Too Much Fun?

I’ve written, before, about a neat, DIY boat called the Puddle Duck Racer.

http://www.pdracer.com/

A few years ago I priced it out at less than $200. I’ve also said that I doubt that there’s a group of sailors who have more fun than the Puddle Duckers.

A PDR is a “class” sailboat, just like an Optimist Pram, but those go for as much as a grand plus. A “class” sailboat means that they all meet certain criteria so that they can compete against one another without a handicapping system. The bottom rocker of all Puddle Ducks is exactly the same.

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Other than that, anything goes…

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Thinking about building a shanty boat, I’m going to need to have a dinghy and I’m going to build a PDR, but it WON’T be anything like this one…

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Bamboo For Shanty Boat Building

Continuing on the search for building materials for a shanty boat build here in Boquerón, Panama. Five years or so ago I talked to Courtney Parks, owner of the Bocas Marina and a good friend of my friend the late, great Frank Hilson (everyone who knew Frank misses him). Back then Courtney was working on getting a boat yard up and running in Almirante on the mainland. Yard, travel lift, the whole nine yards and rare as hen’s teeth down here. Well, going through a ton of sites this last week it seems he’s actually done it and the yard opened a couple of years ago.

http://cruisingoutpost.com/2012/11/bocas-del-toro-boatyard-construction-underway/#idc-container

Courtney said then, that the plywood they sell here in Panama is garbage, and he usually had what he needed shipped down from the States. So, talk about expensive! Figure in the cost of shipping and then the import duties, sheeesh!

Today I went to one of the largest hardware outlets around, Franklin Jurado, over in Bugaba. They had a limited stock of plywood and while it was marked “Marinero,” I doubt that it really IS marine-grade ply. A 3/4″ sheet is listed at $26.05 and 1/2″ at $22.53. Cochez, the other big supplier in the area prices their stuff within a few cents of Jurado’s prices.

So, building a small, 18′ scow hull like the Atkins “Retreat” which I’ve lways rather liked, http://shantyboatliving.com/2012/shantyboat-living-book-design-options-retreat/ you can figure that the plywood for the scow hull is going to run around $450, not counting framing (2X4X8, untreated pine runs $4.84 each) plus fastenings, glass and resin for sheathing I’d make a very rough guess at about $1,250 for the hull. And remember, of really lousy plywood, too.

So this brings me back to wondering what using bamboo would cost, and what would it look like? Well, they seem to use it quite well in Thailand where these pictures were taken:

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Now I have to track down a source for bamboo for pricing. Besides, I’m thinking of building the cabin with split bamboo because of its light weight.

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Bug Bit Again

In spite of the fact that I’ve worked on some exceptionally fine yachts in my day,

Lady Ann-Hatteras 58

Jolie Aire-Golfe Juan

And had my own small sailboat that I single-handed for a nine-month trip from Fort Lauderdale to Mexico, Belize and the Rio Dulce in Guatemala back in ’92 after sailing the boat in the picture above from France to Fort Lauderdale.

Nancy Dawson

I am secretly a HUGE fan of unconventional craft. Boats on the cheap, so to speak.

Back in the early 70s I dreamed of building a pontoon platform and loading one of those pickup truck RV inserts onto it and power it with an outboard. I never did it, but it’s STILL an excellent idea.

You know, sort of like this:

like this

I mean everything you’d need is right there in the insert…galley, living space, sanitary facilities (heads we call them in pirate talk). All together you’d have a relatively inexpensive shanty boat. And the pleasure of being on the water isn’t related to how much the boat costs, either. And it’s true that boats are used in INVERSE proportion to their size. The smaller the boat the more it’s used.

In 1980, after attending my 20th high school reunion (Okay, it was actually our FIRST class reunion. It just took us 20 years to get it together to have it.) I went to Maine to visit some dear friends. The first night there I was browsing through some National Geographic Magazines that were on the nightstand in my bedroom when I came across an article about a couple, Gwen Carpenter Roland and Calvin Voisin, who recycled an old Louisiana shotgun style house, mounted it on a steel barge and had it towed deep into the Atchafalaya swamp where they eventually lived on it for the next eight years.

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http://www.amazon.com/Atchafalaya-Houseboat-Years-Louisiana-Swamp-ebook/dp/B003IT5SKC/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1403133956&sr=1-1&keywords=atchafalaya+houseboat

I thought it was one of the coolest ideas I’d ever come across. Without knowing it at the time, I would eventually come to know the Atchafalaya Basin extremely well running a crew boat all through the area taking men and supplies to the drilling rigs located there, but I never came across their house.

I think I stole that copy of the Geographic and took it back to New Orleans where I was living at the time. (Coincidentally, I at the class reunion I won the prize for traveling the farthest to get there, but that was only because Sheila Bonnell didn’t make it from Japan where she was working as an architect.) I envied that couple and the realization of their dream. I knew I’d never have enough money to own a yacht of my own, and actually I found it much better to play around on somebody else’s yacht and get paid for doing it than owning one of my own. But the story made me believe that owning and living on a shanty boat was actually doable. Though the cost of a deck barge like theirs was prohibitive for me, not to mention how much it would cost to hire a tug boat to tow it somewhere was totally out of the question.

