This piece by boat designer and sailmaker Michael Storer is a short report about instant boat building in the Philippines – an appeal for help in replacing the lost boats so important to feeding the Filipino people and to the economy.
If you want to cut straight to the donations page … it is here. $210 pays for a complete boat on the water without a motor, and there is also there is an urgent need for nets.
As most people will known, typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) cut across the bottom part of the Philippines late last year. Tacloban was one of the worst affected areas.
A two storey-height storm surge reached ing as far inland as 1.5km (that’s a mile in old money), leaving wasted urban areas not looking much different from Hiroshima.
People, houses, cars were all just washed away. Immediately after there were only three working trucks in the city and things are not improving very rapidly – the photos of the area were taken by me in early March.
The name Tacloban might ring a bell to history buffs: it was the town (now city) on the island of Leyte where General MacArthur made set up his headquarters when the Philippines were retaken from the Japanese.
It should be said that Japanese control was fragile due to the staunch resistance of Filipino guerillas, and it’s the Filipinos’ nuggety, tough resilience I want to write about here – and boats, their design and building methods.
This map gives an indication of the area of devastation. In the green area alone, the Bureau of Fisheries census has estimated that 19,000 small fishing boats were lost along the coast.
In essence these are fishing communities; they are resilient and independent.
Fishing is very small scale; after a day fishermen return with a bucket or two of water with fish swimming around in them. They eat what they need and sell the rest; if they can sell a few kilograms of extra fish a week, they can buy a bag of cement or a couple of sheets of plywood for building a more permanent house rather than waiting for handouts – in short, they can get on with life!
The fishing also underpins the local economy. Some politicians talk about the trickle down effect, but this is more truly a trickle-up effect – if cheap fish are caught locally then small businesses distribute the produce, run roadside stalls selling fresh or grilled fish, and small cafes and restaurants can also sell local produce.
Lots of people get a little money in their pockets and the economy starts moving.
The reason I was there with my friend Dylan Tantuico (who originally came from the area) was to have a look at projects rebuilding some of the estimated 50,000 small one- or two-person fishing boats destroyed by the typhoon.
Part of the problem is that in Tacloban two out of the three traditional boat builders died, and neighbouring boat builders across the bay in Samar are working flat out dealing with their own local devastation.
The traditional boats take longer to build than instant boats, but there is a second, equally significant issue here. Illegal logging by Filipino and Chinese interests has led to nationwide logging bans, which is a problem because the local boats are built with a dugout bottom (‘casco’ meaning ‘like the shell of a coconut or the internal space of a skull’ – it’s not not dissimilar to our word ‘hull’ meaning the outside case of a seed).
Traditionally the sides were planked in solid timber,but more commonly plywood is used.
Aid and government agencies have managed to replace just over 10 percent of the destroyed boats, mostly with fibreglass boats that in many cases don’t quite fit the needs of the local fishermen and don’t really teach anything. So many fishermen continue to wait for help.
These photos are from the BalikDagat (balik=return to dagat=sea) project, which uses traditional construction to repair and build new boats. The folks behind the project are currently deciding whether to continue, after they achieved their fundraising project for 200 boats, most of which have been delivered over the last months.
Looking at the construction… the casco is visible in this bow. The ribs are there to hold the planked sides together; they’re not really needed now, but fishermen are a bit nervous about removing them.
All these boats are slender and balanced by outriggers. The crossbeams are steam-bent green bamboo, and the outside hulls are bamboo lengths.
But even where traditional builders work they can’t get the materials.
But there are a number of exciting projects that buck this trend, for example by moving to full plywood construction. Get rid of the aid agencies’ notion of fibreglass and industrial production, and teach fishermen to build boats for themselves using materials that are available?
The first one we visited was run by the national religious order, The Sisters of the Holy Spirit. They used their community links as well as donations from graduates of their schools to acquire building materials for non-traditional boats, then brought in an experienced ply epoxy boatbuilder from a less affected area further south.
These are totally Filipino boats progressively developed by people in small communities; Pinoy boatbuilders are no slouches in development and design. If you want to see an article about the power of this progression have a look at this article on my website. These boats are both beautiful and effective.
It is quite a shock to see what we think of as our usual methods for fast building boats employed in a village somewhere that to us seems remote and very different.
The boats have 9mm (3/8in) bottom and 5mm (under 1/4in) sides, and have a hybrid hull form that comes from a requirement for a boat that may be driven under power or paddled. The result is a standard hullshape that will do both, with very little rocker and a dead flat bottom. In the photo we see the side ribs as well.
The deal here is sweeter in many ways. A fisherman helps others build their boats for four days, and is then helped to build their own boat; they then walk away with a boat and with knowledge about building and materials.
The guy in this photo is finishing off his boat. He has never built a boat before. ~The building rate is two boats at a time, each of which takes two days.
I love the detailing of these boats. There is some very nice custom work that the fibreglass boats can’t incorporate.
The Sisters of the Holy Spirit have a plan for 125 boats. Effectively they are producing one a day or a little faster, but the project covers just two tiny barangay (local areas) within the Tacloban city.
But what would happen if you go the full fast building hog, and start building the way we would series build simple boats like my Quick Canoe or Andy Linn’s Easy Weekend canoe?
Since moving to the Philippines my support group has been Pinoyboats.org. This group is pretty well the same sort of people that build boats for fun in Australia or the USA: office workers, retired engineers, public servants.
What can they bring to the mix? One of the members, ‘Kuton’, organised for his old school classmates to donate materials for 70 boats. At the same time a group on the pinoyboats forum was discussing and designing a bangka (boat) for fast construction from precut kits. It was based on local boats that had been measured up.
The plan was that the classmates and other volunteer labour would cut the panels and join the sheets. They would be shipped to Ilo-Ilo and fishermen would assemble them with guidance from four of the Pinoyboats members.
This is a trial of the Biglang Bangka in a suburban Manila swimming pool – Biglang = quick or instant, so the name represents a nod to Dynamite Payson and Phil Bolger.
It not only meets the functional criteria, but it is actually a very beautiful looking boat. A couple of weekends of hectic work and a couple of weeks of two men working by themselves produced 70 kits.
The packs were shipped to Ilo-Ilo by one of Kuton’s classmates shipping company.
And then the fun started: a four-day project with a target of 70 boats to build, with Fishermen building their own boats for the first time.
One of the fun things was that it was easier for two boatbuilding teams to work together. So a lot of friendships made on the day.
This is what Filipino grit can achieve in a very short time.
We can help by providing funds. These will be donated to specific projects that are delivering excellent boats and building the skills of local people, and which I am able to track down with help from members of Pinoyboats.
These projects will also put the power in their hands to improve their own boat designs and do repairs without the slightest hesitation into the future.
Duckworks is collecting the money via one of its pages – as I mentioned earlier, $220 is the total cost for one boat, and smaller amounts will buy nets or contribute to building further boats. Duckworks will transfer the dollar amount donated, so Duckworks itself is effectively donating all the exchange, transfer, bank and institutional fees. I will put it directly in the hands of the active groups.
So please consider helping this exciting initiative! They will keep building as long as money flows.