Tag Archives: living abroad

Crazy Boat Idea #???

I don’t know what number it is. Over the years there have been so many crazy boat ideas I’ve lost track. There was the R.V. camper shell on pontoons back in the late 60s. I briefly toyed with converting an oil well jack-up service barge after seeing one out at Breton Island when I worked there. I don’t know how many scow hulls and pontoon hulls I bought plans for. I still have some of them in the back room here. As you know I recently went over to Bocas del Toro to look at possibly buying a Westerly Centaur fixer upper. It was too much fixer and not enough upper so that hit the trash bin of bad ideas. This one, whatever its number might be, just might work.

So what’s the new idea? Well, as my readers know I’ve thought about how much work is involved in producing a hull that would support my shanty boat idea. I thought about how difficult it would be to build a scow hull upside down and turn it over and toyed with the idea of building pontoons in modules. All pie in the sky stuff, that’s for sure.

I thought about trying to find an old hull and putting a house on it, hopefully better than this, but you get the idea:

boat

So where to go from here?

I looked at the boats on craigslist, panama and what few were offered were WAY out of my range. For instance:

four winns

“Quest Four Winns de 26 pies, 10 pies de ancho
Excelente condiciones, vivero, 2 fish box
Baño, servicio, lavamanos, camarote,
GPS Garmin a colore con fish finder y ecosonda,
Radio de comunicaciones i-com, wash down,
Twin Yamaha 250 hp 520 horas
Tanque de 200 galones 2 bombas de achique
Trailer de aluminio.

And they’re only asking $55,000.

Then I was looking at a site called “encuentra 24.” Their listings for “Yates and Veleros” (Power yachts and sailboats) had things like this 38 foot Donzi, a steal at only $95,000:

donzi

Or this 35′ sportfish for a mere $300,000.

fish

Things were looking bleak. Then, for some unknown reason I clicked on their section labeled “Botes, Jet Ski.” The LAST thing I ever wanted was a jet ski. I hate the damned things and I despise the people who have them. But in there I found this:

Ventas de lanchas nuevas (New Boat Sales) Pangas de pesca y turismo

Precio de Venta: $3,500.00.

For those of you who don’t know what a ‘Panga’ is, they’re ubiquitous working craft throughout Mexico, Central America and parts of Africa and Asia. They look like this:

bernal panga There was a price list: lanchas de 18×5.5×3 -2,300.00, lancha de 20×5.5×3- 2,700.00, lancha de 23×5.5×3-3,100.00, lancha de mas capacidad 23×6.5×5- 3,500.00, lancha de 25×6.5×5- 3,800.00, lancha de 28×6.5×5- 4,500.00, lancha de 30×6.5×5-7,500.00.

I’d done some rough number crunching when I was into the idea of building the scow and figured that just for the scow hull itself it would cost me roughly $2,300. And then, of course, I’d have to build the damned thing myself! So paying an extra grand to get a good fiberglass hull built by someone else didn’t seem to be such a bad idea.

Hmmmmm. And the ad said that he was located in David, though I suspected Pedregal was more likely.

I hadn’t given too much though to the panga hulls for a long time. I remember on my first visit to Bocas del Toro back in ’09 standing in the lee of a restaurant and looking at a panga that was all kitted out against the rain and thinking, “I could put a cabin on that and be comfortable.” The problem is, as you can see above, the things are NARROW! The beam of my Nancy Dawson was 7’10” but on reflection I lived for nearly six years in a very tiny space. The overall length on deck was 26′ but the cockpit behind the cabin was a good eight and a half or nine feet, cutting the interior living space down to about 18 feet, and remember, forward of the beam it narrowed down considerably towards the stem. In an earlier blog entry I’d figured out that I’d been living in about 52 square feet of floor space! And yet I was comfortable, never the less.

My plans for a scow or pontoon boat called for about 24X8 with a cabin of about 16X8 or 128 square feet. More than double what I had on Nancy Dawson. If you look at sites like Tiny House Blog and similar you’ll see a lot of these minimalist shelters running around the 100 to 125 square foot range. And costing $30 grand and more, too!

But you have to realize that we’re not just talking about square footage, here. We’re talking about VOLUME when considering living space…length, width and HEIGHT! To keep windage down I would have built the house to give about 6’6″ headroom, so the volume would be 832 cubic feet.

Now, using the same calculations on a panga with a 16′ cabin and 6’6″ headroom you come up with 676 cubic feet. One hundred fifty cubic feet less. Sigh.

