Saturday, December 16, 2006

Belize, 15 December 2006

I am at the Tropical Education Centre, walking a trail in dense, wet forest. Last night it rained, and water is still dripping from leaf to leaf to leaf to ground. A pair of chicken-like birds chuckle as they whizz overhead. Even though I have been here before, more than once, it strikes me how alien it is. Unfamiliar trees are draped, climbed and strewn with oddly familiar houseplants. I wonder what it is that urges us to seek out the unfamiliar. I remember the Northern Ontario bush of my youth: spruce and birch, pine and maple, poplar and fir. There I know what burns when wet, where to make camp, where to fish; there among the beaver ponds and rock, lakes and creeks I feel truly at home. I must confess that I am a little uneasy travelling in foreign lands. And yet I, like so many others, am compelled to explore. And this puzzles me.

Yesterday morning I was sitting with Lorena in the Tucson Airport, as we waited for nearly simultaneous flights from adjacent gates. We were about to part company for many months, and we were talking quietly about anything but that fact, and suddenly her flight was called and in two minutes she was gone. What can you say to someone you share your life with, every day for months, when you are going to be gone for so long, with some unacknowledged risk you may never return? How can you quiet a desperate longing, in a few minutes in a public airport? There can be no satisfactory answer. There is only hope, and a clinging to familiar memories and shared dreams. And you carry on.

I allow he uncertainties of travel to occupy my mind. Will I land in Houston close enough to my departing gate to make the next leg of my flight? As it turns out, I land in a nearly adjacent gate. Weird luck. but it doesn't last. The flight departing for Belize City is late, a creeping delay that grows to over an hour. Last time I flew to Belize my plane was 20 minutes late landing, and I missed my connecting flight to Dangriga. This time, when we land, the flight captain tells us that connecting flights are being held for us. I doubt my luck, as Dangriga airstrip has no lights, and it is growing dusk outside as I wait for my bag to come off the plane. Then Customs discovers my VHF radio (I told them I had one when they asked what was in my case), and tells me I need an importation permit. Or I can pay duty. I respond that I am passing through, and I would pay duty as long as it is refunded when I leave. They don't buy it but agree to hold the radio for me until I leave. There is nothing to do but hand it over in exchange for a receipt, and worry about it later.

Now my plane is gone, it is too late to catch a bus to Dangriga, and my funds are low for such things as hotels and taxis. It costs $25US to take a taxi to Belize City from the airport. Just my options are drying up, an Island Expeditions bus is spotted leaving the parking lot. I run and jump in. Rudy and Albert are taking two guests to the Tropical Education Centre, so I catch a ride, and get a free meal and nights lodging. Soon I will flag down a bus on the highway and make my way to Dangriga. The luggage will follow me in a couple of days. Time to hike out.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

I got myself into a little trouble with the government over a bit of money. To prove their point they have suspended my passport. I still have it with me, but I wouldn't want to have to hand it over to an officer sitting in front of a computer. So to satisfy the government and get my passport released, I have decided to return to work in December of this year, instead of February as planned.

I emailed Tim (Grand Poobah) at Island Expeditions, to see about getting back to work sooner. The schedule was already set, but he bent over backwards, and, thanks to the cooperation of Dick, one of the guides, I will be starting in two weeks. Tim also asked me if they could help with my financial troubles. Since I need my passport to get to Belize, I have to satisfy the government before I return to work.

This is the kind of company Island Expeditions is: besides all they do to help with conservation efforts in Belize, and all their efforts to improve peoples' lived their, they also take care of their "family". And so now the money is sent, the gov't is satisfied, and the paperwork is out there to release my passport. Unfortunately, although the gov't can take something from you at the speed of the ethernet, getting it back moves at the speed of the postal service. They say it takes ten days. I have fifteen. Will I make it? Stay tuned...

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Swinging in my hammock in the early morning air: it is the only time that this part of the Sonoran Desert is tolerable. I have been home for a couple of months now.

I won't be going back to Dangriga until February of next year, to work the second half of the season. Since the Manatee is pretty much ready now, I will be able to sail her out to Glover's, or perhaps Lighthouse Reef, and get to know her handling characteristics before I begin my voyage. Every delay is a heartbreak for me, but results in my being better prepared so I guess I shouldn't whine.

