A gleaming, moments-from-launch, 22-foot wooden powerboat named Bluewater is being soused stem and stern with 140-proof Jack Iron rum and Carib beer. Its new twin Yamaha outboards are liberally anointed too. The crowd of 100 or more isn’t there merely to watch, but to aid and abet. And the boat’s laid-back, ponytailed owner, Hans Hart, is happily, blissfully, in the midst of this entirely sticky business.
Sounds like an unusual start for Bluewater.
“One guy didn’t do it, and his boat sank. So I decided not to take a chance. I stuck with local tradition.”
What else goes into the ceremony?
“The island’s priest sprinkled it with holy water before it launched too. You have to cover all the bases.”
Carriacou has a boatbuilding tradition stretching back 200 years. So instead of importing a turnkey powerboat to use at his and his spouse’s vacation home, Hart asked 67-year-old Bernard Compton, one of its few remaining shipwrights, to build him a vessel by hand.
Were there plans for the boat?
“They were on lined paper, like you’d find in a school-kid’s notebook. It was more than a back-of-a-napkin sketch, but not much more.” You decided against painting your boat? “Everyone advised me to epoxy and paint it, like other Carriacou boats. I wanted clear polyurethane.”
How did you launch the boat?
“No trailer. People pushed and pulled the boat from Bernard’s yard to the sea.” The narrow dirt track stretched for a quarter-mile with a couple of tight turns. It had to be slid along logs and planks placed underneath, and the keel did get dinged.”
Did you regret doing the traditional launch?
“I wouldn’t have wanted to launch it any other way.”
What’s next on Bluewater’s itinerary?
“I’ll fix the finish soon. I still have to catch my first fish from it.”
Bernard Compton: Boatbuilder
Are there official plans for the boats that you build?
“We make a drawing of what you want, and we go with it. For big ones (such as the race-winning 40-foot sailing sloop he built for his fisherman brother), we do a model.”
How does the tradition of building boats on the island get passed down?
“I learned from my cousins, and now I’m passing it on to my son and nephews. Not much of the old ones left building boats.” Construction of the boat took place in Compton’s backyard. Are there any building traditions for the boats? “When we put down the keel [of Guyanan greenheart wood] we wet it with rum and water. It’s another tradition.” The ribs are made from Caribbean white cedar, and “you cut it three days before the full moon.”