Monday, March 31, 2008

Jangadas: A Brazilian Fishing Craft

In my last post, I said I'd discuss the jangada in the next post. Here we are at the next post, but first, some news.

My employment as an editor at McGraw-Hill has ended due to a layoff. I had been acquiring and editing books on boating for the International Marine imprint, and on other outdoor sports like hiking, camping, paddlesports, RVing, skiing, etc., for Ragged Mountain Press. These imprints are being scaled back for strategic reasons, and so our Rockport, Maine, office was closed. Both imprints will apparently continue, but publishing far fewer books each year, so the two managers were retained, and all the line-workers let go.

Hence, I am now the proud proprietor of YOUR NAME HERE Communications, offering writing, editing, publishing consulting, and public relations services to private individuals (read: authors), small businesses, and publishers. I'll have a website up and running in a week or two, but if anyone wants information now, please feel free to contact me through this blog. Your query won't appear in the blog.

On to the good stuff. The jangada had its precolumbian origins as a raft plying nearshore waters on Brazil's northeast coast. (All this is per
The Last Sailors: The Final Days of Working Sail, discussed in the previous post.) Soon after European contact, the demand for fish increased, and a sailing rig was added, but in its basic "log" form (more on this distinction soon), it's been unchanged for 400 years. It is a sailing raft built of pueba logs, lashed and pegged together, and sporting a rig with quite a large mailsail and (from what I can tell from the book's photos), sometimes a tiny jib. The mast angles forward very sharply, and the boom angles upward at the stern, so that the mainsail takes the shape of an isosceles triangle resting on its apex. There's a surprisingly sophisticated 11-position mast step that allows the mast's angle to be changed by a considerable amount, no doubt shifting the amount of weather/lee helm, but otherwise, the jangada is about as simple as a craft can be. The jangadieros, or jangada fishermen, take these boats 30 miles offshore in search of market fish, with the logs awash the whole way. Steering is by way of an oar.

Crews are often two or three, and according to author Neil Hollander, it's a firm tradition that no one speaks during the whole 12 to 16 hours that the boat is fishing. How wonderful! No office-cooler crap about the Final Four, the presidential primaries, or American Idol!

The book also discusses a plank-built variant, the jangada tabua ("jangada of planks," pictured in the previous post) that hardly seems like a variant, and is evidently a different craft altogether with a similar name and milieu. From the photo and the book's description, it is clearly more of an open boat than a raft. It came into being when appropriate logs for rafts became scarce and sawn lumber became available as a feasible alternative. Probably, the name jangada was retained because the new boat was used by the same population, who knew fishing boats only by the name of jangada -- to them, the word didn't refer to a particular type, but was the equivalent of "fishing boat."

When Hollander wrote about the jangada more than 20 years ago, they were extremely scarce, having been elbowed out by more efficient fishing craft. It would be interesting to know if any of the jangadiero villages still exist, and if they still use the log-built type.

The photo of a model log-type jangada above is from Wikipedia by Wenn du Benutzer WHell. Sorry, Herr WHell, I've copied your credit, but I don't know German and can't provide your name properly, but many thanks for granting use through Wikipedia.

The product links below? Well, there aren't many jangada-related books or other products available, so we'll have to make do with "rafts." Who knew that Jules Verne wrote a raft book? What raft could be more storied, goried, and romantic than the Medusa's? And the children's book The Raft looks lovely, doesn't it?


  1. There is an excellent documentary featuring the jaganda by no less than Orson Welles. "It's All True" (1993)is a documentary about Orson Welles' unfinished film about South America. The episode titled "Four Men on a Raft" shows the construction and an actual voyage using one of these intriguing sailing craft.

    Gary Dierking

  2. Hi Gary,
    Good to hear from you.
    Orson Welles' connection here isn't totally out of the blue. He narrated a film based on the book The Last Sailors, from which I got my information on the jaganda. I don't know if the film that you mentioned came before or after The Last Sailors film -- after, I'd guess, if it was unfinished as a result of his death. I wonder if he was solicited to narrate the Last Sailors because of his known interest in the subject, or if he got the bug for the subject as a result of The Last Sailors.

  3. Years ago, a web savvy friend suggested I start a blog about the fishermen who sail the jangada. Perhaps it was the strange name (blog) that threw me, but I never followed his advice. That's why its so encouraging to run into this conversation. Thank you Bob Holtzman for the blog and others who have contributed. While I've never heard of "The Last Sailors" I do own "Its all True". A beautiful film that clearly shows Mr. Welles's great affection for these fisherfolk and their rich history. Jorge Armado the great Brazilian writer felt similiar as he often centered his stories around them. As for me, it was way back in 1988 when I first went to the 'wilds' of Brazil that jangaderios caught my attention. Ever since, I've been photographing and writing about them. I invite you to learn more at I look forward to hearing from you. Best - Paul Lima