WAM takes new tack

Waan Aelon in Majel Director Alson Kelen, left, with the WAM team as they pull the new-design catamaran onto the shoreline in front of the canoe program in Majuro. Photo: Eve Burns.

EVE BURNS

Waan Aelon in Majol (WAM) is working on new locally-designed catamarans and outrigger canoes to improve the movement of copra and people within atolls

An ongoing challenge for copra collection in remote atolls is the time needed for government field trip vessels to stop at multiple islands within one atoll to collect copra. The idea behind the newly developed catamaran is to provide intra-atoll transportation that can deliver copra to a field trip ship, speeding the collection of copra with additional fuel costs associated with an engine-powered vessel.

The newly designed and built catamaran as well as an outrigger canoe, which are being tested now, can help bring in copra from small islands to bigger ships — a middle man of sorts.

A large canoe and catamaran can assist Tobolar Copra Processing Authority with copra pickups. But it also has wider application, according to WAM Director Alson Kelen. Canoes and catamarans of this size on the outer islands can support MIMRA and local fisheries activity as well as being able to help Public School System (PSS) and Ministry of Health (MOH) with their outreach to the small islands in atolls around the RMI.

They plan to send two of the new design vessels to the outer islands later this year so they can be tested in various conditions in different atolls. “We will send out the boats to gather data on how they perform in different lagoons,” said Kelen. It will also allow for outer islanders to try out the new designs and to give WAM feedback.

Through this project, WAM is developing several different designs for catamarans and canoes. “Each community can choose the design and size that works for them,” he said.
WAM and the Marshall Islands Shipping Corporation are working together to build three prototypes that closely resemble Marshallese outrigger canoes. This work is funded by the German government through the Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH. Three years of funding has been provided to develop the boats.

Instructors Rob Denney and Henrick Ricther-Alten are working with local canoe and boat builders.

Once the building of the new catamarans and canoes is completed, the Shipping Corporation will take over the boats for use on remote atolls.

These are “climate friendly” because they don’t use engines, and are sustainable and useful for meeting basic life needs at low cost, said Kelen. He said the goal is have the locally-made catamarans and canoes — “not westernized but modernized.”

They are made of plywood and ropes without using nails. The plywood is used to promote food security by avoiding the traditional use of breadfruit trees for canoe hulls because breadfruit is a staple crop for Marshallese.

Kelen told the Journal that the new catamarans have been in the water for a month and been taken on trial runs to check their seaworthiness. Kelen said they will be building a bigger canoe and testing it out later in the year.

“Locally-made makes it easier to make changes to the design according to the people’s needs,” he pointed out, adding it also makes repairs easy to accomplish in the outer islands.

WAM’s role is to design and build boats, and train people to build and repair them, Kelen said.

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