How big a handicap is that six and a half foot beam? Depends on how you look at it, I guess. Over in England, Scotland and Wales, they have what are known as “Narrowboats.” These were originally designed as cargo carriers on the extensive canal system that preceded the railroads. These boats have a maximum beam of just seven feet! That’s so they can make their way through the locks on the canals.

I did a lot of rummaging around online in recent days about these boats. The government estimates there are some 25,000 people who live on narrow boats in the country and then there are the weekenders and vacationers on top of that. While most of the boats a quite long, 40 t0 70 feet, there are quite a few smaller boats as well, many of them just 23 feet:

colorful narrowboatsilver-sailsarni

This is the interior of a Springer 23. Quite cozy:

springer 23-2

Wednesday I called the panga builder’s phone number and talked to him, sort of. Talking to someone in a foreign language on the telephone is incredibly difficult. I hated cringed when I had to do it in France and it’s only slightly better here, but I did confirm my suspicion that Sr. Bernal’s operation was in Pedregal.

So, Thursday morning, inspired by what I’d seen on the internet regarding narrowboats I took the 60¢ bus ride to the bus terminal in David, walked three blocks and got on the bus to Pedregal which costs 35¢. I got off 25 minutes later when I saw what looked to be a boat construction site down a side street which would be near one of the rivers in the area. I asked the first person I met if they knew Sr. Bernal who built pangas. They said they didn’t know that name, but a couple of blocks away there was a house that had several pangas in the adjoining yard and perhaps that’s the place I wanted.

I found the place with no problem, and sure enough there were five pangas about the right size there. They were what one would expect of a small operation with so-so quality. They certainly weren’t faired out well. I mean they were rather on the “wavy” side and the gel coat was certainly not of standards we might expect in the States. Of course we’d be paying a lot more for a boat in the States too, so you have to take that into consideration. Pangas are built to two purposes, fishing and tourism. Those for the tourism trade are built with several rows of bench seating. The fishing pangas are an “open” plan. Both kinds have a small enclosed compartment in the bow and a couple of feet from the transom which is cut down a bit for the installation of an outboard there is another full-width partition thus creating an “engine area.” All of these boats were set up with seating.

Heavy salsa music blared out of the open door of the house next door but I finally got the attention of someone inside. They said this was not Sr. Bernal’s operation, but the location where the boats were built was only a couple of blocks away.

 The operation was at the edge of an overgrown and neglected baseball diamond. There were four young men working away at three hulls. The boss wasn’t there but I talked to his brother who didn’t know how much the boats sold for. When asked how long it took  for them to build a hull he said eight days. I gave him my phone number and asked him to have his brother call me so I could find out how much the boats cost. I still haven’t heard from him.
The place I REALLY wanted to go to was a mystery and I didn’t know to how to get there.  Walking down a side street from the first taller (work shop) towards the main road where I figured I’d catch a cab, I asked an old man standing in the shade of a tree if he knew Sr. Bernal who built boats. He didn’t, but a teenaged girl sitting on the front porch of the house we were in front of said she knew. The guy I needed was her cousin! His shop was a good ways away and it would be best to take a taxi, and she wrote down the directions on how to get there. Out at the main road I caught a cab and was at Bernal’s in about three minutes. Pedregal isn’t THAT big a place, after all, but walking in the heat would have been enervating.
Amado Bernal, is a young guy in his early 30s. He was rigging out a 25 footer with a 75 horse Yamaha outboard. The boat had decent gel coat and the interior was finished off well with at least a modicum of attention to craftsmanship. The gel coat inside and out was nicely done, the inside with what we called “spider webbing” which is fun stuff that my friend Stefan and I used to use when fixing up old boats.
Amado said the 23X6.5 hull, with flooring, would cost $3,500. Knock off $300 if I wanted to put in the flooring myself. And knock off another 10% if I paid him in cash. (That was MY idea). The cash thing is that I don’t have a bank account here in Panama. It’s very hard and complicated for a gringo to get an account so my SS checks are deposited in the U.S. and I withdraw cash from ATMs. Only problem there is I’m limited to $500/day. I could go buy a Panamanian bank check, I suppose, but I’ll take the time and the discount.
He wants 1/2 down to get going and it takes him four weeks ( as opposed to one like the other place said) to finish a boat out. The construction is done with hand-laid mat and roving, not chopper gun construction. They will deliver the boat here to Boqueron for $125 and I can finish it out here. I told him what I was planning to do, put up a cabin structure to live in around Pedregal and over in the Boca Chica/Boca Brava area.  He thought it was a pretty cool idea. I like the guy and I’m going to start visiting the bank next week to make withdrawals so I can start the process. I’ve already called MY bank and told them when I was going over to Bocas that I was planning on buying a boat, needed to make a bunch of withdrawals and that the fraud department shouldn’t put a hold on my account for what will certainly look like suspicious activity. They made note on my account so all is good.
So that’s where it stands right now. The picture of the panga with the blue sheer stripe is the boat he was working on. He’d already put up a nice canvas shelter over practically the whole thing and added a nice steering console. This one is 25′. All the hulls have the same beam, they just have a piece that they insert into the mold’s stern to make the different lengths.
I think the color schemes for the narrowboats of England are extremely cool and I would seriously consider doing something in a similar vein. But seeing this is Panama I might do something along the lines of the now-defunct “Diablos Rojos” that used to terrorize the streets of Panama City. They looked like this:
FB IMG_0100pbus_1
Now how cool would a narrowboat be looking something like that?
I know my landlord will be reading this, and I know he wants me to stay here until the house sells.  I can understand his apprehension as he reads this, but all I can say is that none of this is going to happen within the next month or so. In fact, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get things done before someone buys the place and I have to move before I’m ready. I can see this taking a minimum of six months and that’s if I got real lucky and everything went smoothly. And we know things never go smoothly.