Meanwhile life goes on here, on the edge of the Sea of Cortez. I am experimenting with sails for my kayaks, and plan to build a 16 ft double ended sailing/rowing craft in the fall, just to keep busy. And you know, you can never have too many boats.

This summer has been great in the Sea of Cortez. Usually in July the sea gets crowded with jellyfish and especially the dreaded and painful Portuguese Man-of-War. There have been times when they are so thick out there that I won't even paddle a kayak amongst them, as their tentacles get tangled up in the shaft of my paddles and end up lying across someone's cheek or at least their arm.

But this year, they have been almost absent, and we can swim every day. The water is warm too, and though not as clear as the Caribbean, it is rich in marine life. There are no trade winds here. The air is calm, the sea flat, until the sun heats up the land in the mid-afternoon. Then the breeze begins and blows until just before sunset. Occasionally, about a day after a tropical cyclone passes to the south of the entrance to the Gulf, swells come rolling in, but otherwise the only surf is from windwaves in the afternoon, and all is calm again at dawn.

In a week we will be heading north, to Ontario, where we will spend five weeks, visiting family and friends, sampling much-missed foods, and hanging out at the cottage. Mostly I want to spend time with Katie, my daughter, who is seventeen (!) now. We have so much to catch up on. I also have two new nephews to see and lots of old rellies too.

Take care all. Check in once in a while.... until then


Saturday, May 27, 2006

It is a month since I finished work, and still I have not been able to start the long voyage home. The little modifications on the boat are not the problem; it is getting my registration papers. I do not blame the folks at the Ship Registry: they have been very quick and helpful. Even though they can’t seem to find the document I sent them a month ago. But shit happens, things get lost. No, the big delay was because I was jerked around for so long by the Canadian Consular Services. A pox on them.

Anyway, when I realized that I have already been in Belize a month longer than planned, that it would probably take another three weeks before my papers arrived, and that my finances were depleted, and hurricane season was fast approaching and freaking Lorena out, I decided to pack it in for the season. Next year I will work a short season, and have the Manatee to play around with on my time off. Then I will come straight home and that is simply a better option.

The trick is getting home. I was almost out of money and couldn’t seem to get at the money I had. So Jaime and I took the bus to Cancun, where he was headed anyway, and bought a flight to Tucson. What a trip. All-night bus ride. An unforgettable taxi ride with an old-timer in coke-bottle glasses driving down the highway at 15 miles an hour an aging Chrysler New Yorker land-yacht, that steered like a barge in a following sea, on a misty night with the wipers set on interval: an interval a bit too long, so we would completely lose sight of the road a second before the windshield was wiped clean, and he would have to swerve this big beauty off the gravel, or out from the kill zone of an approaching car. And all the while he was complaining about how there was no shoulder and not any kind of paint on the road to indicate which half was his, or where the pavement ended. After my earlier experiences on Belizian highways, I lost a pound of sweat that trip.

I remember thinking as we drove into Mexico, that no matter how poor, or prosperous, or how well-kept or how run-down it is, there is a vitality to this country that makes it exciting to be in. By comparison, much of Belize lacks any sign of vitality; in some places it lacks a pulse. I also remember that there is a smell in the air in Mexican towns that immediately distinguishes it from any other country I have been in. It is sort of a combination of diesel oil and cooking grease.

Back to Cancun. We got in in the early light of a new day, and found a cheap hotel, had a bit of a rest and got cleaned up. We spent too much time and money finding a way to buy a flight for me with his credit card, but we got it done and took a bus to the beach. We walked the sand for a couple of miles, noting how much of the damage from last years hurricane has been healed or is in the process. And the lack of topless women. We did find two though before rain drove us all off the beach, so it was worth the walk

I didn’t tell Lorena I was coming home, so when I got on-line at an internet location, I had to lie to her about what I was doing. But my absence and her worries about tropical storms was taking a toll on her, and I compromised: I told her I was going to come home. I really wanted to surprise her completely when I showed up, but it was too cruel making her suffer just to satisfy my selfish desire to see her reaction. So I gave her some hope, and kept from her how close I was. Judge me how you will.

