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On Kialoa II in Vilamoura, Portugal

Frank Robben - December 1993

Dear Friends - A sunny and clear day in Vilamoura, but a cold north wind, this morning maybe only 5 degrees Centigrade. On the southern coast of Portugal, one of the vacation havens for Europeans with long sandy beaches sheltered from the North Atlantic swells, Vilamoura is a planned resort community with the only full service yacht marina on this coast. Now only a few people wander the walkways, many of the boutiques are closed, high rise hotels, time share rentals and rental apartments are largely empty. In some ways it is more pleasant than during the summer when it was nicely warm, quite crowded, with the beaches full of young and old sunbathing, splashing in the water and playing games. One found a few topless ladies, some young and pretty, others not. Now only a few hardy souls on the beach, perhaps lightly dressed and braving the cold, pretending it was warm.

Kialoa II is moored behind a large 5-star hotel in this man-made harbor, with only a few other boats on this dock for larger yachts. Repairs are underway, almost as usual. Steve, a good ship's carpenter who owns and lives on a sailboat here, has removed the main hatch to repair the leaks. Kialoa has developed a number of leaks in the deck this last year, they are a terrible nuisance and difficult to repair. The varnish has been stripped and redone in an oil type finish which looks like varnish but should be easier to maintain. And some painting. This work goes on during the week; we are generally out on research cruises during the weekend. At the moment three people are doing maintenance on Kialoa, not counting me.

I have not written to any of you for more than a year, I am not happy about that. I have shared time and adventures with many of you who will receive this impersonal newsletter. It would be wonderful to sit down and talk to each of you, share remembrances, experiences, feelings about things, know the ways in which we have learned, and perhaps discover new insights. I love the adventure of sailing, of living and working on this boat, but it is demanding, it takes much time, effort and resources, and I find that in the evenings I want to relax, perhaps read a bit, and also share some time with new friends. And the days, weeks and months have just gone by, and I have not written. Just a newsletter seemed too impersonal, and I often imagined it to be a monumental task.

I will return to the USA, to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, for maintenance and repairs. I plan to leave Portugal about 10 March ( the research project should be finished, with luck ) and should arrive in Ft. Lauderdale about 1 June, in order to be in a good harbor before the risk of a hurricane becomes too great. The trip should take between 4 and 5 weeks sailing, leaving 5 to 6 weeks in port for exploration. Is anyone interested in joining me and Kialoa on some leg?

The island of Madeira is about 4 days sailing south from Portugal, a bit north of the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa and is reported to be beautiful and peaceful. I want to stop there first, and skip the Canary Islands. Then I am considering two possible routes, one going further south along the coast of Africa to the Cape Verde Islands, not visited so often and perhaps a bit more unusual and interesting, the second crossing the Atlantic from Madeira leaving somewhat more time to cruise and explore the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean Islands.

Portugal

My feelings about Portugal are mixed. The southern coast here is covered with hotels, condos, high-rise apartment buildings, used by Europeans (and also Portuguese) who come here for vacations, and sometimes buy apartments, build houses, buy farms. This extends inland maybe 20 miles or so, then as the hills rise and there is no view of the ocean the countryside reverts, somewhat, to what it probably was 30 years or so ago, before the revolution here. The Europeans are more British, but many Germans and Dutch as well. The local Portuguese economy does relatively well with all the construction and tourist related activities, even though this is a bit down now with the general world recession. The construction is spotty, a lot of mess, things placed in sometimes odd places, the old, decaying adobe and rock farmhouses alongside a small housing development, maybe groups of 20 or 30 white houses with chimneys attempting to imitate the traditional designs of this region. And things like a big Sheraton hotel complex perched on the cliff above a stretch of sandy beach.

On the whole the locals are not particularly friendly or helpful, with of course exceptions. Prices are a bit high, but nothing like in Germany. There is a tendency to charge the foreigners more than locals, perhaps as much as the traffic will bear. And there is an overabundance of bureaucracy, in the marina, every place, I hear stories from many people who try to build or have a business here.