 

 

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Rethinking Cruising Grounds

My original plan, when retiring to Panama, was to build a shanty boat and spend the rest of my days in the Bocas del Toro archipelago. Well it didn’t happen as my regular readers know. But for four years the idea has lain semi-dormant in the back of my mind. But why Bocas, specifically. Well, in all of Panama there are really only three places that seem to be written about as cruising areas.

On the Pacific side there’s the Perlas Islands. These islands are generally stopped at by people either about to or have recently made a transit of the Canal.

Las Perlaslas-perlas-mapYou might recognize Contadora where the Shah of Iran spent time after being deposed.

Pearl-island-contadora-arial

On the Caribbean side there’s the San Blas Islands, known here in Panama as Guna Yala. It is a semi-autonomous region administered by the Kuna Indians and to visit them you have to get permission from the Chiefs and pay to visit and your stay is limited in length. It’s not a place where you’re welcome to stay forever.

guna yalaguna-yala-explorer-privateThe Kuna are the second smallest group of people in the world after the pygmies in Africa, and the women’s distinctive “molas” make them iconic figures of Panama.

images

But it’s Bocas that most cruisers gravitate to.

bocas

Miles and miles of sheltered water cruising with dozens of islands to tuck up to and anchor behind if you’re looking for some peace and quiet:

bocas-del-toro2

Or you can go into Bocas Town if you want to live it up a bit:

full-moon-pool-party-bocas-del-toro-1024x518

But making that ride back to the mainland after choosing not to buy the sailboat I realized I didn’t want to live in Bocas anyway. Too far away from too many things.

So, where does that leave me? Closer to home there’s Pedregal with it’s marina, Customs and Immigration offices and other Maritime offices.

pedregal

Pedregal is a 35¢ bus ride from downtown David. It’s not a very pretty place, and there is quite a bit of crime here, mostly drug related but it’s certainly not as tranquil as Boquerón. Back in 2009 (has it been that long ago?) when I was doing my exploratory visits to the country I went down to the marina to look around, and dismissed the place out of hand. (Please excuse the misspelling of the town’s name) http://onemoregoodadventure.com/2009/05/14/pedrigal-off-the-list/

So with Bocas off the list I went back to Google Earth and took another peek at Pedregal and saw this:

pedregal delta

Miles and miles of sheltered water in the delta and then to the east comes Boca Chica and Boca Brava.

boca chica

And there are lots of boats here which was a surprise to me…

boca chica boats

Lots of big game fishing goes on offshore from Boca Chica with world records being pulled out of the water. And there are plenty of islands to relax around.

Isla Palenque-Orgullo en Boca Chica-Panama-Real Estate

If anything does come of the boating bug this is probably where I’ll end up. Close to David.

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As Close To Free As It Gets

There’s no doubt about it, Panama is filled with a wonderful variety of fruits and vegetables. My friend Omar, in Panama City, or simply Panamá as it’s called here, has been running a series of posts on his blog about a roadside stand near his house where he and his wife buy a lot of their produce: http://epiac1216.wordpress.com/2014/08/12/a-humble-farmers-stand-in-tumba-muerto/

I urge you to go see the wonderful series about this man’s stand and then browse around in Omar’s blog. Remember, when you’re reading it, that Omar is Panamanian born and English is his second language and one he is passionate about.

