A RIVER AND ITS BOAT
The Douro river has always been part of the soul of the city of Porto and worked as a transport conduit for an entire region, upstream. Instrumental in moving goods and people up and down the river were the rabelo boats, a type of cargo boat unique to this river.(...)
The history of the rabelo is closely linked to the history of port, a fortified wine that comes from the grapes of the Douro Valley. Going back as early as the 10th century, when no roads or railway lines existed along the river, these 20-foot flat-bottomed boats were equipped with one square sail and a long oar over the stern, called espadela.
A MONTH LONG JOURNEY
From Porto, these beautiful pieces of wooden art sailed upstream with the help of prevailing westerly winds. On the most challenging sections, boats were pulled by men or oxen, using footpaths, caminhos de sirga, that used to line the riverbank. This would take up to 30 days, depending on how distant the wine estate is.
Once they reached the valley vineyards around Pinhão and Peso da Régua, rabelos took on their cargo of barrels of wine and embarked on the treacherous 3 to 4-day journey back to Porto. Standing on an elevated platform, or apegada, up to a dozen crew members (in the larger Rabelos) used the long oar and poles to navigate around rocks, shallows, white water and hairpin turns to ensure the wine reached Porto safely.
After this arduous journey, the wine in wooden barrels was stored and aged in the cellars of Vila Nova de Gaia to create port.
Sérgio is the founder of Porto Running Tours, a keen runner since 1999 and a friendly running tour guide-storyteller since 2015.
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