Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ulu Sail Project

This past winter we were lucky enough to enjoy our 2nd season cruising the San Blas Islands of Panama.  It's home to the Kuna Indians who live mostly on small islands just off the mainland, on the Caribbean side the country.

                                The outer reef north of Chicheme, Kuna Yala (San Blas)

We found them to be lovely people.  Last year, we brought some some gifts of fishing gear, mostly packages of  hooks and mono filament line. Not much, but it will help the the men supply food for their families.
  Kuna settlement Robeson Islands, San Blas archipelago, Panama (9°31’ N, 79°03’ W). January 2012......................this is one of the islands I will be visiting on this trip.  Last time here, I repaired a solar panel's internals for the chiefs son.
(above 2 photos from "" , Yan Arthus-Bertrand)

This year, I'm making some sails for their ulu's(canoes).  It was evident that they had a nearly a non existent supply of decent cloth to make their own.   Hand sewing pieces of old sails donated by other cruisers, or bed sheets, political posters, food sacks etc. was their method of production.

  Sail production was really a hodge-podge of materials that could catch the wind.

 Before leaving the islands in April, I took many photos of ulus sailing by our boat in various anchorages,

I then asked a Kuna friend, Justino of the Robeson island group, to take me around to his islands and help me measure an assortment of the sails they were now using.
Using the photos and measurements and discussions with Justino, we came up with 3 basic sizes used.  The middle size was by far the most common, then a few bigger ones for larger ulus.  The small ones would not be a part of my efforts this year, but wishing to include them if I can get this project beyond 'good thoughts'.

My plan is multifaceted, hoping first to get the Ulu's in the Robeson group of the San Blas Islands, some decent sails.  It's like putting a decent engine in their daily transportation-making their travels better, safer and more reliable.
After that, if I can gather support, possibly the materials- donated sail cloth, thread and hand crank sewing machines(I already bought a great old time Singer in perfect condition and opting for a hand crank after market add on) could be delivered to the Kuna's to develop their own micro business.

For now, it's up to me and a small group of good folks, helping out at various stages.

So far, I have been able to procure 167 yards of 4.18 oz. Challenger sail cloth through the assist of Keith, owner of Advanced Sails, St. Petersburg, Florida.
  Keith has been a great help and supporter of my endeavor.

Besides ordering and taking shipment of the material, (Keith standing)was instrumental in laying out the design from photos and measurements I had taken while in the San Blas and also cutting and stitching the first sail! He worked, I watched.  Needless to say, he gave me many pointers on how to do this for the rest of the sails.  It was soooo easy watching him and so much different doing it!! Thank you Keith!
 One medium size sail cut and ready for stitching!
 One Larger sail cut in Gulf Breeze later on....
Keith's sail (Advanced Sails)'Stitched and ready for shipping!' Yay!!

My old Riccar (Japanese version of a Singer-vintage early 50's-shown above) was tuned up by a local shop for a C note, but now seems too weak for the job so  just drove back to St. Pete from Pensacola, 900 miles round trip) to pick up my Sailrite  LSZ-1 Industrial machine-shown below.

A friend's (Joan) garage in Gulf Breeze, Fl. is our sail loft.

Joan  shown above with Venancio, a master mola maker wth buckets of incredibly well made Molas, had been a guest of ours 2 years ago in the San Blas, so knew first hand of the sailing ulu's.

So here in December just before Christmas and now well into January,  we are producing the first bunch of sails to 'deliver' south.  We're doing fine;  progress has been slower than originally imagined but in a week, we should be done with the physical part of the manufacturing process.  Then comes the shipping/delivery disbursement part.

 Lady, our toy rat terrier is miffed, that she has not received full attention but has instead been put on guard duty.

Much of the work has been on the concrete floor, cutting out patterns to be sewn together later. Dorothy came in to help too.  I never imagined how long this would take, but boy the hours are flying by! :)
Lady, guarding scrap............and 'not' happy..............

So far, we have cut out 23 mid sized "sprit"  main sails plus 7 larger sails and (8) jibs for the larger ulus.

Photo below of Jib pattern.  It's small but what they use.

I'm pushing to meet a self imposed deadline but still have to find a way to get these sails to the San Blas Islands pf Panama and then,,,,, to the people of the Robeson group.  We just might fly down ourselves and find a way out to their islands.  This part might cost as much as the production of the sails but is integral to the project. No sense making them if i can't deliver them!

A friend Dave Barker from old Vietnam days,(who now does so much volunteering locally teaching kids about the outdoors/ often using his Kayaks (see more at  "Navarre Beach Kayaks" )/ also the kind of guy who when going to the beach brings along a big plastic bag to pick up beach plastics/broken glass and other trash), came by several days to help sew up these sails.  Dave was a sewing machine tech for Van Hussen shirt company for years, so is a big help here!! :)  **also gets my 'good guy' rating!
 Dave and I would switch off doing a sail each.  This kept things rolling along at a nice pace.
After the sails were sewn, I am adding webbing material to serve as tie points for the 4 corners instead of grommets, as it's stronger, and easy to repair later if necessary without special tools, just needle and thread.

The loop for the tapered end of the Sprit Pole was made larger, and the attachments on the luff, made short.

A few people already have offered to to help, or sponsor a sail or two, so their names will be written along the top of 'their' sail/sails.  To produce a sail and get it into the hands of a Kuna in Panama ends up costing about $50-55. delivered
 ( Not bad, considering retail prices for sprit sails like this in the U.S. is between $175.-215. )
Obviously the only way to accomplish this is to remove all labor costs and profits!  

     If anyone wants to 'sponsor a sail' or two.  [ Just a thought ;) ]

All sails are now packed up in suit cases, ready to be delivered to Panama.

Any constructive comments, ideas, suggestions or sponsors are welcome to speak up!

A major contribution of webbing, quality threads, material and used sails was just made from the businesses below.  To them, "Thank You!"  It will be used in the next batch.

Supporters are always welcome!  ;)

Any constructive comments, ideas, suggestions or sponsors are welcome to speak up!   
Comment below

1 comment:

Ron Reinhardt said...

San Blas islands are amazing. Laura and I were there in '95 when I did a jazz cruise that went thru the Panama Canal and around the region. I don't know of hardly anyone who knows about those islands and the kind, warm people there. We spent an afternoon on one of the islands and feasted on fresh lobster that they had swimming in a big "pool" by this little earthy outside bar. Amazing experience! Lookin' forward to catching up in a few months.