There was a time when Bocas was a bustling seaport. It started in the earliest days of exploration and exploitation after Columbus first charted these waters. Unique to the Western Caribbean Bocas’s safe harbor grew in prominence during the era of commercial sail and dominated commerce transportation in the region throughout the 19th Century. Two separate shipyards, with multiple service facilities were staffed by craftsmen who built, hauled out, rebuilt and repaired untold numbers of vessels that plied these waters. But as the inescapable winds of change lessened the importance of an island seaport the shipyards and the many vessels they serviced faded into oblivion.
Although historically inevitable there is no documented evidence of any large, complex vessel having been built in Bocas in over 150 years. With the possible exceptions of a couple of humongous cayucos seen running around, the art and craftsmanship of boat building and ship repair that was once the trade and sustenance for many local families has slipped away and disappeared from the local economy.
UNTIL NOW as a newly completed 63’ sailing catamaran is about to emerge like a phoenix from the ashes, as a character theme, forty-passenger day tour boat, complete with ample shade, fixed seating, large swim platform, 16 foot water slide, functional galley and two large toilet facilities and changing rooms.
Two years ago Scott Petelle, a locally renowned old-guy surfer, boat builder and deep-ocean sailor was approached about reviving a bankrupt project.
“It’s sad,” said Petelle, “but it’s common in amateur boat building for people’s dreams to exceed their understanding of the complexities involved in these projects.”
Construction was originally started by Jeff Salzman and his buddy J.D., with rambunctious, yet intermittent help from well-intended friends, but admittedly with no boat building experience. It was a situation that caught them up in some bad advice and very questionable procedure. Several months of effort and a ton of money spent produced little in the way of a boat.
“When they first came to me,” said Scott, “the project had completely stalled out. All options had been exhausted. Bills had piled up, rent was way past due and the warehouse was on the verge of clearing the space by pushing what was there out into the swampy lot across the street.”
As an incorrigible boat whore Scott shakes his head at the thought, “these guys put a lot of time and energy into this, but, and not to demean their efforts, there wasn’t anything far enough along to even be considered a boat. It was a construction project in its earliest stage and after pitching it to everyone he knew, no one else was interested in getting involved.”
“Its saving grace was the substantial pile of materials and hardware that went with it,” said Petelle, “without those materials I’m afraid I would have just helped push it all across the street and leave to the weather.”
Strong words from a person of considerable experience and veteran of several multihull building projects. The largest being the 89’ shallow draft trimaran LONG RANGER.
“Even with the materials it was obvious that getting involved would be a huge undertaking of time, expertise and further investment,” says Scott. “It was too much to take on alone and on a whim.”
But romantic ideas have a way of perpetuating themselves and there are few things more romantic than big sailboats under a starry sky.
“I couldn’t get it out of my head,” said Petelle. I certainly didn’t need it. I’m not sure if I even wanted it, but the thought of the first and only purpose built day tour boat of this size, with all the comfortable amenities to accommodate the increasing flow of tourists to the area; it kept nagging at me.”
This is where Barry Munro came into the picture. Long time Bocas residents Barry and his lovely wife and local enchantress Lili, of Lili’s Café, loves all things Bocas, from our calm lagoons of crystal clear water, to the pounding surf over pristine beaches and our spectacular mountain backdrops. What could be more fitting than a big sailboat in front of a gentle breeze, with the setting sun slipping peacefully behind the mountainous scenery? After a few beers and some extensive number crunching the trio formed a partnership to redesign and resurrect the project.
“It’s been a long road,” said Petelle. “The new boat is far more complex than anyone originally envisioned. I’ve had to endure a few comments like, ‘oh, isn’t that the boat that those guys from the Toro Loco built?’, but after 25 months of full time work with a competent crew and considerable additional financial backing I know exactly who built it; Barry and I built it!”