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Preview: Wooden Boats of the Bahamas – Abaco Dinghies of Winer Malone

April 14, 2016

Winter residents of Hope Town are restoring some of the most cherished wooden boats of the Bahamas — Abaco Dinghies of Winer Malone — to save these legendary boats for the next generation.

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– [Narrator] The Bahamas have long been a cruiser’s paradise. Starting about 75 miles east of Palm Beach, Florida, and stretching hundreds of miles to the southeast, sailors can tuck into protected anchorages, walk deserted beaches, and dive in crystal clear waters. Mostly known as a holiday destination today, it’s easy to forget the rich, boat-building history that still gives the islands a special air of authenticity. Generations of fishing smacks and conch boats were built along beaches throughout the Bahamas. Over on Man-O-War Cay in The Abacos, the Albury family has built a wide variety of sailboats for decades, including Abaco Rage for inter-island racing. Mostly, the Alburys have been known for building beautiful Abaco sailing dinghies and sea-worthy outboard power boats. The schooner William H. Albury, built in Man-O-War Cay in 1963, reminds us of the sort of larger vessels that were constructed to serve as freight boats and fishing vessels. Over on the neighboring island of Elbow Cay, Winer Malone has built Abaco dinghies in Hope Town for 60 years, using nothing but a few hand tools and local woods. Winer’s such a legend in these islands that his dinghies have become cherished and sought after for restoration by local sailors. Today we’re taking you to a hidden little beach in Hope Town where Heinz Weber and Dave Pahl share their passion for restoring these native boats.

– [Voiceover] Ever since I came for the first time 35 years ago, we saw these Abaco dinghies, which of course in those days were work boats, very essential pieces of equipment that one had to have if you lived here, because if you wanted to see your girlfriend on another island, you needed one of those, or no go, because the only way to get there was once a week in the supply boat. It became you wouldn’t see Abaco dinghies any more, so I said well, I’d like to have one and restore it, and then enjoy sailing it. My neighbor, he had three of them, and I noticed that the 14-footer wouldn’t swell up, it was so far gone that the water was pouring in. We took it all apart, and took all the fasteners out and rebuilt the boat. Now I had one sailing again. One after another one came, and we were two, then we were three, then we were four. We have about 10, 12 of them around now. We race them on Sundays. Winer Malone, who built, in his lifetime, over 200 of these boats, all by hand, didn’t have electricity or any power tools at all. Still doesn’t have. Every screw, every rib that he did, he cut by handsaw and made slices of it. When we find one and we see, we know right away whether it’s a Winer Malone. That’s all we want to do is rebuild those, because that’s the heritage of the place here. Once Winer is gone, if the boats disapper then we have lost a big part of the heritage here. Now, whenever we find one that is still salvageable, we’ll do it.

– These boats are built entirely by eye. The builder calls it mother’s wit, there is no plans for an Abaco dinghy, and believe it or not, I don’t think any two of them are identical. Here in the Bahamas where these boats were built, especially during the ’50s and ’60s, they had very little contact or trade with the outside world, so the only thing that they did import were the fasteners, and interestingly, they used brass screws instead of bronze or stainless or even galvanized. They just simply weren’t available. These boats were framed in a local wood called corkwood. They’re not anything to do with corks, like you would think of, but corkwood is a distant relative of madeira and mahogany, and they grow all over the islands. They grow in very natural crooks. You can see when I talk a crook, I’m talking the angle that you get here. This is maybe about an 80 degree angle or so, The builder would go out into the bush, and he would recognize a tree, and it would have the angles that he needed onto it. All of these frames are all hand sawn. These were sawn right out of the crooks, and that was your frames. Interestingly, what they would do, is they would soak the corkwood right at the beach front for about six months prior to using it and cutting it, and that made it impervious to any of the wood-borne worms, even termites. Planking on these varies, it’s maybe 3/8 of an inch thick to 7/16 of an inch thick. Planks are all one piece for the whole length of the boat. You can see they have quite a twist on them going up and around the hollow bow and up through the stem is quite an art in itself. The planks are all made out of cypress. Originally, back in the old, old days, ’50s and ’60s they were made out of Abaco pine, which is also called casuarina around here. It’s pretty tough to work with. Cypress is pretty available, it’s very impervious to rot, it’s a good boat-building wood for what they needed to do. Corkwood frames, cypress planks, brass fastened, and that was it. On the bottom, they used dimensional lumber. The rudders are all just laminated out of two-by stock, traditional two-by stock. You can see the two-by-eights on the keels, and they’re just laminated up to the rest of them. You’ll find that they tack a little bit hard because it’s such a full-length keel, there is no cutaway onto them, so you have to make a concentrated effort to make one tack. The rudders on this boat, it’s a little bit newer, you can see it has modern stainless steel pintles and gudgeons onto it. This one uses a homemade copper pintle and copper gudgeons onto it. That’s an older style right there, hand-forged right by the builder, just out of 1/4 inch and 3/8 inch copper stock. He would just bend them as be needed. They have throats on their booms, so instead of having contemporary goosenecks that you’re used to seeing, these are all done with throats. Very simple rigs, they’re free-standing, they do run the halyard to the stem of the boat, and what that does is gives the mast a little extra support when the sail is up. The mast steps, you’ll notice they have wedges into them. The wedges slightly alter the pitch of the mast, that gives them a little bit better windward ability. If you don’t press them too hard, and you sail them full, they’ll get you to any island you need to go to, and get you back home. That’s what they were there for. Bahamians never took to the art of rowing, and they perfected the art of sculling. There’s a knack, and he would work that scull, and it would just propel these boats for miles at a time when the wind died. When you see these notches, that’s a sculling notch. When these were built for practical use, back 20, 30 years ago, they actually had a live well, sitting right in the middle of the boat, and the well would be a framed-in, four-sided rectangular box with holes through the hull. That would allow water to circulate amongst whatever you had caught for the day. These were general purpose, like I say. You could use them for courting, you could use them for fishing, you would use them for transportation to get between islands. Only recently, and I say recently in the last 20 years or so they’ve been bought up by ex-pats. They’re used more for recreation. It’s all part of the heritage here, and that’s really important for us.

– [Heinz] This is really a passion for what was the past, and try and preserve as much of it as we can. Every season when we come here, we’ll do another project. This one has to wait until next year, but there’ll be another 14-footer in the fleet, so that’s exciting for us.


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