27 December 2015

Merry Christmas

Christmas in Porto Santo island.
Picture taken at dawn, in Vila Baleira central square, with Nikon P7100 secured in a cheap Polaroid 42" travel tripod and post-processed in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

12 August 2015


The dense and luxuriant Laurissilva forest in Pico das Pedras, on the North coast of Madeira.
Picture taken with Nikon D300 and Tamron SP AF 90mm f/2.8 Macro lens. Manfrotto tripod and Junior geared head. Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

07 August 2015

Sophisticated weather station

Looking for a replacement for my cheap digital no-brand cr.. weather station, which I bought six years ago in a general store, I began a few weeks ago to do a bit of searching.
In the Funchal Pilot station we have the trustworthy (for advanced amateur standards) Davis Vantage Pro 2, well renowned by weather buffs worldwide. For use at home, however, the price of nearly 700 Euros is a deal breaker, since I also don't need so much complexity and parameters. Now I'm looking for accurate, simpler and cheaper. A few days ago, aboard the Icelandic research vessel Neptune, I've noticed this advanced equipment that seems to fit the bill. The only drawback is the inexistence of a reseller in Portugal.
Picture taken aboard the RV Neptune (IMO nº 7504237), with Panasonic DMC-FT3 compact digital camera.

Summer diet

Only our natural and ever-present human arrogance allow us to, sometimes, forget our actual position on the food chain: somehow nearby the middle.
For many of our fellow inhabitants, within this tiny blue ball drifting around in the universe, we are nothing more than a nice and tender snack.
Picture taken along the shoreline of Olinda, in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco, with Nikon D40X and cheap Nikkor DX 18-55mm standard zoom lens. Post processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

21 July 2015

Summer weather

During my seafaring career, we used to pray for days like this. At sea the weather simply cannot be better than this. The sea surface with the texture of olive oil and the "good weather cumuli" reflecting on the calm surface below. Sea of ladies, we used to call it. Because if it was always like that even (more, I add) women would be seafarers.
Sea of ladies indeed.
Picture taken on the mountains of Madeira, facing the North coast and the town of Santana, with Nikon D300 and Sigma EX 18-70mm f/2.8. Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Perfectly Clear Lightroom plug-in.

05 July 2015

Facing hell

Besides the danger of sinking or capsizing, fire at sea is, probably, the most dramatic event that a seafarer may face while on duty at sea. To the layman a fire at sea doesn't sound so different as the same scenario ashore. Nothing could be further from the truth. When a fire erupts on a ship at sea, the crewmembers can't go anywhere. They can not retreat to a safer distance, assess the situation and then return to face it, already in the possession of a solid strategy and probably assisted by professional fire-fighters. No. At sea, at two days voyage from the nearest port and unable to be assisted in a short practical amount of time, they have to face the monster themselves. Or resign. And watch the vessel burn to ashes.
Since only a few Merchant Marine units worldwide have a team of professional fire-fighters on board, merchant mariners worldwide have to perform that duty if the divine providence puts them in the presence of such a scary moment. The Advanced Fire Fighting Course was one of the several courses we had to take before our seafaring books were issued and we were considered ready to surf the mighty ocean.
When we made the AFFC, in the early nineties, in Alfeite (Lisbon Naval Base), we were all far from imagine how stressful a real fire-fighting situation could be. A few years later I would recognize the valuable instruction that we received in those two intensive days, when we had a small (it was really small!) fire in the ship's galley. Nothing special. Just a paint of oil from the roast chicken that slipped from the tray and ignited the moment it touched its heating elements. In took us a mere ten seconds since the cookie screamed "fire" to storm the galley with a Chemical Powder Fire Extinguisher and we had already to find our way to the source of the fire like blind people, unable to see more than two fingers in front of our faces. From that moment on, surrounded by a black, thick and impenetrable smoke, I developed a deep respect about fires on liquid fuels. One could only hardly imagine the same scenario in the engine room.
Bulkhead in flames for a demonstration of fire suppression techniques using ABC Chemical Powder Fire Extinguishers, in Lisbon Naval Base. The correct technique is here demonstrated: you have to fight the fire from the lower level to the higher one, pointing the fire extinguisher's nozzle from down to up. The smart use of the fire extinguisher's available capacity is the most important factor while fighting a fire.
Picture taken with Pentax SF1 and Pentax 50mm f/1.7 KAF lens on Fujicolor HR100. Scanning in Nikon Coolscan V ED and post-processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

