Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Adventure Antigua - Sailing Part 3

It would have been way easier to move Sailing into the Adventure Antigua business by buying a fiberglass yacht just like everyone else, but this way is way more interesting. While in the car on my way to Windward which is where families in Carriacou have been building boats for hundreds of years, master boat builder Alwyn Enoe told me that he was excited. I had met him before and didn’t think that he could be so happy. He was finally going to get some work done. On the phone from Grenada the night before, I had asked him to find me a guest house or little hotel for me. He said “I don’t know if you would appreciate this, but I didn’t get a hotel for you……You will be saying with my nephew.” That was cool with me as I knew this gesture meant I would be with friends. I was excited too. When we arrived in windward and went to see his sons Chris and Terry, I was starving. We sat and ate in an enclosed but vacant lot right on the water. It was fenced off with old galvanized roofing and with coconut trees and some other bush scattered around. Outside was the beach and a huge ancient vessle lay beached as if washed up in a storm to die where it had come to life all those years before. This was the place my new boat was going to come to life. I could see some basic tools resting around which had been in use up until I walked into the “boat yard”. Scattered around were bits of cut wood and some lovely pieces of shaped wood I imagined were frames still to be assembled. While Alwyn ate his salt-fish and bake lunch he explained the process. They had taken the ferry over to Grenada where a local family was about to clear some land for development. The family allowed them to go into the forest and take the trees that they needed. He said it was very difficult as the terrain was steep. Getting the cut trees out was the most difficult part though, but the land owner had graciously helped them. Once a boat had finally dropped off the last trunks onto the beach on Windward, Carriacou, the men had to start picking the best ones for the construction of eight frames. He said that he had always assembled the frames onto the keel using only five frames, but that this time he wanted to do it with eight to speed up the process and make the whole process more accurate later down the line. He told me with shining eyes how these were the best trees for making frames that he ever got out of the “bush”. They were large and had the best shape for making the skeleton of the boat. You see, a simple keel is made in Grenada out of greenheart hard wood according to his design. While that is being made he and his sons make the ribs or “frames” as he calls them. When the greenheart keel arrives they then attach the frames so that they have a skeleton of the boat assembled. All of this is done with exact accuracy in accordance with the model which is kept in the boat yard as seen above. The assembled frames in the photo above are from another fishing boat being made, but the model is mine. IT is the model which he is most proud of. He boasts that most boat builders don’t use a model and just build a boat as they go. The model is a blueprint of the boat to be built and is done exactly to scale. On the model each three quarters of an inch represents a foot on the real boat. He explains over his salt-fish lunch that on a ruler, three quarters of an inch has twelve sixteenths. This means that for every 1/16th of an inch on the model the measurement on the life size boat will be an inch. ¾ of an inch on the model is a foot on the real boat. As you can see in this photo of the model there are careful measurements all over the thing which all are strictly transferred into inches and feet on the life size timbers they are working with. Although we sit in the one of the most primitive boat yards on the planet, the rules of boat building are the same as if we were in a naval boat yard in the USA or Great Britain. He gets very technical and most of it is way beyond me, but i trust him. During Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta I have seen his boats fly past classic shaped boats built recenlty using the most modern materials. I am impressed with Alwyn’s drive and determination to not let this tradition fade away. After lunch when we walk over to the other boat, he explains that his sons are only a few of the men their age that are working in this ancient craft. Many of the young men of Carriacou sit on the corner and do little of anything he says. Many have to leave the island to look for work in Grenada and further. The art and life that is boat building has been slowly fading away. He is proud of his sons and of the work that they do together. I am proud to be part of it. With the resurgence of Wooden boat racing in the Caribbean I think that many more people will come to Windward in search of a traditionally built boat. After having a good look at what work was going to be needed on the almost finished “Ocean Nomad” we walked back to the boys working on my boat.
Chris and Terry were looking for two tree trunks. One would be for another beam and one would be for the stem. The stem is one of the most important pieces of wood on the boat. It is the forward most piece which the rig is attached to. It goes from the very front of the boat down below the waterline and attaches to the wooden keel. With no big wood working machinery on the island it was time for the most high tech and biggest tool they had. A chain saw. I am sure that most international boat builders would laugh at the thought of making the stem of a yacht using a chainsaw, and I must admit I wondered how well it would turn out. To my amazement the process was as done as smoothly and carefully as any of the alternatives. Of course it took longer and took more care, but Chris was a master at using the saw. Using a bit of chalk to give the rough outline they cut into the tree trunk to get the shape. Then using a chalk line they used the chain saw to get the shape much closer to the finished product. Using a few more tools to mark the exact lines they used a electrical planer to get it perfect. The finished stem was so perfect that I was just totally blown away. It never appeared as though they were having a hard time and experience was what made it perfect. While Chris was making the stem, Alwyn and Terry worked at attaching port and starboard sides of the frames. Alwyn called me over at one point and said “you see beauty?” I smiled and said “yes”!
With no roof over their heads and without many tools they were creating a beautiful yacht. As the sun started to set it was time to clean up and make plans for the morning. Work would stop on my boat that afternoon, and with a shake of hands and the passing of some money another job would be re-started. “Ocean Nomad” would be brought back to life in the morning when work resumed after far too long. Sure enough at 9am once they had collected some lumber from town, work started up on Ocean Nomad and after sitting there for over a year she was back in business on her way to being the latest boat launched from Windward, Carriacou.