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AN ISLAND ASYLUM FOR MAD FISHERMEN
Jack Olsen
November 08, 1965
Isolated from Portugal by eight miles of rough seas, the 400-year-old fortress (left), built to protect shipping from pirates, is now protecting anglers from the sanity of the mainland
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November 08, 1965

An Island Asylum For Mad Fishermen

Isolated from Portugal by eight miles of rough seas, the 400-year-old fortress (left), built to protect shipping from pirates, is now protecting anglers from the sanity of the mainland

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I shifted gracefully to another subject—the fortress we were heading for—and the crewman explained that King Manuel of Portugal had built it in the 16th century to control the raiding activities of pirates who roamed the seas in that area. Then some years later a monastery was built on Berlenga to take advantage of both the island's isolation and the protection of the fort. As the centuries went by, the monastery crumbled into the earth, but the fort remained perched atop its rock slab, connected to the main island by a narrow stone bridge. Eleven years ago the Portuguese government decided to open the fortress to the public, hiring the champion amateur fisherman of Portugal, Senhor Antonio Parreira, to run the place. What could my new Portuguese friend tell me about Senhor Parreira? "A worry brave man," he said, and that was all I could get out of him.

My first conversation with Parreira proved to be a harbinger. He spoke only Portuguese and French, not two of my better languages, and we talked through a pair of interpreters and a few hangers-on. "These are certainly heavy," I said as I tried to pull out a square-cut chair in the reception room. "Why are they so heavy? Why? Porque? Pourquoi? Warum?"

"They are heavy because they belong to the government," Senhor Parreira answered. "The silverware is heavy, too."

"Why is that?"

"Because it belongs to the government also."

"Why does that make it heavy?"

Parreira looked at me as if I were an idiot. "Everything that belongs to the government is heavy," he said.

"Oh," I said. He picked up my rod and reel and began shaking his head dolefully. "No good," he said. He just happened to be looking at my Ambassadeur 6000, my second most valuable possession, a small jewel of a reel made in Sweden and loaded with 17-pound-test line and, as far as I was concerned, capable of handling anything up to whales.

"Too small," he said. "This will not catch the fish."

"I caught a 42-pound striped bass with it," I said.

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