26 June 2015

Echoes of the past

When we visited it, in 1992, nearly a quarter of a century ago, the Natural Park of Alvão was one of the most remote places in the continental Portugal. At the time, it was short on the famous connecting highways that are today a cause for political controversies.
In those days, however, we'd gladly enjoy their convenience if one existed that could reduce the long voyage from Lisboa to the massif, deep inside the Trás-Os-Montes province, on the NE Portugal. After a ten hour voyage that looked to us, still youngsters in the mountaineering business, like an expedition in itself, we finally arrived, late in the evening, to the high plateau of Serra de Alvão and to a remote small village called Lamas de Ôlo, where we improvised a bivouac in an old and abandoned watermill.
A perfect example of a Portuguese mountain village, this small place, now home of barely one hundred souls, surprised us by the beauty of its archaic architecture, with most houses built with granite and schist.
On the village's highest place stood tall, as a lonely sentinel, the community bell. A remainder of a not-so distant past, when the village had to depend on itself against the many menaces their inhabitants could face. And when words as solidarity, teamwork and union were used on a daily basis.
I have never returned to Alvão.
Old picture taken with a Pentax SF-1 film camera, with the, at the time, standard 50mm f/1.7 Pentax KAF lens and with a Agfapan B/W 100 ASA film. Scanning in Nikon Coolscan V ED and processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

25 April 2015

Christ of Garajau

The solitary statue of the Christ of Garajau, resting on the promontory with the same name, faces the deep Atlantic Ocean on a chilly evening and watches over all the mariners at sea.
Older than the most iconic statues of Jesus around the world (The Christ of Corcovado dates from 1931 and Lisbon's Cristo-Rei dates from 1959), the Christ of Garajau was inaugurated in 1927 and from that year on stood as a reference on the Southern Madeira landscape to all the vessels passing by Funchal.
Not surprisingly the statue of the Redeemer gets the biggest respects from the Italian crews, whose Captains always consider the passage of their ships by that symbolic place as a moment of respectful spirituality.
Picture taken with Nikon P7100 held over a rocky wall. Self-timer exposure of 0.6 secs at f/8. ISO800 in JPEG file corrected for saturation, contrast, sharpness and digital noise in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4.3

