Wednesday, April 17, 2013

4/17/2013 Boat Building.


An Old Boat Building Shed down On The Bayou In The Hey Day of Cajun Wooden Boat Building

 Down along South Louisiana's bayous you will occasionally see dilapidated barn like structures at the water's edge. They are the last remnant of a once thriving traditional wood boat building industry in South Louisiana. These small shops were owned by families of boat builders and they provided both recreational boaters and commercial fishermen alike with the tried and true traditional designs in Pirogues, Lafitte Skiffs, Lake Runners, and shrimp boats. Many of these businesses started in the age of sail and survived into the era of the "Battau Putt Putt" (motor boat). The designs were safe, tested, seaworthy, and specially adapted to the conditions of South Louisiana's waterways. The skills were handed down from father to son, uncle to nephew, foreman to new journeyman in French for as long as anyone could remember. Then came the U.S.Boating Safety Act of 1970, in English with its accompanying mound of regulations.

 Following the new Act into the bayou country came the English speaking and totally culturally myopic minions of the U.S.Coast Guard. Despite 200 years of cranking out totally seaworthy vessels the Bayou country small boat sheds couldn't understand the calculations, regulations, and English language record keeping requirements fast enough to avoid closure for non compliance. That's why we have barn like skeletons on the bayou today where once thriving family businesses existed founded on craftsmanship, quality materials, and skills. A few more hurricanes and the last traces of this cultural, economic genocide will disappear. Oh you can still buy a traditional wood boat made in Louisiana but  it will have to be from an individual craftsman who makes only one or two a year. He will probably want cash and offer no paper work. Don't expect an official number burned into the main beam. You probably won't have any difficulty obtaining a certificate of numbers from the state, but don't try Federal boat registration. If stopped by the Coast Guard it is an offense to have a motor that is mismatched with your transom plate mandated by the 1970 Act but not an offense to own a "home built boat" , at least not so far. The wooden boat building tradition in Louisiana is dead as an actual industry and source of employment. It was ordered to be killed by the U.S. Congress, and the U.S. Coast Guard carried out that order with gruesome efficiency.

 Now in India we see the same thing happening in the wooden dhow industry. This time the government is citing piracy for killing a tradition, a craft, and a cottage industry. In 2010 Somali pirates captured 8 boats and nearly 100 Indian crew members in several days of attacks. Gradually the Indian government saw the banning of the dhow trade with Somalia and points south as the best way of avoiding having to deal with such events. The result, again, the death of an industry. In Louisiana our wooden boat industry was killed by the Federal Government in the name of "safety", though there was nothing unsafe about our products. There was no reasoning with the Federal Government. We are history, we were toast when they first sat down and decided to address the "safety issue". The Indian central government can blame it on piracy. We wish our government would have blamed their intent to kill our industry on pirates. We would have had a response. We Cajuns being a truly free people as long as we stay out of sight of the Feds have guns. We know how to defend ourselves. Once alerted to a problem like piracy we would quickly figure out how much fire power we needed to repel the pirates and make sure that we carried that much. India I suppose doesn't believe that its citizens have a right to keep and bear arms. But even then they could have offered the Dhow operators weaponry and training and allowed them to continue their trade.  There would be fewer pirates today and the wooden dhow industry may well have prospered well into the 22nd century. We have a lot of empathy for the Tiger Dhow builders and crewmen down here on the bayou....or "Tiger land" as LSU refers to us. 


EDITOR'S NOTE: Og is a native Cajun, LSU football fan, and once built with his father and uncle a wooden boat. He developed an interest in India when Louisiana elected an Indian American governor, and loved Namazu's nick naming the Indians "the Tigers" in his essays. The thought of his "Tigers" whether LSU's foot ball team or what he now considers his neighbors, the various seafaring and coastal dwelling  peoples of India, being kicked around puts him in what he calls a "blue funk". We're sure he'll sober up again soon but right now this is as close to coherent writing as we have been able to get out of him for a while. He has been spending a lot of time drinking beer with a bunch of Texans up the road and discussing "succession". For those of you who missed his prose as exhibited in last summer's essays from Montgomery and his hurricane reports we're sure he'll be back at work on a regular basis soon. Don't worry, we won't fire him, we can't, he owns too much stock. For those of you new to our little publication OG stands for "Old Guy" which he certainly is, and takes full advantage of in bayou land, the only place in America that venerates age.

Johnas Presbyter, editor

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