The Ocean Pickup in Guyana

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In early May 1983 the Ocean Pickup, our thirty-two foot trimaran fishing vessel sailed from Martha's Vineyard in New England to Guyana in South America, a voyage of over three thousand five hundred miles (5,632 km). At the request of the Guyanese government and with support from the Canadian International Development Agency, we were to introduce our sailing technology to Guyanese fishermen.

The background leading up to the voyage was given in the first issue of Annals (Vol. 1, #1, 1583) with a detailed description of the Ocean Pickup and the technological innovation involved in its development. In this article therefore I will only summarize this briefly. Copies of the first issue of Annals are still available. I originally became involved with sail-powered working watercraft after direct experiences with some of the crucial problems being faced by fishermen throughout the tropics. Within the last few \ ears, one fishing community after another has begun to suffer from a lack of engine spare parts and from the high cost of fuel which is often in short supply. Modern fishing vessels are getting harder and harder to maintain. In Guyana some fishermen have to own five outboard engines to keep one running and in spare parts.

It is not likely to get better. Most fishing nations started to modernize in the decades between the 1950s and the present. They obtained fast boats and efficient gear, and most of them caught enough more fish to pay for the changeover. Modernization made them dependent upon industrial nations for boats, gear, and fuels. To complicate the story this modernization was based upon international borrowing and national solvency which was removed and independent of the fishing communities. Now many of the tropical countries are becoming broke, to all intents and purposes, due to a lack of foreign exchange. Without hard currencies they are unable to import, and as a result, the service networks as well as the industrial infrastructure of the fisheries are beginning to fall apart-in some cases rapidly. Around the world there are growing numbers of small scale fishermen who now lack the where-with-all to ply their fishing trade.

It seemed to me that there must be a contemporary alternative to buying boats, engines, fuel, and gear from industrial countries. I started to look for more regional solutions that borrowed from the fruits of scientific and engineering knowledge which could be applied in the context of tropical countries and peoples. From the outset I set four basic guidelines or objectives for a project to help fishermen with the development of a new type of working vessel. They were: our fishing boat had to be primarily wind powered, but at the same time as fast as most of the motor boats it was to replace; construction technologies had to be suitable for building in the tropics, within the communities themselves; the primary construction material must be derived from fast growing trees which would be a part of the reforestation projects we intended to promote; finally imported components had to be less than twenty percent of the overall costs of the vessel. In this way, by exporting one in five of the vessels built into hard currency countries, input needs could be paid for.

These objectives would have been almost impossible to meet if it hadn't been for naval architect Richard C. Newick. Dick is known in yachting circles around the world for his record-breaking proas and trimarans which look like space age sailing craft and seem half bird and half boat. His major commitment is to use his design skills and technologies to create sailing workboats for fishermen, even the poorest of them. The first Ocean Pickup represents the marriage of three technologies: constant camber molding, wood/epoxy composite building materials, and vacuum bagging, with the advanced design of Dick Newick. The 32 foot trimaran is fast, weighs a ton, and can carry a ton and a half of gear and fish. It is strong, seaworthy, and we believe long-lived.

The first Ocean Pickup, the "Edith Muma," was fished off Cape Cod. In May skipper Russ Brown and Jonathan Todd sailed her down the east coast of the United States to Beaufort, North Carolina, and after making some alterations to the rudder, directly off-shore east to Bermuda. The trip was one storm or blow after another. Although it was an exhausting trip, the "Edith Muma" was beginning to prove herself at sea.

At the beginning of June I joined the boat in Bermuda for the approximately twenty-two-hundred-mile journey to Georgetown, Guyana. Russ stayed on as skipper while Jonathan flew to Guyana to help prepare for our arrival there. At dawn on the 3rd of June we set sail from Bermuda, and within a few days in the Sargasso Sea, we were plagued with light, fluky winds. We headed east toward Africa in the hope of picking up the trades. Our southeasterly course took us over four hundred miles east of Bermuda onto a line directly north of Georgetown, Guyana. Overall the voyage was fast and beautiful. The winds came mainly from the southeast and we were close hauled and drenched in spray on deck. The pocket-sized cabin could only hold one of us at a time. We alternated sleeping and sailing.

