There’s a joke – it probably exists in one form or another in every over-studied community in the world – that an Inuit family consists of the mum, dad, kids and the anthropologist! Well, in a community like the village on Ilha da Culatra, it was only a matter of time before I bumped into the anthropologist. There was bound to be one – this place has certainly got my anthropological juices flowing.
After a day on the beach we went for a beer. A woman with a dog asked if she could sit with us. She told us that she is conducting research on tourism on the island and is particularly interested in the relationship between the islanders and the yacht-owners. ‘Oh’, I said, my ears pricking up at the idea of doing research here. ‘What research methods do you use?’
‘I’m an anthropologist’, she replied.
‘No way! Me too!’ I exclaimed.
And that was the start of a conversation that was alas cut short by her having to run for the last ferry to the mainland. She’s got winter fieldwork planned and was in Culatra trying to find cheap accommodation for a few months. But she knew the island well, having been a teacher here a few years ago.
I too had wondered about the relationship between the islanders and the yachties and I’d be intrigued to read her findings. When we first arrived we were surprised by the number of boats at anchor close to the island. This was before I discovered the catamaran community around the corner. Each day we bump into the same sailors, from Britain, Ireland, Holland and elsewhere. I even met a South African who I first met in Brixham in 2012 when we did our VHF radio course together. Like many others, he is drawn back to Culatra every year, and finds it hard to leave.
There are a few at anchor like ourselves and our Dutch friends – people passing through on their way to someplace else. But the larger, semi-resident population at anchor spend every summer here – and summer is long – living on their boats and coming ashore late each afternoon to gather in one particular bar (the one closest to the harbour), where they sit together, conversing in English. And of course many in the catamaran community are permanently resident.
The anthropologist suggested, and we witnessed, some antagonism between the resident yachties and the locals. As happens all over the world, whether in tiny villages or large cities, there are those locals who embrace the outsiders, those who ignore them, and those who are antagonistic towards them. Similarly, there are the outsiders – the yachties in this instance – who make the effort to speak the local language and get to know the locals, and there are those who ignore the life of the village going on around them. Though all the locals we have met have been very friendly towards us (it’s like being back in Galicia again – the grandmothers grab Lily and Katie and plant big kisses on their cheeks), we felt there was some annoyance amongst the fisherman because of the little yachting dinghies clogging up the spaces in the fishing harbour. There’s also graffiti on the only public shower in town that says ‘Locals only’.
The appeals of returning to Culatra year after year are multiple. It is beautiful. There are no cars, and Lily and Katie have more freedom and independence here than ever before. In the past week they have made friends with local children. It reminds me of Arviat, or of Ireland when I was a child – doors are open, everyone knows everyone, life moves at a more relaxed pace. I like the quirkiness and uniqueness of island life; the wry jokes I’ve shared with a few locals (and how I wish I spoke Portuguese so I could talk to more people). If I was here for longer I would want to get involved in community life – I can’t help myself; it’s an occupational hazard of being an anthropologist. So while there is an appeal in returning to the same anchorage year after year, I wouldn’t want to do so to sit in the same bar, with the same other cruisers, and remain apart from the life of the community going on around me.