Maxed Out 

A death at sea


I met Gideon Sillem a week ago when we pulled into Cascais, Portugal late Thursday night after an, alternately, placid and harrowing passage through the Bay of Biscay. He and his wife, friends of the Pirate Princess, not to be confused with The Princess – gratuitous reference – were going to join us as far as Gibraltar. At 62 years old, he was as anxious as a kid about to embark on long-awaited summer vacation. He’d been looking forward to this trip since his wife had first mentioned it. He had new clothes, books to read, a pre-assigned crew position, cook, and, for all I know, had name labels sewn into his underwear. He was giddy Gideon.

Having left the marina long after midnight, he returned at the crack of dawn with a much needed hose fitting – one of many holdouts in the European "Union" seem to be marinas; each country has slightly different water and power connections and the only constant seems to be no matter how many you carry with you, you never have the right one – and threw himself into the endless job of washing salt off the boat at an hour the Wizard and I were pounding back coffee and wondering what manner of crazy man this was we were about to take aboard.

After a lay day to take care of laundry, largely soiled during a gale that saw us surfing down the lee side of waves towering over our flybridge, itself about seven metres above the water, at speeds we can never reach under engine power alone, we set out provisioning for the next leg of the journey.

Cascais is a burgeoning town west of Lisbon. A sleepy, relatively unknown fishing village when I stumbled into it by accident almost 30 years ago, it has suffered the ravages of Eurotourism and is now largely a chi-chi spot for expats with a yearning for warmer weather and econotourists looking for a nasty sunburn and a cheap hotel. What used to be a sparkling stretch of white sand beach that ran almost unbroken from Cascais to Estoril a few kilometres east, is now a tawdry boardwalk with an unbroken barricade of mansions perched high behind fortressed walls, an endless promenade of hustlers hawking cheap trinkets, ice cream stands and indifferent cafes meeting the endless thirst English tourists seem to have for egg and chips no matter where they are in the world. The architectural excesses of the wealthy, and absent, McMansion owners is dwarfed by the bland tastelessness of Estoril’s public buildings, culminating in a conference centre that is a screaming, textbook argument for strong zoning bylaws. Scratch that one off the ‘places to return’ to list.

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