Boatbuilding in Carriacou
flickr image by Lee Edwin Coursey

Boatbuilding in Carriacou


The most prominent traditional boatbuilding industry in the Caribbean is to be found in one of the smallest communities on one of the smallest islands, under a tree on a beach. Using the tools and techniques employed by their ancestors, together with some new tricks they have picked up from the yachting industry, the boat builders of Carriacou hew planks, shape frames and build magnificent sloops under the trees in the village of Windward.

The talent of the Carriacou shipwrights is widely sought after, especially by those looking for workboats that can also race. They have been turning regular cedar trees into superb sailing craft for generations. The methods are handed down and taught even to very young people, many of whom go on to choose boatbuilding as their profession. The boat builders here are known for their reliability, professionalism, reasonable prices and the pride they take in their work.

Boatbuilding in Carriacou

flickr image by Jason Pratt

Though a small number of cotton plantations were set up in Carriacou, the local economy came to depend on shipbuilding when Scottish shipwrights were sent by the English Monarchy in the late eighteenth century to fabricate sailing ships for fishing and to ply inter-island trade routes. Modern-day shipwrights have family names like Stewart, McLawrence, Compton and McFarlane, proof of their Scottish heritage.

The industry almost died out in the 1950s due to poor economic conditions and other factors. It took the efforts of John Linton Rigg, a Jamaican who planned to retire to Carriacou, and who instead got involved in the island’s rich cultural traditions, to revive the waning boatbuilding industry. In 1965 Riggs founded the Carriacou Regatta, now one of the island’s most important annual festivals, as part of the effort to save the boatbuilding industry and bring money back to the island.

These sloops begin their story in the cedar forests of Carriacou or sometimes the mainland, Grenada. Carriacou is a 34 square kilometre dependency of Grenada, part of the tri-island state of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique. The boat builders typically go into the forests armed with pieces of rope and a chainsaw, and once they fell the trees, limb them and cut them into 10-foot monster logs, they drag them through the ravines towards the road. These logs become the frames of the sloops, shaped by the adze in the traditional way.

A surge of interest is now happening with foreigners ordering vessels in Carriacou for a budding market. New and refurbished schooners and sloops sail in the charter trade and regional events from Grenada to Anguilla, including the St. Barths West Indies Regatta and the Antigua Classic. This resurgence is a beacon of hope for a dying industry.

To get to Carriacou, you must either fly in on a nine-seater airplane from mainland Grenada or neighbouring St. Vincent, or you can ride the waves via ferry from Grenada. You might also be lucky enough to get a ride up with one of the very sloops made in Windward, carrying cargo from Grenada to Carriacou. The international airport in Grenada is serviced by several weekly flights from the US and Europe.

Date posted: 8th January, 2013

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