When I got to Tucson I had $20 in my pocket: not enough for a cab, let alone a bus ticket or hotel, but my good old brother came through and put some cash in my account. And I took a cab directly to the bus depot and at 11:00 that night I was on a bus for Guaymas.

She got her surprise at about 8:30 the next morning, and it was worth it. She is happy, and though disappointed, I am relieved and happy to be home again too.

To my readers who have been following along with my efforts, I plead to you not to give up on me yet. I had to make a difficult choice, but what’s another delay if it means I go when it is safest to do so? Who would deny me that? And those of you who have given me your support through generous donations of equipment and clothing, I will requite. Next year.

In the meantime I may add a note or two, and I hope what I say is worth a chuckle or a knowing smile. To all I wish you the best.

Island Jack Wilde

Friday, May 12, 2006

Still waiting in Dangriga, but not idly. I am still working on the new outrigger, and in the meantime I decided to paint up the manatee in some more nautical colours. The matt black colour of the epoxy paint and her sharp lines made her look like a stealth bomber. Plus black might get a little hot, on the deck surfaces and within the compartments.

A couple of things to note in this photo: first, the name "Manadi" is painted on the bow. Manadi is the Carib or Garifuna word from which we get manatee. The emphasis is on the middle syllable. The second thing you may notice, is the green netting between the akas (crossbeams), between the canoe and the outrigger on the opposite side of the boat. The boat is sitting on two rubber boat fenders, which are not supporting the weight at all. I was hoping to use these as rollers, but I may have to fill them with something first, like dry sand, to give them some support.

This second shot shows her sails better. This is how she will look running before the wind. Today she goes back in the water for her second sea trial. I am hoping she will sail drier with the raised sides. Maybe I'll get some photos of her underway as well. Cheers.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Each day gets me a little closer. While I await my ship registration papers, I have been fixing the glitches. First, that she isn't sea-worthy: this is a biggie. I added some planking to her sides, adding six inches of freeboard. I also installed deflectors fore and aft, to keep the cockpit drier.

I also installed the rudder. I have to work out how to control it, but I will do that in the water. It is a strange characteristic of this type of sail, that the bulk of the steering is done by manipulating the sails, and the rudder is for a quick push to get her turned. We'll see how that works.

I am still waiting for the ship registration papers to come in. I got severely held up by the Canadian Consulate. I am very unhappy with the runaround they gave me. You see, it is important to me to register the boat as a Canadian vessel. This grants me the protection of the Crown, whatever that may mean, and allows me to identify the vessel as Canadian by flying the Maple Leaf off the stern.

To register a vessel, you need to provide all kinds of documents, including a declaration of ownership. If the vessel is being built outside of Canada this form needs to be notarised by a Consular Officer. Well the nearest Canadian Consulate is in Guatemala City, but Belize has an Honorary Consul, (certainly more of an honour for her than for Canada). I called and asked for an appintment to see the honorary consul, explaining my need. I was asked to give my name, a time period convenient to me for the meeting and a phone number where I could be reached, and when the Consul would come in, she would check her appointments schedule, and make one for me. "When will she be in next?", I innocently asked, and was told she only comes in when she has an appointment scheduled. I wondered how she was ever going to get an appointment if she only made them when she came in, and she only came in when she had one. Seems a convenient lifestyle to me. I hope she isn't paid for this "Honorary" position.

After two months of this nonsense, I called once again, and was told "We have been trying to reach you. I'll get the Consular Officer and ask her to call you right away." I was aghast: finally some break in the inertia. So a few minutes later, a Consular Officer called me, and told me that my situation had been discussed in Guatemala, and that they were not going to cooperate with my request. I should go to a local notary or lawyer and get them to notarise it for me. Shit, I could have done that months ago. so the next day I did. Now I am waiting for my papers to arrive.

In the meantime, there is still work to be done. The Manatee looks too much like a Stealth bomber, and, although the epoxy paint is hard and strong, I want more layers between the boat and the water. Plus I thought that a black boat might be a touch hot under a tropical sun.