I understand that in the north of Portugal, where foreign and native visitors have not taken over, bought and developed the property and dominated the economy the people are more friendly and the landscape is more beautifully maintained.

The impact of the European Community is clearly evident. Citizen members are more or less free to come and live or work in Portugal; however, they still have to satisfy a considerable amount of paperwork and their status in many ways is just developing. But money has flowed in, a new freeway crossing to Spain is a very visible example. And apparently the Community more or less requires Portugal to conform to many regulations, ways of treating its citizens. So it certainly has helped Portugal on the road to democracy.

Portugal has had a democratic government for only the last 20 years. Twenty-five years ago Portugal was still ruled by the last of the Fascist dictators, Salazar, and the country was basically isolated from almost all modern development and information. Even when incapacitated, for the last years of his life, his cronies ruled the country dictatorially, and following his death a junta succeeded him and, with some liberalizations, continued. But the increasing backwardness of the country, the weight of the Portuguese colonies in Africa, and the unrelenting criticism of the rest of the world fostered the nearly bloodless revolution of April 1974. Although a military revolution, they shortly installed a democratic government, and through a series of governments of both the left and right Portugal has moved to its present position.

Myself

I am leaving out my personal affairs and thoughts, they are complex, with good things and not so good things, not all nice and sensible. I struggle with understanding, both myself and others, with placing feelings and desires in an intellectually satisfying framework. It is impossible. I sometimes see myself as a not-so-pleasant person. I think about the ethics, how should we behave, how should society behave, what is the purpose?

The book Lydia, subtitled A Study in Morals , by Robert Pirsig, was given to me in Sri Lanka by a friend from another yacht and in some way fits what I had been thinking. (Robert Pirsig wrote Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance some years ago.) I find myself drawn to try to develop and write down something of value from my thoughts and experiences. I have some poorly formed ideas that I would like to discuss with people. But also I want to keep Kialoa, to live on her and sail some to interesting places. Whether all this is possible I do not know. I would love to return to the South Pacific, there is so much there. But I also want time for myself, to write and study. And I am not sure just how to do that.

I would like to pursue another oceanographic charter, it is both interesting, useful and an activity at which I have experience. I need to put together some material and send it to people who may be interested.

I have visited my daughter Katie, husband Tom and grandson Bjorn three times in Frankfurt where they are living. Tom works at Deutches Bank, primarily dealing with computer programs for foreign exchange. Over Christmas holidays they came to Portugal, with another couple who are friends of theirs, and we sailed to Gibraltar for a few days.

Gibraltar is historically most interesting, an unusual place whose economy at the moment is probably not so good. The people are quite friendly and hospitable, and there are a lot of yachts and yacht supplies. The Europa '94 Around the World Race (or perhaps organized cruise ) started there early in January and some activity was apparent. We were asked if we were entered, in some ways it would be a good voyage for Kialoa II. It is wonderful to be close to Katie and family for a bit. They are thinking about joining me for some part of the trip across the Atlantic, and I am hoping it will happen.

My mother and stepfather came in October for two weeks. They stayed in hotels and we toured by car around the southern part of Portugal, to Spain and to Gibraltar, and to Lisbon. The most interesting part was a three day trip by plane to the Azores, a very beautiful group of islands in the Mid-Atlantic which were settled by Portuguese and still belong to Portugal. The one island we visited was beautiful, volcanic origin with a large crater at the south end, many small villages, all neat and tidy, and gorgeous landscapes. And not a lot of tourism. All the roads were gardened on the sides, with flowers and many rest stops at scenic locations, well kept and gardened. A wonderful place. The economy was principally farming, much dairying. Although economically poor, the people were rich in the quality of their surroundings and villages. It was very pleasant to be there, and a sharp contrast with the tourist dominated vacation beach area here on the southern coast.

I send everyone belated best wishes for 1994. I hope you are all in good health, enjoying life, and blessed by many friends. I would love hearing from you, even better having the chance to sit and talk to you.

Copyright 1996 by Frank Robben