sun rise and the dawn of a new day.
We can watch it hundreds of times in a seaman's lifetime, but each event is always a diferent and singular one. Maybe it's a particular cloud formation, or just the colour of the sky or a unique interaction between sea and sky. The fact is this astronomical phenomena is prone to endless variations.
So, I really miss my days as a Chief Mate, when, as a responsible Officer for the nautical watches between the 0400 and the 0800's of the morning, I had countless opportunities to see the sun rising over the ocean.
Now, as a Harbour Pilot, I still have plenty of those moments. Mostly during the cruise ships season, like now. When I have to wake up at 0400 in the morning a be in the port at 0500.
When the weather is perfect, with calm seas and gentle breezes, it's really a pleasure to work in this profession.
In the pictures:
The cruise ship Celebrity Eclipse (IMO nº 9404314) proceeding astern, for berthing on Pontinha's key nº2, on the past Friday and...
...the Aida Stella (IMO nº9601132) alongside the key nº3 of Pontinha breakwater, today, around 0730 LT.
Both pictures taken with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT3 waterproof and shockproof compact digital camera. The upper picture with the camera resting over a bollard and the Aida's one using the small Manfrotto 709B Digi travel tripod. I find this camera quite useful to my professional life, particularly due to both characteristics written above. Although automatic, It can be, somehow, customizable to a certain level and, thus, allowing a minimum control over the exposure factors. The Auto ISO, used together with the Minimum Shutter Speed and the Image Stabilizer mode, allows for some sharp handheld pictures in less favourable conditions of light and weather, situations that I find quite often while at work.
Sadly, it doesn't allow for RAW files, leaving us to work with just JPEG's (although with a maximum resolution of 12Mp, in the 4:3 format - reduced to 10 Mp in the usual "academic" 3:2). Plenty of resolution, I guess, for detailed digital processing, if needed. 
Post-processing of the JPEG files with the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1.

09 October 2013

NRP Cacine

The good, old, Portuguese-built, NRP Cacine, from the Portuguese Navy, entering the port of Funchal, a few minutes ago, after a routine surveillance mission on the waters of Madeira.
Picture taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT3 and post-processed in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1.

08 October 2013

Old trawler

A very photogenic place, the city of Peniche, on the Portuguese West coast, was once the biggest fishing port in Portugal. But, like many traditional sectors in Portugal, the fishing industry suffered a strong impact from the European rules. Against all odds, weakened by modern times and "new" political visions, the millenarian town located 70 kms North of Lisboa struggled to survive.
Converted to tourism for many decades, it's one of the best places in the whole world for the surf addicts, receiving every year thousands of surfers, arriving from every place on Earth.
Supertubos beach is considered, itself, the cherry on the top of the cake of a vast coast line where any surfer can find the right waves suitable for his or hers experience level.
But, a thousand years after being born, Peniche still lives and remains true to her legacy, to herself. It's still a town of fishermen and seafarers. And beautiful to photograph.
Picture taken on the harbour area, near the shipyard, with a Nikon D40X and cheap Nikkor 55-200mm kit lens. Manfrotto 190XDB tripod and 490RC4 ball-head.
Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1.

05 October 2013

Papa bear, mama bear and baby bear

The tugboats Barra de Viana, Leão dos Mares and Comenda (from left to right) in a picture taken, while alongside in Leixões, from the bridge wing of the M/V Apolo (IMO nº 9251509), during my seafaring years.
On the background the bascule bridge that allows the berthing, on the inner basin, of the big commercial vessels, namely container and bulk carriers.
At the time, the Comenda, with a bollard pull of 70 tons, was the most powerful oceanic salvage tug operating in Portugal.
She's now operated by an Italian company, located in Naples, who changed her name to Marechiaro.
Picture taken with Nikon F100 and Nikkor 28-105 AF lens. Kodak Ektachrome 100 VS scanned in Nikon Coolscan V ED and post-processed in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1.

03 October 2013

The end of Summer

The Autumn season has just started but the feeling is that the Summer's already long gone. Once again we sense that melancholic mood on the air, the changing colours on the trees and the nearly abrupt climate change, with the temperature decreasing rapidly and the more and more frequent appearance of the rain.
On Madeira's highest peaks the blue skies and clear atmosphere give their place more often to a claustrophobic misty drizzle, converting the hikes to these places into masochistic experiments.
However, even during those grey days we are able to find some magic in the high lands. Sometimes, just in the form of a mountain hut's open door and a warm coffee mug waiting for us inside.
In the picture: Chilli peppers over kitchen countertop on a rainy Autumn afternoon, in Pico Ruívo mountain hut.
Picture taken with Nikon D40X and cheap Nikkor 18-55mm kit lens. Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1

01 October 2013

Achada do Teixeira

The Madeira's central ridge, as seen from Achada do Teixeira plateau. The starting point of many hikes to the island's highest point, at evening light, this past afternoon.
Picture taken with Panasonic DMC-GH2 and 14-42mm kit Panasonic lens. Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1 and Silkypix software, version 3.1

