Traditional Boat Building


To craft a seafaring vessel from a tree is a skill Traditional Boat Buildingthat has been passed down from generation to generation among the Kalingo people. To this day, the Kalingo technique is used to make fishing boats from Gommier trees and these boats are used by fisherman in other parts of the island such as Fond St. Jean and Soufriere.

Within the Kalinago Territory, Emmanuel “Napoleon” Sanford is known as a Master Boat Builder. He is a farmer, a fisherman and a boat-builder from the village of Salybia. According to Napoleon, these are the steps to building a traditional boat:

  • Log the tree – the tree is cut into the desired lengths
  • Digging out the ‘stomach’ -  The trunk is hollowed out (this wood is used to make posts & boards)
  • Shape the outside & Dress the inside
  • Haul the boat – It can take a dozen men to move the boat from the bush to the village where work continues.
  • Fire & open the boat – With the boat raised up on large rocks, the inside is packed  with stones and then water is added. After 1 or 2 weeks, water is added. Then comes firing, where fires are lit on either side. This stretches ‘opens’ the boat about 4 or 5 inches wider.
  • Add the ribs -Ribs are placed inside the boat and the oar handles are added.


These days, modern tools such as the chain saw,Boat Building axe, adze, and square are used in building a boat, which generally takes about three months to complete. Typically two boats can be made from one large tree.

The Gommier is the preferred tree for making boats because the wood is buoyant as well as ‘wet, green and dry’ all at the same time, according to Napoleon.

Boats range between 10 to 60 feet in length.



Traditional Canoe Making Photo Gallery

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