Anyway, I’ve written about how people in my neighborhood collect the goodies around our barrio: http://onemoregoodadventure.com/2014/06/10/not-free-but-cheap-food/

Now, these stands are all over the place. They’re along the Inter American Hwy, they’re on the city streets of downtown David, and in several kiosks around the bus terminal. I went to the supermarket El Rey, yesterday, and one of the things I wanted was some tomatoes. The ones there were horrible and I didn’t buy any. Today, at the bus station I bought a bag of pibá still hot from being cooked, and a bag of wonderfully ripe plum tomatoes. They were a buck a bag.

Today's bargains

A word about the fan, which I also bought today. Most, but not all, of the buses running from Boquerón into the city are air conditioned. And it gets hot in David, believe me. More so than here where I live, and definitely scorching compared to places like Boquete and Potrerillos Arriba up in the mountains. And even the air conditioned buses often don’t keep the a/c on when they’re waiting for passengers in the terminal. The non a/c buses (actually they have it but the drivers don’t use it to save on fuel costs) are okay while on the move because the windows are opened and you get the breeze. But sitting in the terminal without a/c you need some way to create your own breeze. Many people use a newspaper or something else.

The other day I saw a girl waiting for the bus to come in and she was using a fan. I asked where she’d bought it and she told me about an Indian (India indian) shop not too far from the terminal. I had to go pay my internet bill this morning so I stopped by the Indian shop and bought 3 fans. This one ($1.99) I’ll keep in my knapsack for when it’s needed.

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Too Much Work

I recently learned that a friend of a friend had a Westerly Centaur sailboat over in Bocas del Toro for sale for a very low price. The boat had been salvaged after breaking adrift and winding up in a group of mangroves. The friend’s friend’s daughter had been working on restoring it but had pretty much lost interest in the project so it was possible that the boat might be available.

I did some research on the boat and found that it was very popular and had an excellent reputation. Several had made trans-Atlantic crossings and at least one had done a circumnavigation. I was, of course, interested, and had some email correspondence with Scott about the boat. He wrote: “Be aware it’s a fixer-upper. At one point (before my time with it) the hull was sanded out to be painted, but it never was painted leaving the hull in a camouflage mix of gel-coat, old paint and primers, but physically in pretty good condition,,,, as is the deck. The cockpit seats are shot but wouldn’t require much to replace. It was rigged for an outboard engine.

“There’s only one and a half real problems with the boat… The “one” is the rudder. It was originally mounted in an unbalanced configuration at the back of the “third” keel. It got busted off when the boat went ashore in the mangroves,,, I do have the rudder though. It could be remounted,,, but personally I was thinking of a new rudder arrangement, further aft in a balanced rudder configuration.”
Well, Bocas is a wonderfully beautiful area of Panama, and my friend, the late, great (and I MEAN that) Frank Hilson had said, “I can see you in Bocas.” So I thought I’d go have a look. It would be nice to have a boat again. A “home” and living “on the hook” (at anchor) is as cheap as it gets. And a “fixer upper” at a reasonable price can’t be too bad, can it? I mean, I spent many years of my life repairing and restoring boats, so there’s nothing that would be beyond my capabilities to fix. Besides, it would be nice to get away for a couple of day’s vacation.
I thought there were a couple of good omens as I started off for Bocas Wednesday morning. The bus for David was just getting to the bus stop at the same time I arrived so there was no wait. Then, at the terminal the bus for Bocas was just backing out of its slot when I showed up. It stopped and let me on. I didn’t even have time to buy a bottle of water at one of the kioskos.
In Almirante I bought my ticket for the water taxi that is the only way to get out to Isla Colón where Bocas town is situated. The boat was loading and I was off. My connections the whole way were spot on time.
The next day I bumped into Scott while I was on my way to his wife’s restaurant. We chatted as we walked along, actually I walked, he was on a bike which is the main method of transportation on the island. Scott and Francesca live on Careñero which is an island a couple of hundred yards away from Isla Colón. We were over there in a couple of minutes aboard their panga.
I climbed up onto the dock which is the back porch of their house and looked down and saw the boat. I said, “Scott, I appreciate your time and all, but I can tell you, instantly, that this will just be more work than I want to get involved in.” The boat being offered at $2,500 could easily end up costing four times as much when it was all said and done.
IMG_0603IMG_0602
But that’s okay. And riding back to the mainland I was wondering if I really DID want to live over there, after all. Riding back and forth for half an hour on the water taxi to get to a bus, and then a nearly four hour ride to get over the Continental Divide to David. Did I REALLY want to be in that situation? Not a definite NO, but certainly not an enthusiastic YES, either.
It wasn’t a complete waste. I had a nice mini-vacation and got quite a few pictures including this great sculpture of a man fishing, made out of door hinges:
IMG_0605