At 8:30 in the evening on the 7th of June I wrote in my log: "Sailing hard and fast, a trimaran at speed must rank as one of the penultimate sport sensations." By 10:30 my mood had changed. "I am worried that we are sailing too fast, for we are starting to emulate the little flying fish too closely." I doused the jib and eased the main. At 1:30 a.m. I collapsed into the bunk exhausted. On the 12th we were struck by a brief storm straight out of Caine Mutiny. We rode it out with a sea anchor and the rudder removed.

Our solace was that we were making distance over the water. By the end of the 12 th day we reached our closest point to a body of land. We were 90 miles due east of Barbados. There was real beauty everywhere at sea. On June 12th I wrote: "The sky this dawn was beyond the painters or photographers art. It was a melange of massive, ever upwelling, ever dark and light permeated rainclouds. Quintessential tropical storm sky."

On June 13th: "This morning I fight off sea blindness by being the Darth Vadar of the sea. I have a face mask, visor, glasses, head band, foul weather top, and a 'Solar Aquaforms' t-shirt tied to my head, as the heat and light are so intense."

Inside the territorial waters of Guyana we started to see fishing boats, the first since Bermuda. Beyond the continental shelf we spotted a snapper/grouper long liner rolling the large seas. Later in the day we saw the first shrimp trawlers, working in pairs or clusters. During the night, as we closed in on the South American coast, more boats appeared. At one point the beacons I thought might be the Georgetown entrance turned into bobbing kerosene lights marking the extremities of huge fishing nets on the surface. During this last night at sea I had the distinct pleasure of slowly sailing past a freighter on the same heading. It gave me hope for an age of commercial sail.

At dawn on the 17th of June, after two weeks at sea, I found myself weaving through a phalanx of fishermen's traps, lines, and gill nets trying to hold the course Russ had set. As it turned out, his navigation through those current-filled waters had been flawless. The land in that part of the world is so low that, on a boat like the "Edith Muma," it is invisible eight miles offshore. Finally, I spotted the Pegasus Hotel, a landmark which indicated that we were on our course after two thousand miles. I woke Russ, and we called the lighthouse keeper on our hand-held radio. His voice was friendly, and he said he would telephone Robert Williams, the head of Guyana Fisheries Limited.

It was a different world as we entered the Demerara River. The "Edith Muma" sailed past the big market, close to an aging ferry, sardine-packed with people who stared at us, and then on up to the shrimp boat docks where we dropped sail. Waiting there to meet us were Neil Wray, the Guyanese coordinator of our project; Steven Drew, a master fisherman who was to work with us before taking up his teaching position in Fisheries at the University of Rhode Island; and Jonathan Todd and Rob Robinson, who were to crew during the fishing trials.

Without delay we began to ready the boat for fishing trials which would continue, except for an interruption for repairs and painting, until late August. Our first task was to include the Ocean Pickup in the existing fishery under the guidance of a local fisherman whose gear we used. The first fisherman, Henry Bosdeo, was a propitious choice. He lived in Zee-burg on the West Demerara coast and was one of the best at his trade. There was mutual respect from the beginning. Henry Bosdeo is a member of the artisanal fishery. The fishermen work with drift gill nets from open boats. The majority of the vessels are large, flat bottom skiffs up to 35' (10.7 m) in length, powered by 40-55 hp outboards. Some of the boats have small cuddies forward to help protect the crew from the elements. Fishermen like Henry use mile long (1.6 km) gill nets to fish on the surface in the shallow waters of the continental shelf. Usually they stay within fifteen miles (24 km) of the shore. Henry Bosdeo and his neighbors burn a lot of fuel, up to $90 worth Guyana per day. Since they fish about 20 days a month, this works out to about $1,800 Guyana per month. In U.S. currency this represents an annual fuel bill for an artisanal fisherman of over $7,000. Many of the fishermen use auxiliary sails to reduce their costs. The skiffs do not carry ice which is not normally available. Men like Henry Bosdeo feel their range and duration at sea are constrained by lack of ice and by fuel costs.

