Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The Traditions of wooden boat building in the Caribbean

This article was published in the Enjoy Magazine here that comes out every two weeks and is published by the Observer Group. I write something to do with the sea in every issue. As you will read, it came out just before the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta which our Caribbean boat Zemi ended up winning.

I am woken by the sound of water rushing along the side of the wooden
hull. Dawn is showing its colours above the stern, and as I am taking
in the lovely sounds and colours that I miss so much when I am on land
for too long, I see the day's first flying fish zoom by. For hundreds
of years people in the West Indies have been experiencing mornings
like this out at see while fishing, smuggling, and transporting cargo.
The feeling is similar while out on newer fiberglass yachts, but there
is much more to it when you are on a traditionally built wooden vessel
and I don't think I will ever get tired of it.
Up until the late 1960s and early 1970s most islands in the West
Indies had shipwrights who used the incredible skills that had been
passed down from generation to generation to design and construct
wonderful majestic vessels.
Usually they were built on a beach where
there was a tradition of boat building in the village nearby, but as
islands became more wealthy and "developed" the tradition's slowly
began to fade away.
Instead of learning the age old skills of boat
building, people sought work in the hotel industry or in some related
service. The demand for wooden boats also diminished as steel hulls
and fiberglass vessels were imported and purchased by fishermen and
cargo boat owners. The last wooden boat build for commercial purposes
here in Antigua was finished in 1986, and Antigua isn't alone with
this trend.
In fact one of the only places in the Caribbean between
Puerto Rico and Trinidad where wooden "work boats" are still being
built traditionally is in the Grenadines. The islands of Carriacou,
Bequai and Petit Martinique are still building these fabulous sailing
vessels, but even there the traditions and techniques were in danger
of being lost.
This all changed with a rebirth of interest thanks to a
few passionate sailors who are using these boats for racing and just
pure pleasure. Famous Antiguan photographer, Alexis Andrews, is
leading the fight to keep traditional West Indian boat building alive.
Picture 3781sm
He spent over 10 years visiting Carriacou collecting images for a book
that he published back in 2008 entitles Carracou Sloops.I was
encouraged and helped by him to become one of the growing group of
boat owners, and together we join up to 12 others racing each year in
the Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta where we now have a class just for
our boats.
This year the regatta starts on April 14th and will be held from The
Antigua Yacht Club. Please come by and see what it's all about. The
West Indian work boats will all be alongside the dock together and we
will welcome you on board if you would like to see more and hear
stories about how they were built. For more photos of our Carriacou
Sloop that we use for day tours and charters visit