The “rabelo” boat was a typical vessel on the Douro River, used to carry the wine casks, while being a boat specialized to operate in mountain rivers, with a total length between 19 and 23 meters. The “rabelos” had no keel and were built with overlapping boards on a flat bottom.
The square sail ships were usually run by six or seven men. As for the masts, the first ones only used one, some later appearing with mast to the bow and a long row to the stern – the “espadela”. When necessary, these boats were pulled from towpaths by men or by oxen thrusted carts.
Capable of carrying up to 100 barrels of wine, the Rabelos were instantly recognized by their long, elegant maneuvering oar. Incredibly brave and strong men made up the crew of every rabelo, while knowing that the next journey could be their very last one. In order to sail safely, the rabelos needed to be positioned with great precision in the river. As soon as it would be released and get caught in the current, the crew would have no other choice but to wait and pray that they would emerge out of the trip safe and unharmed. Then, the master in the quadrant would release the direction of the oar, take off his cap and then cross his arms exclaiming: “Now go with God.”
After the commitment and interest of Mrs. Antónia Ferreira, or Ferreirinha, the first railroad of the Douro was concluded in 1887, so that the “Rabelo” ceased to be the only viable option for transporting wine and bulky goods to the coast. Yet, these brave vessels remained active for many more decades. It was the emergence of roads that changed this reality forever. The last commercial trip of a rabelo is believed to have occurred in 1964.
However, we all know that without the “Rabelos” and their courageous crews, the wine trade would had never prospered, so that all the Durienses have joined forces in order to save them from extinction. Many built “Rabelos” to remember their former days of glory, spreading them on the Douro’s river flow. Currently, they are still used by tourists for tours on the Douro River.