The Rabelo boat is the typical vessel of the Douro River. Since the eighteenth century, carrying the barrels of port wine from Alto Douro, where the farms were located, accessible only by river. Governed by brave sailors, went down the Douro to Oporto and Vila Nova de Gaia, where the wine was stored.
Being a mountain river boat, the Rabelo has no keel and is flat-bottomed, whose size varies between 19 and 23 feet long. With a square sail, the Rabelo was manned by about a dozen men who ruled using an oar over the stern - the “espadela”. When necessary, the boats were pulled by men or oxen from paths along the river banks (tow paths). This solution was used when sailing was impossible since the river was swift currents and turbulent. With the arrival of motorized shipping and rail, tow paths were losing their usefulness, being abandoned or converted for leisure activities. The river traffic provided by Rabelo boats went into decline in the late nineteenth century. In the late sixties, there were only six units in permanent activity.
In recent decades, the houses producing port wine teamed up in order to save them from extinction, building several copies to remind us of his glory days, and promoting tours on the river. On St. John, June 24th, these beautiful boats are decorated to attend the Rabelos Annual Regatta, in Oporto.
It is a wonderful event not to be missed.