So how about a white boat, with blue trim and decking? Tomorrow another coat goes on, and then I'll turn her on her side and paint the topsides.

Riding my bike around Dangriga the other night, I was mentally saying goodbye. It is a different impression you get of a town at night: reggae music spills out an open doorway, light leaks out a thousand cracks in a clapboard house, riddled with termites and dry rot. After a while you realise all sorts of people are watching you ride by, sitting silently in porches or on concrete steps, shadows in the cooling night air. You ride half standing, to cushion the shock of unseen potholes, watching for dogs out for mischief. Everyone you pass says 'goodnight'.

I like the people here. Everyone calls you brother no matter what colour or race you appear to be. They are well mannered, especially the kids. The women scare me though. They can be pretty big and they yell and swear a lot. hehe.

I'll be finishing up pretty soon and I hope to have some pictures of her under sail. But first we'll see if she keeps the waves out. Until then



Sunday, April 30, 2006

My last post was a little hasty, trying to catch you up all at once, and without the benefit of photos. So here is a quick retrospective, with some shots of the Manatee on her way to her infamous sea trial....

Here she is, still in Sam's workshop yard. The mainsail is up: it still needs a little adjusting to get it to lie flat. The first time we raised the sail, I thought it would be way too big for such a small boat. But rigged like a Sunfish, it doesn't swing way out and make the whole boat tippy. Under sail in a stiff breeze, it couldn't raise the outrigger out of the water.

To get her out of the yard, we couldn't go throught the gate so we had to carry her over the fence. Sorry Sam. It took six men to handle her. I should have guessed then that she was going to sit low in the water. I want to thank the guys at Island Expeditions for helping me: Javier, Carlton, Rio, Bobo (Kerry) and Duba (Kenroy), and of course the bossman, Leif for loaning me his guys and the use of the truck.

We got out just in time before Godzilla arrived and laid waste to the whole town!

If you look closely you will see a human finger over the left hand of our little visitor, a green iguana about two feet long. Jaime is a bit of a crocodile hunter, and is always catching lizards.

She is all rigged up ready to go. I think we mounted the outrigger too low.

Yup. It was all I could do to keep her from filling with water over the starboard gunwhale.
We took her ashore and readjusted the trim.

Here she is in front of Island Expeditions operations centre. The mizzen sail is up to keep her bow pointed into the wind. I am afraid I don't have any pictures of her full of water: I just wasn't thinking of taking pictures at the time.

Just to show you that she does sail. She cuts the water smartly, with very little leeward drift and can beat fairly close to the wind. She does, however slowly fill up with water, as waves slide in over the sides and water breaking over the bow leaks into the forward compartment. She is also a touch bow-heavy, which will have to be countered by loading the heavy stuff in the stern compartment. I will also put in a drain hole through the forward bulkhead, so that excess water can drain into the cockpit where i can get at it to bail it out.

All of this is very dry and technical. What pictures don't show you, is the thrill of seeing all your work (so far) finally bearing fruit, all of your questions and concerns finally coming to the test. It is an excitement mixed with dread, disappointment and renewed vigour as you plan how to fix the little problems that have arisen. And add to the regular challenges two new ones: that I have to do the rest of the work myself, on the beach, and that I am running out of time and money. What I have now has to last me for the duration of the voyage. But I'm up to it. Life is an adventure.

Monday, April 24, 2006

It is hard to believe how time flies. Two months (!!!) have passed since I last posted , and I am sure I have lost the interest of most of my readers. This is my fault, and the result of my reliance on modern technology. We get spoiled, don't we? For example, the ability to include photos on this site makes it much more interesting and informative for the reader, but it means that if I am unable to upload any photos, I end up not posting at all.

In the meantime, trips have come and gone, my field season is over, the weather has gotten a lot hotter, and the Manatee has seen a lot of construction. In the absence of pictures, permit me to resort to the old-fashioned thousand words...

