Day 27

13th November 2001

It’s bizarre to think that people have known about this patch of sea for such a long time. Fishing here is by no means a new thing.

the-white-fleet
Image courtesy of saltedearth.net

The Captain was telling me about Portugal’s history of fishing for cod on the Grand Banks which dates back since the early 16th century. Large sailing ships would depart from Portugal with holds full of salt and men keen to bring back their fortunes. The mother ship would lower smaller boats or dories into the water each with its own crew. Off they went to fish, bringing back their catches to the mother ship for it to be gutted split and salted. It was known as the White Fleet because all of the vessels had white sails.

13th November 2017

With the benefit of Google I thought I’d research the White Fleet a bit more. I can see why the Captain was so proud of his heritage. Cod is very much part of Portugal’s history, and fishing for it is a matter of national pride. I found an interesting article online about the Portuguese White Fleet, which describes the pomp and ceremony as the fleet set sail from Portugal. It was an emotional ceremony and the Portuguese have a word to describe the the feelings roused by it: Saudade.

 saudade: longing, yearning, nostalgia, joy and sorrow, laughter and tears, an ardent desire for a person who is going away, or for someone who has already gone.”

This makes me think back to Day 1, and the complex emotions I felt when leaving home. Saudade is exactly the right word to describe them. I can imagine what it must have been like for the crew on those ships waving their families goodbye, setting off on a voyage which would take them away to cold and dangerous waters for half a year, with the risk that they may not return.

Fish, and especially cod were abundant in those early centuries on the Grand Banks. It was written that fish could be scooped from the sea in baskets, and that in places they bays were so full of fish it was difficult to row a boat through them. I’m sure those are exaggerated fishermen’s tales, but it’s a fact that huge amounts of cod were caught for centuries, bringing great wealth not only to those brave or foolhardy enough to go after them, but it was a significant part of Portugal’s economy. That is of course until the cod ran out…

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