Picture this –
The buzzing hum of the tourists has all but disppeared. It is a perfect evening. A great red ball of sun is still visible on the horizon and the boats are safely moored. In the distance are the silhouettes of storks and flamingoes. Even at this late hour, they are sifting for crustaceans in the salt pans. Tonight, we are at Quatro Aguas (Four Waters) on a beach adjacent to Tavira Island on the Portuguese Algarve. A fire has been lit and a make-do barbecue built. The ‘boaties’ of all nationalities have gathered together. This is their Rialto. The men attend to the cooking (as all men do at barbecues) and, as they drink beer and wine, exchange news. The women set up chairs and lanterns, gossip and swap books – with no television, books are a great currency. Released from the confines of the boat, excited children charge happily around getting under everyone’s feet. There are no communication problems here, the language of boats being universal and always easily understood. This is an unsophisticated era when the compass and sextant are still frequently used and the ‘sat nav’ is a rarity. As the air fills with the smell of cooking chicken and the days catch a hopeful ferral dog joins the party. When the meal is finished, a tune is struck on a guitar – the wine makes singers of us all. Soon the children get bored and demand a STORY – and all heads turn towards ‘Captain John’. He needs no encouragement and, enthralled, they listen to the adventures of Captain Cuttle and Doris the Dredger. Finally, it is ‘back to the hammock’, but not before arrangements are made to meet up again. For some, it will be only a day or two – but for others a week, months or even years.
Regrettably, only half a dozen of the stories remain, as the vast majority of them were lost when our boat, Alma, capsized. It has been a labour of love to piece them together.
Footnote: On a recent visit to Portugal, I revisited ‘Quatro Agua’ and, as I stood on the jetty staring at the now almost unrecognisable mooring, I became aware I was being scrutinised. A hesitant Frenchman, accompanied by two children, came over and said in fractured English, “Pardonnez-moi, but are you not Madame Cuttle?” I nodded.
Delighted, he took both my hands in his and said, “I’m Andre, one of the boat children. I don’t expect you to remember me but I remember you. I will never forget Captain Cuttle. Those stories were part of my childhood and I still tell them to my children. I have brought them to see Doris Dredger*, I don’t think they really believed she existed…”
*Oh yes! Doris is a real Dredger. Now in retirement she still lives at ‘Quatro Agua’!