Both ends of the boat have decks, each sealed off from the rest of the boat's interior with a bulkhead, and accessible by a hatch cover. The boat and the original outigger are painted "dark grey", but it looks black to me. This is an epoxy paint that is not mean to be the final colour, but a strong undercoat. This is a learning experience every day I work on it, and, in retrospect, if I have known about this paint, I would never have fibreglassed her. More on that later.Eventually.

The mainmast is a three-inch diameter, twelve-foot long red mangrove log, that weighs a good 15 pounds. The mainsail is the same configuration as on a Sunfish: with an upper yard and a lower boom, hinged so that the angle of the sail and its relative fore-and-aft position can be modified. The picture will explain it. The main point is that the sail can be adjusted in three ways, which is meant to steer the boat with minimal use of a rudder.

We finally carried her to the water on a hot and breezy Thursday, 20 April, 2006. It took six men, four of them borrowed from Island Expeditions staff, plus yours truly and Sam my furniture-maker-cum-shipwright. The akas (crossbeams connecting the boat to her outrigger) were tied on with equal lengths on either side of the boat, and we picked her up by grabbing these 10 ft poles. Someone commented that it looked like we were carrying a coffin. I didn't much like that. The path out of the yard squeezed between the house and a big shrub, so we had to carry her through the back yard and heave her over the fence. I think we crushed the corrugated tin a little, but we got her over. Then it was a simple two-block slog down the street to the water, where we re-installed the akas and attached them to the outrigger. Phwew. My back told me later what it thought of that little maneouvre.

The beach along this shore has been eroding since last summer, and has been reinforced with boulders, sand bags, and sticks driven into the sand. It looks a little like a half-hearted attempt to repel an invasion.

On the beach we tied on the outrigger, slid the masts in place, and raised the maisail. We left the mizzen sail out for the time being. Didn't want too many complications yet. Had to find out if she floats.

Sitting on land is no place to try and judge how high the outrigger and boat will sit in the water. We set the outrigger too high and when she went into the water, the boat listed over with the edge of the gunwhale dangerously close to the water. In this awkward position we drifted down the shore a short distance to the beach in front of Island Expeditions field office before hauling her out and re-adjusting the outrigger and bringing her to an even keel.

After borrowing a couple of paddles and lifejackets, my co-adventurer, Jaime, and I climbed in, and we pushed off. The wind was heading towards the beach, angling in at about a 45 degree angle from the left (NE). As soon as we raised and secured the mainsail, she took off, heading about 60 degrees off the wind, slicing into the waves and throwing spray. She looked and felt grand.

Our first discovery was that she runs arrow-straight. I installed a full-length keel only a few inches deep, and have been waiting to see how she resisted leeward drift. I am pleased. The downside is that she resists any effort to steer her with a paddle. That needs work.

The second discovery was that she isn't quite what you would call sea-worthy. Her shape is long, narrow and deep. And she has a lot of extra weight from the decking, the fibreglass, and the mast, sails and, oh yes, the crew. The unsurprising result is that she sits low, with little freeboard and takes in water with every wave. Also landing in light surf results in immediate swamping. Fortunately, when you are sailing, your hands are free to bail, and swamping is not such a problem with an outrigger canoe because it remains upright.

Discovery three: she is a little bow-heavy. Water splashing over the deck gets into the foreward compartment under the hatch cover, and through the mast-step.

So this is all good. I knew she would need a little tweaking here and there. It is just a matter of building up the sides a few inches to increase freeboard, installing deflectors on the foredeck to keep waves from sliding up under the hatch cover, installing weatherstripping in the hatch cover and shifting the weight a little further aft. So all the heavy stuff, drinking water etc, will go in the after compartment. I will also install drainplugs in the bulkheads, so if water does get in, I can drain them into the open middle section (affectionately called ""the bathtub") and bail them out without opening a hatch-cover.

And I will have to install the rudder and mizzensail to make her go where I want to. That is kind of important.

My sweetheart and partner Lorena is here visiting me. I wanted to have the boat in the water by the time she got here, but, well, it's a boat. She has been helping me work on it between short jaunts around the country. We managed to spend a week at Half-Moon Cay, the most beautiful place I have ever been, and a couple of days in Guatemala, where we stayed in Flores and visited the ancient Mayan capital city of Tikal. She will be heading back to Mexico in a couple of days and I will be in a rush to finish the boat then, as I won't even have an apartment in Dangriga past the end of the month. So as soon as I can I will post some photos and an update on my progress before I finally head out to sea. Lorena, it is so great to have you here with me. I will miss you but I am coming home to you....ya mero.