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Soccer Mom, Bocas del Toro Style

soccer mom

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August 9, 2014 · 8:02 am

Forced To Do It

I bought a “smart phone” yesterday. Ugh!

One of the indispensable pieces of equipment in my life has been my iPod. I use it to listen to books I’ve downloaded from Audible.com. I listen at the bus stop and I listen when I’m riding on the bus, too.

A year or so back my original iPod developed problems and I could no longer download anything to it so I went out and bought an iPod Nano. Earlier this week it, too, developed a problem. Something to do with the battery. Couldn’t reset the thing, either. The only way I could get it to work was when it was plugged into power. Letting it sit plugged in wouldn’t give it a charge.

On line it said I could get it fixed at an Apple Store. There’s one in Panama City, but that would require sitting on a bus for 14 hours (round trip) and a couple of night’s hotel stay to get it fixed, however much THAT might cost. It’s stuff like this that have made us a disposable society. It’s cheaper in the long run to just buy new.

So why not just buy a new iPod and save some money? Well, the one thing is the built-in camera. It’s not nearly as good as my regular camera, but that’s heavy, bulky, and generally stays at home unless I really want it. It’s also hard to get good candid photos with it because its size attracts attention, and there’s a photo essay I’ve been trying to get the pics for. I’ll give you a preview…

The Nöbe women wear a distinctive dress but I’ve noticed that their footwear is extremely varied: from rubber boots and flip flops to high heals and everything in between. I’ve captured a few samples but it will be much easier with a smart phone camera because it will simply look as though I’m texting, which is the national pass time of much of Panama.

IMG_0527IMG_0526

I’ll be making another 4-hour passage over to Bocas del Toro in the next couple of weeks and I wouldn’t be able to do it without listening to my books. Right now I’m into Fortune Cookie by Bryce Courteney and narrated by the wonderful Humphrey Bower.

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Watch This Spot For Future Developments

I haven’t been sleeping well since the shanty boat bug bit me again. I’ll go to bed and then wake up at 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning as 72 year old men are wont to do, but then when I lay down again my mind keeps churning about all the possibilities of  this venture that I can’t get back to sleep. So a half hour, forty-five minutes later I’m up again and roaming around on the computer.

Here’s one of the hurdles I have to overcome…

Where I Am

As you can see by the yellow stick pin where I am and where the boat should be are quite far apart. Not only that, running right smack between those two pins is the continental divide. A mountain chain thousands of feet high!

I have a complete set of plans for a shanty boat called the Brandy Bar

brandy-bar

It’s 25 feet long and 10 feet wide. That would make it too wide to put on a trailer and truck over the hills to Almirante where it could be launched. The construction is pretty straight forward. It’s like building a house because everything is right angles and no complex compound curves. It would be pretty simple to simply modify the plans and scale the beam down to 8 feet so it would be trailerable.

Another problem is cost. Even scrimping on things like interior design and not counting such essentials as navigation lights, anchors with their chain and rode, regular lighting, cooking facilities, etc., etc., the bare hull would cost around $4K!

Then we get into construction problems themselves. 1) The best source for marine plywood is over there in Bocas del Toro. I live here in Boquerón. For those of you not familiar with boat building, real marine plywood is expensive stuff. Without getting into a big dissertation about how plywood is made I’ll just say there’s “Marine Ply,’ ‘AB’, ‘BC’ and stuff called ‘CDX.’ The letters all refer to the condition of the outermost ply, and the X means ‘exterior.’ All need to have exterior grade glues so the plies won’t delaminate.  The supplier I know of charges $99.95 for a 3/4″ sheet of the stuff. Tack on Panama’s 7% tax and each sheet come in at $106.95. There are approximately 18 sheets needed to build a Brandy Bar or $1,925.00 worth of plywood! He also carries CDX which costs $54.95 for a 3/4″ sheet. That would cut the plywood costs to $1,058.33.

