Last night my wife and I left the United States and stepped onto Portuguese soil for a few hours. Well, technically it wasn’t soil, it was the well-scrubbed decks of the N.R.P. Sagres, a training vessel of the Portuguese Navy. The Sagres is a magnificent tall ship that is underway on an epic round-the-world sail that is part public relations, part naval cadet training exercise, and part badass adventure. We were guests of the captain, and as it was Portugal Day yesterday, this was, as Bilbo Baggins said, “a night to remember.”
She is a beautiful and impressive ship, with the Portuguese standard flapping in the breeze and signal flags strung along the rigging. It was an honor for us to be invited, and there is something exquisitely urbane about being escorted aboard a tall ship by naval cadets with white gloves. The Portuguese ambassador was there, along with a U.S. Navy admiral and clusters of U.S. Navy officers in dress whites with gold buttons and checkerboards of mission bars on their chests. My wife was excited about the authentic Portuguese cuisine, from the grand assortment of cheeses and cured meats to the bacalhau à bras, a national dish of salted codfish, onions, eggs, and potatoes. I was excited about the finishes and details of a ship that does double-duty as a floating embassy and a working ship meant to hold up to the rigors of trans-oceanic voyages.
As the evening reeled on into night, there were speeches, toasts with Madeira, sailors gliding through the crowd with trays of croquettes and pastries, and the sounds of clinking silverware and high heels tapping down steel ships ladders as guests went from one deck to the next. For our part, we managed to sample just about every food presented to us, and wondered at how the ship managed to be so well stocked with authentic Portuguese foods throughout the year and at sea.
Docked at the Embarcadero, the Sagres was in good company with the other tall historic ships of the San Diego Maritime Museum. The captain of the Sagres was presented with a deck plank from the Star of India, a venerable grand dame of the seas who has herself circled the globe 21 times. Other crafts of the harbor lay in repose on the harbor in stark counterpoint to the massive Navy ships across the water at the North Island Naval Air Station.
What mistakes can you learn from? First, while admiring the view of a harbor from the rail of a 300’ ship, remember that china is slippery. I caught my wife’s fork in midair as it was sailing off her plate and attempting to swan dive into San Diego harbor. Second, don’t assume that open doors are an invitation to enter. We were told by an apologetic cadet that the captain’s quarters below deck were, in fact, not open to the public after we’d wandered down there to look at sextants. Really.
I leave you with a map of the Sagres’ circumnavigation route for 2010. If there is any doubt that a steel-hulled tall ship manned by Naval Academy cadets from a nation with the world’s most proud and impressive history of seaborne exploration, note that the Sagres has already rounded Cape Horn on its journey. In winter. Viva Portugal!
For more pictures of the Sagres, visit Handmade’s new Flickr page.