Thanks for checking in on me. I will let you know how things are progressing soon.

Island Jack

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Well after another two weeks at Glover's Reef, I am in a mad dash to finish the manatee. I have eight days off and a million little details. Fortunately I had the help of two of my colleagues, Andy and Jaime.

Here is the next phase of the manatee. Both Mast steps are cemented in with resin and bolted to the hull. The interior is painted with epoxy paint (dark grey was the only colour available). The PVC post is to provide a continuous tube in which the mast sits, and will be trimmed flush with the deck.

Beside the Manatee is one half of the new outrigger, made of styrofoam, and the original wooden outrigger. The new outrigger will be much lighter and more bouyant.

Below is a picture of the outrigger under construction.

I couldn't afford enough foam to make the whole thing out of solid foam so i am making it hollow.
The backbone is a 12 ft. long section of 1x12 lightweight wood, planed down to about 1/2 inch thickness. The foam is Dow polystyrene. The pieces were cut with a dozuki saw and glued with wood glue. The wood glue was a bad choice, as it never really dries between the impervious layers of foam.

It is easy to shape with a long piece of 50-grit sandpaper, which neither clogs nor wears out on the soft foam. Once shaped, a finer sandpaper can be used before sealing. This is Andy (looking remarkably like Sideshow Bob) working for free.

Well that's all for now. Soon it will be all finished except the new outrigger and the decking and hatches. But I am running out of cash, and the sea beckons once again. Cheers all.

Island Jack

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The good news is, the water tanks at Glover's Reef are all full, even the one we installed after the rainy season supposedly ended. You can guess the bad news. Belize gets 3 - 4 inches of rain in the month of January, typically. This year we got several times that amount in any given week. Where is Global Warming when you need it?!! Actually, this could be an indication of things to come (let's hope not), or might just be one tail of a statistical 'normal' curve. Time will tell.

Aaanyway, I am off for an 8 day week, so I hope to get the Manatee as near done as possible. We started on the spars for the masts, ripping up 2x4's into 2x2's and joining them into two 8 ft and two 18ft spars. I am not satisfied with the joints, but am guaranteed they will hold, so we'll see.

We had a rather famous guest on a trip recently. He wasn't a movie or rock star, but most Canadians would recognise him by outdoor the clothing he designs. He has promised to send me a few items, as a way of sponsoring my upcoming voyage and I am thrilled to receive them. We'll see how well they perform after four months of hard use.

Ahh, life in the tropics. Yesterday I removed a botfly from a colleague's head. It's like a small housefly, which lays on egg on your skin or on vegetation, or even on the underside of a mosquito. At any rate, the egg finds itself on your skin at some point, where it immedialty hatches and burrows in. From there the little maggot grows, feeding on your body fluids, and keeps a small open sore through which it sticks a tiny, transparent breathing tube. You may first notice a small swollen spot with a hole, like a burst pimple. At night, however, it shifts around in its bed, using small hooks located at the head end. This you can feel, and it feels exactly like it sounds.

To get rid of the little pest, you have to smother it. You can use vaseline or duct tape. Duct tape works great (here's a use even Red Green wouldn't have thought of, eh?) because as the maggot tries to extend its snorkel, it crawls out of the hole and gets stuck on the tape. Vaseline doesn't work as well, and neither one works well on the scalp, as my coworker discovered. The alternate treatment is to take the stem of a tobacco leaf (which they sell by the handful in stores here), stick it in the airhole, and leave it overnight. The maggot immediatly struggles vigorously, much to the discomfort of the host, and eventually dies. It is then removed with a lot of squeezing like popping a huge and particularly nasty zit. The wound heals quickly, and it's all over with. Until the next one: this particular host has played this role 3 times before. Just to be clear, these creatures live in the deep jungle and are not found on the cayes.


