A reader, Richard, made a comment on my Changing Directions post: “I wonder cannot you sail in a PHIL BOLGER SUPERBRICK to Panama???”
The Brick was the inspiration for the hugely successful Puddle Duck Racer.
Puddle Duck Hull #24
It’s easy to see the similarities of the two designs, but I’m not about to get into the differences between them other than to say that the PDRacer evolved into an actual CLASS of sailboats with nearly 400 built in several different countries.
I think the world of Phil Bolger as a visionary boat designer though much of the boating world tend to turn their noses up at his slab-sided boats. More’s the pity for them.
The Super Brick is Phil’s idea for a 19′ long sailing shantyboat.
I don’t think any of these have been built yet. I think it might work quite well in the Bocas del Toro Archepelago, but to build one somewhere else, like where I am in south Florida and sail it to Panama would take a real stupid person with a death wish.
There is only one sensible way to sail from Florida to Panama and it’s NOT along the coast of Central America. Back in ’91 I sailed my 26′ Nancy Dawson down to the Rio Dulce in Guatemala. There is a 255 nautical mile open-water passage between Key West and Isla Mujeres, Mexico and you have to battle the 2.5 to 3 knot north-bound Yucatan Current in order to get there. Nancy was a beautifully-designed sailing vessel and it took me five days to make the passage. The Super Brick would never make it. And once you make it to Guatemala then you have to go several hundred miles to windward against the Trade Winds to get around Honduras and start heading south again. It took Columbus a MONTH on his fourth voyage to do that and when he turned the corner he named the point Cabo Gracias a Dios (Thank God) a name that still stands on the charts half a millenia later.
The only sensible way to sail to Panama still isn’t easy. You have to make the 35 mile hop across the Gulf Stream to Bimini and then island hop your way southeastwards against the Trades the length of the chain. From there you are able to take advantage of the Trades as you traverse the Windward Passage between Haiti and Cuba. When you make it south of Jamaica you’re able to put the wind behind you for about an 800 mile open water passage. The best time to accomplish this feat is in April or May when the seas, according to the Pilot Charts are at their lowest and before the hurricane season begins. The Super Brick would never be able to make such a trip.
If someone were to build the Super Brick it would have to be done in Panama and the problem with that, from what I’ve been able to gather from people living in Bocas and who build boats themselves is that the plywood available locally is real crap. Plus, what is available is very expensive. The only alternative is to import what you need from the States and then pay import duties on it which makes pricing prohibative. Plywood isn’t used much in house construction there. Most of the homes are either concrete block or locally available wood planking.
Then you need to find a place where you could actually build the boat itself. I investigated this on my last trip to the area. There aren’t any boat yards there and land on the islands with access to the water is pretty much filled with housing already. A person might be able to find a spot in Almirante on the mainland or possibly in Changuinola, both of which have hardware stores and lumber suppliers that advertise plywood, but I wouldn’t count on it.
Believe me, I’ve investigated a lot of possible scenarios for getting a houseboat/shantyboat built in Bocas and while not impossible, it would be a major hassle. In an upcoming post I’ll look at the advantages of buying a used boat.