The boat maker of Calanggaman

BUENAVISTA, Agusan del Norte (MindaNews/13 January) —  At least thirty outrigger boats line the entire stretch of the shore of Calanggaman, probably this town’s biggest fishing village, obscuring the view of shanties behind them.

Most fishermen have returned from last night’s fishing trip, all eager to get long hours of sleep. Near a breakwater, a fisherman and his wife sort his catch and weigh the fish for a waiting buyer. Behind them, boys in their early 20’s carry a boat to dry land, their dark, trim bodies dripping with seawater from the waist down, all laughing as they race against the small waves.

Orlando Villareal, of Buenavista, Agusan del Norte, a boat maker since 15. MindaNews Photo by H.Marcos C. MordenoOutside one of the huts in the crowded neighborhood, Orlando Villareal paints a marine plywood for a fishing boat with the pace and poise of practice. The hustle and bustle around doesn’t distract him. After all, he has lived here since childhood. And, aside from being a boat maker, he goes fishing, too, whenever time allows him.

However, building boats, a craft he learned from his father Tanasio who passed away five years ago, is Orlando’s main source of income. He is the only boat maker at least in this village.

“Kinse anyos pa ko, nagtabangtabang na kos akong amahan,” (I was still fifteen when I started helping my father [build boats]) Orlando recalls while toying with an empty cup in his hand, glancing at the smooth wooden frame of a five-foot high, twenty-foot long vessel that rests inside his hut.

“This belongs to Inland Resort,” he says, pointing to the still unfinished boat. Inland Resort is a luxury hotel and recreation venue in Butuan City. He says building a boat of this size takes a month and the labor alone costs sixty thousand pesos. The owner supplies all the materials.

Small boats like those used by ordinary fishermen take an average of one week to build, Orlando says, adding the price depends on the actual size. For pump boats, he charges twenty-five thousand inclusive of labor and materials. He gets at least six orders every year, and some of his clients are from other towns and provinces.

Orlando takes pride that some of the boats he has built have been used for travels to Camiguin and Bato in Leyte. “From here, a 30-knot vessel will make it to Bato, Leyte in six hours while a 20-knot vessel can reach Camiguin in three hours,” he estimates.

He then points to a damaged boat on the other side of the hut where a neighbor soundly sleeps after a night at sea. “Gigamit na didto sa Lake Mainit. Mao na ang gisakyan ni Congressman (Edelmiro) Amante didto,” (That was used in Lake Mainit. That’s what Congressman Amante used there) he beams.

Lake Mainit, a lake between Agusan del Norte and Surigao del Norte provinces, is being tapped as a tourism destination where visitors may take banca rides.

Delfin Dahang, works as assistant to his son-in-law Orlando Villareal, a boat maker in Buenavista, Agusan del Norte. MindaNews Photo by H.Marcos C. Mordeno

But behind the pride and joy of being a boat maker is hard work. Big boats like the unfinished one that belongs to Inland Resort require solid hulls that have to be carved out of huge timber. This, he says, is the hardest part because he does it with just an axe and a chisel.

Orlando is all by himself in continuing the trade he inherited from his father. But for this day and maybe in the next few weeks he will get some help from his father-in-law, Delfin Dahang, whom I find sanding a bamboo pole for outrigger.

“This bamboo is called indang, and it comes from the boundary of Agusan and Bukidnon,” Delfin volunteers as I squat in front of him for some shots.

Delfin, who now bends when he walks and wears many creases on his face, says he can only do the easiest work of a boat maker. “Dili man gyud ni nako trabaho, nia lang ko diri sa pagkakaron kay gubot didtos amo sa Mangagoy (Surigao del Sur),” (This is not really my work, I’m just here for now because it’s not peaceful in our place in Mangagoy), he explains.

That means one of these days, when things are a lot better in his home place, Delfin will leave Calanggaman. And Orlando, who has left us silently, will once more be alone in keeping afloat – I mean alive – a family tradition. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)