Graham’s is very pleased and proud to have come Second in this year’s race of the barcos rabelos. Whether it was our new sail or Paul’s god-son on board, we had terrific luck and a beautiful day, despite temperamental winds, and held our position from the start with only an occasional challenge from one other boat.
For those not familiar, a little background to the race: port wine was brought down river from the quintas in the spring by barcos rabelos until the railway mostly superseded them in the late 19th century. The Symington family continued to employ some boats between quintas in the Douro Superior and Pinhão right up until the 1960s. These double-ended flat bottomed wooden boats were rowed, poled or simply shot the rapids down river, laden with pipes of port wine which had wintered in the Douro and needed to come down to the cooler climate of Vila Nova de Gaia for further ageing and finally blending and bottling.
In 1983 the Race of the Barcos Rabelos was established as a bit of good natured fun on São João, and to keep the tradition somewhat alive. Most Port shippers have a boat, named after one of their quintas. Paul said the first few years no one seemed to know or care much about the race, so it was really encouraging to see the banks of the river lined with an audience yesterday and to be cheered on by well wishers all along the way. Thank you to everyone who turned out for us – it really was appreciated!
Because these boats were designed for the shallows and very rocky rapids of the Douro river, the boats are flat bottomed with no keel and the tiller is little more than a giant oar mounted at the stern of the boat. This makes them a bit of challenge to actually sail – you really are at the mercy of wind and currents. This year´s race began at 17:30 in order to take advantage of the incoming tide.
So, what is it like to be on this boat during the race? Click into the first photo in the gallery below and then use the hyperlinks at the foot of each photo to scroll back and forth through the gallery and follow the story of the race through photos taken from on board Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos.