THE hurricane season isn't the best time of year for fishermen. Neither is it the favourite of boat makers.
But when orders come in, the workers at the Jamaica Fishermen's Co-operative Union (JFCU) have to ignore
Phillip Berry, a boat maker at the Beechwood Avenue site in Kingston, uses an old boat to make the mould, an impression of the vessel.
Other boats, from 28 feet — holding up to 15 persons — to 33 feet long, are formed from the mould, taking up to three weeks to finish.
"We can't rush and give people boats that are not
seaworthy," said Anthony Drysdale, the development officer at the JFCU.
The union does not manufacture small vessels such as canoes, only those big enough for commercial use.
Wood is no longer the material of choice for boat building. Instead, fibreglass, a cloth made of long white glass fibres encased in adhesive resin, is used in layers.
Lightweight and effective, fibreglass is an ideal boat-building material as it can absorb significant damage and still keep the vessel afloat for a long period, Drysdale said.
Berry, the main boat builder at JFCU, has been working there for 12 years and is training his assistant, Darron Stewart.
While a mould can be constructed by vacuum infusion, where the fibres are laid out and then sucked into the mould with a pump, the boats made at JFCU are constructed by hand.
Berry and Stewart lay the material with rollers. "Careful, you can't get any air bubbles," Berry instructed Stewart.
The mould is cleaned and coloured with pigment before the fibreglass is applied.
It will dry easily once there is sunlight. Rainfall can slow the drying, however, in which case a chemical dryer, methyl ethyl ketone peroxide, can be used.
Then comes the easy part for Berry — building the deck.
"The first part is serious, if it isn't done properly, the boat will not balance," he said.
He puts water in the mould to check its flotation capabilities. After which, a crane lifts the bottom of the newly created boat, flips it over and places it on the ground.
The decking, which holds the seats — and an icebox if requested — is placed on top of the vessel and painted in red or orange so it can be easily spotted by the Jamaica Coast Guard in an emergency.
Any bright colour can do the trick, Drysdale said.
Boats cost from $500,000 to $750,000, not including the engine, but can last 20 years, giving the fishermen plenty of time to recover the outlay.
The company originally made boats and had them in a small stock, but now makes them only to order.
The business, which could supply up to 30 boats a year, is in the doldrums at the moment. "We started out very good, making up to three boats a month," Drysdale said.
Fish stocks are in decline, and frequent buyers are liable to cut back their orders for new boats at any time.
The situation is made worse by poachers — unauthorised fishermen who undermine legitimte businesses.
Global estimates place economic loss from fish poaching — in which vessels snatch up their catch without authorisation — at US$9 billion ($803 billion) a year.
The impact is not well documented for the Caribbean, but it is thought to cost tens of millions of US dollars annually, said the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism.
A boat can last up to 20 years. People will always fish to earn a living; their vessel and the trade go hand in hand, Drysdale said.