Monday, January 16, 2006

After a month of guiding trips at Glover's Reef, I had an eight-day rest period. Right away I wanted to get the Manatee out of storage and onto a working platform at Sam's workshop, but I couldn't get a truck and some men... The result was I finally got her onto a cradle on day seven, and had just enough time on day eight to buy some glass and resin, some sandpaper and other materials and explain what I wanted done by the time I came off the water in a week. I asked Sam's nephew to give me some help, sanding and fibreglassing. I wanted the hull smoothed and reinforced along the keel. I bought enough glass to do both decks as well as the little needed along the keel and gunwales. So I was surprised when I returned to find that he had reglassed most of one side of the hull, using up all my glass and most of the resin. Very frustrating, as the boat is already heavy, and only needs a thin layer of glass to reinforce the waterproof layer of resin.

This is me standing beside the Big Manatee on her cradle. Her bow is behind me, barely visible in the glare of a tropical sun. She has been sanded and looks white in places, and the reddish blotches are from resin mixed with sanding dust (mostly mahogany) used to fill cracks and low spots. you can see how sharply tapered she is at the ends, and the full-length keel. She hardly seems big enough, but she will be my home for about four months, starting in April.

The outrigger, the Little Manatee, is behind the big one, out of sight. You'll see her when she is ready.

A little aside: last summer I was given a huge jib sail by my very good friends, Ernesto and Alexandra Rufo. Thanks, guys. From it I cut two smaller (obviously) sails for the Manatee. I decided to test the smaller of the two sails with my canoe, a standard "Canadian" design. I built an outrigger for the canoe, and made the spars and crossbeams, and set up the smaller sail. This is what she looked like. The sail is called a "crabclaw" and is a polynesian design. It has an upper yard and a lower boom. This comes in handy because the sail can be put to other uses. It can be propped on the beach apex up, as a shade or temporary shelter, or it can be held apex down, in a rainstorm, to funnel rain into a bucket. I will be travelling during the rainy season, in some very rainy places, so i hope to capture as much rainwater as I can, for drinking and even bathing. There are few joys as great as having fresh, sweet rainwater to wash off the salt that rubs and chafes the skin.

That's all for now, my friends. Tomorrow I am off to Glover's Reef. I'll bring back some photos of that paradise, and maybe a story or two. Take care,

Monday, January 02, 2006

This is the story of the Manatee, a dugout canoe, built in Belize, and converted to a Polynesian outrigger sailing canoe, of the type known as a tacking proa. I am her owner, a Canadian, living in Mexico and working in Belize. So I guess we are a mongrel pair.

A bit of history....

I have been canoeing since I was a kid growing up in Northern Ontario, and have been interested in any kinds of canoes used by peoples of the world. So it was natural that I would want an outrigger canoe to sail and paddle. As I get older and more worn out, I have come to like sailing more and more.

Three years ago I got an opportunity to work as a sae kayak guide for Island Expeditions, a Canadian company that operates adventure travel excursions in Belize. This company is well-known as among the best in the industry, so I jumped at the chance. When I arrived in Belize I found myself in Dangriga, a Garifuna town on the southern coast. The Garifuna, once known as Black Caribs, are the last remnants of the Carib Indians who once paddled all over the Caribbean. They have managed to maintain much of their culture, including a lifestyle based on fishing. Many of them still fish from small dugout canoes which they call dories. These dories are about twice the length of a man, and barely wider than a human torso. Round-bottomed and tippy, they are swiftly paddled and often towed by a swimming fisherman, who spears fish, and picks up lobster and conch from the bottom.

As soon as I saw these canoes, I thought how perfect they would be for an outrigger canoe. Most were too short for my purposes. And then one day I found one that was about 18 feet (a little over five metres) long. This was more to my purpose, because once I decided to get myself a dory and make it into an outrigger canoe, I knew I would want to sail it home to the Pacific side of Mexico. And for that I would need one big enough to carry me and the required supplies and equipment along nearly 3,000 sea miles of coastline, yet be light enough to paddle ashore if the wind died, and drag it up on a beach by myself.

The Arrangement....