The Guyanese have a small number of larger, diesel-powered drift gill netters with deck houses, crew quarters, and ice holds. These vessels range further afield and fish with large 1,200 lb (544 kg) V/2 mile long (2.4 km) nets. They carry ice and fish the productive middle grounds. Some long line for snapper 100 wiles (160 km) offshore on the edge of the continental shelf

Despite the fact that Neil, Jonathan, Rob and Steve were sick, our first day of fishing with Henry was a success. In a three-hour set they caught grey snapper, shad, ocean catfish, and one mackerel, which we sold in the

Georgetown Guyana market for $153 Guyana. Henry was so delighted with the boat that day that he relieved the ailing crew by sailing it smartly home. Once ashore he offered to buy the vessel. In subsequent trips with Henry our catch rate climbed to up to 300 lbs (136 kg) of marketable fish per hour. On one occasion we set and hauled the mile long gill net in conditions too rough for the rest of the fleet to leave the shore. The "Edith Muma" was starting to make friends.

Henry Bosdeo and other fishermen told us that they would modify their fishing if they had Ocean Pickups. They would sail further out to the richer, scarcely fished middle grounds. Following our example, they would also take up trolling. Steven Drew had rigged the Pickup so that we could troll four lines while traveling to and from the fishing grounds. Every time out we caught small numbers of the prized King Mackerel, Scomberomorus cavalla, and once we landed a yellowfin tuna, Thunnus albacares. With motor boats, trolling is often too fuel-consuming to justify economically, but fast trimarans, capable of sustained trolling speeds of 6-7 knots under sail alone, open up a new pelagic fishery for Guyana. In any case a number of the fishermen we worked with sensed the new potential inherent in fuel independence.

The following table is my preliminary attempt to assess the economic viability of a 1.5 ton Ocean Pickup built in Guyana and operated in the gill net fishery. The catch value is based on the average price we were paid for our fish but the figures do not include valuable pelagic species caught while trolling.

An Ocean Pickup could net an owner/skipper close to $12,000 U.S. a year. The present official exchange rate is $3 Guyana = $1 U.S. I suspect the calculations might be conservative as they are based upon catch rates of 200 lbs (90.7 kg) per day, and some of the better drift gill netters with comparable hold capacity catch an average of 300 lbs (136 kg) per day.

It is possible to view sail power in the drift net fishery in another way, namely by the fuel saved. Fuel savings alone would pay for an Ocean Pickup in the 10 fathom, 20 mile (30 klm) offshore fishery in as short a period as two years. In the middle ground fishery in depths of 20 fathoms annual fuel savings over a 55 hp outboard would be about $12,000 U.S. a year, which be close to the price of a Guyana-built Ocean Pickup.

Under Steve Dewey's direction we managed to experiment a bit with our long long lining and shrimp and fish trawling gear, but there really was not time to debug the gear and prove much about trawling from an Ocean Pickup or long lining for sharks which is Steve's specialty. We did get a chance to test the "Edith Muma" against one of Guyana's biggest food loss problems, namely, the destruction of fishes in the shrimp trawling industry.

Guyana obtains urgently needed foreign exchange by selling valuable shrimp to the American market. Most of the shrimping is done by U.S. companies. Shrimping vessels usually catch fish as well. Fish form up to eight percent of the total catch. Because shrimp processing is expensive, the shrimpers cannot afford to take up time and space with less expensive fish. The fish killed in the trawl are usually thrown overboard. This fish-by-catch, as it is called, if it could be returned to shore, would be an important local food source. All attempts to find cost effective ways of retrieving the fish have failed, so far, although the government insists that the trawlers keep a percentage of their fish catch and return it to Georgetown.

