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The Art of Making Sails

Today fishermen and tourist guides talk about buying a Yamaha or an Evinrude outboard motor or debate whether they needed a 75 or 150 or 200 horsepower motor for their skiffs. Twenty five years the fishermen had to decide whether they would go to don Juan Verde, or Fredrick Henkis or Francisco Arceo for their sails.

The art of making sails for boats is indeed a fine art- an art tried by many but mastered only by a few. Let us first acknowledge the masters. Once again don Juan Verde (deceased) father of Francisco Verde, and who was also a great “matador”, was also a skillful sail maker. Mr. Fredrick Hinkis (deceased), father of Bill, Wilbert, Marlenie and Glory Henkis, was another expert in this fine art. And the master sail maker, who tailored many a sails for the finest fishing vessels of San Pedro, was don Francisco Arceo, popularly known as Fash, and who is dad to the Honorable Patty. Many others tried and were successful in fabricating their own sails, but the above three were sought by most Sanpedranos for their talent, since they carried a certain prestige and reputation for their fine art.

This job began with a visit to your sail maker who asked for the size of boat and height of mast. He asked whether you wanted a working sail (regular size) or a speed sail. A trip to Belize City was necessary to get your boat sail material with Simon Quan or Agusto Quan. Next, you soaked the material in salt water for a day or two to remove the gum and for the material to shrink all it had to.

The sail maker then laid a pattern of the sail in triangular form on the grass at the football field. A few pegs and strings gave him the right size and shape. He then laid the cloth on the ground, made his marks and codes and proceeded to cut. Then he would go home and the days thereafter began the long process of sewing the pieces together. For this he used a hand or foot sewing machine with special needles for the fabric was very thick. After shaping it, he had to attach the trimmings with ropes, which had also been soaked in the sea and stretched for a day or two.

The sail maker would then proceed to attach the sail to the boom and try it on the boat itself. At first sight the sail usually appeared small, but eventually after flapping in the breeze for some time, it would begin to stretch and become its proper size. The sail maker would here make some adjustments if necessary.

A good sail took on its perfect shape to match the vessel. It had enough “pocket” that would be filled with breeze. The bag or pocket was the skillful part to cut and sew. Many sails of the beginners or amateurs had extra wrinkles or lines and these would flap awkwardly in the breeze. Some could find the solutions to improve on their sails, while others had to go to the masters for the adjustments and repairs.

Making a sail was a job for experts. Many fishermen were not even willing to try this art. Today it is a dying art with the advent of motors and technology, but it is an art that should be preserved and passed on. This column says congratulations and thanks to the master of the sails- Mr. Juan Verde, Mr. Henkis, and don Francisco, who is still alive to pass on this art.

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