And it was. In 1984 I found a half build shanty boat tied up to a tree in the Tchefuncte River on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. It was essentially a shack on two pontoons made from oil well casings, and it had a 25 hp Johnson outboard motor for power. I bought it for $1,500, and with my friend Woody Northington, a professional seaman like myself, brought the boat across the lake and down to the Mississippi Gulf Outlet Marina on Bayou Bienvenue (Welcome Bayou) in Chalmette, a suburb just outside of New Orleans.

Houseboat trimmed

I lived on the boat for nearly three years and loved it as much as any yacht I ever worked on (and that included the 175′ Gallant Lady). Altogether I had less than $2,000 invested in her, and when I had to leave Louisiana after losing five jobs in three years and getting laid off for the last time ON my birthday I sold her for $2500 and left.

When I decided to retire to Panama my original idea was to build a shanty boat and spend my remaining days being a “character” over in the Bocas del Toro archipelago. Well, so far that hasn’t happened. Hasn’t even come close to happening. But like one of those songs that get stuck in your head that you just can’t shake all day long, the lure of a shanty boat has returned to haunt me.

I have been very content with my life here in Panama, living way up in the mountains in Potrerillos Arriba and down here “on the flat” in Boquerón. But this little house I love and have called home for three years is for sale and I’m on a month-to-month basis. So far it doesn’t seem that I’m in any danger of being removed. People aren’t beating down the door to look the place over and possibly buy it, but it could happen at any time. Then what would I do? The houseboat worm is burrowing around in my brain.

(You have absolutely no idea how much I’m craving a cigar right now after having stopped smoking nearly 7 months ago.)

I began to think about a modified version of the Louisiana boat. When I ride the bus into David we pass by a place called Riegos Chiriquí (Chiriquí Irrigation). Out in their lot surrounding the office building are stacks of various sized PVC piping. Some of it easily as big in diameter (24″) as the pontoons of my old boat. I started Googling building shanty boats with PVC piping and found some really cool stuff that the Chinese (wouldn’t you know) are doing.

They are using PVC piping to replace what had once been traditional bamboo construction. And I’m not talking about small stuff, either. They’re making freight-carrying boats in the 30′ to 40′+ range.

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Pretty cool, huh? Well, it turns out that while it is cool it’s too damned expensive to do here in Panama. I dropped in at Riegos a couple of days ago and found out that the 24″ pipe which maxes out at 20 feet (the Louisiana boat was 35′) costs over $1,800 each. The smaller pipe like in the pictures above, also max of 20′ cost over $400 each. Prohibitive for my budget.

We’ve all seen pictures of the reed boats of Lake Titicaca…

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Why couldn’t one use bamboo bundled together to make pontoons for the base of a shanty boat? Bamboo grows wild around here. I’ve seen forests of it in my travels up in the mountains. While at Riegos I asked how much 4″PVC cost, figuring that was about the size of most of the bamboo I’ve seen here. A 20′ length of the  stuff is $23.07, and I haven’t done any calculations on the flotation capabilities of the stuff to know how much would be needed. But at a buck fifteen a foot it, too, is prohibitive.

But what all this has done has been to keep me wandering through various sites and dreaming the dream once again.

 

 

 

 

 

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Not Free, But Cheap Food

I recently wrote a post about how much free food was available here in Panama. Yesterday I went to a supermarket for groceries. Naturally that wasn’t free, but when I went to the bus stop to get back home there was a gentleman about my age who had set up a box on one of the two available seats. It was filled with avocados and pibas.

Now, you all know what avocados are, and there are several large avocado trees along my street. People come with long bamboo poles to knock them down.

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The old man was selling them for 50¢ each. Half of what they go for in the supermarkets. They were all rather soft and ready to eat so I bought one. It was scrumptious, too. Creamy and just right. You know how avocados are judged? You buy them in the market and wait for them to soften up. Each day you give them a little squeeze and goes like this: too hard, too hard, too hard, too hard, too late it’s rotten.

He also had a dozen bags of pibá (known in English as Peach Palm fruit.).

pibas

They are seasonal and people throughout Central and South America love these. In Costa Rica they’re called pejibaye. They’re chontaduro in Colombia and Ecuador, pijuayo in Peru, pijiguao in Venezuela, tembé in Bolivia. The Brazilians know them as pupunha and in Trinidad and Tobago they’re called peewah.

Whatever they’re called they’re about the size of a golf ball and just about as hard when they’re raw. They have to be boiled for hours in order to soften them up enough so you can eat them. Most often they are cooked in salted water over an open fire in a large pot known as a fogón. Cooked this way the fire imparts a smokey flavor to the nuts. Personally I like them. The flesh, even when cooked right, is rather tough but it reminds me a bit of the flavor of artichoke hearts.

