Below; Discussing the plans..
I have a vision
By Eric Gray, SY "Erica"
It came to me when we visited the Louisiade
Archipelago last cruising season. As we sailed from island to
island I became more and more concerned by the islanders' apparent
reliance on imported materials and ideas because they are not
supported by their income and lifestyle.
Naturally, because my professional expertise is in boat construction,
I started by asking them what their supply of timber was like
for the building of their sailing canoes. Their canoes are their
lifeline to trade, go to market and take the sick to hospital.
I was told that they were just managing to get by and had begun
a replanting program. However they would be grateful if I could
teach them how to use glue and ply wood to make the wide planks
that are the bases of their canoes. They get just three of these
planks from one large tree, which is wasteful as well as hard
work. They said, "If you could show us how to build a trading
boat that would be even better."
We received much the same requests wherever we went and I felt
their expectations were totally unrealistic. However, I had noticed
a resource that was already there and very under utilized. On
the beaches lay many long narrow Asian styled outboard powered
"Banana Boats" often donated by aid agencies. Many
of these boats had holes worn through their hulls from being
dragged over the
coral. These could be easily fixed. Many more had broken down
motors or had run out of fuel. The words, "maintenance"
and "repair" are not part of the islanders' culture
and most of them have no form of income for fuel until the 'beche
de mer' season, which lasts for about three months.
I thought that if two of these banana boats could be widened
and joined stern to stern, with a sailing rig and cabin added,
an 11m Sharpie (flat bottom sailing boat) would be created. Such
a boat would be much bigger, possibly safer and certainly far
more versatile than sailing canoes. A modest outboard auxiliary
would be desirable but by no means essential. So the reliance
on mechanized, petrol consuming propulsion would be eliminated.
Materials would have to be imported from the mainland for such
a project, but relevant to the size of the craft these would
be modest amounts. By salvaging the holed boats we could use
resources which were otherwise wasted, at the same time as giving
the islanders an opportunity to learn new skills. Then if they
wished, they could start a business in fixing fiberglass boats
and become the island all other islands came to for this purpose.
I began suggesting this idea to each island we visited. Mostly
it was met with "Show me how to build a trading boat".
Finally at Gigila Island the response was "We have two disused
boats and we would like to do this".
I spoke at length to the head villagers to find out if the project
would make a genuine and positive difference in their lives.
I also asked their head man to write a letter requesting assistance
from organizations that may be able to help financially. The
islanders are excellent mariners, sailing for many miles in their
large outrigger canoes and many of the men in the villages have
good practical skills. Some have had trade training. Our aim
is to teach them skills which are very relevant to their lifestyle
and will improve their quality of life.
We can also see that there are other projects where our expertise
can directly help the islanders. Christian, from the yacht Caesura,
once asked a village elder what is the biggest problem facing
these islands. Without hesitation he answered, 'Water!"
to which he replied, "After having sailed around here for
3 months visiting many of your islands and villages, I have seen
what your resources are and observed their management. It is
not a water problem but a water 'management' problem you have."
We discovered some large fibreglass water tanks that were donated
by the EU - over seven years ago! A cyclone scattered them through
the mangroves the day after they were delivered and they have
remained there ever since. These tanks could be retrieved and
distributed to the islands that are the most needy. Under the
auspices of a capable volunteer the tanks need to be placed on
site and then plumbed to
bamboo guttering. I believe that this approach may help to somewhat
reduce reliance on imported materials which would be fantastic.
Unless the islanders are taught skills of maintenance and management
of both their own resources and those that are donated, they
are in danger of depending more and more on handouts and becoming
less responsible for themselves.
We are now actively looking for like-minded
yachties and others interested in helping us realize the vision,
to join us this year. Let's make this vision become a reality!
For more information please see our website:
or email Eric at email@example.com
to find out more.