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Pilgrim Monument, line drawing by Ewa Nogiec
Provincetown People: Mark Silva ~ A Lion Sets Sail . . .

When Mark Silva, ersatz chairman of The Great Provincetown Schooner Regatta, shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘on with the race,’ he chuckled only because he did not realize at that moment his inability to sail a boat of any size was of little consequence, considering his Portuguese heritage. And he certainly wasn’t thinking of the White Fleet’s connection to St. John, Newfoundland as he pondered, bemused, the unexpected turns of his considerable civic leadership.

The Portuguese were early visitors to the North American continent, crossing the Atlantic, jumping off from the Azores, to fish for six months on the undersea plateau of the Grand Banks, offshore of what is today Newfoundland, and known to the Europeans of the 16th and 17th centuries as “Tierra dos Bacallaos” (Portuguese for codfish).

The Portuguese who made the annual migration to the Grand Banks remained fishermen, never becoming settlers, and even after the English and French colonized Newfoundland, they continued to come as seasonal visitors, to fish the Grand Banks and nurture the hospitality of the inhabitants of St. John’s, the principal Newfoundland seaport. And always, over the course of 500 years, they would sail their schooners home, holds full of salted fish, gold from the sea.

Even during World War II, they made their transatlantic trips, painting their schooners white so the German U-boats would pass them over as harmless fishermen (from a country ruled by a fascist dictator, Antonio Salazar.)

This tradition continued right down to 1973, the year of the last transatlantic fishing trip of the Portuguese commercial fishing schooner, the Creoula.

Well into the 1950’s the Portuguese had stubbornly clung to the old ways, sails and hand lines, when other nationalities were exploiting the abundance of the Grand Banks with diesel powered trawlers. What seemed to persist, between the Portuguese visitors and the indigent populations, was a die-hard mutual respect. The respect the fishermen had from the Newfoundlanders, for coming and not taking more than they needed, was earned onshore, but extended far offshore, where the catch was taken in a laborious, inefficient way that unintentionally guaranteed the preservation of the stocks for future generations.

With the depletion of the fishing stocks by mechanized fishing fleets, the Portuguese sail voyages gradually ended and so did the annual tradition of international cooperation at the lowest level.

Looking at the state of the Northeast marine fisheries today, one has to acknowledge the ‘old ways,’ and wonder if it’s ever going to be possible to get back some of that wisdom.

But one thing is for certain: we in Provincetown don’t have to ponder why a nice guy like Mark would end up in charge of this Yankee boat race – it’s in his national heritage. And in this town at least, even in this age, it proves that nice guys can still finish first.

—Edward “Mick” Rudd

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The Great Provincetown Schooner Regatta, Mark Silva

Mark Silva


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Fishing Boat line drawing by Ewa Nogiec

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