Invicta 1022 Reserve Chronograph

First of all let's understand one thing. This modest review is not about some Swiss artisanal extravaganza costing dozens or, sometimes, hundreds of thousands of Euros. It's just my two cents worth about a - my relative opinion - nice looking and cheap watch, which happens to have the hypnotic letters "Swiss Made" engraved on the dial.
Amongst the watch lovers, the brand Invicta is prone to be absent of consensus: you either love it or hate it.
The plain fact is that Invicta watches are just machines. Built to do a work, which is: telling you the time.
Similarly to the automotive industry, where the cars are machines constructed to provide you a service - taking you from point A to point B, in a fastest and safest way - also in the world of watchmaking you can choose between Ferraris and Fiats to do the simple job of telling you the time. If you swim in money or if watches are you lifelong passion, by all means go hog wild, grab your credit card and go on, buy that Swiss beauty that you have been courtshiping for the last couple of years. After all, it's not only a watch... it's a work of art. And it's also an investment (so they say!). Two things are certain, we all know, after that acquisition: your bank account will noticeably diminish and your self-esteem will increase. However, as any Ferrari owner will tell you, owning the damn thing is only part of the problem. Maintaining it is also a pain in the...
That's why a lot of people (even some rich, cheapskate, ones) choose the Fiats over the Ferraris. Because they are cheaper. And do exactly the same thing. For the rest of us, the working class heroes, navigating through life on the verge of bankruptcy, the dilemma is a different one: you either buy the Fiat or you forget that cheap watches nonsense and use you cell phone to tell you the time.
Well, not so fast. Thanks to the capitalistic(!?) regime we are living in, the poor are also allowed to have exclusive toys, without the price tag of the real things.
Remember the pocket-rockets? These are car versions, within a particular model, that are equipped with more powerful engines and better dynamic behaviour than their commuting counterparts. They are the "sports" version of that model, and therefore they give their owner a sense of exclusiveness. And it's as close as he (or she) can be of driving a Ferrari, for one hundred thousands Euros less.
Well, Invicta's Reserve models are a bit like pocket-rockets within an, otherwise, common and accessible watch brand.
These are timepieces (supposedly) build with more "noble" components and stricter quality control (so we think) than their current counterparts. And I add "supposedly" and "so we think" between parenthesis because, as I mentioned in a former post, the Invicta logo (at least on the present days) is surrounded in mystery. It's almost impossible to get detailed information, besides a common address, about this brand on the web, regarding the physical locations of its factory unit or headquarters. A quick look in Google Earth leaves you in the blind. To me, one of the best ways for a company to improve thrust with their clients is by inviting them home.
Rolex being Rolex is encased in a world of secrecy, but you can, nevertheless, find lots of information on the web regarding their HQ and company profile. Not so with Invicta. Sometimes I wonder about the true physical existence of this corporation. However, their watches are being made somewhere on planet Earth. And by humans. Not by any kind of artificial intelligence, using alien hand labour, on Mars.
Well, enough of complaining. Back to our Invicta 1022 Reserve Chrono.
Is this a very good watch for a killer price or is it overpriced for what it is? Honestly, I think for the price paid (224 EUR, in April 2014) this machine is quite ok.. Even today, you will have a hard time finding a Swiss made quartz chronograph by such a low sum of money. If it's really a Swiss made one... that's another story. And even if it really is, we have to be pragmatic. There must be plenty of average quality watchmakers in Switzerland. Certainly not all of them must be up to Omega, Cartier or JLC standards. Likewise, there are also a few great watchmakers overseas, even in the Far-East. Seiko and Orient, for example, being just two among them. However, since hand labour in Switzerland is comparatively more expensive than in the East, we always expect that a compromise between low price and quality in unreachable in the centre of Europe. Well, this modest watch is an example that such goal can be achieved. Subjected, like anything in life, to compromises.
The Invicta 1022 Reserve Quartz Chronograph. This watch belongs to a family of three, whose siblings are: the 1020 (with white-bluish lume on rotating bezel, hands and dial) and the 1021 (with a green lume on the same components). Besides these individual changes all the watches are exactly the same, being powered by an equal and reliable Swiss Ronda Quartz 5050E movement. The 1022 version shown above (mine) has the lume in a reddish-pink tone (or, as wisely pointed out by another owner, in "salmon"). Granted, the colour is not the best for the average daily wear, being at its best - I guess - in black or darker tones.
The butterfly clasp of this watch is a beauty work that you usually see only on more expensive time machines. However, due to its thickness, push-buttons and square profile it can feel, sometimes, uncomfortable on your wrist. It's no surprise that part of this discomfort is due to the watch's case size (47mm), thickness (14mm) and total weight (220 grams on your wrist).
Here seen open...
...and locked, with its "Reserve" logo engraved.
The crown is screw-on as are, likewise, both chrono pushers. This detail gives us more assurance regarding the water resistance of the watch, although I'd be very careful in using this watch for diving without submitting it to a previous hydrostatic pressure test. The fact is: these watches are probably made by third party factories and then branded Invicta. You are always facing more risks with such acquisition than if you simply have bought an in-house made machine. The watch in question may even have passed all the tests at the end of the manufacturing line. But its reliability on the future, with continuous use, is another question. There's simply too much people involved in the process. Regardless of that, the declared 500 meters of water proofness looks a bit optimistic for me. This detail alone puts this watch right in the elite world of saturation diving. Which means this should be a high quality product, suitable for a arduous and hazardous professional work. Well, normally the tool-watches chosen by divers for this task start at ten times the price tag of this lovely Invicta watch. Oh well, if it can work its way up to recreational scuba diving or snorkelling it's already a good ambition. It's probably what it was built for, anyway. For that and for a bit of show-off in the sunny beach bars around the world.
The "Invicta" name engraved in the case face opposite to the crown is already a trademark of the company. Some like, some don't. Honestly it doesn't hurt my eyes. The engraving is discreet enough to be seen only if you careful inspect the watch, by taking it out of the wrist.
The last link of the metal bracelet, connecting it to the case, is (contrary to Grand Divers models) clean of the silly diving helmet relief engravement. Absent of this detail, the watch has a more traditional look. The coin-edge bezel has 120 clicks but it's a bit on the stiff side. It might be difficult to operate with neoprene gloves underwater. And do you see that almost imperceptible oxidation marks between the links? Well, there's stainless steel and there's Stainless Steel. And this one is a bit away from the 904L grade used by Rolex.
Another interesting detail: instead of conventional pins, the bracelet links are connected using screw-in pins. I've read reports about these pins getting slack over time, leading, eventually, to loosing them. My bracelet, so far, has been ok.
The magic words that give a touch of sophistication to any watch (even a cheap Swatch) are not necessarily a commitment on the highest quality. In the end, as the Americans wisely say, you only get what you pay for.
The (flat) crystal is the usual "high-quality" Flame-Fusion one used by Invicta to equip their most exclusive models. The Flame Fusion is another name given to the Verneuil process, a technique of manufacturing synthetic gems, using heat. By this technique it's possible to create in laboratory (and now, commonly, in the industry) synthetic gemstones like sapphires and diamonds. However, according to many comments on the web, the Flame Fusion crystals equipping the Invicta watches are not pure synthetic sapphire. Instead they are supposed to be a hybrid compromise: these are common mineral crystals which receive a coating of synthetic sapphire, by the already mentioned process. By this the guys at Invicta expect to unite the strong shattering resistance of the common mineral crystal to the high scratch resistance of sapphires. In theory it seems a good idea.

