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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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Another day during our tenure at Berlenga, Parreira went out in a larger boat, and his companion, a fellow Portuguese, was overcome by a carbon-monoxide leak in the cabin. The poor man's skin turned green, his eyes reddened and watered and his face began to bloat out of shape. Just as they were about to run for help, Parreira hauled up a double. His sick companion revived, grabbed a rod and, alternately hauling up fish and retching, joined Parreira in landing 125 in two hours. On the way home the motor conked out, and Parreira caught 30 more. The Portuguese attitude toward life was summed up by the grizzled old sailor who rowed the sick man from the larger boat to the dock at the. pousada later. "Hurry," said the victim. "Make your arms go fast. I am very ill."

"So what?" said the ancient mariner. "If you die it means nothing."

By the end of a week of such happenings at the pousada, the visitor has hauled in so many fish of so many species that the thrill is sharply diminished, like the second week of a marriage. This is the time to go hiking across the reddish granite roof of the island or for a cruise through the island's spectacular grottoes—some 200 of them. One watery path threads its way for 400 yards, black and silent, through the rocks, and when you put your hand in the water it glows green and gold from phosphorescence. Another grotto leads to a natural amphitheater, 500 feet high and acoustically sound, where you can make yourself sound like the Robert Shaw Chorale by humming a few bars of Chopsticks. When such sights and sounds pall, you can always study the fortress with its secret passageways and gunports and rusty cannon lying disused on the roof, and its old iron rings sticking out of solid rock, making you wonder what they tethered, or whom. You can even do a modest Hamlet; the resemblance to Elsinore, with waves pounding against the rocks far below, is spooky, and I must confess I got carried away late one dark and windy night, all alone and striding the ramparts like my ancestral countryman, the prince of Denmark. Looking furtively to left and right, I stalked out on the watchtower and struck a heroic pose. "To be," I cried, "or not to be."

I heard a cough. It was the Frenchwoman going about her nightly task of fishing for eels de France. She was sitting in shadow at the other parapet and looking at me strangely. "Bon soir!" I said ebulliently, as though I had known she was there all the time. She turned back to her fishing. I can hear her now, telling her friends in �vreux what nuts the Americans are.

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