23 March 2015 - From: The Bonaire Reporter
On the morning of March 25th, local freighter Doña Luisa became visible as she rounded the far tip of Klein Bonaire. It was just another freight run for the workhorse ship, but on this sunny day something looked different. While her deck was jammed with the usual freight containers, placed on her port side was an impressive 45foot wooden hull. Stormvogel was finally coming home.
This historic boat, built on Bonaire in 1951, is the last of the sail powered cargo ships from the time before air travel arrived on the island. Shipwright Etche Craane had crafted the cutter on the shores of Playa Pabou 64 years ago for Captain Martinus Ramon Felida. Felida had secured a lucrative contract to haul propane tanks between Curacao and Bonaire. Martin’s father, Jan Efteban Felida, financed the build. Upon completion, Stormvogel was shoved into the sea and began its life as an interisland cargo ship.
Ismael Soliano (86) tells about its sailing prowess on his first return journey into the wind from Aruba to Bonaire. Soliano served as captain on and off, accumulating four years behind her helm. “When we left Aruba, we followed the Venezuelan coast for over a day. At the right time, we made one tack north. That route took is directly to Kralendijk. We completed the voyage in just two days. Fast boat”
Stormvogel was modernized in the 1960s with a diesel engine and registered as a Curacao ship. Felida later did an extensive overhaul of the boat in the early 1990s at Schottegat Bay. For decades, the cutter hauled goods, packages and freight. There were rumors of smuggling liquor and cigarettes from Klein Curacao to Venezuela when economic times were tough. Lucio Soliano (79), a deckhand aboard Stormvogel during its sailing days, recalls hauling live goats. “We would load between 80-90 goats from Klein Bonaire and deliver them to Curacao. We would put as many as we could below deck and tied the rest above deck. With a crew of five, it was pretty crowded.”
These interviews with Bonaire’s old sailors and boat builders are part of Fundashon Patrimonio Marítimo Boneiru’s (Bonaire Maritime Heritage Foundation) mission to save and preserve the rich nautical history of the ABC Islands. The foundation’s flagship project is restoring Stormvogel to its original condition when it was launched in 1951, but that almost did not happen.
Back in 2012 François van der Hoeven, now a foundation board member, discovered Stormvogel slowly sinking in a Curaçao bay. Van der Hoeven understood the tremendous historical value of the boat and knew he had to do something fast. For three years every week, François pumped out water from the old cutter while he tried to generate interest on Bonaire to save her. Last November, several Bonaire residents formed the foundation, contacted legal representatives from Martin Felida’s family, and secured ownership of Stormvogel. There was still the matter of getting her back home. That was not possible without the generosity and help of many people. Van der Hoeven organized a group of volunteers who removed tons of unwanted materials and prepared the boat for transfer. Curaçao Marine discounted the haul out in Curacao and donated five months of rent totaling $2268. Miles Trucking & Heavy Equipment Services craned the boat wice during that time and gave us a 55% discount. Antillean Scrap Company lent its lowboy trailer for no cost. Lastly, Don Andres NV shipped the boat back free of charge and took care of all the importation papers.
After the Doña Luisa delivered Stormvogel to the city docks last week, it was towed to the El Navegante Boatyard in Hato where owner Lele Davidsson has offered free space for the project’s first year. “Our next step is to carefully examine the condition of the boat,” explains Johnny Craane, foundation board member and head of restoration. “Every rib and plank will be inspected. Then we will decide what is the best future for Stormvogel.”
Craane will not be alone. Bonaire resident Lars Elsdrodt has volunteered to create line drawings with CAD/CAM computer programming providing a permanent record of Stormvogel’s exact shape. This will be the first visual record for Stormvogel since earlier Bonairean shipwrights built through memory and intuition rather than plans. Also joining the effort is Bruce Halabisky, a 20 year professional wooden boat shipwright and marine carpenter who will serve as a consultant. Halabisky has agreed to offer advice from afar for free as the foundation shares photos and videos during the restoration. He will also do onsite visits at critical stages of the process to supervise the work and ensure quality control.
“We will also be launching the Junior Shipwright program,” adds Craane. “It is a 10 hour course where students will get hands on experience working alongside Bonairean shipwrights while completing nine hours of restoration work. Plus, they will attend a onehour talk on Bonaire’s nautical heritage presented by our historian and board president, Bòi Antoin. Students from Scholen Gemeenschap Bonaire High School (SGB), STINAPA’s Junior Rangers and the CIEE Research Station will work on the project. We are very excited to connect the island’s young people with their maritime past.”
Story by Patrick Holian.
Photos by Hendrik Wuyts