We have talked with Fátima Santos, the daughter of the lighthouse keeper that lived in the lighthouse of Vila Real de Santo António until she was twenty years old. We have also talked with Manuel Seabra e Melo and Mário Silva whose seafaring years add up to more than half a century – 35 and 23 years, respectively.
Lighthouse keeper João dos Santos (1920-1993) worked in several lighthouses of the Portuguese coast. In the 1980s he was promoted to chief lighthouse keeper of the Vila Real de Santo António lighthouse.
The operation of each lighthouse was carried out by a team of lighthouse keepers that worked in shifts 24 hours a day 365 days a year. This team was responsible not only for the running of the lighthouse but also for the whole surrounding area. The maintenance of the lamp and lenses of the lighthouse was a difficult and precise task that had to be done everyday. The task of the lighthouse keeper included the maintenance of the navigational buoys and the running of the weather station.
Fátima Santos tells us that on the night of February 28, 1969, when the terrible earthquake that shook Portugal from North to South happened, fishermen who were out to sea saw that the 46m high tower of the lighthouse was shaking violently. They were very impressed with that and even feared it would collapse.
Commanders Manuel Seabra e Melo and Mário Silva have travelled virtually all over the world as officers and commanding officers of almost every type of passenger and cargo ships.
Their seafaring life made it possible for them to know many countries, many peoples, different cultures. However, it also involved personal sacrifice because they spent months and months on board their ship away from their family and friends.
The use of the lighthouses as an aid to navigation was constant during all those years but with the development of electronic navigation systems many things have changed; nowadays virtually all navigation is carried out with the help of electronic equipment, chiefly via satellite. The presence of lighthouses is not as important as it has been. However they remain indispensable to assist ships through dangerous shorelines such as for instance in Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone or Zambezia in Mozambique.