The Deadliest Catch – Fishing Cape Saint Vincent, Algarve, Portugal

João is so precariously perched one unexpected gust of wind would send him plummeting to his death. Behind him, the desolate road snakes off down a rocky promontory, ahead stretches the Atlantic, and the horizon where the ancients used to say the sun would set with a noise of sizzling. This is Cape Saint Vincent; the Algarve; Portugal in February and I am standing at what is startlingly Europe’s end watching the most daredevil fishermen I have ever seen.

Careful...

Careful…

The firemen have just left. An angler was ripped from the cliffs two miles south of here this morning. His body has been retrieved. However, yet another attempt to discourage the Cape fishermen from their deadly and illegal pursuit has failed. As the fire engine pulls away down the road, the gradually settling dust cloud reveals twenty or so woollen clad, weathered figures scuttling back to their posts.

João On His Ledge

João On His Ledge

As João, who has fished these cliffs since childhood and each of his colleagues reacquaint themselves with their generation old footholds, backs arched against a jumble of limestone boulders, the wind swirls around the rocks far below, climbs the steep cliffs and claws at the fishermen. Leaning over the ledge they in turn release their lines which drop 70 metres into the silver swell Atlantic tides below. The game begins again.

Cleaning A 'Sardo'

Cleaning A ‘Sardo’

These waters Francis Drake raided, Nelson as a young commodore fought the second Battle of Cape St Vincent and here Henry the Navigator in the 15th century founded Europe’s foremost school of navigators and mapmakers.  This shoreline, with its fractured speck of rock is today a place of such insignificance, appreciated in off-season only by fisherman and the few year-round surfers attracted by the swell below.

The Wind Claws At The Fishermen...

The Wind Claws At The Fishermen…

Soon the first bite; a rod bends to near breaking point as the owner begins to reel in his line. For an eternity, his right hand operates the small handle. His long line, catch sprawling helplessly on the hook, takes a good minute to fully land. Eventually a disappointingly small greyish-black fish is swung the final hop over the edge. A ‘Sardo’, says the man; ‘good’.

Preparing The Line

Preparing The Line

Why this deadly game of one-upmanship being played out here at the edge of the world? Much safer waters surround us. The Atlantic Ocean is the defining element of this land. There are beaches, lower cliffs only a few hundred yards either side of us. Why risk it? ‘Here the fishing is best’, says João; ‘a good days fishing can earn €150’. In the Algarve, this is a living.

Startlingly Europe's End

Startlingly Europe’s End

João tells me ‘if you think I’m crazy, there are two people there’. His tanned, weathered finger points down towards oblivion. I see only swell and rocks. If somewhere between us and there, two fishermen are perched; this cannot be sane. The hostility of the rocks below is in stark contrast to the serenity of the scene and for these fishermen of the edge of the world; the morning’s death seems no more than misfortune, a hazard of the job.

~ by 2ndcupoftea on February 13, 2013.

2 Responses to “The Deadliest Catch – Fishing Cape Saint Vincent, Algarve, Portugal”

  1. Love your story about the fishermen. I used to go on family holidays to Silves, near Portimao so have had many a day trip to Cape St. Vincent. What fabulous memories – although I don’t remember daredevil fisherman – just waiters with plates of sardines piled up their arms!

  2. Cheers Michelle. It certainly is a beautiful areas. Mixed feelings about my visit there, but seeing these ‘crazy’ people was certainly a highlight! Wish I had a chance to taste the catch though…

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