Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Canot of St. Lucia

An interesting contrast to the gommiers of Dominica and Martinique is the closely-related canot of St. Lucia -- the next large island south in the chain of the Windward Islands. In Clean, Sweet Wind: Sailing with the Last Boatmakers of the Caribbean, Douglas C. Pyle writes of his first encounter with this boat while aboard a modern Western-style sailboat:
We were nearing midchannel when something in the animated monotony of the waves caught my attention -- a flash that was not a whitecap, a motion not part of the heaving sea. A few minutes later, there was another visual disturbance, this time from a different quarter altogether. As the disturbances became more frequent, they also drew closer, slowly revealing themselves as human figures clad in yellow oilskins and topped by straw hats with fantastic high peaks. The figures seems (sic) to skim the surface of the water at high speed, darting this way and that like disembodied spirits.

When the full reality was finally disclosed, the figures were seated by threes, one behind another in a canoe so narrow and so low in the water as to be invisible at a very short distance. The figure in the stern was steering with the outboard motor; the one in the middle was bailing. In the bow, lifted completely clear of the water by the thrust of the motor, the third figure peered forward and gestured from time to time, sending the whole rig swerving this way and that.

(Drawing by Pyle)

Like the gommier, the canot is primarily a fishing boat that, at the time of the Pyle's observation, was well in the process of conversion from sail to outboard power. The basics of the two types are certainly similar: an expanded and extended dugout with a single strake added to increase freeboard. But as Pyle notes, the canot is "easily distinguishable from the gommier by the striking extension of the dugout forward into a sort of cutwater." Some of the examples of gommiers in the previous post showed a small extension, but nothing like the imposing "ram bow" of the canot.

As Pyle also notes, the canot's midsection is quite a bit flatter, with a slack, but perceptible bilge, as opposed to the almost perfectly round sections of the gommier. In addition, he notes the length-to-beam ratio is much longer in the canot; and "there is less freeboard in the bow, and the waterlines show less hollow and are less streamlined."

In the late 1990s, the Gli Gli Project built a big (35') Carib canoe with the intention of sailing it from its home in Dominica to South America. The project's rather sketchy website doesn't tell the complete story, though, and it may be that the voyage was not completed. It's not clear from the photos on the site if the canoe was more like the gommiers of Dominica or the canots of St. Lucia.


  1. Gli Gli did complete her trip, and there is a documentary in circulation chronicling it. If you are in Tortola you can see the boat on the beach at Trellis Bay.
    The boat was built by a Dominican canoe builder by the name of Chalu. There are still a few dugout makers at work on the island building boats for the fishing fleet. They do most of the rough shaping on site in the mountains and then drag them down to the coast to finish them off. Driving through the carib territory you will like see one or two on the roadside in various states of construction.

    There is still a fleet of working dugouts in St Lucia as well, although I have not visited with the builders.
    It is refreshing to find some pockets of the Carribean far away from the cruise ships.

    Nice blog,
    Eric Simpson

  2. Thanks for this update Eric. For anyone interested in learning more, a Google search for "Gli Gli Project" yields a lot, though I can't find anything about the documentary. There is a video here showing the boat and some of the world's worst rowing technique: