A Funny Thing Happened at the Lake - Alqueva, Portugal
I crossed into southern Portugal from the Rosal de la Frontera, Spain, border and pointed my van NW to nearby Grande Lago Alqueva. In 2002, Portugal completed the 96m dam on the Guadiola River, creating Portugal’s largest artificial lake.
Several years of heavy rain filled the lake in a scant 8 years, well ahead of projections, creating 1200km of shoreline with a maximum depth of 100m. The lake runs over 80km NNE into Spain and has brought water to a perennially dry part of the country advancing agriculture and jump-starting the local economy.
I was here to paddle my sea kayak, but the weather was foul. Waiting for the rain to stop, I noticed a car arrive towing a Laser SB20 sailboat and I chatted with the driver. Goncalo told me there was a “Champions Regatta” on the weekend with Portuguese National Champions from a variety of racing classes invited.
The potential of the lake is finally being realized and the town of Moura, together with private business, have become advocates of development. This is the second year Sailing Cascais held Laser SB20 Champions Regatta, co-sponsored by Tourism Portugal, Tourism Alentejo and the town of Moura and this year’s event would be even better.
Sailing Cascais towed in 8 sailboats and 2 RIB inflatables for the event, coordinating all logistics from transporting equipment to setting up a festival tent and organizing additional boats for race officials and spectators.
COO Tiago Marcelino invited me to assist in rigging the boats Friday and late in the afternoon asked if I would like to help in one of the Committee boats this weekend. My response was an enthusiastic “Yes!” and Saturday morning saw me in an aluminum boat setting the marks with Goncalo.
Over the course of the day, I learned Goncalo Lopes achieved several top 10 finishes in Laser Radial World Championships and was now a coach at Sailing Cascais. He listed the who’s who of Portuguese sailing, starting with Sailing Cascais CEO Vasco Serpa who represented Portugal in the ‘96 Atlanta Olympics, Laser Class, and noted that Portuguese Naval Architect and SB20 designer, Tony Castro, was spectating.
A team in red jerseys rounded the mark and Goncalo pointed out Hugo Rocha, Portugal’s most decorated sailor, ‘96 Olympic 470 class Bronze medalist, multiple World Champion in several classes and 2016 SB20 World Champion.
On another boat, Skipper Antonio Pereira is Snipe and SB20 National Champion and runner-up in 420 class, all in this year. Lead Umpire Miguel Allen officiates at the highest levels, including America’s Cup. And the impressive list went on.
The format was simple: 8 teams raced 5 races and switched out for the next 8, the top three teams on each side qualifying for the semi-finals. The next 8 finishers had four races to send 2 to the semis.
As a sunny, windy Saturday of racing drew to a close, Vasco and Tiago insisted I come to the banquet that night in Moura hosted by the mayor’s office. Dinner was an endless flow of traditional Alentejo cheeses, wines and dishes over several courses.
A gorgeous Sunday met the 8 semi-finalists and in 5 races they were narrowed to 4 finalists. The champions would be the first boat to win 2 races. The first race was one by a team from Cascais but the next two were taken by the team of brothers Diogo and Pedro Costa (former 420 World Champions and 470 Olympic contenders) and teammates Tiago Morais and Jose Maria Cunha.
Rocha and his team placed second and Pereira’s team third with rising star and Moth Class National Champion Henrique Brites team fourth.
Racing completed, prizes awarded, speeches made, and the event was over for most, but not the team from Sailing Cascais. Working well past dusk, they hauled the boats from the water, de-rigged and prepped for the task of transporting them 2 ½ hours back to Cascais.
In casual conversation, Vasco’s brother Luis said he heard my father was in the sailboat business, asking if it was a company he might know.
“Have you heard of C&C Yachts?” I asked.
“Wow! You are the son of Ian Morch?” he exclaimed, and we talked boats and boating.
As karma would have, it would have been my father’s birthday that day and I knew that destiny brought me to here. Participating in the regatta brought back a array of childhood memories and it could not have been a more fitting birthday tribute to our wonderful father and the sailing legacy in which we grew up.