A year ago an international fishery consultant had suggested that the Ocean Pickup might help solve the by-catch problem. We decided to run an experiment and rendezvous with a trawler at sea, transfer the fish, and return to the processing plant. The odds were long against a rendezvous taking place at all. We organized to meet with a number of vessels including Captain Robb of the shrimper "Weremsha." Without a radio direction finder, or a single side band radio to communicate with, it was a pig-and-a-poke task to find a boat in that expanse of sea. My dead reckoning put us in the predetermined area, and after several hours of circling we made contact with the "Weremsha." Our first attempt to rendezvous and transfer in a rolling sea was slightly hair raising. As the shrimp trawl, filled almost exclusively with fish, was hauled onto the shrimper, we doused sail and motored slowly alongside. The motion of the troller was different to ours, and the transfer procedure potentially dangerous until we had the idea of tying up, not alongside the trawler, but to the bridle which hung from the trawl doors at the end of the boom. Being tied this way freed us of the hazard of being held right against a heavily rolling boat which dwarfed the "Edith Muma." Jonathan and Rob jumped aboard the trawler and helped load and transfer eight boxes of fish. The whole task took us an hour. Filled with good cheer, we set sail for Georgetown. The trip back was a flying journey with the winds and tide in our favor. Four hours later we were tied up at the fish processing plant on the Demerara River.

The 1.5 ton Ocean Pickup may be too small to be optimal as a by-catch boat, and the "Edith Muma" lacks an insulated ice hold necessary to ensure the return of high quality fish. Dick Newick has designed a big sister to the "Edith Muma" which can carry up to three tons of ice and fish in its insulated hold. The 3 ton Ocean Pickup, if it were to be used as a by-catch boat, would have the communication and navigation gear for easy rendezvous at sea.

A sail-powered by-catch boat in Guyana would be cost effective if the difference between the price of fish paid to the shrimp trawler captains and the price received for the fish were at least seventeen cents a pound, provided the vessel made one hundred trips a year. My calculations did not take into account fish caught while trolling to and from shrimping grounds.

The 3 ton Ocean Pickup could also be a very adaptable vessel. Like the smaller boat, it could be employed as a multi-purpose fishing vessel capable of drift gill netting, troling, trawling, and long lining. It would be easy to build the Ocean Pickup in two sizes. They could be made from panels that came off the same master mold.

Since the summer, various people from the Guyanese government, international development agencies, and the private sector have begun to assemble the infrastructure to build a fleet. Ocean Arks International would provide design and training assistance. Robert Williams, the executive director of Guyana Fisheries Limited, told the press he would like to see the project build at least two hundred vessels. The wheels of government anywhere usually move slowly, and Guyana is no exception. It is my hope that within a year or two the fisheries of the region will begin to change and that the Ocean Pickup will be a common sight on Guyana's fertile seas.

As we go to press, Dick Newick and I are shortly to sail the "Edith Muma" to Trinidad and Tobago and then along the Spanish main to Costa Rica. There we will join Bill McLarney and his NAISA colleagues on the Talamanca coast. They have already planted groves of potential boat-wood trees, Albizia, Sesbania, Eucalyptus, and Melina. The Melina has grown to boat-wood size in less than three years. Preliminary tests indicate it to be compatible with our construction technologies.

Some of the fishermen there are looking forward to the Ocean Pickup trials. Many of them along the Atlantic coast can no longer afford to operate their outboard-powered vessels as inflation and fuel scarcities have eroded their economic base. Our overall plan, in collaborating with Bill McLarney and NAISA, is to create an integrated scheme to assist both farmers and fishermen of the region. The overall project involves fisherv research, boat building, reforestation, and agricultural diversification.

NAISA has been working on the food issue for ten years in the region. Within the ecological framework of our work there, the Ocean Pickup will be one component, which we hope will diversify the local resource base.

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