Haiti: FAES fishing projects spawn boat builder

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The success of the projects financed by the FAES social investment fund in Haitian fishing villages has generated a spinoff project to build boats better adapted to local needs.

The vessels were developed by Lesly Theard, a Haitian engineer who is also an avid angler. Theard learned to fix fiberglass boats so well that he began doing it as a business. His venture, TL Engineering, started in his backyard in Port-au-Prince but since has moved to warehouse in Faucherine, near Petit Paradis. The tiny shipyard employs 10 people.

Most traditional fishermen in Haiti use dugout canoes. Due to severe deforestation, logs tend to be small. So are canoes, which are notoriously tippy and have very limited capacity to transport anglers and their catch. Foreign-made fiberglass boats can cost as much as $6,500, require large outboard motors and are expensive to operate and repair.

"I talked to a fisherman in Leogane who has a 26-foot boat with a 40-horsepower motor. He spends about 70 dollars to fill the tank. What happens when the fishing is not good?" Theard says.

The TL boats are built with marine-grade plywood, which is cut to shape and coated with epoxy. Fishermen can easily and cheaply repair any damage to the hull. Thanks to flotation foam packs in the bow and stern, the vessels are virtually unsinkable. They are also light enough to use oars or sails. With a 15hp motor, one of Theard's boats carrying a crew of five can go 10 nautical miles on a single gallon of fuel.

"And all the wood is imported, so we don't cut down trees to make boats," Theard adds.