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