5 O'clock in the morning, John gets ready before we take the sea to pick up the nets. In the small cabin that becomes a lumber room, he puts on the oilskin as the night is still cold to sea.
Vitor told me to come at 5 in the morning if I wanted to join them this morning. How could I say no?
Vitor puts the gasoline for the trip. The nets are about 5 kilometers away. Vitor does not own the boat, it's Antonio's but he has the role of captain.
We left early, the first one of the village to set sail. From the sand dune to the sea, we were trailed by the tractor. That was quite rough, I almost lost my camera when we first hit the waves.
The full moon gives me a bit of light backing. To reach the first net, we need about 30 minutes, and we lose some time looking for the second one. The fresh air due to the speed gives a good cure against the sickness of being tossed by the waves while raising the nets.
Vitor puts on the only light of the boat so John can starts pulling the nets up. Each net is about one kilometer long, it's takes about 30 minutes for each net.
Tirelessly, John pulls up in the dark the net. The 3 will at the end fill the boat and leaves us no room to move. The noise of the rope going through the metallic pulley is now stronger than the one of the waves.
Vitor pulls the net through the mettalic pulley while John starts to clean it from the catch not suitable for fishing, such as sea stars, that he puts back to the water. I am asked to go at the back of the boat now that the nets fill the middle of our small craft.
As we finish pulling up the last net, the night is slowly disappearing, we can see other boats from the village on the sea. The seagulls are following us since John started cleaning the nets, they dive as soon as he throws something to the sea.
Antonio has worked in Australia, and he talks often to his colleagues about life there. He told me he’d love to come back, and Claudia his daughter is thinking about opening a Portuguese pastry coffee there.
After around 3 hours at sea, we reach back the shore. The sun is slowing rising behing the cliff of Fonte de Telha
Vitor and John prepare the gathering of the flatfishes from the net, if most of the catch is flatfish, there will be some waste of fishes caught and not suitable for sale which will make the two hours coming a paradise for the local cats. In Fonte de Telha, there is no big fishing boats, just small crafts with a crew between 2 to 5 sailors.
The picking of the flatfish starts around 9 o’clock, after a short coffee. Vitor and John take each one a net and start taking out of the craft and putting the fish in a basket full of sea water.
The rhythm of this work is only cut when John lights his cigarette, around every 15 minutes, and when Vitor laughs and discuss with the other crews coming around.
Antonio has joined the crew to help with the picking. Unlike the traditional image we have of the net opened and fish falling, in this method, each fish must be taken out of the net manually. Antonio does not go to the sea but is the owner of the boat, therefore he gets his share of flatfish and income.
After 3 hours, as long as going at sea picking up the nets, we are done with emptying the nets. They pile up above our waist, and the craft will be cleaned before they put back the nets in it.
The morning fishing has filled to heavy basket. A tractor will come to pick them at and put them in ice before sending them to local markets. The price of the flatfish is around 10euro/kg at the market. This morning the craft caught around 360 kilograms.
There are two types of net at Fonte de Telha, for two different fishing, most of the year, they will use light fishnets to pick the flatfish on the ocean floor. The thicker ones are for the coming season of Sardines fishing.
“Linguados” it took me a bit of time to understand the name of the fish in Portuguese. There is a saying here, that Flatfish are Life. They are the main food resource of the village with the sardines fishing. Each sailor takes his share after the collect, around 20 of them. Plus, some extra catch. I saw a sailor showing off with the ray he had caught. A rare catch.
Men mostly go fishing and women prepare the catch of the day. They clean the fish from its scales with a knife and cook them fried with flour.
The cats are always looking for opportunity of a nice breakfast around the boats. Each one has its own technique to approach.
Fonte da Telha is built between the cliffs and the beach, a very narrow space. Above it lies a natural reserve. The closest houses of the village towards the sea are also built on the sand. Including Antonio’s house and the one he’s building for his family.
Antonio’s grandson truck toy lies in the street as the villagers lie in their beds and couch for the midday rest. Even cats and dogs avoid me as I walk the narrow alleys. The trucks here are an essential tool to put the boats to the sea, to move them between the village and the ocean, and to fish the sardines during the season.
On the quiet of the midday, the beach becomes the territory for leisure of tourists. Only the traces of the trucks remain but vanish slowly.
I never quite understood how the fishermen of Fonte da Telha decide to decorate the small shelters for their equipment. But it’s clearly peculiar and each one has its taste.
The quiet of the afternoon is only disturbed by the youngster riding their bikes and four wheelers. If I jump with surprise the first time while taking a break at the local bar, the dog hasn’t moved a millimeter while the bike was passing few feet from him.
As the afternoon is well advanced, slowly the life takes back on near the beach, the shift between idlers and fishermen will start soon.
Fonte da Telha is a popular spot for surfing, in summer, you can wait hours to get a parking spot near the beach. “Tourists can’t hold their kids, and they’re running just in front of the tractors, it’s like the parents don’t care” told me Claudia.
“Each time you use the tractor, you need to clean the wheels as soon as you get back” Antonio explains this to me. The sand could create problems between the wheels. I have lost count on how many times the tractors go back and forth. They are truly as important as the boats here.
As Antonio doesn’t go much to the sea anymore, he still fishes Sardines, with the nets tied to the tractor. Due to the protection of this fish, the season is shorter, and should just have started. But the sea is too rough for this fishing, it could break the nets. Antonio therefore keeps preparing his nets every day, watching at the sea with a bit of anger.
Tonight, Denis will go with his father Vitor to go throw the nets for the next catch of flatfish. He takes much attention in preparing the nets, almost not looking at me.
Antonio’s family takes a walk on the beach at the sunset, the grandkids love going with him on his tractor as he waits for Vitor and Denis return from the sea.
A fisherman goes looking for shellfish at the best hour of the day. It’s one of the most tiring way to fish but rewarding. The man digs in the sand and pulls his tool to extract the seashells. In one hour of work he can get up to 2 kilograms of it. Sold more than 15 euros on the market.
The day of work is over as Vitor comes back from the sea. The nets are set and he will go at sea tomorrow morning to fetch his catch.
A family dinner, with the shellfish of the sea. Antonio can talk a lot about the financial benefits of the shellfish, but he will not eat them himself, as for him if the mollusc is red, it means it contains a toxin. His son who has studied and worked in Florida claims it’s only a matter of eggs. Antonio and Ousuraida, his wife, left the former colonies of Portugal in Africa as she was pregnant of Claudia, the elder.
The night falls on Fonte da Telha. The night will be short before the next fishing day.