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The Mighty Amazing

The Amazon

Last June I wrote about how, in 1819, Halwell Point was the first place where pleasure boats were recorded in Salcombe Harbour. I have been marvelling at a huge stretch of sheltered water, three to five miles across and as far as the eye can see from left to right, without irritating rocks, hazards or navigational marks. It has a 3-knot current flows from West to East, balanced by a warm, steady, wind from East to West; and it conveniently adjoins a regional capital producing high-tech goods from electronics to Harley Davidsons.

You might think this would make for perfect recreational boating, yet there is not a single pleasure boat in sight. Indeed, during two weeks travelling up and down this water I have not seen a sailing boat of any kind, nor even a yacht at anchor.

The city is oil-rich Manaus and the water is the Amazon, an awesomely huge river, 200 miles across at the month. Manaus, which is 1000 miles inland but reachable by ocean-going vessels, had its heyday during the 19th century rubber boom, when Brazil was the only country producing rubber. One or two of the rubber barons’ grand mansions still remain as well as the theatre built in the shape and style of the Albert Hall in the middle of what was then rain-forest jungle.

All of which makes the absence of pleasure vessels something of a mystery. Granted, the distances are vast, but the Amazon is traversed routinely by craft as small as dug-out canoes: we saw one with just a mother and child, both of whom waved happily as we passed.

For those who are accustomed to Salcombe’s gin-clear water, the Amazon is a shock. To say it’s muddy is an understatement: small children are told it is milky coffee. It also has clumps of grass, logs, trees even, flowing downstream and it makes the sea coffee-coloured for 100 miles beyond the mouth. But it is home to myriads of fish, such that even a lake the size of a gravel pit can host 1500 species. So here’s another mystery: where are the fisherpeople? There’s clearly a fishing industry as the markets are heaving with fish; but going fishing seems to be entirely work not pleasure.

This month the boating season starts again in Salcombe. It will be time to check the engine, do the repairs you said you had plenty of time for in September and check your lifejackets. And the predictive text on my tablet will still insist on changing Amazon to Amazing.

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