28 September 2013

Fajã da Nogueira hydroelectric power station

The Fajã da Nogueira hydroelectric power plant was the last of the "big four" (the others being Serra de Água, Calheta and Ribeira da Janela) to be built and became operational in 1971. The purity of its design is only comparable with its perfect integration in the surrounding natural canvas.
The least powerful of all the four (according to the Empresa de Electricidade da Madeira website), averaging an annual production of 7 GWh, the Fajã da Nogueira power station is, unquestionably, the most beautiful of the group.
On the picture's foreground you can see the "Compensation Reservoir", the final destination of the turbinated waters. From here, the water already used to generate electrical energy is conducted to the Levada dos Tornos, with the city of Funchal as the final destination.
I, sometimes, laugh to myself when I think about our modern-days lexicon regarding the present ecological policies and the so-called sustainable growth. How full of vanity and ignorance our modern generation can be.
The hydraulic system constructed in Madeira over the centuries is an example of a cyclopic engineering feat built with the utmost respect for nature and the natural laws. Like the North-Americans say: they were already country, long before country was cool.
The perfect integration of these structures in the natural world and the present non-aggressive use we can do of the natural resources processed by them is an homage to their creators and to their mastery.
It saddens me, though, that forty years have passed. And that all those people, those creators, are no longer living among us.
Our loss, for sure. They would still have so much to teach us.

27 September 2013

Casio Diver's Super Illuminator

The Casio Diver's Super Illuminator was my first acquisition as a (very small) watch collector. No longer in production the then called Casio Scuba Duro 200 Super Illuminator (model nº MDV-102-1AV) was - history tells us - apparently a sales hit worldwide.
If we look at the Internet, and particularly at the Amazon.com page related to this particular model, we can be quite amazed with the amount of information related to this Casio.
Probably the main reason for this celebrity status lies within its low price tag. Diving watches in the sub-one-hundred dollars category are not that easy to find. And the vast majority of them are from obscure watchmakers, raising some doubts regarding their reliability.
That's not the case with Casio products. In the watchmaking industry since 1974, Casio is no longer an apprentice. In fact, they revolutionized the digital watches so much that it's quite probable that you, dear reader, have, at least, one Casio product at home. With them (in a responsibility shared somehow with Timex) watches became a product for the masses.
And a product for the masses is this Casio Scuba Super Illuminator. And there's nothing wrong with it.
The Casio Scuba Duro Super Illuminator.
A cheap price tag is not, necessarily, a bad thing. In fact this battery-propelled quartz watch is a reliable time measuring machine. But, like everything in life, you only get what you pay for. So, don't be expecting four digits Swiss quality. In fact, it's not even a true Diver's watch. At least according to the industry standards. It's a diving watch, which is a little bit different concept. However, for such a small price, it's packed with some nice features: a one way counter-clockwise turning bezel with a luminescent dot at the sixty minutes mark, a screw-down crown, a date window at the four o'clock mark and an elegant slightly domed crystal, normally only present on very expensive watches. One silly detail, however, are the sub-second marks around the dial. It's an attempt to emulate the mechanic watches and their "sweeping" seconds hand chronometer philosophy. The Casio Scuba Duro, however, is a quartz machine. Therefore its seconds hand doesn't "sweep" across the dial. It "ticks", jumping from second to second in a single movement called "true beat", and thus rendering useless those additional decorative markings. The luminescence of the hands and dial marks is OK. Not exactly up to the Citizen or Seiko Diver's standards, but you can read it in the dark. If you can't, you can always use the last resource...
... and press that mysterious button above the screw-down crown. The watch dial has two leds (one at twelve o'clock and the other at six o'clock) that emit a strong white light, enough to lit the dial and eventually to lead you to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Believe me, if you can't read the dial with this light, you certainly need glasses.
The screw-down case back of the Casio Scuba Duro Super Illuminator. Mine is still running on the original battery, four years after I've bought it. Casio's secret Eco-Drive?

