Vila Nova de Gaia: The Rabelo

The flat bottomed, square rigged craft constructed to transport the wine from the Douro valley to the warehouses of Vila Nova de Gaia is known as the Rabelo.

The dangerous and difficult River Douro provided the only means of transporting the sizeable volumes of wine downriver. To make the boat manoeuvrable in strong rapids, it was fitted with a long oar like rudder almost the same length as the boat.

Vila Nova de Gaia - The Rabelo
The increase in the volume of port wine shipped encouraged efforts during the 1780’s to improve the navigability of the Douro River. In the same year the first regulations appeared on the Rabelo and its crew. The Rabelo boats usually carried a crew of 11 sailors, and were loaded with 45 to 50 barrels. Night time navigation was not possible so all the journeys were made by day.

The upstream journey to Régua was just a difficult as the downstream journey to Porto. Sometimes it was necessary for the crew to row in order to make headway, or if the terrain permitted the men would go ashore to haul the boat themselves or use teams of oxen to the same effect.

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Arriving in Oporto to select a port wine for his college, Englishman Horace Grimpil soon finds himself embroiled in the conflicting interests of the British and Portuguese communities, where he is an ignorant outsider.

This Portuguese city - a turbulent place of ambition and defiance fought over by the French and British during the Napoleonic wars - is emerging from political turmoil that left the city and its people with their wealth and society destroyed.

Mr Grimpil, however, is about to experience personal turmoil of his own. Little does he know how the passions aroused during his journey of discovery will affect his own character, or how his presence will bring to a conclusion the relentless pursuit of a political revenge spanning generations.

Read more about the book here

Grimpil's Retrogress © 2010

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