The Rabelo boat, Barco Rabelo

Although not in use anymore, still today we can admire these graceful vessels belonging to the port wine companies in the banks of the Douro river, in the cities of Porto and Gaia.

The Rabelo boat is a Portuguese vessel, typical Douro River that traditionally carried the barrels of the Alto Douro Port wine, where the vineyards are located, to Vila Nova de Gaia – Porto, where the wine was stored and subsequently marketed and sent to other countries.


Being a mountain river boat, the Rabelo has no keel and is flat-bottomed, whose size varies between 19 and 23 meters long and 4.5 meters wide. Its construction in overlapping boards, board cracked, Nordic is compared with the Mediterranean.

With a square sail, the Rabelo was usually handled by six or seven men. As for the masts, the first only used one, while the others also used a mast to the bow. For government, uses a long oar at the stern – the espadela. When necessary, the boats were pulled from tow paths by men or oxen.

The Rabelo boat now has its well-defined identity, from 1792, when the General Company of Agriculture of the Upper Douro Vineyards, published the permits and more documents that related to the remarkable Pombal institution. In this publication, commonly known as “the Company Law”, are precious information on both the boat and its crew, but also the traffic that was intended.

In the past, large barrels of port wine traveled in Rabelo on the Douro River. Was marginally this river, about six kilometers from the coast, the Port grew. In the late Middle Ages it was already an important trading post in which it traded fish, salt and wine. Currently, the city is the second largest city in Portugal and composes, with the nearby Vila Nova, an important commercial center and industrial.1

With the completion in 1887 of the railway, iron Douro line and the development of road communications during the twentieth century, the river traffic provided by Rabelo boats declined. In 1961, at the beginning of hydroelectric national Douro program, only six remained Rabelo boats in permanent activity.

Now, with a different activity, Rabelo are used in the famous race of the Saint John at the festivals of Porto, cruises on the Douro River and other initiatives to recall its glory days.

The Rabelo boats can still be found in Porto. Yet they are, unlike other times, used to transport tourists with playful character and recreational or across the river from Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia, where tourists can visit some wine cellars of Porto.

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