July 14, 2005

All aboard

One sea-breezy evening at Pushpavanam, a few fishermen offer to take some of us out to sea for a ride. The boat we will use is so new the paint actually looks wet. With the stories we've been hearing about new boats after the tsunami -- some leak, one split down the middle -- I'm more than a little worried about doing this trip. What's more, the sea looks restless, strangely jelly-like, which only increases my worry.

The men, they just laugh at our nerves. Pile us in and we're off.

Water sloshes over the side, onto the deck and all over us. In seconds, I'm drenched. The boat tilts up alarmingly with each wave, then slaps back down hard when it has passed below. We go far enough out that we can no longer identify people on the shore. We can barely even see the shore.

But our blue-and-red boat stays in one piece. Demonstrating which, of course, was the whole point of this exercise.

For this is not a boat that has come from a far-off factory, handed over by an NGO never seen again. This one was built right here in Pushpavanam, in a small covered shed under the coconut palms, next to houses of the fishermen. A boat-builder has set himself up here, and produces boats to the locals' specs, under their watchful eyes. Among other things, this one we're in is wider in the stern than other new boats, has more ribs and more polyurethane foam (PUF) in those ribs. Plus, it was built slowly and carefully, not at the frenetic pace we saw at a large factory. (4 boats a month here, 80 a month there).

You build them like that, you get safe and usable boats. Especially after a tsunami, why don't they build them like that?

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