12 April 2015

Running for victory

The Portuguese athlete Ester Alves approaches the MIUT's most iconic check point, located in Madeira's highest peak, yesterday morning. The Doctorate Student, presently the national championess, was the first female crossing the finish line in Machico and, therefore, remains the fastest female trail runner in Portugal, having finished this year's edition of the Madeira Island Ultra Trail in 18 hours and 42 minutes.
With a length of 115 kilometres and altitude variations along the track summing up nearly fourteen kilometres in total, the reign route of the competition was a strenuous one, judging by the accounts of many participants.
Reaching, with this years edition, the higher goal of inserting the MIUT into the world championship, the organization made sure that this ambitious achievement was supported by a world-class race, with a degree of difficulty that surprised many seasoned athletes. In the end of it, only the fittest would survive.
Picture taken with Nikon D610 and Nikon Nikkor DX AF-S 55-200mm f/4-5.6 G ED. Post-processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

30 March 2015

Castelo do Bode dam

Although small, when looking at it by the ruler of its mere physical dimensions, Portugal is one of the world's leading nations in the field of civil engineering. From the vast projects and works-of-art that the Portuguese civil engineers have created over the course of the centuries on the four corners of the world, the most conspicuous are, certainly, the bridges and dams. In particular, and during the course of the 20th century, a long list of projects were concluded, many of them on the former Portuguese ultramarine colonies, in Africa. Amongst all of them, perhaps the jewel of the crown, undisputed, was the Cahora Bassa dam, a cyclopic project on the Zambezi river and still remaining nowadays the biggest hydroelectric power dam in Southern Africa.
However, at the time Cahora Bassa was terminated (in 1974) Portuguese engineers and civil constructors had already a vast experience in dam construction, accumulated since the beginning of the forties, and, as a consequence, the nation had, at the time, dozens of hydroelectric projects in full operationally.
The Castelo do Bode dam, built during that golden age of investment and which construction ended in 1951, is, probably the most iconic of all the Portuguese hydroelectric power plants. Reasons for that?
Well... It was the first "big one". And due to its location, in the Zêzere basin, right in the centre of the country, and easy access it quickly became a hit amongst the vast community of weekend travellers. And... ahhh... last but not least... it's quite photogenic.
Castelo do Bode, here photographed during a calm evening time, on the past February, was, at the time of its build, the biggest hydroelectric power plant in Portugal. The project, for the Era, visionary and ambitious, was created by the French civil engineer André Coyne, at the time one of the most respected dam engineers in the world and responsible for the subsequent formation of an entire generation of Portuguese civil engineers on that particular field.
Picture taken with Nikon D610 and Nikon Nikkor 28-105 AF kit lens. Sirui T005 travel tripod and head. Post processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4.3

29 March 2015

The Paul da Serra plateau

A curious flat formation, The Paul da Serra high plateau, located on the West part of Madeira, adds a twist of monotony in an island almost entirely dominated by an aggressive geological morphology.
With an area of roughly 25 square kilometres and an average high above sea level of nearly 1500 mts, the high plateau of Paul da Serra is also one of the most important drainage basins in Madeira. In fact, this plateau, dryer during the Summer months, is a place of almost eternal fogs during the Winter season. Its ability to collect water from the atmosphere is obvious during those wet months, during whose the Paul da Serra plateau usually houses several lagoons, which normally dry out as the wet season changes towards the Summer months.
In fact, this characteristic is so obvious that its name was well given: "Paul" in Portuguese means pond.
In the pictures:
The Paul da Serra plateau, a dry, high, plane during the Summer months, becomes, due to the maritime climate, a moisture magnet during the Winter season. Its natural shape, associated to the climatic factor, makes it one of the most important water-collecting basins in the whole island. In fact the numerous ponds appearing during the Winter months can even be, as once was demonstrated, suitable for wind-surf. The obvious windy nature of the place makes it one of the best places in Madeira for wind farms, as we can see by the numerous wind turbines that nowadays decorate this vast altitude plain.
All the pictures taken with Nikon F100 and Nikkor AF 28-105mm kit lens and Manfrotto tripod. Fujichrome Velvia ASA 50 scanned in Nikon Coolscan V ED and post-processed in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.