Marshallese style boats are being designed and built by skilled builders in the Marshall Islands, naturally enough, but also in places that one might not expect, such as Europe.
Here in Majuro, Waan Aelon in Majel has designed and built what they call a “carro proa.” The WAM team built it in three weeks. The main hull holds a fish box that has an opening to let the sea water in and out, which replaces the need of ice to keep the fish fresh.
“On the kubaak hull, we built a cabin compartment onto it to keep a little stove and other items dry,” said WAM Director Alson Kelen. “There is enough room in there for a person to rest.”
The other proa design is called “proasis” and is currently in Germany. This one was built by the GIZ marine engineers that came to WAM and trained the team in Majuro.
“They are currently sailing around a big lake there and talking about the effects of climate change in the RMI, and that is the reason the RMI flag is on it,” said Kelen.
In addition to the proasis, a Marshallese outrigger canoe was built by the WAM trainer Isocker Anwel and GIZ trainer Henrik Richter-Alten in the Netherlands. Its sail carries a Marshallese flag design and the hull and outrigger are painted flag blue.
WAM had two GIZ-supported marine engineer trainers for boat building training sessions in Majuro: Rob Denny from Australia who designed the carro proa, and Henrik Richer-Alten from Germany who designed the WAMCatamaran.
“This WAMCat design is the one that the solar powered outboard was installed on,” said Kelen. “WAM also had a GIZ-funded electrical engineer that assisted WAM with its solar ready-electrical wiring and designing of the electrical propulsion kit — the solar powered outboard — on the WAMCat.”
“These guys didn’t just design these sail boats, but also designed them so they’re strong, easy to change the design to our needs, easy to maintain, and repairs (can be made) locally by local boat builders,” said Kelen. “All the building materials are also available locally. This is why we’re able to build these boats in three weeks.”
“Our aim is to design boats that fit the needs of outer islands,” he said.
Currently, the program has started trialing a new solar-powered outboard engine for one of their canoes. They plan to test it over the coming 12 months to gauge its “real world” performance, battery life, optimal speed to maintain batteries, and so on. The solar-powered outboard could be applied to multiple types of boats, not only canoes, Kelen said.
The solar-powered engine is being done in partnership with the German government’s international aid agency known as GIZ, which is supporting a variety of sustainable sea transport initiatives here.
“We’re taking baby steps, so each of these vessels gets better and ultimately we find the one that works best in the outer islands,” he said. “With canoes, we need several styles to match different environments in the lagoons.”
Being able to maintain and repair these canoes and boats on the outer islands is an essential part of making this technology accessible to people in remote islands and sustainable in the long-term, he said.