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« The Boat Man & The Mini Titanic

Mr Alfama got his nickname ‘Goa’ in 1956 when he went to combat in the former Portuguese territory of India with the same name. His Army battalion was sent by vessel through the Suez Canal and got there late September that year. He particularly enjoyed the food, the women and the Basilica of Bom Jesus of this foreign land.

In the following year he left Goa, but by then the Suez was closed (someone said an accident had happened but the probable cause was Operation Kadesh and the Suez Crisis that followed) and he had to come back by the far longer passage south of Africa around the Cape of Good Hope. He ended up visiting Mozambique and Angola in a long, beautiful, journey back home.

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Goa named his boat “The mini-Titanic”. He likes to spend his Sundays repairing it.

Like the Titanic, the ‘Mini’ once sunk and spent some time under water, but was eventually salvaged and is now in fairly decent shape.

Today the ‘Mini-Titanic’ docks at Estaleiro do Ouro, an old abandoned shipyard on the right bank of the river, which owes its name to the shipments of gold arriving from Africa and Brazil during the times of the Portuguese Empire.

Last September, I went to find Mr. Alfama at his spot in Estaleiro do Ouro, reparing the Mini-Titanic. Mr. Alfama, or Goa  was fixing the stern. As he says, a boat always need some repair. Soon we picked up our conversation from where we left it last time.

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Some years after returning from his deployment in the Far East, Goa started working at some company that was building a hotel in the Madeira Island.

The hotel was being built by construction group Soares da Costa who had hired the company Goa was working for to perform part of the project. Unfortunately the subcontractor had bid an unrealistically low price and defaulted. Goa, who was supposed to make 300 escudos an hour, was never really paid in full.

Later, Goa shipped out once more, this time aboard a trawler to fish for cod on the Newfoundland Grand Banks, off the east coast of Canada.

Soon he found out that his job at the construction company was easy compared to this new one. Sixteen hour shifts were common and the crew was often soaked and covered in fish blood as they gutted the fish on the open deck

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Goa was curious about why I was taking so many pictures. Somehow, he was worried I might be spending too much money on film. He didn’t seem fully convinced when I told him that nowadays cameras are digital and most pictures never get printed.

Meanwhile, some acquaintances of Goa who happened to be on the pier started teasing him, shouting that if he kept repairing the boat, he’ll end up sinking. But he just replied that it wouldn’t be the first time.

  

As Goa was trying to salvage some spare parts from an old motor he had lying around by removing several engine parts including the carburettor, we talked for a while. At first he started telling an old story involving him and some local ladies back in Angola, but we ended up talking about the financial crisis and the current state of the banking system.

That’s when he told me about a banking situation back in the 70s that left him in the cold: after his journey to Newfoundland Goa decided to start his own fishing business and soon he was thinking of buying a boat.

     

So he went to the bank and applied for a loan of $500,000.00. The bank took a mortgage on the boat as collateral and set up a reserve account of $50,000.00.

Unfortunately, fish prices declined for quite some time and the business venture didn’t go very well. The project soon turned cashflow negative and Goa defaulted on the loan.

The bank (a now defunct local savings & loan called Credito Predial Portugues) accelerated the loan and proposed a debt settlement which Goa didn’t accept, leaving the bank no option other than to proceed with a foreclosure action.

However, at the foreclosure sale, no one bidded for the boat, since the bank had forgot to put mortgage on the fishing permit. There was simply no one interested in buying a boat without a fishing permit. And so the boat never returned to sea and ended up rotting in Afurada. Some time later Goa even sold the fishing permit for $200,000.00 which allowed him to buy another boat and another motor…

And with this, we leave Goa to continue to build his mini titanic.

Ricardo Porto is a street photographer, based in Porto, Portugal. check his work here: portostreetshooting

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