November 2015 - From: Caribbean Compass Yachting Magazine
Bonaire had a special visitor arrive in September by the name of Bruce Halabisky. Bruce, a Canadian/American who now lives on Orcas Island, Washington State, USA, had been a wooden boat shipwright and marine carpenter for the past 25 years. He received an invitation from Fundashon Patrimonio Maritimo Boneiru (Bonaire Maritime Heritage Foundation) to visit Stormvogel, the last of the wooden sailing cargo boats from the ABC Islands. Halabisky then applied to the nonprofit Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle, Washington and received a grant to cover travel costs to the island.
“I have visited other countries with rich maritime histories where the wisdom to record that history arrived a generation too late, and most of the information was lost forever. But I also have worked on similar projects like this before, so I thought I might be able to help in some way to preserve this important bit of Bonaire history. I think we are just in time to save Stormvogel and possibly rekindle the pride of one of the strongest boatbuilding traditions in the Caribbean."
Part of that boatbuilding tradition is local Johnny Craane, the head of restoration for Project Stormvogel. He was glad to have Halabisky visit the old boat. "Bruce was here for six days and we got a lot accomplished. He surveyed the whole ship and agreed on how we are now re-building the framing. He also helped us plan a materials list of the nails, planks and rigging we will need for the next steps."
"Obviously, materials are a challenge to obtain on a small island far from the mainland," says Halabisky. "But Stormvogel herself is a testament that this obstacle has been dealt with before. The biggest challenge is the staggering amount of work necessary to finish the job. From what I saw of the project's volunteers, there is not only a dogged enthusiasm, but aslo a deep pool of talent from which to draw in putting Stormvogel back together."
Halabisky, working with board member Patrick Holian, took detailed measurements of the 45-foot long sloop during his visit. From this data he will make line drawings - a scaled, dimensional representation that will accurately reflect the exact shape of Stormvogel. This will be the first permanent record of any of the boats ever build on Bonaire. The old shipwrights usually built by eye, intuition and perhaps a small model. Halabisky also plans to make a 3-D model of the line drawings and donate it to the project. Having these visual records is great insurance. If the boat's hull should collapse during restoration owning to an unforeseen event, the crew would be able to reconstruct Stormvogel's distinctive shape from the drawings and model.
The experienced shipwright also joined the restoration crew in harvesting kui (mesquite wood) from the hills. This timber will be used to replace rotted ribs in the boat's frame. Joining him were a number of young people from Project Stormvogel's Junior Shipwright program. This educational outreach initiative, funded in part by the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds for the Caribbean, teaches local youth about Bonaire's rich maritime heritage while they work alongside experienced boat builders. It is an integral part of Project Stormvogel. Halabisky also took time to speak at Scholen Gemeenschap Bonaire (SGB High School) to about 30 students on careers in boat building.
Bruce recently completed a ten-year circumnavigation on his own wooden sloop, Vixen, a 34 foot, plank-on-frame gaffer launched in 1952. He financed much of the voyage by working on wooden boat restorations around the world, including the BVI and the Bahamas. Between those funds and those from his wife, Tiffany, who worked as a yoga instructor, the intrepid couple not only funded their sailing adventure, but also supported two daughters who were born during the voyage.
Luckily for Project Stormvogel, Halabisky generously donated his knowledge and time even during these busy days when his family is trying to re-establish a land based lifestyle on a Puget Sound island near the Canadian border. Part of the reason for his visit may be due to the urgency to save this southern Caribbean nautical culture. "As I started learning more about the rich maritime history - the relatively recent history - of Bonaire, I was amazed that the boatbuilding skills and the boats themselves have been allowed to vanish without a trace. Here in Bonaire you have what was once considered to be the fastest and most seaworthy sailboats of the whole Caribbean. And yet today there is not a single vessel like Stormvogel still sailing. Not only that, but there is really no record of their hull shapes or even any models existing. Already the younger generation is asking what were the boats like that their grandfathers built and aside from Stormvogel there is nothing to show them. For me, this is an extremely worth wile endeavor."