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Virginio 'Bill' Henkis the Self-Taught Boat Builder

By Angel Nuñez

I have a ways maintained that I can do something by simply watching someone doing it, but that is something simple like a food recipe or fabricating a kite. This story proves me wrong- that even a complex thing like building a boat can be learned by observation as Mr. Bill Henkis did.  

His name is Virginio Henkis, but everyone calls him Bill. He came from a large family and being the first boy after four girls, he would accompany his dad, Fredrick Henkis, on everything and everywhere. It is from him that he learned to sail a boat. He missed a lot of classes due to this and came out of school when he was in Standard 3 or Grade 5. He recalls taking the small boat when his dad got drunk –  he and his friends, Eiden Salazar Sr. and Daniel Dawson set sail to Caye Caulker causing the parents to worry and send the police to get them; but they came before the police found them at 1a.m.  Hungry and penniless they ate raw conch but not in a ceviche.

Bill Henkis worked with four different boat owners in their boats as a fisherman, mastering the art of sailing and fishing. They were Arthur “Ata” Bradley, Allan Forman, Romel Gomez and Milo Paz. Thereafter he obtained his own boat and worked for himself.

His first sail boat was built by Maurice Bladden, who was well known for his designs, giving the vessel great shape, buoyancy and speed. It was a 28-foot long sailboat named after his sister, La Gloria! He ended up selling the boat and after going through four different owners he repurchased the boat as a wreck! He then rebuilt it together with Hector Alamina better known as Trosa. He did all the deck and cabin work on his own and Trosa did the hull and it was named after his daughter Yanira.

Homeschooling on Boat Building

Homeschooling on Boat Building

Homeschooling on Boat Building

Bill Henkis’ first sailingboat named Yanira along with the small canoe called Melissa

After working as a fisherman with the boat he ventured into tourism tours. He did local daily reef trips and later overnight trips to Half Moon Caye and most to the south of Belize. He also did several days’ sailing trips to Roatan and the Bay Islands.

Bill, the apprentice, learned to read a boat plan from one that Hector Alamina did for the construction of a 16-foot skiff; Bill assisted him since it was his own skiff. He figured on his own the scale that Trosa used on the plan and how he transferred those measurements on actual wood. This was the beginning of Bill the shipwright. His first masterpiece that he built all on his own was a 15-foot mahogany skiff.

Feeling a bit confident, he then helped Javier of Argentina design his boat. He assisted Javier in building it, as well and taught him how to sail as well, taking him to Caye Caulker, Half Moon Caye, and the cayes south of Belize.

Homeschooling on Boat Building

Finally! the test of a real shipwright! Filled with much confidence and proud of his prowess, Bill set out to build an old school boat, named Adriannie B.J., on which he labored for ten years purchasing equipment, tools, material and working at a very slow pace. Painting a boat is also an art and this he learned from Kent Bladen, the son of the Master Maurice Bladen. However that was not the end of boat building. On trial and error Bill challenged himself to cut and sew a sail for his most recent boat. This is a talent he inherited from his father Fredrick Henkis and polished by such experts as his Uncle John Henkis, Don Tatch Rivero, and Mr. Efrain Guerrero.

Homeschooling on Boat Building

Bill Henkis’ latest work of art “Adrianne B.J”

Today Bill Henkis’ very own masterpiece is in the water. It is a work of art, and a talent developed by observation, dedication, trial and error but it proves that someone without a complete primary school education can be a master in his own right. Twenty Five Years Ago salutes Mr. Bill Henkis the fisherman, tour guide and now shipwright.  And thanks to his daughter Yanira Henkis Henderson for the details of the story.

Homeschooling on Boat Building

After 10 years of building and meditation Mr. Bill Henkis sails “Adrianne” on the cool waters of Ambergris Caye, Belize!


25 Years Ago Books Can Be Purchased At:
-Ambergris Today -Jose Luis Zapata Photography –Richie’s Stationery -Lala’s Store -Pampered Paws -San Pedro BTB Office -S.P. Town Library -Di Bush
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