Sunday, October 12, 2014
Building skiffs in the Bahamas
27 years ago my marriage to Lawanda ended. Quite simply we grew apart. She wanted a more stable life and I just wanted to keep on looking to see what was around the next point of land.
We had that year finished building the Hogfish and had sailed to Spanish Wells in the Bahamas to start a boat building company there to build out board powered skiffs to be used in the lobster and scale fish industry's there. Spanish Wells is known for their great fishermen, and farmers but had never had a boatbuilding economy. Boat building in the Bahamas was done in the Abacos mostly in Cherrokee , Man O War Cay, and sporadic one off boats in the out islands by individuals. In Man O War cay the Alburys had been building dinghys, skiffs, power skiffs and large custom yachts for several hundred years. All in wood. In the last century the Alburys in several different family's had moved into fiberglass
Boat production . Willard Albury had the most sought after hull in fiberglass at this time. His main market was in Spanish Wells for the Crawfish industry. Tourism in rental boats had not been started.
The Alburys had been building for many years one off carvel planked skiffs . The wood crooks and knees they needed had become scarce. Also good planking pine was hard to find. They made the move to fiberglass.
I had been coming to Spainish wells since 1977 . Lawanda and I had bought a piece of land there in 78 . I loved the people and fell in with them easily as I loved spear fishing and building boats. They always had boats to repair and fish to kill. We settled into a routine of sailing over from the Florida keys in June and I would work on skiffs to get them ready for the August Crawfish season. I was able to go away for several August fishing trips that would last for 3 weeks. In doing this I was able to spend lots of sea time in all the Abaco skiffs, from wood hulls to the 3 models that were built in fiberglass.
The Alburys are excellent builders. Their fiberglass boats will last forever. Just beautiful.
My buddy's in Spanish Wells were always after me to come over and build skiffs for them. The Alburys were a year behind in orders. Every year boats were lost and the wood boats were dying off.
The year before Lawanda and I had lost our Morgan 34 at sea .( another story) . We had built the Hogfish so this seemed like the perfect job to get us back on our feet and in the Bahamas full time.
Work permits were not a problem.
When Willard Albury went from wood to glass he picked what at the time was a big hull at 18'3" long with a nice vee. These boats had when built in wood a spray rail that ran the length of the boat that was 11/2 " wide the whole length. In going to glass he tapered it as it neared the bow. These skiffs also had very tight radiuses on all edges. The boats have a very distinctive look. They are built in solid glass to massive dimensions.
What the locals asked me to do was come up with a bigger longer skiff. More vee as Willard's skiff at certain angles would " spank" . The boats slid in a turn, make a mold for a center console , do each boat as a custom order to fit the client ,make it look the same and could I soften the edges a bit.
Having been in many skiffs at that point fishing and traveling around in up to8' seas for days on end I had a good vision.
The new boat was19'4" long , deep vee with lifting strakes, freeboard the same as the smaller skiffs, but the spray rail was wider and ran all the way to the bow.
During the start up of this project my marriage ended with Lawanda. She moved to the states to do her thing. I ended up with the Hogfish and all our dept.
While building the plugs for this skiff I looked up one day to see Rachel looking over the sheer in the skiff hull I was fitting the stringer plug in.
Long story short it was love at first sight. 26 years later and lots of adventures we are now getting ready for our next cruise. If you do things well in life you get to live many different lives.
After launching hull number one it went off to sea the next day for 23 days. When they came back the word was this was it. The next day we had orders for 29 boats with deposits.
Willard Albury switched to building rental skiffs .
153 skiffs were made from the molds I built. Today half the skiffs in Spanish Wells are these boats and the other half are the modern Panga boats which are better suited to the industry now.
Rachel and I stayed there for 2 years, had our daughter Kalessin and when she was 6 months gave notice and sailed away for ten years.
We eventually came back and built our home here. I like it here because every one has at one time or another been to sea in my skiff. If you sail into the harbor here just ask anyone for Chris the boat builder. They'll tell you what's up with my life .
Putty on the plug.
Spraying primer on for final fairing.
Plugg mover around for more space. Waxed.
New shop built. I built all the plugs and molds on a sloping shop space at the water front as they took forever to build the shop. Was a pain to level every thing up.
Mold ready to pull. I like to core my molds. Nobody would belive that it would come loose.
Made my day!
My young workers 15&16 years old. Spanish Wells is a white community of Bahamaians that have lived on this island for 350 years. The young boys at the time would finish school at 15 . By 16 or so they would find a fishing boat to go away on.
Moving into new shop
Laying up hull # 1
# 1 going in
Production going on. The young Black Bahamians that worked for me were 16 years old when they started. After I left they went on to build 143 more boats with my training over a 14 year period.
Rachel Married me on the beach here. Her only request was that I wear a belt. We were bare foot when married. In cutting the first piece of cake her mom had brought this small wedding cake knife for me to use, I pulled out this cutlass and did the job the proper way.