There it was, lying on the beach, upright, with one end half full of wet sand. It was bleached grey by the sun, and both ends had deep fissures, where the heartwood had separated from the sapwood. The gunwales were built up with square strips of wood, nailed crudely in place. Each end had a triangular piece of wood nailed in to bring the two halves together; otherwise it was a carved log. The marks from the adze or machete or whatever tool had been used were plainly visible. The owner said that it was too big for general use: it took three men to paddle it. He was glad to part with it, and curious to see the result of my planned modification, and its potential usefulness to the local fishermen.

At the time I was staying in an old-style Belizian house: a wooden structure perched eight feet over the ground on wooden posts. From my bedroom window I looked over the wall separating the property from the workshop of a carpenter and furniture-maker, named Dinsdale Samson. I approached him to see if he could help me with my project. I needed his skills, his tools and his space. He was a little reluctant at first, having no boat-building experience, but, when I assured him that I would come up with the design, he agreed.

The Manatee so Far....

The first thing was to build the outrigger, (little manatee) which was done with 1X2 stringers and thin plywood planking. It has a nice lean look, but I fear it lacks the required bouyancy. I also fibreglassed it, so it is nice and waterproof, but even heavier. That was as far as I got the first season I was here. I had to postpone the trip as my wife's son suddenly got sick, and so I went home.

The next season (2004/5) found me in Belize again, guiding kayak trips, and working on the Manatee on my days off. It had dried out nicely during the summer off-season, and was much lighter, but when I picked it up from the storeroom, I found little piles of fine sawdust: powder-post beetles had gotten into the wood.

This time I got some more help, from Dinsdale's nephew Timothy. He sanded the hull to a smooth, round finish. I then installed a full-length keel, about 6" deep. That was a job, making sure it was perfectly straight. After that, the boat was fibreglassed inside and out. I wanted to seal the wood to keep out insects and moisture during the rainy season.

So I still have to install the rudder, put on some decking and hatches fore and aft, set in the mast steps, make the masts and spars, and find some way to connect the crossbars to the hull. I also suspect the keel is insufficient, so I may have to make and install a leeboard (a keel on the outside of the hull).

The Voyage Home....

My voyage home will take me from the cayes and atolls of Belize, along the Mosquito (Miskito) Coast of Honduras and Nicaragua, then up the Rio San Juan to Lake Nicaragua. From there I will hire a local to truck me over to the Pacific coastal town of San Juan del Sur. And then I will sail northwest, along the coasts of Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico, to my home of San Carlos, Sonora, halfway up the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez).

The Mosquito coast is an isolated stretch of the Caribbean, cut off from the rest of the country by 50 to 100 miles of swamp and lowland plains. There is only one town with road access and it is a very bad road. The rest are nominally connected by river, but are designated autonomous zones, and essentially ignored. Should be some wild and interesting places and people.

The Rio San Juan is 180 km of jungle river, with one settlement and a few farms along its shores. Otherwise I expect to find a true Central American wilderness, and lots of wildlife. I expect to see signs of tapir and jaguar, crocodiles and caimans, anteaters, sloths and birds beyond count or description. The down side of this portion is that I will have to paddle the whole distance. On the positive side though, is that in 180 km, the river only drops 34m.

The Pacific Coast is the longest stretch, and will alternate many times between settled and touristy beaches and bays, and long sections of wild coast. My main challenge here will be surf. The Manatee is not realy designed to liveaboard, and although I will be able to sleep on it, I hope to go ashore most nights. But landing such a heavy boat in surf will be tricky at best, and so I have to be prepared to go offshore and drift with the sea anchor out nights when I can find no sheltered water to make landfall.

The Schedule....

I plan to leave Dangriga about the end of the first week of April. I expect the trip will take about four months to cover 2,750 sea miles. Hurricane season begins in June, but they don't usually really get going until August, and don't head onto land on the Pacific side until nearer September. I'll be off the water, I hope, by early August. I will be travelling during the rainy season, so I hope to use my sails to catch rainwater, and rely as little as possible on river water or municipal supplies.

Ok, so this is a work in progress, as weblogs are meant to be. As I get photos I will download them, and add files and links of interest.

Jack Wilde