There are several things not to miss in Porto if you are visiting during São João festivities. The rabelo boat race is one of them.
The rabelo boat had a fundamental role in the expansion of the Port Wine business.
It was on these boats that the transport of the port wine barrels was made, from the farms in the Douro valley to the Gaia pier, and from there to the world.
With a flat bottom, without keel and with a long rudder in one end, these boats could transport up to 100 wine barrels. These features were necessary in order to navigate the Douro River. The river, back on those days, where the dams that now exist, were not yet built, was hard to navigate and many sailors lost their lives on these journeys.
It was a very hard task, either downriver, where the knowledge of the river’s currents and rafts was necessary, either on the way up, where often was necessary to pull the boat with the strength of the sailor’s harms or some animals. You may check this video to see how hard was the work aboard a rabelo boat.
The progress, with the arrival of the railway and the development of roads and transports, sent the rabelos into retirement, in mid last century. Today, they only sail once a year, in the afternoon of São João Day (June, 24), in a boat race that exists since the late 70’s.
The boats sail from Cabedelo, near the Douro mouth, and race until Luiz I bridge.
Each rabelo races with the flag of the Wine cellar to which it belongs and together, they form a very colourful image in the river.
Organized by Confraria do Vinho do Porto, the race was born with a playful spirit but nevertheless, all wine cellars try to cross the line in the first place.
If you are around Porto this time of year, you should not miss this beautiful regatta, that fills the waters of the river with colour and transform the Douro river into a postcard that can only be catch on photo on this day.
If you never watch it and you cannot make it this year, put it on your bucket list for one of the years to come!