26 September 2013

Levada do Caldeirão Verde and Caldeirão do Inferno

The Levada do Caldeirão Verde and Caldeirão do Inferno (P.R. 9) is, probably, one of the longest levada walks that you can make in Madeira.
From the Queimadas forest house to the Caldeirão Verde source and back you can count a good 13 kms. However, if you decide to start your walk in Pico das Pedras and ending it in Caldeirão do Inferno, you'll end the day with a good twenty kilometres under your soles.
Most of the time, you will walk under a dense canopy of luxourious forest and crossing a few short tunnels along the way. After reaching the Levada do Cadeirão Verde source you can continue upstream for another two kilometres of dry levada channel and one exhausting staircase until you reach the Caldeirão do Inferno source and canyon; one of the most dramatic scenarios that you can see in Madeira.
One of the starting points for this classic levada walk is the Queimadas forest house, located near the city of Santana. As one of the most frequented levadas in Madeira, finding a parking place for the car in mid-Summer and during the weekends in the nearby (small) parking area can be an almost impossible task. To avoid this discomfort, many hikers choose to park their cars two and a half kilometres away, in Pico das Pedras, and walk the stretch of levada between this site and Queimadas. That will cost you about four kilometres more at the end of the day.
Plenty of vegetation and abundance of water, either in Summer or during the wet season. This is the characteristic ambiance along this particular levada walk.
The Caldeirão Verde source, in a picture taken from the dry (at the time) levada channel leading to the Caldeirão do Inferno. The dense vegetation is omnipresent, giving to Madeira a sense of being an Atlantian Hawai. Or is it Hawai a Pacifian Madeira?
The Caldeirão Verde birth place, with its impressive one hundred meter waterfall and pond, is the spot where everybody eats a snack before venturing further deep in the mountain, up to the Caldeirão Verde, or just returning back to the departure point.
The Caldeirão Verde/Caldeirão do Inferno levadas  are one of the most complex hydraulic systems in Madeira. After climbing the exhausting staircase I've told you about a few lines ago, you reach this... let's call it... main square at, nearly, 985 metres above sea level. On this crossing, you'll notice three tunnels for three different destinations. On your left you see the entrance to the tunnel leaving you upstream, for about 1km, up to the source of the Levada do Caldeirão Verde (not the one you've made, but a smaller, higher, homonymous one). In front of you, if you follow with your eyes the railway tracks that once supported the wagons used to build it, lies the entrance of the Pico Ruívo tunnel and levada. One of the longest in Madeira, it was carved underneath Madeira's highest peak (hence the name) and has the function of feeding water to the Fajã da Nogueira hydroelectric power plant, built in 1971 on the opposite valley. With almost 2500 mts, you can expect a good 45 minutes underground if you plan to, like I did, traverse it.
Finally, on your right you see the third and last entrance on this crossing. This is the one you want (for now) to follow upstream for about 980 mts and a ten minutes walk up to the source of Caldeirão do Inferno.
The Caldeirão do Inferno is, by itself, a system within the system. It's a complex water collecting net, comprised of a few small dams and water channels, built with ingenuity in one of the most remote places in Madeira and right in the heart of the Laurissilva forest. In this spot, staring at one of the many waterfalls that abound in this place, you've reached the end of your present hike. Time to eat one last snack, drink some water and prepare your mind for the three hour walk back.
Pictures taken with Nikon D300, D40X, Nikon Coolpix P7100 and Nikkor 18-55 and 55-200 kit lenses.
Post-processing of converted NEF to TIFF 16 bit files in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1.

22 September 2013

Cat problems

Depending on how we look at it, wild cats in Madeira can be either a blessing or a curse. One thing is certain, tho: after a family of these feline fellas decided to call the Pico Ruívo hut and its surroundings their home the local rat community packed their bags, abandoned the neighbourhood and emigrated to other destinations.
Although the wild cats population in Madeira is larger than it should be (eventually endangering the existence of some local species, namely the Zino's Petrel), there's no question for us humans that we still prefer to share our ecosystem with these guys rather than with the others.
A wild cat cub in Pico Ruívo area, this afternoon. These are basically domestic cats (Felis catus) that left the human environment and are living with total autonomy, either in the wild or also in urban areas.
These animals are normally shy to humans, keeping a safe distance from people and avoiding close contact. Their behaviour is not aggressive (except, obviously, if cornered). And the only time that you have their full attention is when you have food in your hands. They are also called "Feral cats" and hunting has no secrets for them.
Picture taken with Nikon D300 and cheap Nikkor 55-200 f/4-5.6 AF-S kit lens. Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1.

18 September 2013


The bucolic fishing village of Caniçal, in a picture taken today, at dusk, from the Caniçal port South breakwater.
A place with a strong religious tradition (like all the seafaring towns in Portugal), Caniçal is still living during these days its yearly celebration that started in the past Saturday with the maritime procession honouring Nossa Senhora da Piedade (Our Lady Of Pity).
A place cherished by Madeira citizens and foreigners alike, Caniçal is a famous weekend destination in Madeira, mostly due to its restaurants and their seafood specialties.
Picture taken with Nikon D300 and cheap AF-S Nikkor 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED VR DX (uuuff!) kit lens equipped with a Hoya 52mm Skylight (1B) protective filter.
Post-processing of the converted NEF to TIFF file in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1.

15 September 2013


I don't play golf. And, as a spectator, I don't even fancy that much the sport. But while at work in Porto Santo, I always use a couple of hours of my spare time to head on to the Porto Santo Golf Club.
The golf course was designed by Severiano Ballesteros and divides the island in half, from North to South, with its 27-hole green field.
Located a couple of kilometres away from the relatively busy main town of Vila Baleira, the PSGC is a oasis of calm within an already quiet island.
Besides the nearby golden beach, this is, probably, the best spot in Porto Santo to drink a coffee, a tea or a beer, while enjoying the late afternoon sun setting westwards.
And for that free pleasure (beer or coffee not included!) you don't even have to be a golfer. It's just enough that you recognize its therapeutic properties.
A detail of the Porto Santo Golf course, photographed yesterday, in the late afternoon light, from the club's restaurant and promenade.
Picture taken with Nikon Coolpix P7100 and converted NEF to TIFF file post-processed in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, ver. 4.1