Loud, Proud and Staying FREE
 Back to Home Page


 Below; Discussing the plans..


 I have a vision
By Eric Gray, SY "Erica"

It came to me when we visited the Louisiade Archipelago last cruising season. As we sailed from island to island I became more and more concerned by the islanders' apparent reliance on imported materials and ideas because they are not supported by their income and lifestyle.
Naturally, because my professional expertise is in boat construction, I started by asking them what their supply of timber was like for the building of their sailing canoes. Their canoes are their lifeline to trade, go to market and take the sick to hospital. I was told that they were just managing to get by and had begun a replanting program. However they would be grateful if I could teach them how to use glue and ply wood to make the wide planks that are the bases of their canoes. They get just three of these planks from one large tree, which is wasteful as well as hard work. They said, "If you could show us how to build a trading boat that would be even better."
We received much the same requests wherever we went and I felt their expectations were totally unrealistic. However, I had noticed a resource that was already there and very under utilized. On the beaches lay many long narrow Asian styled outboard powered "Banana Boats" often donated by aid agencies. Many of these boats had holes worn through their hulls from being dragged over the
coral. These could be easily fixed. Many more had broken down motors or had run out of fuel. The words, "maintenance" and "repair" are not part of the islanders' culture and most of them have no form of income for fuel until the 'beche de mer' season, which lasts for about three months.
I thought that if two of these banana boats could be widened and joined stern to stern, with a sailing rig and cabin added, an 11m Sharpie (flat bottom sailing boat) would be created. Such a boat would be much bigger, possibly safer and certainly far more versatile than sailing canoes. A modest outboard auxiliary would be desirable but by no means essential. So the reliance on mechanized, petrol consuming propulsion would be eliminated.
Materials would have to be imported from the mainland for such a project, but relevant to the size of the craft these would be modest amounts. By salvaging the holed boats we could use resources which were otherwise wasted, at the same time as giving the islanders an opportunity to learn new skills. Then if they wished, they could start a business in fixing fiberglass boats and become the island all other islands came to for this purpose. I began suggesting this idea to each island we visited. Mostly it was met with "Show me how to build a trading boat". Finally at Gigila Island the response was "We have two disused boats and we would like to do this".
I spoke at length to the head villagers to find out if the project would make a genuine and positive difference in their lives. I also asked their head man to write a letter requesting assistance from organizations that may be able to help financially. The islanders are excellent mariners, sailing for many miles in their large outrigger canoes and many of the men in the villages have good practical skills. Some have had trade training. Our aim is to teach them skills which are very relevant to their lifestyle and will improve their quality of life.
We can also see that there are other projects where our expertise can directly help the islanders. Christian, from the yacht Caesura, once asked a village elder what is the biggest problem facing these islands. Without hesitation he answered, 'Water!" to which he replied, "After having sailed around here for 3 months visiting many of your islands and villages, I have seen what your resources are and observed their management. It is not a water problem but a water 'management' problem you have."
We discovered some large fibreglass water tanks that were donated by the EU - over seven years ago! A cyclone scattered them through the mangroves the day after they were delivered and they have remained there ever since. These tanks could be retrieved and distributed to the islands that are the most needy. Under the auspices of a capable volunteer the tanks need to be placed on site and then plumbed to
bamboo guttering. I believe that this approach may help to somewhat reduce reliance on imported materials which would be fantastic. Unless the islanders are taught skills of maintenance and management of both their own resources and those that are donated, they are in danger of depending more and more on handouts and becoming less responsible for themselves.

We are now actively looking for like-minded yachties and others interested in helping us realize the vision, to join us this year. Let's make this vision become a reality!

For more information please see our website: www.cruise-aiders.com
or email Eric at cruise_aiders@yahoo.com to find out more.