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The Great Sail Makers

Making things was no problem in San Pedro 25 years ago. We made our own candy – casham, tableta, coco brut, and piñon. We made our own kites with fine sticks and paper. We made our own corn dough for our corn tortillas. And do you know what? We made our own sails for our sailing boats at a time when we could not go buy a Yamaha outboard motor.

A good sail could generate some 25 to 50 horsepower for a boat, but that depended if you went to the right sail makers like don Juan Verde, Mr. Federick Henkis,or don Francisco “Fash” Arceo. Because my dad used to make his own sails, I can tell you how to make one.

The art of making a sail was practiced by many but mastered by only a few. Don Juan Verde (deceased), father of Francisco Verde was one of the pros. Frederick Henkis (deceased) and father of Bill, Wilbert, Marleni and Glory Henkis, was another top notch sail maker. And the expert of experts who tailored may a sail for the finest fishing vessels of San Pedro was don Francisco Arceo popularly known as Fash or Fashico. These and a few others were the professionals of an art that might have died already in San Pedro.

The 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 good for racing. Then there was trip to Belize City to get your boat sail material at Agusto Quan or Simon Quan. Next you soaked the fabric in the sea for a day or two for it to shrink all it had to shrink.

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. 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 said might appear small, but it would be soaked overnight in the sea for the treads and seams to do all the stretching necessary. After being dried, it would be tested again and modifications made 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 the inexperienced had extra wrinkles or lines and these would flap awkwardly in the breeze. Some could find the solutions to improve their sail while others had to go to the master of the art for the final adjustments and touches.

Making a sail was a job for giants. Many fishermen were not even willing to try this art. Today, it is a dying art with the advent of machines and technology, but it is an art that should be preserved and passed on. This column says congratulations and thanks to the masters of the sails- Mr. John Green, Mr. Henkis, and don Francisco Arceo.

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