Boats of Guatemala: Lake Atitlan Cayucos

Dugout Canoes on the beach at Santa Catarina


(to start of project)

The boats native to Lake Atitlan are the cayucos, a unique form of dugout canoe. You see these boats all over the lake, from dawn to dusk, though usually near shore where the fish are, as fishing is their primary use. Rows of them are pulled up on the beaches of every small village and town along the shore. Continue reading “Boats of Guatemala: Lake Atitlan Cayucos”

Boats of Guatemala: Lake Atitlan Launches

The Mayan crew, pounding the boat across Lake Atitlan, just ahead of a storm.


(to start of project)

I’ve started on the toe rails, and hope to have progress to report soon, once I get it figured out.

In the meantime, here’s some boat related reporting from our trip to Guatemala. Coming from such a car-centric culture, the widespread use of boats for transportation there was fascinating; not only the extent of it, but the types and their construction, as well. Continue reading “Boats of Guatemala: Lake Atitlan Launches”


Notes on the Plan


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Visible progress is entering a slow phase as I take on a couple of tasks that require a lot of mental horsepower. Sometimes I get tired and just have to sit and think, or take a break from thinking, and then interesting things start to happen. Continue reading “Ruminations”


 Batteau Anchor and Sweep Oarlock


(to start of project)

Scottsville is over 150 miles from the coast. The western horizon is rumpled by the Blue Ridge and, beyond that, the Alleghenies. It’s a small town of about 500 people, give or take, situated in horse country at the northern edge of what was historically a tobacco growing region. Not exactly the kind of place you’d expect to find a hot bed of traditional boat building. Continue reading “Batteaux”

A Little History

Howard Chapelle melonseed skiff melon seed plans smithsonian
Chapelle Plans from the Smithsonian

Funny how things circle back.

It was the mid-1930’s, at the business end of the last Great Depression, that a young, not quite gainfully employed naval architect named Howard Chapelle signed up for a job with the WPA. Everyone needed work, and the government was creating jobs and funding them as fast as anybody could think of them. Someone in FDR’s administration came up with an idea to put the nations destitute naval architects to work. It was to be called the “Historic American Merchant Marine Survey/” Along with a lot of other projects that came out of the WPA, it would turn out to be an incredibly valuable storehouse of historic documents; though, with humble beginnings and a short life, it’s eventual cultural value would not be evident for quite some time. Of the two largest work programs created by FDR – the CCC and the WPA – it was this one, the WPA, that received harsh criticism as wasteful and unnecessary, particularly from the conservative opposition.

Continue reading “A Little History”

Into the Dismal

Spillway between Lake Drummond and the Feeder Ditch



It’s Spring Break for the girls. Emily is already in Spain for the start of a 10 day trip with her AP History class. Terri has a new job, and is staying close to home. Amanda and I decided to use the time off and take a little trip I’ve been wanting to take for some time, swinging down through the marshy parts of Virginia and Carolina, then on to Ocracoke Island. First stop: the Great Dismal Swamp.

This place has always fascinated me. Though criss-crossed with canals and drained to a fraction of its former size, the Swamp once covered all of southeast Virginia, and a full third of eastern North Carolina all the way from the fall line to the coast. My grandmother’s family settled here in the 1700’s, in places with names like Gum Neck and Frying Pan, and I grew up on stories of ancestors hunting black bear and wildcats deep in the swamp, and of ghost stories, and people disappearing in a black water wilderness. This was a chance to pass on some of those stories, and to see where they actually took place.

We brought the boat and the stealthy electric motor, so the three mile cruise along the canals and “ditches” from the boat ramp into the middle of the swamp was a quiet glide.

The boat launch is on the eastern side of Dismal Swamp Canal, which connects the Chesapeake Bay with Albemarle Sound down in North Carolina, separating the easternmost counties of both states from the mainland, making them all essentially a big island. This presents a problem for people who live on the west side of the Canal, because the road is on the east side. We saw one farmer’s solution in action: He had built a small ferry of oil drums and plywood and, with a cable running slack along the bottom from one side to the other, we saw him pull himself across, hand over hand, to where he kept his car on the other side.


 Dismal Ferryman

From the Canal, the Feeder Ditch strikes a rhumb line due West for two miles into the heart of the swamp to Lake Drummond. It’s a strangly euclidian path through a completely chaotic canyon of wilderness, confusing your perception of time and distance. The experience is more than a little surreal.