Boatbuilding in Windward

Using simple hand tools and native timbers, the locals of Windward in Carriacou handcraft exquisite wooden vessels.

handmade boat
Nero McLawrence is the proud builder and owner of this 65-foot sailboat. The boat is constructed with local timbers and hand tools.Tor Pinney

Yesterday I visited Windward, a hamlet on the far side of Carriacou, where I’m anchored in Tyrrel Bay. Windward is so laid-back that the palm trees yawn, but it’s famous for one noble heritage: boatbuilding. The people of Windward have been hand-­building traditional island boats for generations with native timbers and simple hand tools, the lines and designs ingrained in their very marrow, being descendants of Scottish shipwrights, Irish fishermen and abducted Africans. I’d heard there was a new vessel, a big one, being built, so I went to check it out.

It wasn’t hard to find. Boats are built on the beach in Windward, and everyone knows about it. I asked Cee Pee, the driver of the bright red minibus I took from Hillsborough, to tell me where I could find the boat, and he dropped me off at the path leading to the building site. Clearly they weren’t trying to keep it a secret.

The proud builder, Nero McLawrence, was happy to show me around the 65-footer. “She’ll be sloop-rigged when she’s done and carry a 400-horsepower Cummins diesel, being mainly for hauling interisland cargo,” the 67-year-old builder/owner/captain explained. “We been at it a year now. It’ll be about one more till she’s ready to splash.”

I asked McLawrence if he knew my friend Capt. John Smith, who has been sailing the traditional Windward-built sloop Mermaid all over the Caribbean for decades. “Oh, sure, I know him,” he said. “My cousin Zephrin built that boat back in 1996. I hear John is in Panama now.” I told him he in fact had been in Panama — I’d first met the salty sailing legend in Bocas del Toro — but last I heard, he was hanging out in the Bay Islands, off Honduras.

I happened to catch the same red minibus back to Hillsborough that afternoon. “You found the boat OK?” Cee Pee inquired.

“No problem,” I replied. Then I asked, “Say, do you happen to know John Smith?”

“Oh, yeah, mon. He has one of Zephrin’s boats for a long time now. I heard he was in Panama.”

Carriacou is a small, friendly place. After a while, everybody knows everybody.

— Tor Pinney