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:
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:
“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:
Or this 35′ sportfish for a mere $300,000.
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:
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:
This is the interior of a Springer 23. Quite cozy:
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:
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.