What really surprised me was what a bag of them cost. Only 25¢ for a dozen. (Don’t count them in the picture. I ate two before taking the shot.) They were so cheap I wasn’t sure I understood what he’d said the first time and had him repeat it. Twenty five cents a dozen. And they’d already been cooked. As you roam around downtown David (Dah VEED) there are dozens of street venders selling produce and now they all seem to have little plastic bags of pibá .

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Comunication

I don’t know how many times I’ve said, here, that I mangle the Spanish language. I dish out grammatical errors like Halloween candy. But I manage to communicate with the locals all the time. Everyone, though, says my pronunciation is excellent. However, there are times when a tiny segment of Panamanians are just plain dumb. It usually happens with store clerks who have what I can only assume to be a limited education. But not always.

Earlier this week I had to buy my blood pressure medications. I went to the Romero supermarket which has a well-stocked pharmacy. A good looking girl, probably in her late 20s or early 30s greeted me and asked what I wanted.

I said, “Zestril, diez miligramos.”

The veil of stupidity descended. It indicates there’s a light on but you’re not sure if anyone’s home.

“ZES trill,” I said.

Again, not a hint of recognition that we were living on the same planet on her face. She handed me a piece of paper and a ball point pen.

I wrote it out.

“Oh, zes TREEL,” she said with a smile.

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“Voilà,” I said. (That’s my favorite French word, and it covers so much. There’s really nothing that will take its place.)

She got the box. It contains 56 pills: nearly a two-month supply.

“¿Algo mas.?”

“Sí, Cardiotal”

Vapid expression once more and she started to push the paper and pen at me.

“No,” I said, “trabaja conmigo.” (No, work with me.)

“Car dee oh TAL. Cinquenta miligramos.”

She gave me a genuine smile as what I said registered and she got me another two-month supply.

“Ahorra, Clo ped eh GRAL”

Again, nothing there.

“Como Plavix,” I said, “pero generic.”

Another smile and she wandered back into the stacks.

“¿Cuanto?”

“Dos cajas, por favor.” (Two boxes, please.)

“Finalmente, ee b’you pro feen oh, quartro ciento miligramos.” (Ibuprofen, 400 milligrams.)

It took her a moment of two to sort it all out but she got it.

She totaled it all up and it came to $132.96. (That’s a two month supply, though the Ibuprofen will last much longer.)

I slid my “Puntos del Oro” card (It’s sort of like Green Stamps but you don’t have to lick anything.) and my carnet (my government-issued residency card) across the counter and received a $26.59 old farts discount. Final bill, $106.37. Not bad when you consider that the last time I bought just Plavix in the in the States, about six years ago, a single month supply cost me nearly $200!

It was a bit of a chore at the pharmacy counter, but we got it worked out.

 

 

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Boquerón Is Booming

I came to Boquerón back in November 2010. It was a sleepy little village of about 1,500 people. http://onemoregoodadventure.com/2010/10/18/a-quick-peek-at-boqueron/

Things have changed quite a bit since then and the place is booming with a lot of new construction. Within the last year the Banco Nacional has opened a branch up near the Town Hall, across from the park.

BANK 2

A whole new housing development has been created called Brisas de Boquerón (Boquerón Breezes). And going up the hill towards home I see new construction sites every week.

brisas de boqueron

And right here in my little neighborhood there’s building going on next door. One house has been built already, and last week another one was started.

Construction

There are no new bars or restaurants, though. But yesterday walking down from the Post Office I noticed one house’s patio was filled with clothing and a hand made sign that said, Ropa Americana (American Clothes). Now, I often see comments on stories that say ALL of the western hemisphere is “America,” not just the United States. Technically that’s true, but you know that Ropa Americana refers to the USA, and NOT Honduras or Paraguay. And while I didn’t stop and check, I’d be willing to be that those “American Clothes” have labels saying they were made in China, Bangladesh or Viet Nam.

There’s no stopping progress. There was a sign across from the bank spelling out some of the public works projects that will be taking place here in the near future, one of which is repaving the road from El Cruce to the Town Hall. Boquerón is booming.

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Food For The Taking

Half of the entire population of the Republic of Panama live in the capitol. The rest of the country is pretty much rural. Even here in Chiriquí with the country’s third largest city (David) things are different than they are in most of the U.S. There’s free food for the taking almost everywhere.

As I’ve said before, while the official National Bird is the harpy eagle, the defacto national bird is the common chicken. They roam free all over the place. I even see them within the city limits of David. Unlike Mexico, Italy, France and other countries there really isn’t anything like a national cuisine here. The closest you could come to a national dish it would be sancocho. Basically that’s chicken soup with ñame and yucca, two root veggies, and seasoned with cilantro.

Sitting on my front porch I can see several different food sources and while some of them are on people’s property, others are kind of free for the taking. Like avocados. It seems that many people here have long, long poles, usually made of bamboo, that they use to knock down the fruits they couldn’t normally reach.

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He’s after avocados.

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Next door the neighbors have a lot of plantains…

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And papaya…

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There are also two HUGE mango trees and they’re LOADED and should be ripe and ready to go in a couple of weeks. There is an extremely bountiful lime tree in my back yard and orange and grapefruit trees are all over the place.

One thing’s for sure. The people around here will never starve.

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