Now all that doesn’t include the framing lumber. There are 21 frames that need to be built with 2X6 inch, pressure treated lumber. Each of the frames requires 14′ of the stuff. An 8′, pressure treated 2X6 costs $14.12 (tax included). Each frame is 3′ high, so the lumber for the framing comes in at about $77.00 whether you’re building with top rated marine ply of CDX.

I was also directed, yesterday, to a place that’s supposed to sell plywood in David. What I’ve seen so far has been disappointing, but I’ll check out the new place in the next few days.

And that’s just what the lumber costs. Add in epoxy resins which are far from cheap and which I haven’t even tried to price out though I did find out about a place in David that sells it, fiberglass mat for protecting the hull against ship worms down here (Columbus abandoned two of his boats here in Panama in 1502 because of ship worms). And so on and so on with expenses.

Another problem arises in the building process. You have to build the damned hull upside down on a kind of large jig to hold the framing in place while you’re putting on the plywood sheeting and glassing it all together.

upside downSo, when it’s all sheeted and the fiberglassing is done you have to do this…

flipping itYou have to turn it over so you can build the cabin. And the flippin’ thing is HEAVY right now. (The last two photos courtesy [though they don't know it yet] of http://littleshantyboat.blogspot.com/ which is one of the best blogs I’ve read anywhere about the actual building process of a shanty boat. If you’re interested in building one you need to bookmark this site.)

So, the other night I was talking to my surfing friend, David, who lives in Costa Rica but who is thinking about resettling, too, in Bocas, when an idea hit me. . .

From time immemorial boats and ships have been built as a single unit. The keel was laid down, frames were attached to that and planking was added to the frames to complete the hull. Instead of building my 25′ long by 8′ wide hull as a single unit, why couldn’t I build, say, units that were 8’X8′ which would be a lot lighter in weight and them, with epoxy, through-bolt those units together? Sort of like putting Legos® together.  Why not, indeed? I mean they build HUGE ships and aircraft carriers that way, now, don’t they?

If they can build something as big as an aircraft carrier in sections and, essentially, bolt the pieces together why couldn’t I do the same thing with something so simple as a shanty boat?

So, naturally, this set me off in other sleepless wanderings around the internet. I found a TON of stuff. From Viet Nam there was this: http://www.hapby.v-nam.net/builds/projects.php,   And this: http://shantyboatliving.com/2012/collaborative-modular-project-post-1/ Plus a bunch more, but you get the idea.

Four Puddle Duck Racers bolted together would make a 16’X8′ hull. Six of them and you’ve got a 24X8. Four of them with a deck covering the top of each one, and joined with spanning  members floored over and you’ve got yourself the pontoons and platform for a pretty large floating home.

And here, too, you don’t have to build it all at once. You can build something large enough (or small enough) to give you a place to live in while you construct further modules. My uncle Dick and his wife Helen lived in the basement of their house in Cincinnati, Ohio while they were building the big house. My secret heros, Jim Kimball and Jay Viola (not to mention their wives who worked just as hard as they did, though in the States) built a fabulous Eco Resort, Tranquilo Bay (http://www.tranquilobay.com/) on the island of Bastimentos  in Bocas del Toro, Panama, piece by piece, and they lived in a TENT on a rickety dock when they started the venture. You really SHOULD read this story, it’s absolutely inspiring about what guts and determination can accomplish…http://www.inc.com/magazine/20080501/paradise-the-hard-way.html I had the good fortune to spend a couple of hours with Jim Kimball a few years ago when I was making my first exploratory trips to Panama and it would be hard to find a nicer person  willing to sit down with a total stranger for a couple of hours and discuss the stranger’s crackpot ideas of building a shanty boat.

So, there you have it. I’m sure there will be many more sleepless nights ahead because of this nonsense. My birthday is only a couple of weeks away. I think this year I’m going to gift myself with some power tools. I’ll show you when I get them.

 

 

 

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Filed under adventure, Boat building, boats, Bocas del Toro, Boqueron Panama, Expatriate Living, Floating Homes, homemade boats, Houseboat, Living Abroad, Living in Panama, Living off the grid, Living Small, Minimalist Cruising, PDR Racer, Puddle Duck Goose, Puddle Duck Racer, Retire in Panama, Retirement, Retirement Abroad, sailboats, Shanty boat, Shantyboat Living, Small Houses, Small Sailboats, Tiny Homes

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.

puddle-duck-racer

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.

Image 20065

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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